Mar 15: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

March 15, 2021

There’s no place like home for retirement, Canucks say

The pandemic seems to have changed a few people’s minds about their retirement plans.

According to a recent article in Investment Executive magazine, the former dream of retiring to warmer climes may now have been replaced with the idea of a made-in-Canada retirement.

The article, citing recent research done for IG, found that “half of respondents said being closer to family and remaining in Canada is now a priority.”

The survey found most of us – two-thirds – also would prefer to live out our lives in our own homes rather than in “a retirement facility,” the article notes.

“It’s understandable that the events of the past year have caused many Canadians to pause and re-think what their futures will look like, including their plans for retirement,” states IG’s Damon Murchison in the article.

Other financial concerns Canadians raised in the piece including emergency funds, healthcare coverage, and the amount of savings they’ll need in retirement.

So, if having more money is the answer to most of these concerns, how do we get there?

A recent article from Kiplinger, while intended for a U.S. audience, offers up some good advice on what not to do when you’re saving for post-work life.

The article suggests that many of us, particularly when young, take too many risks with our investments, “because time is on your side.”

Once you have reached middle age, your investment strategy should change from accumulation to “preservation and distribution,” the article advises. “This is generally where your financial strategy should become more conservative,” Kiplinger advises.

The article mentions the “Rule of 100,” namely, that your current age should be the percentage of your overall investments that should not be at risk. “Whatever you do, don’t consider a Las Vegas `all-in’ scenario as you edge closer to retirement,” the article warns.

Other tips include tailoring your investments to your personal needs, being aware of the impact of fees, and not listening to the neighbours when it comes to financial advice.

“The neighbours’ advice may be well-intentioned, but it’s likely misguided or possibly self-serving. Swap barbecue tips and stories about your kids—but never talk money,” the article concludes.

Saving for retirement, like many other things we don’t always want to do, is good for you. While times are tough, they will get better as the pandemic gets under control and fades from significance. But there are some good lessons the pandemic can teach us about having an emergency fund ready, ensuring our retirement savings continue (if possible) so we don’t have to work even longer, and seeing the true value of in-person time with our family and loved ones again. All good.

If you’re not really sure about investing, but do want to save for retirement, have a look at the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. You can leave the heavy lifting of investment decisions to SPP. Despite the Tech Wreck, the financial crisis of 2008-9, and the craziness of the pandemic and its impact on financial markets, the SPP has averaged an impressive eight per cent rate of return since its inception 35 years ago. That’s quite a track record of delivering retirement security!

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.


Should we still be savers after we retire?

March 11, 2021

The mental image most of us have of the retirement process is quite clear – you save while you work, and then you live on the savings while retired.

But is this a correct view of things? Should people be adding to their savings once they’ve stepped away from a long life of endless meetings, emails, Zoom or conference calls, and annoying performance reviews? Or not?

Save with SPP decided to scout this out on the good old Interweb.

What we notice is that when you query about “saving after retirement,” you’ll find lots of advice about how to save by spending less. For example, U.S. News & World Report suggests things like asking for senior discounts, shopping “for cheap staples online,” downsizing your home or hobbies, etc.

You’ll also find general advice on saving that can apply to folks of any age – Yahoo! Finance points out that you need to “spend less than you earn,” and “grow and invest your money.”

The type of advice we’re looking for is more along the “pay yourself first” rule that our late Uncle Joe lived by until almost age 90; and Yahoo! Finance does have a bit of that.

“When people say `pay yourself first,’ they mean you should take your savings out of your paycheque as soon as it hits your chequing account to make sure you save something before you spend it all on bills and other expenses. The key to saving successfully is to save first, save a lot — 10 per cent to 20 per cent is often recommended — and save often,” the article states. Uncle Joe would endorse this thinking.

But it’s not clear this article is aimed at retirees – so is putting money systematically away when retired even a thing?

Maybe, but perhaps not quite in the way Uncle Joe might have envisioned.

