Imagining the retirement you want is the start to making it real

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
From my first payslip, my older banking brother taught me about saving for retirement.

Fresh out of varsity, I was assured that I would not miss the money I never previously had, but in years to come I would value it. He was right and with that, my first lesson on retirement savings began.

As my brother carefully (and patiently) explained to me the benefit of saving over time, I saw forgone opportunities on the high street. At 20-something, what I was missing is what retirement could look like, both if I saved and if I did not.

Fast forward a couple of decades spent in financial services, today we find that retirement savings still pops up in family dinner-time conversations, but now I have joined some three million other Kiwis who collectively have saved (according to Morningstar’s KiwiSaver quarterly report to September 2020), nearly $71billion.

Routinely, New Zealanders are congratulated for this success and rightly so. Thirteen years on from KiwiSaver’s commencement, many of us are under way with a savings plan. For some it will be part of a wider investment plan, while for others it is the foundation for their future.

Either way, what I have learned over time is that turning the figure saved, regardless of how much it is, into a long-term plan is key. Just as money invested on the sharemarket or held in a savings account at the bank is real, so too is your KiwiSaver account.

Due to the limited access to your KiwiSaver funds until you reach the qualifying age for New Zealand superannuation (currently 65), all too often I encounter people who have paid little attention to their account.

But it is real money, it is your money and the decisions you make today around how much you contribute and what fund you choose can make a big difference to the amount that you have available in the future.

Of course, the future when you are 20 or 30-something is hard to imagine. However, as the years pass by for many of us, thinking about how we want to spend our retirement becomes increasingly important.

Once we figure that out, the next steps become more real as we think about how much money might be needed to fund that lifestyle. There is also the question of how much New Zealand superannuation you may receive when you retire.

Fortunately for us, the promise of summer holidays are on the horizon and we all (hopefully) get to slow down a little and have some space to think and plan for the new year that lies ahead.

While it may not be the most exciting thing you do at the beach or bach, making some time to think about your KiwiSaver opportunity as something more than just a deduction line on your payslip will be time well spent.

So grab a pen and paper this summer and jot down some ideas about what retirement might look like. While for now our international travel plans are stalled, it will return one day and an annual adventure may feature in your early retirement years.

Time with grandchildren, returning to study to complete those papers you always wanted to, building a boat, publishing a book or creating a community garden, are some of the things I hear that people plan to do.

Sure, it’s blended with realism around eventual changing of homes and thinking about legacies people wish to leave, but early on in retirement you are far from slowing down; rather it’s a point in time that allows freedom for a change in lifestyle.

The great thing about planning your future lifestyle is that all ideas are on the table and the more tangible you can make your retirement, the easier it will become to start making it real. Thinking about the money you already have in your KiwiSaver account and what else you need to save to achieve it, is an excellent start.

■ To help get you under way, we have five copies of Martin Hawes’ well-known retirement book Twenty Good Summers to give away. To go in the draw email with KiwiSaver in the subject line.

Trish Oakley is Head of Summer (Forsyth Barr's KiwiSaver scheme). This is not a recommendation to buy or sell any financial product and does not take your personal circumstances into account.


All good advice. Start early and never buy what you can't afford. NEVER borrow for something you haven't saved for (eg a car). Don't waste money on lattes and takeaways. Soon, you will be well off with no debts.

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