Book Reviews

Mar 14: How To Adult Money walks you through the entire universe of personal finance

March 14, 2024

For many of us, running our household money can be a “learn as you go” stumble, as we find out that not paying off credit cards, or spending more than we earn all the time, are bad things.

Victoria Botvinnik’s How To Adult Money offers up insightful information on every phase of the complex world of personal finance. It’s like having a friendly accountant coaching you through.

On credit cards, she writes that “credit cards are a great thing to have if you know how to use them without being used and abused by them.” She warns that credit spending “hurts a lot less… than (to) hand over hard-earned cash,” and that making only the minimum payment each month means “you’re not really paying down the debt much, if at all.”

We should have two credit cards, not a bunch, she adds.

On pension plans at work (such as defined benefit or defined contribution plans), Botvinnik makes the point that if there is an employer match to your pension contributions, it’s definitely worth joining up. “The employer match happens when your employer helps contribute to your retirement. It’s generally done in the following way: you promise to contribute a certain percentage of your salary to this plan and your employer will match it up to a point. This is fantastic and you should take advantage of it as soon as you’re allowed to.”

Looking at accommodation, she raises the interesting point that renting is not always “throwing money away” as some contend. She backs that up with a chart, showing that buying a condo for $350,000 is not necessarily better than renting it for $1,800, because renters don’t pay a down payment, mortgage interest (possibly for up to 30 years), property taxes, legal fees and home inspections (this cost is incurred when you buy and when you sell), maintenance, and condo fees. Renters just pay rent and renter’s insurance.

“In this scenario, as long as the rent was under $2,350, renting is the better option,” she concludes. She says you need to think about whether you plan to stay in your current job and current community for a long time, or not, before buying. If you think you’ll be there for at least 10 years, she says buying can make sense.

She takes a look at the “whys” of debt, which when the book was written, worked out to $1.67 of debt for every dollar Canadians earn.

We go into debt, she explains, for necessities, such as “somewhere to live, a car to get you places, and potentially schooling to get a job.” Fine. But, she notes, there are other causes of debt, such as “eating out and going on expensive vacations” we can’t afford. “Some of these actions may be small but add up over time, like buying lunch every day.”

Getting married or having kids can “create higher than normal expenses for a year or so, which many households handle with debt.” Finally, “legal issues” like not paying taxes or parking tickets “can turn into a real issue if you don’t pay attention or accidentally make a mistake,” she warns.

To get out of debt requires a plan. You can use the “snowball technique,” paying minimum payments on all debts and adding extra to the lowest one. When that’s gone, apply more extra to the next lowest one.

Alternatively, you can target debt with the highest interest first, the “Avalanche technique.” Pick one, and develop a plan, a “timeline for becoming debt free using current budgeted savings per month.”

In a chapter on the 10 per cent rule (spend 90 per cent of what you earn and save the rest), she notes that the “rule of thumb” amount might not be enough for lower income earners, and may be too much for higher-income earners. “If you’re planning to retire on an income similar to the one you have right now, you’ll likely need to save more than 10 per cent. If you’re happy to retire on less than your current income, you’ll need to save less than 10 per cent.”

No matter what your retirement savings number is, the earlier you start, the better, she writes.

The book is filled to the rafters with great information. There’s a section on how to set up a budget, which looks at the “envelope system,” where you put cash aside to cover specific expenses, or the 50/30/20 system, where 50 per cent of your budget is for necessities, 20 per cent is for debt repayment/savings, and “no more than 30 per cent of the cash you take home should be spent on non-essential lifestyle items like eating out, shopping, etc.”

The very detailed investment section helps you determine your appetite for risk, and gives a detailed look at all the various savings vehicles (registered retirement savings plans or RRSPs, TFSAs, non-registered accounts) and investment types (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, and more).

Do you want to be an active investor – picking your own investments? Or passive – someone who buys index-related investments? The book fully explains the pros and cons of each approach.

There’s a summary section near the end of the book, titled Six Months To Being Awesome With Money, that puts it all together for you.

This is a great book, highly recommended, and fully Canadian, that would make a great addition to your financial planning library.

If you don’t have a retirement savings program at work, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be the plan for you. Any Canadian with unused RRSP room can join, and you decide how much to contribute – less when you are facing tight times, more when times are better. SPP will invest your contributions in a pooled fund, professionally managed at a low cost. When it’s time to retire, you can collect monthly lifetime SPP annuity payment, or move to our Variable Benefit option, where you decide how much to take out, and when!

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.

Feb 8: Control spending and debt, and you’ll free up money to save: Gail Vaz-Oxlade

February 8, 2024

The classic book Never Too Late, by Gail Vaz-Oxlade, is absolutely brimming with great saving advice that still stands up today.

In the past, she begins, no one worried about saving for retirement, and for good reason. “You got to 40 or 45 and you died. No problem there. But then life got easier, health care got better, and people started living longer. A lot longer. And a new industry was born: the retirement-planning industry,” she writes.

This book, she continues, is for anyone who has “been avoiding the whole issue of planning for your future… and (who thinks) your current approach might not really be the best way to have a happy life down the road.”

Her four key points are to “stop worrying, start saving,” to “be sensible” and avoid bad plans, like carrying debt into retirement, to take action (actually doing something) about saving and to “take control” of your finances.

Vaz-Oxlade presents her “four basic rules for managing money,” which are:

  • Don’t spend more money than you make.
  • Save something.
  • Get your debt paid off.
  • Mitigate your risks.

