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Leave your RRSP savings alone, and watch them grow, urges author Robert R. Brown

April 30, 2020

If a farmer brought 64 rabbits to a deserted island, and left them alone to multiply, 60 years later there would be an astonishing 10 billion rabbits living on the island.

That example is how Ajax author Robert R. Brown explains the need for all of us to save early in our RRSPs, and then leave the money alone to grow.

Brown’s book, Wealthing Like Rabbits, uses lots of great metaphors and examples to drive home key points about not only saving, but avoiding debt and overspending.

Retirement savings grow in importance as you age, he writes. Given that the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security deliver only a modest benefit, “it is better to be 65 years old with $750,000 saved than it is to be 65 years old with $750 saved.”

Canadians have two great options for retirement savings, “the RRSP – don’t pay tax now, grows tax-free inside, pay taxes later,” or the TFSA, “pay taxes now, grows tax-free inside, don’t pay tax later.” Either vehicle, he writes, “is an excellent way to save for your long-term future,” and ideally we should all contribute the maximum every year.

Yet, he writes, just as his beloved Maple Leafs “swear that next year they will do better,” Canadians all swear they will put more money away for retirement, yet don’t.

If you do save, explains Brown, pay attention to the cost of investing. Many mutual funds have high management expense ratios, or MERs, that “range from around two per cent to three per cent. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is,” he warns. It’s like the power of compound interest, but in reverse, Brown notes. Index funds and ETFs have far lower fees, allowing more of your money to grow, he points out.

Brown’s key takeaway with retirement saving is “start your RRSP early. Contribute to it regularly. Leave it alone.”

The book takes a look at the ins and outs of mortgages, and why it isn’t always the best idea to get the biggest house you possibly can. Watch out, he warns, when you go for a pre-approved mortgage at the bank – they may offer you an amount that is more than you want to afford. “You shouldn’t ask the bank to establish the amount you’ll be approved for. That needs to be your decision. After all, McDonald’s sells salads too. It’s up to you to order one,” he explains.

Credit cards are another way to pile up debt, he says. Not only are the posted interest rates high, “as much as 29.99 per cent,” but there are late payment fees, higher interest rates and extra fees for cash advances, annual fees just to have certain cards, and more. “Credit card companies are always looking for some sort of new and innovative way to jam you with a fee,” he advises. The 64 per cent of Canadians who pay off their credit cards in full each month enjoy an interest rate of zero, he writes – “think about that.”

He provides some great strategies for the 36 per cent of us who carry a balance on their cards, including leaving the cards at home, locking them up or freezing them to cut back on use, and cutting back on the overall number of cards.

Home equity lines of credit, which are easy to get, can backfire “if you have to sell your house during a soft market,” he warns.

Finally, Brown offers some sensible advice on spending – don’t eat out as often, and avoid alcohol when you’re out. Consider buying a used car over a brand new one. “If spending cuts alone won’t provide you with the cash flow you need to pay off your debt, you’re going to have to make more money,” he says. Get a raise, or get a little part-time job like dog walking, lawn mowing, or washing cars.

This is a great read – the analogies and stories help make the message much easier to understand. Once you’ve set the book down, you feel ready and energized to cure some of your worst financial habits.

If you are looking for a retirement savings vehicle that offers professional investing at a low MER, consider the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. SPP has a long track record of solid investment returns, and the fee is typically around one per cent. That means more of the money you contribute to SPP can be grown into future retirement income.

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