Global news

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.


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.


What activities are folks planning for a pandemic winter?

November 12, 2020

Many of us have long had problems dealing with the cold and darkness of a Canadian winter. But this year, we will be adding in the problems of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Save with SPP took a look around to see how folks are planning to spend their first full winter of the pandemic.

Since one strategy to surviving the pandemic is to be outdoors, sporting goods businesses are reporting very brisk business in winter recreation equipment, reports CTV News.

“It’s been quite a marked change from the normal August and early September sales,” Paul Zirk, general manager of The Destination Slope and Surf Outfitters in North Vancouver, tells CTV. “It’s been really up and it’s been really focused on winter sports. This year, our track as far back as mid-July was ski-focused and winter-focused and at some weeks triple what we expected.”

Hot sellers include skis and snowboards, snowshoes, and heavier winter clothing, the article notes.

The Real Simple blog rhymes off 49 different winter activities that you can try this year.

Sledding, hiking, skating, snowball fights, and stargazing are on the list, as well as things like enjoying a family night in front of “a roaring fire,” enjoying winter favourites like hot cocoa and mulled wine, and cozying up with a bowl of homemade soup. The article also lists crafty ideas, like making a birdfeeder or knitting a scarf.

Global News reports that it is important, during the upcoming colder months, to avoid isolation. Psychologist Dr. Ganz Ferrence tells the broadcaster that people “should be planning now for what they’ll do to stay busy and safe once the temperature dips below zero.”

Ideas include skiing – downhill or cross-country — snowshoeing, skating and tobogganing. If you’re too old or not well enough for outdoor activities, at least get outside, urges Dr. Ferrence.

“Just to get that fresh air, that sunshine, whatever it is, seeing that the rest of the world still exists is much better than just giving in to being shut-in,” the doctor says.

Be sure to stay in touch with friends and family during the winter, when visiting is limited by poor travel conditions. Using online tools like Zoom to meet loved ones is a great idea, Dr. Ferrence says. “The best is face to face — being able to touch and feel and everything — the next level though, is this. Being able to see somebody and look in their eyes, see their facial expressions, their tone of voice,” he tells Global News. “Underneath that is phone.”

One group of Canadians that has long chosen against toughing out our winters – Snowbirds – may find this to be a tough season, reports the Globe and Mail.

With border restrictions in place, and COVID-19 outbreaks at high levels in popular winter vacation states like Florida, many Snowbirds may have to give up their travel plans this year, the article reports.

Renee Huart-Field and her husband live in P.E.I. and normally vacation in Florida’s Gulf Coast. Because their dogs usually come to Florida too, they aren’t keen on flying, and the border crossings by vehicle are severely limited, the article notes. So they must decide whether to winter on the Island, or travel elsewhere in Canada.

“People sort of think well, gee, must be nice to have that dilemma. But it’s not,” Huart-Field tells the Globe and Mail. “As you get older, the winters become harder… It’s a health thing.’”

If you’re a retiree and hope to do a little travelling, and have some fun in the winter sun, a little retirement income goes a long way to helping you reach those goals. If you’re still a long way from retirement, there’s plenty of time to start saving – and a wonderful option could be the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. The SPP is quite unique, in that it not only offers you a savings program for your working years, it helps you convert those dollars – grown through SPP’s professional investing team – into an income stream once you’re done with the workforce and ready for the leisureforce. 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.


Looking for ways to beat the pandemic blues

September 17, 2020

Let’s face it – the spring, summer and fall of 2020 have been quite a downer. We’ve been made to be holed up at home, are restricted in what we can do, where we can go and who we can see, and are continually worried about our jobs, our kids, and the bills.

The pandemic has hammered our mental health, reports Global News. “A survey done in conjunction with the Mental Health Commission of Canada found that a whopping 84 per cent of those surveyed felt their mental health had worsened since the onset of the pandemic,” the network reports.

“Similarly, an Ipsos survey done for Addictions and Mental Health Ontario found 45 per cent of Ontarians reported their mental health had suffered during the pandemic, with 67 per cent saying they expect those effects to be `serious and lasting,’” reports Global.

Save with SPP took a look around to see if there are any ideas out there on how to ward off these feelings of depression and anxiety.

