Book Reviews

A “magic formula” for stock market success – The Little Book That Still Beats the Market

May 5, 2022

“Choosing individual stocks without any idea of what you’re looking for is like running through a dynamite factory with a burning match. You may live, but you’re still an idiot.”

So writes Joel Greenblatt in The Little Book That Still Beats the Market, billed as “one of the best, clearest guides to value investing out there.”

There’s a lot of ground covered in this interesting and well-written (and quite short) book.

The book sets out a way to view the stock market and learn “how to find good companies at bargain prices” to accomplish market-beating returns.

An interesting case history provides the example of fictional business that sells sticks of gum. While it is easy to figure out how much gum gets sold, the profit per stick, and projected income, the tricky part (and key to the book) is figuring out what the overall business is worth.

Owning part of a business, Goldblatt explains, can be accomplished by owning shares in it. “Buying a share in a business means you are purchasing a portion (or percentage interest) of that business. You are then entitled to a portion of that business’s future earnings,” Goldblatt notes.

While businesses may go along without big changes in their value, their stock prices can swing wildly, he explains. There are many theories as to why stock price swings happen, but the takeaway is to realize that a low price on a good company is a buying opportunity.

“If you just stick to buying good companies (ones that have a high return on capital) and to buying those companies only at bargain prices (at prices that give you a high earnings yield) you can end up systematically buying many of the good companies that crazy `Mr. Market’ has decided to give away,” Goldblatt says.

Here’s where he introduces his “magic formula.”

He ranks the 3,500 largest traded U.S. companies on the major exchanges by “return on capital,” with the company with the best return getting number one spot, and the one with the worst, 3,500. He does the same thing with earnings yield. You then add the two numbers together – companies with a low combined rating are considered good performers, and if you can catch them when their price is down, you may have a bargain on your hand.

In a chart, Goldblatt shows that from 1988 to 2004, a portfolio of the top 30 “magic formula” companies had average returns of 30.8 per cent, more than double the market and S&P 500 average.

He points out that the “magic formula” doesn’t always beat the markets in the short term. Investors need to “believe it will work and maintain a long-term investment horizon.”

The book mentions online resources to help you set up your own screening to create a list.

This is an interesting book, and is simple enough for even non-math heads (hand raised here) to grasp, at least in theory.

Do-it-yourself can be satisfying, but leaving the heavy lifting to professionals is also an option for those of us lacking the time or expertise. That’s where the Saskatchewan Pension Plan comes in. They’ll invest your retirement savings professionally, at a low cost, and when it’s time to retire, will help you convert those savings into income. Check out SPP today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

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.


Your Retirement Income Blueprint – a “do it properly, do it better” resource

March 31, 2022

From the get-go, where author Daryl Diamond describes his book as being a “do it properly” or “do it better” book on retirement income planning, rather than a “do it yourself” volume, a wonderfully written tome filled with valuable insights begins.

Your Retirement Income Blueprint makes great strides in explaining that retirement is not really “the back nine” of life. Retirement, he explains, is “not simply a continuation of the same thing (pre-retirement)… the playing field changes because there are such substantial differences between the planning approaches, investment strategies, risk-management issues and sheer dynamics of these two phases in someone’s life.”

There’s a lot to cover in a short review, so let’s look at some of Diamond’s retirement income gems.

Early on, Diamond explains the importance of having “a formal income plan, or blueprint, to show what your assets can realistically be expected to provide in terms of sustainable cash flow.” In other words, do you have enough income, from all sources, for an adequate retirement? Retiring without sufficient income, he warns, “can be a very unfortunate decision.”

On debt in retirement, he notes “ideally, you want to be debt free at the time you actually retire,” because otherwise, “you will have to dedicate income toward servicing the debt. And that is cash flow that could be used to enhance your lifestyle in other ways.”

Another great point, and this was one that Save with SPP personally used when planning retirement, is the idea of making a “net to net” comparison of your pre-retirement income versus post-retirement.

“That difference between your gross employment income and gross retirement income may appear quite significant, however, some analysis of your earnings statement may narrow this disparity. Compare what you are bringing home on a net basis with what your net income will be in retirement. You may find the difference in net pay is not as significant as you thought.”

The book provides a chart showing gross employment income being 33 per cent greater than retirement income – but only about 12 per cent different on a net basis, because the retiree isn’t paying into Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS), a company pension or company benefits.

