Revealing the truth about retirement affordability

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There are more than 3 million retirees in Australia living on a fixed income. A growing proportion of these people are doing it very tough. Yet their plight is rarely discussed, let alone addressed.

So why are these people seemingly invisible in the eyes of policy makers?

For far too long the ASFA Retirement Living Standard categories of ‘comfortable’ versus ‘modest’ have been accepted as sufficient to cover the range of retirement income experiences. But YourLifeChoices has long suspected that ‘comfortable’ was much closer to ‘very well off’ and ‘modest’ meant ‘verging on poverty’.

With 3.5 million retirees and another 4 million currently aged 45 or over, who are due to retire over the next 20 years, retirement affordability should be one of the hottest policy topics in Canberra.

Yet apart from ongoing cuts to access to the Age Pension and fiddling around the edges of superannuation rules, there has been little real debate about the coming perfect storm. This storm consists of an ageing population, underfunded for retirement, carrying more debt, expected to shoulder all the risk of their retirement income, with virtually no government support and extremely low trust in industry advisers.

As Matt Grudnoff at The Australia Institute (TAI), our partner in the soon to be released Retirement Affordability Index™, has noted, ‘we had long suspected that a significant group of people in retirement are not doing very well at all, in fact they are living in poverty.’

And by contrast, another ‘retirement tribe’ is doing extremely well. And unless we reject the ‘one-size-fits-all’ descriptions of retirement income and look at the actual spending of the different types of retirement households, we will continue to assume that life in retirement is merely ‘comfortable’ or ‘modest’ – rather than ranging from the luxurious to the downright penurious.

Much research was required in order to discern more accurate retirement categories, with six different tribes being identified.

First up, we used special household expenditure data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to segment the population into six categories according to their home ownership, relationship status and form of income. Next the Consumer Price Index (CPI) across 12 different categories of expenditure was applied, showing how prices have risen much faster than CPI for retirement renters and at a slower rate for retired homeowners.

Blind Freddie can see that this situation is likely to be exacerbated as rental prices increase under pressure from the overheated property market.

Additionally, YourLifeChoices conducted a survey of its 250,000 members to ask about their experience of retirement affordability. This uncovered a lot of angst, including the sad truth that 56 per cent of respondents have run out of money before their next pension pay cheque arrives.

So using this new data, we have created an index to achieve two separate, but related, purposes. Firstly, to encourage a deeper policy debate about equity in retirement and to prompt questions about whether the current rules favour all.

And secondly, to assist YourLifeChoices members and other individual retirees who are trying to navigate the confusion of rules and regulations, subject to constant change, fearing that they ‘don’t know what they don’t know’, about retirement income.  Our retirement tribes’ household expenditure tables show the amounts your particular retirement tribe typically spends, item by item, as well as include a handy table in which to record your own expenditure and how you compare to the rest of your tribe. This will be updated quarterly so you can keep on top of your household budget. So don’t forget to watch out for the inaugural edition of the Retirement Affordability Index™ – hitting your inbox on Sunday 9 April.

Are you surprised to learn that many retirees are living in poverty? Or is this no news at all? To which retirement tribe do you belong?

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Written by Kaye Fallick

118 Comments

Total Comments: 118
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    Well done YLC a voice in the wilderness.

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      Agree. The reason the bastards do not talk about those on fixed incomes is because the facts would come into the public arena and there would be pressure to do something. They do not want to do anything other than screw retirees by painting them out as rich leeches when their incomes keep falling.
      The above is a distraction so that people shift their view away from fraudulent tax avoidance at the top of the tree and offshore tax shelters where the wealthy are able to squirrel away their (stolen) loot.
      So why does the media let them do it??????

