Jan 15: Best from the blogosphere

My husband and  I have belonged to a gym for many years and we try to go three times a week but life often gets in the way. And after a particularly caloric and cold holiday season I really felt like I was in a rut doing “the same old, same old.” So I decided to hire a trainer once a week to help me not only get into shape, but also gain stamina and strength.

For those of you who have resolved to improve your eating and exercise more in the months to come, I present hints from experts intended to help you meet your objectives.

Several years ago Greatist posted 15 Foolproof Strategies to Stick to Your Fitness Resolutions which still hold true today. Writing down your goals is not only a great way to accomplish them, but your list can also help you figure out the exact steps needed to get there. Making resolutions manageable and breaking them into small steps is also helpful.

Cassie Lambert from Men’s Health offers 5 Hacks to Help You Stick to Your New Year’s Fitness Resolutions. She suggests scheduling a competition for 90 days after the new year. So sign up for that 5k or 10k you always wanted to run and work towards it. And instead of weighing yourself, take selfies at regular intervals to document your progress.

More easy tips to help you keep your ‘get fit’ resolution in 2018 include getting a support system like a workout buddy who will hit the gym with you on cold dark mornings. Can’t find a workout buddy nearby? Crunch fitness trainer Zokai Holmes suggests that you try an activity tracker like a Fitbit and share your data with out-of-town friends and family. Another good idea is to keep food away from your desk and avoid liquid calories.

UK website The Herald presents 7 ways to get fit in 2018 – without paying for a gym membership. For example, check out YouTube for free fitness videos, cycle to work, find fitness apps on your phone and take advantage of these gym-free workouts — a five-minute wake-up workout , six 10-minute workouts or even a 12-week fitness programme.

Dana Sullivan Killroy provides an exercise plan for seniors on healthline. If you’re an older adult looking to establish an exercise routine, you should, ideally try to incorporate 150 minutes of moderate endurance activity into your week. This can include walking, swimming, cycling, and a little bit of time every day to improve strength, flexibility, and balance. She also gives examples for people just getting started of a few of the dozens of exercises you can do to build strength without having to set foot in a gym.

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.

Jan 8: Best from the blogosphere

Welcome to a wonderful New Year. Most of the country has spent the last few weeks in a deep freeze with Saskatoon temperatures dipping below -30 C. It’s even -21 C in Toronto!

Nevertheless, residents of Spy Hill, Saskatchewan where the temperature was -43 with the wind chill on Christmas morning displayed their very warm hearts when they sprang to action on Christmas Day to help passengers on a frozen train.

Here is what a few of our favourite personal finance writers have been writing about during the holidays.

Jonathan Chevreau on the Financial Independence Hub reviewed the New York Times best seller Younger Next Year – Live Strong, Fit and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond. Chevreau said, “The book is all about taking control of your personal longevity, chiefly  through proper nutrition but first and foremost by engaging in daily exercise: aerobic activity at least four days a week and weight training for another two days a week — week in and week out, for the rest of your life.”

Boomer & Echo’s Robb Engen wrote Save More Tomorrow: The Procrastinator’s Guide To Saving Money. He discussed behavioural economists Shlomo Benartzi and Richard Thaler’s Save More Tomorrow program which not only suggests that monthly savings be automated but that savings rates be automatically increased when individuals get raises or earn more money from side hacks or freelance gigs.

Bridget Casey from Money After Graduation encouraged readers to see through their financial blind spots. “Reducing your spending and increasing your income by any amount is always good for your net worth, but if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, your efforts should be directed towards major wins ahead of small victories. A good exercise is to identify the three largest expenses in your budget and try to reduce them by 15% each or more,” she suggests.

Barry Choi explained on Money We Have why he is changing careers after 18 years. It was hard to walk away from a well-paid job in television but with a young baby, working the 3 PM to midnight shift was no longer sustainable. He got a part-time position as an editor for RateHub three days a week and he plans to continue writing for a variety of travel and other publications. Although he took a pay cut to leave his full-time position, his financial advisor helped him to realize he doesn’t need to make nearly as much as he thought to maintain the family’s lifestyle.

