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

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

JUN 22: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

What to do when the markets tumble

Every once in a while, the financial markets will throw you a curve ball. That’s the nature of investing – what goes up can come down. But what should one do during a downturn?

A recent article in the Financial Post  says the “days of turbulence” this year may have some folks thinking of giving up on stocks altogether, and stuffing “money into a shoebox under your bed” instead.

But, the article advises, that would be the wrong approach. Markets tend to bounce back after setbacks – they are resilient.

Quoted in the article, investment professional Dan Tersigni says staying the course, rather than bailing on stocks, is the wisest approach. “The odds are overwhelmingly in your favour,” he tells the Post. But patience is a must, the article says, as it can take four or five years for markets to fully recover from a slide.

The next tip from the Post is to remember what your investment goals are. If it’s retirement down the road you’re saving for, “the worst thing is to go off track by ditching investments when stocks take a dive,” the article notes.

“You still have time on your side, and you really don’t want to be making short-term decisions,” Tersigni tells the Post. Retirement can be a multi-decade journey with time to make up short-term losses, the article states. If you are up at night fretting about volatility in your investments, perhaps should look at a more diversified portfolio, the Post reports.

Finally, remember that down markets can often be a good time to buy, the Post tells us.

“Normally when the stock market takes a pounding, you shouldn’t focus on what you’re losing but instead on what you could be buying. A market plunge or `correction, makes stocks cheaper,” the article notes. However, the Post says, getting it exactly right on timing – buying at the lowest point – is extremely difficult. A better plan is to automate the process, and buy a set amount of investments every month, the article says.

“That way, you’ll get the best performance from your money – even during the worst of times,” the Post concludes.

So to recap – don’t panic and sell everything at a loss. Focus on the longer term goals – you may have more time than you think until you are actually dipping into those savings as income. And making regular investments, a practice called “dollar cost averaging,” lets you take advantage of dips without getting into the risky business of timing the market.

A nice feature of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is that you can automate your savings by setting up a periodic direct withdrawal from your bank to SPP. This accomplishes two goals – as discussed, you are now doing dollar cost averaging. And as well, you are paying yourself first, and directing money into your savings before you start paying the bills. Win win.

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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

What do experts see as the three best ways to save money?

Saving is such a broad topic. Books, TV programs, podcasts, educational courses and many other helping resources all exist to help us learn how to save.

But wading through all that audio, video and text can be pretty daunting. Save with SPP decided to do a quick combing of the sands of the Internet to search for a few nuggets of saving wisdom.

At the How Stuff Works blog, there are actually 10 top ideas presented, but let’s focus on the top three. First, the blog says, you must “make your money work for you.” The blog suggests that money left over after all the bills are paid can be invested in interest-bearing accounts and savings vehicles.

“You define the terms — how long it will take to mature — and that money goes away. When it comes back, it brings more money with it,” the blog explains.

The second tip offered here is “making – and sticking to – a budget” so that you know where the money you spend is actually going. You need to be honest, and fully aware, of “the money you make and the money you spend,” we are advised.

Coming in at number three is the importance of having an emergency fund. We all know all about that.

It’s a similar tale over at the Modern Mix Vancouver blog.

This blog advises that we “plan ahead; and look back.” A budget is great – if you are following it. So review your expenses every month, and plan as much as you can in advance. “Stock up on non-perishable items when they are on sale, like jars of pasta sauce, dried noodles, canned beans and chickpeas… and shop for fruits and veggies that are in season,” the blog suggests.

A second tip is to use loyalty cards. The author cites Starbucks, Sephora and Shoppers PC Optimum points as examples of where you can earn points to redeem on free stuff simply by signing up.

The third tip here is to “live credit-free and avoid interest fees.” Don’t carry a balance on those cards and if you have done so, work hard to pay off your debt – the interest you pay is significant.

At the My Canada Payday blog, the advice is tailored towards those of us who are struggling with our finances. Their first tip is to try and stretch your precious dollars.

“While saving money can be difficult when funds are low, there are generally certain steps that can be taken to truly get the complete bang for one’s buck,” the blog suggests. Look for a bank that offers low fees, the blog suggests – you’ll be surprised how much you can save.

