Why you should closely monitor your bank account

I love online banking because I like to visit my money every day to make sure it’s still all there. So imagine my surprise when the RBC account I share with my mother and sister went within a couple of days from half a million dollars in arrears to a balance of +$500,000!

My sister discovered the deficit initially when in late May she tried to take out a small amount of cash for my mother and she was locked out of the account.

In fact, in mid-May at our request CIBC Investors Edge had processed a transfer of $512,000 from the RBC account to our CIBC investment account. This was the proceeds of sale from my mother’s condo. But then CIBC initiated a second transfer of the exact same amount on May 29th and since there was only a few thousand dollars in the RBC account to pay monthly bills, we were left with a huge negative balance.

When I contacted CIBC, our IE representative told us that as a result of “a bank error” thousands of May transfers into CIBC IE were duplicated and that the problem would be rectified within a day. Meanwhile, RBC said not to worry, because the second transfer out would be sent back and the negative balance in the account would be reversed as we do not have overdraft protection. However, just to make sure I was advised to notify any vendors with automatic withdrawals that their cheques may bounce temporarily.

That occurred within hours and our RBC account was unlocked. But the next day CIBC IE also “fixed” the problem by transferring $512,000 back into the RBC account, leaving us with a hefty, unwarranted surplus! Much as I was tempted to blow town and take an around-the-world cruise, I dutifully reported the new error to our CIBC IE representative. He said the second mistake would be quickly rectified.

Shortly after, I also got a call from the CIBC Director of Executive Client Relations apologizing for the inconvenience and assuring me the $512,000 erroneously deposited to our account would be out of the RBC account on Friday June 2nd. It took until June 6th for the extra $512,000 to disappear.

In spite of our conversation I still can’t figure out how similar mistakes possibly involving thousands of clients were never communicated to clients up front or investigated by the mainstream media. I was told CIBC had no idea there had been a computer glitch until their clients started reporting the mistakes.

This comedy of errors was reversed in a few days and the only residual effect that I am  left with is a great story. But it could have been much worse if I wasn’t able to track the errors online and quickly make the necessary calls to understand and correct the errors.   And it was also time-consuming and embarrassing to have to make multiple calls and stop payment on the monthly payment to my mother’s nursing home.

So the moral of the story is: Check your recorded bank account transactions frequently either in person or online. If something looks wrong it probably is. The sooner you intervene and get it fixed, the less chance there is that an error will go unnoticed, affecting both your cash flow and your credit rating.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Happy 150th Birthday Canada

My husband and I buy lottery tickets every now and then and have fun dreaming about what we would do with the money if we won millions. But the truth is that as Canadians born and bred, we know that we have already won the lottery.

Canada was ranked the second best country in the world again this year, edged out only by Switzerland in the annual Best Countries survey from the U.S. News & World Report. But Canada topped the list in the “Quality of Life” category, scoring a perfect 10 based on a variety of sub-factors including politics, economy and health care.

Are we perfect? Of course not. We still have much work to do dealing with many critical issues. But we welcome people from all over the world with open arms. Thanks to former Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas, we also have a single payer healthcare system (wait times notwithstanding), that is the envy of many of our neighbours to the south.

So whether you travel across the country or around the block, make this your year to see and celebrate a part of this great country where you have never been before. And to get you in the mood, here’s a little travelling music with wonderful images celebrating the beautiful place we are privileged to call home.

“Something to Sing About” by Oscar Brand performed by The Travelers.

Happy 150th Birthday, Canada!

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

June 26: Best from the blogosphere

A million dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to but it’s still a nice chunk of change. I’m always fascinated by media articles and blogs that feature wunderkind who achieve seemingly unreachable financial goals by a very young age. So I pulled a few pieces to share with you in the hope that something may resonate and help you to exit the rat race sooner rather than later.

In The 10 Most Common Millionaire Habits, Jessica Kane writing for the Financial independence Hub says most of the people who have achieved the status of millionaires engage in daily rituals that help them meet their goals. Some of her suggestions are: be an early bird; read about current events; learn something new every day, and sleep less than 8 hours each night.

Grant Sabatier, the founder of The Millennial Millionaire went from $2.26 to $1 million in 5 years, reaching financial independence at age 30. He also shares A Few Not-So-Easy Steps.  Several of my favourites are:

  • Get paid what you are worth. Negotiate a raise or look for a higher paid career track.
  •  Save at least 20% of your after tax pay cheque before spending anything.
  • Find a side hustle and invest the profit.

