How to retire without enough money

Want to retire but can’t afford it? Here’s some ideas that could help you achieve the dream.

I used to have a divine daydream. It’s one that mostly occurred at work meetings, while pretending to be fascinated by business-speak requiring a Degree in Inanity to decipher.

In my daydream, I jogged along a beach in the early morning warmth- no-one around for miles, the sun on my face. For breakfast I’d devour a thick pancake topped with juicy berries, icecream and whipped cream – never once gaining a kilo of course.

With the day’s schedule mine to choose, my only requirement is to find a bakery for a chocolate eclair after a long explorative walk through a botanical garden.

For additional fun, I’d paddle down the Amazon in a bright yellow canoe, taking photos of the wildlife on the way. Or maybe I’d drop out of a plane strapped tightly to a gorgeous chap with strong biceps. Hey … remember, this is MY daydream.

The daydream ends

In February 2015, the daydream became real. Thanks to a few decades of planning, I quit work and joined the Land of Fossils. With my partner, the Fabulous Gregoire, we drove north to Queensland to bask in idyllic warmth while poor Melbourne shivered through the coldest winter in over 20 years.

I jogged along rivers and beaches in the early morning sunshine, found a fantastic gym for my daily workout, walked a million miles, photographed birds and plants, drew and painted for hours. Even fitted in a little creative writing (not much though, don’t want to overdo things too soon).

Cartoon of older lady in yellow canoe taking photo of large mooseThe pancakes happened (once only, a delicious memory) and the bakery was an everyday event. Best of all, we didn’t gain weight due to all the exercise. So both of us were happy and contented – best I’ve felt in years.

My next step is the yellow canoe and the strapping guy in the plane.

Struggle street

During this time, it came to our attention there are more people than we realised who’re going to struggle to live and thrive in retirement.

Without adequate savings or assets due to – oh gosh, there’s an endless bunch of reasons – divorce, bankruptcy, poor financial choices, expensive children, sick children, physical and mental health issues, GFC carving into expected returns, not planning for retirement early enough – and so on.

Consequently, many people are looking down the barrel of the having-to-work-till-they’re-80 shotgun.

Ideas please!

So how can you retire and still have a good life without constant financial worry?

There’s loads of retirement calculators to work out how much you’ll need to live on. There’s stacks of advice on growing wealth or retiring rich. There’s piles of information on what to spend your money on during retirement.

But it’s difficult to find many ideas on living in retirement when you don’t have enough (or any) money.

So Gregoire and I thought long and hard about this conundrum. Using our unique and amazing talents, including ESP and water divining, the result is this list of 10 ideas. The obvious ideas are first, followed by the more interesting ones1.

Onto the ideas …. this is pretty long by the way!

The ideas list

1. Simplify simplify simplify

There’s a lot being written about simplifying your life – seems to have become flavour of the month.

Cartoon of man singing as he mows the lawnSo how about living off-the-grid? Move to a regional area or a plot of land outside of a city, then grow your own fruit and vegetables, fish from the local river or ocean, keep chickens and goats, and harvest rainwater.

Among other things, you can save money by:

  • staying away from the latest expensive technology
  • buying a small second-hand car (OMG, I can hear some of our friends gasping, “small” is a dirty word)
  • not owning a pet
  • living in a comfortable shack or small house in a regional area – oh my folks, so much less housework
  • shopping at op shops for clothing, crockery, quirky furnishings and books
  • buying second hand goods instead of brand new (even more friends gasping)
  • ceasing to buy gifts for all the family
  • lay off the alcohol (most friends gasping)
  • making your own meals instead of eating out

While this isn’t entirely my idea of a good time because we love to eat out, I could handle a few chickens and we already do most most of these to keep costs down – except fishing as there’d be too many arguments over who’s going to clean and scale the creatures.

Positives – Personally I’d be chuffed to have a lifestyle like this. It’s a clean, green, healthy and happy way to live – and gets you away from the “I want I want” lifestyle most of us have fallen into. Apart from chickens being eaten by recalcitrant foxes, it should be fairly stress-free once you’re set up and ready to roll.

Yep, city-ites may not find it particularly appealing, but it does have a lot going for it if you want to retire and need to reduce expenses.

And what a great way to learn new things and keep that brain fresh and alive!

Negatives – Buying and selling costs can be high so you’d need to do your sums before making a commitment.  Can’t really think of many negatives – they’re minimal if you’re strapped for cash and assets.

2. Earn additional income

This option’s pretty obvious. On the assumption you’re still vaguely healthy in mind and body, turn your hand to earning extra income to supplement your pension or independent income.

Even a little makes a difference to your bottom line – $200 will pay for a week’s groceries, an electricity bill, petrol or contribute to those ever increasing council rates.

Don’t feel you have skills?