A second idea is to sell off any items you’re not using, either online or through a yard sale. “Upon attaining these extra funds, putting them aside is a proactive way of getting used to saving money,” the blog advises.

Finally, if you’re having trouble making ends meet, the blog suggests looking for a way to “increase (your) earnings.”

You might be able to become an Uber or Lyft driver, delivering people or groceries, or you could look for online freelance projects, the blog suggests. This added income may be enough to lift your prospects, the blog concludes.

These are all sound ideas. Save with SPP will add one additional one that has worked over the years, and that is the concept of “paying yourself first.” Direct money from your paycheque into savings, whether it’s a retirement fund, an emergency fund, or a savings account, and then let that money grow. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount – you will be surprised how quickly the dollars will pile up.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan permits automated savings. You can set things up so that an amount is automatically transferred to SPP from your account at regular intervals, such as paydays. That way, you’ve done your savings before you have a chance to spend the money. 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. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

JUN 15: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

60 per cent of pension plan members report barriers to retirement saving

New research from Benefits Canada magazine shows that even folks who are in retirement plans say they’re finding barriers to saving – all thanks to the impacts from the pandemic.

The magazine’s annual CAP (capital accumulation plan) Member Survey was carried during the start of the crisis, from March 30 to April 1.

A capital accumulation plan is any type of savings vehicle where members put in money – sometimes matched by the employer – over their working lives. At the end of work, the total amount saved for retirement is then either paid out to them via an annuity, drawn down from a special locked-in RRIF, or a combination of both.

The folks at Benefits Canada asked people in these types of plans how the pandemic was affecting their spending and saving habits.

The research found that Canadians “are continuing to juggle their financial priorities. More than half (54 per cent) of CAP members are prioritizing day-to-day expenses, followed by paying the mortgage or rent (47 per cent), paying off personal debt (38 per cent), enhancing personal savings (34 per cent) and saving for retirement (28 per cent),” the magazine reports.

A fairly low number of respondents – 41 per cent – “described their current financial situation as excellent or very good,” the magazine notes. A further 40 per cent said their finances were “adequate,” but 19 per cent said things were “somewhat poor or very poor.” A whopping 60 per cent said “they’re unable to save as much as they’d like for retirement due to other financial debts, such as credit cards or student loans,” Benefits Canada reports.

Debt is definitely a barrier to saving, the magazine reports. “I think the big thing we need to start to get across to workers, savers, Canadians . . . is that having too much credit card debt is the opposite side of insufficient retirement savings,” Joe Nunes, executive chairman of Actuarial Solutions Inc., states in the article. “It comes from too much spending. We have to get better at educating people that they need to keep the spending in check to get the savings in order.”

The problem, however, is that the pandemic is making Canadian household debt even worse.

“You don’t need to be a psychic to predict that over the next weeks and months, the country will see an increase in personal bankruptcies, while household debt is going to soar,” reports Maclean’s magazine. “Well before COVID-19, there was growing concern over the country’s personal finances, with debt-to-income ratios topping 176 per cent in the third quarter of 2019, which means for that every dollar of income we earn we owe $1.76.”

With so many people off work and receiving CERB benefits, which may equal only about half of what they were making at work, credit cards and lines of credit will feel the strain, the magazine predicts.

Let’s face it – at a time when just staying healthy and avoiding COVID-19 is the new national priority, followed by keeping a roof overhead and food in the fridge, retirement saving is going to get bumped to the bottom of most people’s to-do lists.

But remember that with some capital accumulation plans, like your RRSP or your Saskatchewan Pension Plan account, you can reduce your contributions and put in what you can. If you can’t chip in what you did last year, put in less. Any contribution, however small today, will benefit you in the future, thanks to the professional investment growth it will receive over the years. You can ramp things up again when better times return.

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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Guaranteed income even more valuable in times of market chaos: Alexandra Macqueen

Save with SPP recently had a chance to ask retirement expert Alexandra Macqueen, co-author of Pensionize Your Nest Egg  and a frequent financial blogger, for her thoughts on the state of retirement in Canada.

Q: Can you expand a bit about why annuities may start looking more appealing to retirees and and those who are soon to be retired? Is it because the markets are so volatile and negative due to the pandemic? And the idea that you have a steady lifetime income (with an annuity)?