MoneySense notes that Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) are a great savings tool for older, retired Canadians.

The article suggests that if you are retired, and don’t need to spend all the income from your Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) or other sources, like a pension, a great home for those dollars is the TFSA.

“Unlike Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and RRIFs you can keep contributing new money into TFSAs after age 71. Even if you live to celebrate your 101st birthday – as my friend Meta recently did – you can continue to pump (the TFSA annual maximum) to your TFSA, as Meta has been doing,” the article explains.

“In contrast, you can no longer contribute to RRSPs after the year you turn 71 (or after the year the youngest spouse turns 71), and even then this depends on either carrying forward RRSP room or earning new income,” MoneySense tells us. So the TFSA is a logical savings account, and is still open to older folks.

Our late father-in-law gleefully directed money from his RRIF (after paying taxes) to his TFSA, so that he could continue to invest and save.

The TFSA has many other benefits, including the fact in can be transferred tax-free to a surviving spouse. An article in the Globe and Mail points out a few other interesting TFSA facts – investments must be Canadian, you can re-contribute any amounts you cash out, and your contribution room carries forward, the article notes.

It would appear then, that “saving” after retirement means two things – it means budgeting and bargain hunting to make your income last longer, and it means using savings vehicles like TFSAs to manage taxation. That’s probably the answer – when you’re working, taxes are simple to manage. You get a T4, your employer is usually deducting the correct amount of taxes, so filing income tax is simple. It’s more complicated for retirees with multiple income streams and chunks of withdrawn RRIF money.

You will have a greater opportunity to save when you are retired if you put away some cash now, before they give you the gold watch. The less retirement income you have, the tighter your future budget will be. If you haven’t got too far yet on the retirement savings trail, why not have a look at the Saskatchewan Pension Plan? You can set up a “pay yourself first” plan with SPP, which allows contributions via direct deposit. Money can be popped into your retirement nest egg before you have a chance to spend it – always a good thing. Be sure to check out SPP, celebrating 35 years of delivering retirement security in 2021!

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.


Mar 8: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

March 8, 2021

At a time when some have “mountain” of savings, few focus on RRSPs: study

One of the oddest side effects of the pandemic has been the fact that for those fortunate enough to be able to keep working throughout it, savings are starting to pile up.

According to the Financial Post, the overall Canadian saving rate has reached “historic highs.” So, the article says, “you might think it would be a bumper year” for Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs).

Apparently not. Citing research from Edward Jones, a brokerage firm, the article reports that “52 per cent of Canadians say they do not plan to contribute to their RRSPs,” with 44 per cent saying it’s the pandemic that is preventing them from doing so.

As well, the Edward Jones research found that of the 31 per cent who said they would invest in their RRSPs, less than a third – again, 31 per cent – said they would invest the maximum.

Now, normally you’d look at all this and say, yeah, no one has the money for RRSPs this year – pandemic, hours cut, stores closed, travel and restos no longer possible, etc.

But the article notes that Canada’s overall savings rate “is at the second highest (level) since the early 1990s as locked-down residents with little to spend their money on, squirrel it away.” By the third quarter of 2020, the Post reports, our savings rate had soared to 14.9 per cent, compared with just three per cent in 2019.

So those with savings are packing it away at a clip not seen since the early 1990s. Save with SPP remembers those years fondly, as interest rates that were in the high teens in the late 1980s were still hitting the mid-teens by the early 1990s, making those old Canada Savings Bonds a great investment.

But there’s no such investment attraction today, and the Post feels that those who are hanging onto their dollars are doing so because of “economic uncertainty.”

“What the research shows is that Canadians have had to make financial compromises like deferring retirement contributions for other more immediate priorities and are storing away cash they can easily access in response to economic uncertainty,” states David Gunn, president of Edward Jones Canada, in the Post article.