You need to figure out, to the penny, how much you own (bank accounts, registered retirement savings plans, TFSAs, etc) versus how much you owe (mortgages, car or other loans, lines of credit, credit cards, investment loans, student loans, etc.), notes Vaz-Oxlade.

“Subtract what you owe from what you own. That’s your net worth. If you have a positive number, it means you own more than you owe and you’re on your way to building up an asset base. If your number is negative, it means you owe more than you own and you must get busy paying down your debt and building up your savings,” she writes.

To start saving, Vaz-Oxlade introduces the concept to the personal savings rate, or PSR, “a measure of how much money you save out of the money you make.” To get to this number, add up your monthly income from all sources, then tote up what you are spending each month. Subtract what you spend from what you make.

“If you come up with a positive number it means that you’re not spending more than you make and have some savings. Good for you. If you spend every penny you make, your personal savings rate will be zero… if you end up with a negative number, you’re spending more than you make,” she explains.

No matter how pressing things are with your finances, Vaz-Oxlade stresses the importance of starting to save.

“If there is a single message I want you to hear it is that YOU MUST SAVE…. You don’t have to start by saving a whack of money. If you’ve never set a penny aside, making just a small commitment today can make a huge difference to your financial future. So, it doesn’t matter how little you have to start, the important thing is to start,” she writes.

On government retirement benefits, Vaz-Oxlade warns that “if all you will have access to are government benefits because you don’t have access to a company pension and you don’t plan to save anything while you’re working, you’ll have to lower your expectations about what retirement life will look like… in all likelihood you’ll just be making ends meet.”

At the time the book was written, Vaz-Oxlade said 11 million Canadians lack a company pension plan, “in which case you’re on the hook for all the money you’ll need to set aside for the future.”

She notes that 20 per cent of those who are eligible for a workplace retirement program “don’t participate. Really? Your employer wants to give you more money and you won’t take it?” Get to HR tomorrow and sign up if you can, she urges.

She says that a lot of what’s written about retirement focuses on the idea that “we’re gonna need a bazillion dollars if we ever hope to retire,” an argument that makes many folks depressed, or scared into “sticking their heads into the sand” on retirement saving.

All saving will be of help. She gives the example of Frank and Jeff, twins who are both 20, who know they need to save for retirement. Frank “opens up an RRSP right away, contributes $2,000 a year for 14 years, and then stops.” Jeff procrastinates, starts at 30, and puts $2,000 a year away until age 64. Both get compound gains of six per cent annually.

At 65, Frank has $283,400 and Jeff, despite having put in more than twice as much money, has just $139,200. Because “the interest he earned on the interest he earned” happens over a longer time period, he ends up with more, explains Vaz-Oxlade.

So, don’t be fazed, and start saving. “If retirement is rushing towards you like a speeding truck, do something. Find a way to cut $5 a day from your spending. Drop coffee, lunch at work…. Skip a take-out meal or night out and enjoy some good ol’ home cooking…. Invest that five bucks a day – just five bucks – using an automatic monthly savings plan in either an RRSP or a TFSA, and in 20 years at a return of five per cent, you’ll have over $61,655.”

In a section on retirement living, Vaz-Oxlade reassures us that for most people, retirement will consist of “the simple pleasures that make your life lovely to live. Think of sleeping in. Think having time to spend with friends you were always too busy to see. Think time with the grandkids or with your church pals.” Don’t expect to “completely revamp your lives” at the end of work.

A nice idea, once you have figured out what your retirement income will be from all sources, is to practice by living on that amount prior to actually living on it.

“Practising living in your future retirement circumstances lets you develop a feel for what it will be like and get ready to make the adjustments necessary. By simulating your retirement life, you not only see how you will feel, you’ll get some experience with what you’ll have to do to make it work.”

She offers a number of savings steps for those of us who haven’t started. Get started, even if you are putting a toonie away in a jar each week.

When you get a raise, “live on your pre-raise income,” and bank the raise. Tax yourself on spending – “every time you pick up a coffee, grab a burger, or hoe through a muffin, drop a buck in your bank.”

When you finally pay off a debt, put half of what you were paying each month into savings.

If you save $10 on groceries, put that $10 in the bank. Consider using a cash back credit card, as long as you pay off the balance in full each month, and bank the cash back.

There’s a rich section on how to invest on your own covering fixed interest and equity investments, mutual funds, and exchange traded funds. When investing, Vaz-Oxlade writes, pay attention to the fees you are being charged, as they “will eat into how much you end up investing.”

Vaz-Oxlade also talks about annuities, which provide monthly income for life. “During periods of high interest rates an annuity can really make your hard-earned money sing since you’re locking in that high rate for the life of the plan,” she observes.

Make sure you have thought about what you are going to do with all your newfound time before you retire, she concludes.

This is a truly great book for any of us who have yet to get started on saving for retirement. There’s lots of humour and the tone is one of a supportive coach’s advice. Definitely worth adding to your collection.

With the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, it’s you who decides how much you want to contribute. Contributions can be made automatically, and you can bump them up in future when you get a raise. And when you retire, among your choices are a lifetime annuity payment each month, or the flexibility of SPP’s Variable Benefit

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.

Jan 18 – The 10 factors that add up to the best retirement – What The Happiest Retirees Know

January 18, 2024

In What The Happiest Retirees Know, author Wes Moss highlights 10 attributes that can help you be a HROB – Happiest Retiree On the Block – and not an UROB, or Unhappiest Retiree on the Block.

He writes that data from the Financial Planning Association south of the border found that “only 18 per cent of U.S. households have enough wealth to cover pre-retirement consumption when they retire, meaning most Americans will not be able to maintain their pre-retirement lifestyle in retirement.”

