Book Reviews

The Sleep-Easy Retirement Guide takes some of the surprises out of life after work

December 31, 2020

If there’s one thing that working Canadians can’t quite grasp with their imagination, it’s what things will be like when they step away from full-time work.

David Aston’s The Sleep-Easy Retirement Guide is a great and refreshingly Canadian-focused look at what lies ahead – and what you need to think about to ensure you make the best of it.

The book begins by noting that the old days of “full-stop” retirement at 65 are gone. “You can retire much earlier than 65 or much later. You can leave work full-stop, or you can work in a second career, or you can work as little or as much as you want or need to with part-time employment or on contract,” he writes. You can also start a business or just go for “the traditional retirement of leisure.”

So saving, Aston writes, is a bit tricky, because you normally start saving “many years ahead of when you will have a clear picture of what your financial demands will be in retirement.”

Aston sees three “paths” for retirement savings. The “Steady Eddie” approach involves saving “at a constant rate throughout your working life.” If a 25-year-old put 10 per cent of his or her salary into retirement savings annually for 40 years, there would be $1 million in the nest egg at age 65.

Other approaches give you the same result – a “gradual ramp up” means you start at six per cent per year and increase to 30 per cent for the 25 years before age 65. Or, there’s the “mortgage first, save later” approach where, after mortgage is done, you save 35 per cent of income for the 13 years left to retirement.

If working part-time, or at something different, is part of your “life after full-time work” plans, Aston provides a handy list of tips for older job-hunters, who may not have looked for work for a while. Among the tips are getting familiar with today’s more tech-focused approach to human resources, such as the use of Skype or FaceTime for interviews, and LinkedIn for shopping your resume around.

The book has many great chapters focused on decision points. Maybe you’re at age 65 with a reasonable stash of money in your RRSP. Aston’s detailed charts show how retiring at 68 instead can boost your annual cash flow by an impressive $11,360, thanks in part from holding off on withdrawals from savings and taking Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security benefits later.

Another set of tables looks at what couples and singles spend in retirement. For an average couple, here’s what goes out: $44,000 a year for shelter, mortgage, vehicles, groceries, health and dental, home and garden, clothing, communication, financial services and transportation. But wait, there’s more – they’ll spend a further $16,400 on “the extras,” which include recreation and entertainment, restaurants and alcohol, a second home, travel, pets, gifts and charities, and miscellaneous perks.

Aston says an important concept is to have a “sustainable withdrawal rate” from savings, so that you don’t run out. He recommends taking four per cent out of your savings each year, if you start at age 65. The four per cent figure assumes “a blend of both investment returns and drawdown of principal.”

If you don’t want to risk running out of savings, Aston says an annuity may be for you. “An annuity gives you the opportunity to purchase your own defined-benefit pension plan,” he explains. They “are an ideal product for many middle-class Canadians who are concerned about outliving their wealth,” Aston adds.

This well-written, thorough and very informative book ends with some very good advice. “Behind the goal of a life well lived,” writes Aston, “it helps to have the support of finances well-managed.”

Did you know that Saskatchewan Pension Plan members have the option of receiving their savings in the form of a lifetime annuity? The annuity delivers you a payment that stays the same, and lands in your bank account every month for the rest of your life. And, depending on what annuity option you pick, it can continue on to your surviving spouse. Not an SPP member yet? Check their website and find out how you can sign up!

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.

Nov 23: Best from the blogosphere

November 23, 2020

An old idea makes a comeback – annuities

An investment idea for retirees that you don’t hear about as often as you used to seems to be making a comeback.

A recent article in Investment Executive suggests that today’s volatile markets and uncertain economy may be perfect conditions for some of us to consider buying annuities.

An annuity is a product you purchase with all or part of your retirement savings. Once purchased, the annuity pays you a monthly amount for the rest of your life – a guaranteed amount that doesn’t change, even if markets decline. They were much more common decades ago when interest rates were high.

“Annuities are one of the best ways to plan for retirement if you are worried about volatility in the market, feel you will run out of money before you die and do not want to manage the investments,” states Markham, Ont. financial planner Ahilan Balachandran in the Investment Executive article.

He does point out that the current low-interest rate environment is not generally favourable for annuity purchases, since you basically “lock in” at a low interest rate. Annuities provide higher payouts when interest rates are higher, he explains in the article.

