COVID-19

How we’re passing the time as the pandemic rolls along

April 15, 2021
Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

For more than a year now, Canadians have had to deal with restrictions – sometimes fairly light, other times more of the “stay at home” variety – on what we can and cannot do.

Save with SPP took a look around to see what sort of things people are doing to keep busy at a time when so many of our usual activities are temporarily closed down or otherwise restricted.

A report from CTV News suggests that today’s situation is somewhat akin to the Great Depression of 90 years ago – so many people were out of work, or working reduced hours, that there was a huge growth in hobbies. “Stamp collecting, music making, woodworking and birdwatching” all grew in popularity in the 1920s, the article notes.

“In this time of uncertainty and instability, and a world and existence we no longer recognize, people need an anchor to familiarity and what once brought them comfort, stability, safety, and happiness,” clinical psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere tells CTV.

Today’s pandemic hobbies include things like “tie-dying clothes, attending PowerPoint parties and partaking in TikTok challenges,” the article notes. These join more traditional activities such as walking and cooking, CTV reports.

Physical activity is of critical importance, even during the pandemic, reports CBC International.

Citing a report from the World Health Organization, CBC reports that “regular physical activity is said to be key to preventing and helping manage heart disease, diabetes and cancer and reducing depression and anxiety, cognitive decline and boosting brain health.”

The article suggests 150 to 300 minutes per week of “moderate to vigorous aerobic activity for all adults.” This can include walking, cycling, dance, play, and even “household activities like cleaning or working on your lawn and garden,” the article says.

“Every move counts, especially now as we manage the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus states in the article. “We must all move every day – safely and creatively.” 

Country Living magazine agrees that creative approaches to keeping active are being used – and some things that were more popular in the past have made a comeback.

The article lists such things as home gyms, handheld gaming consoles, jigsaw puzzles, swimming pools, and trampolines as ways you can do more without leaving home.

The Reviewed.com site adds a few more. TV choices, thanks to the many streaming services out there, are more numerous than ever before. Reading, arts and crafts, yoga, DIY home improvement projects and meditation are among the ideas listed.

Putting it all together, finding something to do will keep you feeling more positive – and more optimistic that we are starting to near the end of this bizarre, unhappy and eerily quiet crisis.

One activity that you might want to revisit during the pandemic is dusting off your retirement savings plan – if you have one. If your savings efforts haven’t started, are stalled, or if you want to add on to what you’re doing now, consider the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, currently celebrating its 35th year of operations. Your pension savings, small or large, are expertly invested at a low cost, and grown for that future date when you walk away from the office for the last time. With an average rate of return of 8 per cent in the balanced fund since inception, SPP is an option you should take some time to check out!

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 12: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

April 12, 2021

Canadian millennials now focused on long-term saving: report

It’s hard to find many silver linings to the dark, terrible cloud that is COVID-19, but a report from Global News suggests the crisis has caused millennials to think longer-term when it comes to savings.

Carissa Lucreziano of CIBC tells Global that Canadians aged 24-35 “are very committed to saving more and investing.” That’s great news for this younger segment of our society, she states, “as actions now can have long-term benefits.”

The report also cites data from Semrush, an online data analysis company, as showing 23.6 per cent of millennials regularly visit their online banking websites, as compared to 20.7 per cent of older Canadians aged 35 to 44.

Semrush’s Eugene Levin tells Global this suggests younger people “are more conscious moneywise… they are using this time (the pandemic) to plan out their finances to either mitigate their financial insecurity or improve their financial security.”

Other findings – more people are searching for information on Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs), and investment apps like Wealthsimple and Questrade, the article reports.

CIBC data noted in the Global report found that 38 per cent of millennials have decreased spending, 34 per cent plan to add to TFSAs or Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), and to establish emergency savings accounts.

While there is also interest in topics like payday loans and installment loans, the article finds it generally positive that younger people are thinking about long-term savings.

For sure it is positive news. Data from Statistics Canada reminds us why long-term savings are so important.

The stats show that as of 2019, 70 per cent of Canadians are saving for retirement, either on their own or via a workplace savings program – that’s up from 66 per cent in 2014, Stats Canada reports.

