Moderate saving and debt avoidance are keys to a good retirement: Vettese

March 21, 2019

In The Essential Retirement Guide, noted actuary and financial writer Frederick Vettese offers a different, and decidedly non-alarmist approach to funding one’s golden years.

The book challenges some of the accepted “truths” about retirement planning, such as the possibility we will all live past 100 and that we should save (via all sources) enough money to replace 70 per cent of our pre-retirement income.

On longevity, Vettese notes that “the average person has little better than a 50-50 chance of making it from age 50 to 70 without dying or incurring a critical illness.” The book provides some interesting advice on how to determine your own, more realistic life expectancy target.

As for the 70 per cent target, Vettese produces ample evidence showing many of us can have a well-funded retirement with a much lower target. The income replacement target, he writes, can be “as low as 35 per cent for a couple that spent a considerable amount on housing and child-raising through their working years. The target can nudge above 50 per cent for a middle-income couple who paid off their mortgage earlier and then started to spend much more on themselves during their last few years of employment.”

Why does he feel you need less? He cites research showing that spending drops more than 50 per cent on many items – airline fares, admission fees, alcohol, cigarettes, clothing – once we reach age 80. And while many of us assume we will at some point face expensive long-term care costs, Vettese writes that “the probability of requiring long-term care is about 50 per cent for women and 40 per cent for men,” and it is unlikely that such care will be required for more than five years.

Other advice from Vettese includes paying attention to investment management fees. “Unless the firm that is managing your monies (if you have one) can demonstrate that they consistently achieve higher returns than the benchmark indices, you should expect your own returns will just match the benchmarks, less whatever fees you are paying.” Exchange-traded-funds have very low fees of 0.25 per cent, versus fees of up to three per cent for “some high-cost equity mutual funds,” he warns.

Vettese likes annuities as part of a retirement plan. “Buying an annuity is usually a better bet than managing your own investment portfolio after retirement and drawing an income from it,” he writes. “You lose a little upside potential but you also eliminate some major risks.” He suggests that people with a portfolio of fixed income and equity assets consider converting the fixed income portion to an annuity, which provides them with a set amount of income monthly for as long as they live.

Access to a workplace pension is a plus for those that have it, he notes. “Participating in almost any workplace pension plan is a good thing,” he writes. Nearly every kind of workplace savings arrangement is a group product, which gives individuals access to low-fee investments, Vettese notes. That leaves more money for retirement income, he writes.

Vettese provides a nice six-point retirement strategy, as follows:

  • “Save 10 per cent of your pay each year.
  • Invest it in low-cost pooled funds, weighted towards equities.
  • Keep the asset mix the same, through good times and bad.
  • Apart from the mortgage on your home, avoid going into debt.
  • Pay off your mortgage by the time you retire.
  • Buy a life annuity at retirement.”

This is a good reference book for anyone wanting to fine-tune (or develop) a retirement plan and it has been written to work with both Canadian and American audiences, a somewhat rare feat.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan provides some of the tools you may need for your retirement plan, such as low-cost, professional investing in a pooled fund, and the ability to convert some or all of your savings to an annuity at retirement. Check it out today.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

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