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How Darleen plans and saves for an independent life in retirement

Published 1 October 2017

There’s extra challenge for business owners in planning for the day they leave work behind, writes Sylvia Pennington.

Surviving tough times on the land has made wealth creation a self-protective priority for 52-year-old Darleen Barton, a former farmer turned small business owner who committed to maximising her super contributions in what may be her final decade of full-time work.

Married at 20, Barton spent several years raising her three children and helping her husband manage a dairy farm and founded an award-winning goat milking co-operative outside Canberra, prior to entering the corporate workforce in 1994.

She spent 15 years in management roles across the healthcare industry before striking out for herself with the establishment of DIPAC & Assoc, a mediation, therapy and coaching practice. Based in Canberra, it services businesses and government agencies locally and interstate.

While sole traders and business owners are not required to pay themselves superannuation, Barton pledged to continue making contributions to her retirement, equivalent to or greater than those to which an employee would be entitled when she became her own boss back in 2008.

“My rules were to put in 9.5 per cent minimum and to top it up when I could and that’s what I’ve done from the get-go,” Barton explains. “I do my Business Activity Statement each quarter and whatever the income is for that period, I pay 9.5 per cent of it into super."

“If there’s icing on top – extra income that I don’t have an immediate use for – then I put that money into an investment account and use it to top up the super at the end of the financial year, up to the maximum tax-deductible contribution.”

Why playing savings catch-up is so important

The average superannuation balance for women aged 50 to 54, was $99,520 in 2015-16, according to The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, the peak body for the sector. Women aged 55 to 59 had an average $123,642 in the retirement kitty.

By contrast, men in the same age brackets enjoyed average balances of $172,126 and $237,022, respectively.


Our Executive, Alexis George, describes super as possibly the biggest investment of our lifetime.

She encourages women whose super balances have been impacted by career breaks or caring responsibilities to make voluntary contributions where they can, to support their future independence.

She similarly encourages self-employed Australians and small business owners to invest in super each year, to secure their retirement income.

“We all have aspirations for life beyond work, when we have the time to focus on what makes us happy,” George says.

“In the current economic climate, setting aside savings, especially for the long term, can be difficult. However, putting as much as you can manage into super throughout your working life, can make a significant difference to your lifestyle, even in one or two decades’ time.” 

Face your financial fears

Barton says enduring the vicissitudes of life on the land helped her appreciate the importance of making financial hay while the sun shines and of having a retirement plan in which luck and chance play a minimal part.

“There’s nothing better than having a bit of pain to propel you into wanting more pleasure,” she says.

“When we had our farm, we went through major drought. We had 500 head of beef cattle, 700 goats and Friesian cows which we milked and when you don’t have grain for the year, you’re buying fodder. Every month it doesn’t rain eats away at your profit. We were very lucky to get out of that with money in the bank, back then.”

Working in the healthcare industry and coming in contact with patients whose retirement provisions are inadequate has also hammered home the benefits of accumulating a healthy nest egg.

“I see older people who haven’t paid into super and they can’t afford private care because they can’t afford private health insurance,” Barton says. “That’s the generation prior to my own. I don’t want that, so I just make sure I do what I need to do to get me where I need to be when I decide to stop working.”

Becoming comfortable and organised about money is the first step on the long path to financial independence, Barton believes.

“So many people are fearful and don’t look at their numbers – they’re frightened of what they’ll see and I’m a big one for saying, ‘look, face your fears’,” she says. “You always feel better when it’s all laid out in front of you because at least then you can get a plan.”

Hers is expected to be a debt-free, comfortable retirement once she and her husband decide it’s time to down tools and enjoy the fruits of several decades of hard work.

“We’ll own our home although we do want to downsize,” Barton says. “And I know we’ve got to have between $1.5 million and $2 million in super, in order to reliably generate an income of $55,000 to $60,000 a year."

“Is that going to serve our purpose? Probably. We’ve got pretty much all we want now. Anything else would be greedy and we’re both frugal people.”

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