Remembering the good old saving days of 1981

April 8, 2021

Before the pandemic, we read countless stories about how the savings rate among Canadians had fallen to its lowest level in decades.  Now, possibly due to the fact that the pandemic has limited our ability to spend money, the opposite is now true. We are reaching the highest personal savings rate we’ve experienced in 35 years.

According to a report in the Toronto Star, Canadians in 2020 “saved a greater chunk of their income than they had in three and a half decades.”  Canucks put away 14.8 per cent of their income last year, representing about $5,000 per person in savings.

“People weren’t able to spend on a lot of things they normally can, because of the lockdowns. And in some cases, they chose not to spend,” Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, tells the Star.

Save with SPP can still remember 1981, but at that time, working as a cub reporter, one’s focus was not on the long term, or savings. So, we had to check back to see what it was like the last time we had a high national savings rate.

At RatesDotCa, there’s a nice article that recaps what it was like 40 years ago for Canadian savers.

For starters, the article notes, interest rates were the opposite of what they are today – at all-time highs.

“If you’re not old enough to remember the recession of the early 1980s, your parents certainly will. In 1981, mortgage rates peaked at more than 20 per cent,” RatesDotCa reports.

“Many people whose mortgages were up for renewal during that period found themselves signing up for mortgage rates that were twice as high as they were just five years prior. Some resorted to paying hefty upfront fees to get private lenders to offer them rates in the mid-teens,” the article continues.

Other things – most goods and services – kept going up. The Inflation.eu website shows that throughout 1981, the consumer price index went up by more than 12 per cent. While your pay tended to go up to address higher costs of living, it usually didn’t go up as fast as prices did.

Save with SPP recalls getting a car loan at 16 per cent interest from CIBC. The effect of the high cost of borrowing was that we got a little used Plymouth Horizon – a little car for a big interest rate. Today, it’s the opposite – people are getting big houses and cars because it’s a low interest rate.

But we also recall the benefit of high interest rates on our savings back in the early 1980s. You could get a Canada Savings Bond that paid double-digit interest. It was the same story with GICs. Your parents and grandparents were probably chiefly buying interest-paying investments in those heady days. It was a thing, and payroll Canada Savings Bonds were commonplace.

Recently, we have begun to hear that our historically low interest rates may be on the rise once again.

The Globe and Mail reports that inflation went up 1.1 per cent in February, and one per cent in January. Rising gas prices are part of the upward push, the article notes. The Bank of Canada, the article notes, is expecting a 1.7% rate of inflation this year.

Will inflation hikes bring with them interest rate hikes – a return to the 1980s? It’s unlikely, says RatesDotCa.

“Although it’s unlikely that rates will hit the likes of 15-20 per cent again, we may very well see 5-7 per cent in the long run. That type of a jump may still be two to three times higher than your current mortgage rate.  Do you think you could afford paying nearly three times as much as you do today for your mortgage, and still afford those other essentials like heat and groceries,” the article warns.

The takeaway here is that things change. We have had low interest rates for so long, only us greybeards remember when we didn’t. Will savers start to pile into interest-bearing investments once again if rates begin to tick upwards? We’ll need to wait and see.

A balanced approach makes sense when you are saving for the long term. When interest rates are low, other investment categories – Canadian and international equities, real estate, and so on – tend to do better. But when you’re in a balanced investment fund, the experts are the ones who figure out when to rebalance, not you.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan has a Balanced Fund that invests your contributions in Canadian and international equities, infrastructure, bonds, mortgages, real estate and short-term investments. All this diversity at a management fee of just 0.83 per cent in 2020. Put your retirement savings into balance; why not check out SPP 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, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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