Diamond points out that the investment principles for retirement saving differ from the retirement income, or “using your nest egg” years.

“When people begin to draw income from their portfolios, their focus changes from ‘rate of return’ to ‘risk management,’” he writes. “Capital preservation becomes the number one issue, because with capital preservation, you also have sustainable income,” he adds. The goal is longevity of your income – meaning, not running out of money.  

Diamond sees annuities as a way to ensure you don’t run out of retirement income. The book shows how your CPP, OAS and company pension – along with an annuity purchased with some of your retirement savings – can create a guaranteed lifetime monthly amount for your core, basic expenses. The rest of your income can be used for discretionary, fun expenses, he explains.

Diamond isn’t opposed to the idea of taking one’s Canada Pension Plan benefits early. He advises us all to “assess whether or not there is merit to do so in your own situation.” He makes the point that while many of us live long lives, some of us don’t, so deferring a pension carries a risk.

He sees the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) as becoming “one of the great tools at our disposal. I look for ways to help retirees fund their TFSA accounts to the maximum, whether that be through taking CPP early, withdrawing additional amounts out of registered accounts or even moving other non-registered holdings systematically into them.”

He suggests that using one’s registered retirement savings early in retirement may be preferable to deferring them until the bitter end at 71. “Deferring all of your registered assets can create real tax problems in the future and could eliminate main credits and entitlements that you would otherwise have been receiving,” he explains.

Near the end of this excellent book, Diamond alerts retirees to what he calls the “three headwinds” that can “be a drag on” any retirement income solution – taxation, inflation, and fees. Attention should be paid to all three factors when designing a retirement income solution, he writes.

When you retire, Diamond concludes, it’s when “your ticket gets punched… and baby, you had better enjoy the ride.” The three commodities that will support a great retirement are your state of health, your longevity and “your income-producing assets and benefits.” Only the last commodity is one that you can fully control, he says.

This is a great book and highly recommended for those thinking about retirement.

Do you have a handful of different registered savings vehicles? Consolidating them in one place can be more efficient than drawing income from several sources. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan allows you to transfer in up to $10,000 per year from other registered vehicles. Those funds will be invested, and when you retire, your income choices include SPP’s family of annuities. Check out SPP today!

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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.


Book aims to answer key retirement question –What The Hell Do I Do Now

February 24, 2022

R. Dean White’s book What The Hell Do I Do Now – A Professionals’ Guide to a Meaningful Retirement is a helpful resource for any of us who thought their jobs were their lives.

Folks in this mindset, he notes, have trouble if health, changes at work, or other factors lead them to an unexpected retirement – what are they going to do?

White should know – he’s a retired oral and maxillofacial surgeon who at 55 “had to stop practicing due to a neurological disorder” that affected his hands and dexterity. He found a way to reinvent himself via a new career as a hospital administrator.  The new role, he writes, was “way out of my comfort zone of what I used to do, but I am having a great time, making a little money, and feeling like I have found relevance in a whole new way.”

The book presents a number of case histories of people who have left familiar roles and tried something different. “Retiring,” writes White, “is not about renting an office and reading The Wall Street Journal. It is about new ventures, new risks, and new goals.”

He cites a recent poll showing that “73 per cent of baby boomers plan to work in retirement” in what he calls “encore careers.” These, he explains, are those that supply “an individual with income, but more importantly, a greater meaning and a chance to have a social impact.”

If you don’t want to work for money, “volunteering can help a new retiree create balance in life,” he writes. “It can also help you find perspective.” After all, he notes, “volunteers are needed everywhere.”

Even solitude can bring new challenges, he points out.  “Use your solitude to paint, draw, and create with your hands or your head,” he explains. “I would encourage everyone to write their own life story – not necessarily for publication, but for family and friends. It sounds morbid, but everyone wants to be remembered and to influence others even after death, and spending your solitude creating this legacy can be fulfilling.”

He discusses the value of exercise as we age.  “As I got older, I started noticing that swinging the grandkids around hurt my back and my shoulder, so I reluctantly began an exercise program at a local gym,” he writes. It worked – with a strengthened core, his golf game improved and swinging the grandkids was much easier; he still hits the gym two or three times a week.

