Planning for Retirement – Is it Ever Too Early?

I’m turning 54 this month and my husband just turned 52. While I’ve been thinking of and planning for retirement for years, he still lives in the here and now and hasn’t put any thought into retirement. Part of that is his work mentality – he couldn’t imagine working anywhere else, and can’t see past the next 15 or so years til he retires.

I’ve always been a forward thinker, and an organiser and planner. I like everything organised down to a “t” and I’m not really good at winging it. I think in the big picture and like to consider things from every angle. I don’t always get it right but more often than not my plans are successful. When it comes to retirement, thinking ahead is essential if you don’t want it to take you by surprise. From what I’m reading from people who have retired, the ones that didn’t plan it before-hand found themselves lost and didn’t cope so well when the worker role was at an end.

Are Women more Prepared Than Men for Retirement?

This may affect men more than women perhaps, because mens’ identity is so tied in with their role as a worker, but I suspect that women are catching up now that most of us work compared to past generations. Women have an advantage in that they have strong connections with other women and because a large percentage of us work part-time we have time outside work to express ourselves through other means. This starts from when we took our newborn babies to mother and baby groups, then play group, tuckshop duties and so on. We were able to make connections outside of work with other women in the same stage of life as us.

Part of the difficulty with retiring before you are emotionally ready, is that you are left with time on your hands and feel lost without some purpose to your day. There probably aren’t as many structured social gatherings for people in that age group, like there are for younger women. We need to seek groups where we can find purpose in our lives and develop relationships with other women in our age group.

Looking ahead to retirement in your 50’s is not too early in my opinion. Not only do you need to set yourself up financially, you also need to start creating a life outside of work so that your identity is not solely tied with your employment. This is especially important for men who often don’t belong to clubs, and spend most of their hours at work or home.

Where Can Retirees Find Social Connection?

Some suggestions for places that may help you to connect with other people after retirement are:

  • Mens’ sheds where men can build things and donate them to charity while creating connection with other men
  • Charity groups such as Lions, Meals on Wheels
  • Volunteering, e.g. Red Cross, hospitals, RSPCA
  • Sports clubs e.g. bowls, golf, tennis, swimming
  • Traveling especially organised tours, cruises
  • Retreats and meditation or yoga classes
  • Church groups
  • Craft or other hobby groups
  • Car clubs
  • Clubs such as the RSL, surf clubs, bridge clubs
  • Bingo
  • University of the third age
  • Council-run free programs
  • Library resources and courses
  • Mentoring younger people
  • Meetup which has groups for every type of interest and if there isn’t one you can create one
  • Online – Facebook groups
  • Landcare – caring for the environment
  • Book clubs
  • Local historical society or family history centre
  • Dancing e.g zumba, ballroom
  • Arts, music or museum e.g. Friends of the Museum
  • If you have a chronic illness there are often recovery and support groups e.g. walking groups for heart disease

Isolation and Its Impact on Retirees

Isolation can be particularly distressing for people who have not formed connection with others. It may take time to create these connections but many of the places I have named can give people a sense of purpose to their lives where they can use skills they developed over their lifetime of work. It is important to reach out if isolation and lack of direction is causing emotional issues like depression.

According to this article by VicHealth, loneliness is particularly prevalent amongst elderly people. Loneliness in our society is a growing concern that should not be ignored. We can avoid this by preparing ourselves ahead of time – create connections before you retire. If you are transitioning into retirement by reducing your work hours, use that time wisely. Join groups and find some purpose in your life so that when you eventually stop working you have already begun to structure your time to incorporate time elsewhere.

Planning Ahead for Retirement

As you begin to think of retirement, picture how you want to live. Do you want to live in a retirement village or independently. Start looking at facilities they offer so that when the time comes you already have a plan in place. Do you want to be a grey nomad or a world traveler or would you be happy to spend most of your time at home? Do you want to live close to your family and friends?

I have already started planning ahead for retirement by picturing the life I want to have. I don’t want to live in the rat-race we live in now, and I want a slower, quieter life. However, being close to services such as hospitals will be crucial. We will be downsizing to a smaller house in the next few years, and the place we retire to will be much smaller again. Having less upkeep than we have here will be necessary as we both experience physical problems like chronic back pain and joint issues.