But it’s not all about interest rates, points out another financial expert.

“After 35 years of being in the business of selling annuities, I conclude that rates are not the primary consideration for a person to purchase an annuity,” states White Rock, B.C. annuity broker John Beaton in the article. “People are not as worried about interest rates as they are about establishing a lifetime stream of income.”

He tells Investment Executive that annuities offer “peace of mind” for retirees.

“Some people understand that a time will come when they will suffer from diminished capacity to handle their affairs. Not having to worry about how things will be paid is more important,” Beaton tells the magazine.

And Burlington, Ont. investment advisor Jim Ruta says while interest rates may be low, there are other reasons to think of an annuity.

Now that markets are so uncertain, he states in the article, “you can guarantee yourself a multiple of what interest rates are with an annuity.”

This is a somewhat complex topic. We tend to confuse retirement savings with wealth generation – for many of us, our retirement savings are the biggest chunk of cash we have. It’s never easy to think about trading some or all of that nest egg for the security of a monthly, set income.

But an annuity is a way to “pensionize” some of your savings. You saved all this money to provide future income, an annuity allows you to get a monthly pension – for life – from your savings. If you invest your retirement savings and draw it down each year, there’s a risk you can outlive that lump sum amount. That risk disappears if you have purchased an annuity.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) offers you a wide variety of annuity choices when the time comes to convert savings to an income stream. The SPP pensions page has details on SPP’s annuity options.

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.

Trade rocking chair for your best life, urge Victory Lap Retirement authors

November 19, 2020

Time was, write the authors of Victory Lap Retirement, that retirement meant “a few years of passive leisure” once you had put in 35 years on the job, a short period of time in the rocking chair since most retirees in the old days “were not in robust enough health to partake in active leisure.”

Now that we are living longer and in better health, authors Mike Drak, Rob Morrison and Jonathan Chevreau think we should create a new stage of life between work and full retirement, which they are calling the “Victory Lap.”

“In your Victory Lap, you continue to work, but you have the luxury of choosing to do only work that gives you what you want. Money and security are no longer the main motivators, because achieving financial independence has finally allowed you to make a change in your priorities,” they write. So the Victory Lap, they explain, is a “period of freedom… living like a kid for as long as possible and squeezing every ounce out of life.”

The three authors say that “instrumental” factors in the quest for the Victory Lap are:

  • Maintaining your physical and mental health
  • Adopting a positive attitude
  • Ensuring that your financial plan is aligned with your life plan

This well-thought-out book challenges some of our long-held beliefs about work and money. Why, the authors ask, do we allow ourselves to become so financially dependent on our jobs and salary? Why are we “driven into complete economic dependency through debt, new family needs and consumerism… salaries and bonuses may keep racing, but lifestyle inflation outpaces them, resulting in more consumption and more debt.” We work on, “unhappy… and suffering,” the book warns.

An escape plan, the authors suggest, is necessary. “A full-stop retirement is not the best way to go… instead, we should be focusing our efforts on making a great life while we still have the time.”

A “Victory Lap” approach frees you from the rat race, “to start over and design a new life for yourself, without being limited by your job or responsibilities to others.” Turn your paycheck “into a playcheck,” the book tells us – that’s the difference when you have financial independence. See purpose in life over money.

“In Victory Lap Retirement the goal is to achieve a simpler, more balanced lifestyle… look for work that combines personal meaning and social purpose,” the authors note.

They see two good approaches to leaving the full-time world of work. The Glidepath Strategy is for those “who like what they do, but just want to do less of it.” By working part time or casually you may be able to continue on into your seventies and eighties, the book suggests.

The other route to go is the Passion/Hobby Strategy, for those who want “to venture outside their comfort zone and take a swing for the fences.” Moving from data analytics to making custom furniture, teaching to captaining a fishing boat, or from finance to selling wine are examples, the book explains.

Save with SPP (unsurprisingly) was interested in the chapters on saving, and the book does not disappoint. Funding the Victory Lap Retirement starts with saving enough “to replace upwards of 70 to 80 per cent of your current income,” and the book recommends a gradual transition to retirement “while continuing to generate some level of active (work) income.”

This active income can be a huge help if you are not fortunate enough to have a pension from work. “The active income you earn in Your Victory Lap can function much like a pension. Even if this income stream covers only 15 to 20 per cent of your overall spending, it is a separate source of income that… lessens your dependence on your other sources.”