Other advice in this well-thought out book is to “keep busy and make a contribution where ever you can; keep physically fit; get a good dog; keep your self-respect; take time to relax with a good book and with good friends whenever you can,” and – one that our late father-in-law used to also say, “remember, there ain’t no bad scotch, some is just better than others.”

While the book devotes little space to money matters, White does recommend good record-keeping in one’s retirement. “It is amazing how many people don’t know what they have, and where the paperwork that is associated with what they have is located,” he observes.

“Retirement,” he concludes, “may seem like a great darkness where fear and anxiety lurk, but no one can possibly know what will happen in the next hour or the next day. Stay in the present.”

This fine book is a great addition to any retirement library.

If you’re a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, getting access to your records, including tax slips, balances, and contribution details, is a breeze. Just sign up for MySPP and all your account details are just a click away. You can print off tax forms yourself, rather than waiting for them in the mail. It’s another way SPP is decluttering your retirement.

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

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.


Successful Aging – book suggests things you can do to age better

February 3, 2022

Author Daniel J. Levitin begins his book Successful Aging by noting that he once saw aging “only as a failing: a failing of the body, of the mind, and even of the spirit.”

But now, he writes, “I’ve seen a different side of aging. My parents are now in their mid-eighties and are as engaged with life as they have ever been, immersed in social interactions, spiritual pursuits, hiking and nature, and even starting new professional projects.”

This detailed, well-researched book looks at some of the reasons why some of us age better than others, as well as some steps we can consider on our own to improve our personal aging process.

Levitin identifies The Big Five dimensions that those who age well seem to possess as follows:

  1. Extraversion
  2. Agreeableness
  3. Conscientiousness
  4. Emotional Stability versus Neuroticism
  5. Openness to Experience + Intellect (also called Imagination).

Levitin disputes the notion that memory loss is a sort of “normal” age-related impairment.

Older people can benefit from memory assistive tools, such as “using their electronic calendars as a combination to-do list and sticky paper reminder system… they love the freedom of being able to relax their minds, to let go of worrying about what they might be forgetting… and just the act of writing things down, of paying close attention to what they want to schedule, has improved their memories,” he writes.

On the topic of dementia, Levitin notes that “the biggest challenge faced by dementia is the public narrative of despair, that nothing can be done about it.” He says that negativity should be replaced with hope, and “the recognition that people with dementia are still there.”

A later chapter looks at why some older people are still intellectually thriving.

“I’ve come to believe that life after seventy-five can launch a period of intellectual growth, and not mere maintenance,” he writes. He notes that the great cellist Pablo Casal continued to practice heavily after age 80, saying that he wanted to get better, and because he believed “that self-improvement and expertise are possible at any age, whether it’s intellectual, physical, emotional or spiritual.”

He’s a believer in life-long learning. “If you’re reading this book,” he writes, “there’s a good chance you are motivated to learn, that you benefit from an innate or cultivated curiosity about the worlds. As we’ve seen, curiosity can be protective against aging, and a great motivator to obtain an education, which is also protective.”

He sees “social connectedness” as being key to “a long health span and a long life,” adding that loneliness “is associated with early mortality.”

On pain management, he observes that “effective distraction” through “exercise, interesting conversation, practicing yoga, meditation, socializing, listening to soothing music, or immersing yourself in nature” can help you through it.

And on exercise, he notes that “exercising on a treadmill is good. Walking around the neighbourhood is better. Walking in nature is the best.”

Nine hours of “restorative sleep” is a positive measure to reducing the impacts of aging, he writes.

He concludes with this thought – instead of wondering who to pass the torch to as you grow old, “hold onto your torch. Do not go gently. And don’t forget to laugh. Whatever’s going on around you, remember to laugh.”

This is an excellent addition to any personal library – the great advice and interesting research covered in this book is expressed with an unwavering, and very comforting, sense of optimism.

A financial consequence of aging well is longevity. While we all want to live to a ripe old age, there can be challenges if you get so advanced in years that you have outlived your money. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan allows its members to receive some or all of their retirement benefits in the form of an annuity – a lifetime monthly payment. It’s one of the tools the SPP offers to help your finances, no matter how long you’ll need them. Check out SPP today.

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

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.


