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How this single mum is planning to secure a relaxing retirement

Published 22 January 2019

Kirrily Welsh has a thorough plan to fulfil her dreams when she leaves her working life behind, writes Sylvia Pennington.

Workplace learning officer Kirrily Welsh is paying down her mortgage and making additional super contributions to give herself a good shot at the relaxed retirement she’s aiming for.

The 47-year-old single parent is a long-time resident of the NSW regional city of Wagga Wagga. She’s worked full time in a variety of administrative and project-based roles since leaving school in 1988, bar a short stretch in 2000 following the birth of her son Jack.

“Some people have an extended period of time off work with their children, but I just couldn’t afford to do that,” Welsh says. “I was lucky my maternity leave fell at the same time as my long-service leave came due, so that gave me eight months off on full pay. Apart from that, I’ve never had a long break.”

Welsh purchased a home 12 years ago and recently increased her repayments to $1000 a fortnight, to enable her to clear her $170,000 mortgage by the time she hits 60.

Aiming for above-average super contributions

Her employer pays superannuation at 14 per cent, well above the 9.5 per cent minimum.

Welsh salary-sacrifices a further 7 per cent of her pre-tax earnings. As a result of her doing that, her employer pays a bonus 3 per cent, taking her contribution to 24 per cent.

In addition to this arrangement, Welsh makes voluntary contributions of $110 a fortnight, taking her closer to the annual contribution cap of $25,000.

Australians aged 45 to 49 had an average super balance of $114,616 in 2015–16, according to The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA). But men had a lot more than women, with an average $145,076 apiece for men against the average balance for women of just $87,543.

It’s a difference that Welsh has clocked in her own circle, “I have above-average super for my age,” she says, “but I’m the odd one out.

“Not long ago, I was in a room with some girlfriends, and I was the only one with a six-figure super balance. Some of the group had married young and had a long time off with kids – one only had $20,000 in super.

“I guess when we were young, the idea that you grew up, got married and stayed home with children was still the norm. But in our generation there’ll be way more females who end up on their own. And even if you’re in a relationship” – as Welsh herself now is – “I think it’s important that women look out for themselves financially.”

Making your tomorrow a priority today

Retirement planning is low on the agenda for many Gen Xers, as mortgages, childcare and other expenses of the middle years take precedence, according to financial planner Elliot Watson.

“It’s a lot of work to raise a family, pay off a house and give your super the attention it needs,” Watson acknowledges.

But those like Welsh who do take steps now should enjoy a significant payback in a decade or two.

Watson suggests that Gen Xers who want to maximise their retirement position should first consolidate multiple super accounts to save on fees and charges.

However, he adds, check your insurance cover before cancelling old policies to ensure you’re adequately covered for adverse health events, as these can affect future life and total-and-permanent-disability insurance applications.

Ensuring that your investment risk profile is right for your age and stage of life can also make a significant difference to your final super balance. Gen Xers still have time on their side, and an investment profile skewed towards higher growth assets should increase the probability of achieving higher returns in the long term.

Making even modest voluntary contributions now can mean a much more comfortable retirement, Watson points out.

“If you have personal or credit card debts, I’d prioritise paying those off. Then you might look at contributing something like $100 a week extra to your super to start with. If that’s affordable, work your way towards the $25,000 cap.”

Putting your financial future on the agenda

Welsh admits that she only put planning for post-work life on her personal agenda around five years ago.

“There was a very long period when the super statements came and I didn’t even open the envelopes,” she says. “Life was busy. I was working full time and looking after a kid, and they were just telling me there was money I couldn’t touch.”

It was only when she changed jobs in 2014 that she really started to think about what her retirement might look like.

“I love what I do, but I hate having to get up every single morning,” she says. “I’d love to be able to do more volunteer work, to help out more at our gym, to travel with my partner …”

Welsh subsequently wrote a budget, reined in her discretionary spending, resolved to pay off her mortgage faster, and sought an opinion on her situation from close friend and financial educator Jenny Rolfe-Wallace.

“Sixty is the preservation age for my super,” Welsh explains, “but I didn’t know if there would be enough to cover me. Women on both sides of my family have lived until 90, so I knew I needed to be able to fund my lifestyle for up to 30 years.”

Part of what Rolfe-Wallace provided was confirmation that Welsh was taking the right steps now to ensure a secure retirement.

“Before I started getting a handle on things and chatting with Jen, I thought I was probably in a bad spot,” Welsh says. “But now I feel pretty comfortable about where I’m headed – I think I’m going to be alright.”

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