Kyle from Young and Thrifty offers 6 Non-Traditional Steps to Becoming a Canadian Millionaire In Today’s Market that will certainly raise some eyebrows. He says there are many paths to prosperity and only some of them lead through university. One alternative is to take shop or industrial arts so you can start your education in the trades while you are still in high school. Then you can start making money right away when you graduate. Also, don’t be afraid to move where the jobs are.

Millennial Revolution is a FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) site started by two computer engineers/children’s authors, FIRECracker & Wanderer, who retired at 31 to travel the world with a seven figure portfolio.

They primarily attribute their ability to save and invest scads of money to renting instead of buying in the pricey Toronto housing market. But they have also published a detailed and highly entertaining series on their blog about “how they got there.”

How We Got Here, Part 1: God, We Were Spendy Back Then
How We Got Here, Part 2: PANIC
How We Got Here, Part 3: After the Crash
How We Got Here, Part 4: The Bearded One
How We Got Here, Epilogue: The Real Cost of Traveling the World

And finally, Alexis Assadi is an entrepreneur and he believes that getting rich in Canada is easier than you think. In fact he has written about it extensively in his book Rich At 26 . He says rather than having to work for money, financial independence occurs when the revenue from your business and investment holdings surpasses your cost of living. He recommends that readers:

  • Invest in income producing assets.
  • Take advantage of TFSAs.
  • Contribute to RRSPs,
  • Start a business.
  • Learn about and use tax incentives.


Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Protect your purse: Interview with author Doris Belland

Click here to listen
Click here to listen

Today I’m pleased to be interviewing Doris Belland, author of the new book Protect Your Purse which includes lessons for women about how to avoid financial messes, stop emotional bankruptcies and take charge of their money.

Belland has been digging into women’s financial literacy ever since she ended up nearly $400,000 in debt after her first husband’s death, when she was 32. Persistence, determination, and a singular focus on results led her to climb out of debt in two years and develop a substantial real estate portfolio over the following ten years.

Since then she been president of a local real estate investors’ organization, developed a successful Rent to Own company, and published her first book. Belland also has a blog on her website Your Financial Launchpad and she is using her hard-won financial literacy to help other women rock their finances.

Thanks for talking to me today Doris. It’s my pleasure Sheryl.

Q: Your first husband, Malcolm died after a prolonged illness and you were left with a $400,000 debt. How did that debt accumulate and when did you become aware of the full extent of how much you owed?
A: I’m happy to say that it was not credit card debt. It was acquired as a result of growing our business. Also, a year and a half before Malcolm died, we bought a house. I was aware of the individual amounts owing but I’d never sat down to actually do the math until after Malcolm died. One day I had a moment of clarity and that’s when I tried to figure out the big number and it was a bit of a shock for me.

Q: You were able to climb out of debt in two years. Tell me how you managed to do this so quickly?
A: What we sold at the time were designs that my husband created. I realized after he died he was the engine of the business. I had, at best, a two year runway in order to make sales. That’s how long the existing designs would last.

The only way that I could conceive of paying off $400,000 was by maximizing the sales of the product. I approached our suppliers who I owed a lot of money and I said to them, “Listen, I’m going to pay off every dime that I owe you, but in order for me to do that I need to actually borrow even more. I’m going to take a very aggressive approach and sell everywhere I possibly can.” I called their stores. I offered them preferential pricing. I gave them incentives for higher sales.

I also sold off as many of our other assets as I could. I went through my entire house and said, “If I haven’t used it in two years I’m going to sell it.” The big things along with all of the small things helped me pay that off that debt just over two years.

Q: With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently during your marriage to Malcolm to protect yourself and the family finances?
A: Oh boy! The very first thing, for me, I think is that I would have participated actively in all of the finances, so talk openly about where we were at, what our financial situation was. I walked away from a fully funded PhD to help Malcolm in his business when he became ill. What I should have done is stop and actually analyze the consequences for me, if I walked away from my doctoral program because that was my golden future.

What I say to people now is that they should build thinking time into their lives to look at all of the financial components that come into play and ask themselves, “What if something happens to me, what if something happens to my spouse? What would the consequences be?”