For those who skills aren’t useful in the working world anymore, or you just plain don’t want to do what you’ve done all your life because just thinking about it makes you regurgitate lunch, here’s some ideas:

  • cleaning houses and apartments (gosh, even toilets if that’s what it takes)
  • washing graffiti off walls
  • crossing supervisor at your local school
  • fixing bicycles
  • making gourmet treats for cafes, or to sell at a market
  • writing articles for magazines, newspapers and journals
  • picking fruit
  • teach English or another skill
  • pose for art school students
  • teach at a TAFE or PICAL (book binding, drawing, jam making, breeding frogs – the sky’s the limit on topics)
  • clean ponds or pools
  • help out at a fish farm
  • growing herbs for a few local restaurants
  • guiding at a museum, gallery or garden
  • guide patrons to their seats at concert halls and events
  • learning how to apply fake nails and make home visits
  • assist elderly, disabled or incapacitated folk with shopping, meals, cleaning, driving and other tasks they can no longer do
  • cook interesting food and sell at markets (met a lady in her late 60s at Port Douglas markets doing exactly this and her quiches sold out in no time flat; plus she made bread for a local restaurant – all from her tiny little kitchen)
  • work in an office, school or other organisation

Cartoon of man showing a lady to her seat in a theatreGot a few useful skills?

Perhaps there’s scope for a part-time side business. You might be handy with carpentry, plumbing, painting, making sequinned 1960s bell pants, or designing a website.

Gregoire and I often dream up potentially great business ideas, only we now lack the enthusiasm and motivation to do anything about them. For example, what about a website which links elderly people with someone local who can help them get to the doctor, cook a few dinners or tidy up the garden (for a very small fee).

Maybe you can advise people on how to do something or create an online business to sell a product you make or import.

If you’re not sure what you can offer, do some research. Scratch through the internet, listen to programs on radio and TV for ideas, talk to others about potential opportunities you might not have thought about.

For example, Rachael Khoo (a gorgeous English chef) says that shitake mushrooms cost A$70 per kilogram – perhaps there’s an opportunity in your area to grow fungi for local restaurants.

Positives – Earn extra dollars to cover expenses, get to use your brain (stave off dementia!), widen the horizons, good for self-esteem.

Negatives – Ill health may stifle or damage your ability to work. Or perhaps you’re over having to work and the very thought is overwhelming. There’s probably other negatives but I can’t think of any right now.

3. Rent out a bedroom

Cartoon of female tucked into bed in her bedroomOwn or lease a property? Why not rent out the spare bedroom to a student or some deserving soul who’ll appreciate a comfortable space and a lovely fossil or two to mull over the day with. If they provide a bathroom of their own, you’re looking even better.

Positives – Extra income and help with the bills, share housework; reap the benefits of new friendships, company.

Negatives – You have to be nice to this person, you need to be clean and tidy, and you need to be relaxed about sharing common areas.

Conversely, they have to be nice too, and not leave their underwear hanging from the ceiling fan or dirty dishes swishing around in slimy cold water in the sink.

If you don’t think you can be clean, neat and sharing, don’t even think about this one.

4. Temporarily rent out the whole danged thing

Cartoon of front of house with sign saying Available for RentIf you’d like to travel or spend time with your children or friends, why not temporarily rent out your home to travellers using sites like AirBnB.  It’s a great way to make some money to cover bills such as council rates, body corporate, utilities, or just for extra cash.

You’d need to research if there are any tax implications and check out the rules and costs for using these services.

Positives – Income stream while you’re away, house is lived in and (hopefully) looked after. Also possible to have your pets and/or garden looked after as part of the deal.

Negatives – Organising keys, cleaning after each visitor if you’re not around, dealing with potential issues (eg. dishwasher breaks down), ensuring all valuable items are locked away safely.  None of these are show stoppers though, it just requires planning so don’t let them stop you.

5. House sitting

If you’re struggling with living costs, you could look at doing some house sitting. You could even do this for longer periods of time if it works for you.

There’s a number of house sitting websites you can use to find something appropriate. While you’re house sitting, temporarily rent your property out to other travellers. This has great possibilities by combining with option 3.

Positives – Save money, chance to stay in a different area and see/learn new things, look after pets and gardens

Negatives – May be tricky balancing dates but no reason why that should stop you, get to look after some delightful pets and gardens.

6. Move in with the kids

This is mostly for parents who’ve funded their children’s cars, education, lifestyles and/or helped them with a deposit for a home. Perhaps you’ve done this at the expense of your own financial security. And now you’ve reached retirement time and bugger, there’s not quite enough to live on. Oops.

Get your own back – sell your home or rent it out, then move in with your kids. The preferable option is to build a self-contained cabin in their backyard (assuming there’s room and STCA), or use an existing bedroom/bathroom.

Positives – Spend time with the family, be involved in activities, get to know your grandchildren, financially better off or able to save some dollars for a while.

Negatives – You might feel the need to kill each other before too long.

7. Communal living – buying a property with others

This is interesting because the idea can go in all directions. Probably best explained in a very simple example.

So … we have 2 couples and 1 single person (or any version thereof you care to dream up). Each group has a house or property they can sell.

Each sells their property and joins forces to purchase a lovely big home. I’m not talking expensive suburban Melbourne or Sydney either. The idea is to look in regional areas to find something you’d never afford as a couple or single, but together you have the buying power to get something great.

