27 September 2023

When is it enough? An age breakdown for superannuation

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Grace Jennings-Edquist* speaks with experts to figure out how much superannuation people should expect to have in order to retire comfortably.

Most Australian adults are worried about being able to retire comfortably — but not many of us can say exactly how much we should actually have saved.

So we asked two experts how much you’d ideally have in your super account at your stage of life, and how you can boost it if your current balance isn’t measuring up.

These figures are a starting point

For a ballpark idea of where you might like your superannuation balance to be for your age, you can start with figures from the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA), the peak body in this country on all things super.

The ASFA regularly estimates the amount of money a single person, or couple, will need to live after retirement.

Using those figures, it provides a handy calculator through its consumer site, Super Guru, that allows you to plug in your year of birth and spits out a figure that your current balance should reflect if you want to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

Annual budget needed to fund lifestyle in post-work years

Age pension only Modest lifestyle Comfortable lifestyle
Single $21,222 $28,254 $44,412
Couple $31,995 $40,829 $62,828

Another way to calculate how much you’ll need each year of retirement?

Generally, “70 per cent of pre-retirement income is what you’ll need” to live off each year, says independent financial adviser Jacie Taylor, citing the benchmark endorsed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

You may also find it interesting to compare your current super balance with those of others who share your age and gender identity using the table below, and see how you stack up.

(Just keep in mind: the average super balance for your age and gender may be just that — an average — and may be too low or too high for your individual needs.)

Superannuation balances by age and gender

Age Men: Average account balance Men: Median account balance Women: Average account balance Women: Median account balance
25-29 $25,173 $17,495 $21,774 $16,956
30-34 $51,175 $38,764 $42,240 $32,904
35-39 $83,723 $65,220 $66,611 $50,108
40-44 $121,119 $92,303 $92,680 $65,840
45-49 $165,587 $118,686 $122,228 $80,303
50-54 $214,795 $139,444 $157,124 $92,671

Ask yourself what lifestyle you’re aiming for after retirement then work backwards

While the ASFA figures are a good starting point to get you thinking about how much super you might need, experts say the amount you personally need will depend on your unique circumstances.

Richard Gough, a Melbourne-based financial advisor, says many Australians are moving away from the traditional model of retirement — and their superannuation planning needs to reflect that.

“The old adage of ‘you retire at 65, then have 20 years of not doing anything at all’ is out the window.

“Now people are thinking about staying active [and often] working part time in retirement.”

He recommends readers begin by asking themselves how much they’ll need to live off after retirement, then “working backwards”.

That involves getting clear on your lifestyle goals by asking yourself questions like: “How do I want to live my life in the future? Will I downsize the family home? Will I even have a home at all? Will I travel overseas? Will I work part time for half the year?” he says.

If you plan to keep working two days a week until 75, you’ll need less than your peers who stop paid work altogether at age 60.

You may need more (or less) than the ASFA figures

There are other factors that may also influence whether you may need more to live on — or less — than the ASFA amounts.

If you don’t own your own home, for example, those ASFA amounts might not be enough to fund a comfortable standard of living, says Ms Taylor.

“When you hear those stories about people who end up in poverty — [for example] older ladies not turning on their air conditioning — usually that’s where people haven’t been able to buy their own homes, so they have so much money going on rent,” she says.

You may end up needing more than predicted if your long-term relationship breaks down or if you live in a pricier area, she adds.

“Those ASFA numbers are based on what the average Australian will need. So in some capital cities, the cost of living is higher,” she says.

And if you really want to live the high life — travelling on several luxury cruises a year and renovating the bathroom every five years — you may need more than those ASFA figures recommend even for a ‘comfortable’ lifestyle.

On the other hand, you may need less than the ASFA figures if you come into a large inheritance, says Ms Taylor.

You may also be able to live off less than the ASFA’s allocated ‘modest’ budget if you’re very frugal; if you’re happy to go without private health insurance; or if you go without a car.

This article contains general information only. You should consider obtaining independent professional advice in relation to your particular circumstances.

*Grace Jennings-Edquist is a contributor at the ABC.

This article first appeared at abc.net.au.

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