According to Triathlon Magazine Canada, research from the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that “by being physically active, depressive symptoms decreased.” Even five minutes of activity did the trick, the magazine reports.

Other tips – develop, and stick to, a routine, the magazine suggests. Avoid the “western diet” of “processed meat, high-fat dairy products, and refined grains” as it is associated with increased risk of depression, the magazine advises. Their final suggestion is to try, even with the restrictions in place, to stay in touch with friends and family. “While tedious, Zoom calls are good for our mental health, but in person is far better,” say the folks at Triathlon Magazine Canada.

Over at Psychology Today magazine, Dr. Erin Leyba offers some additional tips.

Taking a warm bath at least twice a week “may help relieve symptoms of depression… even more than exercise does,” she writes.

Exercises like “jogging, cycling, walking, gardening and dancing” help increase your blood circulation, which in turn helps shift your brain’s reaction to stress. Doing nice things for friends and family will produce a “helper’s high” that makes our brains feel better, she writes. Examples are calling or face-timing an elderly relative, delivering groceries to someone, thanking front-line workers via cards or buying them lunches, or donating money to help those impacted by COVID-19.

Reading, as well as calling or video-chatting with friends are also positive steps to ward off depression, she writes.

The advice from the federal government is similar. Let your doctor know if you think you are suffering from depression, the feds advise, as depression “is a serious but treatable illness.”

Avoid isolation, the federal website urges.

“One-on-one interactions, such as going to a movie or out for coffee with a friend are also good forms of social contact. Being around others provides support, companionship and has a good effect on your general health,” the site notes, agreeing that physical activity and a healthy diet are also pluses.

These are all good pieces of advice that we all should take note of as we watch the pandemic play out. A colleague of ours once said that every crisis has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s nice to imagine the end of this one.

If saving for retirement is one of your worries, a solution may be joining the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. It’s great to have professionals running your investments (rather than trying to figure it out yourself), and the SPP grows your money at a very low fee. When it’s time to turn your savings into retirement income, SPP offers a variety of lifetime pension options via annuities. 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.


Aug 24: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

August 24, 2020

Pandemic is causing 8 million Canucks to rethink retirement

There’s no question that 2020 has been a year like no other. Its effects on the economy and our finances have been profound.

A new study by Edward Jones and research company Age Wave, reported on by Global News, shows what impacts the pandemic has had on retirement savings in particular.

The report says a whopping eight million Canadians “are rethinking their retirement timing” due to the pandemic. While one of every 10 Canucks still plans to retire early, “one third believe they will retire later,” citing financial concerns, the Global article notes.

“If many working adults were not adequately prepared for retirement, COVID-19 has thrown them even farther off course,” the article notes.

The study found that two million Canadians “have stopped making regular savings to their retirement savings.” Before the pandemic, the research shows, 54 per cent of adults were confident about retirement. Now, that confidence indicator is down to 39 per cent, Global reports.

“Those who think they’ll have to postpone retirement cited needing more income, shrunken savings, investment losses and increased uncertainty about how much they’ll need in retirement,” the article says. “The few who are considering anticipating retirement amid the pandemic, on the other hand, said they `realized that they were looking forward to retirement, or they want to spend time doing other things that are more important to them than work,’” the article states.

The article quotes financial author Alexandra Macqueen as noting that those with workplace pension plans, notably defined benefit plans, aren’t as impacted by the pandemic and can still choose to retire early.

(Save with SPP interviewed Alexandra Macqueen recently, here’s a link to the interview)

“What I’m … thinking more and more is that the difference between people with pensions and without is getting so much more stark,” she says in the Global article.

The article notes that older Canadians (boomers and the cohort that is older than them, the “Silent Generation”) are generally doing fairly well during the pandemic, while younger generations (millennials, Gen Z, and Gen X) are struggling.

The older are helping the younger financially, the article concludes, while the younger generations are making sure their elders are staying health, a “silver lining” of intergenerational cooperation amidst the pandemic.

The article underlies the disparity between those who have a workplace pension and those who don’t. When you’re in a plan at work, pension contributions are deducted from your pay – the savings is automatic, a “set it and forget it” way to pay yourself first.

