Cat’s retirement story

Cat’s retirement story

30 May 2017 12:17

Cat and Mike (PSS and CSS members) planned for ten years before retiring. There were a lot of big decisions to make, like where to live, how to keep busy, and how to adjust to life with less expendable income. Read Cat and Mike's retirement story below.


My husband had spent more than 23 years with the AFP and prior to that, 10 years in the Royal Australian Navy. After leaving the AFP he entered the security world in private industry.

I met him in the Navy and when I was honourably discharged, went into private industry before moving to Canberra and working 20 years in the APS followed by 10 years as a consultant Project Manager in private industry.

For most of our working lives we had high-stress jobs. It was clear to both of us that if we were to survive to see our grandchildren grow up, we needed early retirement. So we began to plan for that 10 years before we actually retired.

“...planning early and understanding what is involved is essential because it is a very, very different lifestyle..”

We knew our superannuation would be good and we planned ahead for what we would need. As was advised to us, planning early and understanding what is involved is essential because it is a very, very different lifestyle and both of us love it although it took time to adjust.

So what was there to adjust to?

Firstly, we moved away from Canberra after living there for 37 years. Mike loves surfing so, after years of travelling down to the coast, we decided to buy a block and retire there. We bought 6 years before we finally moved in a place we loved. But it took a lot of planning besides just building a house and moving. We knew this would be our last house and we made sure we had enough money to build what we wanted. We were lucky in that our house in Isaacs was sold at a very good price to allow us to build our dream home - no steps.

To this day, planning this house with everything we thought we would need was one of the delights of retirement planning. And we love it still and would make no changes to this day. We took all of the 6 years to plan the house, had an architect design it and got a high quality builder to build it. In the end, we have a small mortgage that we can afford on our pensions but it’s worth it.

We looked around for things to do after such busy lives. Mike joined a local volunteer organisation, I joined a choir and a local writers group. That gave us access to people and we made friends quickly. This was essential for our well-being. Being very busy every day for most of our lives and now going on permanent holiday (for that is how it seems to this day), is quite a shock.

One of the things we were advised was to pick a routine initially and stick to it until you get your feet under you in retirement. For the first two years we did this and now, with friends, knowledge of the area and community we have made a place for ourselves. Mike left his volunteer group due to crazy political machinations (yes, community groups have this even down the coast). It is something worth considering when choosing what to do in retirement. Now he volunteers at a local adventure kayaking business and loves it. It keeps him as busy as he wants during most of the year - about 2 days a week during winter and much more during summer.

I left the choir for the same reasons Mike left SES but set up a second writing group which I now run with a close friend. It’s very successful with several published authors. I maintained writing connections with Canberra and now am Treasurer of Conflux Inc. that runs an annual writing convention. I write every day and have had 7 short stories published and a book being considered by 2 publishers.

So, having planned everything and having been successful, what was the hardest thing? Living with less money. Definitely! We went from an excellent income to one that is per year sufficient - even good. But it is a truism that what you earn you spend. Our earnings allowed us to buy whatever we fancied. We found very quickly that we had everything because we’d planned it that way with the house and the move, and that the spending we had been doing was on extras - and they weren’t really needed.

“So, having planned everything and having been successful, what was the hardest thing? Living with less money.”

But this is the hardest thing to come to terms with. It was something we knew all along but the experience of having to budget, spread out paying bills, think about our spending, was something we’d not done since our early marriage. We started going to Aldi - only place to shop now - and found ourselves saying ‘No’ to our children’ request for financial assistance (although that hasn’t been all that successful with the grandchildren).

Although Mike surfs, I’ve always been a bit of a computer nerd and sitting is not good for old bones. Two years ago we took up Pilates twice a week. It has been wonderful for both of us because it keeps our bodies well balanced. It helps when we spend days babysitting babies and 2 or 3 year olds. We also play golf twice a week. Something neither of us are particularly good at but we love - it challenges us every time we play. And we found ABC Active Memory - games for a healthy mind. It really does work and keeps the brain fit and healthy.

Another important thing is to plan about health services. Our doctor of 30 years referred us and we are very happy with the new practice. But it is important to have health documentation transferred. Also we discovered that updating Wills and relevant legal documents is something we hadn’t considered till 4 years into retirement. It would have been better to do it earlier.

In summary, planning carefully and understanding what you need from retirement is very, very important. And understanding that it is likely you will live on a lot less money than you are used to takes time. But after 5 and a half years, Mike and I couldn’t be happier. We can drive to our children anytime we want, we have made good friends, we are often busier than when we were working but doing stuff we love.

And we have our own lives separate from our children. They moved around over the past 5 years and if we had moved initially with one or stayed in Canberra with the other, we would be on our own anyway. So moving where we wanted and having independence is excellent. In hindsight, this is an important element - living where you want and not relying on your children.

I realise this merely reiterates what all the planning sessions say. All I can say is that those sessions were valuable, the information invaluable and we are happier and healthier than ever in our lives.

Yours in delighted retirement
Cat (& Mike) – PSS and CSS Members

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