May 9: Author Stephen King talks about becoming a writer – and tricks of the trade

May 9, 2024

Whether or not you’re his fan, Stephen King’s On Writing gives you great insight into the ins and outs of becoming a writer – and a clear, concise overview of the basic tools in the writing toolbox.

He begins the book by saying he wrote it “as an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done. It’s about the day job, it’s about the language.”

As a young boy, his first little stories were based on comic books he liked. His mom loved what  he was doing, but advised him “write one of your own, Stevie. Those Combat Casey funny books are just junk. I bet you could do better.”

On finding what to write about, he notes that “good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere; sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

After a tough life – he and his brother were raised by their single mom, and the family moved around a lot before settling in Maine – King found his talent was in writing. He and his older brother even put out a little local newspaper as schoolboys, buying a small copying machine to churn out copies more quickly.

In high school, he edited the school paper but also an underground one, which got him in trouble with the administration. However, the school’s solution was to get King working part-time as a sports reporter for the local paper. Protesting that he didn’t know much about sports, he was told by his editor “these are games people understand when they’re watching them drunk in bar. You’ll learn if you try.”

His editor taught him that “when you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

King completed college, got married, had kids, and struggled, teaching English part-time and working at a laundromat. His wife worked at a doughnut shop. But in the background, he began work on the novel Carrie, which eventually became a life-changing monster hit.

King talks about how he feels when he writes.

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart,” he notes. “Come to it any way but lightly…. You must not come lightly to the blank page.”

Vocabulary is a top tool in any writer’s tool kit. Don’t dress it up, “looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes.”

Next comes grammar. “One either absorbs the grammatical principles of one’s native language in conversation and in reading or one does not,” he says. “If you don’t know, it’s too late.” He moves on to sentence structures – nouns and verbs – and suggests avoiding passive verbs. You throw something – you don’t say “it was thrown by” someone, he explains.

King sees writers in a large pyramid – the bad ones are at the bottom, the next level contains “competent” writers, a “large and welcoming” group. Next comes a small group of “really good writers,” and at the top, geniuses like “the Shakespeares, the Faulkners, the Yeatses, Shaws, and Eudora Weltys.”

While anyone can achieve good writing by mastering “the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style),” King maintains that “while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely helps, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

If, he continues, “you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

Another tip from King is keeping the pedal to the metal. “Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to.” He says that otherwise, “characters begin to stale off in my mind – they begin to seem like characters instead of real people.”

He sees stories and novels consisting of three parts: “narrative, which moves the story form point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.”

“The key to writing good dialogue is honesty,” he continues. “You need to be ‘honest about the words coming out of your characters’ mouths.”

Length of an article, story or novel is also important. Early on, when he was working on an article, he got a comment that changed his writing forever. “Not bad,” the editor wrote, “but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd draft = 1st draft minus 10 per cent.”

He concludes the book by encouraging any of us who want to write. “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will,” he tells us. “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

This is a terrific book. It’s a great autobiography in and of itself, but as a text on how to write, it’s much more readable and direct and helpful than other books we’ve seen on the topic. Highly recommended.

Writing is something many of us take up in retirement – or perhaps, return to. If you’re saving up for life after work, a great partner is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. SPP does all the hard work for you, investing your savings in a low-cost, professionally managed pooled fund. When it’s time to dust off the keyboard in retirement, you can choose such options as a lifetime monthly annuity payment or the flexible Variable Benefit option. Check out SPP today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

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


May 6, 2024

Many old-school financial tips just don’t hold up today: CTV

All of us have, at some point in our lives, been taken aside by a well-meaning parent, sibling, or friend to receive can’t-miss financial tips, designed to help us move forward with fiscal fitness.

Only problem, reports CTV News, is that a lot of those tried-and-true bits of advice no longer really hold up.

Remember hearing “CPP won’t be there for us in the future,” popular in the 1980s and 1990s?