Preparing Financially for Retirement.

Meanwhile, we’ll being to prepare financially by paying down our mortgage and investing in superannuation. Gone are the days when people could leave all their life savings to their children. People are living much longer these days so the money may be gone by the time you pass away. We may need to fund a retirement of 30 or more years! My father retired 30 years before he passed away.

See a financial advisor early on – in your 50’s and start building your nest egg. First pay off any debts, especially ones with high interest rates such as credit cards. Put any extra cash, e.g. tax return, into your superannuation. Interest rates are at an all-time low. Since we bought our house, the interest rates have decreased dramatically but we have deliberately kept our repayments the same. Without changing anything we are paying our mortgage off quicker.

Your Superannuation fund may have information on their website on saving for retirement. My superannuation fund has a tool to calculate how much superannuation I’ll need when I retire. I can also work out how much my nest will grow if I put extra payments in, which is a good incentive. They have an excellent budget planner as well which is another free tool available to anyone online.

In Australia the best source of information is the Money Smart website which is free to use and is not just for people planning their retirement. Good money management should start when you are young. When my sons started their first jobs at age 14, I helped them to set up an automatic deduction of $5 per week into their superannuation. It’s not very much, but compound interest will see it grow, and it gets them into the habit of saving for the future at a young age. Now they’re in their 20s and they don’t own a credit card or have a loan, and are pretty good with their money. They don’t have any assets worth mentioning but they have fantastic memories from their travels across the globe.

Look into what pension you may be eligible for, well in advance of retirement. There are Transition to Retirement packages available in some situations. There may be concessions and rebates available to help with the cost of living. In Australia, each state has its own Seniors Card, and there is information online about what you may be eligible for. (These links are to Australian websites only). I’m not an accountant or financial planner, so for individual advice I recommend seeing a professional trained in that field. This is merely some advice on where to start doing your own research.

Start Planning for Retirement

Is it ever too early to plan for retirement? The earlier you start, the more you will have in place so that your transition out of the workforce is a smooth one. By getting financial advice early, you can start building your nest egg through superannuation and other investments. To avoid loneliness and loss of purpose after you retire, social connections should be built prior to then so that you have prepared for a life outside work. I’d love to hear from my readers – how are you preparing for retirement? If you have retired, what advice would you give to someone like me?

If you enjoyed this article, read How to be Self-Sufficient as a Sustainable Future, about our other plans for retirement.

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Why Waist Measurement Matters

One of my biggest concerns with my weight was my waist circumference. My waist measured 109cm (42 inches) when I started on my journey. This put me at a much higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. An ideal waist measurement for women is 88cm (35 inches) or less, and men is 102cm (40 inches) or less. Anything above this is classed as abdominal obesity.

All the extra weight I was carrying was fat, which was surrounding all my vital organs like my heart, liver and pancreas. I had been taking tablets for high blood pressure for a couple of years, and for my cholesterol for at least 6 years, so my body was already showing signs of issues caused by this excess fat around my abdomen.

According to research, reducing the size of your waist to a healthy size will increase your longevity as well as reduce your risk for other diseases, such as dislipidemia, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Even if you are relatively smaller everywhere else on your body, the increased weight around your waist will still lead to other health problems.

How to Measure Your Waist Size

Along with wanting to lose weight, I was desperate to reduce the size of my waist to prevent any other health issues. So I started measuring my waist, hips, bust, thighs and upper arms along with weighing myself 2 – 3 times a week. I used a Body Fat Calculator to assess this. My body fat percentage a year ago was 43.3% which is very high, and now it is around 28% and in the healthy range for my age.

I have found that taking those measurements is more incentive to lose weight than just weighing on the scales alone is. I can also see that some days I’m quite bloated with my waist ranging between 84cm on a good day to 88cm on a bad day! The “bad day” is usually from working night shifts or having a day or two of eating and drinking unhealthy food – but we all need a day or two like that occasionally.