As well, only half of U.S. citizens are even saving for retirement, writes Moss. “Very few people are prepared for the full retirement journey, and many don’t think they will ever be able to quit working,” he explains.

Here are the 10 habits that form the core of this humorous and well-written book.

Excellent money habits — $500K in savings

He writes that the happiest retirees “have $500,000 or more in savings, their mortgage payoff is complete (or at least in sight) and they have multiple streams of income.”

While $500,000 sounds like a lot of money, it is an attainable goal if you start young, he writes. He recommends that people save 20 per cent of their pre-retirement income.

“If you simply take $100 each month and invest it, assuming a 10 per cent return and that your investment compounds monthly, you’ll have a sweet $637,000 at the end of those four decades,” he writes. If 10 per cent returns seem high, Moss notes that the U.S. S&P index has averaged over seven per cent a year for the last 20 years.

Having more than one stream of income is key as well, he writes. For retirees, this could include “multiple pensions, (government retirement benefits), rental properties, investments, or part-time work.”

It’s essential to know in advance what your post-retirement income and expenses will be, so that that you can find, and fill, any gap between what’s coming in and what’s going out.

Curious and adventurous – at least three core pursuits

Moss writes that the happiest retirees have “3.6 core pursuits…. The unhappiest retirees only have 1.9.”

“Most of the core pursuits fell into four categories. There was part-time work, like teaching, consulting, and decorating. Then there was exercise and health – activities that included hiking, biking, swimming, walking and cooking. The arts were a big one, with painting, pottery, and music topping the list. And then there was adventure, such as travel, cruising, RVing, piloting and sailing.”

His list of Top 100 Core Pursuits includes yoga, tennis, golf, knitting, pickleball, skiing, joining social clubs, and much more.

Live close to independent kids who have their own homes

Moss writes that the happiest retirees live near their kids or grandkids, no more than two or three hours away.

He stresses, however, that the kids need to be independent – living away from home and on their own, without a lot of parental support. “Retirees were two times unhappier if their adult children still lived at home,” he writes. As well, “unhappy families average $714 a month in support of their 20-, 30, and 40-something-old `kids.’” The happier retirees spend less than $500 a month of their kids, he continues.

Times are tough these days, he concedes. As of September 2020, 52 per cent of young adults in the U.S. were “living with their parents… it’s the highest percentage since the Great Depression. No wonder parents are depressed.”

“If your children are not financially independent, you are 1.5 times more likely to be an unhappy retiree,” he warns.

They are married, and have either never been divorced, or divorced once

His research found that retirees who have never married, or have been divorced two or more times, are less happy in retirement than married couples where each partner has either never been divorced — or divorced only once.

You only get one do-over in marriage, Moss concludes.

They stay connected

Moss notes that the happiest among the retired are those with “at least three close connections/friendships.” Friends, he writes, “are a better happiness currency than money. You heard me correctly. Money can’t buy friends – but friends can buy happiness.”

You should see friends every month and belong to at least one group. An ideal way to merge the two concepts is to travel with friends.

They are healthy

“Happy retirees are fans on the `ings,’” he writes. This means “walking, swimming, biking, and hiking.” They “gravitate toward a healthy diet,” and enjoy a drink – particularly “white wine and gin.”

They have good home habits

“Happy retirees live in nice houses, but not McMansions,” Moss notes. “It’s OK to be comfortable. It’s less OK to have exotic zebras grazing on the 400-acre ecofarm you call home.”

They also tend to stay in the same neighbourhood, and “don’t downsize… this is a new habit gleaned from my most recent study. (They) don’t downsize into a smaller place, mainly because they anticipate their kids and grandkids will be coming home to visit.”

They also focus on paying off their mortgages first, not last. “It’s a surefire thing. Once that prodigious debt is off your shoulders, no one gets to take a four per cent bite out of your joy,” Moss notes.

They exhibit excellent investor behaviour

Moss writes that the happiest retirees invest more in stocks that pay dividends than bonds, and avoid trying to time the market and avoid short-term risks by taking a long view on investing. Their investment decisions are not “based on emotion… they are not fueled by fear. They take time to take stock (pun totally intended.”

They are, he says, careful when turning investments into retirement income, and on making sure they don’t run out of money in retirement through adherence to the “four per cent rule” on annual withdrawals.

They are masters of the middle

Happy retirees, Moss writes, are “smart spenders. Sure they may have had times in their lives when they were carrying a little too much credit card debt or struggling financially, But for the most part, they’ve prioritized saving over spending – and they don’t deprive themselves needlessly.”

The UROB (unhappy retirees) have a few characteristics as well, he writes, such as “the obsessing over money thing” and placing too much emphasis on status – a big house and a flashy car.

This is a different way to look at the whole retirement picture. We recommend that you find a place for this book in your retirement library.

If you are saving for retirement, as the book suggests, putting away a set percentage of your paycheque towards retirement is a smart way to pay your future self first.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan allows you to make pre-authorized contributions from your bank account. Alternatively, you can set up SPP as a bill in your online banking app and set up automatic, monthly SPP “bill” payments. The difference is that this will be a bill that pays you back.

Check out SPP today! And, in breaking news, SPP’s Variable Benefit is now available coast-to-coast-to-coast for all SPP members!

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.

Dec 7: Replace bad money habits with good ones: Money Strong by Liz Davidson

December 7, 2023

Money, writes author Liz Davidson, quoting from the lyrics of an old song by the O’Jays, “can drive some people out of their minds.”

