By Sheryl Smolkin
Today in savewithspp.com we continue our series of interviews with personal finance bloggers. Dave Dineen’s blog “Dave’s retirement journey” appears on Sun Life’s brighterlife.ca
Dave retired in December 2010 in his mid-50s. Before retiring, he spent 30+ years in marketing for several financial services companies, most recently, for Sun Life.
He writes about what it actually feels like to be retired – the pitfalls, as well as the joys. He shares many real-life experiences and what they’ve taught him about how to retire successfully.
Thanks for joining me today Dave.
My pleasure Sheryl. Great to talk to you.
Q: More and more people are now saying they are aiming for Freedom 70 or older. You’ve achieved Freedom 55. Why did you decide to retire so early?
A: Well, a few reasons really. My parents were dairy farmers and my dad died at age 62 before he could retire. And before that, my parents’ vacations actually fit between milking the cows in the morning and milking them again at night, 365 days a year. So I decided to retire while I was young enough, healthy enough and vital enough to do the things I wanted to do.
My career choices along the way, also really led to my retirement. My first career was as a journalist. My second career was in marketing with big financial companies like TD Canada Trust and Sun Life where I created retirement websites and wrote retirement newsletters, blogs and brochures. So I know quite a bit about retirement.
And my third and kind of final career – if there is such a thing as a final career in life – was in market research. In that position I created Sun Life’s Canadian Unretirement Index, which has really contributed to how we understand the idea of retirement and the reality of how retirement is changing in this country.
Q: How are you funding such a long retirement?
A: I’m going to be 58 this year, so I can’t apply for CPP any earlier than two years from now. I can’t apply for OAS for over seven years. And I don’t want to start my workplace pensions too early and get really small payments.
So for now, my wife and I are living off two sources of income. Our basic day-to-day living costs are paid from a stream of dividends on her non-registered investments. The income I get from freelance writing and marketing is what we’re using for the “nice to haves” like travel or even to up our TFSAs.
Q: How many hours a week do you devote to freelance writing and marketing consulting?
A: It really varies. Actually when I retired, I had no intention of freelancing, but I kept getting offers from people who needed some help and knew what I could do. I’ve done work for people even while I’ve been away traveling in England, Scotland, Wales, Italy and Spain. All it takes these days is a laptop, a phone and Skype.
Q: Can you estimate what percentage of your pension income you are earning from your freelance work? 20%? 40%?
A: Oh, it’s more than either of those numbers. It’s made a tremendous difference. So much so, that after more than three years, we actually have yet to touch a penny in our RRSPs or our TFSAs or our pensions. We are preserving our retirement savings and enjoying a better retirement lifestyle than we really expected.
Q: So, let’s get to your blog. What have some of your most popular blogs been about?
A: Well, my blog “Dave’s Retirement Journey,” really is my personal story. And people are interested in living a good life without going through their money too quickly. In our case, we travel a lot. We were on the road almost 12 of our first 36 months of retirement.
So, one of my most popular blog posts was around spending money slowly while you’re taking a long trip. By the way, we just got back a couple of weeks ago from three months in Europe where we ate like royalty, lived centrally in wonderful cities and we did fun things. Yet we still arrived home with a zero credit card balance.
Q: How important do you think it is to retire without debt?
A: Oh boy, it is absolutely necessary. In my mind, if you are in debt, you are not ready to retire. Obviously, if poor health or a job loss forces you out, you kind of have to muddle through somehow. But otherwise, I believe even thinking about retiring with debt is just crazy.
Q: One of the things that you blogged about is how downsizing in retirement doesn’t always work. Can you tell us a little bit about your home and cottage buying and selling and where you’ve finally landed in terms of your housing choices?
A: Yes, it really was complicated. A couple of years before retirement we sold our big four bedroom house and downsized to a one bedroom city condo, plus a cottage. But we realized the upkeep on the cottage was keeping us from travelling, so we sold it. Then we found that the one bedroom condo on its own was too small and my wife really missed her garden. So we ended up selling the condo as well right about the time we retired. In the end, we bought a new condo in Stratford, Ontario, which is in the MoneySense list of the best places to retire in Canada.
Q: With the benefit of over three years as a retiree, what are several unexpected things you’ve learned?
A: Boy, I love that question. I’d say that the first thing is that if you’re the kind of person who’s disciplined enough to have saved well for retirement, then you’re probably going to find it pretty easy to adjust to the financial discipline of living within your means in retirement.
Another unexpected thing for me has been the power of social media. A couple of years after retiring, I remembered that I had a profile on LinkedIn. I figured I’d better go in and update my profile to show that I was retired. Within a day, someone that I hadn’t worked with in 17 years reached out to me as a result of that LinkedIn update, and asked if I was interested in doing some freelance work for them in the marketing department at Investors Group. Another of my freelance clients actually has paid Google so that if somebody searches for my name, that client’s website comes up.
And I suppose a third unexpected thing I’ve learned along the way is that I actually like doing some freelance work. That’s a big surprise to me, because I really thought that I’d closed the door to work.
Q: So what was the best investment you ever made?
A: This will sound odd, but I believe my best investment was actually to buy a good-quality treadmill about five years ago. It helps keep my wife and I healthy, and to us that’s more valuable than a big tall stack of money.
Q: If you had one piece of advice for Canadians thinking about retirement, what would it be?
A: That’s a tough question. I think Canadians need all kinds of advice when it comes to retirement. But I think for me it all starts with thinking about what kind of retirement you want to have. I like to use a simple analogy.
In your working career, chances are, somebody else wrote your job description. And at the end of your life, somebody else is going to write your epitaph. But it’s that in-between part that you get to write.
So what kind of retirement do you really want to have? Figure that out and of course seek all the help you need to deal with the financial stuff.
Thank you, Dave. I really appreciate talking to you today.
My pleasure, Sheryl.
This is an edited transcript of the podcast you can listen to by clicking on the graphic under the picture above. If you don’t already follow Dave’s retirement journey on Sun Life’s brighterlife.ca, you can find them here. Subscribe to receive blog posts by email as soon as they’re available.