The CTV report quotes Jason Heath of Objective Financial Partners, who states that many of us worry the feds can help themselves to CPP money and spend it on something else. In fact, he reports in the article, “the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is a Crown corporation and independent of the federal government, with a portfolio of roughly $600 billion in assets. The latest report from the office of Canada’s chief actuary, which reviews the CPP’s sustainability every three years, said the pension fund remains sustainable for more than the next 75 years.”

CPP will be “there” for this writer starting in October.

Another rule that gets questioned is that “contributing to an RRSP… saves on taxes.” What?

“Heath says using RRSP contributions to get the biggest tax refund possible is not necessarily the best approach for people in low tax brackets and can hurt them in the long run when they withdraw those savings at a higher tax bracket in retirement,” the article reports.

“Sometimes, it’s OK to pay a little bit of tax, as long as you’re paying at a low tax rate,” he tells CTV. He suggests that for some of us, using TFSAs – where there is no tax impact on the withdrawal side – might be a better long-term approach.

Another idea that gets questioned is the “50-30-20” budget, where “50 per cent of the paycheque is for needs, 30 per cent is for wants, and 20 per cent is for savings.”

Jessica Morgan of tells CTV that while this idea might have worked well in the past, now, “because of (the) high cost of living (and) high cost of housing in Canada, it’s a bit harder to make things fit in that proportion.”

She instead recommends a “zero-based” budget, “which means assigning a `job’ to every dollar, even if it is being put aside for savings – and not leaving any dollar unused.”


The article concludes by busting a couple of other myths. Investing, the article said, is not complicated. And the seemingly no-brainer view that owning a home is better than renting can be questioned, the article notes. In some instances, renting may be the better approach, helping you avoid costly maintenance, closing costs, mortgage interest and repairs.

If there’s a takeaway here, it’s to think of the pros and cons of any approach you are considering for your money. We’ve even seen challenges, in various financial publications, of our Uncle Joe’s belief that you should bank 10 cents of every dollar you earn, and then live on the rest. Some say that’s too high, others, too low. So, think it all through before deciding on an approach that works best for you.

An approach that works best for your future you is saving for retirement. If you don’t have a pension plan at work, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be the savings partner you’ve been looking for. SPP will invest your savings in a low-cost, professionally managed, pooled fund – and when it’s time to retire, a lifetime monthly annuity or the more flexible Variable Benefit are among your options.

Check out SPP today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

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

May 2: Is Travel Making A Comeback?

May 2, 2024

We all recall the closed borders and other travel restrictions that plagued us during the COVID-19 pandemic years. But, with (hopefully) the worst of that now in the rear-view mirror, it appears that travel may be making a comeback.

According to a recent media release from Allianz Global Assistance Canada, its Winter Vacation Confidence Index Survey showed a pretty sharp uptick for the season just ended.

A whopping 43 per cent of those surveyed planned to take a vacation this winter, up from 32 per cent in 2021, the release notes.

“With travel volumes nipping at the heels of pre-pandemic levels, an overwhelming majority – 84 per cent – of travellers feel they desperately need a vacation this year,” states Dan Keon, Vice President, Marketing & Insights at Allianz Global Assistance Canada, in the release. “A major driver of this ongoing travel comeback is the continued desire for revenge travel, with half of Canadians intending to unapologetically make up for lost vacation time that was postponed due to the pandemic.”

Interestingly, the release notes, Canadians planned to spend some of their “pandemic savings” on a bigger vacation this past winter.

“The average anticipated winter vacation spend has increased by 20 per cent to $3,193 since 2021. Overall, Canadian households are projected to spend around $14.3 billion on vacations in the upcoming year, eclipsing the pre-pandemic high recorded in Allianz’s 2019 annual survey. While pent-up demand is driving up spending, financial worries may be tempering the increase as 57 per cent of travellers shared they will be scaling back vacation plans this year due to inflationary pressures,” the release notes.

Other Allianz findings – six in 10 Canadians plan a holiday, and 74 per cent of travellers (perhaps in light of the recent pandemic) think having travel insurance is important.

OK, so where have we been going this winter and spring?

According to the Orlando Sentinel, ocean cruises have bounced back after some very lean years.

More than 31.7 million people took a cruise last year, the newspaper reports.