But her book, Money Strong, provides a step-by-step way to put you in control of not only your money, but your life.

“When you gain control over your finances, you can ultimately spend your time doing what provides you with the most joy and fulfillment and make what Steve Jobs called `your own dent in the universe,’” she writes.

She runs through the “money stories” of her family. Her personal money axioms include an effort to “spend wisely and on things that really matter to you, ideally things that grow in value over time or that you feel are really important to your quality of life.”

Money, she adds, “is something you have to earn, and it really only counts if your own efforts generate it.”

She has developed what she brands as the START framework:

  • Set yourself up for success
  • Tackle your stress
  • Advance towards the life you want
  • Role model good financial habits
  • Thrive by living your purpose

OK, so how do we START?

The book is set up in modules to explain (using examples and worksheets) how to put all the principles of START in place.

Davidson says we need to establish “your financial identity” first. Are you an investor-type, “future oriented,” focused on the big picture? Or a bargain hunter who gets “a rush out of getting a deal” and have “both a love and a skill for negotiating?” Could you be a “minimalist” who cherishes “the moments with those you love above all else?” Or a planner who loves to-do lists, and to “arrange, communicate and follow plans?” Other financial identities covered off in the book include givers (who think of other people’s needs first) and automaters, who “set money aside for (their) future.”

You should commit to one of these identities and then plan accordingly, she advises.

An interesting chapter looks at the use of “bright spots” to move forward towards financial freedom. This is basically figuring out what’s gone right for you in the past for other things, and then “taking what worked for them to achieve success in other areas of… life and applying it to their finances.”

Examples of the use of a bright spot – “some people discovered they were at their best when they found ways to get perspective, remind themselves of their end goals, and find a way to track progress,” Davidson explains. Other “created a mantra they could keep front and centre of their mind to focus on the things they could control, and let go of those they couldn’t, sharing their mantra with their families and friends for accountability and reinforcement.”

So, figuring out what has worked for you in life, and then integrating it into your life and money plan. Interesting!

In a module on how to “tackle your financial stress,” Davidson advises us to “let go of shame and fully accept that you cannot change the past” when it comes to money. Become aware of what stresses you the most about finances, and develop a recovery plan that “is realistic… (and) trackable, so that you can see your progress and feel a sense of both accomplishment and relief, which will keep you motivated to continue the plan.”

High interest debt needs to be eliminated systematically. She suggests breaking up debt repayment into small, “to-do” list steps that can be celebrated as they are completed. Once you have cleared up your debt, build an emergency fund (start small) and avoid going back into debt. “If possible, use your credit cards sparingly… and use a debit card instead for all purchases you make at stores,” she suggests.

It’s hard to do justice to a book this detailed in a short review, but the short-form takeaway is that you can leverage things that work for you in other facets of life to develop a plan to regain control of your money – and with that control, you will be able to focus on what you want to do rather than on the struggle of staying afloat.

We particularly liked the example of replacing bad habits with good ones – she cites the example of replacing drinking after a hard day at the office with dancing, something she loves to do. Change a bad spending habit for a good one, and things will look after themselves.

It’s a good habit to put away money for your future – a time when you may not be able to work as hard. If you don’t have a pension program at work, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be just the partner you’ve been looking for. Let SPP invest your savings in a low-cost, professionally managed pooled fund, and at the end of work, SPP will provide you with retirement income options, including a stable of annuities and the flexible Variable Benefit option.

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.

Book reviews both traditional and modern investment categories, approaches

November 20, 2023

When a younger golf buddy sat us down to explain cryptocurrencies and fintech investing, a sort of grey mist seemed to form in our mind, and we strained at an imaginary leash to get back to golfing.

But The Canadian’s Guide to Modern Investing by Kiana Daniel and others clearly explains the pros and cons of these and other newer investments and approaches in a clear, easy to follow, mist-free way.

The book starts out by explaining that any investor, no matter what they choose to invest in, should be a saver first.

“One thing online investing can’t do is make something out of nothing,” the book explains. To invest, you must save money first, the book continues, adding “don’t get frustrated, though, because you don’t need as much to get started as you might fear. If you have a job or source of income, building up ample seed money isn’t too hard.”

The book says automatic withdrawals, workplace retirement plans, and making sure you put any left-over money “to work for you” (and not lying around) are ways to build savings.

In a section on figuring out how much risk you, as an investor, are prepared to take, the book recommends asset allocation. “Instead of tossing all sorts of ingredients into your portfolio pot and guessing what it will taste like, it’s best to know what needs to go into the pot to get what you want. In investing, this is called an asset allocation.”

Asset allocation’s advantages include the safety of diversification (not all eggs are in one basket), rebalancing (sticking with an asset mix and adjusting things when an asset gains or loses’), and discipline – sticking with your asset allocation choice, such as 70 per cent equity and 30 per cent stock, for example.

After talking about passive investing (index funds and mutual funds) versus active investing (doing research yourself and picking specific stocks, exchange-traded funds, bonds, and other investments), we learn about the importance of fees.

ETFs and index funds generally have far lower fees than mutual funds, the book states.

“In the world of index funds, the expenses are much lower…. Many of the more traditional ETFs cost no more than 0.06 per cent a year in management fees.” In the U.S. at least, the book says, some ETFs have no fees.

In a look at cryptocurrency investing, we learn that crypto is not an “everyday government-based currency” but one that relies “on a technology called blockchain, which is decentralized (meaning no single entity is in charge of it). Instead, every computer in the network confirms the transactions.”

