Finances

Several participants pointed out the generational differences in the way people spend money. They commented on how their parents’ experiences during the war shaped their own beliefs about money, and being frugal or being able to live on very little was seen as an asset.

We asked people about finances in their older years and the main point to emerge was that because they tend to live simply, they do not need as much money when they are older. This was particularly true when children have left home, the mortgage has been paid off and people do not buy new clothes or eat out as much as they used to.

Dot’s needs are small and she is careful with money. She finds pleasure in small things.

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After surviving the Second World War Hans is very good at living economically.

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Several participants pointed out the generational differences in the way people spend money. They commented on how their parents’ experiences during the war shaped their own beliefs about money, and being frugal or being able to live on very little was seen as an asset. They also lamented about how wasteful their children’s generation is, particularly all the money that is spent on buying clothes and eating out.

Marjorie’s parents were shaped by The Great Depression and she finds her children have a vastly different attitude to money.

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Lorna is still careful with money because she will always remember what it was like to have very little.

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Tamara encourages her grandchildren to live economically and to give to the needy.

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Being ‘comfortable’ financially was a common feeling for several participants, regardless of whether they were well-off or just making do on the pension. People who had immigrated to Australia in their older years were particularly grateful for the age pension. It was widely recognised, however, that it is difficult to live on the pension as the only source of income, particularly for people living on their own or in rental accommodation.

Ato Addis finds he does not have much money left after he pays the bills and he is glad he has some superannuation.

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Merrilyn is finding it difficult financially, largely because half her income goes on rent.

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Many participants had some form of additional income to supplement their pension. This ranged from investment properties and homestay tenants, to gaining an inheritance, reversing their mortgage and selling things like jewellery. Several participants were still working, mostly part-time or doing occasional work. This extra source of income was a big bonus when combined with living frugally.

Helen W cannot maintain her house on the pension. She supplements her income with homestay students and looking after dogs.

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People like Kaye, who finds “there’s no way I can earn money at 72”, often have to do without. This might entail juggling their budgeting from week to week or buying cheaper groceries. For Elaine M the shortage of housing in her community means relatives rely on her for food and accommodation, which is a major source of stress.

Elaine M has found it difficult to buy essential but expensive household items, like a fridge, and would like a place of her own.

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Financial stress was associated with major life events in older years. Getting divorced posed large financial problems, particularly for women we spoke to. Margaret found her biggest fear after she was divorced in her late 50s was that she could not support herself financially. Because Helen W’s ex-husband managed all the financial matters, and she trusted him implicitly, she felt he was able to “siphon off most of the money” when he left. Health crises also had a major impact on people financially. Len explains how his financial losses led to a downward spiral which has affected his mental and physical health.

Len used to own horses and a yacht, but financial losses in his older years have left him despondent.

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Of the people we spoke to it was common for men to look after financial matters in the family. Some women, like Dorothy, were completely ‘naive’ about finance; she had to learn everything after her husband passed away. On the other hand, Marjorie was the breadwinner in the family and was happy to hand financial control to her husband so he did not feel ‘disempowered’. Women were more likely to mention that they used a financial planner, and all those who had used one found them very useful.

Dorothy’s husband controlled all the finances for their family and was very frugal. After he passed away she would buy two of everything.

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Marjorie’s husband manages the household finances even though Marjorie is the main income earner.

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When planning financially for later in life, people mentioned cash savings, investments such as real-estate, and superannuation. Some participants had put in extra superannuation contributions but it was difficult to plan because “you never know how long it will need to last.” While it was seen as important to have a financial plan for later years, it is not always easy to make a plan and stick to it. Global financial markets and wrong decisions can have very large consequences in retirement.

Robyn talks about the importance of superannuation but admits that she did not start thinking seriously about these issues until she was in her 60s.

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Des and his wife were financially organised when they were younger but lost money through their business. Paying off an ‘extravagant’ vacation club means they are reaping the benefits now in terms of their social life.

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People who had planned successfully, or had just been lucky in their career or in real estate, felt incredibly grateful for what they had. The things people valued in having money after retirement were freedom, the ability to help their children financially and do more of what they wanted in life.