“The pandemic shut down sailing from March 2020 with only a small number of ships coming back online 18 months later in summer 2021. Cruise lines didn’t return to full strength until partially through 2022, so it wasn’t until a full year of sailing in 2023 that the industry could get a real handle on just what the demand had grown to as people returned to vacation travel,” the Sentinel reports.

2023’s total surpassed the last pre-pandemic year of cruising by two million, the article adds.

Air travel is also zipping along nicely, reports the 100 Knots website.

“According to the latest report by the International Air Travel Association (IATA), global passenger demand witnessed a significant uptick in February 2024 compared to the same period last year. The data, which represents about 83 per cent of the world’s carriers, reveals a 21.5 per cent increase in passenger demand, indicating a strong resurgence in air travel,” the publication reports.

Overall, the increase in travel is very good news for the global economy, advises The Robb Report.

“The folks at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimate that the travel industry will reach a record $11.1 trillion in 2024, eclipsing the prior high of $10 trillion achieved in 2019. Furthermore, tourism is expected to become a $16 trillion industry within the next decade and will represent 11.4 per cent of the global GDP by 2034,” the publication notes.

The WTTC’s Julia Simpson is quoted in the article as saying “travel isn’t just back, travel is booming. We’re talking about a really, really strong sector.”

If you’re planning on doing a little travel when you retire, it’s probably a good idea to start putting away a few bucks today for future boarding passes. And if you don’t have a retirement plan at work, you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting of investing your savings all by your lonesome.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan, open to every Canadian with registered retirement savings plan room, will invest your savings in a low-cost, professionally managed, pooled fund. At retirement your choices include a monthly annuity payment for life, or the flexible Variable Benefit. Check out SPP today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

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

Apr 29: A closer link at the most common savings vehicle – the piggy bank

April 29, 2024

We all have one or more of them, lying around the house, holding little caches of change. But how did the tradition of piggy banks come about?

Save with SPP decided to do a little digging about our porcine cash-saving pals.

Wikipedia defines the piggy bank as “the traditional name of a coin container normally used by children,” noting they are traditionally made of ceramic or porcelain.

“They are generally painted and serve as a pedagogical device to teach the rudiments of thrift and saving to children,” the article continues.

OK, but why are they shaped like pigs? “The earliest known pig-shaped money containers date to the 12th century on the island of Java. The Javanese term cèlèngan (literally `likeness of a wild boar, but used to mean both `savings’ and `piggy bank,’) is also in the modern Indonesian language,” the article notes.

In fact, Wikipedia adds, “a large number of boar-shaped piggy banks were discovered at the large archaeological site surrounding Trowulan, a village in the Indonesian province of East Java and a possible site of the capital of the Majapahit Empire.”

While most of these change-hoarding wild boar statuettes are small, the folks at Guinness World Records tell us that the largest piggy bank ever recorded was “achieved by Kreissparkasse Ludwigsburg (Germany)… on 18 May, 2015.” This monster piggy bank, Guinness reports, was 8.03 meters long and 5.54 meters wide.

“Money was inserted into the piggy bank using a small crane, carrying each coin to the slot one by one after inserting it into a smaller piggy bank at the bottom of the crane,” Guinness reports.

The only other piggy bank record that comes up is that of Leo, a cocker spaniel owned by Emily Anderson of Aberdeen, Scotland, who holds the record of being able to put 23 coins in a piggy bank in under one minute.

OK, they can be small, big, have origins in Java, and a canine deposit connection. We wondered what people do with their piggy banks, and the money in them?

A few years ago, ABC News reported on the delightful story of Aryana Chopra, then five, who used money she saved in her piggy bank to buy residents of a nearby nursing home “a New Year’s cake as well as a decorative Santa Claus and a vase.” She also gave each of the 200 residents a handmade card, the article reports.

Many people collect piggy banks, reports the Vintage Virtue blog.

Few of the very earliest piggy banks survive, the article notes, because they had to be smashed with a hammer to retrieve the coins within. Once the idea of having a removeable plug in the base of the bank began, banks “were saved from destruction, making them a fun collectible today,” the blog reports.