Q: Why did you decide to write a book about your experience?
A: Well, I didn’t. It didn’t come from me. I’m happily remarried and I was sharing some of my stories with my husband Mark and he said, “You have got to write this down. You’ve got to share this with people.” I started with a blog and then realized I wanted to help women avoid what I went through. That became the basis for the book.

Q: One of your first pieces of advice is about the importance of having a will. Why is having a will important even if there are few assets and no children?
A: It makes everything so much easier to transfer assets after death. I really strongly recommend a will for, frankly, absolutely everybody. Even if you don’t have any dependants and if you’re not married, you still have things in your life that you care deeply about. Whatever it is, the will allows you to say, “Here is what I want done with the things that are most valuable to me.” If you are married or you do have a partner it will help protect them and make it so much easier should something happen to you.

Q: Now, you alluded to a joint and survivor ownership of assets. What does that mean and why is that an important thing for women to do?
A: Basically, if your husband dies and you are on title for a property, for example, or your name is on an asset or you’re listed as a beneficiary for an investment, it just means that you immediately still have access to these things. It avoids the costly and sometimes lengthy process of court applications. It just means that now you have far greater control, and again, I go back to the ease of transition. You’re dealing with enough and legal issues are the last thing you need.

Q: I would suggest to you though that retaining bank accounts in one person’s name, particularly the woman’s name could be something that throughout a marriage might be a form of protection, as opposed to having everything in joint ownership.
A: Right. We’re talking about two different things, so the question you posed is, what’s the advantage of having assets in both names? The challenge, of course, is in the event of divorce. In my book, I talk about two different scenarios, one is a scenario where there’s death and one scenario where there is divorce and the woman absolutely needs protection. So having most of the assets in joint ownership for estate purposes doesn’t preclude each partner having their own assets and their own money.

Q: You interviewed over 300 women and told many of their stories in the book which makes it very readable. How did you find your interview subjects and why did you decide to incorporate their stories into your book?
A: Very simply, for me, my story is one data point, I’m one person. But as I thought about it and I started talking to other people I realized a lot of people are going through deaths and divorces and I got curious.

I put out the word through social media and through my own networks. I said, “I’m  interested in talking to any widows or divorcees who would be willing to confidentially speak with me.” Then the floodgates opened up. Friends told friends and next thing I knew I had perfect strangers from other countries reaching out to me.

Q: That’s fascinating. Briefly, what are the top five insights you would like readers to gain from reading your book?
A: Here are the top 5 takeaways I hope my readers come away with:

  1. Don’t assume it can never happen to you.
  2. Build time for thinking in your life.
  3. Ask yourself, what if something happens to me or my spouse?
  4. Sit down regularly to talk to your spouse about money.
  5. Put the key documents in place, i.e. insurance policies, wills etc.

Q: You’ve remarried, you now have two daughters. How difficult was it to reinvest yourself and create a whole new life?
A: I guess the easiest way is if you imagine that you’re traveling at 120 miles per hour and hit a brick wall. That’s pretty much what it felt like. It was very difficult because I had envisioned myself as an academic from the time I was a teenager and then my life changed 180 degrees. It was exceedingly difficult. It took the better part of a decade to reinvest myself; to start over, to get a point where I felt, “Okay, I’m good.”

Q: What’s next for you? What other irons do you have in the fire?
A: Well, I have been a real estate investor for a decade and I thought that really was going to be my future. But this whole process over the last five years, of digging into women’s financial literacy has made me realize that is where my passion is.

*****

Thank you very much, Doris. It was really a pleasure to chat with you today. Thank you so much, Sheryl. I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

 

You can purchase Protect Your Purse, Shared Lessons for Women: Avoid Financial Messes, Stop Emotional Bankruptcies and Take Charge of Your Money on Amazon for CDN $19.95

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

June 19: Best from the blogosphere

Whether you are traveling by car, bus, train or plane to your vacation destination this summer, confirming that you have appropriate travel insurance coverage should be an item on your “to do” list. Several years ago we had to return home after one week of a two week river cruise due to a family tragedy and fortunately the trip interruption coverage under our travel insurance policy reimbursed over $10,000.