  2. 0
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    Thankyou Kaye…I think this is one of the few sites where you consistently hear a broad range of perspectives on aging …not the persistent ROSE-COLOURED GLASSES view of smiling, good-looking, ‘it’s your time!!’ view of retirees in ‘resort-style villages’. Yes, some are VERY well-off which masks the reality for most and skews the conversation and perspective of the on-looker younger population. We live with totally out-dated concepts on aging …. the only response to an increasing number of older people is to raise the retirement age…woefully simplistic. We don’t have an aging ‘problem’ …we have an opportunity to change how these extra years of life can be lived to enhance all members of our society. How can we tap into the immense life -experience of older people … how can we facilitate their on-going contribution to society in a way that suits them …with flexibility and understanding of their needs ….
    ot to force them to work younger or be ‘young’!!! Value OLD and the fantastic changes that come with being older …in our thinking, our BEING. When we see older people for who they are NOW (not what we want them to be to fit in with current notions of productivity and efficiency and success and who is valuable) then we will have a society that is inclusive and respectful of all ….at all stages of life!!!

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      Well said Zen 🙂 Yes, I too am tired of the (TV) presentations of very ‘youthful, beautiful, well groomed and attired Retirees’ when they (in slow motion but with obviously no physical age related problems) move down the private wharf to load the picnic basket into the 28′ cabin cruiser. Or sitting happily in this years model ($60k plus) vehicle as they wend there down the Great Ocean Road to Nirvana etc, etc 🙁 …………….* sigh. Show it often enough and the TV fed and raised younger generation(s) will actually believe it and continue to increase their disdain of the current real life retirees 🙁

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      Well said Zen. In some cultures advanced age means being highly respected. I agree that we older citizens should be treated as you suggest. There are several problems that some like to link up. Our young folks, who live and work in the big cities are having a hard time being able to afford a home of any kind. Old folks are living in times of higher living costs, and unless they are very wealthy, they will struggle to stay in their homes, or find the kind of accommodation they want/need. Most families these days must have two wage earners in order to just maintain and meet the costs of living and caring for their children. Things have changed in the last 30 years. I would caution everyone to avoid finger pointing on the pension issues as we are still in that transition period since mandatory pensions were introduced. Once a person has had a pension plan for their entire working life, some of these issues will take care of themselves. I think it does everyone a bad turn to start calling it welfare, given how things were done in the past. It does not help anything either, except cause some folks to feel mistreated, or bad about their circumstances. For many, their work is something they enjoy and making a contribution feels good, and if there is not enough jobs for the young people, it seems a little late to put the elderly on an unemployed allowance, and make them go out and try to find a job, when most businesses don’t really want oldies there at all. I think it is really terrible to badmouth retired people, their race has been run, for good or no.

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    Correction to my comment below…’work longer’ (not, work younger)

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    It is pleasing to read the real truth that the larger percentage of retirees are doing it tough. Our governments are very good at masking and/or fiddling with the figures/statistics to make things better than they really are. This includes how the government measures inflation. We are all doing it tough because the cost of services, utilities, health insurance etc is soaring, and either making it unaffordable, or forcing us to cut spending in other areas, such as food. Enough of the lies and deceit. Our governments and councils need to realise they are no longer dealing with uneducated or apathathic people. We now demand better from our politicians and councillors. The government needs to act now on ensuring older Australians can live a comfortable life in retirement.

    • 0
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      Yes many of us are not living the ‘luxury life’ in those wonderful 4/5 star retirement villages we all see advertised. In my group of friends
      there is a broad spectrum of life-styles from those just managing
      to stay afloat to those able to go on cruises (forgive the pun!) and
      holidays two three times a year, and llive in some style.
      I would not consider ourselves as ‘poor’ but we only just manage
      to keep in the ‘comfortable’ bracket and cannot afford extras or
      any luxuries now that utilities, health care etc keep going up and up.

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      It is would not matter how much welfare OAPs were given it would never be enough.

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      It wouldn’t matter how much public servants and bureaucrats were given either, Old Geezer, it wouldn’t be enough.
      Remember Julia Gillard requested extra perks, an office in Melbourne and Adelaide plus an extra staffer. Kevin Rudd demanded two Brisbane offices, staff and other perks, even ringing the Prime Minister to discuss his arrangements. That’s in spite of both of them raking in $200,000 pension plus estimated $300,000-a-year office and travel costs.
      Some ex pollies have banded together for more pension because living on $100K plus leaves them disadvantaged…and the list goes on.

