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Welcome to the SunLife Finances After 50 Research 2019

In this report, we look at what people aged 50+ in the UK do with their money – and investigate the link between what they buy or save and their relative happiness.

We discuss future planning and spending in retirement, and how over 50s are looking to gain extra income in their later years.

Ready to find out more? Scroll down to explore some key take-outs from the report.

1. How happy are people over 50?

63% of the over 50s we spoke to described themselves as ‘happy’, with those over 70 the most likely to be happiest.

Our happiness index is calculated based on the average of these three questions:

  1. All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
  2. How happy did you feel yesterday?
  3. Thinking forward to the next 5 years or so, how happy do you feel about your future?

When we refer to people who are ‘the happiest’ in the research, we mean the happiest 10% of people surveyed.

What makes people happy?

The number one thing that makes people over 50 happy is their family. This is followed closely by their friends and not having to worry about money.

2. Income and spending

Household and disposable income

The good news is, the correlation between disposable income (spare cash) and happiness is stronger than the correlation between income and happiness.

Our research found that the more disposable income people have, the happier they are.

Note: Disposable income is the amount of money that households have left for spending and saving after living expenses have been accounted for.

Household spending

On average, people aged over 50 spend £1,833 per month on living expenses.

The happiest 10% are spending, on average, over £50 per week (or 11%) more on household expenses than all those aged over 50.

Happier households are a little more likely to give to charity and more likely to buy a daily newspaper, but they’re less likely to smoke and less likely to do the lottery.

Spare cash

On average, people aged 50 and over have £342 spare cash per month after their mortgage or rent, bills, and living costs have been accounted for.

The happiest 10% have £615 spare cash per month – £273 more than the average person over 50.

The difference between the average and the happiest works out at less than £10 (£9.10) extra spare cash per day.

So, if people over 50 can save or budget differently, or increase their income to find an extra £9.10 a day, they could increase their overall happiness.

What over 50s spend the most on

When it comes to spending, the happiest over 50s households are more likely to spend money on their families and holidays.

They go on more holidays a year than the average household – with one in ten of the happiest households taking more than five a year.

They spend more on weekly groceries but are less likely to have takeaways. And interestingly, while they are more likely to have pets, they spend significantly less on them (£31 a month compared to £50 for the average household).

The happiest over 50s also spend more on home improvements.

3. Savings and investment


79% of those aged over 50 have at least £100 in savings overall, whilst 21% of people aged 50 and over have less than £100 or no savings at all.

A savings account is the most popular method of saving amongst those over 50, and the happiest over 50s are more likely to have savings in an ISA.

Of those with an ISA, the happiest people have £361 more saved than the average person over 50.

Reasons to save

Just half of those aged 50 and above have savings for their retirement.

Those with retirement savings are happier than those who have none.

The happiest over 50s are also more likely to save up for a holiday than the average household.

4. Financial planning and pensions

What financial planning and products do over 50s have?

Those in the happiest 10% are more likely to have a credit card, home emergency cover, annuity and a will.

The happiest over 50s are significantly more likely to have insurance.

Home ownership

71% of those aged over 50 own their own home, with an average value of £241,104.

This is slightly higher when looking at the happiest 10%, where eight in ten (81%) own their own home.

The average property value for the happiest 10% is £281,626. That’s £40,522 more than average.


Many over 50s are worried about being able to fund their retirement. One in five over 50s don’t have private pensions and above half don’t have any savings.

Overall, 28% of over 50s do not have a private or company pension, only the state pension.

Amongst women, this figure rises to 35% with no private or company pension.

The happiest 10% are much more likely to have a private pension, with eight in ten (82%) of the happiest 10% having a private or company pension.

Do over 50s have enough to cover their retirement?

A third of over 50s say they don’t think they have enough money to provide them with an income for their retirement.

Of those that do, over half think they have enough in their combined savings, pensions and investments for a comfortable retirement.

This is significantly higher for the happiest 10%.

We found that women are more worried about not having enough money in later life than men.

36% of women and 30% of men over 50 don’t think they have enough money to fund their retirement.

27% of all people asked say they are hoping their partner or spouse’s pension will fund their retirement. This is higher for women than men, at 30%.

12% say they are going to continue to work to provide an income, while 11% are expecting an inheritance.

Both the average and the happiest over 50s households are retired couples, in their 60s with children and grandchildren – the only difference here is that the happiest over 50s retired six years earlier.

How do people expect to pay for their retirement?

Nine in ten of the over 50s asked expect their state pension to fund their retirement.

Just 13% of women over 50 are confident they will have enough in their pension to fund a comfortable retirement.

The happiest 10% are more likely to enhance their private pension to pay for their retirement.

Extra income

One in six people aged 50 and above earn extra money in addition to their pension and/or job.

Those in the happiest 10% are 14% less likely to buy or sell items to make money.

5. Financial planning and attitudes

Financial worries

On average, four in ten people aged over 50 have financial worries.

The happiest people are significantly less worried about money, which could be put down to their increased levels of saving and financial holdings such as private pensions and home ownership.

If money was tight and household income dropped for whatever reason, almost a quarter of over 50s would cut back on dining out.

This differs with the happiest people, however, who would prefer to cut back on days out or holidays.

Alcohol is the number one thing the average person over 50 would hate to give up if money was tight.

6. Lifestyle and hobbies

Life after 50

The happiest over 50s are much more likely to say that life became better since they turned 50.

More than nine in ten of the happiest people agree that they have more time to do things they like, and agree they enjoy life more now they are over 50.

Over three-quarters of the happiest over 50s agree that life is more exciting since turning 50.

Bucket list

Over half of over 50s have a dream holiday destination as their top thing to do before they die.

15% of over 50s would like to achieve a healthy lifestyle, while 10% would holiday to America.

The happiest people have on average three holidays a year, compared to an overall average of two.


One in six people aged 50 and above claim to have experienced discrimination by not being offered a job because of their age.

43% of all over 50s say they have experienced age discrimination since turning 50. This drops to 27% for the happiest people.

7. The happiest over 50s household

The happiest over 50s households spend more on holidays, family, charity and insurance than average, but less on their pets, takeaways and gambling.

It’s not how much money you have, but how you save and spend it that has the biggest impact on our happiness.

For people aged 50 and older to be in the happiest 10%, they might consider:

  • Saving or budgeting to save around £10 a day
  • Having a clearer idea of their household finances
  • Saving enough to ensure they have enough to fund their retirement, such as starting a private pension

For over 50s, knowing that it is more about the spending decisions they make than how much they have, is very encouraging. It means that achieving true cash happiness could be a lot easier than we all might think.

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