Think as well about your “decumulation strategy,” turning your savings into income. The book says you should think about drawing down from non-registered savings before you crack into your registered money, and of delaying the start of Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security benefits until age 70.

The book concludes by contrasting people who lived the life of their dreams to those who laboured for decades in jobs they didn’t like, adding that few people late in life say “I wish I’d made more money” or owned more things.

This is a great, and “outside the box” way to look at life after work, one that would make a great addition to anyone’s library.

Living your dreams after work is done is a terrific goal. If you don’t have a workplace pension plan, you’ll need to rely on your own savings to fund that future. One option could be the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. You can contribute in many ways – online, through automatic deposit, and even by credit card – and the cash you contribute is carefully invested for the future. There’s even an option for employers to offer the Plan as employee benefit.  When it’s time to do new things, SPP can turn those savings into income that lasts as long as you do. Why not check out SPP today?

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

Book helps you be the author of your own retirement bucket list

October 29, 2020

While there’s no doubt that Sarah Billington’s The Ultimate Retirement Bucket List is well-written, it has a feature that few other books on the topic have. With this book, you are essentially a co-author, and it’s you who fleshes out the details on your own retirement bucket list.

Billington starts by noting that while retirement does indeed mean you are getting older, “don’t let it hold you back. Age is just a number if you take care of your body and mind.”

Then the co-authoring begins – a little questionnaire asks about your passions, your skills, and new things you’d like to learn. It asks you what you’d like to do more, and importantly, what you’d like to do less.

The Fun and Leisure chapter asks you to list books you’d like to read, movies and TV shows you want to “see or binge-watch,” recipes to cook and new pursuits to try.

The Travel Adventures Near and Far section sets out local attractions you’d like to see, restaurants you’d like to dine at, festivals and events to attend, and day trips to take.

The Common Deathbed Regrets chapter asks you to list any “relationships to repair,” and people you’ve lost touch with, folks you should visit and birthday cards you should send. We liked the advice in the Relationships chapter to jot down people “to spend more time with” and “people to spend less time with.”

On that latter group, Billington notes that “if there are people you find drain you, or bring you down, or take up too much of your time or emotional space, write their names down here. Silently thank them for the memories you shared together, wish them well, and mentally let them go to make room for those who fulfill you.” A wise sentiment, that.

Other chapters cover Healthy Habits – those to change, and those to adopt. There’s advice on Mental Health including the need to let regrets go and practice mindfulness. There’s a chapter on Creating Purpose.

At the end of this interactive book you will have created a handy list of all the things you want to do, plus a few you don’t want to do. It’s a reference manual – rather than thinking up new things to do with all the extra time you’ll have, you capture the ideas once and then can add/review/amend them going forward.

At the end, writes Billington, you have a bucket list “for a healthy and strong, adventurous, mind-expanding, fulfilling, playful, meditative, and meaningful retirement to help you expand your comfort zone so you can focus on and live the life you truly desire for the decades to come. Your retirement years are going to be your best ones yet.”

Those best years, of course, will be even better if you’ve saved for retirement along the way. If you don’t have a pension plan at work (or you do, but want to build additional savings) the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) may be just the ticket. It’s your personal retirement system – you contribute some cash during your working years, that money is invested and grown on your behalf, and at retirement, SPP provides you with options on how to turn the invested savings into a lifetime income stream. Why not check out SPP today?

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

Well-crafted book helps you prepare for life after work – Not Fade Away, by Celia Dodd

October 8, 2020

The book Not Fade Away by Celia Dodd is a retirement book that’s not brimming with charts and tables and heavy investment advice. This well-written and thoughtful book focuses more on the key decisions you’ll face on the road to your own retirement plan.

Retirement, she writes, can be hard for many of us, like leaving home, we are leaving work for perhaps the first time. “Why do people feel lost, overwhelmed, and even depressed without it? It’s almost as if we are addicted to work… work is such a big part of our lives for such a long time that it’s hard to leave it behind,” Dodd notes.

She provides a list of the things we worry about when thinking of retirement:

  • Health
  • Money
  • Relationship with partner
  • Loss of identity/self-esteem/confidence
  • Boredom and lack of purpose
  • Lack of structure
  • Loss of skills (because they are not being used)

With those thoughts in mind, Dodd points out that retirement is not like an on-off switch; there are several ways to approach it. There’s the traditional “cliff edge” approach, full retirement from all work; there is “phased retirement through a reduced workload with your existing employer,” or “phased retirement through new part-time work or becoming self-employed.”