Collectible banks have been made in Europe and the U.S., and the article suggests you do some online research if considering buying a bank you think has value.

“If you are interested in the traditional `still’ piggy bank, the cast-iron banks manufactured between the 1870s and the early 1930s are considered the most valuable from an investment standpoint. Early cast-iron banks were made by hardware foundries which were often out of business by the turn of the century. Foundries manufactured some later cast-iron banks as a way to diversify their offerings and stay in business during the lean years of the Great Depression, but by the mid-1930s, cast-iron still-bank production had come to an end,” the article notes.

“Through careful selection and research, you can become part of a vibrant global community that seeks to preserve and celebrate the history of these simple yet charming objects. So join the party and get collecting,” advises the blog.

We have two piggy banks on the go here. One, a porcelain armadillo featuring a Texas flag, is where we put our U.S. change. When we go over the bridge to Ogdensburg, N.Y. we run the coins through a change machine and then add the bills to our shopping budget.

Our other one is shaped like a delivery truck, and the coins it carried have mostly been used to bolster our Saskatchewan Pension Plan savings – we convert the change to bills and then deposit them in the bank before making a “bill payment” to our future selves.

If your piggy bank is filled to the brim, why not consider making a contribution to SPP, the made-in-Saskatchewan do-it-yourself pension plan that’s open to any Canadian with registered retirement savings plan room? Check out SPP today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

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


April 25, 2024

Looking for the top 10 places to retire in Canada

Where are the best places to retire in this country?

According to CTV’s Christi Dabu, recent research from Sotheby’s International Realty Canada came up with a Top 10 list – and Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto didn’t make the cut.

The cities on the list are deemed to be top retirement destinations because of “breathtaking naturescapes, top health-care facilities, and diverse and welcoming communities,” notes Sotheby’s in the CTV article.

Topping the ranking is Victoria, B.C., the article begins.

“A mild climate, beautiful beaches and ocean views are among the reasons Victoria is a popular place to retire in Canada,” the article notes. “B.C.’s capital suits those with an active lifestyle. It has golf courses as well as dozens of parks and gardens.

Next up, also in B.C., is Parksville, the article continues.

Known as “Canada’s retirement capital,” the community “has the highest concentration of seniors per capita,” CTV reports.

Parksville “also meets the needs of those who want to enjoy the outdoors. Located on Vancouver Island, its mild climate year-round means retirees have plenty of opportunities to golf and visit parks, as well as to go boating, kayaking and more on the Strait of Georgia,” the article explains.

Making the top three a B.C. sweep, next comes the Okanagan Valley.

“Spending leisurely days of retirement in wine country is another attractive option. And the Okanagan Valley has year-round outdoor activities, such as boating on Okanagan Lake and skiing at ski resorts,” the article notes, citing Sotheby’s research.

In fourth and fifth place are two Alberta cities.

“Calgary was ranked one of the world’s top five most livable cities and is one of the few cities on the list that are among Canada’s most populous,” the article notes.

Sotheby’s states in the article that “with a vibrant culture, access to top healthcare facilities, and more sunshine year-round than any other part of Canada, Calgary is a popular spot for those looking to retire in a vibrant and bustling city.”

Nearby Canmore, Alta. is noteworthy for its “breathtaking scenery in Canada’s Rocky Mountains,” and offers “year-round recreation” with a “thriving arts scene and a welcoming community.”

In sixth place is Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

“Close to Toronto and New York state, this town is the heart of Ontario’s wine country. Along with access to more than 50 wineries throughout the Niagara region, this town has a vibrant culture and many galleries,” the article reports.

In seventh place is Canada’s capital, Ottawa.

“Canada’s capital city is considered ideal for those who want an urban environment with historic charm. Ottawa has some of the country’s top health-care facilities, scenic parks, museums, galleries, and entertainment venues,” CTV reports.

Quebec City, with “rich history and European charm,” Fredericton, with “tranquil tree-lined streets” and “charming Victorian architecture” and Halifax, with “breathtaking natural scenery and a friendly community,” round out the list.

Now, all you need to do to prepare for a Top 10 retirement destination is to start saving!

