Tag Archives: COVID-19

Pandemic has dethroned cash as the monarch of personal finance

Your parents say it, the experts say it, people who are wealthy say it – if you’re buying something, pay with cash, not credit. And even debit cards can come with hidden fees, they say.

But this crazy pandemic situation has us all tap, tap, tapping away for groceries, for gas, for a box of beer, and any of the other services we can actually spend money on. Could this represent a sea change for the use of cash, or is it just a blip? Save with SPP had a look around the Interweb for a little fact-finding.

Proponents of cash include Gail Vaz Oxlade, author and TV presenter who has long advocated for using cash for expenses, rather than adding to your debt.

“I’m a huge fan of hers and have read every book and watched every episode of Til Debt Do Us Part, Money Moron and Princess… the premise of the system is to use cash only (no plastic), storing it in envelopes or jars, sticking to a budget, tracking your spending, and once the money is gone, there’s no more until next month’s budget,” reports The Classy Simple Life blog.

It’s true – we have read her books and if you follow her advice your debts will decrease.

Other cash advocates include billionaire Mark Cuban. He tells CNBC that while only 14 per cent of Americans use cash for purchases (pre-pandemic), he sees cash as his number one negotiation tool. “If you want to take a yoga class, and they say it costs $30, say `I’ve only got $20,’” he says in a recent Vanity Fair article. More than likely, he notes, they’ll take the cash.

Cash is great because it is (usually) accepted everywhere, there’s no fees or interest associated with using it, and it has a pre-set spending limit – when your wallet is empty, you stop spending. But these days, cash is no longer sitting on the throne of personal finance.

Globe and Mail columnist Rob Carrick notes that more than six weeks into the pandemic he still had the same $50 in his wallet that he had when it started.

“Paying with cash is seen as presenting a risk of transmitting the virus from one person to another – that’s why some retailers that remain open prefer not to accept it. Note: The World Health Organization says there’s no evidence that cash transmits the virus,” he writes. In fact, he adds, the Bank of Canada recently asked retailers to continue to accept cash during the crisis.

A CBC News report suggests that our plastic money may indeed present a risk, and that the COVID-19 virus may survive for hours or days on money. The piece suggests it is a “kindness” to retailers to pay with credit or debit, rather than cash.

“Public officials and health experts have said that the risk of transferring the virus person-to-person through the use of banknotes is small,” reports Fox News. “But that has not stopped businesses from refusing to accept currency and some countries from urging their citizens to stop using banknotes altogether,” the broadcaster adds. The article goes on to point out that many businesses are doing “contactless” transactions, where payment occurs over the phone or Internet and there is not even a need to tap.

Putting it all together, we’re living in very unusual times, and this odd new reality may be with us for a while. If you are still using cash, it might be wise to wear gloves when you are paying and getting change. Even if you aren’t a fan of using tap or paying online, perhaps now is a time to get your grandchildren to show you how to do it. The important thing is for all of us to stay safe – cash may be dethroned for the short term, but things will eventually return to normal, and it will be “bad” to overuse credit cards again.

And if that cash has been piling up during a period of time when there’s precious little to spend it on, don’t neglect your retirement savings plan. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers a very safe haven for any unneeded dollars. Any amounts you can contribute today will grow into a future retirement income, so consider adding to your savings 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

MAY 11: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

Recession, sure – but keep saving what you can for retirement, experts say

Only the very oldest of us will remember times less scary than the spring of 2020, with so much illness, so many folks forced to stop working and stay home, and scary markets for investors.

Many of us are naturally more worried about keeping afloat financially than retirement savings.

However, a report in The Motley Fool blog says that this COVID-19 crisis should not be a reason to entirely give up on retirement saving.

“The coronavirus is driving the global economy into a recession. Stock markets are very volatile and it’s hard to tell where they’re headed. While it’s normal to be worried, you should continue to save for your retirement,” the blog advises.

You should continue to try and set aside “a small portion of your income for retirement savings,” notes the blog. One reason why is that if you don’t put money in a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) or registered pension plan, “you my not have as much extra money as you expect… as you’ll get a higher tax bill.”

The Motley Fool agrees with the idea of directing some of any precious extra dollars to an emergency fund in this crisis, “in case you get sick or lose your job.”

But, notes the Motley Fool, those who decided to quit saving for retirement during the last big recession more than a decade ago found themselves far behind those who kept saving and who “stayed on course.”