I have two reasons for thinking annuities might start looking more appealing to today’s and tomorrow’s retirees ­– one practical and one more theoretical.

The first, practical reason is just that when markets decline precipitously – like we’re seeing now with the COVID-19 pandemic – then the value of a secure, guaranteed income that is protected from market risk is more appealing.

My own feeling is that over time, the economic effects from the COVID-19 pandemic will be viewed differently than the last big market event, the global financial crisis.

The 2008-09 financial crisis was much more constrained to a single (albeit big) sector: “finance.” The pandemic, in contrast, stands to upend so much more than the financial world and I think that, over the long term, it could reorient how we think about income and risk in retirement. Of course, it’s easy to make predictions; only time will tell!

The second, more theoretical reason is that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed what you might call the “volatility of longevity” – and somewhat counterintuitively, if longevity is MORE uncertain, people should be willing to pay MORE to hedge that risk.

If your house was at increased risk of burning down, for example, you would pay more for fire insurance – but you would also value that insurance more, because you know you were at increased chance of actually needing it!

So even though the COVID-19 pandemic might actually “decrease” life expectancy “on average,” it also increases the range of possible outcomes (I might live fewer years than before the pandemic, and the uncertainty about how long I may live has increased).

In theory (but maybe not in practice), this means people “should” be more willing to “insure” against the uncertainty, and annuities are the most efficient way to do so.

Q. Do you think people may stay away from equities and look more at bonds, GICs, and that sort of thing for the same reasons – fear of market volatility?

Yes, but with rates near zero – and potentially going even below zero – it’s hard to make bonds and GICs work for retirement income. You get security, but very, very low yields.

For people who are risk-averse (many of us!), the solution isn’t to load up on more equities. What are the alternatives? If you’re looking at products with similar guarantees to GICs, then annuities again should be on your radar screen – and annuity yields, especially at more advanced ages, compare very favourably to GICs.

Q. The ideas in your recent MoneySense article about people working later, and being less likely to retire early, were great. Do you feel work will be harder to find, jobs harder to keep, so it’s less likely that folks will leave at 55 because they may have nothing to go back to in this market? Could you expand a bit on why you think folks won’t retire the way they have been?

Here, what I’m thinking about is that for years I’ve heard people say, “if my retirement doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to work in some capacity.” But what if you’re not able to “go back to work,” because there’s no work to go back to?

It will take a long time for the effects of the pandemic to be felt in all areas of society, including work – but my thinking is that the “easy” fallback of “I’ll find work” will no longer be available. And if that’s the case, people may think longer and harder about leaving the work situations they’ve got. More uncertainty – about work, about income, about home values, about longevity – equals fewer changes and less risk-taking.

Q. We love the idea of more focus on debt, and less assumption on “harvesting” the value of the house. Hopefully this won’t lead to more reverse mortgages, but do you think we are seeing the end of the tendency for boomers to fund their lives with home equity lines of credit (HELOCs)? 

It feels like all eyes are on “what will happen with home values” right now!

There are two ways that “funding our lives with HELOCs” might end: home values might drop, so that the value isn’t there to “harvest,” and lending standards might tighten, so that HELOCs aren’t available even if the value theoretically is.

I’ve been hearing about tightening lending standards for HELOCs in recent weeks – meaning lenders may be “calling” the loan, or “tightening” the lending terms (often this looks like reducing the amount of available credit).

There doesn’t seem to be any consensus about the future direction of home prices. I feel as though for every article I read suggesting values will drop, I read another saying values will hold steady. And keep in mind that in Canada’s large markets, even a reasonably large “drop” in value will just take prices back a few years.

The rise in home values that we’ve seen in the last decade or so – particularly in the GTA and the GVA – have no historical precedent. I don’t think we, as a society, have collectively grappled with how to integrate what economists might call this “shock” into our personal financial plans. The growth in home equity is a positive shock, but a shock nonetheless! In this area, like in so many others, I think we will need to wait and see what trends emerge. It may be that lenders make the decision for homeowners to put an end to using your house “like an ATM.”

Q. Do you have any other thoughts?

My main thought is that it’s really important to recognize the diversity of situations that people entering retirement are in.

