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!

Born again … but not saved

8 June 2015

While wandering through a very trendy and beautiful art and craft stop in Noosa (Australia) today, an English lady in her mid 70s remarked on a colourful painting of a cow as she walked past. She had the most amazing blue-gray eyes, was still very pretty and wore a lovely gray/silver pants and blouse.

After telling me I must be from Victoria because I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless blouse in June (locals consider it too cold to wear these), and nodding ‘no’ to my query as to whether she lived here, it somehow evolved into a full-on telling of her story.

Lucy (as she shall thus be known) married a very quiet man (Bill) but over the years, his conversation had reduced to a grunt. Consequently she said she was busting to talk to someone whose conversation extended beyond three words.

Bill and Lucy used to live in Noosa for many years and she loved it. Around 5 years ago, Bill loaned $100,000 of their wee nest egg to the son-in-law for a business venture. His big mistake was he did this without consulting Lucy.

Seems son-in-law promptly lost the lot, as well as his own home. Now daughter, son-in-law and their children rent in Brisbane, trying to recover from the huge financial loss.

With almost no nest egg to live on, Bill and Lucy had to sell their Noosa home and move back to England (guessing they could get a pension or some such financial positive there). They come back to Noosa for a few weeks each year or so to spend time with the grandchildren, whom she misses dreadfully. She feels huge resentment towards Bill for loaning the money without asking her … there’s apparently little chance they’ll get it back.

The story jumped around a lot from here. She was adopted but didn’t find out until she was 20. Her parents chose to tell her on the day she and Bill celebrated their engagement. “Supposed to be a happy day” she said, “but that put a dampener on it.” She remains puzzled as to why her parents never told her until that point. I was thinking “why pick a party to spill the news?”.

She loved her mother as she was a hard worker, but said her father was pure evil. He was a control freak and interfered with her when she was 11 or 12 years old. “I didn’t say anything to anyone because it was at a time when no-one would’ve believed me”. Later when she told Bill, she said he didn’t believe her either. He had the attitude of “just get over it”.

When Lucy was seven, her parents adopted another baby girl. She loved having a sister but found the 7 year gap was too much to be of any great value.

After Lucy married, she lived about an hour away from her parents and sister. One day a letter arrived (they didn’t have a phone, guessing this was the late 1950s) to say her mother had had a breakdown and was in a mental hospital (as they were called then). To this day, she remembers the trauma of trying to get out of work and find a way to get to the hospital as they didn’t have a car.

Seems the now 15 year old sister had accused her father of interfering with her, and sadly it was still at a time when children weren’t believed. When she told her mother, the situation blew up. Despite all this, the medical profession still didn’t believe the sister and her mother was distraught and failed to cope. Hence a trip to the mental institution.

When Lucy visited her Mum, the medical staff said not to believe anything her mother said (about the incest). “But she was as honest as the day” said Lucy, “so why wouldn’t I believe her”. When Lucy asked her sister why she hadn’t said anything earlier about what the father was doing, her sister said “he threatened me and even if I’d said something, no-one would’ve believed me anyway”.

Just to cap the story off, Lucy said her married life was difficult, doesn’t know how they’ve managed to last so long, and even now is surprised they’re still together. There was a few quick comments about her son being difficult but we didn’t go there at all.

So there goes our Lucy, trotting along in her 70s, feeling a piece of herself is missing. Along comes some random bloke who convinces her it’s God that is missing and yes indeed praise be to the ever mighty, she found that this indeed filled up the hole.

I can listen for hours to people with troubles, be empathetic and sympathetic, really feel for them, and dream up solutions if that’s what is needed. But the minute anyone mentions God, you’ve lost me. The brain says “uh oh, time to get out of here”. I’m a total non-religionist – once you’re dead, you’re dead; there’s no hell, there’s no heaven, no God, no miracles and no divine anything. In my humble opinion, you can be a truly good and moral person without having to follow a religion.

When I told Lucy this, her reply was “but you can never be perfect, that’s why you need God”. Asides from the fact I’m not remotely interested in being perfect, I also don’t know anyone religious who meets that criteria either. Everyone is basically the same – some good bits, some bad bits. One saying I like is “religion is the roof of all evil”. Every century, including this one, there have been people waging war and other evil acts in the name of religion. Listen to the current news … the saying still stands.

Lucy tells me she’s a born again Christian. Without wanting to denigrate her beliefs, I’ve always found born agains to be painful. For some reason, they have to push the God factor down your throat. And indeed, Lucy did exactly that. By the end of the chat, she decided I should find God or – shock horror – I wouldn’t find heaven. She seemed worried that I’m not in the least concerned about that.

Given all Lucy’s just told me, I’m thinking the hole in her soul isn’t any better at all with this finding of God. I suspect the born again Christian passion is a cover up which she hopes will make her feel whole. And that’s great, if indeed she did feel whole. But to me, she’s a very lost and hurting soul. You don’t tell some random person in an art shop your life story unless you have issues.

She said she’d love Bill to convert and can’t understand why he’s not interested. I can – poor Bill is probably going nuts listening to the religious stuff pouring forth, coupled with resentment over money, and not seeing improvements to his wife’s happiness factor.

