Three stages of retirement

Robin Bowerman, Head of Retail at Vanguard Investments Australia.
Robin Bowerman, Head of Retail at Vanguard Investments Australia.

UNDERSTANDABLY, retirement tends to be used as an all-encompassing description of the period spent after a person leaves the workforce.

Retirement, of course, is much more complex than that.

As Rice Warner Actuaries and others have long pointed out, retirement can be divided into three broad stages – active, passive and frail.

And as the debate rages on over the inadequacy of retirement savings for most of the population, the three stages of retirement should be regularly revisited.

A person who has just left work permanently at, say, age 65 typically has an extremely different lifestyle and demands on their savings than a person who has been retired for some years.

Here are the three stages of retirement as summarised by Rice Warner:

  • Active, ages 60-75. Pre-retirement lifestyle generally tends to continue yet without work and with more time for leisure, for families and for travel. Houses are often renovated – perhaps with a new kitchen and bathroom – or houses are upgraded. New cars are often bought as are expensive holidays. Some part-time work is common and, according to Rice Warner, many retirees at this point are net savers.
  • Passive, ages 65-85. This is a period often characterised by moving into a smaller home, travelling closer to home, a little unpaid charitable work and more spending on health. Generally, lifestyles are more frugal.
  • Frail, ages 75-100. Life at this stage usually undergoes significant changes. “Restricted mobility means leisure activities are limited,” says Rice Warner. “Health costs spike.” And there is typically a move into a retirement village or nursing home. As well, retirees in this age group often have to struggle with diminished abilities to make decisions.

With the growing trend for people to stay longer in the workforce, we could perhaps add a significant fourth stage to the periods of retirement: applying to those who are progressively reducing their workloads and adopting lives that are a mix between those of workers and retirees.

The three stages of retirement – or perhaps now four – underline how our financial (and social) needs are likely to change quite dramatically throughout our retirement.

And the stages of retirement underline how difficult it is to make generalisations about people’s lifestyles.

A crucial part of saving for retirement is being prepared to face as best possible, the evolving challenges that will confront us.

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Robin Bowerman, Vanguard Investments Australia's Head of Retail, has more than two decades of experience in the finance industry as a writer, commentator and editor.

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