It’s very tempting to provide generalized advice based on preconceptions about what retirement is and what “retirees” are like. But retirees and soon-to-be retirees are an incredibly diverse group, with varying views on what they need and want in life, and retirees enter the retirement stage of life with highly varied situations, from their health status to their expectations about how long they’ll live and what they’ll do in retirement.

“Retirement” as we know it is a fairly young concept, and so much has changed since the idea of retirement was first introduced. We’ve collectively never been here before, with so many people transitioning into the retirement phase – which is itself changing under our feet. Thinking about and digging into what “retirement” means is what gets me up in the morning! I’ll never get tired of wondering what life has to offer.

We thank Alexandra Macqueen very much for taking the time to answer Save with SPP’s questions!

If you haven’t thought about including annuities in your retirement plans, a fact to be aware of is that if you are a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, you will be able to choose from a number of life annuity options when it’s time to turn your savings into income. 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. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

JUN 8: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

Will pandemic make us rethink our retirement plans?

Financial author Alexandra Macqueen, writing in MoneySense magazine, notes that we’ve always planned for retirement based on the assumption that things will be pretty much stable between the “now” of working and the “then” of retiring.

But, she asks, how will things change when the “now” is totally thrown into chaos by the pandemic?

Up until recently, she writes, we have thought about early, late, or part-time retirement. “All of these variations on the retirement theme have been built on a relatively steady set of economic conditions and assumptions: that housing and financial markets will remain stable, the economy will continue to function, and Canadians will continue to pay the Canada Pension Plan premiums and income taxes that keep CPP and Old Age Security payments flowing,” she explains.

But, she writes, the global pandemic and its “resulting economic fallout… could reshape retirement in Canada.”

First, she says, the idea of early retirement has always been associated with the idea that there are “fallbacks” if things don’t go smoothly – “returning to paid employment, harvesting home equity or counting on continued asset growth.”

But if jobs are scarce, property values drop and “markets tumble,” Macqueen notes, “these backup plans may not be available. As a result, more Canadians may opt to remain in their paid employment (if they’re employed) longer.”

As well, Canadians may find work hard to come by generally, and if they work part-time or via “gigs,” retirement savings will also be difficult to come up with, another reason Macqueen gives for seeing fewer early retirements going forward.

The next big change Macqueen predicts is that of Canadians finally coming to terms with their debt.

“The economic fallout from COVID-19 also means that many highly indebted Canadians will need to take a fresh look at the spending that got them where they are, because the security of the income or assets they expected to use to retire the debt has diminished or even disappeared,” she explains.

With no investment returns to pay down debt with, and with housing prices uncertain, Canadians may be forced to downsize their primary residence purely to save on mortgage costs, cut back on big vacations and fancy home renovations, or in extreme cases enter “a consumer proposal or bankruptcy proceedings to resolve outstanding debt,” she warns.

Finally, the COVID-19 era and its volatile market may result in a return to simpler and less risky retirement finances, such as guaranteed investment certificates (GICs) and annuities.

GICs carry almost no risk – they pay out a set amount of interest depending on the term of the certificate.

“A life annuity is a financial product, sold by an insurance company, that pays a guaranteed monthly income to the annuitant(s) for as long as they are alive—sort of like a “DIY version” of a defined-benefit pension,” notes Macqueen, co-author of a book on the subject, Pensionize Your Nest Egg.

Summing it up – we may need to work longer to have enough savings to retire on, or to pay off debt first before retiring, and when the wonderful day arrives, we might want to convert savings into a guaranteed lifetime income via annuities and GICs.

If you’re a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, the idea of converting your retirement savings into a guaranteed lifetime income stream is already part of your retirement tool kit. SPP has a variety of annuity options available that will ensure you get a monthly cheque for as long as you’re alive. Check it 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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Jun 1: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

If you’re nest-egg is getting a short-term pinch, it’s time to make do with less for a while

Those of us who are living on income from our retirement savings – drawing down from a big nest egg – are probably feeling like they are a GPS system in a car these days. Thanks to volatile investment conditions, the route has changed – and it’s time to recalculate.

An article on the Toronto.com site offers some interesting tips on how to cope with unpredictable income from volatile markets.

Those who “have seen that your stocks have been hit hard,” and who “realize they could fall further,” need “to act cautiously to bolster your finances without necessarily doing anything drastic, at least for now,” the article suggests.