“A study by Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research, showed the negative impact on those who stopped or decreased their contributions during the 2008-2009 recession. People who came out of the markets sold low and bought high. We have to buy low and sell high to make money,” the blog reports.

“After the Great Recession, 64 per cent of high-income workers and 56 per cent of low income workers saw their accumulated retirement savings increase,” the blog adds.

Let’s recap what the blog is telling us, because there are several moving parts here. Some folks stopped saving for retirement during the last recession, and others sold their investments at the bottom of the market.

But those who kept contributing, and who didn’t sell, saw the value of their investments rise after the crisis was over.

It’s been said that every crisis has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s very hard to see the end when you’re at the beginning or even in the middle, but it will come eventually. If you can continue saving, even at a reduced rate, and if you can hold off selling your investments, your future you will thank you for remembering that one day, those savings will be your retirement income.

There’s a great little retirement savings trick that can really work well when markets are low. Say you’re contributing $100 per pay to your retirement account, and let’s say it is a balanced fund, such as that offered by the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. If you continue to chip in the same amount while markets are low, you are essentially buying low, which will help grow your savings 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

Time to use realistic yardstick to measure senior poverty: John Anderson

It’s often said that Canadian seniors are doing fairly well, and that the rate of senior poverty experienced back in the pre-Canada Pension Plan days has dropped considerably.

However, says Ottawa-based union researcher John Anderson, the yardstick used to measure senior poverty levels needs to be updated to international standards. He took the time recently for a telephone interview with Save with SPP.

Currently, says Anderson, a “Market Basket Measure” (MBM) system is used to measure the cost of living, a “bizarre” system that factors in the cost of housing, clothing, food and other staples by province and region. By this old system, it is reckoned that 3.5 per cent of Canadian seniors live in poverty, although recent tweaks to the measurement process will see this number jump to 5.6 per cent.

The intricate MBM system – unique to Canada — goes into arcane details such as “what clothes you should have, how many pairs of long underwear, what kind of food you should buy, how many grams of butter. And there’s a sort of built-in stigmatization of rural living; it’s assumed that you don’t need as much money to live in a rural area as you do to live in Toronto,” Anderson says. The opposite is often true, he points out.

LIM system a better comparator

Anderson says the rest of the world uses a different measurement, one that’s much simpler, Anderson explains. The low income measure (LIM) scale defines poverty as being “an income level that is less than 50 per cent of the median income in the country,” he says. “This gives you a very clean comparison.”

By that measure, a startling 14 per cent of Canadian seniors are living in poverty, which is more than triple that figure that MBM currently quotes. “When you think about it, it means they are making less than half of what the average Canadian earns,” he explains. “They are not earning a lot.”

Why are today’s seniors not doing so well? Anderson says there has been a decline in workplace pensions over the years. “The numbers are way down,” he says. As recently as 2005, there were 4.6 million Canadians who belonged to defined benefit plans through work. By 2018, that number had dropped to 4.2 million, “at a time when we have seen a significant increase in the population, and more seniors than ever before.”

Defined benefit plans are the kind that guarantee what your monthly payment will be. About two million Canadians belong in defined contribution plans, which are more like an RRSP – money contributed over a working person’s career is invested and grown, and then drawn down as income in retirement.

“Only 25 per cent of workers have defined benefit plans now. And only 37 per cent have any kind of registered pension plan. Most have nothing,” says Anderson. This lack of pensions in the workplace, and the tendency towards part time and “gig” work that offers no benefits, is a primary reason why senior poverty is on the upswing, he contends.

“The kinds of jobs people are in today have changed,” Anderson explains. “People are working more non-standard jobs, gig jobs, contract work. Many are not even contributing to the CPP.” They tend not to be saving much on their own with these types of jobs, so it means that “when they retire, if they work that way, they don’t get much of a pension.”

That will leave many people with nothing in retirement except Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, Anderson says. Neither the OAS or the GIS has “really kept up” with increases in living costs. The most anyone can get from these two programs is about $1,500 a month, for a single person, he says. “These major government pension plans have not yet taken a leap forward,” he says. “The government has improved the Canada Pension Plan, and people will benefit from that (in the future),” he explains, but these other two pillars should get a look too.

Looking forward

Anderson says by moving to a LIM-based measurement of poverty, governments could have a more realistic basis on which to make program improvements.

“We already have a form of universal basic income for seniors through the OAS and the GIS,” he says. “The monthly amounts these pay out need to be raised.”

