Jonathan Chevreau Financial Independence HubApril 30, 2015
By Sheryl Smolkin
This month’s interview is with author and financial journalist Jonathan Chevreau. Jon was the Financial Post’s personal finance columnists for nineteen years, and subsequently the Editor in Chief of MoneySense Magazine for two years until he declared his personal “financial independence day” on May 20th, 2014.
He has relinquished the leadership role at MoneySense, but as editor-at-large, his work is still frequently featured. He also writes for many other online venues and in November of last year he launched his ambitious North American portal, The Financial Independence Hub.
I last interviewed Jon for savewithspp.com in the summer of 2012 about his financial novel Findependence Day. Today I’d like to explore what he describes as “the profound difference between the traditional concept of retirement and the paradigm shift he calls financial independence.”
Q. To start off Jon, what is the difference between financial independence or “findependence” and retirement?
A: Well Sheryl, I always say that when you’re findependent you’re working because you want to not because you have to, financially speaking. But of course the lines blur. For the media and the financial service industry, it’s retirement, retirement, retirement. They don’t really distinguish between the two concepts.
For super frugal people, financial independence can often occur decades before traditional retirement. When you talk about the “early retirement extreme” movement, what these people are really talking about is being financially independent.
Q: So in fact you have coined the term findependence to apply to people at various ages, not just older workers?
A: Yes. The Financial Independence Hub is relevant for people at all stages of life.
Q: You’ve left the corporate world. But you seem to be busier than ever, with all of your freelance writing, your blog, and spin-offs from your book Findependence Day. How would you describe your current status?
A: Busier than I want to be, really. I think you can relate to that one as well. On the Hub I reviewed books like Encore and I talk about this new phase of life. If you believe in extended longevity and a lot of people leave corporations, either voluntarily or involuntarily, in their late fifties, early sixties, I say there’s a fifteen to twenty year sweet spot.
You’re no longer an employee, but I don’t think you are ready to take year-long cruises and do nothing but watch TV, play golf, read and play internet bridge. I think that fifteen year period, is the new “encore stage.” You could also call it part-time or phased retirement.
Q: How many hours a week do you estimate you’re currently working for compensation and on your own projects?
A: I got into this in December (2014). I read a bunch of internet books. I was keen on “Multiple Streams of Internet Income” by Robert Allen, and a book by Tim Ferriss called “The Four-hour Work Week.” I decided by having more passive income and less renting my time out, I could go to a four-hour week. Unfortunately, it hasn’t really worked out.
It turns out that the path to a four-hour workweek for me is a nine-hour day. I would say that I probably still spend 40% of my time on the MoneySense blogging contract. Another 40% is spent on the Hub which is not billable time. About 20% of my time is taken up with other things like one-off speeches, book sales, blogs and articles.
Q: What are the pros and cons in your view of your current working arrangement, as compared to working as a full-time salaried journalist?
A: As a freelance contractor there are no employee benefits, sick days or paid vacations. I had a “man cold” last week and I had to barrel through it. Luckily, of course, I don’t have to commute.
It’s hard to match my previous gross income but it can be a little bit better on an after- tax basis depending on the legitimate employment expenses I can write off. When I balance it with the lack of commuting, I think it’s a better life-work balance. But like anything else, there are trade-offs.
Q: Do you think that Canadians across the board are working longer and contemplating encore careers, or is this really restricted to knowledge workers and entrepreneurs?
A: Well I think that’s an apt observation. When you’re a knowledge worker there’s a real blurry line between working and playing, because I think we actually find it quite fun to absorb lots of information on subjects that fascinate us. Whereas, as you point out if you are a labourer, the body is not as apt to keep on going past sixty-four or sixty-six.
Q: Youth unemployment is running around 14 %. Are older workers, who continue working, clogging up the pipeline for young people and mid-career workers who are trying to get a leg up on the employment ladder?
A: Well that is one perception I’m not sure is true. I suppose if we’re talking about a big corporation with your traditional pyramid, where basically there are only a couple of people at the top, then yes, older workers might be clogging up that traditional pipeline.
But I think when you’re talking about all the people leaving companies and then contracting back their services, at that point they just become a valuable asset. Younger people can still move up the ladder, and they can still access the expertise and skills of the older codgers, like me if they are retained as freelance suppliers to the company.
Q: Some people opt to work longer for their current employers or continue on a contractual basis. Then there are others who want more flexibility or to try something new. How can older workers go about finding an encore career?
A: They can go to findependencehub.com and check out the book reviews. Encore, the Big Shift, there are tons of these books out there. For some it might be going back to school, getting an MBA. A lot of people make complete changes. For example, Eleanor Clitheroe left Ontario Hydro and went to divinity school.
I have a friend who is actually downsizing and moving to the country, so that he can go from being a set designer to doing true art. Every second journalist I know wants to write the great Canadian or American novel. I compromised by writing Findependence Day which is a financial novel.