A chief advantage crypto has, the book states, is that “with traditional money, every time you make a transfer, a middleman like your bank or a digital payment service takes a cut. With cryptocurrencies, all the network members in the blockchain are that middleman; their compensation is formulated differently from that of fit money middlemen’s and therefore, is minimal in comparison.”

The book warns that crypto can be very volatile, noting that in 2017, the value of crypto “skyrocketed above 1,000 per cent and then came crashing down.”

The book then takes a look at “fintech,” defined as “all parts of technology that help provide financial services and products to customers… individuals, companies, or government.”

Broadly speaking, the category consists of “capital markets tech,” where newer tech like artificial intelligence, machine learnings and blockchain is involved in investing; “wealthtech” which involves the use of digital tools for personal and professional wealth management and investing, “insurtech” which is insurance technology and “regtech” where regulatory challenges are addressed through automation.

While all of the new firms in these categories are definitely new and exciting, investors should use caution, the book advises.

“No matter how `new’ or `innovative’ any technology or offering (fintech or otherwise), always pay attention to the fundamentals of the company,” the book warns. “This means focusing on the company’s sales and net profits and a solid balance sheet…. If the company is profitable year after year, that’s the hallmark of a strong investment.”

A chapter on cannabis investing says that this relatively new category does offer investors the chance “to invest in a new industry.” But, the book warns, do your homework. There has been a lot of money flowing into the new industry which means that “even legitimate cannabis stocks are overvalued,” and growth in the sector could lead to the “commoditization” of cannabis, where the product “becomes indistinguishable from other similar products” and prices drop, as is the case with most agricultural crops.

The book concludes on more familiar ground, comparing “value investing,” where you buy stocks in companies that appear undervalued “and worth more than their share price indicates,” as well as growth investing (buying small companies in the hopes they grow larger), income investing (focusing on holdings that pay interest and dividends) and “investing in what you know.” There’s a chapter on ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing, where the goal is to invest in companies that respect the environment, do good for society, and are well run for their people.

Phew. There’s a lot here in this relatively tiny book!

The takeaway we had from reading it was this – there are many different things you can invest in. Some are risky, others, less so. Before you invest in anything, it is important to do your homework and know if the thing you’re buying into is well run and has a solid track record. Develop an approach and stick to it – be patient.

Alternatively, if you are investing for retirement and would rather focus on something else, perhaps golf, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be worth checking out. SPP’s investment professionals will grow your savings for you, with a diversified, pooled fund that is run at a very low cost. When work is in the rear-view mirror, SPP will help you convert your savings into retirement income, including the option of receiving a lifetime monthly annuity payment based on some or all of your savings.

Great news! SPP’s flexible Variable Benefit option is no longer limited to those members living within the borders of Saskatchewan. Now all retiring SPP members across the country can take advantage of this provision, which puts you in control of how much income you want to withdraw, and when you want to withdraw it. You can also transfer in additional savings from other unlocked registered sources. For full details see

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.

Discovering who you are when you don’t work — Retirement Reinvention

October 19, 2023

Robin Ryan’s book Retirement Reinvention is key reading for any of us — once out of the workforce — who are struggling to figure out what to do with all the time. It all requires a plan.

First, she notes, the act of retiring itself isn’t always a planned thing. It’s one of four reasons “retirement can happen,” she writes — a choice, made on your own terms, or “you are burned-out, dislike, or just done with your current career, so you quit.” The other two reasons are “your career quits you because of outdated skills and/or your age,” or you are “`forced’ to retire because the company wants you gone.”

So if you have landed in the post-work reality, she writes, “the comfort of that (past) identity is lost, along with the work community you’ve been immersed in.” That’s where a plan comes in, she continues.

You need to think about, she writes:

  • “What about my identity? Who will I be?
  • What about my desire to be productive and important in my own eyes?
  • What about my emotional well-being?
  • Who will I hang out with?
  • What will do with another twenty or thirty years still to live?”

The book addresses these key questions in a well-written, example-laden way, complete with worksheets, and recommends that you plan retirement as well, or better, than you planned your work career. This is not a financial plan, but a life after work plan, the book explains.

Ryan notes that a lot of people just think retirement will be like vacation. They’ll play tennis, or golf, or lie on the beach.

“That plan, then, is to do nothing. The trouble with doing nothing is that you never know when you’re done! There is so much more to consider. How will you contribute? What will you learn? Whom will you teach? You’ll have plenty of time to lie on the beach, but you will also need to think about how you will nourish your soul.”

For those of us who just can’t visualize new things to try, she includes a detailed two-page list that includes things like dancing, dating, home brewing beer, pets, philanthropy, wine tasting and yoga.

In a chapter for those thinking of relocating when they retire, she advises that “moving quickly can be a serious mistake… if you think you want to move to be near family and grandchildren, maybe a dry run, such as renting nearby for a year, is a good way to start.” Many boomers “regret the move afterward,” she warns.

In a chapter on retirement spending, she notes that retirees spend more in their sixties than in their seventies, eighties and nineties. “This makes sense, as people in their sixties are more active and likely to do more travelling, and to enjoy sports and entertainment, and thus spend more,” she writes.

However, she continues, while a rule of thumb is that your retirement income should be around 80 per cent of what you were earning prior to retiring, “Money magazine warns that new research on household spending after retirement shows there is no predictable pattern… some households spend more — way more — than they did before retirement.”

Housing costs can increase in retirement for those of us who “maintain, rather than pay off,” their mortgages, she notes. Those retirees who are frugal tend to be able to live on 80 per cent of what they made before retiring, she adds. So, you do need to pay attention to your spending and living within your means, the book says.