Be active, eat healthy, and enjoy your life, advises The Retirement Handbook

December 23, 2021

If you are about to leave work behind and start a new life as a retiree – and haven’t really thought about what your new life will look like, The Retirement Handbook by Ted Heybridge is the book for you.

This book is not about the money side of things. Instead, the focus is on you – ideas about how you can be active, eat well, and enjoy life.

Retirement, Heybridge begins, “is your time to spend as you choose, so it’s up to you to decide how much time you wish to devote to volunteering, meeting friends, exercising, gardening or minding grandchildren.”

Exercising and being active is a key consideration, he writes. “Only one in seven 65-74-year-olds and one in 14 over 75s meet World Health Organization guidelines for recommended physical activity,” he notes. That’s 2.5 hours of “moderate aerobic physical activity per week,” and he encouragingly notes that “any activity, no matter how light, is better than none.”

Cycling, he writes, “gets you out, relieves stress, and makes you feel great.” Sixty-three per cent of Copenhagen residents commute to work or school by bike, he notes, adding that “the health benefits of cycling outweigh the injury risks by 20:1.”

Other great activities listed in the book including dancing, running, yoga, swimming, and getting to the gym.

In the section of the book on healthy eating, Heybridge talks about the importance of hydration. Women should have 2.2 litres of water each day, for men it is 3 litres. “If we forget to keep our fluids up, we become dehydrated, which can lead to fatigue and poor concentration,” he warns.

Other advice in this section includes cutting back on sugar, the many advantages of “plant power” in your diet, and useful strategies for cutting back on alcohol.

While saving for retirement and pension plans aren’t expressly featured in this book, ideas on how to make your retirement dollars go farther are.

The “pain-free ways to save” section suggests growing your own food and flowers, becoming a chef at home to save on restaurant dining, using other means – footpower, a bike, or the bus – to cut back on driving (and the cost of gas), selling off your clutter and many more simple-to-do ideas.

Other ways to augment your retirement income include working part time, being a consultant, turning hobbies into money-makers, and many more.

There’s a section on new activities you can take on with the luxury of more time – furthering your education, learning a new language, taking up carpentry, and becoming a wine aficionado.

A nice section on relationships notes that working couples who both retire will find they are spending a lot more time with each other than they are used to. “Make sure you have separate interests and see your own friends. That way, you’ll have something to talk about when you get home.”

Our late mother used to say that when Dad retired, he spent the first year following her around and reading her items out of the paper. So she “assigned” him some new tasks – he took over doing the laundry, and loading and unloading the dishwasher, which he did with aplomb.

This fun, well-written and very helpful book concludes by offering some words of wisdom from famed comic actor George Burns – “you can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”

It’s always nice to have a few twenties in the wallet when you’re retired. If you don’t have a pension program through work, you’ll need to handle saving on your own. A fine partner in your saving efforts is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. It’s a full-service personal retirement system – your contributions are invested in a professionally managed, pooled fund, at a low cost, and when it is time to turning savings into income, SPP has many options for you, including lifetime annuities. Check them out today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

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.


Exercise that boosts flexibility, corrects posture can slow aging process: Aging Backwards

November 18, 2021

We talk – some might say endlessly – about saving for retirement, the need for income for the latter part of our lives, and so on.

But the book Aging Backwards by Miranda Esmonde-White focuses on the other side of retirement – having a sensible exercise plan that keeps your body from aging prematurely.

Most people, she begins, may see aging “as something they have no control over, just like the passage of time.” However, she says, “you absolutely do have a choice in the age of your bones, your muscles, your internal organs and your skin.” Thirty minutes per day of targeted exercise, she writes, can decide between a “vital, energetic and healthy” life versus “a life of joint and back pain, limited mobility, and a lack of physical strength.”

The exercise program that Esmonde-White prescribes is called the “Essentrics” system, which she writes is “exactly the opposite of the unproductive, dangerous ‘no pain no gain’ philosophy of yore.” She says it is more about “no pain, all pleasure.”

She notes that every minute you exercise lengthens your life by seven minutes… “a guaranteed 1-to-7 return on your investment.”

And for those who argue that genetics controls how you will age, she cites research that shows only 25 per cent of our longevity is determined by our genes – the rest is “due to lifestyle and environmental factors.”

Another crucial stat she cites is that those with a “somewhat sedentary, somewhat active” lifestyle lose seven to eight per cent of their body’s cells each decade. Those who exercise “using the entirety of their musculature lose an average of only two to three per cent of… cells each decade.”