This, the article informs us, makes sense given similar results from earlier Edward Jones research, as well as a Morneau Shepell poll that found 27 per cent of Canadians “say their financial situation is worse than those (15 per cent of those polled) who say it is better.” Looking around the country, Morneau Shepell found the most financial pessimism in Alberta, with Saskatchewan residents being the most optimistic about their finances.

While it is completely understandable that those without extra cash would have to cut back on retirement saving, it’s less clear for those who are sitting on money as to why RRSPs aren’t in favour. After all, you get a tax deduction for the RRSP contributions you make. More importantly, it’s not like retirement savings are some sort of bill you have to pay – it’s an investment in your future. You’ll eventually get all the money back and then some, thanks to investment.

If you are lucky enough to be sitting on some extra cash this year, consider the possibilities and look to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan as a destination for those dollars. Founded 35 years ago, the SPP has posted an impressive eight per cent rate of return over that period, demonstrating a history of savvy investing. Your contributions, just like an RRSP, are tax-deductible, and the money saved and invested will come back to you in the form of lifetime income down the road. Don’t deny your future self retirement security – check out the 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.


Pape’s book provides solid groundwork for a well-planned retirement

March 4, 2021

Gordon Pape has become a dean of financial writers in Canada, and his book Retirement’s Harsh New Realities provides us with a great overview of our favourite topic.

There’s even a shout-out to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan!

While this book was penned last decade, the themes it looks at still ring true. “Pensions. Retirement age. Health care. Elder care. Government support. Tax breaks. Estate planning,” Pape writes. “All these issues – and more – are about to take centre stage in the public forums.”

He looks at the important question of how much we all need in retirement. Citing a Scotiabank survey, Pape notes that “56 per cent of respondents believed they would be able to get by with less than $1 million, and half of those put the figure at under $300,000” as a target for retirement savings. A further 28 per cent thought they would need “between $1 million and $2 million.” Regardless of what selection respondents made, getting that much in a savings pot is “daunting,” the survey’s authors note.

Government programs like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) help, but the benefits they provide are relatively modest. “If we want more than a subsistence-level income, we have to provide it for ourselves,” Pape advises.

He notes that the pre-pandemic savings rate a decade ago was just 4.2 per cent, with household debt at 150 per cent when compared to income. Debt levels have gone up since then. “Credit continues to grow faster than income,” he quotes former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney as saying. “Without a significant change in behaviour, the proportion of households that would be susceptible to serious financial stress from an adverse shock will continue to grow.” Prescient words, those.

So high debt and low savings (they’ve gone up in the pandemic world) are one thing, but a lack of financial literacy is another. Citing the report of a 2011 Task Force on Financial Literacy, Pape notes that just 51 per cent of Canucks have a budget, 31 per cent “struggle to pay the bills,” those hoping to save up for a house had managed to put away just five per cent of the estimated down payment, and while 70 per cent were confident about retirement, just 40 per cent “had a good idea of how much money they would need in order to maintain their desired lifestyle.”

One chapter provides a helpful “Retirement Worry Index” to let you know where your level of concern about retirement should be. Those with good pensions at work, as well as savings, a home, and little debt, have the least to worry about. Those without a workplace pension, with debt and insufficient savings, need to worry the most.

If you fall anywhere other than “least worried” on Pape’s list, the solution is to be a committed saver, and to fund your own retirement, he advises. He recommends putting away “at least 10 per cent of your income… if you’re over 40, make it a minimum of 15 per cent.” Without your own savings, “retirement is going to be as bleak as many people fear it will be.”

Pape recommends – if you can — postponing CPP payments until age 70, so you will get “42 per cent more than if you’d started drawing it at 65.” RRSP conversions should take place as late as you can, he adds. This idea has become very popular in the roaring ‘20s.

Pape also says growth should still be a priority for your RRSP and RRIF. “Just because you’ve retired doesn’t mean your RRSP savings need to stagnate,” he writes. And if you find yourself in the fortunate position of “having more income than you really need” in your early retirement needs, consider investing any extra in a Tax Free Savings Account, Pape notes.