And finally, Globe and Mail personal finance columnist Rob Carrick offers the following  eight dos and don’ts for your personal finances in 2018:

  • DO brace for higher borrowing costs.
  • DON’T expect much improvement on savings rates.
  • DO expect more hysteria about cryptocurrencies
  • DON’T buy in unless you have the right mindset
  • DO be cautious with your investment portfolio
  • DON’T forget bonds or GICs
  • DO emphasize fees as a controllable factor in your investing
  • DON’T forget the value proposition

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.

2018 New Year’s Resolutions: Expert Promises

Well it’s that time again. We have a bright shiny New Year ahead of us and an opportunity to set goals and resolutions to make it the best possible year ever. Whether you are just starting out in your career, you are close to retirement or you have been retired for some time, it is helpful to think about what you want to accomplish and how you are going to meet these objectives.

My resolutions are to make more time to appreciate and enjoy every day as I ease into retirement. I also want to take more risks and develop new interests. Two of the retirement projects I have already embarked on are joining a community choir and serving on the board; and, taking courses in the Life Institute at Ryerson University. After all, as one of my good friends recently reminded me, most people do not run out of money, but they do run out of time!

Here in alphabetical order, are resolutions shared with me by eight blogger/writers who have either been interviewed for savewithspp.com or featured in our weekly Best from the Blogosphere plus two Saskatchewan Pension Plan team members.

  1. Doris Belland has a blog on her website Your Financial Launchpad . She is also the author of 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 two resolutions for 2018. She explains:
  • I’m a voracious reader of finance books, but because of the sheer number that interest me, I go through them quickly. In 2018, I plan to slow down and implement more of the good ideas.
  • I will also reinforce good habits: monthly date nights with my husband to review our finances (with wine!), and weekly time-outs to review goals/results and pivot as needed. Habits are critical to success.
  1. Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances and blogs at Money We Have. He says, “My goal is to work less in 2018. I know this doesn’t sound like a resolution but over the last few years I’ve been working some insane hours and it’s time to cut back. The money has been great, but spending time with my family is more important.”
  1. Chris Enns who blogs at From Rags to Reasonable describes himself as an “opera-singing-financial-planning-farmboy.” In 2017 he struggled with balance. “Splitting my time (and money) between a growing financial planning practice and an opera career (not to mention all the other life stuff) can prove a little tricky,” he says. In 2018 he is hoping to really focus on efficiency. “How do I do what I do but better? How do I use my time and money in best possible way to maximize impact, enjoyment and sanity?”
  1. Lorne Marr is Director of Business Development at LSM Insurance. Marr has both financial and personal fitness goals. “I plan to max out my TFSAs, RRSPs and RESPs and review my investment mix every few days in the New Year,” he notes. “I also intend to get more sleep, workout 20 times in a month with a workout intensity of 8.5 out of 10 or higher and take two family vacations.”
  1. Avery Mrack is an Administrative Assistant at SPP. She and her husband both work full time and their boys are very busy in sports which means they often eat “on the run” or end up making something quick and eating on the couch.  “One of our resolutions for next year is to make at least one really good homemade dinner a week and ensure that every one must turn off their electronic devices and sit down to eat at the table together,” says Mrack.
  1. Stephen Neiszner is a Network Technician at SPP and he writes the monthly members’ bulletin. He is also a member of the executive board of Special Olympics (Kindersley and district). Neiszner’s New Year’s financial goals are to stop spending so much on nothing, to grow his savings account, and to help out more community charities and service groups by donating or volunteering. He would also like to put some extra money away for household expenses such as renovations and repairs.
  1. Kyle Prevost teaches high school business classes and blogs at Young and Thrifty. Prevost is not a big believer in making resolutions on January 1. He prefers to continuously adapt his goals throughout the year to live a healthier life, embrace professional development and save more. “If I had to pick a singular focus for 2018, I think my side business really stands out as an area for potential growth. The online world is full of opportunities and I need to find the right ones,” he says.
  1. Janine Rogan is a financial educator, CPA and blogger. Her two financial New Year’s resolutions are to rebalance her portfolio and digitize more of it. “My life is so hectic that I’m feeling that automating as much as I can will be helpful,” she says. “In addition, I’d like to increase the amount I’m giving back monetarily. I donate a lot of my time so I feel like it’s time to increase my charitable giving.”
  1. Ed Rempel is a CFP professional and a financial blogger at Unconventional Wisdom. He says on a personal finance level, his resolution are boring as he has been following a plan for years and is on track for all of his goals. His only goal is to invest the amount required by the plan. Professionally, he says, “I want 2018 be the year I hire a financial planner with the potential to be a future partner for my planning practice. I have hired a couple over the years, but not yet found the right person with the right fit and long-term vision.”
  1. Actuary Promod Sharma’s resolutions cover off five areas. He says:
  • For health, I’ll continue using the 7 Minute Workout app from Simple Design.
  • For wealth, I’ll start using a robo advisor (WealthBar). I’m not ready for ETFs.
  • For learning, I’ll get my Family Enterprise Advisor (FEA) designation to collaborate better in teams.
  • For sharing, I’ll make more videos.
  • For giving, I’ll continue volunteering.