The second half of the book gets into the Essentrics program, which has elements of isotonic, concentric and eccentric exercise. She notes that the movements in the program mimic some of the activities that were common for everyone in the past – such as cleaning the windows, mopping the floors, and moving furniture.

“The unfortunate truth is that many of us rarely do these chores anymore, and if we do them at all we don’t do them long enough to derive any real benefit from them,” Esmonde-White explains.

The last part of the book shows all the workouts, with photos. There are exercises like ceiling reaches and the “open chest swan sequence” to improve your posture. The weight loss exercises include a “pulling weeds sequence” and some plie-type dance movements. There’s a “washing tables” movement, as well as a “washing windows” exercise in the section on exercise to soothe your joints. Calf stretches and “barre footwork” with a simple chair are found in the “increase your energy section.” There are many more exercises and many more sections in this informative how-to book.

She concludes by writing that if you decide against regular, targeted exercise, “all you are `putting off’ is your chance of having a vital, exciting, energized time well into your twilight years.”

There is a contagious enthusiasm in this well-written book that coaxes you out of the easy chair and into more exercise. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your personal fitness library.

If, as we have read, the payoff from targeted exercise is longevity, one must invariably think about addressing the cost of that extra time on earth. You’ll still need food, shelter and some sort of fuel in the future, and all of these things will cost money. If you’ve got a retirement program at work, you are ahead of the game – be sure to join it.

But if not, you’ll need to carry the retirement savings load on your own shoulders. And if you put that off, you’ll run out of time to catch up later. A handy solution to the problem is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, a one-stop shop for setting up your very own personal pension.

Be sure to check out SPP – celebrating its 35th year of operations – today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

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.


Retirement Heaven or Hell focuses on sense rather than dollars

October 21, 2021

One of the nagging questions we had during the countdown to retirement seven years ago was this – what is retirement going to be like?  And while retired friends and neighbours smiled and said cryptic things like “you’ll never know how you found the time for work,” we wondered – still – how the transition from full time work to freelancing would go.

This is the sort of territory covered in Mike Drak’s terrific new book, Retirement Heaven or Hell.

He starts by recalling that, as a child, he really couldn’t answer the question “what do you want to do with the rest of your life.” Retirement provides a second chance to give that response, he writes.

“It’s hard to enjoy retirement when you are not doing what you like to do,” he continues. Living someone else’s retirement dream is your ticket to what Drak calls “Retirement Hell.”

So what does Retirement Heaven look like?  There are “comfort-oriented retirees” who “like to have a safe, ordinary retirement,” he explains. They are content with a “full-stop” retirement, they don’t want to work, and some have accumulated “a great deal of money.”  Then there are “growth-oriented retirees” who Drak sees as “retirement rebels – the people who have a strong inner voice constantly telling them to never be satisfied; to keep stretching, exploring, learning and experiencing.”  Either stream works “as long as you are happy and doing things that are meaningful and fulfilling to you,” Drak explains.

Drak writes about the danger of “the Big Retirement Dip” that can happen after you have enjoyed “the Honeymoon Stage” of retirement, and have travelled, golfed more, visited the grandkids, and ticked off all the boxes of your to-do list.  Retirees “often find that they need to find something else to do, and this is where the trouble starts. Without a bigger plan or a purpose, they start to slide down to Retirement Hell, the lowest point in the Big Retirement Dip,” Drak writes.

This is particularly true of growth-oriented retirees; some comfort-oriented retirees “will be able to remain happily in the Honeymoon Stage for their entire retirement,” despite possibly having less meaning to their lives than the growth-oriented folks, Drak notes.

Drak adds that “significant change is an inevitable fact of retirement. How you choose to prepare for it and respond to it will determine if you will be happy or not.”  He encourages retirees to take up “new routines” such as regular meditation, and journaling, which he sees as the creation of a book “by you, about you” that will help you chart your progress towards your goals.  A daily log helps you determine if your day “was productive… or not,” helps you stay “on track with your goals,” and gives tips on how to improve things “going forward.”