Trying to pay off debt before you retire was once the norm, but the idea seems to have fallen out of fashion, he writes. His other advice is that you should have a good idea of what you will get from all retirement income sources, including government benefits.

In a chapter looking at RRSPs, he mentions the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. The SPP, he writes, has a “well diversified” and professionally managed investment portfolio, charges a low fee of 100 basis points or less, and offers annuities as an option once you are ready to retire.

This is a great, well-written book that provides a very solid foundation for thinking about retirement.

If you find yourself on the “yikes” end of the Retirement Worry Index, and lack a workplace pension plan, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be the solution you’ve been looking for. If you don’t want to design your own savings and investment program, why not let SPP do it for you – they’ve been helping build retirement security for Canadians for more than 35 years.

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.


Mar 1: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

March 1, 2021

Is shopping for a good retirement plan getting too complicated?

A lot of ink (or perhaps, pixels) gets spent on why Canadians aren’t saving for retirement in sufficient numbers and amounts.

But an equally important question is raised in a recent article by three leading retirement experts – are the retirement products out there getting too complicated?

The article appears on the Common Wealth site and is authored by Jim Keohane, recently retired CEO at the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, and Common Wealth founding partners Alex Mazer and Jonathan Weisstub.

The article asks if employers offering retirement programs – and members joining them – are being well served by the retirement industry. For starters, the trio writes, most group retirement plans offer a dizzying array of choices.

“The traditional industry’s focus on a high degree of investment choice is based on a flawed premise: that employees and plan sponsors have the desire and capacity to engage in the choosing and ongoing management of the investment of their retirement savings. If our goal is to help employees achieve retirement success in the most cost-effective way — which it should be — then a better focus should be not on choice but on simplicity,” the authors write.

Today’s typical choices for group plan members are far from simple, the authors note.

Service providers – typically banks and insurance companies – sell their services to employers “on the basis that they have hundreds of funds and dozens of managers to choose from,” the article notes.

Providers have thus become “supermarkets of funds, outcompeting each other for who could offer the greatest selection,” Common Wealth notes.

But there are downsides to giving employees – the folks who will actually want retirement income from these products – all that choice, the article warns.

A study by Columbia University in the U.S. found that “greater investment choice led to lower participation” in retirement programs, with plans offering 10 choices or less getting the highest participation.

Streamlining choices could result in greater savings – up to $10,000 U.S. per employee, found a study by the Wharton School.

And even highly-educated investors “make common mistakes,” such as paying too much in fees, when selecting investments for retirement, says research from Yale and Harvard.

Will the average person, the article asks, know what asset mix to select? Will they fall into the trap of trying to time the market? Will they “chase performance” by tending to choose investment products that have done well recently? The article goes on to focus on the higher costs end-users pay for having all that investment choice, which they pay for via higher fees.

The authors say a simpler way to go exists.

The use of “target date” funds is said to increase wealth by up to 50 per cent, the authors note, citing Wharton School research. Other simplification ideas include:

  • Using “smart defaults” in retirement products, so those who don’t make a choice are automatically moved into a fund that is “appropriate for their age and desired retirement date.”
  • Removing choices for employers, who have “little interest in becoming investment experts.”
  • Using an “index-based approach” rather than trying to beat the markets.
  • Work with “world class” providers, rather than smaller ones trying to create a supermarket of choices.

The authors conclude by pointing out that the goal of offering a retirement program is “helping people secure the best possible retirement outcomes for themselves and their families.” Boxing people into programs where they have to make complex investment choices can “cost employees tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Save with SPP can personally attest to a lot of this. When saving on your own – especially if you don’t have any professional advice – you will tend to gamble a bit with your own future income. One remembers being told by friends, for instance, that Nortel “would come back,” and that money could be doubled by the then-booming tech market. Not so much, it turned out.