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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.

Changing coverage for medical marijuana

Health Canada statistics reveal the number of Canadians with prescriptions for medical marijuana more than tripled between the fall of 2015 and 2016 from 30,537 people to nearly 100,000 individuals. And with legalized marijuana for recreational use slated to come into effect July 1, 2018, it is expected that use of the drug will soar.

In response to the proliferation of legal marijuana use, life and health insurance companies have had to rethink several aspects of their pricing and coverage including whether or not:

  • Individual life insurance applicants using marijuana must pay smokers’ rates
  • Benefit plans will reimburse clients for the cost of medical marijuana.

Smoker/Non-smoker rates
Until the last several years, marijuana users applying for individual life insurance had to pay smokers’ rates. For example, a man in his 30s could expect to pay about two to three times as much for a policy than a non-smoker. A smoker in his 40s could expect to pay three to four times as much.

Insurance companies charged this massive price increase because smokers have a much higher risk of death than non-smokers. In addition, smokers often have other health problems like poor diets or an inactive lifestyles.

Within the last two years, the following insurers in Canada announced their plans to begin underwriting medical and recreational marijuana users as non-smokers, including:

  • Sun Life
  • BMO Life Insurance
  • Canada Life
  • London Life
  • Great-West Life

Sun Life is taking the most comprehensive approach, saying it will treat anyone who consumes marijuana but doesn’t smoke tobacco as a non-smoker. BMO Life Insurance is more restrained, limiting non-smoker status to people using only two marijuana cigarettes per week. Canada Life, London Life, and Great-West Life issued a joint statement which said that “clients who use marijuana will no longer be considered smokers, unless they use tobacco, e-cigarettes or nicotine products.”

This change won’t affect group benefits as coverage is not individually underwritten. An article on Advisor.ca includes a chart comparing where a series of major Canadian life insurers stand on pot use.

Drug plan coverage
So, what about coverage for medical marijuana under your benefits plan?

If your coverage includes a health care spending account (HCSA), you are in luck. Medical marijuana is an eligible expense under HCSAs because the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) allows it to be claimed as a medical expense on income tax returns. Note that only marijuana is eligible under CRA medical exempt items, not vaporizers or other items used to consume it.

However, even though physicians are prescribing cannabis and people are using it for medical reasons, it is not currently covered under almost all traditional drug benefits. That’s because Health Canada hasn’t reviewed it for safety and effectiveness or approved it for therapeutic use the way it reviews and approves all other prescription drug products.

This means marijuana hasn’t been assigned a drug identification number (DIN), which the insurance industry usually requires before a drug can be covered. Until there is research that can be reviewed by Health Canada, marijuana will remain an unapproved drug and unlikely to be covered by your plan.

However several recent events suggest that it may be only a matter of time until group and individual drug plans offer at least limited coverage for medicinal marijuana.