You may think that if you are travelling within Canada you are adequately covered by your Saskatchewan or other provincial medical coverage. However, Skipping travel insurance when travelling within Canada could cost you by Angela Mulholland for CTV News highlights that medicare does not cover services like an air ambulance to get you home if you are severely injured outside of your home province. If this service is necessary it could cost you thousands of dollars.

In Travel Insurance – The 6 Most Important Things to Know, life insurance advisor Jane Stygall notes that people in certain age groups may be required to answer medical questions when purchasing medical insurance. She says even when you think something is unimportant, declare everything! An inaccurate statement, even if it does not have anything to do with your medical emergency will cause your entire policy to be void.  And your medical emergency for any reason will not be covered.

If you are planning extended travel to exotic places, not just any travel insurance will do. Cost Of Travelling the World For 1 Year, Part 4: Travel Insurance by FireCracker on Millennial Revolution gives readers the benefit of her research when she and her husband Wanderer were looking for travel insurance that would support their nomadic lifestyle. One reason they selected World Nomads is that their policy covers 150+ activities like scuba diving, mountain climbing, bungee jumping, skiing, surfing, and many more.

In an extensive interview previously published on savewithspp.com, Martin Firestone, President of Travel Secure discussed What Snowbirds Need to Know About Travel Insurance. “The biggest problem with credit card coverage is there is no underwriting at time of application, because there is no application. You have a credit card. It has a travel insurance element, but it’s very difficult to understand what the fine print means,” Firestone says. “In that scenario you have a claim, and then you apply for payment. That’s when the true underwriting happens, and when you may find out that in fact you do not actually have coverage.”

And finally, if you use a wheelchair, require an oxygen tank to breathe or have other health limitations or requirements, check out Insurance Canada’s Tips For Travel With Special Needs. If you don’t have existing travel insurance through a group plan, or if your existing travel insurance doesn’t provide sufficient coverage, you may require individual travel insurance.

For example, Ingle International of Toronto markets insurance for conditions such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes, or physical disability, including plans that require medical underwriting. Medically underwritten plans may be more expensive, but help reduce the risk of a claim being denied.


Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Canadians anticipate longest retirement

A global survey from HSBC reveals that Canadians anticipate some of the longest retirements, but they are among the least likely to seek information to guide financial decisions.

According to the study, Canadians expect to retire at 62 and live to the ripe old age of 85 on average, resulting in one of the longest retirement windows amongst their global peers (global averages: 61 and 81 years, respectively). However despite expectations of a long retirement, Canadians are amongst the least likely to say they actively seek information to guide their financial decisions (42% vs. global average of 56%).

HSBC’s the Future of Retirement: Shifting Sands, a new global retirement report captures the views of 18,414 people across 16 countries and territories worldwide including 1,003 in Canada. The complete Canada report is available at www.hsbc.ca/retirement.

“Our latest research suggests that the good news is Canadians can anticipate that they will enjoy a longer retirement and lifespan than many of their global peers. The less than great news is that they’re not actually planning for it,” said Larry Tomei, Executive Vice President and Head of Retail Banking and Wealth Management, HSBC Bank Canada.

“Interestingly, technology is really changing the way people plan and save for retirement; and while about one-third of working age people in Canada expect new technology will help make it easier to save for retirement because they can do research online, use an online retirement calculator or try out a robotic financial advisor, the data makes clear that many western nations are falling behind in terms of taking full advantage.”

How Canadians compare to their global peers
Technology is changing the way people save for retirement. About one-third of working-age people in Canada agree that new technology makes it easier to save for their retirement. This is well below the global average (47%), with a much higher proportion of working age respondents in China (77 %) and India (69%) than in France (17%)  Argentina (28%) and the UK (30%) agreeing that technology is helping them save for retirement.

Only 29% of working age people in Canada think they will be financially comfortable when retired (global average: 34%), with those in India (69%) and Indonesia (61%) the most likely to think this, and those in France (10%) and Australia (21%) the least likely.

Property is still viewed as a good way of saving for retirement, with 38% of working age people in Canada saying they think it delivers the best returns albeit well below the global average of 47 %. This is not yet fully reflected in retirement plans, with only 16% of working age people in Canada expecting property to help fund their retirement.

