Grey nomads feeling sunny

They take full advantage of of the pensioner's $2.50 public transport pass.

Spending cutbacks in retirement are common, but a happy retirement isn't just about money.

Asked to describe his idea of an enjoyable retirement, Robert Grover hardly hesitates. The 63 year old pictures a comfortable home, spending time with his three sons, taking his wife Margaret to dinner or a show once a week, and regular holidays.

Now 18 months since hanging up his hat as an accountant and financial planner and moving from Toowoomba to the Gold Coast, the self-funded retiree is happily ticking all those boxes.

He's joined the Association of Independent Retirees for mental stimulation, Probus for social activities, and the gym to stay healthy.

His thoughts on retirement? "We thought it would be good but we didn't know it would be this good."

An annual income of about $60,000 doesn't leave the couple immune to cut-backs. Restaurant dinners with friends are now a once-a-week event, but so far the pruning shears have been kept well away from Grover's Mercedes sports coupe.

A big concern in the run-up to retirement is the price of having an enjoyable lifestyle when your working days are done.

The latest Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia Retirement Standard figures tell us a single retiree needs $22,585 a year to secure a "modest" lifestyle or $41,186 a year to live a "comfortable" lifestyle. For couples, the figures are $32,555 and $56,339.

Living in the comfortable zone means being able to afford "household goods, private health insurance, a reasonable car, good clothes, a range of electronic equipment, and domestic and occasionally international holidays".

But it's not only dollars that provide a sense of financial well-being, as research by Australian National University, Rice Warner Actuaries and AMP, highlighted in 2012.

The survey of National Seniors Australia members found 33 per cent of single retirees received an income of less than $20,000 per year and almost 60 per cent less than $30,000. When it came to couples, 25 per cent had household incomes of less than $30,000 and almost half less than $40,000.

When net wealth (assets excluding the family home) was factored in, the picture still didn't look that rosy. But, "despite the relatively poor picture of financial health, approximately 65 per cent of members rate their financial well-being as either good or very good", the report finds. Only 10 per cent of respondents said they were "somewhat poor" or "very poor".

The sense of financial well-being wasn't just affected by financial resources, it was also coloured by health, expectations and peer comparisons. Michael O'Neill, the chief executive of National Seniors, says partially self-funded retirees are most likely to feel the pressure of a mismatch of resources and expectations.

Spending cutbacks in retirement are common, but the focus varies, O'Neill says. Pensioners might zero in on the "quality of food, the coffee outings", or not take medication as prescribed to make it last longer. "By contrast, for the self-funded group it's the leisure activities and the overseas travel where the cutbacks have occurred."

Sydneysiders Noel, 82, and Dorothy, 72, make the most of life on a combined pension income of about $1200 a fortnight and assets well below those allowed to full-age pensioners. The couple live frugally, only buying new clothes or going out to dinner on the odd occasion, and doing without airconditioning. It's important to them to retain some private health, home and contents insurance, and comprehensive car coverage.

Every so often they save up petrol money and hit the road in their campervan. "We've been around Australia a few times and we really enjoy it," Noel says. They also take full advantage of the pensioner's $2.50 public transport day pass. "I've lost count of the number of times we've been to Manly for $2.50 each."

Social life for the former aircraft engineer revolves around healthy, low-cost activities such as cycling or swimming. "Basically we are happy with the way we live," Noel says.

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