If you are looking for a simple, “set it and forget it” pension plan that takes care of tricky decisions for you, think about the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. With SPP, there are two funds to choose from – The Balanced Fund, or the Diversified Income Fund. Both funds are professionally invested for you. As well, the SPP is “full service,” in that after it has grown your savings, it provides you several options for collecting income when you retire, including lifetime annuities. Let the pros do the heavy lifting for your retirement – 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.


Research suggests many should take CPP, QPP later – and use RRSPs to bridge the gap

February 25, 2021

Are Canadians doing things backwards when it comes to rolling out their retirement plans?

New research from Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald of the National Institute on Ageing at Ryerson University suggests that in some cases, we are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to our Canada Pension Plan (CPP) or Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) benefits.

Save with SPP spoke by telephone with Dr. MacDonald to find out more about her research.

In her paper, titled Get the Most from the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans by Delaying Benefits, Dr. MacDonald notes that “95 per cent of Canadians have consistently taken CPP at normal retirement age (65) or earlier,” and that a mere one per cent “choose to delay for as long as possible, to age 70.”

This, she writes in the paper, can be a costly decision. “An average Canadian receiving the median CPP income who chooses to take benefits at age 60 rather than at age 70 is forfeiting over $100,000 (in current dollars) of secure lifetime income.”

She tells Save with SPP that tapping into your (registered retirement savings plan) RRSP and other savings first, as a bridge to a higher CPP or QPP later, can make a lot of sense. “Rather than holding on to the RRSP, why not use the RRSPs sooner and CPP later,” she explains.

Even waiting one year – taking CPP or QPP at 61 instead of 60 – means you will get nearly 12 per cent more pension for life, she says. The longer they wait to start CPP, the more they get – about 8.2 per cent more for each year after age 65, Dr. MacDonald explains.

If you go the other route, and take your government pension at 60, “you don’t know what your savings will look like at 70,” she notes. As well, those savings may be harder to manage when you are older, especially if you are “drawing down” money from a registered retirement income fund (RRIF).

Many people, she notes, worry that taking government benefits at 70 is too late, and that they will potentially die before getting any benefits. Most people who are in good health will live long beyond age 70, she says; the data shows that only a small percentage of Canadians don’t make it past their 60s.

Dr. MacDonald notes as well that the retirement industry tends to help people save, but doesn’t help them on the tricky “decumulation,” or drawdown phase. It would be akin to having an adviser set you up with skis, boots, poles and bindings, and deliver you the top of the ski hill – where you would be on your own to figure out how to get to the bottom, she says.

While “Freedom 55” was a popular concept in decades past, the data shows that the retirement age is creeping back up to age 65 and beyond, she says.

“Finances… are part of the reason why people are retiring later,” she explains. Pension plans are less common these days, and not all of them still offer an early retirement window. Few offer incentives to late retirement, she adds.

Her paper concludes that Canadians – and the financial industry that advises many of them – need to rethink the conventional idea of taking CPP or QPP as soon as possible in retirement, and then hanging onto RRSPs until it is time to RRIF them up the road.

“Despite wanting and needing greater income security, Canadians are clearly choosing not to delay CPP/QPP benefits, thereby forfeiting the safest, most inexpensive approach to get more secure retirement income,” she writes. By showing, through the Lifetime Loss calculation, that Canadians can lose out on $100,000 of secure retirement income, the hope is that the industry and policymakers will begin to rethink how they present retirement strategies to Canadians, the paper concludes.

We thank Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald for taking the time to speak with Save with SPP.

Celebrating its 35th year, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) has a long tradition of building retirement security. SPP is flexible when it comes to paying out pensions – you can start as early as 55 or as late as 71. Check out SPP, it may be the retirement solution you are looking for.

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 22: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

February 22, 2021

Canadians cutting back on retirement saving due to the pandemic?

There’s no question that the pandemic, now into its second year, is wreaking havoc on most people’s financial plans.