Canadians have a comparatively low risk appetite, with just over one in five (21%) saying they would be very willing to make risky investments to ensure their financial stability, and 22% saying they’d risk financial losses (global averages: 34% and 28%, respectively).  In comparison, the highest proportions of working age people willing to take such risks are in China (61%) and Taiwan (47%), and the lowest are in France (10%) and the UK (15%).

Just over one half (55%) of working age Canadians say they will continue working to some extent in retirement; 66 per cent would be willing to defer their retirement for two years or more to have a better retirement income; and 44% would work for longer or get a second job to sustain their saving for retirement.

Millennials expect to retire at age 61, Generation X at 63 and Baby Boomers at 64 (global averages: 59, 61 and 64 years, respectively). Millennials in Canada expect to live to age 86, while Generation X expect to live to 83 and Baby Boomers to 85 (global averages: 79, 81, and 84 years respectively).

About half (52%) of people surveyed in Canada believe that Millennials have experienced weaker economic growth than previous generations, while 54% agree that Millennials are paying for the economic consequences of older generations, such as the global financial crisis and rising national debt (global average: 52% and 58% respectively). And while 46% of people in Canada say that Millennials don’t know how good they have it, enjoying a better quality of life than any generation before them, this is below the global average of 54%.

Health cheque
The rising cost of healthcare is another important issue. Almost three-quarters of working age people believe that retirees will have to spend more on healthcare costs in the future, and 61% are concerned about being able to fund their healthcare. Thirty-three percent of working age people worry about the availability and affordability of healthcare, compared to the global average of 25%.

Practical steps
HSBC draws the following insights and practical actions drawn from the research findings, which may help today’s retirement savers plan a better financial future for themselves.

  1. Be realistic about your retirement.
  2. Consider different sources of funding.
  3. Plan for the unexpected.
  4. Take advantage of technology.
Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

June 12: Best from the blogosphere

In the mid-1990s when I obtained my Master of Laws (LLM) from University of Leicester via a distance degree I traveled back and forth to Europe for five extended study weekends. That’s when I first got an Aeroplan number and a CIBC Aeroplan Visa and began aggressively collecting points.

As a result we were able to get almost free flights to many wonderful places including South America, Italy and the U.K. But recently convenient flights have cost more points and additional fees have increased so it has become more and more difficult to use up Aeroplan points in a cost-effective way.

Therefore, several years ago I traded in my Aeroplan VISA for a Capital One MasterCard that offers two points for every dollar spent and travel rewards of $1 for each 100 points accumulated.  I haven’t looked back since then.

But many of you who have stuck with Aeroplan through thick and thin will be affected by the announcement that beginning June 30, 2020. Aeroplan will no longer be the loyalty program for Air Canada.  Instead Air Canada has decided to launch its own loyalty program upon the expiry of its commercial agreement with Aimia, the operator of Aeroplan.

Many details of how the program will be phased out remain unclear, but the collection of media articles and blogs below may answer some of your questions.

A two-part series on Rewards Canada explores what we know now and questions that remain outstanding.

  1.  Air Canada to launch own loyalty program in 2020! Aeroplan should continue to be a partner includes excerpts from the Aeroplan news release and questions whether the new Aeroplan will have access to Star Alliance members’ award inventory or if it will become exclusive to Air Canada’s new program.
  2. Further thoughts, insight and tips on the split between Air Canada and Aeroplan suggests that perhaps Air Canada will pad their loyal flyers account with some miles to begin with, or they may put in place some sort of transfer option. However it seems from the news provided by both Aeroplan and Air Canada there will be no way to transfer between the two programs, at least for the time being.

The Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick explores rewarding replacements for those of you who are bailing on Air Canada. He says, “Figure out which program works best for you and start watching for special introductory offers to lure new clients. Competition between programs will heat up as we move closer to Air Canada’s departure from Aeroplan.”

Stephen Weyman on HowToSaveMoney.ca says Aeroplan has committed to keeping your miles safe and will allow you to continue redeeming them for flights on Air Canada even after the 2020 deadline. But what could change is the cost in miles for doing so. He says, “I expect the cost will increase substantially, so if you want to fly Air Canada or Star Alliance, you should try and redeem most of your miles before 2020.” Weyman also explores which Aeroplan credit card is really the best.

And finally, read about how a family of four collected one million travel reward points in 12 months and is travelling the world on business class . Global News multimedia journalist Emanuela Campanella writes about Pedro Pla, 35, from Puerto Rico and Grace Cheng, 36, from Singapore who began their odyssey with their two toddlers in January 2017.