Q: Money won’t buy happiness but it helps. What are some of the factors that you think contribute to a happy retirement, other than having enough money?
A: There are obvious things. Health, happiness, relationships, family, networks. There’s a book by Wes Moss called “You can retire sooner than you think.” One of the things he talks about is a retiree should have at least three or four passionate interests. This is why I decided to put internet bridge back on my list. Reading, volunteering and exercising would be others.
I think the biggest single thing is of course your partner. I’ve talked to people in the financial service industry, who’ve been divorced. They say the biggest mistake they ever made financially-speaking was to get a divorce, because their net worth was cut in two right off the bat. But obviously you don’t stay together for financial reasons if you don’t have a harmonious relationship.
Q: Well the relationship issue is interesting and I think one of the things that I think about all the time, is you don’t know how much time you’re going to have. You’re worried about financing thirty years of retirement but who knows if you’ll have it. So if you put it off and you put it off you just might miss those golden years.
A: Various people have joked that financial planning would be the easiest thing to do on Earth if you just knew when you were going to die. Unfortunately, most people don’t.
Q: How long do you think you will continue to work? Do you see full retirement any time in your future?
A: I have a vision, that eventually I will have a website that brings in lots of passive streams of income. My idea of a nice retirement or findependence is every three years, to leisurely write a book working four six-hour days a week. Then I would go on tour to promote it and bring in another stream of income. Instead of grinding out words for multiple clients I’d like to be financially independent enough to work on one big project.
Q: Thanks very much for talking to me, Jon. It’s always fascinating to talk to you.
A: Well thank you for allowing me to share some of my thoughts, Sheryl. I think you’re doing a great job, too, on Retirement Redux.
This is an edited transcript of a podcast interview of Jonathan Chevreau conducted by telephone in March 2015.
How to save for retirement (Part 3)August 28, 2014
By Sheryl Smolkin
In the first two parts of this series on how to save money for retirement we focused on how to get started and some of the registered and unregistered savings plans available to Canadians.
This final segment looks at some other ways (in no particular order) you can both grow and preserve your retirement savings. And making sure your children are educated to effectively manage their finances is a big part of this discussion.
- Keep fees low: You ignore investment fees at your peril, says Toronto Star personal finance editor Adam Mayers in a recent article. The simple chart below illustrates what happens if you invest $6,000 a year for 40 years in a registered retirement savings plan. It assumes your RRSP earns a little over 5% a year and ignores taxes.
- In a utopian fee-free world, your money is worth $785,000 in 40 years.
- In a 1-per-cent fee world, you’ll have $606,000 (23% less).
- In a 2-per-cent fee world, you’ll have $435,000 (45% less).
- Annual fees in the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) average 1%.
- Understand your risk tolerance: You should have a realistic understanding of your ability and willingness to stomach large swings in the value of your investments. Investors who take on too much risk may panic and sell at the wrong time. Other factors affecting your risk tolerance are the time horizon that you have to invest, future earning capacity, and the presence of other assets such as a home, pension, government benefits or an inheritance. In general, you can take greater risk with investable assets when you have other, more stable sources of funds available.
- Develop an asset allocation plan: Once you understand your risk tolerance, you can develop an asset allocation strategy that determines what portion of your retirement account will be held in equities (stocks) and fixed income (bonds, cash). The investment allocation in the SPP balanced fund is illustrated below.
- Rebalance: The asset allocation in your portfolio will change over time as dividends are paid into the account and the value of the securities you hold goes up or down. Rebalancing helps you reap the full rewards of diversification. Trimming back on a winner allows you to buy a laggard, protect your gains, and position your portfolio to benefit from a change in the market’s favorites.
- Auto-pilot solutions: Balanced funds including the SPP balanced fund are automatically rebalanced. In your RRSP or company pension plan Target Date Funds (TDFs) are another way to ensure your investments reflect your changing risk profile. Developed by the financial industry to automatically rebalance as you get closer to retirement. TDFs are typically identified by the year you will need to access the money in five year age bands, i.e. 2025, 2030 etc. They are available in most individual registered retired savings plans and in your employer-sponsored group RRSP or pension. However, all TDFs are not alike so consider the investment fees as compared to the expected return before jumping in.
- Educate yourself: Personal finance blogs contain a wealth of information about everything from frugal living to tax issues to how to save and invest your money. You can find out about some of them by listening to our podcast series of interviews on savewithspp.com or reading the weekly Best from the Blogosphere posts. Some posts are better than others so caveat emptor. But blogs like Retirehappy and Boomer & Echo have huge archives so you can find answers to virtually any virtually personal finance question.