With Greg patiently waiting outside, time to go. Lucy said she’d pray for me. Not sure what for because all is well in my world and has been for the last 20 years. But Lucy, I trust you can find what you’re looking for in whatever fashion works for you. Everyone deserves peace and happiness in their later years, and I hope you find that above all else.

Solving the puzzle of Ferdinand

February 2015

Sometime in September 2014, a feathered pheasant with a rather magnificent long tail and red facial feathers wandered into the reserve at the back of our home on Phillip Island.

He meandered up and down the reserve, calling out periodically with a double raucous sqwark – grarrrrrrrk grarrk (that’s about the closest I can get in English).  One thing’s for sure, he had a distinctive call.

For those who aren’t bird savvy, pheasants are not remotely native to the state of Victoria, let alone Australia.  They just plain don’t live here in the wild.  So to see one popping in and out of the bush … well, you know it’s not normal.

For a few months he kept everyone with properties backing onto the reserve highly entertained.  One neighbour left a bucket of water on the back fence for him (which the wallabies made good use of) and our pheasant ran joyfully along the fence line staying hydrated and cool.

A name …

Didn’t take long before we called him Ferdinand.  I thought it had great flair for such a distinctive and noisy bird.

Each weekend was spent listening for his calls and chasing him around with a camera.  He was pretty cadgey though.  You would see him scurrying about, but not long enough to get a great photo.

Closeup of Ferdinand
Fuzzy close-up of Ferdinand
And where?

The entire neighbourhood wondered from whence Ferdinand had come. Various theories were suggested and our best guess involved an escapee from a pheasant farm.  However, no-one was aware of such an enterprise anywhere on the island.

Moving forwards …

It’s now February 2015.  Ferdinand hasn’t been seen or heard for a few weeks, so we’re all missing his fleeting feathered personnage. He’s part of our lives, eagerly looked for, and his appearances were much anticipated by the all. He’s caused a lot of neighbourhood bonding to go on over the fences.

So we figured Ferdinand pheasant was either:

1.  dead from snakebite
2.  run over by a vehicle
3.  died from starvation (no clue as to what  pheasants eat)
4.  pined away from lack of a scrumptious female companion
5.  mauled or eaten by vicious dog
6.  found somewhere better to live

It’s now pushing towards mid February without any sign of Ferdinand.  We are all devastated.  Everyone’s listening out for him but it’s still suspiciously quiet.

Then on Saturday, a neighbour announces Ferdinand has been spotted drinking from the bucket.  We are delirious with happiness.  This is the best news since Gregoire the Magnificent unexpectedly announced he was nicking down to the supermarket to get a chocolate bavarian & cream for dessert.

Late afternoon I finally hear him call briefly but despite rushing out to look, he’s vanished into the bush.  At least we know he’s alive … a very good sign.

The mystery unfolds

Late afternoon, being a beautiful summer’s evening, we stroll around Silverleaves and turn down a very short dead-end street.

We’ve lived here for about 10 years and never walked down this street because it hardly seemed worthwhile. But today we spot a house and can’t work out where the driveway is.  Perhaps it’s off this dead end road?

Yes, it certainly is and what’s more, there’s a wide grassy path at the end used as an access road between the hobby farms and our reserve.  We’re quite thrilled – if there’s ever a fire in the area, it’s an excellent exit to escape.

Because anything new is such fun to explore, we walk down the grassy path and marvel at all the wildlife in the reserve.  Wallabies, rainbow lorikeets, purple swamp hens (called pukekos in New Zealand), wagtails, ducks variants, kookaburras, ravens, blackbirds, a few bazillion rabbits and even an orange bellied snake.  A horse languishes in a paddock, being kept company by a wallaby and two swamp hens sneaking drinks from his water trough.

On the right, above the fence of the first hobby farm, I see heaps of netting.  So I climb the fence and peek over.  And yeah, you guessed it.  Under the  netting are about a dozen pheasants – some female, some male.  Bingo.

Mystery unravelled

At last we know the location of Ferdinand’s real home.  While the netting is to stop the birds flying away, it obviously wasn’t good enough to hold in a gentleman  pheasant with the strength, charisma and talent of our feathered friend.

We also now understand why he’s not moving away too far away.  For all we know, he goes home at night and perches on the netting so he can see his girlfriends.  I’ve since discovered they squawk mostly during the breeding season. As we roll into late summer, the mating season is over and hence his lack of noise.

Puzzle solved.  Unless he’s caught, may we have many years ahead with our Ferdinand clackerting around the reserve providing endless entertainment.

Additional information on pheasants:

Burkes Backyard

  • Pheasants are very secretive birds and can easily be alarmed. They are generally not vocal but tend to squawk during the breeding season.
  • Pheasants are omnivorous, eating everything from fruit and vegetables, seeds, grains, roots, bulbs, leaves, insects, grasshoppers, slugs and snails to small lizards.


  • Common pheasants are native to Asia, their original range extending from between the Black and Caspian Seas to Manchuria, Siberia, Korea, Mainland China and Taiwan.
  • The birds are found in woodland, farmland, scrub, and wetlands. In its natural habitat, the common pheasant lives in grassland near water with small copses of trees.
  • Common pheasants can now be found across the globe due to their readiness to breed in captivity and the fact they can naturalise in many climates.