General

Are there some new ideas on how to keep us all safe from COVID?

February 18, 2021

We’ve all been told, repeatedly, about the various public health and safety measures we can follow to try and reduce the risk of catching COVID-19. Up to now, it has been physical distancing – staying two metres apart – plus masks, hand sanitizing, and staying at home as often as possible.

Some folks say these steps are causing other problems, particularly the idea of isolation.

Writing in the Toronto Sun, columnist Sue-Ann Levy asks “if Ontario residents are distressed and frustrated by the latest lockdown, think of what a living hell it must be for seniors confined to their rooms in long-term care and retirement homes for now what is going into our 11th month of pandemic restrictions.”

The article notes that isolation is particularly harmful for the mental health of seniors. It’s not great for the rest of us, warns an article in the Sarnia-Lambton (Ontario) Journal. Public health officials in the Southwestern Ontario city say they are seeing a rise in domestic abuse there.

“Social isolation, financial instability and reduced access to friends and family has increased both the level of violence and its intensity,” the article reports, quoting Ange Marks, executive director of the Women’s Interval Home in the area.

Similarly, an opinion article in the Chicago Sun-Times warns that remote learning also has downsides for the kids.

“Evidence from the first year of the pandemic in the United States suggests that the social isolation created by school closures has exacerbated an ongoing childhood mental health crisis,” warn five doctors from the Chicago area.

Even the masks themselves are getting into the headlines. Is one sufficient, a report in the National Post, or should we wear two?

“If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” states Dr. Anthony Fauci in the Post article.

That’s a lot to take in. Are there other approaches we can take that might be a little easier to handle?

Well, yes, people are hard at work on new approaches.

In Malaysia, reports Bernama, researchers are working on a new method to detect the virus using DNA and fibre optic sensors.

In Nova Scotia, reports Global News contract tracing will soon be much easier thanks to a new app that tracks restaurant patrons all over the province.

Up to now, the work of contract tracing has been done with dozens of different methods, but mostly pen and paper. “It is our hope that contact tracing will assist in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and help get us one step closer to a pandemic-free future,” states Gordon Stewart of the province’s Restaurant Association in the Global article.

Other research is being carried out on whether air purifiers might have a role to play in lessening the risk of COVID-19 infections, according to a second Global News report. The kinks of this approach are still being worked out, but it is believed that an air purifier with a HEPA filter, if correctly positioned, can help “remove viruses and germs from the atmosphere.”

We’ve all read about the various (and numerous) vaccines that are being rolled out, and administered across Canada.

Putting all this together, yes, the distancing and masking and isolation are tough medicine. But humans are an innovative bunch, and the same innovation that led to the rapid development of new vaccines is helping with new treatment approaches. That allows all of us to take a moment, now and then, to think of life after the pandemic.

The post-pandemic world, for many of us, will represent the run-up to retirement. If you don’t have a plan for retirement, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan could be a plan for you. Once you’ve joined up, you can contribute at any rate you choose, up to $6,600 per year (subject to available RRSP room). The SPP will invest that money (they’ve averaged an annual return of eight per cent since the plan’s inception 35 years ago) and, when work is done, can turn your invested cash into a lifetime income stream. Why not 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.


What are people going to do once the pandemic is over?

January 21, 2021

We all know what we’re not doing thanks to the pandemic – but what sorts of things will we all be doing once that first blessed day of COVID-free living begins?

According to the New York Times, the very first thing for many will be getting back in touch with family and friends.

“Oh, to be able to shake hands again. We have lost the simple way we show respect for one another, to say thank you, to signal agreement. Our elbows will never be up to the job,” Audrey Jessen of Florida tells the Times. In the same vein, the newspaper reports, hugging grandma, hugging your brother, going out on date and kissing, and the joy of hanging out in groups are all atop people’s post-COVID to-do lists.

Ditto for “getting out of the house,” the Times adds.

At The Conversation blog, there’s optimism that the pre-COVID decline in cooking at home will continue to be reversed after the pandemic.

“Our survey showed a rise in home cooking from scratch during lockdown. Both home cooking and confidence in cooking have been linked to better diet quality, and practising cooking increases confidence,” the blog says. The folks at The Conversation believe this COVID-induced trend won’t fade away when the pandemic does.