Image credit for feature photo: Pixabay on Pexel

If you are interested in starting to do the same measurements, there’s a great website called Calculator.net that has a number of health and fitness calculators that are easy to use, including a Body Fat Calculator. If you don’t want to go to that much trouble, try writing down your waist measurement and weight once or twice a week.

The way your clothes fit will also be a good way to gauge whether you’re losing weight off your waist. I’ve had to totally replace my whole wardrobe twice in the last year, down to my underwear! It’s so rewarding to be able to see the results, and know that I’ve done a lot to improve my health by reducing my waist size.

Here are my measurements before and after:

October 2018 / October 2019

Weight 83.5kg / 66.1kg

Waist 105cm / 84cm

Hips 109cm / 95cm

Bust 104cm / 90cm

Thighs 69cm / 59cm

Upper arm 30cm / 27cm

Before 83.5kg October 2018. After 66.1kg October 2019

How to Reduce your Waist Size

The following six steps have been shown to effectively reduce your waist size:

  1. Cut out all sugar, especially drinks that have been sweetened. A high intake of sugar leads to the liver getting overloaded, resulting in insulin resistance. Because your body can’t cope with so much sugar (fructose) and stores it as fat in your abdomen and liver.
  2. Increase your protein intake, because this reduces cravings and boosts your metabolism. High quality protein is important, such as that found in eggs, fish, legumes, nuts, seafood, meat and high quality protein supplements (whey powder).
  3. Cut carbohydrates, particularly highly refined ones found in cakes, sweets and white bread. Some people cut carbs drastically leading to ketosis (the popular keto diet) which reduces your appetite and leads to rapid weight loss. My brother has done really well on this diet, while I found just dropping all the rubbish like lollies, cakes, muffins etc. was enough for me to be effective. I find that if I have any of those foods now I get a migraine so that just proves to me that this type of food is bad for my health.
  4. Eat food high in fibre, particularly vegetables. This helps to fill you up, and aids digestion. One of the most effective steps I took was to amp up my vegetable intake, replacing a lot of the carbs with vegetables. Vegetables contain plenty of vitamins and minerals which also help our health and wellbeing. Other food sources of fibre include fruit, cereals and legumes. Adding a fibre supplement like Metamucil would be effective as well.
  5. Exercise, in particular aerobic exercise such as walking, running, swimming and cycling. Spot exercises like sit-ups do not work! Improving your core muscle strength will help you overall but it might not necessarily reduce your waist size unless you are doing aerobic exercise. I can’t do heavy exercise but I have found that regular walking has been effective for me.
  6. Count your calories using a macro counter. I use an App on my phone to record everything I eat, and from there I can see my macros (percentage of protein, carbs and fat), and calorie intake. I try to keep to between 1500 – 1800 Kcal per day, and make sure my calories in is lower than my calories out. I still track this every day even though my weight has been stable for months because I find it helps me stay accountable to my health goals.

Another benefit of reducing your waist size is that clothes fit better! I always found it really hard to find clothes that fitted my apple shaped body and was always trying to hide my belly with tunics etc. It’s now so much easier to find clothes that fit, and my body has a better figure (not quite an hourglass shape though!)

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Letter to myself – aged 17

I have been thinking of my parents a lot lately, especially when I was writing my last two blog posts. Reflecting on what skills I learned from my parents, I realised that I didn’t appreciate it at that age. I was a bit of a handful for my parents, rebelling against their strict rules. I was able to rebuild my relationship with them in time, but I really wish I’d listened to their advice more.

This isn’t an original idea – I have seen other people write letters to their younger selves. Oprah wrote a powerful one and asked 17 well-known people to write letters as well – they’re on her website. There’s even a Grammy-award winning song by Brad Paisley:

If I could write a letter to me
And send it back in time to myself at seventeen

After reflecting on the things I wish I knew when I was 17, I decided to write a similar letter:

Me at aged 17

Dear Christina,

I am writing to tell you that you need to appreciate your parents more. They really love you and only want what’s best for you. Their rules are there to protect you, even if they are strict and old-fashioned.

