Expert Feed

Six major purchases retiree clients regret

BY   |  FRIDAY, 31 MAY 2024    8:09AM

Retirement is a milestone that many Australians eagerly anticipate - a time to relax, pursue hobbies, travel, and enjoy the fruits of years of hard work. However, entering retirement without a careful financial strategy can lead to unforeseen challenges, especially when it comes to significant purchases. Some investments and splurges that seem appealing initially often become sources of regret later.

Here are six major purchases that Australian retirees frequently regret and how financial advisers can help them make more informed decisions during their golden years.

1. Luxury vehicles

The temptation of a high-end car

One of the most common retirement splurges is purchasing a luxury vehicle. After years of diligent saving and prudent financial management, it's natural clients want to reward themsleves with a high-end car. The allure of driving a sleek, brand-new vehicle with all the latest features can be incredibly enticing. For many, it's a symbol of success and a reward for a lifetime of hard work.

The hidden costs

However, the reality of owning a luxury car often leads to regret. The costs associated with high-end vehicles extend far beyond the initial purchase price. Luxury cars typically come with high maintenance costs, expensive insurance premiums, and significant depreciation. According to the Australian Automobile Association (AAA), the average cost of owning and operating a vehicle in Australia can be substantial, with luxury vehicles incurring even higher expenses due to their premium parts and specialised servicing needs.

Moreover, cars start depreciating the moment they leave the dealership. A study by Canstar found that new cars can lose up to 20% of their value in the first year alone, with luxury models often depreciating at an even faster rate. This means that a significant portion of retirees' investments diminishes rapidly, making it a financially unwise decision for many retirees.

Reduced necessity and utility

As we age, driving needs may also change. Many retirees find that they drive less frequently, opting for public transportation, walking, or other modes of travel. The high costs associated with owning a luxury car may not justify its limited use. Additionally, if clients live in an area with good public transport or have easy access to essential services and amenities, the necessity for a personal vehicle diminishes further.

Practical alternatives

Instead of splurging on a luxury vehicle, consider more economical options that align better with the retirement lifestyle and budget. If owning a car is essential, opt for a reliable, fuel-efficient model with lower maintenance costs. Alternatively, retirees could keep their current vehicle well-maintained, ensuring it remains dependable without the financial burden of a new purchase. Investing the saved money in experiences or other areas of their retirement plan can provide greater satisfaction and financial security.

The other important aspect to factor in when it comes to retirement spending is the costs to replace the car based on how frequently they'd like to be able to do so. Retirees may also decide to live in a location where car ownership is simply not as essential as it could otherwise be in other areas.

2. Oversized homes

The dream of a grand home

Many retirees envision spending their golden years in a large, luxurious home - perhaps a property they have always dreamed of owning. This desire is often fuelled by the notion of having ample space for family gatherings, entertaining friends, and enjoying retirement in style. However, this dream can quickly turn into a financial nightmare.

Financial and practical burdens

Purchasing a larger home than necessary can lead to several significant financial burdens. Larger properties come with higher property taxes, increased utility bills, and substantial maintenance costs. According to CoreLogic, the annual cost of home ownership in Australia can be quite high, with larger homes incurring even more expenses due to their size and complexity.

Furthermore, as we age, maintaining a large property can become increasingly challenging. Tasks such as cleaning, gardening, and general upkeep may require hiring professional help, adding to ongoing expenses. The physical effort required to manage a large home can also become more taxing, making it less practical as we grow older.

The trend towards downsizing

There is a growing trend among retirees to downsize to smaller, more manageable homes. Downsizing can offer numerous benefits, including reduced living expenses, lower maintenance requirements, and the release of home equity that can be used to bolster retirement savings. A study by National Seniors Australia found that many retirees who downsized reported improved financial security and a more relaxed lifestyle.

Choosing the right home

When considering a home for retirement years, think about long-term needs and financial goals. A smaller, one-story home can be more practical and cost-effective. Look for properties that are energy-efficient and require minimal upkeep. Proximity to essential services, healthcare facilities, and social activities should also be a priority. By choosing a home that fits their lifestyle and budget, they can avoid the financial and practical burdens of an oversized property.

3. Lavish vacations

The allure of exotic travel

Retirement often brings with it the freedom to travel and explore the world. Many retirees plan lavish vacations to faraway destinations as a way to celebrate their newfound leisure time. The idea of exploring exotic locales, experiencing different cultures, and ticking off items from the bucket list can be incredibly appealing. This may have been places that they didn't get a chance to explore as an expat, or perhaps destinations that visited for work, but never really had the chance to enjoy.

The financial pitfalls

However, these extravagant trips can rapidly deplete retirement savings. The costs of airfare, accommodations, meals, and other travel-related expenses can add up quickly. According to Tourism Research Australia, the average expenditure for an international trip can be significant, with retirees often underestimating the total cost of such vacations.

In addition to the direct costs, there are often hidden expenses that can catch retirees off guard. Travel insurance, currency exchange fees, and unexpected costs for activities and excursions can strain the budget. Retirees on a fixed income may find that these lavish trips compromise their financial stability, leaving less money available for essential needs like healthcare and daily living expenses.

Planning wisely

To avoid the financial pitfalls of lavish vacations, it's essential to plan wisely. Setting a realistic budget and sticking to it can help prevent overspending. Consider more affordable travel options, such as domestic trips or off-season travel, which can offer similar experiences at a fraction of the cost.