Jonathan Zaid, a student at the Umiversity of Waterloo is the executive director of the group Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. He has a rare neurological condition that causes constant headaches, along with sleep and concentration problems. Zaid said he was sick for five years before even considering medical cannabis. He tried 48 prescription medications, along with multiple therapies, all of which were covered by his insurer without question – except for medical cannabis.

After eight months of discussions, the student union (who administers the student health plan) came to the conclusion that they should cover it because it supports his academics and should be treated like a medication.

Similarly, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Board ruled in early 2017 that Gordon Skinner’s employee insurance plan must cover him for the medical marijuana he takes for chronic pain following an on-the-job motor vehicle accident. Inquiry board chair Benjamin Perryman concluded that since medical marijuana requires a prescription by law, it doesn’t fall within the exclusions of Skinner’s insurance plan.

Perryman said the Canadian Elevator Industry Welfare Trust Plan contravened the province’s Human Rights Act, and must cover his medical marijuana expenses “up to and including the full amount of his most recent prescription.”

And at least one major company is covering employees for medical marijuana in very specific circumstances. In March 2017, Loblaw Companies Limited and Shoppers Drug Mart announced in an internal staff memo that effective immediately it will be covering medical pot under the employee benefit plan up to a maximum of $1,500 per year for about 45,000 employees.

Claims to insurance provider Manulife “will be considered only for prescriptions to treat spasticity and neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis and nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy for cancer patients,” said Basil Rowe, senior vice-president of human resources at Loblaw Companies Ltd., owner of Shoppers, in the memo.

“These are the conditions where the most compelling clinical evidence and literature supports the use of medical marijuana in therapy,” explained Loblaw/Shoppers spokesperson Tammy Smitham. “We will continue to review evidence as it becomes available for other indications (conditions).”

Since cannabis does not yet have a Drug Identification Number recognized by insurers, it isn’t covered under typical drug spending. However, it will be covered through a special authorization process where plan members will pay and submit their claim after, said Smitham.

The move could trickle down to other Canadian employers and their benefit plans and even set a precedent, Paul Grootendorst, an expert on insurance and reimbursement and director of the division of social and administrative pharmacy in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto told the Toronto Star.

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.

Interview with Lisa Chamzuk: What happens to benefits if retirees return to work?

 

Click here to listen
Click here to listen

Today I’m interviewing Lisa Chamzuk, a partner in the pension and employee benefits group at the Vancouver law firm of Lawson Lundell LLP for savewithspp.com. With an increasing number of employees opting to work beyond age 65, or coming back to work after retirement, many questions arise as to what, if any, pension accrual and healthcare benefits older workers can expect to receive from their employers.

So that’s Lisa and I are going to talk about today. Thank you for joining me, Lisa.

Thank you for having me.

Q: If an employee retires and starts receiving a pension from the company pension plan and decides to come back to the same employer, can this individual accrue additional pension?
A: Generally speaking, no. It depends a little bit on the type of pension plan where the pension accrued and from which the member is collecting  the pension. There is a rule in the Income Tax regulations that prohibits someone who is drawing a pension at the same time as accruing further benefits in that same pension plan. It is something that not all employees know when they decide to   retire.

Q: I presume that this rule applies to a defined benefit pension plan. What about a defined contribution plan?
A: That’s a good question. So, the rule applies only to a defined benefit pension plan. What that means is, if you draw your pension from your employer’s DB plan you can’t then re-accrue in that same DB plan when you return to work. That doesn’t mean that if you had an accrual in a defined contribution plan that you can’t re-accrue in the same way.

Q: And I presume a Group RRSP would be the same thing.
A: Yes, that’s not covered by the rule either. You could come back and accrue under a Group RRSP subject to any age restrictions in the plan document.

Q: So let’s say a retiree is collecting a DB pension and returns to work. Can that person ask to stop receiving pension benefits so that accruals can start again?
A: The ITA doesn’t weight in on that particular issue, but pension standards legislation across the country does. So, if you are working in British Columbia, the pension benefit standards act in our province specifically requires that the plan text say what happens if a retiree returns to work. If the sponsor of the plan chooses, it can give two options to the retiree who is coming back to work. The first is to continue with the pension and not return as an active member in the pension plan. The second option is to suspend receipt of the pension and return as an active member in that pension plan.