Learn as much as you can from your mum. She’s a beautiful person who gives her whole life to you – appreciate her, because she won’t be there when you really need her. She’ll be at your wedding, but 4 months later she’ll pass away from cancer. You will miss her for the rest of your life but you’ll be so grateful that you learnt a lot about cooking and homemaking from her. You’ll draw on your memories of your mother when you have your own children, and you’ll appreciate the advice she give you in her last few weeks about bringing up children. Memories like that will be treasures.

You will grow to appreciate your father, but not until you have your own children. Then you’ll realise how hard it is to give them a private education, holidays overseas and a nice house. You’ll come to terms with the type of man he is and that he was very much a product of the times when men were chauvinistic and had little to do with child rearing. You’ll never want to rely on a man, and you’ll always be strong willed and independent. You’ll eventually be on much better terms with him, but it’s not until his deathbed that he’ll tell you you’re a good daughter.

Don’t drink too much alcohol. It doesn’t agree with your body, and will play havoc with your mood and mental state. It won’t help at all when you’re grieving. You’ll make some pretty awful decisions under the influence, for which you’ll be regretful. Definitely don’t take drugs because the affect they have on family members will be devastating. Keep an eye on your sister – her spiral downwards in mental health will eventually have a diagnosis but not for 10 years. Step in and get her help when she has her first psychotic episode – she needs medical attention so don’t hold back from seeking it.

Learn to walk away from people and situations before they start affecting your mental and physical health. You will try to help so many people who will hate you for it, and it won’t be until years later that you learn boundaries. Find help with being assertive and only let people into your life who are authentic and care for your well-being. Even if that means having fewer friends – quality is better than quantity.

Me with my best friend Paula, aged 17

Don’t try to be a people pleaser. People will walk all over you until you learn to listen to your own inner voice and stand up for what is right. Don’t ever be a doormat. Your shyness will hold you back, and it will become so bad you’ll develop social anxiety. Seek help for it because there is treatment that will help. There will be one person who is strong enough to help you and will always have your back – you won’t meet him till you’re in your 40’s but when you do, there’ll be an instant connection and you’ll know you’re with the right person. Life won’t always be easy, but he’s the one you’ll be able to grow old with.

Protect your back. Back pain will be the defining feature of your later years. Nursing is a wonderful career which you will love, but it will take a toll on your health. Don’t stay in a job that causes too much stress. It’s not worth it and there’s better jobs out there.

Appreciate your healthy body. Look after it and don’t take it for granted. You’re in for a lifetime of health related issues so appreciate your youthful body. Get your teeth fixed while you’re young – your confidence and self esteem will improve. Investigate your migraines and palpitations – the underlying cause will shock you but you’ll be on a better pathway towards a healthier you. Watch out for weight gain – you’ll discover that more of a plant based diet is the answer to maintaining your weight and well-being.

Travel as much as you can when you’re young. The world will change so much and your health will limit how much you can travel.

Myself at 17 – I look so shy and insecure

I don’t need to tell you that motherhood will be the most rewarding role you’ll have in life. You already know you will be a mother, even if it takes you years to have children. You will guide them in the way you wish your parents had guided you – with strong communication, mutual respect, and appreciation of the unique creative people they are. They will give you so much joy and fulfillment.

Don’t ever stop writing and reading. It will give you untold joy and satisfaction. You’ll always want to learn something new, and you’ll throw yourself into new projects with passion – don’t ever stop doing that!

Above all, keep believing that there’s a higher reason for all of this. We’re spiritual beings in human form and our goal is to learn as much as we can in our lifetime. Your life will throw you many curve-balls, and at times you’ll struggle with the weight of so much burden on your shoulders, but you’ll always get through each challenge. Care for yourself, make sure you take time out for yourself. Enjoy your life,

Love Christina, aged 53

I don’t regret much – my life has been a learning curve and I’ve probably dealt with more situations than some people. Some I’ve dealt with well, many not so well. I’ve learnt to accept myself with all the traits, good and bad, that I have. Some inherited, some learnt as I’ve travelled through life.

What would you tell yourself at 17?

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The Skills I Learned from my Parents That I Still Use Today

How Old-Fashioned Skills are Helping Me Now

In my previous post, I explained that I am investigating self-sufficiency as a prospect for a sustainable future. We plan to supply most of our own basic needs, including growing our own food. My parents taught me some important skills as I was growing up, most of which I took for granted and have not used in my adult life. As I am heading into my later years, I am realising that those old-fashioned skills are relevant now.