Many retirees don’t want to try new things, which is one of several obstacles to a successful retirement.

“People over 60 can be very good at finding the negative, making an excuse or setting up an obstacle that they’ve put in their own way. Instead of seeing that a new activity, service or job could be fun and introduce them to new people and expand their world, they only see what might be wrong with it. You must approach retirement with an `I can do it’ attitude. That is imperative. Be open and flexible. Look for opportunities — they are all around if you look for them,” she writes.

Isolation is a danger as we age, she writes. We need to “make new friends and reconnect with the old.” Be a joiner, she advises — book club, card groups, any community group may be of interest. Rekindle old friendships via Facebook. And if there’s nothing out there to join, start something, she writes. “Dinner groups… (and) movie nights are very popular,” she writes, adding that knitting groups and poker nights can also be fun. “Don’t wait for the group or activity to find you — look for people and invite them to join you,” she writes.

She concludes by advising readers to “be flexible. Your plan is just a plan. You can alter it, and you can add in new things as you test drive them. You may meet new people who take you on new adventures. If you try something and it’s not great for you, don’t do it again. Make sure any volunteer work feels rewarding. Most of all, enjoy your days!”

This is a great book. As George Harrison once sang, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” As retirees ourselves, we found joining local line dancing classes — an activity neither of us had ever done before — has indeed created many new friendships, and adventures. We were on a line dancing bus trip to Nashville last year, and are going on a line dancing cruise next year. Who knew we would like line dancing? We sure didn’t, but we do now.

An important consideration for retirement is saving up for it. If you don’t have a workplace pension plan, have a good look at the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. It’s a voluntary, defined contribution pension plan — you decide how much to save, and SPP looks after the heavy lifting of investing those savings via a professionally run, low cost pooled fund. When it’s time to try something new in retirement, SPP help you turn savings into income, including the option of a lifetime monthly annuity payment. 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.

Retirement needs a map, just as travelling needs a GPS: The Art of Retirement

September 21, 2023

For any of us, at any age, who are thinking about retirement, The Art of Retirement by Anthony Gordon is a must-have retirement reference book.

The book begins by helping us reframe our relationship with our finances. Perhaps, the book suggests, quoting noted economist Moshe Milevsky, we need to think of ourselves as a corporation — “You Inc.”

In that role, your goal would be “to maximize your company’s value while minimizing the risks faced by your corporation… to take the long-term view when making financial decisions.”

After a discussion of the “Rule of 72,” the idea that “72 divided by the interest rate approximately determines how long it takes for your money to double,” Gordon notes that the earlier we start saving, the best. “You need to start saving and investing as soon as you get the chance,” he writes. “If you do not, you will not get the full benefit of compound interest and the Rule of 72, so missing a year has a significant impact in the long run.” Think of your early investment “as a small snowball that gradually grows,” so long as you get the ball rolling.

He quotes the great Albert Einstein as once saying “he who understands interest, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.”

Gordon advises that as you save for retirement, you want to “keep track of your debt. If you ignore debt, you will not be on track for your retirement even if you have a lot of investments.” Compound interest works against you when it’s being applied to debt, he warns.

Writing about retirement income planning, he advises us all to find out what your “guaranteed income streams” are going to be — this can be Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS), the Guaranteed Income Supplement,” or income from an annuity.

Then you need to think about how much you will need to withdraw from other personal savings — registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) or Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs). Next, look into ways to minimize taxes — then, you will have a picture of your future retirement income.

If you are running your own investments, be aware that “as humans, our erratic emotions and actions are rooted in psychological forces that drive most of the poor results that investors experience in the market,” Gordon writes. Quoting legendary investor Warren Buffett, he writes that “to invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ, unusual business insight or inside information. What is needed is a sound intellectual framework for decisions and the ability to keep emotions from corroding the framework.”

A key tool in developing such a framework, he writes, is having a financial plan.

Such a plan, he continues, should list all assets and liabilities, establish written goals based on “your values and your vision,” and should detail how much you will need “now, five and 10 years from now, as well as in retirement. Plan for inflation and taxes,” he writes.

Use the plan to decrease expenses, and to become fully aware of your monthly cash flow needs. You should look for ways “to reduce or defer income taxes where possible,” and plan your estate, including “wills, powers of attorney, and life insurance.”

Review your plan at least once a year — keep a copy of it handy if you are working with investment or legal professionals, he writes.

Other interesting discussions in this well-written book include a section on how to take advantage of a TFSA when you are retired.

Money invested in a TFSA, and later withdrawn, has no impact on your eligibility for “federal income-tested benefits.” A TFSA passes tax free to your estate, and you can contribute to a TFSA well past age 71 when you are fully retired, he writes. “Overall, the TFSA is a great tool that will allow you to better manage your taxable income so you do not have to withdraw additional funds from your registered retirement income fund (RRIF),” he writes.

In a chapter devoted to minimizing taxation, he talks about CPP splitting and pension income splitting, and some of the tax benefits an annuity can provide.

While noting annuities aren’t for everyone, Gordon writes that they provide a guaranteed payment for life and usually provides “a much higher rate of return than if you had received money from a guaranteed income certificate.” The book concludes with a detailed look at estate planning and the importance of having a will.

Once you are actually retired, you will notice that some fellow retirees are managing better than others. This probably isn’t by fluke. The ones who travel the most, or have cabins or campers, are almost certainly the ones who put some thought into what retirement would look like many years earlier. The rest of the gang have to manage on what they’ve got to live on.