Q: What happens if the employee works beyond the age of 71?
A: Well at age 71 we run into the ITA rules again. So, at the age of 71, you must start receiving a pension if you have been accruing in a pension plan. That’s sort of the end of the line in terms of pension accruals. There has been talk about that number increasing. But as of right now, the rule is, when you reach the age of 71 your pension must start. So even if you’ve come back and you begin to re-accrue you have to be aware of the fact that at some point you’re going to be forced to start receiving that pension and you won’t be able to draw your pension at the same time you are accruing. 

Q: What if a retiree takes a job with another employer while collecting a pension from his or her former work place? Can that person start accruing in the new pension plan?
A: Yes, generally speaking, the rule only applies to accruing in and drawing a pension from the same pension plan.

Q: What, if any, alternative arrangements can employers put in place for older employees collecting a pension who are coming back to work?
A:  If the employer wants this particular segment of people to return to work and so is motivated to respond to this particular issue, there are options available. The employer could set up a define contribution plan, for example. An RRSP is another way the employer could go, and it’s possible that employer already has that type of arrangement set up for other reasons. However the age 71 restriction applies to RRSPs as well. 

Q: How common is it for returning, or older employees to be offered a salary position? Wouldn’t it be more typical for employers to bring on an individual as an independent contractor for a specific period?
A: I think that’s probably true, right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a shift over the next 10 years, given what’s happening demographically in the country, if more companies, are looking to retain or draw back older workers into the work force. It is also less likely in a unionized environment. I think someone who was in a union before retirement will probably go back through the union dispatch program to get work. There are generally fewer options in terms of post-retirement pension accrual after that happens because it’s a union-sponsored plan as opposed to an employer-sponsored plan.

Q: What about age-based restrictions in group benefits plans, like life insurance and health benefits? Are they permissible?
A: They are and that’s certainly something that we see fairly regularly. Sometimes you have to pull the policy document to see exactly what those restrictions are. It’s absolutely common for a health benefit policy to create either a cut-off at a certain age
(usually 65) or a scaled benefit once the covered individual reaches a certain age. For example, it’s very typical to see life insurance coverage drop down even if an individual does work past age 65. And, in health benefits, we see that as well. We often see a cut-off at age 65.

Q: There are several cases alleging that allowing employers to have different benefits for employees over 65 is age discrimination. How have the plaintiffs in these cases fared before the courts? And if they’re not successful, why do you think they’re not?
A: This is certainly the litigation of the day. We’re seeing lots of these types of claims. Just by way of background, there used to be provisions in human rights codes across the country that allowed for mandatory retirement. Employers could force individuals to retire and it wasn’t viewed as being discrimination on the basis of age.

When mandatory retirement was eliminated, what did remain in provincial human rights codes was the provision that says that even though you generally can’t discriminate on the basis of age, that doesn’t apply in the context of a bona fide plan text of a group insurance plan or pension plan. Therefore, unless a former employee can demonstrate to the Human Rights Tribunal, and then on review by the courts that the plan itself is not bona fide, they’re not going to be able to make out an age discrimination claim.

To date, that language has been interpreted to mean that it is essentially a legitimate plan. Tribunals have not gone a step further to say employers must be able to show on an actuarial basis why that age cut-off or that reduction at a certain age is required in order for the plan to be sustainable.

Q: Interesting. With the increasing number of older employees in the workplace, do you anticipate a possible legislative response to better protect the rights of returning retirees to accrue benefits comparable to younger employees?
A: It’s a very strong group, politically. They certainly have leverage. What I do expect to see if tinkering with the age restrictions to recognize that people at age 65 are much more capable than, maybe, they were 50 years ago, and may age 71 is too low an age. But what the drafters/legislators are wrestling with is also the need to transition older workers to make room for younger cohorts. 

