Hitting a half century in age is a real milestone for Kiwis' finances.

It's an age when many Kiwis panic about their financial future, says retirement commissioner Diane Maxwell. More so than when they actually hit 65.

"In the last 10 years before retirement, anxiety is high. We find that it is a really important time for people to get some good advice and make some good decisions.

"I get letters from people in their 50s and early 60s who realise time is running out. They are worried about doing the wrong things and sometimes they do nothing," says Maxwell. "The stress makes them a rabbit in the head lights."


"With KiwiSaver, logically you would pump as much money as you can in. Go for gold. Hell for leather. Do a final sprint," says Maxwell.

But for many people that might not be possible. "If it is possible, get aggressive with it."

If you can afford it, this is a good moment to seek independent financial advice, says Maxwell. "Ask: 'what should I be doing right now?'"

Paying down debt

If you're still paying a mortgage or other debt it can make financial sense to find ways to get that paid off as fast as possible and then divert the repayments to savings. But make sure you're contributing to your KiwiSaver to qualify for the member tax credit and employer contributions.

The 50s is the decade when many Kiwis' children fly the nest. That can mean expenses start to dwindle, which enables them to save more.

If expenses can't be reduced there may be ways to make more money, such as renting the children's empty rooms to international students or running a part-time business.

If you haven't budgeted until now it might be worth using the extra time on your hands as an empty nester to create a formal budget. It's not uncommon to find another 10 per cent in the budget simply by tracking your spending and making it more efficient.


One big risk as you reach the final hurdle to retirement is losing an income through disability. It's more common than many Kiwis realise. If illness strikes and you don't have good income protection or trauma insurance your life savings could be drained by the time you reach the age of 65.

If you still have a mortgage or other debt and one partner earns a lot less than the other, it's essential to have life insurance to ensure the surviving person can continue to live in the style he or she is accustomed to.

Risky business

As well as getting aggressive with savings, look at your risk tolerance and your KiwiSaver fund selection, says Maxwell. "Make sure you make some active decisions about what fund you are in and if it is the right fund for your risk settings."

Often, Kiwis choose conservative funds because they fear volatility. If, however you're not going to be withdrawing the money within the next five years it could be worth moving to a balanced KiwiSaver fund with investments in growth assets such as shares and bonds. Money invested in a conservative fund isn't going to grow as fast.

"The issue is, you are probably in a conservative fund because you have convinced yourself you don't want to take any risk. If you are healthy you may not need the money for 20 years," says Maxwell.

Sometimes people in their 50s panic about their looming retirement. It can be tempting to buy an investment property or business because it has worked for other people or they've been to a seminar. It can also lead to financial ruin and shouldn't be done without good financial advice. There are opportunities to build wealth in your 50s, but if the returns look too good to be true, run a mile.