“One simple but smart strategy is to find sensible ways to trim your spending once day-to-day living conditions return closer to normal. The comparison point is your expenditures before the (pandemic) struck,” the article explains. Don’t, the folks at Toronto.com add, base your “back to normal” spending on what you were doing during the pandemic, as “that doesn’t provide a useful model for spending prudently in normal times,” the article advises.

“A planned trim to spending is something you can do quickly; you can cut just what you feel you need to, then loosen the purse strings later when your portfolio eventually recovers. If conditions get worse, you can cut further, but only when and if required,” the article states.

The article points out that at age 65, the rule of thumb is that you need $25 of invested income for every dollar you want to take out and spend. If you expect your income will be depleted due to poor markets, it’s a time to take out less, not more, the article notes.

“While the relationship between spending and the current size of your portfolio will usually vary in subsequent years after you retire, you get the picture that you need a pretty sizable chunk of money in your nest egg to support each $1 of spending. So if you can cut a chunk out of spending without hurting your lifestyle too much, you can take a lot of pressure off a stressed portfolio and increase the odds your savings will last as long as you need it to.”

This great advice is worth heeding.

Members of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan can choose a different approach to managing their retirement income. An option they can choose is the life annuity – with this approach, SPP converts some or all of your account balance at retirement to a guaranteed, monthly payment that you’ll receive every month for the rest of your life. It can continue to a spouse or other beneficiary depending on what annuity option you select. Annuity recipients don’t have to worry about market conditions – however threatening the financial weather may be, they get the same amount every month.

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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

MAY 25: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

Times are volatile, but there are things NOT to do with retirement savings: Gordon Pape

We’re living through a public health crisis that has undermined Canada’s economy and made the stock and bond markets go topsy-turvy.

Noted financial author Gordon Pape, writing in the St. Catharines Standard, says that this situation is particularly frightening to those among us who are living on their retirement savings.

Protecting your health, he writes, is number one. But number two should be protecting your savings, he advises.

“Some older Canadians have a significant amount of money tucked away in their retirement plans, and they don’t want to lose it,” writes Pape. “They’re depending on those RRSPs, RRIFs, and LIFs to support them in the coming years.”

He notes that the stock market “has taken a beating,” and “there’s turmoil in the bond market,” leaving many with no idea “which way to turn.”

Don’t get frightened and put everything into cash, Pape warns. “I’d prefer to have cash reserves to cover two years of expenses and invest the rest in government-issued fixed income securities, high-quality, dividend-paying stocks, and some gold funds or stocks.”

Putting your investments in cash is problematic, he writes. You won’t earn much interest. But the return of inflation could erode the spending power of your cash, notes Pape – governments are being forced to spend more than expected during the pandemic and some economists feel we could see inflation rates of up to three per cent in just a few years.

A second, albeit unlikely scenario with cash investing is bank failure. “Don’t misunderstand me here,” he stresses, “Canada’s banks are well-capitalized and among the strongest in the world.” But there have been failures among smaller institutions in years gone by.

Be sure to take advantage of the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation – you can put up to $100,000 per person in CDIC-backed savings accounts, so that in the unlikely event of bank problems, your money is insured, writes Pape.

Pape’s advice makes a lot of sense – he’s describing a balanced approach to retirement savings, with enough cash to cover your expenses for a couple of years, and then a mix of quality equities and government-backed bonds. For good measure, he also recommends a little exposure to precious metals.

There was a time, perhaps in the 1980s, when interest investing through GICs and high-interest savings accounts was seen as the right approach to retirement savings. But in those days, interest rates were far higher, at certain points of time reaching the mid-teens. Save with SPP remembers getting a $1,000 Canada Savings Bond that paid 16 per cent interest – and a car loan, from the bank, that cost 18 per cent interest! So the good old days weren’t always all that good.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan’s Balanced Fund has an asset mix (as of December 2019) that features 29% bonds, 19% U.S. equity, 18% Canadian equity, 18% per cent non-North American equity, as well as exposure to real estate (10%), infrastructure (3%), mortgages (2%) and short-term investments (1%). Members who have holdings in this SPP fund are benefitting from diversification and professional investment management, with a goal of safe, low-risk growth. 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, classic rock, and darts. 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

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