All these roads (for many of us) eventually lead to full retirement – no work at all. Dodd advises us to try and “think about what an average weekday (in retirement) would ideally be like once the honeymoon period is over.” Jot this down, she says, and be specific.

Think about how you handled “previous transitions in your life,” or how you spent any really long holidays.

“Think about what you’re going to miss most about work and how you might recreate it: water cooler moments? Mental challenge? Working in a team? Commuting?” Dodd assures us that some people actually do miss the trip to work.

Take note of the things you enjoy both at work and in your spare time, talk to retired friends, and if you’re planning to volunteer or start a business, find out “what skills and qualifications you might need,” she writes, adding that we should also consider “untravelled roads,” things we once liked to do, or wanted to do, but aren’t doing.

When you are more separated from full-time work, Dodd writes, consider the “ingredients for fulfillment” in life, such as “activities that nurture you: walking, listening to or playing music and practising yoga.”

It’s important to meet up with old friends, she writes, but as important to meet new ones, “and take part in activities in a group.”

Ideally you should find activities you can “lose yourself in,” keep your brain sharp, stay challenged, have a sense of achievement, and “an overarching sense of purpose – long-term goals that incorporate short-term goals.”

The book offers many more thought-provoking ideas, including some basic tips about retirement income, such as making sure you are getting correctly taxed, breaking habits (like being generous) if you can no longer afford them, and to spend money “on experiences and socializing rather than material possessions.”

When this writer was planning to leave full-time work, it was very difficult to imagine what it would be like on the other side of the fence. This book is about as good as it gets when it comes to answering that question – and makes the point that there’s no such thing as a cookie cutter retirement, that it’s not always all about money, and that your own unique circumstances will define your retirement. Definitely worth a read!

No matter how your retirement unfolds, having a little more retirement income will be handy. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan can be part of your retirement income plan. You can contribute up to $6,300 per year to the plan, and expert investors will grow it for you at an extremely competitive low rate. When it’s time to fully or partially leave the workforce, those invested contributions can be converted to a lifetime income stream via SPP annuities. Take a minute to check it out on SPP’s website today.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

Keeping it simple makes your wealth plan elegant: JL Collins

September 3, 2020

No question about it, A Simple Plan to Wealth by JL Collins is ideally suited for those of us who “have better things to do with their precious time than think about money.”  This book grew out of a series of blog posts that were designed, in part, to enlighten the author’s kids, we are told. While a lot of the retirement saving messages are aimed at our friends south of the border, there is a lot of solid advice in these pages.

“Spend less than you earn – invest the surplus – avoid debt,” Collins begins. “Do simply this and you’ll wind up rich. Not just in money.” Collins adds that carrying debt “is as appealing as being covered with leeches and has much the same effect.”

Collins says even at age 13, he was a saver. “Watching my money grow was intoxicating.” And while savings first earmarked for a convertible ultimately were needed to pay for his college education, the important aspect of the story is having savings “in this fiscally insecure world.”

“To this day it stuns me to read about some middle-aged guy laid off from his job of 20 years and almost instantly broke. How does anyone let that happen? It is the result of failing to master money,” he writes.

Credit cards draw us in and then live in our pockets, he says. Early on, faced with a chance to put a $300 purchase on a credit card, he found that after paying the minimum he would owe 18 per cent on the balance of $290 that “they were hoping I’d let ride. What? Did these people think I was stupid,” he asks. But credit is not personal. “They think the same of all of us. And unfortunately, all too frequently they’re not wrong.”

Collins is a big proponent of stock investing, and notes that $12,000 invested in the U.S. S&P 500 in 1975 would be worth $1.07 million thirty years later. However, he says, most people lose money in the market because “we think we can time the market,” or “we believe we can pick individual stocks” or “winning mutual fund managers.”

Collins likes exchange-traded-funds (ETFs), specifically citing the Vanguard series. He also is quite aggressive in his personal portfolio mix – 75 per cent stocks, 20 per cent bonds, and five per cent cash, with stock and bond holdings all done via index ETFs. ETFs, he writes, have far lower fees than mutual funds, and there’s an argument for buying the entire index rather than trying to pick those stocks on it that are winners. He notes that Warren Buffett had similar advice for his shareholders – “put 10 per cent of cash in short-term government bonds and 90 per cent in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund.”