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      OG, that’s a horrid and deeply offensive thing to say. I know dozens of OAPs who are deeply grateful for their pension and manage impressively well on it. Complaints of inadequacy are entirely justified in most cases, by the high costs of utilities and health care etc. and a disgracefully unjust system of determining increases on false criteria.

      I believe the majority would be perfectly content with an appropriate increase and a fair system of ensuring the pension keeps up with inflation. Sure, there are some who can never be satisfied, or whose expectations are unreasonable, but I am confident they are the minority. Most pensioners are anything but greedy and self-serving. It’s the much better off who are never satisfied and always grasping for more.

    • 0
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      Rainey the truth hurts sometimes but that is reality.

    • 0
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      It’s NOT truth or reality, OG. It’s as stinking vile pig’s nasty assumptions about good people who don’t deserve to have to share their world with a vile creature like you.

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      Now Rainey who is being nasty and denigrating.

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      Truth hurts, eh OG?

  5. 0
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    Where the poster Old Geezer? He usually has something to say about how lucky retirees are, but of course he doesn’t have to live on the OAP so he can afford to be esoteric. With a bit of luck he’s gone elsewhere.
    This is a good report and I’m sending it to my fed/state local member/s and councillor.

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      Ha ha I’m very comfortable living on much less than the OAP. Definitely at least 3 cruises a year in the OAP so what are you all going on about? Once can be as poor as they wish.

      Remember this saying?

      Rich people stay rich by living like they’re broke. Broke people stay broke by living like they’re rich.

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      Don’t wish to be rude, but Old Geezer I wish you’d put a sock in it sometimes. Your like a broken record. Can you say something original for a change.

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      Sorry don’t have any spare socks.

    • 0
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      OG, Could you please rewrite sentences 2 and 3 in paragraph 1 in understandable English.

      Thanks.

    • 0
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      Well Captain I reread it and it all makes perfect sense to me.

    • 0
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      “3 cruises a year in an OAP?” Just proves the idiot OG lives in fantasy land and has no idea of reality. What an utterly STUPID claim!

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      Rainey there are a lot of OAPs that do 3 or more cruises a year. Obviously you have never been on one and talked to them.

    • 0
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      Arrogance Geezer. Your method of spitting on those below you. Pretty pitiful and I have to feel sorry for you.
      I can however relate to a part of your spiel. My wife and I earn not too much above the OAP and manage a long overseas trip once a year. At least so far. The secret for us is living frugally, and that doesn’t mean buying expensive food, fast food, restaurants, shows, paid weekend sporting venues, new cars every 5 years (we have 1 between us), the latest fashion clothing, etc., etc.
      A bit of a list. And yes I know not everybody wants to live this way. But it works. Of course our idea of holidaying is also different from others and our costs are well down here too.
      There are all flavours in life. Some people face disadvantage which is not self inflicted. Others choose to spend their limited income in other ways. In the end there are choices for most of us and we have to be careful to not pull the other man down who has made sacrifices and life style decisions to get what others want too. That’s life.
      Get rid of some of the right wing nastiness I perceive in your comments Geezer. There may be different flavours but you need to recognise not all people are painted with the same brush and show a little respect towards those who deserve it.

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      No, OG, I’ve never been on a cruise. But I know that people on nothing but an OAP don’t go on cruises. Those with additional income or assets may, but those on just the OAP struggle to get by. And I think it’s vile and disgusting to suggest that they have enough to cruise the world when the rest of us are urging society to recognize that many of them can’t even afford heating in winter.

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      Unfortunately Old Geezer is a man who is lucky, has probably set himself up worked hard and can brag about how easily his lifestyle is on small or large income , we don’t really know.
      What I do know about old geezer is he is a person who is incapable of looking any where else but into his own good fortune and how smart he thinks he is.
      He has no conception of “situation” that changes the world for every single one of the 7 billion of us ,every minute.
      I call him old self satisfied foolish geezer.
      Than again he may just be a stirrer, I am finding I am not too keen on a person who is extraordinarily presumptuous.
      I also am certain that the majority of pensioners are doing it quite hard , some seriously in trouble others just making it, and a tiny few who are nicely situated, old G will say I can get by on nothing and live happily, but then we know what old G is don’t we! And we don’t kno if he tells porkies!

