It’s February and what a summer it’s been with success on the tennis court and the cricket pitch. Now that the kids are returning to school and we settle back into our ‘’new normal’’ routines, the new year begins in earnest.
January is normally a quiet month on the economic scene, but not this year. Inflation and speculation about rising interest rates dominated the month, sending global shares tumbling. US stocks fell 6% in January while Australian shares fell 7%. After US inflation hit a 40-year high of 7%, the US Federal Reserve is tipped to start lifting rates as early as March.
In Australia, inflation is sitting at 3.5%, while underlying inflation (which excludes volatile items) is at a 7-year high of 2.6%, within the Reserve Bank’s target range of 2-3%. The Reserve has said it won’t lift rates until 2024, or unemployment is near 4% (it fell to a 13-year low of 4.2% in December) and annual wages growth is close to 3% (currently 2.2%). While wages are going backwards in real terms, one third of a panel of 23 economists interviewed by The Conversation expect the Reserve to start lifting rates this year.
One of the big influences on inflation is oil prices, with crude oil near 7-year highs. Brent Crude jumped 15% in January and 65% over the year to US$90.94 a barrel. Aussie motorists paid record prices for unleaded petrol in January, with a national average price of 170.4c a litre.
The ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index fell 8 points to 100.1 points in January, while the NAB business confidence survey fell to a 19-month low of -12.4 points in December on the back of COVID-induces supply chain issues and labour shortages.
The Aussie dollar fell US2.5c in January to close at US70c as the greenback strengthened on rate rise speculation.
Stepping stones to reach your goals
The calendar turns over to a fresh, brand new year, full of promise, so how do we keep these promises we make to ourselves and get to the end of the year with our resolutions intact and goals realised?
We all start out with good intentions when we set our objectives for the year to come, but motivation notoriously wanes with time and has the potential to sabotage our chances of achieving our dreams.
While many studies reinforce the notion that willpower struggles after only one month, a study tracking respondents over the course of a full year suggested that at around the three month mark half of resolutions fall over, increasing to a failure rate of around 82% by years end.i
Monthly micro goals
One way to deal with our waning motivation, instead of setting one daunting goal to be achieved over the period of a whole year, is to come up with a series of monthly, smaller goals. That will give you 12 ‘mini goals’ which ideally need to be achievable on a daily basis. The theory is that if you follow the same pattern for around 30 days, you’ll be establishing this pattern as a habit that you are likely to continue into the future. Each successive month will see you build on that success.
Working towards an end goal
Part of the key to making this approach work, is to ensure that all your monthly micro goals are working towards an overarching end goal. Your micro goals need to follow a theme.
This is where you can come back to your New Year’s resolution and base your theme on what you want to achieve for the year. Say your theme for the year is around career aspirations – for example achieving that promotion. Your first month could simply be setting aside some time each day to network and meet people within the organisation – improving your interpersonal skills. The next month might be focused on exploring tools to improve your productivity…and so on as you work your way through each successive month.
If your priority is to work on your health and wellbeing, and end the year capable of running ten kilometres, it’s also important to set some micro goals that get you there. Again, you can start small – a way of working incrementally towards your goal might be to start by drinking more water, then a month dedicated to getting more incidental exercise in your day, then a month focused on improving your diet and losing a little weight, working slowly up to lacing up your boots, hitting the track and increasing your endurance.
Smaller goals add up with time
We are calling them micro goals for a reason, it’s important to not bite off more than you can chew. The key is how they add up. Viewed alone these smaller goals may not seem like a lot, but the shorter duration makes it a lot more likely you’ll stick at them, developing good habits that will hopefully accrue, rather than fade over time. The fact that you are in effect starting afresh every month also gives you a much better chance of success.
Add some support into your plan
Don’t be afraid to put in some processes to help you get there – it can be a good idea to use online apps to aid or track your progress. It can also help to dangle the carrot and build in some rewards for when you get to the end of each month successfully. Tell friends and family what you are working on and celebrate your successes with them.
By the end of the year, you can look back with satisfaction at each little milestone as a personal win and you’ll have stepped towards, and finally reached an overall goal that may have seemed intimidating unless broken down into manageable chunks.
So what are you waiting for? Get out that calendar and pencil in a goal a month to reach your dreams this year.
The pandemic has changed the way so many of us live, with jobs, travel and lifestyle all transformed during COVID. Now, as we start emerging on the other side, it may be a good idea to check whether these changes have impacted on your life insurance needs.
In some cases, you may require more cover and in others perhaps less. This is not just down to COVID. Changes to your insurance needs at any given time are a constant throughout your life.
Insurance through the ages
What you need as a single 20-something building your career is generally quite different from your requirements in your 40s when you may be juggling a young family and a mortgage. Then as you approach retirement and beyond, perhaps with your mortgage paid off, your needs change yet again.
On top of these life cycle changes, what may have seemed appropriate before COVID may no longer work. Perhaps you are working fewer hours and as a result have a lower income. Or perhaps you have opted to take early retirement.
Certainly, insurance companies have been mindful of people struggling to pay premiums during the pandemic and have generally honoured payouts on income protection cover if they occurred within that timeframe.
Whatever your circumstances, now is a good time to consider whether your current policies work for you.
Life insurance is the umbrella term for four main types of cover – death, total and permanent disability (TPD), income protection and trauma.