“Interestingly, this may reflect the fact that over the past five years, Canadians have become increasingly aware of the need to save for retirement,” reports Stats Canada. “For example, almost half of Canadians (47 per cent) say they know how much they need to save to maintain their standard of living in retirement—an increase of 10 percentage points since 2014 (37 per cent).”

Those who don’t save for retirement on their own (or via a workplace plan) will have to rely on the relatively modest government benefits, such as the Canada Pension Plan, Quebec Pension Plan, and Old Age Security, the article notes. And surely, the terrifying pandemic era has more of us thinking about our finances, both current and future.

So that’s why it is nice to see the younger generation is focusing on these longer-term goals. The best things in life, as the song goes, are free, but many other things carry a cost. The retired you will certainly be thankful that the younger you chose to stash away some cash for the future.

If, as the article notes, you don’t have a workplace pension plan and are saving on your own for retirement, there’s a plan out there for you that could really be of help. For 35 years, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan has been delivering retirement security; the plan now manages $673 million in assets for its 33,000 members. Check them out today!

Written by Martin Biefer

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


Mar 29: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

March 29, 2021

We talk – endlessly, it seems – about the importance of building retirement security, either via a workplace pension, your own savings, government plans, and so on.

But a new report from Market Watch suggests there’s a new investment category that more of us need to focus on – the “psychological portfolio.”

The article quotes Nancy Schlossberg, author of Too Young To Be Old: Love, Learn, Work and Play as You Grow Old, as saying any retirement planners should think of “what they’ll do in retirement, and how they’ll interact with others.”

“You have your identity so tied to work, when you are no longer working, who are you?” Schlossberg stated at a recent live personal finance event. In other words, your future you may not be the same as the current version of you.

Schlossberg goes on to define six different ways you can define your own retirement path. According to the article, the six ways are:

  • adventurers, who take on a new job they’ve never done before
  • continuers, whose work is similar to what they did before
  • easy gliders, who take retirement day by day
  • involved spectators, who immerse themselves in fields without working at it full time
  • searchers, who aren’t sure what to do next, and
  • retreaters, who can’t figure out what to do

Whatever path you select will help you build your new post-work identity, Schlossberg notes in the article.

The article concludes by quoting Marty Kurtz of the Planning Center, who appeared on the same panel with author Schlossberg, as saying “do we have a good view of reality and do we understand what our expectations are? It is not just about the money, it is about money and life and how.. they work together.” 

Dividend investing – a good approach for volatile markets ahead?

Writing in the Financial Post , author Christine Ibbotson suggests dividend investing is a good way to address volatile markets.

“When (bond) yields are likely to stay low and markets have a tendency to have future volatility, dividend strategies should be revisited. Start moving more of your investments toward high-quality dividend payers and high-quality growth-name stock picks,” she writes.

Periods of low interest rates “have always typically benefited dividend investing,” and growth stocks in particular seem to do well in a low-interest rate environment, Ibbotson notes.

She says that while many investors expect a “bull market” after COVID-19 is finally addressed, there may be a lot of market swings before then. “There will be some unexpected volatility that will at times remain elevated in the coming months as investors continue to doubt the validity and sustainability of the bull,” she predicts.

Worried about navigating tricky markets? Consider joining the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, and letting expert investors navigate through waters choppy and calm. The SPP has averaged an eight per cent rate of return since its inception 35 years ago, and that management expertise is delivered at a very low rate. Check out SPP today!

Written by Martin Biefer

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


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

February 18, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Martin Biefer

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


Pandemic has meant tough times for those who love cash

February 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Martin Biefer

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


Dec 21: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

December 21, 2020

How will the pandemic affect your retirement?

As we prepare to start a new year, it appears that there is a faint light visible at the end of the tunnel that is the pandemic. Vaccines have been developed that appear promising and hopefully they’ll start to be in distribution by the time you are reading this.

That said, the pandemic has had a serious impact on all of us, and especially on our plans for retirement. An interesting article in Espresso covers the topic in detail. Here are some of their key findings.

