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Money habits

How 3 couples made their retirement dreams a reality

1 July 2018

The thought of retirement may induce a bit of anxiety in some of us. It can conjure images of feeble, grey-haired citizens whiling their hours away in a drab lifestyle village. However – as these three retired Aussie couples prove – retirement can be a reality sooner than you may think, and it can in fact be quite inviting. 

Here, three couples share their stories about how they took early action to make sure they ended up living their ideal (and enviable) retirement lifestyles. The experts at Suncorp may also be able to help by creating a transition to retirement strategy for you.  

Peter Wright, 70, and wife Margaret, Adelaide.

Peter and Margaret Wright and their OKA XT Motorhome boldly go where other campervans can’t. Kakadu, Kimberley, Cape York, the Nullarbor – the trio have explored them all.

“It will go anywhere a Toyota LandCruiser will go. The only difference is we’ll get there with a shower, a toilet and a cold beer,” Peter says.

The South Australian couple retired in 2005, when Peter was just 59, several years after almost losing his leg in an accident. The incident forced Peter to immediately consider post-work life, and the duo began to throw more into their super through salary sacrifice to help fund an early retirement.

“There is no question that the extra savings we made have been useful,” Peter, now 70, says. “But it’s fair to say in hindsight we would have started salary sacrificing earlier than we did.”

Each year the couple spend about six months travelling around Australia or Europe and the other half of the year at their Adelaide home. Two years spent volunteering in Fiji was a highlight. Their Australian adventures usually involve volunteering at national parks, cattle stations or remote communities.

Later this year they intend to hit the road again with their trusty motorhome to explore more of what the Great Southern Land has to offer.

“In particular, we are keen on the very remote areas, the deserts, the Kimberley,” Peter says. “But one of the things that we’ve learned is to remain flexible and to never let an opportunity for a new experience slip by.”

Joanne Dempster, 56, and husband Robert, 62, Bali. 

Joanne and Robert retired early, have beachside massages twice a week, and dine out every second evening. Must have been high-earning corporate types, right? Wrong.

“I was a hairdresser and my husband was a sales rep, away all the time, in the pool industry,” says Joanne.

Working six days a week, often 12 hours a day, Joanne and Robert knew there had to be more to life than endlessly slaving away. So, they hatched a plan.

They had both been putting extra money into their super via salary sacrifice from when they were in their 30s, but in 2010 they upped the ante.

“For the last four years my husband was putting about 50 per cent of his wage into his super, via a combination of salary sacrifice and by contributions from his take-home pay. And for the last year he contributed his whole wage,” Joanne says.

It was enough to ensure the couple could begin their dream retirement in Bali just a few months ago – well under the age at which many others can afford to retire.

They've since taken out a 3-year lease on a villa, complete with pool, and put away excess money from their monthly budget.

“We don’t have the cost of having a vehicle, house insurance, car insurance” Robert says. “Here, there's no stress whatsoever.”

They've also made connections with the local neighbourhood, with an eagerness to learn the language and culture. 

“Once you befriend a couple of locals they really take you into their hearts,” Robert says. “We’ll drop by and talk to them for hours – just like meeting friends at the local pub.”

Heather Bolstler, 69, and friends, New South Wales mid-north coast.

For many 20-somethings, flatmates are a necessary evil. But for Heather Bolstler, 69, retiring to a share house in the country with five of her closest friends is a lifestyle choice.

They call themselves ‘The Shedders’, partly after the shed that sat on the block of land the three couples bought in 2003. 

“We had to shed our possessions, opinions, habits and attitudes in order for this experiment to work,” Bolstler explains. Six years later they moved into a custom-built, architecturally designed share house on the site.

Contemplating retirement 15 years ago, Bolstler’s biggest fears were isolation and not having enough money. While co-habitation has helped alleviate Bolstler’s financial concerns, a stringent superannuation savings plan helped her to now afford the lifestyle luxuries that many others can’t enjoy in retirement.

“[Husband] Rick and I have developed a practice of going to Canada for three months every year and we probably wouldn’t have been able to do that financially otherwise,” she says. “When we were in our mid 50s we decided we would live off what Rick made and put almost everything I earned into our super,” she explains.

“Beforehand I hadn’t appreciated how valuable a resource that was – to be able to salary sacrifice, save tax and get it into super where it was performing nicely.”

Considering an early retirement for yourself? It’s never too early to start thinking about and saving 

for your golden years.

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