Why we struggle to save – and what we can do about it

August 12, 2021

We are routinely encouraged to save money, for retirement, for education, for emergencies, and so on.

But this advice is not always easy to follow. Save with SPP took a look around to see why saving is such a struggle, and to find out ways those who aren’t currently savers can work their way into the savings habit.

A study carried out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and reported upon by the CBC, found that on average, Canadians saved “just 3.21 per cent of their disposable income in 2020, or about $1,277 per household.”

Americans, the article notes, save three times as much. Why?

“Canadians are currently spending more of their income to service their debts than Americans, which partly explains the lower savings rate,” says BMO senior economist Saul Guatieri in the CBC article.

And indeed, according to Statistics Canada, household debt topped 177 per cent of disposable income by late 2019, up from 168 per cent the year before. In other words, for every dollar we earn, we owe $1.77, on average. The same agency’s research found that 73.2 per cent of Canadians “have some sort of outstanding debt, or have used a payday loan at some point in the last 12 months.” Almost one-third of those surveyed told Statistics Canada they have too much debt.

The CBC article also cites the increased cost of living as a factor. Shannon Lee Simmons, a certified financial planner, tells the network that “she’s seen the amount of money Canadians are able to put away decrease for a number of reasons, including stagnating wages and the rising cost of necessities like gas, groceries, daycare and housing.”

Housing costs have bumped up to 45-50 per cent of take-home pay for some, she tells CBC.

Inflation, reports Reuters, is on the rise, and “the Bank of Canada said inflation was expected to remain at or above three per cent… for the rest of 2021.”

Blogger Jim Yih of the Retire Happy blog adds a couple of other factors. The lack of formal financial education, he writes, and the prevalent “consumption attitude” of “spending money we do not have” are a big part of the problem. He also notes that interest rates for savings accounts have been at historic lows for many years, which discourages some savers.

So what can be done?

  • Start small, suggests Simmons. “I would rather someone save a little bit than just give up altogether because they feel the goal is too unrealistic,” she tells the CBC. Having a budget is a key step as well, she says, as you can not only track spending but see opportunities to reduce costs.
  • Review your bank fees, and see if you can find a bank with lower or no fees, suggests the Canada Buzz blog.
  • Pay yourself first, advises Alterna Bank. “Automate your savings… transfer the funds to a savings, investment, registered retirement savings plan or tax-free savings account,” Alterna suggests.

The last step is a great one. Even if you did a “pay yourself first” and put one or two per cent of your pay into savings, and then lived on the 98 per cent, you would see those savings begin to grow over time. And while it may not be the “save 10 per cent, and live on 90 per cent” rule that our late Uncle Joe hammered into us over the years, you are starting on the right road. Patience and being steadfast can get you there.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan supports a “pay yourself first” strategy. You can set up automatic contributions from your bank account each payday. The money you contribute is then carefully invested by SPP for your future. It’s a “set it and forget it” way to build retirement security, something SPP has been providing for more than 35 years.

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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