If you don’t have a pension plan through work, don’t worry — the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is open to all Canadians with RRSP room. You can decide how much to contribute, and they’ll look after the heavy lifting of investing. At retirement, SPP offers the option of a lifetime annuity — a monthly payment you’ll get for the rest of your life — to help make your retirement income predictable and secure. 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.

Our ability to adapt to life’s challenges is our superpower: Healthy No Matter What

August 3, 2023

In Healthy No Matter What, authors Dr. Alex Jadad and his daughter Tamen Jadad-Garcia make the fascinating argument that our “natural gift of adaptation” is a form of superpower, one that can help us live a healthy life despite the many challenges we face.

They note that health self-assessment — in which you are asked if your health is excellent, very good, good, fair or poor — has led to some “groundbreaking” findings.

Those who are positive about their health tend to be healthy, the book explains. But those who negatively self-assess their health “have twice the risk of premature death than someone who rates their health as positive,” and tend to live at least 23 years less than those who say their health is excellent, the book notes, citing U.S. research.

The book takes a detailed look on why some of us live longer than others, and much of the focus is on our ability (or lack of ability) to handle stress.

A chapter on “Toxic Stress Load” or TSL explains that stress plays a key role “in how long and healthy your life could be.” TSL refers to “the physical and psychological reaction of a person to long-term threatening situations or events, especially those that start in early childhood… the wear and tear your experience from grinding through life.”

Wealthier people tend to have less stress and lead longer lives, the book notes.

“In 2021, the female citizens of Monaco had a life expectancy of 93.4 years. At the time, their home country had a Gross Domestic Product of more than $190,000 per capita (U.S. dollars), with the fourth lowest infant mortality rate, the 10th most powerful passport in the world, and zero homicides per year from 2007 to 2018,” the book says.

Another long-lived group are those who live in “Blue Zones,” such as Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy, Icaria, Greece and other locations. “Apart from being isolated places, with communities that draw from a somewhat related genetic pool, the Blue Zones are all places that encourage physical activity in natural settings.” Those living there “put their family ahead of other priorities, have a clear life purpose, have low rates of smoking, drink alcohol in moderation,” and eat healthy diets and engage in stress-reducing activities, the authors note.

Research on those living to 100 and beyond found “a tendency to react with low anxiety to stressful situations” and eating smaller portions of food, the book notes.

In the chapter “You Are What You Think,” we learn that money is “the main source of psychological stress for people in the richest country in the history of the world,” the U.S.

Research from south of the border found that “financial concerns have trumped health, family and work as the main source… of stress for Americans since 2007.” Having “insufficient savings for retirement (51 per cent) and excessive debt (30 per cent) are listed as the top two money concerns, the book explains.

A startling stat from the book is that 52 per cent of Americans under 40 are “more afraid of retirement than death,” even though they have two decades ahead of them to save for retirement.

The book lays out ways to overcome stress and fear about life events. The “BASK” acronym refers to Behavioural tasks, Attitude Changes, Skill Development, and Knowledge Acquisition.

Exercise, the book explains, is an antidote to anxiety. Yoga is another.

Optimism is also cited as a natural way to defend against anxiety. “Optimists tend to engage more often than pessimists in healthy behaviours such as exercising and eating nutritious diets, and they are less likely to smoke or drink alcohol in excess. Optimism is also associated with proactive strategies that can improve adaptability, including problem-focused coping and seeking social support…as well as with better psychological and physical function later in life.”

A later chapter looks at the value of friendship, “the single most important factor influencing our health, well-being, and happiness.”

We need to watch out for negative behaviours, the book warns, since “negatives attract.” A U.S. study found that “72 per cent of adults report having at least one unhealthy behaviour or avoidable risk factor, including insufficient sleep, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking or excessive drinking” had double the risk for premature death than those without such behaviours. Compulsive buying and binge eating were said to be the top two negatives to watch out for.

The book concludes with a chapter on how to get the most out of doctor visits by being a “good patient” and making sure you get answers to all your questions.

There is a lot of ground covered in this interesting read, but the message that comes through is that there is a lot of non-medical things we can do to stay healthier, better connected, and more focused — and together, a better attitude and handling life’s stresses will help us live longer and better lives.

Are you stressed about retirement? If you haven’t started saving for your post-work life, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be just what you’ve been looking for. SPP takes on the hard part of retirement saving, which is investing your contributions in today’s tricky markets, and growing them for your future. When it’s time to collect those dollars, SPP offers a full range of options including the possibility of a lifetime annuity. Don’t stress about retirement — 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.

Become a `doer’ and any goal can be achieved: The Power of Discipline

July 6, 2023

We all make New Year’s Resolutions, writes Daniel Walter in The Power of Discipline.

But, he continues, “how many of them are ever accomplished… why is it that the majority of us are incapable of sticking to anything worthwhile? The answer is a simple one — a lack of self-discipline.”

This thought-provoking book then sets out ways you can develop and grow your own self-discipline. There’s a lot of ground covered here, so we’ll concentrate on some of the things we felt were key learnings.

Daniel says that establishing a bedtime routine — one that is free of distracting mobile devices and the like — will improve your sleep, allowing you to wake up early and energized, instead of tiredly slamming the “snooze” button.

Some of the characteristics of those who naturally have self-discipline — a skill the author asserts can be developed by anyone — include “delayed gratification,” or being able to be patient, have mental focus, and the ability to avoid “willpower fatigue” by protecting this important skill.

