It was once likely that you’d die before retiring; it’s now highly probable that there will be a gap of several  (or even many) years between when you permanently leave the workforce and when you die. How are you going to survive when you’re no longer willing or able to swap your time for money?

A friend recently remarked to me that his work made him feel like a consumable part in a big machine. That sounds brutal, but there is a truth in it, and a revelation that we have to use our productive time to set ourselves up for life after we’ve ‘worn out’.

So how do you plan to survive once you’ve retired?  Here are four possible sources of income to pay your lifestyle expenses:


The age pension is a subsistence payment that’s barely enough to survive on. It isn’t an option you’ll want to rely upon solely in your retirement years. Even when used as a supplement to other income, the age pension is still welfare—it’s not an entitlement nor a return of taxes paid. And don’t forget, the age pension is only available to those with insufficient income or assets to look after themselves.

Any financial plan that causes you to rely on a subsistence payment in retirement is surely a poor one, leading to a poor outcome.

Compulsory super

Do you know that superannuation has a two-fold meaning? The more well-known one is your retirement savings available for survival once you retire. However less well-known is this: a stage in life when you become obsolete for full-time work.

The superannuation (aka super) that employers deduct from your pay is sent directly to your nominated superannuation fund. The money invested in superannuation is usually locked away until after retirement and can’t be easily accessed.  The profits made are concessionally taxed and reinvested to boost your super balance.

A burning question many people wonder is ‘will I have enough super to survive in retirement?’ Sadly, the answer for many is no.  The gap might be able to be closed if you qualify for the age pension or draw down on your superannuation balance or other assets, but the reality is more likely that you will have to downsize your living standards to lower your living expenses.

Voluntary super

What about occasionally topping up your superannuation account voluntarily by making some extra contributions? Well, that may be a good idea if you’re not too far off retirement (10 years or less). However, for others, locking away inaccessible money for decades may result in a severe loss of flexibility, which makes this option quite unattractive. There are also limits on how much can be voluntarily contributed on tax-effective terms.

Super sufficient

You can, of course, save and invest outside the superannuation regime, in your own name or using an entity such as a company or a trust (e.g. family trust, unit trust). These are non-superannuation assets, and they generate non-superannuation investment income. Such income can be used to pay for your lifestyle expenses at any time, not just after you’ve retired, or better yet, used to purchase other non-superannuation assets or to make voluntary contributions into your superannuation fund.

While investing profits outside superannuation may be taxed at higher rates, the money is not locked away until retirement, and so you can use it to fund your financial freedom and avoid having to work until you are at least 60 years old.

The ideal goal to aim for is to be what I call ‘super sufficient’ – an outcome where your investment income exceeds your tax and living expenses, so you can live independently without the fear of running out of money because you’ll never have to eat into your capital.

So, which option is best?

Well, the answer depends on your circumstances, choices and chances.

Time is the biggest consideration. The less of it you have, the fewer options are available. If you’re in your 60s or older and don’t have much investment income or capital, then your choices are limited, and you’ll likely have to reign in your living expenses and perhaps rely on the age pension.

Younger people need to make the most of the time they have left until retirement, because the longer your investing horizon, the greater your ability to benefit from compounding. Don’t limit yourself to one option; be smart and keep your options open. Consider all the options in some sort of combination: the age pension (to the extent you qualify for it), money inside superannuation (topped up when your circumstances say it is sensible to do so) and wealth outside of superannuation that you can access as needed before you retire.

You might be lucky some of the time, but you can’t be lucky all of the time. I’ve found that while luck does have a role to play, investing skill is a far bigger determinant of an investor’s long-term success. If you want to improve your chances, your choices, or your circumstances, then invest inwards by improving your financial knowledge and ability before investing outwards and acquiring investments.

Edited extract from Steve McKnight’s Money Magnet: How to Attract and Keep a Fortune that Counts (Wiley $32.95), now available at all leading retailers. Visit

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