Death cover is self-explanatory. It pays a lump sum to your nominated beneficiaries when you die. It is often packaged with TPD which covers things like living expenses, repayment of debt and medical costs if you are no longer able to work. If your TPD is held through your super fund, generally this will only be paid if you cannot work in “any” occupation; if it is held outside super, you may be covered if you can no longer work in your “own” occupation.
Income protection cover will pay part of your lost income for a pre-determined time if you get sick or are injured and need time off work. It is particularly useful if you are self-employed or a small business owner as you don’t have access to sick leave.
Trauma cover meanwhile provides a lump sum amount if you are diagnosed with a major illness or serious injury such as cancer, a heart condition, stroke or head injury. Such payments can be a big help with paying medical bills.
Check your super
Death and TPD insurance can often be purchased through your super fund. If, however, you took advantage of the early release of super allowed during COVID in 2020, it could be that you no longer have sufficient savings in your fund to cover the premium payments. Or, if you’ve been out of work due to COVID and not made any contributions to your super for 16 months, your account may have been deemed inactive under super law and closed.
It’s important to note that if you lost your job due to COVID, then any automatic cover in your super with your previous employer may have stopped. If you have a new employer, the cost may have increased. Also keep in mind that income protection insurance doesn’t cover you if you have lost your job due to a business closure or other COVID-related event.
Protect your mental health
One area that has received more attention during COVID is mental health. Not all insurance policies provide cover for mental health without exclusions or additional premiums. Nevertheless, according to the Financial Services Council, insurers paid out $1.47 billion in mental health claims in 2020.i
If your circumstances have changed, then it may be worth examining whether your life insurance cover still suits your needs and whether there are ways you can save money through lower premiums. For instance, you might reduce the amount you are insured for or remove some of the benefits.
If you would like to discuss your life insurance needs and whether your existing cover is still appropriate give us a call.
As the nation drifts back to work after the summer break, it’s often a time to start putting your New Year’s resolutions into practice. For some, an extended holiday may have convinced you that you are ready for more of the good life and that it’s time to retire.
In the past, that would have meant leaving work for good. These days, retirement is far more fluid.
You might simply want to wind back your working hours. Or you may want to leave your full-time job but keep your career ticking over with part-time or consulting work. Others may dream of leaving the nine to five to run a B&B or buy a hobby farm.
Changing retirement patterns
There are already signs that people’s retirement plans are changing.
In 2019, the average retirement age for current retirees was 55 (59 for men and 52 for womeni), but the age that people currently aged 45 intend to retire has increased to 64 for women and 65 for men.ii
There are many reasons for this gap between intentions and reality. Only 46 per cent of recent retirees said they left their last job because they reached retirement age or were eligible to access their super. Many retired due to illness, injury or disability, while others were retrenched or unable to find work.iii
Retired women were also more likely than men to retire to care for others. But for people who can choose the timing of their retirement, there can be good reasons for delay.
Reasons for delaying retirement
As the Age Pension age increases gradually from 65 to 67, anyone who expects to rely on a full or part pension needs to work a little longer than previous generations.
We’re also living longer. A man aged 65 today can expect to live another 20 years on average while a woman can expect to live another 22 years.iv So, the longer we can keep working the further our retirement savings will stretch.
And then there’s COVID. If you lost your job or your hours were reduced during the pandemic, you may need to work a little longer to rebuild your savings. Even if you kept your job, you couldn’t go anywhere so you may have postponed your retirement plans. But now the COVID fog is lifting, retirement may be back on the agenda.
Whatever shape your dream retirement takes, you will need to work out how much it will cost and if you have sufficient savings.
Sourcing your retirement income
If you plan to retire this year, you will need to be 66 and six months and pass assets and income tests to apply for the Age Pension. But you don’t have to wait that long to access your super.
Generally, you can tap into your super once you reach your preservation age (between age 55 and 60 depending on the year you were born) and meet a condition of release such as retirement. From age 65 you can withdraw your super even if you continue working full time.
But super can also help you transition into retirement, without giving up work entirely.
Transition to retirement
If you’re unsure whether you will enjoy retirement or find enough to do to fill your days, it can make sense to ease into it by cutting back your working hours. One way of making this work financially is to start a transition to retirement (TTR) pension with some of your super.
Most super funds offer TTR pensions, or you can start one from your self-managed super fund (SMSF). But there are some rules:
You must have reached your preservation age
Money can only be withdrawn as an income stream, not a lump sum
There is a minimum annual withdrawal
The maximum annual withdrawal is 10 per cent of your TTR account balance
Income is tax-free if you are aged 60 or older; if you’re 55-59 you may pay tax on the TTR income, but you receive a tax offset of 15 per cent.
One of the benefits of this strategy is that while you continue working you will receive Super Guarantee payments from your employer. A downside is that you will potentially have less super in total when you finally retire.
Retirement is no longer a fixed date in time, with far more flexibility to mix work and play as you make the transition. If you would like to discuss your retirement options and how to finance them, give us a call.
Norman Sinclair – MFinPlan, AFP ASIC No. 249943.
Stephen Vigh – CFP, BBus (Acc & Man), Dip FP ASIC No. 239508
Kyle Medson – CFP, BCom (FinPlan & Inv) ASIC No. 328912 SFG Capital Holdings Pty Ltd trading as Sinclair Financial Group, ABN 42 609 798 469
Authorised Representative of Oreana Financial Services Limited
ABN 91 607 515 122, Australian Financial Services Licensee No. 482234
Registered Office Level 7, 484 St Kilda Road Melbourne, Victoria 3004 Australia
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