It seems a goodly number of superannuitants are cashing in their KiwiSaver and retirement savings and cruising off into the wide blue yonder - a well-earned reward for hard work.
Others are not so lucky. Early this year a concerned emergency department doctor noted in the Herald that one third of the over-65-year-old patients he sees are malnourished. He suggested they may need a budgeting service. My friend Remy (not her real name) is one of them.
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Auckland City Mission research (NZ Herald, October 17) noted about half a million people are in food poverty – about 10 per cent of the population. Cold and hungry, this is the same group who are high users of health services - no prizes for working out why.
With a 40-year work history and a lifetime being mindful about money, Remy didn't expect to be nearing 70 and struggling to survive. Work hard, save hard, and you'll be fine – isn't that how it goes? And if you haven't got enough by the time you retire, well you've obviously been irresponsible, careless, or improvident.
But, you know, stuff happens. If you think you can work hard, save hard and be justly rewarded you had better pray that none of the following happens to penalise you and soak up your money: A marriage and property breakup; primary custody of your children as a sole parent; death of your partner; having a disabled child; a chronically sick child; a chronically sick partner; a chronic illness for yourself; a severe mental illness in the family; a severe accident to you or your partner or child; mortgage meltdown as house prices rise; working for a basic wage; working on a zero hours contract. Stock market crash; severe economic downturn; redundancies or long-term unemployment; business failure; theft or fraud by an employee or business partner; your savings lost in a badly managed investment company.
I'll bet none of those is in your life plan. Any of them can undermine your financial security at any time. So what do you think are your chances of getting through life without experiencing at least one of them?
Remy, a former high school teacher, took on primary care of her two children after a divorce, and she's a two-time breast cancer survivor - hardly unusual events.
This year, chronic hunger and cold meant she was unable to fight off the flu and pneumonia complications took four days in ICU plus in-hospital recovery time that cost the health system upwards of $29,000. A quarter of that would have given her a year's worth of food, warm clothing and winter heat and likely prevented further admissions.
Recent research notes a single person on a basic "no frills" existence still needs at least another $115 a week just to survive, and that's if your home is freehold. Note to politicians: Remove the tax on super (on the single rate that's $56.57 a week) and you're half way there.
Even friends who have always worked are facing retirement with trepidation, with mortgages and ongoing house maintenance costs. Cars need repairs and maintenance and replacement. Computers die. Electricity costs inexorably rise. Health costs become more frequent as you age.
God forbid you need major dental work, as many boomers caught in the unfortunate state policy of the 1950s do – the amalgam fillings made by dental nurses in every child's molars expand over time and crack the otherwise healthy teeth, requiring expensive repair work.
Many older people have the cost of hearing aids and/or spectacles, which all need regular upgrading.
Factor in rent and you need way more. Going to movies, concerts, theatre or restaurants, or even buying petrol to visit friends become out-of-reach luxuries.
Economic pundits periodically raise the alarm over the unsustainable cost of superannuation. It's a crisis, they cry. And it's going to be worse. It will be an unfair burden on the current working population. The country can't afford it. And so on.
You'll have to excuse my cynicism. This cohort of over-65s has been predicted for decades, but not planned for. During my working life, there have been two previous universal superannuation schemes established then scuppered by changes of government.
Despite the success of the Super Fund's stellar investment team, the government in 2009 undermined the fund's ability to provide for future growth by suspending all payments; this wasn't reinstated until a change of government in 2017.
Remy always enjoyed her work. She liked the stimulation of being around young minds, using her skills and experience to a useful purpose and contributing to New Zealand's social economy.
She can't work now and is malnourished because she doesn't have enough money for food. Five years ago, she could manage, just. But superannuation and WINZ supplements haven't kept pace with steeply rising costs in rents, petrol, heating and especially food.
No, budgeting doesn't cut it.
• Dara McNaught is a freelance writer and former health social work manager