Is a comfortable retirement now a pipe dream?

Those of us who are still working dream of a comfortable retirement. It might not come as early as we’d originally planned but it’s still coming – isn’t it? Well … maybe not. A growing number of indicators are suggesting that a comfortable retirement may remain just that – the stuff of dreams.

Why is that? The unpleasant outlook is a confluence of many factors, none of which point towards a comfortable retirement.

First, there’s the matter of the ‘price of retirement’, constantly being pushed up by rising living expenses. Second in line is the state of rent mortgages in Australia.

Third is our old favourite, inflation. Yes, the aforementioned rising living expenses and inflation are linked, but the context here is the uncertainty surrounding inflation, and what it might do next.

Living expenses and the comfortable retirement price tag

Like many other countries, Australia has had to come to terms with a sharp rise in living expenses recently. Sharp relative to the previous decade, at least. That has an impact not only on our current lives, but our future too.

In fact, estimates from the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) show a 0.7 per cent jump in the cost of retirement in the March quarter alone. According to the ASFA, that cost is now $72,663 per year for couples, and $51,630 per year for singles. These are record numbers, the sort of figures that are pushing the words ‘comfortable’ and ‘retirement’ ever further apart.

Mary Delahunty, the ASFA’s CEO, says those who have already retired, as well as those preparing, are feeling the pinch. “Retirees continue to feel considerable cost of living pressure on their household budgets,” she said. 

Among the categories adding to the pressure are medical and hospital services, insurance and food. Medical and hospital expenses jumped by 2.3 per cent in the March quarter. Insurance cost increases were even larger – 3.7 per cent for the quarter taking the yearly increase to a massive 16.7 per cent.

Food prices, while still rising, are at least doing so at a slightly slower rate. They rose by 3.8 per cent in the 12 months to March, down from 4.5 per cent in the year to December. 

Mortgages and rent

When I began my working life (admittedly a long time ago), paying off your mortgage before retirement was a given. No longer. According to a new Vanguard Australia report, 10 per cent of retirees are still paying off their mortgages.

Add to that the 20 per cent of Aussie retirees who are renting, and you have nearly a third of retirees in our country still paying a regular cost for the place they call home. 

The general expectation is that such numbers will continue to rise. The report showed 32 per cent of working-age Gen X respondents believed they’d likely still have a mortgage in retirement.

For Gen Z respondents, the figure was higher still, at 45 per cent expecting to still have a mortgage in retirement.

Inflation uncertainty = comfortable retirement uncertainty

Perhaps worse than knowing you won’t have a comfortable retirement is not knowing if you will have one. And in the current financial climate, it is proving to be a difficult thing to calculate – even for the experts.

As First Link’s Michael O’Neill recently pointed out, both inflation and interest rate predictions keep changing. When inflation spiked in 2021, most economists predicted the rises would be short-lived. Wrong. As for interest rates, remember when then RBA governor Philip Lowe said in 2021 that rates wouldn’t change until 2024? Oops.

What can we do?

The uncertainty surrounding inflation and interest rates seems likely to be around for a while yet. In such circumstances, one thing we can do is plan for both best and worst case scenarios. Michael O’Neill likens it to packing for a holiday. If you’re heading to a location known for variable weather, you’ll pack clothes for both warm and cool conditions. 

As for retirement with rising prices and rental or mortgage payments, Ms Delahunty and Vanguard’s Daniel Shrimski share a view. Both agree that a strong super system combined with proper advice are key. It was “important that a robust superannuation balance is part of a ‘whole-of-wealth’ retirement plan,” Mr Shrimski said.

That may not guarantee a comfortable retirement, but it will give you your best shot at one.

Have the events of recent years dented your confidence in having a comfortable retirement? Have you changed your plans to accommodate this? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: ‘Rethink Retirement’ report exposes Aussies

Disclaimer: All content on YourLifeChoices website is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It has been prepared with due care but no guarantees are provided for the ongoing accuracy or relevance. Before making a decision based on this information, you should consider its appropriateness in regard to your own circumstances. You should seek professional advice from a financial planner, lawyer or tax agent in relation to any aspects that affect your financial and legal circumstances.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. One week the problem is retirees not spending money in retirement and the next not being able to afford retirement or fear of running out of money. Is it any wonder that many approaching retirement are confused? ASFA have a vested interest in pushing for more money in super funds, how about comparing with the SCA estimates of necessary funds for comfortable retirement.

  2. As a part pensioner who pays income tax and has a mortgage, I can tell you that it is NOT getting any easier.
    I’m glad that interest rates have been kept on hold, as rate rises (which are immediate) exceed any rise in any of my income (which is Bi-Yearly).
    Couple that with the excessive increases in things like:- Council Rates, Electricity, Gas, Insurances etc makes the future look somewhat bleak !!!

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