“We made it our family goal at the start of 2016 to collect a million air miles through travel hacking. In order to reach this goal, we had to research and plan meticulously so that we were able to maximize the earning of credit card points or miles per dollar of spending,” Pia says. “The bulk of our one million miles was earned from the ground, which means that we earned them as credit card rewards points or miles when we use our credit cards to pay for purchases.”


Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Funky Father’s Day Gifts

Finding gifts for the Dads in your life can be a challenge. Few men wear ties or use cloth handkerchiefs anymore and let’s face it — even jazzy socks are a pretty boring and impersonal gift. Furthermore, most family budgets cannot be stretched to pay for big ticket guy things like fast cars, motorcycles or a spring training road trip.

But there are lots of things you can do on a shoestring that Dad will appreciate. Here are a few of my favourites:

  1. Save for the dream: You may not be able to afford the latest tech toy or an exotic trip right now, but you can start a bank account or even a piggy bank with the goal of accumulating the necessary funds within a specified time.
  2. Golf: If your husband or father is a golfer, finding the time to golf may be as much of a problem as paying hefty greens fees. Block out a few “golf days” for him on the calendar and get a gift certificate to a local course. The kids might enjoy decorating customized golf balls using indelible markers. Or you can plan a family mini-golf outing.
  3. Car wash: Most family chariots are pretty grubby after a long winter. Instead of paying for an expensive detailing job, put the kids to work washing and vacuuming the car. After all, he is their father and not yours!
  4. Send him on a course: My husband’s hobby is woodworking. Lee Valley Tools offers one day mini-courses on everything from wood turning to sharpening tools. He has received several as gifts and says he learned a great deal. Whatever your husband or father is interested in, chances are some organization in the community offers a “how-to-class.”
  5. Senior Dads: If your Dad is a senior and living alone, make him several weeks’ worth of yummy frozen dinners he can microwave. Better still, invite him over to share meals with your family. If he lives in a different city, see if you can manage an unexpected weekend visit.
  6. Game tickets: Tickets to big league football, hockey or baseball can cost hundreds of dollars. However there are many local little league and even semi pro teams that provide great entertainment and would welcome your support.
  7. Framed pictures: Because photos are digital now, we tend to print very few of them. Instead they are stored on our phones, on Facebook or online. Print and frame a lovely family picture for Dad’s desk or the wall in his office.
  8. Make a video: Every smart phone now has a video camera. As a rainy day project, get the kids to put a script together and devise costume from items in your closet. Each one can end with a monologue about why they love their Dad and what they plan to do to make his day special.
  9. Phone apps: Is your teenager geeky but his father is not? Have your son or daughter research and find phone apps that will make Dad’s life easier and teach him how to use them. This could include anything from games, to an app that allows easy recording of business expenses to a program that converts foreign currency to Canadian dollars.
  10. Gifts that give back: There are many worthwhile charities in your local community or farther afield that operate on a shoe string. You may have already donated your time or money to one or more of these organizations. Make a special donation in honour of Dad for Father’s Day.
Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

June 5: Best from the blogosphere

This week it’s back to basics with some of our favourite bloggers.

On HowToSaveMoney.ca Heather Clarke shares Budget Home Decorating Ideas. She says you can often make a “knock off” of a pricey designer item and a little bit of spray paint goes a long way. She also reminds us that there are some hidden gems at the dollar store.

Rona Birenbaum, a financial planner at Caring for Clients offers 5 reasons why you should negotiate your severance package. She notes that there may well be more money and protection available to you, but only if you ask. Also, she says the cost of legal advice is tax deductible.

In Jim Yih’s retirement seminars, even participants close to age 65 are often concerned that they have not saved enough for retirement. His Advice for Baby Boomers who are not ready for retirement is to get a plan, revise their retirement date and think about a phased retirement. He also tells readers to focus on their cash flow and consider finding another job if they do not love what they currently do.

Boomer & Echo’s Marie Engen suggests Frugal Summer Fun For Canada’s 150th Birthday. For example, Parks Canada is offering free admission to all national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas for the entire year. If you haven’t got your Discovery pass yet, you can order one online, or you can pick one up on arrival at any Parks Canada location.