The goal should be to raise income for seniors to the LIM target of 50 per cent of Canada’s median income which is $30,700 per person based on median after tax income for 2018.

He also thinks that the OAS should be an individual benefit, rather than being designed for couples or singles. “You get less per person with the couples’ benefit; people should get the same amount,” he explains.

He says seniors today face an expensive retirement, with possible time spent in costly long-term care homes. “Can I survive when I retire – this isn’t a question that our seniors should have to worry about,” he explains.

Anderson remains optimistic that the problem will be addressed. The Depression prompted governments of the day to begin offering OAS; experience during and after the Second World War led to the introduction of EI and the baby bonus. CPP benefits started following a serious period of senior poverty in the 1950s. “We have to do better, but maybe there’s a silver lining with the COVID-19 situation, and maybe government will take a closer look at this issue again,” he says.

We thank John Anderson for speaking with Save with SPP. John Anderson is the former Policy Director of the federal NDP and now a union researcher.

If you don’t have access to a workplace pension, consider becoming a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. It’s an open defined contribution plan – once you’re a member, the contributions you make are invested and grown over time, and when you retire, you have the option of turning your savings into a lifetime monthly pension. 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

Ways to stay in shape while the gyms are closed

Are you missing your weekly (or for some, daily) trip to the gym during the coronavirus crisis?

Save with SPP had a look around the Interweb to see how people are keeping fit when they are, by and large, confined to their own dwellings.

At the Patch blog, “bodyweight exercises… exercises that don’t require weights or machines,” are recommended. These can also be done anywhere, the blog tells us. Examples include the tried and true pushup, planks (familiar to yoga fans), and a similar “glute bridge.” The site recommends each exercise they list be done 10-15 times.

At The Health Site, the advice on exercise is particularly appropriate for the pandemic.

The site recommends carrying out some breathing exercises at home, so that you can “take precautions by boosting your lung power.” The post outlines deep breathing, “breathing through your diaphragm,” resistance breathing and other exercises. All of these, the blog suggests, will boost the strength of your lungs and “increase the amount of oxygen in your body” by filling and stretching your lung sacs.

TV station KHOU in Houston provides videos leading you through yoga, strength class, cardio class and a boot camp.

So does our own CBC, which provides videos for a couch workout, the “six minute Animal kingdom workout,” a towel workout, a workout for new moms, small-space yoga, and more.

Now why should we be looking up all these exercises when instead we could be watching Netflix or playing board games?

According to the Goodluck blog, keeping busy with exercise has many advantages. It improves your metabolism, it boosts your mental and physical energy, helps with your self-discipline and improves your sleep. The site strongly recommends that workouts take place in the morning.

We’re living through a very strange and scary crisis. Save with SPP has found that even getting out walking the dog seems to break the tension and reduces stress. Be sure, of course, to follow all public health guidelines and keep a safe distance from others if you’re walking, running, or cycling during these unusual times.

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

Ways to save as we wait out the coronavirus

A recent survey in The Wealth Professional found that nearly a third of us say they are in “bad” or “terrible” shape financially owing to the COVID-19 crisis.

And the article notes that the 60 per cent who told Angus Reid pollsters they were “in good shape” aren’t sure their finances will hold up forever if the pandemic lasts a long time.

Save with SPP had a look around to find any advice on how to do more with less as we wait out the coronavirus crisis.

At the C-Net site, tips include seeing if you can lower your auto insurance if you’re no longer driving to work. This should lower the premiums, the article says.

As well, C-Net recommends figuring out “which of your monthly subscriptions are useless right now.” Are you paying for a gym membership you can’t use, the article asks – if the gym isn’t waiving fees during the crisis, maybe it’s time for you to cancel. Ditto for commuter passes, parking fees at work, and so on – anything that can be cancelled while you’re not using it should be, the article suggests.

If you’re going to have problems with your mortgage, contact your bank to see if payments can be deferred, C-Net suggests. And, the article concludes, since you can’t go out to eat, “rattle some pots and pans” and cook at home.

The Motley Fool blog suggests that this is a perfect time to set up a budget, if you haven’t already. “Once you’ve mapped out all your expenses, the next step is to determine where you can cut back,” the article suggests. If you aren’t using something, time to drop it.

Also see if you can cut back on some of your “fixed” expenses, the Motley Fool states. Review your cable, home insurance, and cell phone rates – is there a cheaper plan for each?

