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How John, 38, started early to secure a comfortable post-work life


Published 22 January 2019

Young business owner John Zanol is determined to retire well by paying attention to his super now, writes Sylvia Pennington.

Paying himself an allowance and cordoning off the rest of his income for super and savings enables John Zanol, founder and owner of ebike retailer, Dolomiti Electric Bicycles  to provide for the future while making the most of the present.

Turning 39 in February this year, Zanol is on the cusp of Generation X, the cohort aged between 39 and 54 in 2019. He spent much of his 20s based in Italy, travelling the globe on the professional golf circuit. After hanging up his clubs in 2008, he cast around for a business idea, and two years later opened an electric bike business in his home city of Melbourne which has grown to become one of the country’s leading electric bicycle businesses.

In 2018, Dolomiti was selected as a finalist in the Telstra Business Awards.

Advice from his accountant, a long-time family friend, resulted in Zanol making regular super contributions during his playing years, and he’s continued to do so ever since.

“You don’t think about these things when you’re young, but he was pretty good at making sure I saved for retirement, and I still do that now – I’ve never stopped,” Zanol says. “Even now I have my own business, I pay my super as if I were any other staff member.”

While he’s not a weekly or monthly balance checker, Zanol catches up with his financial adviser twice a year to review his position.

“I know what’s in there, I know how it’s performed in the last year, and I’ve got a pretty good idea how my money is invested,” he says. “I have a fairly low-risk set-up so I don’t see major fluctuations. I may be a bit conservative but I’m happy to get a reasonable return without a huge amount of risk.

“I work seven days a week, which means I don’t have a lot of free time, so I don’t want to be worrying too much about following the market and tracking how my investments perform. I’m happy to know they’re there in the background, steadily building and compounding.”

Seeing the benefits of steady saving

The average superannuation balance of Australians aged 35 to 39 was $56,715 in 2015–16, according to The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia.

While retirement can seem aeons away for those in this age bracket, being scrupulous about putting money aside for your future in your 20s and 30s will see you better placed to keep enjoying all life has to offer two or three decades hence, according to ANZ financial planning associate Daniel Thompson.

“Building good savings habits at a young age is so powerful,” Thompson says. “I’d encourage people to do that, with the goal of increasing their contributions over time as their income increases and they become more established.

“Small things, like putting aside an extra couple of per cent of your pre-tax salary, can do a lot. You don’t have to sacrifice every good thing in the moment to set yourself up for a more comfortable future.”

Pay now, play now

Zanol says he was fortunate to have entered the property market in 2004, before a series of booms made buying a first home a much tougher proposition for 20- to 30-somethings. He and his partner moved into their current home in North Fitzroy in 2014.

“Melbourne is an expensive place to live,” he says. “It can be quite difficult to do all the things you want to do and think you deserve because you work hard – go out to dinner, socialise – and, at the same time, save.

“The way I do it is to have a fixed set of savings plans. I give myself an allowance to play with, and everything else is saved. I pretend a whole lot of my income is not mine; it just goes straight into my super and other bank accounts.”

This means he can spend his allowance guilt-free on leisure activities and holidays.

“Because I work so much and my showroom is not in town, I don’t spend any money on lunches or coffees,” Zanol explains, “but I like to go out for dinner on the weekend, or to a show.

“My partner and I both know we have to put money aside and think about building assets for the future, but at the same time we’re reasonably young and we don’t have children. We like to take advantage of the fact we don’t have responsibilities, other than to ourselves, so when we’re not working we try to travel and do things we enjoy.”

Thinking ahead

Although Zanol and his partner are still relatively young and carefree, there’s no holding back the years, he says.

“Time creeps up on you. Thirty-eight is young, but I remember when I was 21 and it feels like yesterday, so before I know it I’ll be 50.

“That’s just life, isn’t it? It goes by so quickly. So I’m starting to think about retirement – probably more so because 40 is around the corner, but also because I work so much as well.

“I have to think about what I’m going to be doing down the track, because working seven days a week is probably something I can’t do forever.

While my business is continuing to grow and expand, I need to ensure that I am set up for the future regardless of where it takes me.”

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