Neither, reports Forbes , will “virtual collaboration” in the workplace, a.k.a. teamwork via the Interweb. It should also continue to be a way to stay in touch with people post-pandemic, the magazine contends.

“Millions of Americans stayed home for Thanksgiving, and their virtual parties weren’t terrible,” says online collaboration expert Adam Riggs in the Forbes piece. “With millions of remote workers connecting virtually, Americans have seen how video conferencing technology has improved over time, which has also impacted how we virtually network,” he states in the article.

Riggs predicts that since the pandemic will continue for quite a while, the use of videoconferencing and networking apps will continue and will ultimately remain a tool in the communications arsenal when the COVID all-clear signal is finally given.

Many are counting the days until outdoor events, like musical festivals or sporting events, will again be able to be held in front of massive crowds.

The Independent quotes U.K. festival organizer Sacha Lord as saying “if we have another year like 2020, we’ve got serious problems.” The music festival industry had its worst year ever last year, the article notes.

Let’s see if we can hear the common theme in all of this. Yes, we want to go back to how things were, but also, some of the new ways we were forced to do things may survive into the When It’s Over era. For instance, it’s said that thanks to more handwashing, sanitizer use, and mask-wearing than ever before, our flu season was one of the mildest on record.

So let’s conclude that the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel will be a brighter, different one than the dark days of the current winter. Better days ahead, as they say.

Many of us have little bits of retirement savings here and there, scattered in different pockets from our time at different jobs. If you’re a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, did you know that you can often transfer your benefits from other registered or unlocked plans to SPP? Up to $10,000 a year can currently be moved into your SPP account from other plans – that way, you can have all your retirement income coming from one source! Check out this and other SPP features in the SPP Membership Guide.

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.


Will some COVID-related practices live on after the pandemic ends?

December 17, 2020

If there’s one word that sums up the soon to be departed 2020, it’s “pandemic,” which according to a CityNews, is not unsurprisingly the “word of the year” from the folks at Merriam-Webster, the dictionary people.

Save with SPP decided to find out what other trappings and trimmings of the pandemic may live on in 2021, and the years following it.

Let’s start with masks – hard to find in February and March, everywhere today. Will we still wear masks when the pandemic is over? Quoted in a Yahoo! Life article, Dr. Amesh Adalja of John Hopkins university in the U.S. thinks it is quite possible.

“A COVID-19 vaccine is likely not going to provide sterilizing immunity the way the measles vaccine does,” he tells Yahoo! Life. “We’re going to still need to take protective measures for some time period, potentially until a second-generation vaccine is developed.”

Research shows that mask wearing in winter helps prevent flu, the article says – so maybe we’ll think about masking up even after the pandemic is completely over.

Next, what about working from home – could it be here to stay?

Writing in Canadian Facility Management & Design magazine Annie Bergeron suggests that “as a result of COVID-19, the workplace will be forever changed.”

She predicts a “hybrid” future, where people will be able to spend “extended time working from home.” She cites a recent Gensler survey in the U.S. which found that while many workers want to return to the office, they “also want a future in which they have more choice and agency that they did before the pandemic.”

Bergeron doesn’t think everyone will work from home forever, though. “There are many indicators that work-from-home arrangements are not sustainable for culture, innovation and talent development,” she writes.

HRMorning says productivity isn’t as good in a work-from-home environment. “Just half of employees who’ve worked from home since the pandemic started are as least 80 per cent as efficient as they were on site,” the article notes, citing research from Stanford.

Another feature of the pandemic has been online videoconference via Zoom, GoToMeeting, Teams, and other applications. Will in-person meetings go the way of the dodo bird?

Perhaps not. Zoom’s share price has fallen exponentially as vaccine progress rises, reports CNBC. Other “stay at home” stocks like Netflix and Amazon are also declining, suggesting the need for these services may dwindle once people start going back to the office again.

There are plenty of other changes on the way. Office towers will eventually bustle with people, benefitting the many struggling businesses that serve them. We’ll pack hockey rinks and football stadiums once again. There will be concerts, parades, and big family gatherings. Let’s hope, as 2021 starts, that this better future is not too far away.