Those relying on their own savings, rather than a pension plan from work, for retirement may have to postpone their retirement “by up to five years,” the article reports. This is because of the shellacking our economy – and our savings – took due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

But in an unusual twist, the article continues, “some people in their 50s and 60s are being forced to retire early.” Many of these folks are people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, the article notes.

Many of us with adult children are having to help them out more than usual due to the crisis, Espresso reports. “If you want to help your kids out,” states financial planner Lawrence Sprung, speaking to U.S. network CNBC, “make sure you don’t give them an amount that is greater than, or outside the scope of your normal excesses.” The implication is that if you raid your retirement cookie jar to help the kids, it will mean you’ll retire later or with less.

And, Espresso reveals, the opposite situation – kids helping parents – has also become more common. Research from the American Association for Retired People “found that roughly a third of adults in their 40s to 60s had offered financial support to their parents in the last year.”

While Espresso warns that some of us will retire with less, others will retire with more savings than planned. “A significant number of Americans – including more than half between the ages of 55 and 64 – are spending less money during the pandemic,” the article tells us.

One thing that’s become popular as we all sit around at home more is renovating the old home office. Be careful, advises Espresso. South of the border, the average kitchen renovation costs $56,000, but tends to add only $38,000 (on average) to resale prices.

The article advises older people to consider part-time work, launch a business, or to delay government retirement benefits for as long as possible. “It’s worth it to wait until (you can) receive full benefits,” Espresso suggests.

Finally, the article says, if your savings have taken a hit in the short term, “focus on the long-term plan.” Markets can rebound so don’t let short-term bumps in the road cause you to “act irrationally,” Espresso says.

Members of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan have flexibility when it comes to retirement savings. If you’re out of work and can’t contribute, you can take a pause. If you’re one of the lucky ones who is finding they have more money to save these days, consider adding a few extra dollars to your SPP account. The experts running SPP’s finances always focus on long-term investing, and that’s allowed SPP – which celebrates its 35th year of operations in 2021 – to have an average rate of return since inception of over 8 per cent. That’s quite an achievement when you consider that the last 35 years includes Black Friday in 1987, the “tech wreck” of 2001-2, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-9 and our current pandemic! Be sure to check out SPP today!

Written by Martin Biefer

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


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

December 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Martin Biefer

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


Dec 14: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

December 14, 2020

Could we see a change in RRIF withdrawal rules?

An interesting idea that’s apparently being discussed in political circles is one of high interest to retirees – it’s the thought of doing away with minimum withdrawal rules from Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs).

According to an article on the Sudbury.com site, this idea seems to be focusing on the fact that retirees may not want to withdraw funds – or at least, less funds than the usual minimum – from their RRIFs during a time when the markets have been volatile due to the worldwide pandemic.

“Each year, seniors with registered retirement income funds have to withdraw a minimum amount from their savings, which is considered taxable income,” the article explains.

“The Liberals shifted the marker this year, dropping the minimum for each senior by 25 per cent to ease concerns raised by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. That let those who could afford it leave more money in their tax-sheltered investments, hoping to recoup losses from the pounding the pandemic delivered to the markets,” the article continues.

The article notes that 2.1 million Canadians had RRIFs in 2018, with an average balance of $114,019. That average withdrawal, again according to the article, was $10,645 in 2018, with 41 per cent of RRIF owners withdrawing more than that.

When you’re too old to put money into a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), one of your options is to transfer the funds into a RRIF. There, your funds continue to grow tax-free, but you are taxed on a minimum amount you have to take out each year – at least under the present rules.

Your other options for the RRSP, when it ends, are to buy a life annuity (more on that later) or to withdraw it all in cash and pay taxes on the entire amount.

So what’s the deal with this new RRIF idea?

It could be a good option for those of us with RRIF savings who don’t want to “sell low,” and take money out when markets aren’t strong. But, as the Sudbury.com article tells us, if this option ever comes to pass, it carries a price tag – for Ottawa.