If you are a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to retirement saving, a great and handy toolkit is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Open to any Canadian with registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) room, SPP does all the heavy lifting, investing your savings in a low-cost, professionally managed pooled fund. When it’s time to start retirement living, SPP’s options include a lifetime monthly annuity payment or the flexibility of the Variable Benefit option.

Check out SPP today! 

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

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

Apr 22: You’ve escaped from work – what will you do with all that time?

April 22, 2024

Before we retired, we used to wonder what it would be like to not work. What, we wondered, would we do with that 40 hours (plus commuting) of extra time?

Save with SPP took a look around to see what others have started to do with their new free time.

Over at the Sixty And Me blog, a number of ideas are presented.

The top five are “travel – visit the world’s most sacred places,” followed by “step out of your comfort zone – do something you’ve never done before.”

Rounding out the top five are “learn new hobbies, clean/declutter and volunteer – there’s always help needed somewhere.”

“If there is one thing that I have learned, it’s that retirement is a choice. We may not be able to choose when we have to retire, but we can choose how we spend the final decades of our lives,” the blog’s author concludes.

OK, what other ideas are there?

The Bucket List Journey blog lists 44 ideas.

Near the top of the list is “attend community events,” such as “fundraisers, charity walks and even barbecues,” so that you are getting out and meeting people.

Becoming “your own financial guru” is possible with the extra time, the blog says – you can run your investments and put more time into budgeting.

Other ideas include “becoming a teacher,” and mentoring others in the skills you learned in your working life, getting into podcasts, and “committing to your health.” On this latter topic, the blog advises that “this may involve developing healthy habits such as exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and managing stress.”

“But,” concludes the blog, “like all life-changing habits, it’s also important to take it one small step at a time so that you can actually commit to it.”

So, being part of the community, owning your money management, and getting back in shape. Are there other suggestions?

There certainly are, reports the Great Senior Living blog.

“Get an education,” the blog suggests. “Retirement could be the perfect time to get that degree you’ve always wanted or just learn more about a subject that fascinates you,” the blog notes.

Another idea, the blog continues is to “get involved in a sport.”

“Playing sports is… an easy way to meet new people and have fun. Bocce, pickleball, bowling, golf, tennis, and water aerobics are just some of the sports that are popular among retirees,” the blog reports.

If you love furry critters, why not “foster a pet,” the blog notes. “The idea is to provide a loving and stable environment for the animals until a permanent home can be found for them. This is a great way to get the benefits of animal companionship without the high price tag.”

Finally, from the Storypoint Group website, a suggestion is to try activities “that help you unwind” such as “reading, doing puzzles, playing a fun brain game, practicing yoga or meditation, or becoming a film critic.”

All great ideas. Learning new things helps exercise your brain; walking or yoga help your body, and any activity that helps you meet new friends is good for your mental health – it’s not good to stay home and isolated. The bottom line is that retirement is what you make of it, and it can be anything you imagine it to be.

A little cash in the wallet helps give you more retirement options, so don’t forget to save for retirement now to help fund your future life. Be sure you have joined any workplace pension or retirement savings plan and are contributing to the max. If you’re saving on your own for retirement, consider the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.

SPP looks after the hard part – carefully investing your hard-earned savings in a professionally managed, low-fee, pooled fund. And at retirement, SPP can turn your nest egg into a monthly income stream (via SPP’s line of annuities), or you can look to SPP’s Variable Benefit to take out money when you want at the rate you decide.

Check out SPP today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

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


April 18, 2024

Daily Hive asks if big-city retirement is possible in Canada

An article in The Daily Hive took a look at how possible it is to retire in a big Canadian city at age 65.

The results of their research are a little depressing.

“Living in a major Canadian city is already expensive, and in recent years, food and housing costs have skyrocketed. Those looking to buy a home are intimidated by substantial down payments and high mortgages with bloated interest rates. Others are dealing with soaring rent,” The Daily Hive reports.

Citing research from Swedish firm Sambla, the publication notes that in a ranking of the most expensive countries to retire in, Canada “placed pretty high at number six.”