And finally, Tom Drake answers the question What Is the CPP Death Benefit and Who Should Apply? Typically the death benefit is paid to the estate of the deceased, but where he/she does not have an estate, it can go to one of the following three entities:

  1. Whoever paid for the deceased’s funeral expenses. The death benefit is mainly designed to offset funeral expenses, so it makes sense that it will be paid out to the person or institution who covers these costs.
  2. Surviving partner: The spouse or common-law partner left behind by the deceased can also apply for, and receive, the CPP death benefit.
  3. Next of kin: Finally, if the other two circumstances aren’t met, the deceased’s next of kin can apply for the death benefit.


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Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Should the age of CPP/OAS eligibility be raised?

Results from the 2016 census show that there are now 5.9 million Canadian seniors, compared to 5.8 million Canadians age 14 and under. This is due to the historic increase in the number of people over 65 — a jump of 20% since 2011 and a significantly greater increase than the five percent growth experienced by the population as a whole. This rapid pace of aging carries profound implications for everything from pension plans to health care, the labour market and social services.

“The reason is basically that the population has been aging in Canada for a number of years now and the fertility level is fairly low, below replacement levels,” Andre Lebel, a demographer with Statistics Canada told Global News. Lebel also projects that because over the next 16 years, the rest of the baby boom will become senior citizens, the proportion of seniors will rise to 23 per cent.

Therefore, it is not surprising that a new study from the C.D. Howe Institute proposes that the age of eligibility (AOE) for CPP/QPP, Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits should be re-visited. The AOE is the earliest age at which an individual is permitted to receive a full (unreduced) pension from the government.

Other countries with aging populations are raising the AOE for social security benefits. These include Finland, Sweden, Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom. In 2012, then Prime Minister Steven Harper announced plans to increase the AOE for OAS and GIS from 65 to 67 between 2023 and 2029. However, Trudeau reversed this very unpopular legislation (leaving the AOE at 65) in the 2016 budget.

In their report Greener Pastures: Resetting the age of eligibility for Social Security based on actuarial science, authors Robert Brown and Shantel Aris say their goal is to introduce an “evidence-based” analysis that can be used impartially to adjust the AOE for Canada’s social security system based on actuarial logic, not political whims.

However, they do not argue that current systems and reform plans are unsustainable. In fact, increasing life expectancy and increasing aged-dependency ratios are consistent with the assumptions behind CPP/QPP actuarial valuations. However, they suggest that if there are relatively painless ways to manage increasing costs to the programs, then they are worthy of public debate.

Their calculations assume that Canadians will spend up to 34% of their life in retirement, resulting in recommendations for a new AOE of 66 (phased-in beginning in 2013 and achieved by 2025) that would then be constant until 2048 when the AOE would shift to age 67 over two years.

Brown and Avis believe these shifts would soften the rate of increase in the Old Age Dependency Ratio, bring lower OAS/GIS costs and lower required contribution rates for the CPP (both in tier 1 and the new tier 2). This, in turn, would result in equity in financing retirement across generations and a higher probability of sustainability of these systems.

However they do acknowledge that there are some important issues that would arise if the proposed AOE framework is adopted. One of these issues is the fact that raising the AOE is regressive. For example, if your life expectancy at retirement is five years, and the AOE is raised by one year, then that is a 20% loss in benefits. If your life expectancy at retirement is 20 years, then the one year shift in the AOE is only a five percent benefit reduction.

People with higher income and wealth tend to live longer, so the impact of raising the AOE will be greater on lower-income workers than on higher-income workers. Access to social assistance benefits would be needed to mitigate this loss. The study suggests that it would be easy to mitigate the small regressive element in the shift of AOS by reforming the OAS/GIS clawback as the AOE starts to rise.

The report concludes that having partial immunization of the OAS/GIS and CPP/QPP from increases in life expectancy is  and logical and would help Canada to achieve five attractive goals with respect to our social security system:

  • Increase the probability of it’s sustainability.
  • Increase the credibility of this sustainability with the Canadian public.
  • Enhance inter-generational equity.
  • Lower the overall costs of social security; and
  • Create a nudge for workers to stay in the labour force for a little longer .

It remains to be seen if or when the C.D. Howe proposals regarding changes to the AOE for public pension plans will make it on to the “To Do” list of the current or future federal governments.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.