The Parliamentary Budget Office, the article notes, says “cutting the minimum withdrawal all the way to zero would end up costing the federal treasury $940 million next year, rising each year until hitting just over $1 billion in 2025.”  That said, presumably – even if there is no minimum withdrawal amount – some seniors will still need to withdraw money from their RRIFs and would pay some of those “waived” taxes.

RRIFs aren’t perfect. As mentioned, you (currently) have to take money out even if markets tank, a set amount each year. As well, your income from a RRIF tends to fluctuate; you generally don’t get the same amount each year because you are withdrawing funds from a declining account balance. And, you could run out of RRIF money before you run out of life.

If you’re a Saskatchewan Pension Plan member, you have an additional option when you retire. You can convert your SPP savings to a life annuity. You’ll get the same income every month – for life – regardless of whether the markets go up or down, and the longer you live the more payments you get. SPP also has options for your spouse and beneficiary to receive income upon your death. Check this important SPP benefit out today!

Written by Martin Biefer

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


Looking back, 2020 was a real roller coaster for investors and savers

December 10, 2020

If there’s one thing almost everyone can agree on, it was great to celebrate – in a limited, socially distanced way – the end of the brutal year 2020, when the pandemic slammed the world.

It’s been a particularly frightening year for those of us struggling to save a few bucks for our retirement.

Back in February, when the COVID-19 crisis was beginning to take effect, stock markets dropped sharply, erasing “four years of gains,” reports Maclean’s . The market’s crash was based on fear – “not knowing how severe COVID was going to be in terms of morbidity,” the magazine explains.

In addition to the shocking numbers of deaths and sickness COVID-19 delivered, it also walloped our economy. According to Wealth Professional, quoting Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem, Canada’s economy “is expected to shrink by 5.5 per cent for the whole of 2020, with the initial rebound following the First Wave of the pandemic having eased.”

We all know what he’s talking about here – the First Wave led to lockdowns and business closures, and high unemployment. There was a break in the summer as much of the shuttered economy reopened, but now the Second Wave is causing lockdowns and job losses once again.

The usual safe harbour for savers when the economy (and stock markets) are volatile is in fixed income, investments that pay us interest. However, in order to reboot the economy, the Bank of Canada is planning to keep interest rates low “until 2023,” Macklem states in the Wealth Professional article.

Those “low for long” interest rates mean it is not the best time to buy bonds or guaranteed investment certificates (GICs). Some savers looked to the real estate investment trust (REIT) market to replace the income their fixed income was providing, notes The Motley Fool. While some REITs, notably industrial ones, and those involved with warehousing and data centres did well, “retail and hospitality REITs… had lost 80 per cent of their value at the market’s bottom.” The Motley Fool article wonders how investments in commercial office and retail space will fare in a world where most people are working from home.

Now that 2020 is behind us, there are signs of better days ahead.

The markets in Canada and around the world are now recovering due to late-year news that effective vaccines are nearly ready for distribution.

Dave Randall of Reuters, writing in the Chronicle-Herald, notes that November was “a record-breaking month as the prospect of a vaccine-driven economic recovery next year and further central bank stimulus measures eclipsed immediate concerns about the spiking coronavirus pandemic.”

Let’s review all this. The pandemic hit us hard, sending markets down, throwing people out of work, shrinking the economy. Central banks had to cut interest rates to reduce borrowing costs. That’s great for borrowing but less great for saving. Those looking to replace the interest they weren’t getting had to navigate a market that dropped by 40-50 per cent in the late winter and is recovering, and they had to face the reality that some sectors were doing far better than others.

2021, however, looks like a better year. Market optimism is returning, and once the vaccines start to get distributed around the country, we will (hopefully) start to see a return to more normal times, with no lockdowns and business restrictions.

The point of retirement saving is putting money away for the future, which may be quite soon or decades away. If you’re worried about saving on your own for retirement during these volatile days, you might consider teaming up with the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. With SPP, experts run the money at an extremely low cost. We all have enough to worry about these days – let SPP take the worry of pandemic-era retirement saving off of your plate!

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.


Workplace pensions can ease pandemic financial worries, panelists say

December 3, 2020

A recent online event, COVID-19 and Canada’s Workforce: A Crisis of Financial Security, suggests the pandemic has thrown a wrench into the retirement plans of Canadians.