Q: What, if any, other regulatory issues impacting their compensation package should retirees be aware of if they are considering going back to work?
A: Well, don’t assume that anything that you might have been entitled to when you were in the workforce is a given. Ask specific questions. One thing that could come up depending on the type of employment that the retiree is returning to is, if they’re receiving old age security benefits, there is a the claw back if they earn too high an income. They might have an obligation to re-pay OAS benefits and have those benefits cut-off.

And again, you’d want to get some financial advice to make sure you know exactly what impact the return to work will have on your particular circumstances.

This is all very interesting. Thank you very much for talking to me, Lisa.

Thanks again for having me.

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.

Dec 18: Best from the blogosphere

It seems impossible that is our last Best from the Blogosphere for the year. The next one is slated for January 8, 2018! I wish all savewithspp.com readers a very happy, healthy holiday season and a new year full of promise and exciting adventures.

If you are starting to think about tax season already, you will really appreciate Janine Rogan’s Professional CRA Hacks. With only 36% of calls actually answered it’s no wonder Canadians are frustrated with the tax system. Furthermore, up to 30% of the time the tax information you receive from an agent may be incorrect, which is as concerning for taxpayers as it is for professionals. A few of her hints are:

  • Hit redial 10x in a row.
  • Call the French line but ask for help in English.
  • Ask for your agent’s direct number and agent ID.

On another income tax-related matter, Andy Blatchford reports in The Toronto Star that during the election campaign, the Liberals promised to expand the Home Buyers’ Plan to allow those affected by major life events — death of a spouse, divorce or taking in an elderly relative — to borrow a down payment from their RRSPs without incurring a penalty.

However, a June briefing note for Finance Minister Bill Morneau ahead of his meeting with the Canadian Real Estate Association lays out the government’s concerns that low interest rates and rising home prices have encouraged many Canadians to amass high levels of debt just so they can enter the real-estate market. “Policies to further boost home ownership by stimulating demand would also exert more pressure on house prices,” says the memo,

Firecracker writes about The Five Stages of Early Retirement on Millenial Revolution. According to the self-styled youngest retiree in Canada (age 31), these stages are:

  • Stage 1: The Count Down (1-2 years before early retirement)
  • Stage 2: Honeymoon (0 – 6 months after retirement)
  • Stage 3: Identity Crisis (7 months – 1.5 years after retirement)
  • Stage 4: The New You (1-2 years after retirement)
  • Stage 5: Smooth Sailing (2+ years after retirement)

The Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick considers the new retirement era and questions How many years past 65 will you work? Carrick says, “Retiring later is bound to be seen as negative, but it’s actually quite unremarkable unless you have a physically demanding job or hate your work. Previous generations may have retired at 65 and lived an extra 10 or 15 years. Retire at 70 today and you might look forward to another 15 or 20 years.”   

And finally, Tom Drake at maplemoney goes back to basics and provides a Guide to Guaranteed Investment Certificates. GICs are a form of investment where you agree to lend money to a bank for a set amount of time. The bank agrees to pay you a certain percentage of interest to borrow this money. You are guaranteed a return as long as you keep your money in the bank for a specified period. Terms on GICs generally run from as little as 90 days to as much as 10 years. “It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of GICs. While you probably don’t want to  build an entire portfolio of GICs (especially if you are trying to build a nest egg), they do have their place in a diversified portfolio,” Drake says.

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.

Gifts elderly friends and relatives will appreciate

Whether elderly relatives and friends are still living in the family home, an apartment or they have moved to a retirement home or long term care, like anyone else, they love receiving holiday gifts. However, because at this stage most are thinking about downsizing, if they have not already done so, the last thing they need is more stuff. Here are some suggestions for practical gifts older loved ones may appreciate.

Cleaning service: House or apartment cleaning is no fun for young or old. And it can become particularly onerous for people with mobility issues. You can purchase gift certificates from local cleaning services such as Molly Maid in Saskatoon. Of course if you are among the minority who enjoy cleaning, you can make up your own gift certificates for one or more house cleaning sessions.

Online grocery shopping/pick up: Shopping for groceries on a regular basis can be time consuming and exhausting. Even getting out to shop can be a real problem in slippery winter weather, particularly for people who no longer drive their own car. If you live in Regina or other cities with similar services, introduce your favourite senior to online grocery shopping available from the Superstore and offer to pick up their orders.

