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Huge numbers of Australians won’t be able to afford a comfortable retirement

A huge 47 per cent of Australians between 26 and 64 – 6.1 million people – are not likely to have enough money, even accounting for superannuation, assets and the aged pension, to maintain a “comfortable standard of living” in retirement. That’s according to CommBank’s ‘Retire Ready Index’, which is compiled using data from 10 million Australians’ superannuation accounts and Australian Bureau of Statistics’ data on personal wealth.

On the flip-side, 53 per cent of people in the same age bracket should have enough for a comfortable retirement, although that figure drops alarmingly to just 17 per cent if the aged pension were not available. Although there are no signs the aged pension is under threat, there are fears about its long-term sustainability, especially after then-assistant Australian Federal treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer claimed in 2016 that the “objective behind the superannuation system” was for people to not rely on the pension.

The pricetag for a “comfortable” retirement, according to figures released last September by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, is $43,372 a year for singles and $59,619 for couples. Having enough money to budget these amounts each year from age 67 (from 2023 that will be the age at which Australians qualify for the pension) until death is what it means to be “ready” for a comfortable retirement. The calculations use average life expectancy.

ASFA said this “comfortable” standard would afford: “a broad range of leisure and recreational activities [and] a good standard of living through the purchase of such things as; household goods, private health insurance, a reasonable car, good clothes, a range of electronic equipment, and domestic and occasionally international holiday travel”.

A “modest” retirement could be attained with $23,996 a year for singles and $34,560 for couples. No further details were offered on what a ‘modest’ retirement meant, but one might guess it means choices would have to be made between holidays of any kind, a car and/or a low level of health insurance.

Overall, one in two households expect to be ready for retirement – but by far the strongest households in this sense are those run by couples. While only 27 per cent of singles are on track to be ready, 76 per cent of couples expect to be ready.

Breaking down singles’ retirement readiness by gender reveals some major concerns for women: because of lower incomes, time lost from their careers to raise children and longer life expectancies, only 22 per cent of single women are expected to be ready for retirement at 67, while the figure is 31 per cent for single men.

It’s a given that mindless spending habits including impulse spending – which happens when people are feeling anger, guilt, stress or boredom – are affecting people’s ability to save enough for retirement. A mindful approach to all personal finance issues, especially over-spending and under-earning, is gaining momentum as a solution.

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