Dec 21: Senior investors want to avoid risk, and running out of money

December 21, 2023

You’ll hear about it on the golf course, at the Legion, on the dance floor at line dancing, or over coffee – seniors like talking about their investments, and worry about how they are doing.

Save with SPP decided to look into what sorts of things seniors should be thinking about when it comes to investing.

Over at the Retire Happy blog, Grant Hicks notes that older seniors, say 75 plus, want their investments to be “safe, short term, and no risk.” He says folks tend to get more cautious as they get older, even when we are talking from age 65 to age 75.

He cites the example of “Mr. and Mrs. Jones” of Qualicum, B.C. (real names are not used) who were debt-free, mortgage-free, and had about $200,000 to invest.

“They were looking for tax efficient income. They were not looking to keep it short term in case of something happened to one of them because the other person would still require the income,” he writes.

“Here’s what they decided on. First, we put aside 20 per cent short term for emergencies. This was invested into a cashable term deposit at the highest interest we could find. Then we built an income portfolio that consisted of bonds and guaranteed investment certificates (GICs) (20 per cent) preferred shares (20 per cent), common dividend paying shares (20 per cent) and income trusts and income securities (20 per cent). The portfolio focus was to pay out approximately four to five per cent monthly on a tax efficient basis, meaning the income was not all interest, but dividends, business income and capital gains.”

In an article in MoneySense magazine, investment counsellor and author Patrick McKeough “pounds the table for a conservative portfolio of quality dividend-paying stocks spread among the five major economic sectors.” Those sectors, the article advises, include manufacturing and industry, resources, finance, utilities and consumer.

In the article, McKeough discusses “pre-retirement financial stress syndrome,” which occurs when older investors begin to realize they may not have saved enough to fund “the stream of income they had been counting on.” He warns older investors of the urge they may have to make “one last desperate `Hail Mary’ gamble” on a breakout stock to try and play catch up. Instead, they should do the opposite, and look for safer investments, the article notes.

An older, but still wise article in Canadian Living also says older investors should focus on bonds (chiefly government bonds, with a smattering of corporate bonds that pay higher interest), GICs and dividend stocks, but adds the idea of annuities.

“Insurance companies offer annuities, which are investments that, in retirement, pay set monthly payments for life. It’s a great option for people who are worried about their cash flow, but it can be an expensive one. Fees are typically higher than what you’d pay on a mutual fund, and your money won’t get as great of a return as it would if you invested in the market yourself. But your cash is protected and you do get a regular cheque in retirement, which, to many people, is worth the extra costs,” the article notes.

At the time this article was written, interest rates were at record lows – today, higher rates mean the cost of an annuity has gone down – you get more income than you would have got with lower rates.

The Canadian Living article takes a different look at riskier common stocks.

“While you’re supposed to become a more conservative investor in retirement, you should also own some plain old stocks. Your portfolio still has to grow or you could run out of cash as you get older. That’s not to say you should invest in risky start-ups, but some solid brand-name growth stocks should help increase your savings,” the article notes.

There used to be an industry “rule of thumb” we heard around the pension plan office, specifically, that your present age should be the percentage of your holdings that are in fixed income. So if you were, say, 64, then 64 per cent should be in fixed income, with the rest in equities and other investments. This rule sort of got set aside during the decades-long low interest period, but may live on in some people’s financial plans.

Did you know that members of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan have a couple of great retirement income options? They could choose to convert their SPP savings into a lifetime annuity – a monthly payment arriving on the first of every month for the rest of their lives. Or, they could choose SPP’s Variable Benefit, which allows you to decide how much money you want to withdraw when you retire – more if you need, less if you don’t – with the option to annuitize at some future date.

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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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