Collins is also a “four per cent rule” skeptic, saying it is safer to draw three per cent per year from your retirement savings in order to live well without running out of money. “Stray much further out than seven per cent and your future will include dining on dog food,” he warns.

The key message throughout this easy-to-digest book is to stick to the plan and live within your means. Nothing, he concludes, “is worth paying interest to own.”

Be sure to earmark retirement savings in your plan. As the book suggests, the longer your savings have to grow, the more they will. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan has averaged growth of more than eight per cent annually since its inception in the 1980s, and the fee charged is currently about one per cent. Get your savings growing for you and consider checking out SPP today.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

Dreams can be realized if you put the work in, book suggests

August 6, 2020

A glance at the title on the Indigo website – How to Retire Debt-Free & Wealthy – made this writer decide to add Christine Ibbotson’s book to our retirement library. What else, after all, could anyone want from their retirement?  What’s great about this book is that it illustrates the path you need to take to get there, and uses dozens of different anecdotal/testimonial trails to illustrate the key points.

Ibbotson starts by noting that “very few clients (she is a licensed financial and investment advisor, estate planner and tax specialist) entering retirement will want to compromise their current lifestyles, but will find it difficult to live on less income, especially if they still have a mortgage or outstanding debt.”

That’s seminal retirement advice, and the book builds on it.

A key part of the book is her five-step methodology to establishing what she calls “your core plan.”  Step one is debt elimination, she writes. No easy way out – the best step is to target one of your debts with extra payments, pay it off, and then go after the others. “Once all the debt is paid, you can use these new-found funds to start a savings program towards investing,” she says.

The second idea is one we’ve not seen before, specifically the idea that your “mortgage amortization should match the years left to your retirement.”

“If you are now 45, the amortization on your mortgage should be 20 years,” she explains. Why this idea is so smart is that it basically guarantees you will retire without a mortgage, which is usually the largest debt we Canadians carry. Carrying a mortgage when you have less money (because you are retired) is not always a lot of fun.

Other ideas in the five-step plan are to set up a daily cash journal and track all expenses (so you know where every nickel of your money is going), determining your total debt-servicing ratio, and to “explore ways to increase your wealth” once debt is out of the picture.

In one of the many examples in the book, 50-somethings “Tracie and Kyle” are able to get out of a debt quagmire by tracking and then dramatically slashing their discretionary spending, enabling them to live on one salary. Then, both added side gigs, their debts were addressed and eliminated, and their turnaround resulted in an education plan for the kids and retirement savings for themselves.

The experience turned great spenders “into great savers,” the book declares.

For those who can’t imagine becoming savers, the book has a chapter just for you on “Ways to Save Every Day.” Do your own house cleaning and cut your own lawn. Do small repairs yourself. Cut back on phone and cable. Bundle services where you can. Buy second hand. Drive your car longer.  Cut back on expensive memberships. Buy generic brands. Buy in bulk, and shop when there are sales. There are many more tips like these in this well-thought-out volume.

There’s even advice on the tricky problem of making your money last in retirement. Ibbotson suggests when you are retired, there will be a “honeymoon phase” for the first five years of retirement, followed by the middle age of retirement (years six to 20) and the “long-term” phase, 20 years and beyond.

Use your unregistered savings for the first phase as much as you can. Start tapping into RRSPs, pensions, and government benefits in phase two. By phase three you will need income from your RRIFs and fixed-income investments, which you will have been “laddering” in phases one and two.

This great little book is well worth adding to your collection.  If, like the book suggests, you are banking on retiring more than 20 years from now, it’s probably well past time to start putting away money for retirement. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers you a choice of a Balanced Fund or Diversified Income Fund for your contributions. Be sure to check out SPP today!

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

Book lets pictures, not words, tell the story about personal finance

July 2, 2020

Years ago, a colleague opened our eyes to the idea of “infographics,” nice, visual little charts and graphics that take far less time and space to tell a story than simple words alone.

Nowadays, you see many long reports, like corporate annual reports or white papers, that are packed with visuals. This thinking is precisely what authors Michele Cagan, CPA, and Elisabeth LaRiviere had in mind when they produced The Infographic Guide to Personal Finance.