The meat of the book is Drak’s list of “Nine Principles for an Exceptional Retirement.” These include:

  1. Nurture Strong Relationships
  2. Foster Good Health
  3. Achieve Financial Independence
  4. Reignite Your Sense of Adventure
  5. Tap into Your Spirituality
  6. Find Your Tribes
  7. Make the Most of Your Time
  8. Adopt the Right Attitude
  9. Discover Your Purpose

Drak covers each of these ideas in great detail, with “self reflection” questions on each topic as well as “simple truths,” a sort of Coles notes summary of the section.  He warns us, when talking about nurturing strong relationships, that loneliness “is an emotional problem with a physical consequence that could lead to an early death.”  Regarding health, he notes that “exercising and eating right are key anti-aging strategies,” the “magic pill” we look for.

On Financial Independence, he observes that “working longer reduces the risk of market declines and of not having enough money.” Thinking about our sense of adventure, Drak writes that “life is either a daring adventure or boring… playing it safe is a gamble too.”  Spirituality “helps you deal with the ups and downs of everyday life,” and having a “tribe” of like-minded people permits you to be on a “shared mission with people you respect and care about.” He covers all nine principles with similar aplomb.

Near the end of the book, Drak challenges us to “watch the movie of your own life…(to) take you back on your journey since childhood. This will remind you about what made you happy, which in turn will help you to discover your purpose(s) and passions, and ultimately, the person you were meant to be.”

And this is a core message of the book – no one can tell you what your retirement should be except for you, and this decision depends on your values. “Values are who you are even when no one is watching,” Drak explains. “Putting your values first influences your decisions; and how you choose to act and behave will ultimately determine your sense of happiness and fulfilment in life.”

This is a great book, almost a retirement philosophy text, and is well worth a read, whether you are planning your retirement or – even more importantly – if you have reached the end of the honeymoon stage and can’t think of what to do next. The book gives you the tools you need to get there.

The non-philosophical side of the retirement equation – income – plays the important role of helping to fund the retirement you want. If, lacking a workplace retirement program, you are saving on your own for those future challenges and adventures, why not put the Saskatchewan Pension Plan to work for you? They’ve been delivering retirement security since their inception 35 years ago.

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

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.


Book urges prevention – not magical alchemy – as the way to age well and with dignity

September 23, 2021

Andrew Weil’s Healthy Aging is a well-written, fact-laden look at our society’s fascination with the quest for living longer – even forever – and sets out some steps we can take now to live long and healthier lives.

Dr. Weil points out that humans are the longest-lived mammals, and that research has found that our cells can divide up to 50 times in order to replace themselves. He contrasts that with mice, whose cells can divide 15 times and live only three years, and the Galapagos tortoise, which can live to a whopping age 175 and has cells that can divide 110 times.

Historically, he writes, we are now at our longest-lived as a species. “There is no scientific evidence for greater longevity in any past age,” he notes. However, people have searched for a fountain of youth for many centuries, including Ponce de Leon, who searched for the island of Bimini and its magical spring of youth and Shangri-La, where legends suggest that monks who “plunged forthwith into rigorous self-discipline somewhat curiously combined with narcotic indulgence” claimed to be able to live for several centuries.

The biology of aging has led to research into anti-aging medicine and treatments, which Dr. Weil explores. He concludes that we “will never be able to reverse the aging process… so please forget about anti-aging and avoid obsession with life extension. Instead, let’s focus on preventing or minimizing the impact of age-related disease, on separating longevity and senescence, on learning how to live long and well, on how to age gracefully.”

The second part of the book goes into great detail on steps you can take to do just that. “In our society, and in developed countries generally, blood pressure increases with age, perhaps because of our dietary habits, the stress of modern life, and other unknown factors,” he writes.

Those with high blood pressure should “first try lifestyle measures to normalize it: losing weight, increasing exercise, practicing relaxation techniques… eating fewer foods high in sodium and more vegetables.” If the problem persists, get a doctor’s input and start on “anti-hypertensive medication.”

As we age, we should watch our cholesterol levels as well, he writes. Other advice: keep a medical diary of “past illnesses, injuries, treatments, hospitalizations, current medications, and family history.” Keep current with your immunizations. Get a physical every couple of years. Get screened for cancer and keep your blood pressure as close as possible to normal.

As well – don’t smoke, watch your weight, and watch for unhealthy fats in your diet.