They might also explore alternative ways to satisfy travel desires. For instance, consider house swapping, where exchange homes with someone in another location, or long-term rentals, which can be more cost-effective than short-term stays in hotels. Additionally, many retirees find fulfilment in exploring local attractions and destinations closer to home, which can provide a sense of adventure without the financial strain.

Balancing travel and financial security

Travel can be a rewarding part of retirement, but it's crucial to balance desire for exploration with financial security. Prioritise experiences that align with the budget and long-term financial goals. By doing so, they can enjoy the benefits of travel without compromising retirement savings and overall financial well-being.

4. Recreational vehicles (RVs)

The appeal of RV travel

The idea of hitting the open road in a recreational vehicle (RV), or caravan is a popular retirement fantasy for many Australians. The appeal lies in the freedom to travel at your own pace, bringing the comforts of home along. RV travel allows the exploration of diverse landscapes, stay in scenic locations, and enjoy an adventurous lifestyle. It's a dream that promises flexibility and a sense of adventure.

The financial realities

However, the financial realities of owning an RV often lead to regret. The initial cost of purchasing an RV can be substantial. According to a study by the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, the price of a new RV can range from $50,000 to over $150,000, depending on the model and features. Beyond the purchase price, there are ongoing costs such as fuel, maintenance, insurance, and storage fees. Fuel costs, in particular, can be significant, as RVs typically have poor fuel efficiency compared to regular vehicles.

Moreover, RVs require regular maintenance to keep them in good condition, and repairs can be costly. Insurance premiums for RVs are also higher due to their value and the risks associated with long-distance travel. Additionally, finding suitable storage for an RV when it's not in use can incur further expenses. According to the Australian Financial Review, many RV owners find these cumulative costs to be far higher than anticipated, leading to financial strain.

Underutilisation and alternatives

Another common issue is underutilisation. Many retirees purchase an RV with the intention of traveling frequently, but find that they use it far less than expected. Factors such as health issues, family obligations, or simply a change in travel preferences can limit the use of an RV. When used infrequently, the costs of ownership can outweigh the benefits.

An alternative to purchasing an RV is renting one for specific trips. Renting allows them to enjoy the RV lifestyle without the long-term financial commitment. According to industry experts, renting an RV can be a cost-effective option, especially for those who only plan to travel a few times a year. This way, they can experience the adventure of RV travel while preserving retirement savings.

5. Vacation homes

The dream of a second home

Owning a vacation home is another common aspiration among retirees. The idea of having a personal retreat in a picturesque location where they can escape whenever they want is undoubtedly appealing. Whether it's a beach house in Margaret River, a cabin in the mountains, or a countryside cottage, a vacation home seems like a perfect way to enhance they retirement lifestyle.

Financial and practical challenges

However, the reality of owning a vacation home often leads to financial regret. The initial purchase price is just the beginning. Vacation homes come with ongoing expenses such as property taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance. According to CoreLogic, these costs can add up quickly and place a significant strain on the retirement budget. Additionally, vacation homes often remain vacant for large parts of the year, making the investment less practical.

Maintenance is another major consideration. Managing the upkeep of a second property can be challenging, especially if it's located far from the primary residence. Tasks such as cleaning, repairs, and seasonal maintenance can be time-consuming and costly. Many retirees find that the effort and expense of maintaining a vacation home outweigh the enjoyment they get from it.

Alternatives to consider

Instead of purchasing a vacation home, consider alternatives such as renting vacation properties when needed. Platforms like Airbnb offer a wide range of rental options in desirable locations, allowing them to enjoy a vacation without the financial and practical burdens of ownership. This flexibility can be especially beneficial if travel preferences change over time.

Another option is to consider house swapping, where they exchange homes with someone in another location. This can provide a cost-effective way to experience new places without the expense of renting or owning a second property. By exploring these alternatives, retirees can enjoy vacations without compromising financial security.

6. Expensive gifts to family

The desire to spoil loved ones

Retirement is often seen as a time to give back to family, and many retirees take great pleasure in spoiling their loved ones with generous gifts. Whether it's helping children with a down payment on a house, paying for grandchildren's education, or simply showering family members with expensive presents, the desire to share wealth is understandable.

Financial implications

While it's natural to want to be generous, giving large financial gifts can have serious implications for financial stability. According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), retirees need to be cautious about depleting their retirement savings too quickly. Giving away substantial amounts of money can compromise the ability to cover essential expenses in the future, such as healthcare and daily living costs.

Moreover, financial gifts can create dependency issues and strain family relationships. If family members come to expect ongoing financial support, it can lead to tension and resentment if they can no longer able to provide it. It's important to establish clear boundaries and communicate openly with family about financial limits.

Balancing generosity with prudence

To balance generosity with financial prudence, consider setting a budget for gifts and sticking to it. Small, thoughtful gifts can often be just as meaningful as expensive ones. Additionally, retirees can explore other ways to support family, such as offering time, skills, and experiences. For example, spending quality time with grandchildren, sharing knowledge, or helping with non-financial aspects of their lives can be incredibly valuable.

If retirees do decide to make larger financial contributions, consider seeking advice from a financial adviser to ensure that gifts align with long-term financial plan. By making informed decisions, retirees can enjoy the satisfaction of giving while maintaining financial security.


Retirement is a time to enjoy the fruits of your labour, but it's essential to approach major purchases with caution and foresight. The six categories of regretful purchases discussed - luxury vehicles, oversized homes, lavish vacations, recreational vehicles, vacation homes, and expensive gifts to family - highlight the importance of making informed financial decisions.

By understanding the potential pitfalls and considering practical alternatives, advisers can ensure that clients' retirement years are financially secure and fulfilling.