The results are impressive. The book navigates just about every financial situation there is via 50 different infographics. The authors point out that “personal finance is one of the most important life skills to master, yet it’s one of the few topics rarely covered in school.” Their very educational book helps address that knowledge gap.

The overview of budgeting, for instance, suggests a plan based on “50 per cent needs, 30 per cent wants, and 20 per cent savings and investments.” As well, the book suggests, you need to set goals, know your income, and total your monthly expenses “to create a realistic budget” that you should revisit frequently. Got to know what’s coming in, what’s going out, and what’s left, the images show us.

An infographic dedicated to saving shows the earlier you start, the better, the book says.

“Let’s say you contribute $2,000 a year” to your retirement savings fund, at six per cent interest, the book notes. “If you start at age 25, by the time you’re 65 you will have $328,101. But if you wait until you are 45 to start contributing that $2,000 a year, you’ll end up with $77,986 – less than a quarter of what you’d have if you started at 25.”  The book stresses the importance of an emergency fund “to cover three to six months’ worth of living expenses.” Such funds are best tucked away in no-fee, high interest savings accounts that aren’t easily accessible.

While the book is intended for U.S. readers, its advice on what to do with a tax refund is helpful. First, the book recommends, “beef up your retirement accounts.” Next, target credit card debt. Build up your emergency fund or save for the future, consider buying some stocks, and finally “invest in yourself” and improve your education and skill sets through training.

If you’re reading all this and thinking, yeah, but who has extra money for saving, the book has anticipated your thought with a two-page chart on how to cut expenses. Turn your thermostat down or up, the book suggests. Check out the books and videos that you can get free at the local library. Get a water filter and give up on expensive bottled water. Other tips include cutting the cable cord, switching to LED light bulbs, buying things via online auctions, thrift stores and garage sales, and buying produce in season – frozen when it’s not.

The book’s thoughts on retirement savings are also worth sharing. If your employer offers a retirement savings program with an employer match, be sure not to leave money on the table – take the match. Contribute as much as you can to any employer-sponsored retirement program. Start as soon as you can, and be sure to diversify the investment options you are given – don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

If there’s no workplace pension program for you to access, don’t despair – the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be the answer. You can contribute up to $6,300 each year, and can transfer in a further $10,000 a year from any other registered savings accounts you may have. SPP will grow your money – since the plan’s inception, the growth rate has averaged an impressive eight per cent – and when you retire, you’ll have the option to receive a monthly lifetime pension. That’s making the most of your savings, so check them out today.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

Napkin Finance: breaking down complex concepts in bite-sized nuggets of wisdom

May 28, 2020

Author Tina Hay’s Napkin Finance is, as the name would suggest, a great way to boil complex financial planning concepts into easy, digestible pieces.

While the book is intended for U.S. readers, there’s a treasure trove of good information for those of us who reside north of the border.

In the chapter on saving, she quotes famed investor Warren Buffett as saying “do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving.” It’s a great idea, she writes, “to make sure you have cash available for emergencies, unexpected bills… and future goals,” and a savings account, ideally separate from your spending account, is a great way to get there.

Hay talks about budgeting ideas, including what she calls “the 50-20-30 budget.” That’s “50 per cent for essentials, 20 per cent for financial goals, and 30 per cent for flexible spending,” the book explains.

In talking about debt, she calls borrowing for a home or education “good debt,” and credit card balances “bad debt,” noting it takes the average American 12 years to pay off a credit card if he or she only pays the minimum amount owing.

If you want to have a good credit rating, Hay advises, then pay your credit card on time and, where possible, in full; don’t miss loan payments; resolve your bank overdraft (pay it off), pay all bills on time and avoid going into collection. All these factors are strikes against good credit, she warns.

Investing, she writes, can be a “powerful way to grow your wealth,” chiefly because stocks generally perform well over the long term. By buying stock, you become “a part-owner of the company” and share in profits via growth in the value of your shares and, occasionally, through dividends. With a bond, “you become the lender to the entity that issued the bond,” and the interest you receive is basically like rent on the use of your money. Hay says alternate investment classes can also be good in your portfolio, including real estate (“you may earn a return when your tenants pay rent”), hedge funds, and private equity investments.

Watch for fees if you invest in mutual funds, she writes; fees are lower with exchange-traded funds or if you use a Robo-adviser rather than a broker.