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      I just tell it how it is not how people want to hear it. That would be telling porkies.

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      No, OG, you tell it like your warped nasty twisted mind perceives it. But healthy minds know you are wrong.

  6. 0
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    Thank you also Kaye.
    An excellent article and very accurate. It doees not matter what party is in Government they are as bad as each other. Both have their noses in the trough.
    Neither carefor the plight of pensioners and have squandered taxes and royalties from mining boom and before with abysmal policies and social diection (or lack if it)

  7. 0
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    Well done, Kaye, again, for publishing what’s happening in the real world.

    It is time there was a petition to get full Age Pensions for all Australians who paid taxes for say 20 years here, without any asset and income tests, with all other income taxed. Then, the Fed Govt can also save massive Centrelink costs for administering pensions except for those who don’t qualify as above.
    This can easily be paid for (even increasing it) if all Companies and the rich are made to pay reasonable taxes by having an Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) of say 15-20% on all income without allowing any shonky deductions – as in USA (there since 1969) and other countries.

    As no political parties are supporting pensioners, can you start a Petition?

    • 0
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      The rich already pay more than their fair share of tax in Australia and get no benefits.

    • 0
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      Rubbish, OG, if they did they don’t have to worry with an AMT – which is about paying a fair share!

      I also should have mentioned – the Govt needs to change the rules so as to make tax rules simple and clear so Multinationals and Large Companies can’t avoid tax – and help make ATO’s task easier.

    • 0
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      Rubbish they are not avoiding tax at all as they are paying it elsewhere in the world in countries that are smart enough to realise that if they give them a decent tax rate then they will pay their tax plus a lot more in their country.

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      Rubbish again from a right-wing Liberal party stooge propagating their nonsensical justifications. Go away, you are in a very small minority here on YLC.

    • 0
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      How do you know the rich pay more than their fair share of tax, Old Geezer? I suggest they are wealthy enough to employ fancy accountants to save them from paying tax.

    • 0
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      How much do you have to accumulate before you are classified as RICH?

    • 0
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      @George, do you only like to read commentary you agree with? Must be nice to be always so right that you can ignore what you have not considered. OG has as an important alternative voice on the YLC boards, especially since it is frequently unpopular and among the minority. This diversity should be welcomed.

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      Diversity is welcome. Vile sanctimonious arrogance and outright dishonesty is not, Farside. OG is offensive in the extreme. Decent people debate without being nasty and denigrating others.

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      I was referring to OG, Farside. Not you. I disagree with you often, but I don’t find your comments offensive. It’s possible to disagree but be respectful and courteous. OG seems incapable of that. Just as he seems totally incapable of contemplating even as a remote possibility that he might sometimes be wrong. His narcissism is annoying a lot of those who post here.

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      @Rainey, no doubt there are valid reasons why OG’s opinions and stories about his lot might upset some but he is far from alone when it comes to reluctance to contemplate the possibility of being wrong or that there is an alternative perspective. Perhaps strong opinions are a privilege of this age group resulting from them not being accountable for the consequences of being wrong.

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      @Triss, despite the tax planning that goes on among the rich, the ATO statistics show the top 10% of taxable incomes pay 52% of all income taxes. For once Joe Hockey was correct when he said “50% of all income tax in Australia is paid by 10% of the working population.“

      http://theconversation.com/factcheck-is-50-of-all-income-tax-in-australia-paid-by-10-of-the-working-population-45229

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      How much do you have to accumulate before you are classified as RICH? C’mon give a figure.

    • 0
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      Ha ha Gina says she is not rich so it must be in the hundreds of billions. I read somewhere recently they were talking about $5 million plus being rich. You are right Farside the top 10% of taxable include pay more than half the tax. Remember families under $60,000 pay nothing when tax and benefits are balanced out. It seems that those who actually contribute rather than receive are in the minority not the majority. That said how can a country function with this happening. We certainly now live in a country dominated by welfare.