This is a great time to get into coupon-clipping for groceries, the article adds, and to “look for a side gig that can earn you some cash while you’re stuck at home.” Ideas include taking paid surveys, starting a business such as tutoring, or freelance writing and editing, the Motley Fool suggests.

The How to Save Money blog tackles the problem from a different angle, and suggests donating your skills to help others in your community. And if you’re able to help others financially, the site provides a long list of worthy charities that are helping others during the crisis.

Save with SPP has talked – from a safe distance – with friends and neighbours. Many are baking their own bread; some are already gearing up for larger vegetable gardens; some are making wine and beer at home instead of lining up for it, and so on. As our late mother used to say, be sure that you are “using up” everything in the fridge – this isn’t a time to chuck the leftovers.

Retirement saving isn’t going to be the priority it usually is during this tough period. One nice feature about the Saskatchewan Pension Plan  is that you, as the member, get to decide how much you will contribute. If you’re not going to be working the same hours for a while, no problem – you can lower or even stop your SPP contributions and ramp them up 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 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

What do millennials think about retirement?

It’s clear to most of us – especially older Canadians – that younger people have a very different way of doing things. So that said, what do they think about retirement?

Save with SPP spoke recently to David Coletto, founding partner and CEO of research firm Abacus Data. His firm has carried out a lot of research on millennials – indeed, he has a book in the works – and he has noticed quite a few things about how younger people approach money and saving.

“No one young Canadian is going to be the same,” he says. As well, he adds, the current COVID-19 situation was not yet a factor when he carried out his research. However, he notes that the data suggests that some millennials are “as well off as the previous generation,” but others, less so. It really comes down to whether or not they live somewhere where they can afford a home, he explains.

There are reasons why housing affordability is an issue for millennials, he notes. For starters, housing prices in Canada’s major cities are near all-time highs. As a group, millennials do tend to have debt, and “the debt levels are much higher” than those of older generations, he explains. Dealing with heavy debt from student days, or the cost of raising kids, tends to “delay key milestones” for millennials.

“So much of their experience is different,” he says, “that it is difficult for them (millennials) to think of retirement when they are still focused on today. About one-third of this generation is struggling more than their parents did, and they will be less well off as a result.”

Abacus recently did some research with the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan that found, among other things, that 80 per cent of respondents would take a job that paid less money if it offered a pension.

Job security isn’t what it once was, Coletto explains. “There’s more freelance work, more part-time work – what we call precarious work, and less pensions available.”

When there’s no workplace pension, the onus for retirement saving falls on the individual. “It’s lower on the list for them, and saving (for retirement) is difficult to do,” he explains. “They are having to manage a lot of other expenses. And we are talking about the pre-COVID era, here.”

“It’s a big chunk that has to go to savings for a down payment, or to pay for a mortgage,” he says.

And it’s not just the workplace that has changed. Millennials are dealing with “a climate change crisis that is existential.” Some “are putting off having a family” over climate concerns, he says.

Millennials therefore tend to want to do things now, while they still can, instead of deferring life experiences and grand trips until they are older. “If the experiences won’t be there, or are not possible, what’s the point of trying to save? Especially when you can’t afford to,” asks Coletto.

Statistics show that only “one in four millennials put any money into an RRSP, and even those that do don’t have a lot of equity in them,” Coletto explains. And while Tax Free Savings Accounts are more attractive to younger people (due to the fact they aren’t locked in) take-up is pretty low there as well.

Absent personal savings, Coletto is concerned that the gap between those with pensions – such as their parents – and those without will create a real split. “There’s an inequality there which will continue to grow,” he predicts.

A way to avoid that scenario might be for Canada to adopt the Australian model for retirement savings, he explains. There, a percentage of every worker’s salary is automatically placed into retirement savings, no matter where you work. The money is then invested by large funds offering pooling and low-cost investing. Moving to an Australian model is “something that needs to be seriously discussed,” he says.

A final piece of advice from Coletto for millennials is this – look at what your parents did for their retirement, and see what you can learn from them.

We thank David Coletto for taking the time to speak with us.

There’s no question that access to a workplace pension is a great benefit for an employer to offer. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan can help. Please contact us for more details.

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

Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) and COVID-19

March 17, 2020

As the global COVID-19 public health emergency continues to spread and create challenges for families and businesses worldwide, we wanted to share with you how SPP is addressing many of the same challenges that our members may be facing.

SPP represents over 30,000 members from across Canada and our principal concern is now on prioritizing the most critical operations such as pension payroll and actively monitoring investment managers. We are also focusing our resources so that we continue to remain available to serve our members in this challenging time despite travel restrictions, social distancing and other challenges that impact our traditional ways of doing business.