On the eating side, be aware of the glycemic index; “reduce consumption of high-GL (glycemic load) foods… that means less bread, white potatoes, crackers, chips and other snack foods, pastries, and sweetened drinks and more whole grains, beans, sweet potatoes, winter squashes and other vegetables,” he writes. Eat less refined and processed food, fast food, products “made with flour of any kind” and products made with “high fructose corn syrup.”

Generally, he adds, you should eat less meat and poultry and “other foods of animal original,” and more vegetable protein.

Other tips – “white, green and oolong tea” is a good antioxidant, and you can have up to four cups a day. He likes the idea of people taking a daily multivitamin.

Exercise is good but as you age, should be body-friendly, he notes – walking, swimming, cycling, exercise machines and strength training are easy on the joints.

To relax, he suggests “breathwork” as “the simplest, most efficient way of taking advantage of the mind-body connection to affect both physical and mental health.” He concludes with a chapter on the importance of sleep.

He also considers what will happen if the trend towards more longevity in society continues – will we see a demographic change to an older population, with the need for more care for the aged? And, he asks, “what happens to retirement when Americans are no longer saving and are both retiring earlier (the average age is now 63) and living longer?”

It’s hard to do justice to this detailed and well-thought-out overview of the issue of aging well; it’s definitely worth getting a copy of this fine volume and adding it to your retirement library.

Longevity is an interesting topic. On the retirement planning front, longevity is sometimes referred to as a “risk.” It’s thought of that way because there can be a problem when people outlive their retirement savings. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan has an antidote for longevity risk. When you decide to collect your SPP retirement benefits, you can choose among several annuity options. An annuity provides you with a lifetime, monthly income that continues for as long as you live – even if you watch your weight, eat well, exercise and relax your way to 100 and beyond! Celebrating 35 years of delivering retirement security, check out SPP today!

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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.


McCloud’s Saving Money is jam-packed with thrifty tips

September 2, 2021

Ace McCloud’s Saving Money is a slim volume that’s absolutely jam-packed with good advice on saving money.

McCloud begins by stressing the importance of “investing in yourself,” specifically the need to look after your physical and mental health. Good health practices are essential to “living a longer, happier life.” So, eat well, visit the gym, get lots of sleep and check in with your doctor, we are told.

For mental health, McCloud says yoga and meditation are good bets.

On the money side, McCloud points out the advantages of having a savings account. “First and foremost, your chances of spending that money are much less (in a savings account) than if your money was in a chequing account,” McCloud notes. It’s a good start, but with interest rates currently quite low, other investments – property, stocks, bonds – may provide greater profits.

On the stock front, McCloud says investing in preferred stock “is best for those who don’t get excited by risk taking because the price of the stock doesn’t tend to fluctuate.” You’ll get better interest via bonds than a savings account, and if actually buying a property to rent out is beyond your means, a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) can get you into the real estate game with a much smaller entry fee, he notes.

Many of us don’t have money to save due to high levels of debt, writes McCloud. “Many people find themselves in bad credit card debt because credit cards easily bring on feelings of instant gratification,” he explains. So while saving is a great thing, he advises getting rid of “high interest debts as fast as you can” to free up more money to save.

He gives an example indicating that if you make only the minimum payment on a $10,000 credit card balance, “it would take you nearly 30 years to pay it and it would cost you $12,000 just in interest!” By paying just under twice the minimum payment, you can pay it off in two years and save $10,000 in interest. If you have a number of credit cards, the Snowball Method may be a good idea – put extra money on the card with the lowest balance until you pay it off, and then add that money to the next-lowest card, McCloud explains.

Obviously debt is just one factor that restricts savings. The other is overspending. McCloud offers dozens of great ideas on how to save money. Go to the library, he suggests. Put down your electronics and take a walk. Don’t go to malls without spending money. Clip coupons. Shop at thrift stores. Make dining out (or ordering in) for special occasions only.

A nice bit of advice is to “take care of your personal possessions… you can make them last longer, therefore getting more value out of your money.” This advice extends to toys, cars, your house… the whole shebang.

We also like the idea of saving change in a jar.

There’s a handy section on grocery shopping that contains advice like “don’t fill your cart,” buy generic and private label brands, avoid pre-packaged food, and the classic “don’t shop when you’re hungry.”

