Half a ton of money worries as national poll shows 50-something Brits lack financial security

26th April 2017

  • Latest life-stages study reveals Brits have more debt than savings in their fifth decade
  • 50-somethings caught in middle as they support both grown-up kids and ageing parents
  • Average wage of £19,615 but limited pensions and lack of financial legacy for children  
  • M People’s Heather Small, 52, gives her view on hitting the half century milestone

Still renting, having little or no pension and worrying about the legacy they’ll leave their children is the reality for the average 50-something Brit, national research shows.

The study, from Nationwide Financial Planning, polled 2,000 people in their 50s and is the final in a series of reports looking at the financial and social life of different age groups. It forms part of a wider focus Nationwide has on the aspirations and needs of UK consumers.

While many of those in their fifth decade are feeling the pressure of supporting family, emerging health worries and lack of financial security – a third (32%) have more than £10,000 in savings and four in ten (40%) have cleared their mortgage.

Heather Small, 52, singer from classic 90s house band M People said: “The research shows how hitting your fifties is a real balancing act, with responsibilities on all sides – putting in the hours at work, looking after grown-up children but also ensuring you take care of your own parents. It’s no wonder that money is tight in this age bracket, although what is good to see is that we are an aspirational bunch. Despite pressures, we keep our dreams in our back pockets – from dream holidays to learning a new language”.

Planning for the future:
A good proportion of those in their fifties are unprepared financially for the future with more than half (52%) indicating they have not yet made a will, while more than a quarter (28%) don’t have a pension. Of those that do have a pension, nearly one in ten (9%) only began saving into it once they reached their forties. 
And while it is women who are most likely to not have a pension (32% versus 21% of men), it’s men who are most unlikely to have made a will (57% compared to 49% of women).

Looking ahead to retirement, nearly a third (29%) have no plans in place. However, for those who have a clear idea of what they want to do with their newfound freedom, the most popular plans include:

  • Go on multiple holidays: 27%
  • Embark on new hobbies and interests: 24%
  • Travel the world: 18%
  • Spend time with the grandchildren: 15%
  • Downsize the house: 13%
  • Volunteer for a charity: 13%

When it comes to financing these activities, more than two in five (44%) expect their state pension to fund their lifestyle, with just over half (53%) also dipping into their savings. More than one in ten (11%) plan to take money out of their property, while a further 12 per cent have no idea how where they will get the money.

Living situation and property:
According to the research, mortgage and rent payments are one of the biggest expenses for those in their 50s. Nearly a third (28%) rent a property, while the same percentage (28%) are still paying off their mortgage. And while four in ten people (40%) own their home outright, the average 50-something has £2,949 remaining on their mortgage.

When it comes to living arrangements, most live with their partner (65%), although 3% still live with their parents, while nearly one in five (19%) live on their own.

50s finances:
When it comes to money, the average quinquagenarian still isn’t set. A fifth (20%) of respondents claimed to have no savings at all. In fact, the average 50-something has more debt (£4,641) than savings (£4,511), and this doesn’t include the remaining £2,949 they have left on their mortgage. A significant proportion of that debt comes from the following areas:

  • Credit Card: £2,758
  • Personal Loan: £1,308
  • Car Finance: £755
  • Overdraft: £330

Those in their fifties only have an average disposable annual income of around £3,600, from an average salary of £19,165. While more than two in five (41%) confess to having £1,200 or less. The gender gap is also significant, with men claiming to earn an average of £10,000 more than women (£25,196 vs £15,195).

On a more positive note, the poll shows that, excluding mortgages, around six in ten (61%) 50-somethings are debt free and nearly a third (32%) have a nest egg of £10,000 or more squirreled away in savings. Seven per cent of respondents admit to having more than £1,000 or more of disposable income each month. When it comes to expenditure, bills (71%), food/groceries (70%), rent/mortgage (44%), various insurances (34%) and holidays (33%) are the biggest outlays.