- Choose your retirement date carefully: We are living longer so your money has to last longer. And starting in April 2023, the age of eligibility will gradually increase: from 65 to 67 for the Old Age Security (OAS) pension. Even if you are among the minority who have a defined benefit pension, retiring early means you will get a reduced amount. Whether you keep working because you need the money or you love your job, you will have a more affluent retirement if you work full or part-time until age 65 or longer.
- Develop other income streams: One of the things that stayed with me after reading Jonathan Chevreau’s book Findependence Day is the importance of having multiple income streams in retirement. So even if you are saving at work or in an individual RRSP, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. While you may not want to work at your current job indefinitely, you may be able to use your skills or hobbies to do something different after retirement. For example before I retired I was a pension and benefits lawyer. Now I augment my retirement income by writing about workplace issues.
- Start RESPs for your kids: The following two Globe and Mail articles by financial columnist Rob Carrick brought home to me the impact that your children’s debt and failure to launch can have on your retirement.
Registered educational savings plans allow you to accumulate money for your children’s education tax free and receive government grants that add to your savings. When the money is paid out, your child pays taxes, typically at a lower rate. Saving for your kids’ education now so they can minimize student loans down the road is one of the best investments you can make in your future ability to retire sooner rather than later.
- Raise financially literate children: And last but not least, educate your children about money so they grow into financially responsible adults. Every event from the first allowance you give your kids to buying Christmas gifts to planning for college is a teachable moment. Someday your offspring may be managing your money and ensuring you are properly taken care of. That’s when all of your great parenting skills will definitely come home to roost!
Book Review: THE SMART DEBT COACHJune 12, 2014
By Sheryl Smolkin
Talbot Stevens is so confident that his book “The Smart Debt Coach” can save you money, that he is offering a free refund to anyone who doesn’t think they can save at least $1,000 by applying the basic principles he discusses.
The book is written in the style of a “self-help novel” like David Chilton’s The Wealthy Barber and Jon Chevreau’s Findependence Day. The main characters are Joe, Michelle, their friend Kim (physician and single mom) and financial advisor Bruce.
When Joe’s sister Lisa asks his family to join them on a Caribbean holiday, they are reluctant to do so because it will mean further maxing out their credit cards. Then Joe realizes Lisa saved the money in advance for the trip and he wants to learn more about how she accomplished this on a lower family income.
She explains that on the advice of their parents (which Joe ignored at the time) for over 10 years she and her husband have been working with Brian, a financial advisor. Since his death they continue to get similar advice from his nephew Bruce.
It turns out that Bruce (a widower) is the parent of one of the kids on the hockey team that John and Michelle’s son plays on. Kim (divorced) is also a hockey mom. While watching the games week after week, they quiz Bruce on basic financial concepts and eventually John and Michelle retain him privately.
And so their journey to a better financial future begins.
Bruce goes through a goal setting exercise to help them establish priorities and negotiates a contract which clearly sets out the responsibilities of both the financial coach (Bruce) and the clients (Joe and Michelle).
One of the first strategies Joe and Michelle learn about is “Debt Swapping.” Essentially this means if you have high interest credit card debt plus unregistered investments, you can cash in your investments, pay off the debt and then borrow at a lower rate to re-populate your investment account.
This is a win-win because they will pay less interest on the investment loan and they can write off the interest expense against any investment income.
But based on the maxim that “a penny saved is a penny earned,” Bruce also illustrates how avoiding credit card debt and other unnecessary expenses represents real money in their pockets. Furthermore, their advisor demonstrates they are not getting the full benefit of their RRSP contributions if they spend their tax return instead of topping up RRSP accounts.
Like the wealthy barber, Bruce encourages John and Michelle to “pay themselves first” by setting up automatic withdrawal of monthly RRSP contributions and increasing contributions every year by a specified percentage. He says that in most cases saving 8% of income and inflating deposits yearly by 3% produces a larger retirement fund than saving 10% without ever ramping up savings.
He also motivates them to be more frugal in other areas and buy a slightly used truck instead of a new one to reduce monthly car payments. Some more complicated strategies recommended later in the book include taking out short-term loans to top up RRSP contributions and using a second tax refund from RRSP top ups to fund registered educational savings plans for their children.
In addition there are chapters on other smart debt strategies, a common sense way to beat the market and how being a landlord can pay dividends.
However, by the time I read about 80 pages I found myself skimming to try and pick out the relevant financial information without having to wade through the somewhat contrived story. I was also disappointed that there was not a point form checklist of the basic ideas I could use for future reference.
The book is extremely readable and the advice is good. While it is far from a romance novel I was not surprised that after all those hockey games (spoiler alert), Bruce and Kim are a couple by the end of the book.
Unless you are already doing everything Stevens suggest (and few of us are) it is unlikely that you will be able to honestly collect on his money back guarantee for the book. Even if you don’t read it cover to cover, you will discover some new strategies you can use to map your own road to a healthy financial future.