And, the article continues, Sambla’s conclusion was that “with an average retirement age of 60 and an average life expectancy of 83, Canadians would need to save around $300,500 to retire.”

When asked about the possibility of retiring at 65 in a large Canadian city, Reddit users painted a pretty bleak picture, The Daily Hive notes.

“Most responses ranged from worrying to, well, really, really depressing. It’s clear that retirement, as our parents knew it, no longer exists in Canada,” the article notes.

Here are some of the Reddit comments, from The Daily Hive article, on whether or not retirement at 65 is possible in big-city Canada:

  • “Is retirement even a word in Canada anymore? Prices just keep going up and wages stay the same; it just doesn’t make sense.”
  • “I’m 42. At my current trajectory, I can expect to retire comfortably at age 275.”
  • “I’ll be lucky if I can retire at age 95.”
  • “Yes, as long as I die by the age of 64.”
  • “I will work until I die. Not by choice.”

Another Reddit post, the article notes, suggested that retirement is only possible “for those who have inheritances when their parents or other family members die.”

The article goes on to note that Canadians are, according to Statistics Canada, working longer and retiring later.

“Statistics Canada data shows that Canadians are, on average, working for longer periods before retiring. In 1998, the average age of retirement for public sector, private sector, and self-employed workers was 60.9 years. Now, it is 65.1 years,” The Daily Hive reports.

It’s a little concerning to see how some people feel about retirement. We sometimes hear similar stories from those who are buried under debt – that they’ll never get out from under it.

It’s important to have some sort of retirement savings plan to help fund your future. If you’re in a pension plan or retirement program at work, that’s a huge help. If you don’t have a plan, and are trying to save on your own for retirement, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be just what you’ve been looking for.

SPP will take your hard-saved dollars and will invest them in a low-cost, professionally managed, pooled fund. When it’s time to turn your investments into income, you can choose to receive monthly lifetime annuity payment, or SPP’s Variable Benefit, where you decide how much to take in income, and when.

Check out SPP today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

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

Apr 15: Life After Work – book explores the adventures free time can bring

April 15, 2024

It’s always very difficult for those of us who are in the working world to truly envision what retirement will be like. It’s like some sort of alternate universe, or at least, it seems that way.

Life After Work by P. Alexander provides a thought-provoking, detailed, and clear look into how your future could unfold. While it is intended for a U.S. readership, the fundamental concepts in the work are of interest to a broader audience.

Alexander begins by describing retirement “as a juncture in life that beckons with the promise of freedom and newfound adventures,” warning that it “can also stir up a whirlwind of emotions, leaving us grappling with uncertainties and insecurities.”

But, Alexander reassures us, “retirement is not a destination; it’s the beginning of a grand adventure, a blank canvas waiting for you to paint with the vibrant colours of your dreams and desires.” It’s a phase where you “have the privilege of redefining life on your own terms, unburdened by the constraints of a structured workday.”

Alexander stresses the importance of “staying active and fit” in retirement. “One of the most common mistakes that retirees make is to just kick back, relax, and forget about the world,” which, while fun, “can lead to significant cognitive decline.”

Alexander calls staying physically active “vital… and also a potent tool for keeping your mind sharp.” Similarly, keeping up with the housework is “conducive to mental clarity… household chores offer a sense of accomplishment and a visually pleasing environment.” Other recommendations for staying active and fit include “developing a green thumb,” and “refining your eating habits.” Set priorities around family time, which can bring “joy and emotional well-being,” the book advises.

After a chapter on tweaking your wardrobe for your new retirement lifestyle and “look,” the book talks about the importance of having routines in retirement.

“Freedom is great, but it can lose its novelty once you run out of things to do,” warns Alexander. “This is where a routine can serve as a comforting and stabilizing force…. (it) can provide structure, maintain your health and well-being, and ensure you make the most of your time.”

In a chapter discussing retirement goals, such as well-being and health, social connections, and personal growth and learning, Alexander expands on the importance of having a sense of purpose.