A report from Benefits Canada, citing research from Ipsos, found that “one quarter of Canadian employees say they’ve needed to cut back or stop contributions to their savings and retirement plans.”

One in 10 of the survey’s respondents say “they have reduced or frozen contributions to their retirement savings,” and 13 per cent “have cut back or stopped” savings for non-retirement purposes, such as vacations, clothing, household items, and “rainy day” savings.

While 70 per cent say they are “confident” about their financial management during what the article calls “tumultuous times,” 59 per cent “are worried about the effect of the pandemic on their savings and retirement plans.” Younger Canadians, the magazine reports, are even more worried – that’s 73 per cent of Gen-Zers and 67 per cent of millennials. Fifty-two per cent of boomers share their worries.

It would be interesting to ask this same group a little more about what their savings plan is, assuming they have one. While those with a workplace pension do have a sort of built-in retirement savings plan – as long as they are working – do those who don’t have some sort of savings budget or automated plan?

An article in USA Today stresses the importance of this kind of planning.

“One of the common misconceptions about achieving financial success is that it requires complexity, sophistication and intricate effort. Sure, you might want to construct a detailed analysis of investment allocations, debt-payback schedules or whatever, but you probably don’t need to,” the article explains.

“Sometimes, just a handful of straightforward guidelines, consistently followed, can do the trick,” USA Today reports.

Citing U.S. research, the story notes that a simple rule of thumb for saving is “save as much as you can,” and to separate saving from spending. You should, the article says, try to set aside between 10 to 30 per cent of your monthly earnings as savings.

(Our late Uncle Joe always said 10 per cent was his rule of thumb – put that away as soon as you get paid, and live off the other 90 per cent.)

That sort of advice is echoed in another of the findings from the research – the need to “pay yourself first.” The article picks up on this theme. “Learn to set aside money as soon as you get paid,” we are advised.

Let’s put it all together. Most of us are worried we’re not saving enough for retirement. But unanswered is the question, are most of us making savings easy through automation and paying ourselves first? The idea of setting aside a percentage of your earnings for savings, and then spending the rest, works even if your earnings are reduced. If 10 per cent is too much, try five per cent, or even 2.5 per cent. You can always ramp it back up again later.

If you don’t have a pension program at work, then you are the person your future self will rely on to set aside retirement savings while you are working. This sounds daunting, but doesn’t need to be. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan allows you to contribute in a number of ways, including pre-authorized payments from your bank account. That way, you are paying your future self first! Check out SPP, celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2021, 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.


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.


Pandemic has meant tough times for those who love cash

February 11, 2021

It wasn’t all that long ago that cash was considered the smart way to go, in terms of saving and budgeting.

Who can forget watching the great ‘Til Debt Do Us Part TV series, featuring Gail Vaz-Oxlade, where a key lesson to managing household budgeting was to save up change and bills in jars, one jar for food, one for fuel, one for entertainment, and so on. The jars of cash forced you to follow a budget, and credit cards and lines of credit weren’t allowed.

And what about the advice of American financier Mark Cuban about the dealmaking cash provides – he notes that “you’ll get better results if you negotiate with cash.” As an example, if you say “all I have is $40 cash,” maybe the vendor will settle for that instead of a higher amount. No such wiggle room exists with credit and debit cards.

But along came the pandemic to make the world tremble for cash users.

“More businesses are going cashless during the COVID-19 pandemic and are asking customers to use debit, credit or app payments as a precautionary measure,” notes the CBC. Some retailers are refusing to take cash altogether, others deal with it in a safer way, using tongs and little cash boxes.

The concern with cash is, of course, health-related; handing over bills and cash is a hand-to-hand action that does carry risk. Contactless payments are seen as safer.

In the U.K., contactless payment has risen by as much as 64 per cent of all transactions, reports MSN Money.

Major retailer Asda is now accepting payment from a wider range of mobile devices, and contactless payment limits – once quite small – have been ramped up, the article notes. The limit is now 45 pounds – about $78 Canadian.