You can purchase The Smart Debt Coach for $15.67 on the Chapters Indigo website.
What to do on your staycationAugust 1, 2013
By Sheryl Smolkin
I am convinced that there are two kinds of people in this world. The first group includes workaholics who never use up all of their paid vacation days. The second group carefully plans how each vacation day will be used and yearns for more.
This dichotomy was recently illustrated in the results of the 2013 Expedia.ca Vacation Deprivation Survey which revealed that employed Canadians forfeit an average of two days of vacation per year which could be used to relax or travel. This amounts to 32 million untaken days and $5.1 billion in wages handed back to employers.
Yet many Canadians show a strong desire to take time off, with one in five employed Canadians saying they would take a lower salary for more vacation time (22 per cent). Also, “an extra vacation day” tops the list of perks employees would like to receive as a reward for company loyalty.
In many organizations vacation days cannot be carried over to the next year, so it’s “use it or lose it.” But even if you can’t afford to take expensive trips to exotic locations, there are plenty of good options for taking a staycation close to home.
Wikipedia describes a staycation as “a period in which you or your family stays home and participates in leisure activities within driving distance, sleeping in your own beds at night.” You might make day trips to local tourist sites, swimming venues or engage in activities such as horseback riding, paintball or visiting museums.
The benefits of staycations are that they are far less costly than a vacation involving travel. There are no lodging costs and travel expenses are minimal. However, to make it feel like a vacation, budget for local trips, one or two meals out and tickets to local attractions.
Since 2011 the Government of Saskatchewan has funded the “Saskatchewanderer” project. One creative, energetic and motivated student has been hired each summer to discover everything that makes Saskatchewan great. Their job was to visit, video and blog about special events, little known gems and remote locations in the province.
You can learn from their experience. Andrew’s 2011 Adventure, Jeff’s 2012 Adventure and Caitlin’s 2013 Adventure include lots of terrific ideas about things to do on your staycation regardless of what part of the province you live in. Also check out the The Saskatchewanderer on Facebook.
Already this summer, a few of the places and events Caitlin has visited include Regina’s 46th Annual Mosaic: A Festival of Cultures; the PotashCorp Children’s Festival in Saskatoon; Grasslands National Park; and Hudson Bay, SK.
In contrast, Jonathan Chevreau, the editor of Moneysense and author of Findependence Day has a different take on staycations. In a blog posted on June 17th, he says one type of staycation is where you continue to work, but on your own projects rather than for your employer. You can also tackle various chores or home improvement projects.
If you still have a day job but have reached the point where you have several weeks of paid vacation a year, Chevreau says you may find a working staycation is an excellent trial run for retirement. He wrote the first edition of Findependence Day in the summer of 2008 during paid vacation weeks from his newspaper staff columnist job.
Whether you decide to travel on your vacation or spend the time working on pet projects closer to home, don’t forfeit paid vacation days. In years to come, no one will have fond memories of the extra time you put in at the office. But your children and your grandchildren will remember your quality time together, even if you went no further than the pup tent pitched in the front yard.
Do you have tips for people planning staycations? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.
If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:
|8-Aug||Garage sales||How to make money on your garage sale|
|15-Aug||Back to school||Back to school shopping: A teachable moment|
|22-Aug||College/University||Stay at home or go away to school?|
Apr 15: Best from the blogosphereApril 15, 2013
By Sheryl Smolkin
This week Jon Chevreau, the editor of Moneysense magazine celebrated his 60th birthday and the release of the U.S. edition of his book Findependence Day. You can listen to a podcast interview I did with Jon last summer.
In a “must read” blog he wrote to mark the occasion, Jon made an important distinction between early retirement and financial independence:
“Financial independence is not the same as retirement,” Chevreau says. “Ideally, it precedes retirement by decades. It means you continue to work because you want to, not because you have to.”
Exploring a similar topic, on Darwin’s Money, the author debunks some myths about extreme early retirement and says, “The problem I have with people declaring that they’ve retired in an ‘extreme’ fashion is that they’re either not really retired, or they’re relying on a spouse, which, well, isn’t really the same thing.”
So based on the discussion in the two posts above, did guest blogger Robert (a financial planner) on Canadian Dream: Free at 45 really retire at age 35, or has he simply achieved financial independence? To find a purpose in “retirement” he has gone back to school with the goal of eventually living and working overseas.
The same question may be asked of accountant “Retired Syd” who retired in her 40s. On Retirement: A full-time job she muses about the best place to live for the next chapter in her life. Because her priority is friends and family, she concludes that living close to the people she loves is more important than any dreams of settling in a more distant locale.
But She Thinks I’m Cheap has already made the leap to London with his wife and in his latest blog you can read about their experience relocating overseas and re-entering the workforce.
Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Send us an email with the information to email@example.com and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.