While the book is intended for a U.S. audience, many of the tax saving tips are relevant for us Canadians. Make charitable donations to get a tax deduction, he writes. If you are moving, keep receipts – you can often claim the expense if you are moving somewhere to get a new job. The cost of having someone prepare your taxes is tax deductible, as are a variety of home office costs if you are self-employed.

He concludes by recommending a family stick to a budget to avoid surprises. This is a fun and straightforward little book that can jump-start your thinking if you are finding that there’s less money left over on payday than there used to be. It’s well worth reading.

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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.


Navigating the complexity of the golden years: The Boomers Retire

August 26, 2021

The concept of retirement “has grown increasingly more sophisticated,” begin authors Alexandra Macqueen and David Field in their new book, The Boomers Retire.

“Canadians preparing for retirement,” they write, “have been able to contemplate a variety of highly personalized approaches – from early (or even very early) retirement, to phased retirement, working retirement, and more.”

This thorough book covers all matters retirement and boomer with clear, concise explanations, tables, charts, and focus.

Early, we learn about three “realities” in today’s retirement world – the amount of time we are retired is “increasingly longer,” that retirement is much more diffuse than the old “retire at 65” days of the past, and that funding retirements that may last longer than one’s working years is “increasingly complex.”

Workplace pensions aren’t as common as they were in the past, especially in the private sector, so many of us have to rely on government benefits, the authors explain. But Canada Pension Plan and Quebec Pension Plan maximum benefits are just over $1,200 a month, and worse, the “average benefit amount for new recipients is $710.41 per month, or about 60 per cent of the maximum.”

Old Age Security provides another $7,384.44 annually, but is subject to clawbacks, the authors observe. Lower-income retirees may qualify for the Guaranteed Income Supplement, we are told.

Those without a workplace pension plan (typically either defined benefit or defined contribution) will have to save on their own.

In explaining the difference between two common do-it-yourself retirement savings vehicles, the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) and the registered retirement savings vehicle (RRSP), the authors call the TFSA “a nearly perfect retirement savings and retirement income tool” since growth within it is free of tax, as are withdrawals. They recommend a strategy, upon withdrawing funds from an RRSP or registered retirement income fund (RRIF) of “withdrawing more than needed… and instead of spending that extra income, move it over to the TFSA.”

Our late father-in-law employed this strategy when decumulating from his RRIF, chortling with pleasure about the fact that he received “tax-free income” from his TFSA.

The book answers key timing questions, such as when to open a RRIF. Planners, the authors write, used to advise waiting “until the last possible moment” to move funds from an RRSP to a RRIF, at age 71. “The problem with this approach,” they tell us, “is that it sometimes results in low taxable income between retirement and age 71.” If you are in that situation, be aware that you don’t have to wait until 71, and can RRIF your RRSP earlier, they note.

A section on annuities – a plan feature for SPP members – indicates that they address the concern of running out of money in retirement, as annuities are generally paid for life. The trade-off, of course, is that you don’t have access to the funds used to provide the annuity.

Other retirement options, like continuing to work, taking a reverse mortgage, and starting your own business, are addressed. There’s a nice section on investing that looks at the pros (security) and cons (low interest rates) of bonds, how to treat dividend income, index exchange-traded funds, and more.

An overall message for this book, which is intended for both planners and individuals, is a focus on having an individualized strategy, rather than relying on various “rules of thumb.”

“Aiming for a smooth, even withdrawal over a retiree’s lifetime will often be the optimal approach,” the authors say. That’s complicated if, as our friend Sheryl Smolkin told us recently, your retirement income “river” comprises many different registered and non-registered streams. The authors say that a withdrawal rate of four per cent from your various retirement income sources is generally a good target.

Tax tips include remembering to claim medical expenses – many of us forget this category and miss out on tax savings – claiming the disability amount if you qualify, and taking advantage of income splitting. There’s a chapter on being a snowbird (there can be some unexpected downsides with it) and going the rental route in your latter years, when “the future is now.”

This clear, detailed, and very helpful book is a must for your retirement library.

If you’re a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, you’ll have the option at retirement to choose from a variety of great annuity products. Some offer survivor benefits, including the Joint & Survivor option where your surviving spouse will continue to receive some (or all) of your pension after you are gone. It’s a solid part of the SPP’s mandate of delivering retirement security, which it has done for more than 35 years.

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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.