Can you work out how long you’ll live in retirement?

Elderly woman drinking tea sitting near the window.

Image: De Visu/Bigstock.com

Short answer: no! But you should have a plan that will cover you in case you live to 95. At least, that’s what Robert Powell suggests in a USA Today report.

Of course, if you knew when you were going to die, planning your finances for retirement would be so much easier. But, more than 30 years out, that doesn’t happen.

The Blum story

The story of Stanley and June Blum is a case in point. He’s a shoe-industry executive who now paints and writes poetry. She’s a psychologist who works part time.

They’ve been married for 75 years. Stanley is 97, June is 96.

They’re from the US where, in 2014, there were 72,197 centenarians. That’s an increase of 44 per cent since 2000. And there’s the expectation of 1 million by 2050.

The Blums are seen as ‘an example of the challenge as well as the promise of longevity. That’s because the ageing couple is running out of money’.

Australian statistics

Statistically, if you were born in Australia in the years 2011­–2013, you could expect to live to 80.1 years (male) or 84.3 years (female). (Unfortunately, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have a lower life expectancy.)

If you turned 65 in 2011–2013 you can expect to get to 84.2 years (males) or 87.1 years (females). There’s this law of statistics (and of life) that says the older you get the longer you can expect to live. You’ll find more information here.

Knowing this still doesn’t help give you a precise life expectancy because, as Powell notes, these statistics are averages. That means half the people who have turned 65 in 2011–2013 will not reach the expectation and half will go past it.

That’s why at least some retirement planners in the US suggest you should plan your finances as if you will live to 95. 

Some realities

To have the financial resources for 30 years after retiring adds huge pressure. And the degree of difficulty increases if there’s a downturn in the economy that impacts negatively on savings, investments, and super funds.

This is one reason why there has been an upturn in the number of people planning to work on beyond retirement age. For some, this is no problem because they want to keep on working (see, for instance, those featured in Refusing to Retire).

But then there are those who will not make it to retirement age, with about 28 per cent of males and 20 per cent of females currently forced to stop work from ill health or loss of employment.

For most, preparing financially for a 30-year retirement is going to be a challenge.

How the Blums cope

As the Blums approach 100, they have a ‘different sense of what matters’. They say they’re not as worried about the future as they once were. And they’re still living fulfilling lives.

‘I object to the word ageing,’ says Stanley. ‘I would change the emphasis from ageing to growing. We are part of nature, and nature’s job is to grow things until they die.’

‘I have very little time left,’ June says. ‘We’re kids of the Depression, as happy eating a frankfurter as roast beef. We’ll be OK no matter what happens.’

That’s the kind of attitude that keeps them going.

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of RetireNotes.com

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