The event, hosted by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) and Common Wealth, took a look at how the pandemic is impacting our finances.

Common Wealth’s founding partner, Alex Mazer, noted that even before COVID-19, 43 per cent of Canadians were living cheque to cheque. Forty-four per cent had less than $5,000 in emergency savings, and 21 per cent had less than $1,000, Mazer says.

On the retirement savings front, Mazer says, things are even bleaker. “The median retirement savings of near-retirement households is only $3,000,” he notes. Four of 10 Canadians have no retirement savings at all, and 10 million lack any kind of workplace pension program.

With the pandemic now impacting work and income, many Canadians “don’t feel they have the capacity to save… and that is a real problem for our society,” he warns.

Citing recent research from FP Canada, Mazer noted that worries about money impact our performance at work. That research found 44 per cent of Canadians are “stressed” about their finances, and research from the Canadian Payroll Association found we are spending “30 minutes a day worrying” about money.

“If you are worried about your finances, it’s hard to bring your full self to work,” Mazer notes.

He noted that the lack of workplace pensions, long considered a pillar of Canada’s retirement system along with government pension benefits and individual savings, is having a negative impact.

“The greatest weakness in the Canada’s retirement system is the lack of workplace pensions,” he says. Coverage levels today are at about half of what they were in the 1970s.

Mazer is a proponent of giving more Canadians access to pension programs; he says the most efficient types are “large scale pooled plans, or large Canada model (defined benefit) plans.” Both types feature retirement saving at low fees, professional investing, and risk pooling, he explains.

Elizabeth Mulholland, CEO of Prosper Canada, says 47 per cent of people working in the non-profit sector work freelance or part time, and face lower pay. “Insecurity is a way of life for our sector,” she says.

She notes that 28 per cent of Canadians have raided their registered retirement savings plans or Tax Free Savings Accounts due to the pandemic. “They have depleted their already inadequate retirement savings, and are now further behind due to COVID,” Mulholland says, adding that the pandemic has been “a wakeup call for the financial vulnerability of Canadians.”

Pension plans should consider automatic enrolment – an “opt out” feature rather than “opt in” – and need to be flexible for part-time workers. She says support for workers with general financial literacy would help them make the most of their retirement benefits.

Bell Canada Vice-President, Pension & Benefits and Assistant Treasurer Eleanor Marshall says her company’s pension plan is appreciated by employees. “Eighty per cent strongly value the pension plan,” she explains.

When COVID hit, she says, “there were a couple of responses from our employees.” Top priority, she says, was health and safety and social distancing. Next was job security. But the third concern was their pension plan and its investments.

Marshall says there needs to be more emphasis on individuals building emergency savings for situations – such as during the pandemic – when they need to “bridge the gap” for a period of job loss.

Pension plans, she adds, are important “for attracting and retention.” While younger employees don’t worry much or think about their pensions, they “will eventually appreciate having a pension plan” once they get older.

In general, Marshall said, there’s a link between financial wellness and mental wellness, and delivering a retirement system for employees is a positive measure on both fronts.

Renee Legare, Executive Vice-President and Chief Human Resources Officer at The Ottawa Hospital, says that during the pandemic, the worry for hospital workers wasn’t so much job security but definitely “their health and wellness.” She says healthcare workers feel lucky to have a good workplace pension.

She says portability – the ability to continue with the pension when you move from one job to another – is a solid feature of the plan. “It’s a major benefit for healthcare workers; they can move from one employer to another without losing their (pension) investment,” she explains.

The event was chaired by Ivana Zanardo, Vice President of Client Services at HOOPP. Save with SPP would like to thank James Guezebroek of HOOPP for directing us to the presentation.

If you’re among the many millions of Canadians who don’t have a workplace pension plan, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be the savings program for you. It features low-cost, professional investing and pooling, and since it is a member-directed savings program you can continue to belong to SPP even if you change jobs. SPP can also be offered as a workplace pension. Why not check out it today!

Written by Martin Biefer

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