      Rainey I am neither nasty or denigrate others but others can’t say the same. Of course I am wrong sometimes but right most of the time. I do my homework so that I know how to play the game.

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      $5 million plus being rich, then I must be on struggle street.

  8. 0
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    ” Firstly, to encourage a deeper policy debate about equity in retirement and to prompt questions about whether the current rules favour all.”

    Hmmm…. To this read – those average Australian that managed to scrimp and save and go without to both buy their home AND save for their retirement will be punished and have it taken off them and those that did nothing except spend whatever they got will be rewarded with government more handouts.

    Seems ‘equity in retirement’ really means reducing those who managed to put something away for retirement to a level where they need not have bothered.

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      Rubbish the government has taken nothing form me at all.

    • 0
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      If you want to drink, smoke or gamble in retirement, that is your choice, but it should not be up to our kids to pay for it. If you like eating out, our kids who can’t afford it themselves, should not be expected to pick up your bill.

      If you want to live in Sydney or Melbourne after retire, again I can see no reason why our kids should be expected to pay for that life choice of yours.

      If you want to do these things it is up to you to make provision during your working life to pay for these indulgences after you retire.

      The pension should not be expected to fund more than adequate food & housing, in an area of lower cost. Any more is simply greedy by the older generation. We pensioners should always be asking, can my kids afford to pay for this. If the answer is no, you are expecting too much.

    • 0
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      I see there is a problem for your young folks and I am all for plans to make home ownership possible for them. It is not the fault of average retired folks living on a small pension, we did not create the expensive times now, and during the time we worked we paid into the government fund via taxes. This is down to poor management by elected people, and the direction seems to favor the super rich at the expense of the mainstream population. There is no reason to not stop the honey pot of negative gearing, and that is not the full solution. We need a set of strategies that will result in better outcomes for more people.

      Old people are old, moving is traumatic, sorting out the junk is traumatic for some, old people are often sick, it is not for the faint hearted. Why not consider our contribution over a lifetime and stop threatening their incomes. I say this is an ugly time in our society. We can do better without being cruel to anyone.

      We never wasted money, hardly ever had a holiday, paid our bills, and would like the feeling that we can consider our income our income and be able to plan what to do with what we have. As it is, stress about income creates medical conditions and worry at a time when we have enough to worry about without that too.

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      I see there is a problem for your young folks and I am all for plans to make home ownership possible for them. It is not the fault of average retired folks living on a small pension, we did not create the expensive times now, and during the time we worked we paid into the government fund via taxes. This is down to poor management by elected people, and the direction seems to favor the super rich at the expense of the mainstream population. There is no reason to not stop the honey pot of negative gearing, and that is not the full solution. We need a set of strategies that will result in better outcomes for more people.

      Old people are old, moving is traumatic, sorting out the junk is traumatic for some, old people are often sick, it is not for the faint hearted. Why not consider our contribution over a lifetime and stop threatening their incomes. I say this is an ugly time in our society. We can do better without being cruel to anyone.

      We never wasted money, hardly ever had a holiday, paid our bills, and would like the feeling that we can consider our income our income and be able to plan what to do with what we have. As it is, stress about income creates medical conditions and worry at a time when we have enough to worry about without that too.

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      I can’t agree with you there, Hasbeen, it’s a documented fact that uprooting the elderly from their homes and away from family and long standing friends hastens their death.
      Remember also that your kids will not be kids forever and one day they will be elderly and maybe in need of some kind of taxpayer funded help.
      Part of my taxes throughout my working life paid for the pensions of those a lot older than me and I never thought of objecting, it was something we all did.

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      You are right, KSS. The assets test change was the first step and there is undoubtedly more to follow. But it’s counterproductive and stupid, because it merely drives irresponsible conduct and manipulation and will drive pension costs higher.

    • 0
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      The asset test change was a good first step in the right direction and there is a lot more to come. I look forward to the May budget.

    • 0
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      Oh yes, the assets test was really smart! Affected retirees can take a $100,000 cruise and get $180,000 more in pension benefits over 10 years as a reward. What sort of DICKHEAD endorses an idiotic scheme that has that kind of result.

