Seven tips for living well on the Age Pension

Like most developed countries across the globe, Australia has an ageing population. As life expectancy continues to rise, so will the number of citizens of retirement age. By 2056, it is assumed that over 22 per cent of the population will be aged 65 or over.

Currently, more than 3.9 million people are retired in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 49 per cent of retired men and 44 per cent of retired women live with the Age Pension as their main source of income.

The amount of money you receive from the Age Pension depends on your circumstances, but the latest figures show the maximum basic rate is $882.20 a fortnight ($22,937.20 a year) for a single person and $1330 a fortnight ($34,580 a year) for couples.

For those with little or no superannuation assets, living on a full or part pension can be tough. Here are a few simple things you can do to ensure you are making the most of your income.

1. Make a budget
Having a budget is smart. It allows you to see what money you have coming in and how much you need to spend, while highlighting areas for possible savings.

Start with listing all your expenses, prioritising essentials such as mortgage or rental payments, food, and bills.

Online budget planners such as Canstar’s Budget Planner and the MoneySmart Budget Planner can give you an estimate of your yearly cash flow.

Read: Would you use a budgeting app?

2. Be confident in your income
You need to be sure that you can live within your means. If you’re unsure or concerned, play it safe for a while so you’re more prepared for any expenses you haven’t planned for.

Once you’ve stuck to a budget for a few months, you’ll be able to adjust accordingly.

3. Save for the unexpected
Life can be unpredictable, so it could be a wise idea to try to save for those unexpected things that happen from time to time.

“Such as the water heater system blowing up,” says Ian Yates, chief executive officer of COTA, formerly known as the Council on the Ageing. “It won’t happen very often but if you don’t plan ahead for it, it could cause you trouble.”

Mr Yates urged retirees to avoid getting into unnecessary debt in such situations.

“If you do (get into debt), don’t borrow money,” he said. “Get a financial counsellor to help. They know how to talk to people you’ve borrowed money from and they can help you get out of trouble.”

Free counselling is available from the National Debt Helpline, or you can reach out to organisations such as Lifeline if you feel you are under financial stress.

If you do find yourself in money trouble, reach out and seek help. Money problems can happen to anyone and the earlier you seek assistance, the more options you’ll have available to you.

Read: Saving for a holiday is no longer Aussies’ main savings goal

4. Check what else you may be entitled to
The following cards provide seniors, retirees and pensioners with discounts on things such as travel, healthcare and utilities. Check to see if you’re eligible.

Pensioner Concession Card
Gives you access to cheaper utility and medical bills, and discounts on public transport in some states. You must:

  • be aged 60 or over, and
  • get the Age Pension or other payments from Centrelink.

See Pensioner Concession Card on the Services Australia website.

Seniors card
Offers a discount on public transport and some goods and services. Generally, you must be aged 60 or over, and work less than 20 hours per week.

Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
Gets you cheaper prescriptions and medical appointments. You must:

  • be of Age Pension age
  • meet an income test
  • not receive Centrelink payments.

See Commonwealth Seniors Health Card on the Services Australia website.

5. Look for part-time work
Earning extra income up to a certain amount won’t affect your pension payments. A single person can earn up to $180 a fortnight ($4680 a year), couples can earn a combined income of up to $320 a fortnight ($8320 a year).

The government also has a Work Bonus Scheme that was designed to encourage people to stay in the workforce after the Age Pension age.

“People should think about that, and they might well find somewhere that’s looking for help, even if it’s only casual,” says Mr Yates.

The scheme works automatically and $300 a fortnight is added to your Work Bonus balance, up to a maximum of $7800 a year.

It’s not money you can withdraw but it acts as an offset in the income test for any extra money you earn. So you could potentially earn an extra $300 a fortnight, on top of the amount allowed for singles and couples, without impacting on your Age Pension.

That means a single person could potentially earn up to $480 a fortnight ($12,480 a year), couples an extra $620 a fortnight ($16,120 a year) and still receive the maximum Age Pension.

Read: How much Work Bonus in the bank?

6. Think twice before taking credit
The convenience credit brings is often tied to high interest rates. But there are credit cards with low or no fees and low interest, so it pays to shop around.

If you have a credit card, include the balance in your monthly budget so you can pay it off and avoid fees and interest.

It could also be worth exploring other options with your banking products as there are several financial institutions that offer incentives to seniors.

7. Make small lifestyle changes
Whether this is trying the generic version of products you often buy or heading to a different supermarket for your weekly shop, small changes in your day-to-day can really add up. Check out your local library for your reading material or keep an eye out for street libraries in your area. If you have a Seniors Card, go to a cafe that offers a discount on your morning coffee and read through the discounts available to you before making any big purchases.

Do you have any other tips for living well on the Age Pension? Please share them in the comments section below.

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Written by Ellie Baxter