We have implemented the best practices of business continuity processes and remain prepared to serve our valued members during this time. However, it is important you are aware that our methods of supporting members and employers are changing to reflect the new pandemic guidelines.

Effective immediately, we have postponed all scheduled member and employer presentations in order to follow the social distancing advice issued by the Province. We are also limiting engagement with our members, employers and other stakeholders and encouraging these activities to be conducted by phone or email where possible. As this pandemic evolves, there may be additional changes to how we connect with members and we encourage you to check the SPP website and social media pages for any updates. We will absolutely reschedule any planned large group meetings, workshops or presentations once the threat has passed.

I would also encourage you to seek out information on www.saskatchewan.ca/coronavirus, the Government of Saskatchewan’s dedicated webpage on COVID-19. It includes the most up-to-date information and guidance for all Saskatchewan residents.

Please do not hesitate to contact SPP if you have any questions about your pension plan. We recognize that this may be a prolonged effort and wanted you to be fully aware of SPP’s commitment to continue serving you during this time.

Sincerely,

Katherine Strutt

General Manager

Market update as of March 12, 2020

The current market volatility illustrates the uncertainty facing investors, especially regarding when the markets will recover.  The following information has been provided by the Plan’s investment managers, TD Asset Management (TDAM) and Leith Wheeler Investment Counsel (Leith Wheeler).

TDAM: March 2/20 – Click here for the full article.

“With a number of major market events making headlines, including the S&P 500 Index declining approximately 13% from its recent highs, 10-Year Treasury yields hitting a new record low of 1.18%, and gold set to break multi-year highs, we want to highlight a few important points.”

“As we currently stand the major known unknown is how COVID-19 will evolve.  If the coronavirus doesn’t become a worldwide epidemic, then risk assets will likely recover quickly. But in a worst-case scenario where the outbreak morphs into a pandemic, the resulting market downturn could get somewhat worse.”

“We are of the view that the most probable outcome is the economic impact of the virus will be short lived for the following reasons:

  • As economic activity is suppressed, we believe it is driving global inventory levels to fall rapidly. Low inventory levels should create pent up demand that will boost economic growth in the following quarters.
  • The Peoples Republic of China will move away from financial de-risking and return to aggressive fiscal and monetary easing in order to help ensure a swift domestic economic recovery.
  • It is important to remember that prior to the viral outbreak, the global financial outlook for 2020 was generally positive as market participants felt that the economic momentum had slowly turned the corner after a soft 2019.
  • In addition, and unlike the global financial crisis of 2008, economic imbalances are generally smaller now than a decade ago.
  • And finally, global monetary policy remains highly accommodative.

We expect these factors to support a rebound in capital markets once the virus has run its course or has been contained.”

Leith Wheeler:  March 2/20 – Click here for the full article.

“Why did markets fall?  The most straightforward answer is that markets have become increasingly concerned that the coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) could materially reduce global economic growth.”

 “How did markets fall?  The first place that recession fears show up is in the fixed income markets.  This past week government bond prices rose, showing both a demand for certainty and a view that central bank will need to lower rates further in 2020 in order to support the economy.  The premium required to hold corporate bonds also increased, reflecting investor nervousness about carrying the risk of default – but only rose back to levels seen in recent months.

The recent declines in equity markets have been global in nature, as the coronavirus mutated from a health scare to a financial one.  Both high – and low – quality stocks dropped, irrespective of how exposed they might be to changes in economic growth, how vulnerable they might be to fluctuations in their cash flow (i.e. highly indebted and new cash companies alike), what their growth profiles is, their level of management skill and so on.”

“The coronavirus may  fizzle out in a month, or it could get much bigger.  We could see trade flows normalize, or we could see a further global economic slowdown. “

“[W]hen you are investing for the long term, market fluctuations – even large ones that persist for quarters or even years – will just prove to be bumps on the way to your ultimate goal.  Market corrections are a normal occurrence, but lenders and investors always find a bottom; business builders move on and build again; and markets rise again – ultimately to new highs.”

“As long term value investors, we have the benefit of knowing the value of businesses without the benefit of a stock quote, so our homework pays off when others are losing their heads and selling good companies out of fear.  We use these corrections as opportunities to buy those quality businesses when they’re on sale.  Beyond that, it’s business as usual.”

Please contact our office if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Katherine Strutt

General Manager