Worries and regrets in your 50s:
Health fears are top of the list of worries for those in their 50s, with nearly three in five (58%) indicating their health is a concern and more than a third (38%) anxious about their partner’s health. The research shows that those in their fifties are just as apprehensive about their financial health. The top worries are:

  • Saving money overall: 46%
  • Financial security: 38%
  • Having a decent pension: 35%
  • Paying the bills: 32%

It is perhaps unsurprising then that health and finance feature on the top five list of regrets for 50-somethings:

  • Wish I’d saved more: 34%
  • Wish I’d travelled more: 31%
  • Wish I’d saved more into a pension: 26%
  • Not doing enough exercise: 25%
  • Lost touch with family and friends: 19%

Parents vs children:
When it comes to kids, one in five (20%) worry that their offspring won’t ever be able to get onto the property ladder. Despite many their children being adults, those in their fifties say they still worry about them.

Nearly three in 10 (27%) fret about being able to help their children financially and 15 per cent are concerned that their kids will suffer from ill health. More than one in ten (12%) worry about providing a financial legacy to their children and grandchildren, while more than one in 20 (6%) say Brexit is their biggest uncertainty when it comes to their children’s futures.

But for those in their fifth decade of life, it’s not just children that they need to worry about. The poll shows that support is also provided to their own parents, many of who will be in their 80s or 90s. Around a quarter (24%) make sure their parents get regular visits, while 15 per cent commit to doing their shopping and driving them to appointments. This may be the reason why a quarter (25%) of 50-somethings see their parents more now than they did 10 years ago.

Moving on up:
Adventure lies at the heart of the bucket list of the average 50-something. One in five want to travel the world, one in eight (12%) aspire to learn a new language and well over a third (39%) dream of seeing the Northern Lights. Other aspirations include swimming with dolphins (13%) and even falling asleep under the stars (6%). And five per cent of respondents aspire to travel into outer space.

But when it comes to travelling, the research shows that the average person in their fifties takes one holiday a year, although nearly one in ten (9%) manage to get away three times a year. Countering this is the fact that two in five of those surveyed (40%) say they have no holidays at all each year.

And finally...
When it comes to getting around, a quarter (25%) don’t drive a vehicle, although a Ford Fiesta is the car of choice for most drivers in the 50-59 age group.

While a quarter (25%) are either divorced or still single, nearly three quarters (73%) of 50-year olds are still in a relationship, the average length of which is 24 years.

As for pets, cats (32%) and dogs (35%) are the most popular companions.

Larry Banda, Nationwide’s Director of Financial Planning, comments: “Hitting the half century in terms of years really is middle of the road. Often we are squeezed from both sides – supporting both our grown-up children but also our parents as they get older. Our research reveals a mixed bag of experiences. While money tends to be tight for the average fifty-something, with debt narrowly outweighing savings, they are an aspirational group, intent on enjoying the good times.

Planning ahead for life events – whether retirement, helping the kids get on the housing ladder or building a nest egg that will enable you to enjoy life – is a worthwhile habit to get into. And with around half of those in their fifties either renting or still paying off their mortgage, it could prove the difference between going on that fantastic holiday of a lifetime or staying in windowsill bay. Even saving a little over a period of time can make a real difference”.


  • ANNUAL INCOME: £19,165
  • DEBT (excluding mortgage): £4,641
  • CREDIT CARD: £2,758
  • PERSONAL LOAN: £1,308
  • CAR FINANCE: £755
  • OVERDRAFT: £330
  • MORTGAGE: £2,949
  • SAVINGS: £4,511
  • WORKING HOURS: Just over 21 per week
  • CAR MODEL: Ford
  • FAVOURITE FILMS: Grease, Indiana Jones Series, E.T.
  • FAVOURITE TV SHOWS: Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty Towers, Blackadder
  • FAVOURITE MUSIC: Queen, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac
  • BIGGEST WORRIES: Personal health, saving money, financial security, partner’s health, decent pension, paying bills
  • BIGGEST REGRETS: Not travelling enough, not saving more, not saving more into a pension, not doing enough exercise, losing touch with family/friends
  • RELATIONSHIP: Married – together for nearly 24 years
  • PET: Cats and dogs
  • HOLIDAYS: 1 per year
  • RETIREMENT PLANS: Multiple holidays, new hobbies/interests, travel the world, spend time with grandchildren, downsize the house, volunteer for charity
  • BIGGEST CONCERN FOR CHILDREN: They won’t get on to the housing ladder

Notes to Editors

The poll of 2,000 UK adults aged 50-59 was carried out by online market researchers, OnePoll.com, and took place between 28 March 2017 and 5 April 2017.

About Nationwide

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