“Our sense of agency and utility relies on having a sense of purpose, and that’s something that passion contributes to,” Alexander explains. “Passion gives you a reason to wake up in the morning with enthusiasm and excitement. Retirement can sometimes bring a loss of purpose for those who were deeply committed to their careers. Reigniting old passions or discovering new ones can reignite that sense of direction and fulfillment.”

A later chapter in the book looks at how you can set up your own “bucket list” of “aspirations and experiences you wish to accomplish during your lifetime.” Consider your passions – “activities, experiences or places that have always intrigued you” in setting up a list that you can “devote your energy and time to.”

At the end of a chapter on the importance of developing a social network in retirement (to replace the one you had at work), Alexander writes that “it is always possible to forge meaningful connections in your retirement years… with the right mindset and a dash of proactive spirit, you can have a vibrant social life that enhances your retirement journey.”

There’s a helpful chapter on budgeting – figuring out your sources of retirement income and balancing that out against your expenses. That can help you understand how much you need to save for retirement, Alexander writes.

“The sooner you start saving for retirement, the more time your investments have to grow. Understanding your timeline is crucial for setting realistic goals.”

This fact-laden book is a great read for anyone gearing up for life beyond work.

“Planning can be your essential best friend,” Alexander concludes. “Create a roadmap for your retirement that aligns with your dreams and values. This is the best way to make the most out of the next phase of your life.”

As the book suggests, if you haven’t already started saving for retirement, there’s still time to get rolling. If you’re saving on your own for life after work, consider enlisting the help of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan ( SPP has been securing retirement for Canadians for more than 35 years.

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

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


April 11, 2024

Despite focusing on slaying debt, Canadians still plan to retire at 60

Writing in the Financial Post, Victoria Wells reports that “more than half of Canadian investors say they’re concentrating on getting their bills paid over saving for the future.”

Yet, her article notes, despite the focus on debt reduction – brought on by higher interest rates – a CIBC study suggests “most still expect to retire around 60.”

OK, saving less, reducing debt, and still jumping over the wall of work at 60. Let’s hear more.

The focus on paying down debt, Wells reports, is “leading many to look past traditional long-term savings vehicles, such as the registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) to the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) instead. Indeed, 53 per cent of investors with both an RRSP and TFSA said they preferred putting their money into the latter so they could access their savings tax-free at any time. RRSPs, in contrast, may be locked-in, meaning withdrawals, which are taxable, can only be made at a future date.”

In fact, the article continues, again citing CIBC research, “one third of people with RRSPs don’t intend to make any contributions” by the annual deadline.

The fact that people seem to be preoccupied, in the present, with defeating debt seems to be impacting how they are investing generally, the article notes.

“The shift to a more conservative financial focus is also showing up in people’s investing strategies, and 42 per cent said they’re looking for predictable returns over outsized growth amid an uncertain economic environment,” the article notes.

“The preference for short-term liquidity and stable returns suggests many Canadians are focused on today and less so on long-term accumulation of wealth or retirement,” Carissa Lucreziana of CIBC states in the article.

OK, more interest on liquidity – having money available to use soon – than long-term growth. What’s driving that?

The article says anxiety may be the reason behind the switch in investment thinking.

“Inflation, higher interest rates and concerns the economy may tip into a recession have left many Canadians anxious about their finances. Worriers are spending an average of 17.7 more hours fretting about money than they were last year, according to separate research from the Bank of Nova Scotia,” the Post reports.

And some of those anxieties extend to retirement, the article adds.

Citing more data from CIBC, the Post notes that “more than half admit they either can’t afford to save for retirement or aren’t sure they’re saving enough. Another 57 per cent harbour fears they’ll run out of money in their old age, while higher inflation has forced one-third to push back their expected retirement date.”

The solution, the article concludes, is a balanced approach – focusing on debt while not overlooking long-term savings needs completely.

“Planning for both short and longer-term ambitions can help individuals move beyond their immediate needs and envision how they can live for today (and) save for the future, accumulating wealth over time to support their retirement years,” states CIBC’s Lucreziana in the article.