Meal preparation/sharing: Before my Mom moved into long term care, we use to make and freeze soups and other tasty meals for her in small portions. But what she liked even better was when we brought ingredients over and cooked a meal we could share together. As a back-up, meals on wheels are available in some parts of the province.

Telephone for hearing impaired: There is nothing more frustrating for hearing impaired people than not being able to either hear their telephone ring or understand the caller. Amazon offers a large selection of telephones with amplification features and big buttons to make entering telephone numbers easier. Similar handsets and portable phones may also be available from local vendors.

Mobile alert system: A great fear for both older or disabled seniors and their family members is that they will fall or have a household accident and not be able to summon help. There are various medical alert systems on the market where the client wears a personal health button on a bracelet or a lanyard. We had the Philips Lifeline for my mother when she was at home. Here’s how it works.

Magazine subscription: Magazine subscriptions are the gift that keeps on giving. There is a publication to go with every hobby or interest, i.e, quilting, sewing, woodworking, cooking, famous people or current events. Sign up for a one year or longer subscription and the recipient will think of you every time a copy appears in the mailbox.

Beauty treatments: There is nothing that feels better than getting a haircut and styling from a professional. Manicures and pedicures are also relaxing and can last for weeks. Local vendors are always happy to sell gift certificates as holiday gifts. The Regina company Driving With Scissors makes home visits, which is ideal for seniors who are housebound or would rather not brave the winter weather.

Photo books: In the age of smart phones and selfies, few of us ever print the pictures we collect on our phones. However, many if not most of the older seniors you know are not computer savvy. Of course my 82-year old aunt is the exception. She just loves sharing pictures on the iPad one of her grandchildren passed up to her.  Nevertheless, even she would treasure a hard copy photo book with family pictures which can be ordered from many sources online and personalized with artwork and text.

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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.

Dec 11: Best from the blogosphere

It’s getting close to the end of the year and the holiday season is upon us. Here are some examples of subjects  personal finance bloggers havw been writing about recently.

Marie Engen (Boomer & Echo) offers tips on How To Leverage Technology Into Good Financial Habits. She notes that most banks have a budgeting app that tracks your spending so you get a better idea of where your money is going. If all your accounts don’t reside with just one financial institution, there are lots of mobile apps and budgeting software available, such as the popular Mint.com, GoodBudget and You Need a Budget.

Chris Nicola on the Financial Independence Hub tackles the perennial question, Should you take early CPP benefits or defer as long as possible?  Using Statistics Canada figures, he calculates that a woman maximizes her total CPP payout by waiting until age 70, resulting in an average of $75k (36%) more than if she took it at age 60. A man maximizes his total CPP a little earlier, at age 68, receiving an average of $50k (27%) more than at age 60.

Maple Money’s Tom Drake addresses the question: Should You Invest in Group RESPs? He concludes that the risk with group plans comes if you drop out early. Many of these types of RESPs have high enrollment fees. It’s not uncommon to pay up to $1,200 in fees. With Group RESPs, you don’t pay that amount up front. Instead, it is deducted from your returns when you close the plan early. Therefore if you withdraw from the plan before it matures, you could face big penalties — and even have  your contributions eaten up by the fees.

And getting back to how to save money and still enjoy holiday entertaining and gift giving…..

Holiday décor hacks for having a dinner party by personal finance writer, on-air personality, speaker and bestselling author Melissa Leong suggests that you create your own decor very cheaply, whether by gathering some greens or acorns from outside and dumping them in a vase or using wrapping paper to wrap empty boxes, make napkin rings or use as a table runner.

What If This Christmas… You Didn’t Have to Worry About Money? by Chris Enns on From Rags to Reasonable offers the following suggestions:

  • Figure out how much you want to spend.
  • Figure out how much you can afford to spend.
  • Buy a prepaid credit card and use it as the ONLY way you pay  for Christmas-related materials.

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.