“The best way to build self-discipline is to remove yourself from temptation. For example, if you are struggling with your diet, replace your cupboard of unhealthy foods with healthy choices and meals,” he writes. Skip the sugary snack aisle at the grocery and head to the healthy food aisle, he adds. “By using these strategies, your willpower is only tested during the time you spend in the store, as opposed to trying to resist the temptation to eat your stash of cookies in the cupboard every evening over and over again,” Daniel explains.

Someone with self-discipline, he writes, can build better relationships simply by doing what they say they are going to do. “A person with self-discipline is going to live by their word; if you ask them to keep a secret, they will.” You’ll also stop taking criticism (even the constructive kind) as “an attack on (your) character” and will handle, and even value it, “because it pushes you to become better.”

Daniel says there are some factors to overcome in building one’s self-discipline. Humans, he writes, have a “status quo” bias that makes us “cling to what we are familiar with instead of reach for the unknown.” We worry about the costs of changes like moving to a nicer home or getting married, he continues. We fear regret — “no one wants to make a change and then regret it,” he writes. And just being exposed to things that are a certain way may make us think that “it may not be exactly what we want, but it will do.”

Daniel says we need to understand what we are good at, and what we are not good at — and for the latter, you must be “willing to accept constructive criticism.” This way, you won’t “live in ignorance about your deficiencies,” he explains.

You can build up those skills through taking courses, and also through associating “with people who are further ahead than you are in the speciality in which you wish to gain competence,” Daniel writes.

Daniel writes at length about the power of morning meditation, and encourages people to become readers (“readers are leaders”).

If you are feeling frozen by a “high-stress situation” consider “box breathing,” which is “taking a series of breaths for four seconds at a time — they breathe in, hold their breath, and then breathe out.” Navy SEALs in the US use this technique to slow down their heart rate to normal, when facing stress.

If you are a procrastinator, consider setting deadlines for yourself to put a little pressure on to finish a task. On the other hand, don’t be an overplanner either. “The key is to start working on your project and figure out the details as you go,” Daniel writes.

We liked the section on urges. Instead of thinking “I want a piece of cake,” think that you have an urge to eat cake, Daniel writes. “In this way, you are not fighting yourself, but the sensation you are feeling,” and you may be able to outwait the urge in 20-30 minutes.

There is a lot more great stuff in this well written tome, and if you are having trouble getting going on some sort of personal project, whether it’s losing weight, saving up to buy a home, or looking to get ahead at work, this book is well worth looking at.

A lot of us know we should save for retirement, but don’t know quite how to go about it. Rather than not getting started, why not look into an entity — the Saskatchewan Pension Plan — that specializes in retirement saving? SPP can help you make retirement saving automatic through pre-authorized contributions. They’ll take on the tricky job of navigating roiling markets and growing your money, and when it is time to collect retirement income, SPP has a number of options for you, including the chance of a lifetime monthly annuity payment. Check out SPP today!

Book blends humour and insight about life after work

June 22, 2023

For those of us in the workforce, retirement is something you tend not to think about until it is looming around the corner — and even then, most of us have no idea what to expect.

Kate Freeman’s The Little Instruction Book for Retirement is designed exactly for that audience, and delivers a nice preview of life after work with pithy little quotes and cute illustrations from Ian Baker.

Retirement, the book explains, means “it’s time to celebrate the end of an era — and the start of a whole new one.”

It will be a different reality, the book adds, making the “transition from working life to retirement,” so you may want to hold “a `morning meeting’ every day to brief the household on the day’s events.” (Not really — the illustration shows an older guy with a clipboard announcing the day’s events to his pet goldfish.)

There’s really no need to be tied to an agenda in the same way you were at work because, the book explains, “days of the week now have no bearing on your life whatsoever — every day is the weekend!”

In fact, the book advises, “you must now make household chores take at least three times longer than when you were holding down a full-time job, just to fill some time.”

Well, maybe not quite. But there’s time to do more, and time to do less.

“While there’s no longer any need to dress smartly every day, you should probably still get dressed, at least sometimes,” the book advises, with a drawing showing a happy retiree pushing a shopping cart while wearing PJ bottoms and slippers.

The book suggests that if you miss work colleagues, or work itself, consider volunteering to “become a pillar of your local community.” There will be lots of work-like meetings, the book promises.

You will get more time with your partner, the book adds. “After years of seeing each other only briefly, you can now finally get to know your partners, as you have plenty of unbroken time to spend together.”

Retirement is a good time to take up new things. You can get a new pet, can take up “all the hobbies,” binge watch all the Netflix shows you never had time to see, or tackle home improvements. Or, the book advises, just play.

“When you grew up, you put away childish things. Frankly, it’s way past time to get them out again,” the book tells us.

This is a fun book, and Save with SPP can attest to some of the instructions outlined here. It’s true that every day feels like it’s the weekend, and you lose track of statutory holidays because you’re essentially always on holiday. You will miss colleagues, so the book is correct in urging you to try new things and join new groups. It’s well worth a read.

Life after work requires income, because one change that is a bit rough to get used to going from a steady paycheque every couple of weeks to once-a-month pensions. If you don’t have a pension plan at work, and are saving on your own for retirement, consider the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.

It’s open to any Canadian with registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) room. You can contribute any amount (up to your available RRSP room) to SPP each year, and also can transfer in any amount from your other RRSPs to consolidate and build your retirement nest egg. SPP will grow your savings using low-cost professional management in a pooled fund — and when it’s time to tick off things on your bucket list, SPP has multiple ways to help turn your savings into an income stream. 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.