While online meetings and tapping away for work from your kitchen may soon be memories, there’s still important work you can do for your future from the comfort of home. Saskatchewan Pension Plan members should check out MySPP. This online resource isn’t about work, but your life AFTER work. You can keep track of your account, watching it grow, and can get your various tax slips and statements. You can even use SPP’s website to contribute to your pension. Check it out – and if you’re not a member, take a look and consider joining 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.


What activities are folks planning for a pandemic winter?

November 12, 2020

Many of us have long had problems dealing with the cold and darkness of a Canadian winter. But this year, we will be adding in the problems of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Save with SPP took a look around to see how folks are planning to spend their first full winter of the pandemic.

Since one strategy to surviving the pandemic is to be outdoors, sporting goods businesses are reporting very brisk business in winter recreation equipment, reports CTV News.

“It’s been quite a marked change from the normal August and early September sales,” Paul Zirk, general manager of The Destination Slope and Surf Outfitters in North Vancouver, tells CTV. “It’s been really up and it’s been really focused on winter sports. This year, our track as far back as mid-July was ski-focused and winter-focused and at some weeks triple what we expected.”

Hot sellers include skis and snowboards, snowshoes, and heavier winter clothing, the article notes.

The Real Simple blog rhymes off 49 different winter activities that you can try this year.

Sledding, hiking, skating, snowball fights, and stargazing are on the list, as well as things like enjoying a family night in front of “a roaring fire,” enjoying winter favourites like hot cocoa and mulled wine, and cozying up with a bowl of homemade soup. The article also lists crafty ideas, like making a birdfeeder or knitting a scarf.

Global News reports that it is important, during the upcoming colder months, to avoid isolation. Psychologist Dr. Ganz Ferrence tells the broadcaster that people “should be planning now for what they’ll do to stay busy and safe once the temperature dips below zero.”

Ideas include skiing – downhill or cross-country — snowshoeing, skating and tobogganing. If you’re too old or not well enough for outdoor activities, at least get outside, urges Dr. Ferrence.

“Just to get that fresh air, that sunshine, whatever it is, seeing that the rest of the world still exists is much better than just giving in to being shut-in,” the doctor says.

Be sure to stay in touch with friends and family during the winter, when visiting is limited by poor travel conditions. Using online tools like Zoom to meet loved ones is a great idea, Dr. Ferrence says. “The best is face to face — being able to touch and feel and everything — the next level though, is this. Being able to see somebody and look in their eyes, see their facial expressions, their tone of voice,” he tells Global News. “Underneath that is phone.”

One group of Canadians that has long chosen against toughing out our winters – Snowbirds – may find this to be a tough season, reports the Globe and Mail.

With border restrictions in place, and COVID-19 outbreaks at high levels in popular winter vacation states like Florida, many Snowbirds may have to give up their travel plans this year, the article reports.

Renee Huart-Field and her husband live in P.E.I. and normally vacation in Florida’s Gulf Coast. Because their dogs usually come to Florida too, they aren’t keen on flying, and the border crossings by vehicle are severely limited, the article notes. So they must decide whether to winter on the Island, or travel elsewhere in Canada.

“People sort of think well, gee, must be nice to have that dilemma. But it’s not,” Huart-Field tells the Globe and Mail. “As you get older, the winters become harder… It’s a health thing.’”

If you’re a retiree and hope to do a little travelling, and have some fun in the winter sun, a little retirement income goes a long way to helping you reach those goals. If you’re still a long way from retirement, there’s plenty of time to start saving – and a wonderful option could be the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. The SPP is quite unique, in that it not only offers you a savings program for your working years, it helps you convert those dollars – grown through SPP’s professional investing team – into an income stream once you’re done with the workforce and ready for the leisureforce. Why not 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.


How we’re getting creative – and using tech – to stay in touch

October 22, 2020

Back in the 1960s when this writer was young, there were only a few channels available for staying in touch with the grandparents.

We’d pile into the car and drive down to Montreal to see dad’s parents, and Saint John to see mom’s parents, at least once or twice a year. During any holiday we’d line up around the family landline while mom placed a rare long-distance call so we could hear their voices. And we’d send cards and write letters.

These days, it’s not always easy or possible to visit. So what are people doing to stay in touch with family and distant friends during the pandemic?