The article makes a great point. Of course, you should get rid of personal debt – the less you have of it in retirement, when you will probably have less income, the better. But it’s probably not a great idea to completely stop saving for retirement while battling debt. Maybe, one should consider retirement saving to be like any other bill you have to pay each month.

Members of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan can save as though they are paying bills – just set up SPP as a “bill” on your online banking, and you’re off to the races. You can also set up a “pay yourself first” pre-authorized contribution, and SPP also accepts credit card contributions. That’s one of the great features about SPP – flexibility.

Check out SPP today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

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

Apr 8: How do rich folks invest their money?

April 8, 2024

Any of us who play golf watch with awe as better golfers blast their drive 100 yards past ours, and putt for birdies instead of bogeys. What, we wonder, are they doing differently to be having such success?

Save with SPP had those same sorts of thoughts about investing recently. After taking a boat tour of the river/canal network of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, we wondered what did folks do with their investments that brought them here – massive, waterfront houses with multi-storey crewed yachts?

Let’s see what the Interweb tells us.

An article from The Globe and Mail suggests that “the wealthy have a greater exposure to real estate and alternate investments in their portfolios – as much as a third.”

The article quotes Nancy Grouni of Objective Financial Partners Inc., in Markham, Ontario, as saying “a typical portfolio breakdown would be 25 per cent real estate – excluding their personal residences – plus 10 per cent alternative investments such as hedge funds, derivatives, foreign currency and private equity. Then a third of the portfolio consists of cash and fixed-income vehicles, and the balance is in equities.”

“I find that people with a higher net worth tend to be more comfortable with those non-traditional, alternative ways of investing,” Grouni tells the Globe. “They have invested in private equity through personally held corporations; that’s how they earned a living.”

Writing for Business Insider, Peter Syme tries to find out the investing preferences of what he calls “ultra high net worth individuals,” or UHNWIs.

His research breaks it down as follows – 26 per cent is invested in equities, 34 per cent is in commercial property (21 per cent of the total commercial investment is direct, meaning owning the property, while the rest comes through real estate investment trusts or REITs), 17 per cent goes into bonds, private equity (again this means direct ownership of something, such as a business) gets nine per cent, “investments of passion” get five per cent and gold, three per cent. Seven per cent is invested in “other” investments, and the final two per cent is invested in cryptocurrency, the article concludes.

What’s an investment of passion? “Art, cars and wine – which may be bought for enjoyment or simply as an investment,” the article notes.

The Medium blog looked at folks in the U.S. who were millionaires, but perhaps not yet UHNWIs, and got a different asset mix.

“On average, the portfolios of the wealthy are heavily weighted toward equities, which make up 53 per cent of assets. The remainder is largely divided amongst bonds (15 per cent), cash (11 per cent) and CDs/money market funds (nine per cent). Real estate, excluding the primary residence, comprises just six per cent of their net worth,” the article notes, citing research from the National Bureau of Economic Research in the U.S.

There’s much more emphasis on owning stocks in this group, the article notes.

“Take it from the best: Warren Buffett’s will dictates that 90 percent of his wealth be invested in stock market index funds when he dies, with the remainder in government bonds,” concludes.

An article from Forbes offers a look at the investment habits of the wealthy, noting that they tend not to “sit” on their money, but keep it mostly invested.

As well, their focus is on “a year-over-year increase in net worth,” so “they don’t waste a considerable amount of time on the details.” They “live below their means,” avoid debt and paying interest, and are very aware of their income and expenses.

We once read a quote from Mark Cuban, well-known U.S. entrepreneur, who said that once you begin investing, try not to dip into that money – let it grow. It is certainly interesting to take a short look at how the richer half invests!

Members of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan don’t have to sweat out an investment strategy for their savings. SPP’s asset mix is currently 10 per cent Canadian equities, 16 per cent U.S. equities, 15 per cent non-North American equities, 11 per cent real estate, 18 per cent infrastructure, 13 per cent bonds, six per cent mortgages, and 10 per cent private debt, with the balance (small) in short-term investments. SPP isn’t sitting on its cash – it’s carefully growing its members’ contributions to help fund their future retirements!

Check out SPP today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

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