For retirement savings, Hay advises that you “save 15 per cent of your income and invest heavily in stocks while you are young.” She says you should “take advantage” of tax-assisted savings (in Canada, this would be things like RRSPs or workplace registered pension plans). Don’t forget, she writes, to think about your estate planning as well – don’t leave the decision on what should happen to your money and possessions up in the air.

This is a nicely-written book that’s offering up complex topics in a simple, easy-to-digest way. There’s a nice splash of colour, such as the fact that some people measure inflation over time by looking at the historic price of a Big Mac! It’s definitely worth a read.

If you aren’t great at investing, and want to follow a diversified approach while avoiding high fees, take a good look at the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Through SPP’s Balanced Fund your investment dollar accesses Canadian and international equities, bonds, mortgages, real estate, infrastructure and short-term investments – all for a very low management fee.

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. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Leave your RRSP savings alone, and watch them grow, urges author Robert R. Brown

April 30, 2020

If a farmer brought 64 rabbits to a deserted island, and left them alone to multiply, 60 years later there would be an astonishing 10 billion rabbits living on the island.

That example is how Ajax author Robert R. Brown explains the need for all of us to save early in our RRSPs, and then leave the money alone to grow.

Brown’s book, Wealthing Like Rabbits, uses lots of great metaphors and examples to drive home key points about not only saving, but avoiding debt and overspending.

Retirement savings grow in importance as you age, he writes. Given that the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security deliver only a modest benefit, “it is better to be 65 years old with $750,000 saved than it is to be 65 years old with $750 saved.”

Canadians have two great options for retirement savings, “the RRSP – don’t pay tax now, grows tax-free inside, pay taxes later,” or the TFSA, “pay taxes now, grows tax-free inside, don’t pay tax later.” Either vehicle, he writes, “is an excellent way to save for your long-term future,” and ideally we should all contribute the maximum every year.

Yet, he writes, just as his beloved Maple Leafs “swear that next year they will do better,” Canadians all swear they will put more money away for retirement, yet don’t.

If you do save, explains Brown, pay attention to the cost of investing. Many mutual funds have high management expense ratios, or MERs, that “range from around two per cent to three per cent. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is,” he warns. It’s like the power of compound interest, but in reverse, Brown notes. Index funds and ETFs have far lower fees, allowing more of your money to grow, he points out.

Brown’s key takeaway with retirement saving is “start your RRSP early. Contribute to it regularly. Leave it alone.”

The book takes a look at the ins and outs of mortgages, and why it isn’t always the best idea to get the biggest house you possibly can. Watch out, he warns, when you go for a pre-approved mortgage at the bank – they may offer you an amount that is more than you want to afford. “You shouldn’t ask the bank to establish the amount you’ll be approved for. That needs to be your decision. After all, McDonald’s sells salads too. It’s up to you to order one,” he explains.

Credit cards are another way to pile up debt, he says. Not only are the posted interest rates high, “as much as 29.99 per cent,” but there are late payment fees, higher interest rates and extra fees for cash advances, annual fees just to have certain cards, and more. “Credit card companies are always looking for some sort of new and innovative way to jam you with a fee,” he advises. The 64 per cent of Canadians who pay off their credit cards in full each month enjoy an interest rate of zero, he writes – “think about that.”

He provides some great strategies for the 36 per cent of us who carry a balance on their cards, including leaving the cards at home, locking them up or freezing them to cut back on use, and cutting back on the overall number of cards.

Home equity lines of credit, which are easy to get, can backfire “if you have to sell your house during a soft market,” he warns.

Finally, Brown offers some sensible advice on spending – don’t eat out as often, and avoid alcohol when you’re out. Consider buying a used car over a brand new one. “If spending cuts alone won’t provide you with the cash flow you need to pay off your debt, you’re going to have to make more money,” he says. Get a raise, or get a little part-time job like dog walking, lawn mowing, or washing cars.

This is a great read – the analogies and stories help make the message much easier to understand. Once you’ve set the book down, you feel ready and energized to cure some of your worst financial habits.

If you are looking for a retirement savings vehicle that offers professional investing at a low MER, consider the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. SPP has a long track record of solid investment returns, and the fee is typically around one per cent. That means more of the money you contribute to SPP can be grown into future retirement income.

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. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22