Regional areas and smaller cities and towns will offer considerably better options. Big cities won’t work so well for those without substantial assets.

Looking at the financials – let’s say the 3 groups have a $500k property each. They find a 4 bedroom house for $800k, giving them a bedroom and bathroom each, perhaps 2 living areas, a huge kitchen, an office and maybe a pool. There’s some great options out there – you’ll just need to work out what you all want and what you think will work.

That’s an outlay of approximately $270k for each group, leaving a spare $230k for other purposes. You’ve now freed up capital to live on.

Positives – Frees up capital, shared utility/water/council rates mean extra cash to live on; help each other with gardens and chores; if someone gets sick then others can assist with care; go on holidays knowing animals, mail and gardens are cared for.

Negatives – What happens if one group wants to leave or someone dies? Someone may will their share to someone truly awful, who then wants to move in.

There’s a whole set of circumstances for which you’ll need to set up moral and legal boundaries as to how they’re best handled. Of course you all have to agree on where you want to live and what you want to live in, as well as whether you can live together without resorting to manslaughter.

Other issues to be discussed include noise limits, handling visitors and overnight stays, who gets the table for dinner parties, and a host of other things I haven’t dreamed up yet.

These issues shouldn’t put you off – they just need to be thought about and worked through.

8. Commune style / private timeshare

With this idea, you need someone who has the resources to buy a large piece of land and is willing to share that land with those who have far less (or nothing much at all).

Ignoring council rules for the moment, individuals or couples purchase or lease their own accommodation. Then the buildings are nicely scattered around the land, plumbed in and wired up as necessary.

The exciting part is your accommodation could be a caravan, a renovated shipping container, a second hand cabin, a hand built movable hut, or a stone cottage you build in your spare time. There’s some wonderful cheap eco-friendly options out there.

Surround yourself with flowers, fruit trees and vegetables. You could even go completely mad and keep chickens and goats (subject to council and landowner approval)!

Everyone could all contribute to a communal building for parties and get-togethers, as well as joint amenities such as a pool or library. The sky’s the limit depending on funding. However, assuming there’s very little of the green stuff, you could have somewhere to live for as little as $20-30,000.

As compensation to the landowner, a small lease payment (as agreed with the owner) could be given each month for use of the land.

Positives – The big plus is privacy. You can be as weird as you like in your own space.

Everyone can help look after each other as well as share gardens, produce, pets, maintenance and driving etc.

You could buy larger quantities of goods at Costco or Aldi, then split the produce out equitably at a lower cost to everyone.

Negatives – How do you ‘sell up’ if you want to move on.

What if the owner of the land develops a dislike of your habit of tossing the ciggie butt into the mint leaves and wants you out.

What if someone develops a dislike for Bill because he snores like a chaffcutter and you can hear it from 3 kms away.

As with buying a property with others, there’s a raft of issues you need to think about and work through that are unique to this option.

9. Communal living – buying into an over 55s village

While you could buy in as a single but if funds are really tight, what about teaming up with others to purchase/lease a 2-3 bedroom unit in an over 55s village?

You’ll need to do the maths because each village has different entry and exit fees, and weekly costs. Many allow pets, so check the rules if that matters to you.

With this option, it’s important to remember you’re not buying an investment – you’re buying somewhere to live.

Positives – Heaps of company; free up capital to use for other purposes, no stamp duty because you’re “leasing” the property.

Most villages have great facilities including gym, pool, dance floor, library etc.

Negatives – What happens if one party wants to leave or dies? You would need to set up rules as to how this will be handled.

Body corporate costs depend on location- for example, $490 a month ($6kpa). Watch what body corporate covers, watch exit fees and loss incurred on a capital gain should you sell.

10. Leave home – lock, stock and smoking barrel

What about becoming an expat and living in a country where it costs a fraction of what it costs to live in Australia (or any other expensive first world country). Think of moving to countries like Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The trick is to research and do your homework, because there’s potential gotchas in moving abroad, particularly if you elect to sell your home to fund it.

A useful starting point is The Escapologist website and International Living.  Take some of the hyperbole in these sites with a grain of salt and do your own research.

See also an interesting article on the SBS website on retiring to Thailand.

Positives – Financial benefits from low cost living. Countries like Thailand have exceptional and cheap medical care.

Negatives – Can you stay there indefinitely without needing to do Visa runs to another country.

Check out medical care as not all countries have what you need as you age.


1 Really important note – we are not investment advisors, financial advisors, retirement advisors or anything remotely important. This has been written merely to facilitate ideas for people wondering how they’re going to make it through to death without enough dollars to get them there in some style. Take or leave as you choose, but you can’t sue if it doesn’t work!

2 thoughts on “How to retire without enough money”

  1. Thank-you my lovely for taking the time to write this wonderfully helpful blog.
    One off your bucket list that will help all of us with this pertinent information.
    Love your work Ms Duck xx

    1. Thanks Ms Krissy, always a pleasure to hear from you. Bucket list keeps getting bigger though!

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