Here at home, NFCW reports that Visa and MasterCard limits for contactless payments have jumped up to $250.

A final indicator of the cashless society is the use of automatic teller machines (ATMs). In the UK, reports PA Media via MSN. ATM use is down a whopping 60 per cent.

“When people do use a cash machine, they are typically withdrawing more money. The average cash machine withdrawal is now around £80, up from around £65 before the lockdown,” the article notes.

Seventy-five per cent of Brits surveyed say they are using less cash these days – and 14 per cent say they are keeping any cash they accumulate at home, perhaps in a piggy bank, for emergencies, the article concludes.

So King Cash has been dethroned, at least until the pandemic is over. No doubt the throne will be reoccupied one day when the pandemic is under control, and it’s safe to shop with a wallet filled with bills and coins.

Got some cash piling up? While saving it for an emergency is a great idea, so is saving it for your retirement. There aren’t as many people lining up at those green coin counting machines these days, so bring your piggy bank of coins there and convert it to bills. Those can then be tucked into your savings account via an ATM.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan has a great “pay yourself first” feature worth knowing about. You can set up SPP as a bill in most online banking applications. Then you can pop those piggy bank dollars into your SPP as easily as you can pay the cable bill. Not a member of SPP? Check them out today – 2021 marks their 35th year of delivering retirement security.

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: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

February 8, 2021

Canadians worry they aren’t saving enough for retirement

New research from Scotiabank reveals that a surprising 70 per cent of Canadians “admit it’s hard to know what to do when it comes to their investments” in the current pandemic environment.

Even more interesting for Save with SPP readers is the news that the pandemic is causing Canadians to “rethink their retirement.”

“The majority of Canadians who have not yet retired are worried they are not saving enough for retirement (72 per cent), one third (32 per cent) say they won’t be able to retire when they had planned because of the pandemic, and 28 per cent report they won’t be able to pay off their debt before retirement,” says a media release accompanying the Scotiabank research.

That’s quite the trifecta. So not only are three quarters of us not saving enough, a third of us won’t retire when we hoped and nearly 30 per cent will have to pay off debt with reduced retirement income.

Scotiabank advises us to “identify our goals” when it comes to saving, and to seek the help of a financial adviser.

But there may be other things to think about here.

A report from Wales Online adds another puzzle piece. In the U.K., the article says, more than 150,000 folks aged 55 to 64 have been forced “to retire early because of the pandemic.” The reasons why they are leaving the workforce include “redundancy and income cuts, a desire to reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure, and reassessing priorities in life due to the pandemic,” the article says.

So they are being laid off (made redundant is how the Brits describe it), getting their hours cut, or simply fear getting sick in the workplace as older workers. A few are “reassessing priorities” which may mean looking for things to do that aren’t work. The key point here is that this is all an unplanned departure; they are into retirement earlier than they planned, and not necessarily by choice.

Clive Bolton of LV=, the firm responsible for the research, sums it up very nicely.

“Early retirement is a dream for many people but it can become a financial nightmare if it is forced on people without them having time to prepare.” He goes on to say “your 50s are critical years for retirement planning because that is the age when many people’s earnings and pension contributions peak. Being forced to end a career before you planned will disrupt retirement plans.”

We’ve seen how most of us have to choose between paying down debt – which helps us in the short term – and saving for retirement, which helps us in the long term. And while the pandemic won’t be with us forever, it will be here long enough to throw peoples’ retirement plans into a bit of chaos. We may have to go before we’re ready. How do we prepare?

If you’re among the many Canadians who are not saving enough for retirement, there’s a remedy close at hand. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan can provide you with an easy, flexible and effective way to save. At press time, the estimated rate of return in 2020 for SPP – a year that saw market turmoil – was an impressive 8.72 per cent, and the SPP has averaged a return rate of 8.00 per cent since its inception 35 years ago. You decide how much to contribute and you can ramp up your savings as better times return. 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.