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How to make your bucket list a reality

What do you do when you started saving late, after a late-in-life divorce? If you’re Kerrie, you seek adventures. Because bucket lists aren’t just for the rich.

The idea of a “bucket list” – a series of experiences you’d like to have before your time is done – is something we tend to associate with the wealthy. It’s no coincidence the movie The Bucket List is about a billionaire funding the wishes of a mechanic.

But Kerrie from Glen Innes – a smallish town on the New England Tablelands in northern NSW – is proof that you don’t need to be rich to have a fulfilling and adventurous life in your sixties and beyond.

A different time

When Kerrie was young, financial independence wasn’t something that many women had, or necessarily strived for. This was especially true in the country, where the tradition that a man is the breadwinner and a woman the homemaker held great sway.

Women did work obviously – Kerrie was in insurance prior to getting married and later worked at her brother’s newsagency – but frequently did so for a supplemental income. Long-term savings came from their partners.

“That was my husband’s job. He was going to supply the money for our retirement,” laughs Kerrie. “That didn’t happen.”

A gradual divorce

Kerrie’s marriage broke down slowly, over many years, so it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly went wrong. And that became part of the problem. Having long held onto the idea that her marriage would last, her financial situation didn’t promise much hope of an easy life outside of it.

And she’d seen how rough it could get. A friend of hers who’d left her husband had to raise her two young children on her own. “I didn’t want to have to go out and rent a house and get to the point where I didn’t know where the next meal was going to come from,” says Kerrie.

Auntie Mavis

The ability to leave with some financial security came from an unexpected and, in one way, unwelcome source: a surprise inheritance.

Growing up, Kerrie always had a special place in her heart for her aunt Mavis, her father’s sister who resided in Rockdale, Sydney. But when Mavis passed away nobody in the extended family thought there would be much to her estate – with good reason. She was a child during the depression and had no time for luxury.

Kerrie is more blunt. From all outward appearances, she says, “Mavis lived like a pauper”. Her house was like a time-capsule from before the 50’s – complete with a cast-iron Metters green and yellow gas stove.

Kerrie explains, “Mavis’ parents died at a fairly young age – her mum at 36 from cancer and her father at 42 of emphysema – and she became the breadwinner for her two brothers. She felt that the responsibility fell on her, so she put her life on hold to look after those boys.”

Mavis never married or had children. And despite having some wealth, for whatever reason, she never used it to make her life and retirement more comfortable. It’s probable she’d never even heard of a “bucket list”.

Kerrie is dismissive of the idea that she’d done anything to deserve the inheritance. But her daughter Erin, who is also there for the interview, prompts Kerrie to recount the many ways in which her and Mavis were close.

“I did try to get her to move to Glen Innes,” admits Kerrie. “She was just a special person and I would have liked to have seen her come here so we could have more time with her.”

“It’s a big shame,” says Kerrie. “I wouldn’t want to live like Auntie Mavis. I would like to be like her, she was a very good and very kind-hearted person. But it’s sad, she didn’t know how to live.”

Spend your money, don’t save for us. We’ll be fine. But I bags the spare room in your Gold Coast apartment.

Financial independence

The inheritance from Mavis was the stepping stone to financial independence that Kerrie needed.

“Not to the stage where I could afford to sit on my a**e and do nothing. If I did that, I’d blow through the money quickly,” she says.

Housing prices are cheap in Glen Innes, so she started thinking about buying one as her first post-divorce investment. But before that, she wanted to tick an item off her bucket list.

Ever since her daughter had given her Jane Goodall’s memoir Reason For Hope, which speaks movingly of Africa, Kerrie had been keen to visit. So with a reason for hope herself, and the joy of new freedom, she booked a six week trip and took the children with her.

“It was that experience of being able to take them that made it the best. They had to bring their own spending money, but the rest was put on for them. It was just a good feeling to be able to say, this is from me,” says Kerrie.

They visited gorillas in the Congo, danced with the Maasai in Kenya, and Kerrie even tried her hand at white-water rafting (she didn’t like it). Talking about the trip, mother and daughter can’t stop laughing. They tell the story of how at one point, a local joked that he wanted to buy Erin off of Kerrie.

“He offered twenty cows, which was pretty interesting,” says Kerrie.

“We asked his friend. Turns out that wasn’t actually impressive,” Erin laughs.

More adventures

Since then Kerrie has flown to Norfolk Island, Bali, and she’s got a Hong Kong trip planned for this year. And it’s not just because of the inheritance that she’s able to do all this.

Though she may have only had more money later on, it turns out Kerrie has always been a smart saver.

It’s why Erin wasn’t afraid for her mother’s future when she was told about the divorce. “She’d always been so good with her finances. She used to help dad with his bookkeeping. We always managed to get by,” says Erin.

Kerrie was almost at retirement age when the divorce went through, but she’s been working, investing her money, and putting personal contributions into her super. Especially considering where she started from, her superannuation balance is quite reasonable, says Kerrie. “It will be a nice little nest egg.”

“Focus on yourself”

If there is a secret, it seems to be a baseline sense of responsibility combined with a live-for-the moment streak. Or as she puts it: “No good planning too much stuff. You might get hit by a bus tomorrow.”

For her later retirement, she would like to keep travelling, and maybe live on the Gold Coast. Her children fully support whatever decision she makes.

“You just focus on yourself,” Erin tells her. “Spend your money, don’t save for us. We’ll be fine. But I bags the spare room in your Gold Coast apartment. I’ll be coming up on weekends.”

If you’re thinking you’d like to tick some items off your bucket list, there's no reason you can't start planning now. You can find and adviser to help you here.


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