At the Stream MD blog , a list of creative ways to keep in touch are presented. Video-streaming is now easily available from your phone and computer, and using Zoom or Teams or Facetime is an excellent and safe way to see family and friends, the article notes.

If you have Netflix or Prime Video, you can hold a “virtual watch party” and see a movie with your family and friends online, the blog advises. Other ideas from Stream MD include having shared music playlists and taking online courses together.

The Which? blog in the UK talks about holding virtual birthday parties for friends using Zoom.

“I went to a surprise party the other night: about 30 of us gathered to sing happy birthday to a friend and give him the birthday present we’d all clubbed together to buy him – some new DJ decks,” writes blogger Kate Bevan.

“But don’t worry – even though he only lives over the river from me in Clapham, I wasn’t actually there. And neither was anyone else, except for his flatmate,” all thanks to the use of Zoom, she reports.

In addition to Zoom, the article mentions the Google Duo phone app and Facebook Portal; the latter is “so simple to use that it’s worth considering if you have a family member who is unsure with tech.”

Tech is great, but there are other ways to achieve success, reports the Healthy Vix blog.

Get the kids to make “a handmade card” for the older folks, the article advises. “The children, especially, love to make a handmade card to send to their Nana or other family members. It’s really exciting for them to make a card and walk to the local letterbox to post it,” the blog explains.

Also, if the grandparents aren’t going to be able to figure out technology, or have no one to help them with it, go old-school, Healthy Vix advises. “There’s no need for elderly relatives to get their head around social media or confusing technology when a good old phone call will suffice. Keep things simple and call your loved ones for a good old chinwag when you can. Just hearing each other’s voices can help you feel in touch and connected, even when apart,” the blog suggests.

It’s been a strange year for visiting family who are in seniors’ apartments or nursing homes. At one visit we were greeted by a fully-PPE-protected (and friendly) staffer who took our temperatures and logged our contact details before we could have a one-hour, heavily sanitizer-ized visit with the wife’s mom. Our cousin had to visit her mom from behind a barrier, waving across a parking lot. Our neighbour talked to his elderly dad in London by driving down there and lying on the grass outside his nursing home window so he could yell hello through the window.

Whatever works should be given a try.

Did you know you can stay in touch with the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) from the comfort of your own living room? When you sign up for MySPP you can see a record of your contributions, your account balance, information on investment returns updated monthly, and can review your personal contact information. Let your fingers do the clicking and 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.


What are the big funds doing about investments during the pandemic?

September 24, 2020
Photo credited to: Chris Liverani

The pension industry has a big footprint.

With the top 300 pension funds around the world managing an eye-popping $19.5 trillion (U.S.) in assets – and with quite a few of those funds being Canadian-based – Save with SPP decided to take a look around to see what our own country’s pension leaders are saying about investment markets.

With $409.6 billion in assets, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) is the nation’s largest pension fund. CPPIB has identified four sectors of the economy it thinks will grow in the near future – e-commerce, healthcare, logistics (aka shipping/receiving) and urban infrastructure.

CPPIB expects “massive changes” in those areas, CPPIB’s Leon Pederson tells Tech Crunch. And while CPPIB invests for the long-term, the four areas identified by their research might “indicate where the firm sees certain industries going, but it’s also a sign of where CPPIB might commit some investment capital,” the magazine reports.

The $205-billion Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) saw small losses in the first half of 2020, reports Bloomberg.

“Some of our hardest hit investments were among our private assets. Heavily-impacted segments were leisure and travel, including our five airports, and assets where consumer spending declined, which is our shopping malls and Cadillac Fairview,” OTPP’s CEO, Jo Taylor, states in the article.

However, losses were cushioned by the plan’s strong fixed-income returns, the article notes – in all, $7.9 million in income from its bond portfolio helped OTPP limit losses.

The $94.1 billion Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan’s (HOPP) CEO, Jeff Wendling, recently told Benefits Canada that the plan is considering looking at some new investment categories as it pursues its “liability driven investing” strategy. With a liability driven investing strategy, the investment target is not beating stock market indexes, but ensuring there is always enough money to cover every current and future dollar owed to pensioners.