If we are to supply our own food, we will need to be able to preserve food that we have grown ourselves, so that we have a steady supply during the months that our garden isn’t producing. Plants grown in season are more easily grown – you don’t need to provide an artificial environment (such as a green-house or water sprinkling system) to keep them alive. This means you harvest a large quantity at one time. Learning how to preserve some of the crop is essential.

My sister and I in 1977 with our mum – holding a 9 lb trout. Our love of fishing and the outdoors stems from our parents. We always had a boat for fishing on the many lakes around Rotorua, New Zealand

My mother was a down-to-earth, practical and savvy woman. She was a stay-at-home mum of four kids under 5. The skills I learned from her were:

  • Budgeting – she took full advantage of using discount coupons, bought in bulk, never racked up a debt, and seemed to be able to stretch her money so that we never went without;
  • Sewing – mum made all her own clothes. She taught my sister and I to sew and knit. Mum also had a spinning wheel and made her own wool out of sheeps’ fleece;
  • Gardening – my parents were avid gardeners and grew most of our vegetables. They researched alternative growing methods and put them to use through having a greenhouse and hydroponic set-up which could produce out-of-season food in a cold climate. We also learned composting from them. Their green thumb has passed on to the rest of the family and we all enjoy growing our own produce;
  • Cooking – we rarely ate out, and mum cooked all our food. She baked cakes and biscuits, made icecream and other desserts. My dad cooked every Sunday for a house full of guests – he loved to experiment with food and entertain our guests. We all love cooking, and especially love to experiment with new flavours and techniques.
  • Preserving food – My mum used to make chutneys, jam, and preserved fruit. Dad made brawn – preserved meat. These skills are ones I now want to learn as a skill that will be needed for self-sufficiency. I have made pickles and chutneys, but only in small quantities. I am going to learn about bottling food so that it can be stored safely for future use;
  • Smoking food – we have a smoker so we can make smoked fish and meat. I know this has been used successfully to preserve food so we will learn how to do this as well;
  • Fishing – my husband and I both grew up in families that loved fishing. My parents owned a boat and we used to go trout fishing on one of the many fresh water lakes around our city. My husband’s father took him sea fishing and they still enjoy that now on their boat.
  • Health promotion- my mum was into natural therapies throughout her life. She knew every natural remedy known to man! She preferred to promote health by having a healthy diet and supplements. She practiced yoga and meditation as part of her philosophy of self-care.
  • Housekeeping and house maintenance – my parents did all their own cleaning, yard work and maintenance. I learned many skills from them and still struggle to hand those tasks over to anyone else. I prefer to do all my own cleaning, and my husband does everything he can in the garden and around the house. We are only able to hire someone else when we acknowledge that the skill required is outside our limits, or would take us too long to finish. As we get older we are realising our bodies aren’t up to doing hard work and sometimes it’s better to hire someone to do it;
  • Researching – my parents passed on their love of reading. They used to research all different things, and that love has passed on to me. My other hobby was genealogy which I learned from my mother – I was able to use her research as a basis for my own. I have another blog, This Is Who We Are about our family history
My father and his tomatoes – grown in New Zealand during the winter in a greenhouse.

I guess I was like any other teenager and did not really appreciate my parents until I left home and had my own family. My mum passed away when I was 24. I really missed her presence in my life – it was very hard bringing up my sons without my mother to advise and help me. I was lucky that she was such a wonderful parent and I learned so many skills from her as I was growing up. I was able to draw on that knowledge throughout my life. I certainly don’t take it for granted – I really appreciate everything my parents taught me.

My sister working in the hydroponic greenhouse my father set up in the mid-80s. It was the first hydroponic garden in New Zealand and used to attract tourists from all over the world

Many of the skills I learned like preserving food will be necessary as we aim towards self-sufficiency. In the next few years I will be researching different skills in order to be able to live a self-sufficient lifestyle.

10 Skills my Parents Taught Me that I Still Use Today
10 Skills I Learned from my Parents that I still use Today
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