      Selfish morons are dictating that people who strive and act responsibly should be stripped of all the rewards of their effort unless they get to be quite wealthy, while spendthrifts enjoy handouts and the rich rort the tax system to pay bugger all. No wonder the nation is in a mess. But greedy, self-serving pigs only care about their own bank balance. The rest of the nation can go to hell, as long as they are okay.

  9. 0
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    I know some retirees who are able to trot the globe, I have no idea if they are on any benefits from the Pension. I for one, am looking after a partner with dementia, who has mobility issues. Since we are both retired now we have enough money to live on, but I am constantly having to have things at the house fixed and it all costs a lot of money, basically it comes in and goes out. I am not in a position to sell, we have to stay here and just yesterday found out I have to get some water pipes fixed. So, no globe trotting for us, no dinners out, once in a while a movie and maybe lunch. We can so far pay our bills though and for that I am so very thankful. It may be that the amount of money one needs to live with both food and shelter is just beyond many and with various community services being rationalized, loss of RN radio quality, poor programming on the ABC television no adult education, folks are forced into a grim existence. All I do is save up for the next thing that needs to be fixed.

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    OG.. You are an incredible person. How do I know ? Because you’ve been telling everybody as often as you can. However no matter what you say and no matter what the reason its not going to make any difference. Your carping is extremely sanctimonious and very self righteous but it still doesn’t change the fact that many pensioners are living below the poverty line. So the discussion is about how to change that, not to inform everyone that they should have done what you have done. Good luck to you except everyone has different circumstances. Count yourself lucky and leave it that at.

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      Luck has nothing to do with it at all. I only got to where I am today through hard work and good financial management.

    • 0
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      Well said ‘inextratime’ re: OG. I too am sick and tired of the self righteous attitude of OG and the love fest he has with himself with his comments daily. Yes we too worked hard, and now still do as volunteers and were careful with our finances – but unfortunately for some of us – out of the blue situations happen and our reserves
      get used up and not through any fault of ours.
      Thankfully we do not have any debts nor have we had a credit card for years – so manage to keep within our lesser income limits.

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      It never ceases to amaze me of the excuses people have for why they haven’t achieved.

      I something think I have more out of the blue situations that most people for example having had cancer not once but twice forty years apart. Unfortunately the treatment hasn’t changed very much in those 40 years.

      I also was born with a very rusty silver spoon as well as my family was very poor and expected me to do a full day’s work as well as go to school.

      Credit cards are awesome if you can master them and not have them control you. I love my free plane trip to somewhere every year and the other benefits they bring.

      The word can’t is not in my vocabulary and never has been. So I never accept it from anyone either. I just tell the word is won’t not can’t and I then usually get what I want form them.

    • 0
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      Old Geezer, those kind of remarks demean you more than they demean others.
      I would imagine that everyone here has achieved many things and survived many setbacks so putting people down is a very negative and unhelpful trait.

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      People put themselves down not me.

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      OG, you do put people down, and you boast and gloat, and it’s sick and vile and disgusting. Lots of people have faced horrendous challenges. Some rise above them. Others can’t. Sometimes success is earned and deserved. More often, it is good luck rather than good management. And when people don’t succeed, it’s usually not because they don’t try hard enough, but rather because they had the odds stacked against them by virtue of limited education or intellect, psychological challenges, or a genuine crisis or major challenge that others would struggle to understand.

      OG, if you had EVER faced hardship or struggle, you would have empathy and human decency and you would not be the vile sanctimonious pig that you present as.

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      Rainey I don’t put anyone down they put themselves down not me. There is no such word are can’t the word you want is won’t. It has nothing to do with luck at all but good management and not giving up. Most people give up way too early. That’s why high functioning autistic people succeed. They never give up until they master something. That’s why many are uni professors, engineers and other successful people. No one has the odds stacked against them. Just look at Stephen Hawkings.

      I have faced more hardship that most people do in more than once lifetime and I know a lot about struggling and I also know that people just whinge and give up instead of getting on with life not matter what.

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