“We’re very focused on liabilities, but what you do when interest rates are at really extreme lows, in our view, is different than what we did in the past,” he states in the article. HOOPP, he adds, is now looking at infrastructure investing, insurance-linked securities, and increased equity exposure to generate income traditionally provided by bonds.

Large pension plans like CPPIB, OTPP and HOOPP have enjoyed a lot of success over the years. The takeaway for the average investor is that the large scale of these plans allow them to do things the average person can’t – like directly owning businesses (private equity), or shopping centres and offices (real estate) in addition to traditional stock and fixed-income investments. The big guys are taking advantage of diversification in their holdings, and so perhaps should we all.

Individuals and workplaces can leverage the investment expertise of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Its Balanced Fund is invested in Canadian, U.S. and international equities, bonds, mortgages, and real estate, infrastructure and short-term investments. And the fund has averaged an eight* per cent rate of return since its inception in the mid-1980s. Check them out today.

*Past performance does not guarantee future results.

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.


Looking for ways to beat the pandemic blues

September 17, 2020

Let’s face it – the spring, summer and fall of 2020 have been quite a downer. We’ve been made to be holed up at home, are restricted in what we can do, where we can go and who we can see, and are continually worried about our jobs, our kids, and the bills.

The pandemic has hammered our mental health, reports Global News. “A survey done in conjunction with the Mental Health Commission of Canada found that a whopping 84 per cent of those surveyed felt their mental health had worsened since the onset of the pandemic,” the network reports.

“Similarly, an Ipsos survey done for Addictions and Mental Health Ontario found 45 per cent of Ontarians reported their mental health had suffered during the pandemic, with 67 per cent saying they expect those effects to be `serious and lasting,’” reports Global.

Save with SPP took a look around to see if there are any ideas out there on how to ward off these feelings of depression and anxiety.

According to Triathlon Magazine Canada, research from the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that “by being physically active, depressive symptoms decreased.” Even five minutes of activity did the trick, the magazine reports.

Other tips – develop, and stick to, a routine, the magazine suggests. Avoid the “western diet” of “processed meat, high-fat dairy products, and refined grains” as it is associated with increased risk of depression, the magazine advises. Their final suggestion is to try, even with the restrictions in place, to stay in touch with friends and family. “While tedious, Zoom calls are good for our mental health, but in person is far better,” say the folks at Triathlon Magazine Canada.

Over at Psychology Today magazine, Dr. Erin Leyba offers some additional tips.

Taking a warm bath at least twice a week “may help relieve symptoms of depression… even more than exercise does,” she writes.

Exercises like “jogging, cycling, walking, gardening and dancing” help increase your blood circulation, which in turn helps shift your brain’s reaction to stress. Doing nice things for friends and family will produce a “helper’s high” that makes our brains feel better, she writes. Examples are calling or face-timing an elderly relative, delivering groceries to someone, thanking front-line workers via cards or buying them lunches, or donating money to help those impacted by COVID-19.

Reading, as well as calling or video-chatting with friends are also positive steps to ward off depression, she writes.

The advice from the federal government is similar. Let your doctor know if you think you are suffering from depression, the feds advise, as depression “is a serious but treatable illness.”

Avoid isolation, the federal website urges.

“One-on-one interactions, such as going to a movie or out for coffee with a friend are also good forms of social contact. Being around others provides support, companionship and has a good effect on your general health,” the site notes, agreeing that physical activity and a healthy diet are also pluses.

These are all good pieces of advice that we all should take note of as we watch the pandemic play out. A colleague of ours once said that every crisis has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s nice to imagine the end of this one.

If saving for retirement is one of your worries, a solution may be joining the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. It’s great to have professionals running your investments (rather than trying to figure it out yourself), and the SPP grows your money at a very low fee. When it’s time to turn your savings into retirement income, SPP offers a variety of lifetime pension options via annuities. 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.


Urbanites flee to suburbs, country in light of the pandemic

August 27, 2020

In this peculiar era of social/physical distancing and avoiding crowds, it should probably come as no surprise that many city-dwellers are thinking of chucking city life for either the suburbs or the country.

According to the Toronto Sun, “nearly three in five people say living in a rural area is more appealing to them now than before the pandemic,” and the same percentage “say the same thing about living in the suburbs.”

