If you’ve never had the pleasure – and the privilege – of meeting someone who’s lived more than 100 years, it’s quite something.

My previous record was 99 (my late grandfather-in-law), but I was recently visiting some friends with my parents at a rest home when I met Mary. She was all smiles, greeting everyone, sprightly in her way. There wasn’t much of a chance to exchange many words, as she was soon off with her walker to the next part of her well-worn routine. Mary waved and moved on, but left a lasting impression.

Increasing life spans are one of the variables that make retirement planning a challenge. Alongside the question of how much we’ll need, not knowing how long we should be planning for can paralyse us and lead us to simply kick it all down the line a bit longer.

Will our children live to 100?

For those born in the mid-2010s, Stats NZ says that perhaps 17 percent of females (or one in six) and 11 percent of males (or one in nine) will reach 100. Apparently there will be more of us clocking a century in our lifetimes – those are some good innings.

While it’s fascinating to meet someone whose birthdate was in 1917, how about someone born ten years earlier? The oldest New Zealander is Madeline Anderson, born 4 May 1907. She’s 110. Astounding.

Life expectancy may even climb higher than currently predicted because of biotech breakthroughs in the years to come. That will mean not just increased life spans, but hopefully increased health spans as well – where we not only live longer, but we live better.

How do we feel about working longer?

If reaching 100 becomes less remarkable than it is now, and we have longer health spans, will 70 eventually become the new 50?

When the first New Zealand pension was introduced way back in 1898, it was set for people 65 and older. Based on the available records, those who reached 65 at the time (non-Maori) could expect to live between the age of 75 and 80. A typical retirement might have lasted 12 or 13 years.

Since then, if the age of eligibility for NZ Super had kept pace with life expectancy, instead of 65 today it might well now be 75-80 years.

Now I’m not suggesting we set the retirement age that high by any stretch of the imagination. But one thing we do know is that many of us intend on working beyond age 65 in order to fund retirements that can stretch for 25 or even 30 years. (Not counting the Madeline Andersons out there – hers has been 45... so far!)

When the Commission for Financial Capability did a survey last year as part of its three-yearly Review of Retirement Income Policies, it found that less than a quarter of us plan on retiring from paid work entirely at age 65. Most said it would be more like age 70–71 (22%), 68–69 (17%) or 66–67 (14%).

It seems many of us are counting on working longer to fund the future.

What does this mean for retirement planning?

Meeting someone who is 100 years old can help you to see your future self. It’s much easier to imagine, and you can also fill out the picture by calculating your own life expectancy.

All this helps us to go in with eyes wide open at least. It may be hard to tell precisely how many years we’ll need to fund, but we can plug in some assumptions and run some numbers to gauge what’s needed.

And if you’ve already pulled back from paid work and are managing your nest egg, you can explore your options for making it last… all the way to 100 if need be.

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