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JOHANNESBURG - When we think of our "golden years", we like to imagine ourselves living comfortably, financially independent, able to enjoy the simple things but perhaps also travelling, taking up a hobby, and so on. The sad reality is that many retirees are struggling to meet their basic monthly expenses. 

 A recent article in Personal Finance, based on research by Glacier by Sanlam, identified planning as the common theme among respondents who are enjoying a healthy and fulfilling retirement.

The research focused on South Africans aged between 60 and 80 who had retired with a relatively comfortable monthly income. 

Jaco Pretorius, the chief executive of Ensimini, a leading employee benefits provider, says although it may seem obvious that planning is the key to a successful retirement, doing it in practice is not always easy.

“Respondents identified planning financially and saving for retirement as early as possible, as well as planning to ensure good medical treatment and planning to enjoy the fun side of life, as key. 

“What’s interesting to note is that four-fifths (82%) of the respondents who felt reasonably comfortable that they had enough retirement savings had used a financial adviser. We know that retirement savings are important to financial wellness later in life, but getting it right may require some help.

It is easier to draw up a retirement plan, for example, if it is done in collaboration with a qualified adviser. An adviser can help you to select investments that will provide you with a sustainable income throughout retirement and help you to diversify your investments so you minimise your risk, he says.

It is important to review your plan regularly. If you are due a lump-sum payout from an investment or retirement fund, it is essential you consider reinvesting it, he says. 

“It is critical that the financial component of retirement planning starts early in your career. Many retirees whose retirement savings are insufficient to meet their post-retirement needs lament that they should have been made aware of the need to ensure sufficient savings from early in their careers, and they should have preserved their retirement savings when changing jobs.” 

Failing to preserve retirement savings when changing jobs is one of the biggest reasons that few South Africans can afford to retire. 

The Glacier by Sanlam research found that good health was a second pivotal factor to enjoying retirement. 

“Health curveballs later in life can deplete your retirement savings. Not only is the correct medical cover important, but preventative measures such as eating healthily and exercising regularly are also key.” 

All the retirees interviewed agreed that meaningful connections were crucial to a happy retirement. Many were active in the community as ward councillors, teachers, tutors, consultants, members of police forums and volunteers. Pretorius says this type of positive interaction with like-minded people makes a world of difference as people age. It also contributes to the fourth and final factor: a positive outlook. 

To move forward and make the most of retirement, the retirees said they needed to come to terms with and accept the past, and adopt a positive approach to the future. All of the retirees recommended having a clear plan on how to fill the days – some even suggested drawing up a daily schedule. 

And although the retirees said they take great pleasure in seeing their children and grandchildren, time with loved ones is only one part of the day-to-day lives – contrary to the popular perception that retirees are sitting around waiting for members of the younger generation to take a break from their busy schedules and drop in. 

“You are never too old to find a new hobby, travel to a new destination or fulfil a lifelong ambition. People are living longer than ever today. The trick is to ensure you plan sensibly to ensure peace of mind later in life,” says Pretorius.

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- PERSONAL FINANCE ONLINE