“I think it’s too early to predict if it’s going to be a long-term trend or not…but we have all been locked up in our houses during COVID-19 and have had a lot of time to sit around and evaluate what’s important to us and we’re starting to see that shift outside of the major urban centres,” states Sean Morrison, president of the Ontario Real Estate Association, in the Sun article.

The article goes on to point out that it’s not just about avoiding crowded cities – the “work from home” aspect of the pandemic has also made getting a larger yard and perhaps a bigger house more attractive.

Commenting on the similar trend south of the border, Zillow’s Chief Economist Joshua Clark says the pandemic is at play in other ways.

Speaking to Realty Biz News, Clark notes “it may be tempting to conclude that urban renters who have been cooped up without outdoor space and unable to visit their favorite local bar are ready to commit to suburban life, and that is likely true for many. But that narrative ignores the job loss that has hit renters, who are disproportionately employed in the industries most affected, and has likely played a bigger role in recent moves.”

So those who were renting in the city may now only be able to afford to rent somewhere farther from the downtown core, he explains.

The Simple Dollar blog looks at the core question of whether or not it is truly cheaper to live outside of a city in a suburb or rural setting.  Buying a house, the blog reports, “can cost twice as much in the city versus the suburbs.” However, cities offer the best public transit, and groceries tend also to be cheaper downtown, the blog adds.

If you live far away from where you work, beware the perils of commuting, the blog warns.

“This means that if you are returning to your place of work from your home in the suburbs or a small town, you could be back to spending a great deal of time, money and stress sitting in traffic, which can take a toll on your health; Scientific American recently noted that long-distance commuters could suffer from physical maladies, including headaches and backaches, along with mental issues, ranging from sleep disturbance and fatigue to concentration issues,” the blog reports.

As one who has lived in the downtown of a major city, the suburbs, and in small towns in Ontario and Alberta, this writer can attest to the importance of the last point raised by Simple Dollar. A long commute to work – sometimes it can be hours each way – really takes it out of you. While most of us are working from home, that may not be the case forever – so think long-term if you are planning to move farther away from your place of work. If there’s a way to get to work without driving, that makes the suburban or rural property much more attractive.

You don’t have to travel to Kindersley, Sask. to open up a Saskatchewan Pension Plan account. Whether you’re downtown, flipping burgers in the ‘burbs or surveying your pasture, you can connect with SPP online to see if this plan is an option for you.  Once you’re a member, you can use MySPP to track the balances of your retirement accounts – all from the comfort of home.

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.


Important to support local restaurants as they struggle to re-open

June 25, 2020

As we glide along, waiting for things to be “normal” once again on the health front, it’s interesting to see the changes in how Canadians interact with restaurants.

Until very recently, restaurants were restricted to take out or delivery. Now we’re seeing them reopen, usually with limited seating, perhaps expanded patios, and so on. Things are still not back to where they were in early March, and may not be for a long time. Save with SPP took a look around the Internet to see what people are making of this.

There’s no question that the restrictions have been very, very tough on Canada’s restaurants, reports Retail Insider. Citing research from Restaurants Canada, the magazine reports that “seven out of 10 restaurants in the country are either worried or extremely worried that they won’t have enough liquidity to pay vendors, rent and other expenses over the next three months.”

While the many restaurants still open “for takeout and delivery have demonstrated an exceptional level of responsiveness and innovation while continuing to ensure the health and safety of their staff and everyone they serve,” notes Restaurants Canada’s Shannon Munro in the article, their efforts may not be enough to stave off “insufficient cash flow and insurmountable debt.”

Some provinces are realizing that restaurants have been placed in a very tough spot. In Ontario, reports CTV News, provincial officials plan to get rid of the usual red tape so that it is easy for restaurants and bars to expand their patios, so long as social distancing rules are accommodated.

“We want to make sure we get rid of as much red tape and as much cost as possible to allow people to serve their patrons,” Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey tells CTV.

Many jurisdictions that previously restricted or prohibited alcohol delivery and take-out (the latter is known as off-sales in Western Canada) have dropped those rules. In Ontario, Blog TO reports that Premier Doug Ford is considering making alcohol delivery and takeout from restaurants a permanent thing – one that benefits restaurants. “There’s going to be a lot of things, as we say, the new way of doing business — and not only in government, but in the private sector, too,” Ford states in the article.