Travel hacks for your wallet and your waistline

My husband and I recently spent a lovely fall week in Kelowna, B.C. It was a pleasure to travel domestically and not have to worry about passports, currency, customs and exorbitant surcharges to use our cell phones. But as always, there were a few things that worked out really well along with several hiccups that were a learning experience.

Getting there and back
I booked our tickets on Air Canada through Expedia.ca. My rationale was that instead of checking the websites of different airlines I could compare flights and prices all in one place. We ended up going on Toronto-Vancouver-Kelowna and returning Kelowna-Calgary-Toronto. The layovers were each about an hour and we weren’t pressed for time so it didn’t really matter. But as we were waiting to board on the way home there was a direct Kelowna-Toronto WestJet flight which I certainly would have selected if it had been offered as an option by Expedia.

Also, when booking on Expedia I still had to go to the Air Canada site to select seats which I forgot to do until several weeks before we left. I usually try to book bulkhead or wing seats and pay extra because I prefer more leg room. But I was shocked to learn that for the purpose of pre-selecting seats, our travel was considered to be 4 separate flights and we were charged accordingly.

Options were limited by then. So by the time I selected two aisle seats for each of us going out, the charge was $40 ($10 each for two flights), two front seats from Kelowna to Calgary ($20 x 2) and two bulkhead seats from Calgary to Toronto ($50 x 2).  The additional charges were over $200 including taxes! Direct flights would have cut these surcharges in half.

To add insult to injury, we had to pay $25 each to check one bag. Apparently this is common practice, but it’s been a long time since we flew within Canada and I wasn’t aware of this policy change introduced several years ago. The good news is that in both directions my second bag (a small roller board carry on) was checked in free at the gate. Of course, if you are traveling only with carry on luggage to avoid long waits for baggage on arrival you will not want to relinquish your bag, even if you are offered the opportunity to do so at no cost.

There is also no longer any “free lunch” or any other meal if you fly economy. Food is sold on the flight, but it is typically overpriced and popular items frequently run out. In addition, depending on when your flight is scheduled, food and drink may not be offered when you are actually hungry. We packed home-made sandwiches and fruit for both our trips out and back and we were glad we did.

Accommodations
We have a shared-ownership property in Muskoka which gives us 5 weeks a year. We were able to trade one week for a condo at The Royal Private Residence Club (a Delta property) in downtown Kelowna. The apartment was spacious with a full kitchen and a laundry room with a washer and dryer.

Similar properties are available for rent in many North American cities and worldwide. They are particularly cost-effective if you are traveling with a family and will have to rent more than one room. Furthermore, because kids don’t have the patience to eat three meals a day in a restaurant and constant eating out can be prohibitively expensive, a kitchen gives you the flexibility to eat what you want, when you want. And you need less luggage if you can throw in a couple of loads of laundry part-way through your trip.

AirBnB also has listings for everything from rooms to full apartments in most cities, offering similar amenities. They are generally much less costly than hotel rooms and can be more comfortable for both individuals and families than a basic room. 

Transportation
I also booked a pre-paid rental car on Expedia with Hertz. When we arrived at the Kelowna airport they said I was the named driver because I made the reservation and that it would cost $90 to add my husband as a second driver. I refused and after calling a supervisor, Hertz agreed to reverse the charge. However, because the car was booked by Expedia and not directly with Hertz, they had all kinds of problems figuring out how to change the designated driver and amend the contract. After over an hour of unsuccessfully trying to get the computer to accept the changes, they had to get a supervisor to write up a new paper contract!

I subsequently learned from various friends that other car rental companies add additional drivers at no cost. Also, there is significant variation between available deals for a one week rental and I should have done more research before pre-paying through Expedia.

What I learned
We had a great trip. Nevertheless, I have learned:

  • It is always better to compare price and features of each component of a trip on competitor websites and book directly with the preferred vendor instead of using an aggregator.
  • Given the opportunity, we will always select an efficiency unit or apartment instead of a basic hotel room when traveling for a long weekend or a week to a single location.
  • Making breakfasts and a few dinners in the condo can save a bundle and ensure there are yummy leftovers for lunch on the long flight home.

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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.