If there’s a takeaway from all of this, it is the need to support our local businesses as much as we can during a very tough period. Besides ordering for yourself, another great idea is to get gift cards from restaurants to give out as presents to friends and family. Like other parts of the economy that have been slammed by this healthcare crisis, every dollar we spend on local dining helps a local business to stay afloat until better times return.

While you can’t buy gift cards for the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, you do have a lot of flexibility as to how you can contribute. With SPP, you can either set the plan up as a bill and contribute via online banking, can set up direct deposit from your chequing account, or you can use SPP’s online form to contribute via your credit card. 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. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Taking a look back at some of the things we started doing more of during the pandemic

May 21, 2020

There’s no question that one day, when we are telling our future grandchildren about what the pandemic was like, we’ll be asked “so what did you do when you had to stay home?”

Now that we are beginning to see the end of some of the daunting restrictions that have closed restaurants, stores, gyms, the Legion, hockey rinks, golf courses and other key parts of our lives, it’s worth remembering what people got up to while stuck at home.

According to a story in Patch magazine, many of us have desperately been trying to buy more yeast and flour.

“For so many who’ve been holed up in quarantine, cooking — and especially baking — has meant either a return to the comforting recipes of childhood or a foray into a whole new world of culinary creativity. Baking bread from scratch, a long-ago tradition, is suddenly a focus, along with Zoom cocktail parties, Netflix binges, and morning gatherings around the TV to listen to New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo discuss coronavirus strategies, and yes, the meatballs and sauce of his childhood Sundays,” the story notes.

While various Internet-based teleconferencing apps, and drive-by birthday celebrations are a big deal, there are more basic ways to stay in touch with others, reports the CBC.

In the suburbs of Winnipeg, a group of seniors at a retirement home wondered how they would handle having to miss their usual weekly get-together in the facility’s restaurant.

“Every Sunday, dozens of people go onto their balconies or stand physically distanced in the courtyard at L’Accueil Colombien to bang on pots, ring bells and sing O Canada for about 15 minutes,” the CBC reports. And according to one of the founders of this new tradition, the goal is to stay in touch.

“I just thought of it because I had heard that somewhere, I think it was in France, at 6 o’clock they would come on their balcony and they would sing,” St. Vincent tells the CBC. “I’m not a singer, so I said, ‘Well, we can ring [bells], we can make noise.'”

Those of us who could continue working at home did, and for some it was quite an eye-opener, reports Global TV.

“A recent survey from Statistics Canada found that approximately 4.7 million Canadians who do not usually work from home did so during the week of March 22 to 28,” the network reports.

“I think this has been a revolution. It was something that was thrown at us, but we have found that working from home has really been working quite well,” consultant Barbara Bowes tells the network.

“I think that from an employer’s perspective, they can save so much money from rental spaces; they will seriously take a look at how they can balance how much time and who is in the office through technology. It is going to change the way we work altogether,” she says in the interview.

Another unexpected fringe benefit to the pandemic – a time when few are driving anywhere, since there is essentially nothing to do but shop for groceries, hit the drug store, or refresh your beer supply – is cleaner air, reports the Toronto Star.

“When you clean up the air, you see a reduction in mortality,” Stanford Professor Marshall Burke tells the newspaper. “It highlights the things we may want to change when we don’t have an epidemic.”

Finally, one last thing some of us are finding is that we aren’t spending as much money.

“If you add it all up, the average family is saving $1,700 a month when you factor in commuting costs, childcare costs, the amount of money folks are saving by not going out to eat, especially not going to the bars,” researcher Nick Johnson tells Milwaukee’s WISN.

It’s certainly been a strange time that none of us will ever forget, a once-in-a-lifetime thing – hopefully.

If you are among the fortunate few who have been able to keep working and have a few extra dollars left over, don’t forget to tend to your retirement savings. Those savings need a little care and occasional watering to grow, so any extra bits of cash you can spare today could be directed to your Saskatchewan Pension Plan account. You’ll be able to harvest those dollars, which will be professionally invested and grown, when you reach retirement age. Your future self-will, no doubt, thank you.

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