The pandemic will eventually end, but if you lack a workplace pension plan, you still can set up an automatic retirement saving system of your own.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan lets you automate your retirement savings through pre-authorized transfers from your bank account. You can start small – an affordable contribution – and ramp it up when you’re making more in the future. If there’s a trick to retirement saving, it’s to start doing it and then keep on with it. Starting and stopping won’t get you there. Pay your future self first. The money you set aside today may be missed in the short term, but in the long run you’ll have more security for the future, post-work years.

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.


Old Age Security reform has come full circle in the past decade or so

February 20, 2020

Most Canadians understand the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) – we pay into it, as does our employer, and we can start collecting a lifetime pension from it as early as age 60. But what about the other “pillar” of the federal government’s retirement income program, Old Age Security (OAS)?

The federal government says OAS is available to any Canadian who has lived in our country for 40 years after reaching age 18. If you don’t meet those conditions, you may still qualify under complex “exception” rules.

Currently, the maximum OAS payment  is $613.53 per month, for life. It starts at age 65, but you can choose to defer it for up to 60 months after reaching that age – and if you do, you will receive a payment that is 36 per cent higher.

There is, of course, a big catch to this. If you make more than $75,910, the government will charge what they call an “OAS recovery tax,” or clawback. If you make more than $123,386, you have to pay back all of your OAS payments for the year.

The “conditional” yet “universal” benefit has prompted many to come up with ideas on how to fix it, particularly during the Stephen Harper years.

Back then, a Fraser Institute opinion column in the National Post explained one key problem with OAS. “Unlike the CPP, there is no dedicated fund to pay for OAS,” the column notes. “Benefits are funded with current tax revenues.” Put another way, everyone who pays taxes contributes to OAS, but not everyone gets it – and should higher income earners get it at all, the column asks.

The Fraser Institute recommended lowering the income at which OAS begins to be cut off to around $51,000, with the full clawback moving to $97,000. This, the article suggests, would save the government $730 million per year, since fewer people would receive the full amount.

Another solution – the one that the Conservatives planned to implement – was moving the starting age for OAS to 67 from 65. However, the current Liberal government reversed that decision in 2016, notes Jim Yih’s Retire Happy blog.

But in the intervening years, we have seen debt levels increase dramatically, preventing many of us from saving for retirement. So there are now some arguing for an expansion of the existing system, on the grounds that it doesn’t provide seniors with sufficient income. Indeed, the Liberals campaigned last year on a plan to increase old age security “by 10 per cent once a senior reaches age 75,” reports Global News.

Without getting political, it appears we have come full circle from talk of reforming the OAS and making it harder to get, to talk of increasing its payout for older seniors. Let’s hope governments take a longer-term view of the problem, and focus on ways to better fund OAS – perhaps creating an OAS investment fund similar to what CPP has, one that would make this benefit more sustainable and secure for those who rely on it.

If you are one of the many hardworking people who lack a workplace pension plan, there is a do-it-yourself option that you should be aware of. It’s the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP). They’ll grow the money you contribute to the plan over time, and when it’s time to retire, can pay it out to you in the form of a “made-by-you” lifetime pension. The SPP also has options for your employer to use this plan as an employee benefit.  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

Knowing where our money goes can help us save

November 14, 2019

We talk, often at great length, about ways to save money – to squirrel a little away each month for our life after work.

And while we all seem to wish we could save more, an answer to the question “why aren’t we saving” can be found by looking at where we are spending our cash. Where, Save with SPP wants to know, are our “non-savings” going?

According to Statistics Canada data from 2016, reported on in the Slice.ca blog, Canadians spent an average of $84,489 per household in that year. That’s what they spent, remember, not what they made – most of us spend more than we earn.

The blog reports that Canadians spent the most on shelter – 19 per cent of the total. “In 2016, according to StatsCan, the average Canadian household spent $16,293, or a little over 19 per cent of their total expenditure, on their principal accommodation,” the blog reports.

Next on the list is income tax, weighing in at 18.1 per cent. “They say that the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes. In Canada, $15,310 – or 18.1 per cent – of the average household’s total expenditure went to income tax in 2016,” the blog explains.

The third biggest category is called “private transportation,” our vehicles, which cost us $10,660 per year, Slice.ca notes. The category makes up 12.6 per cent of the total.

Next biggies are food, at seven per cent ($6,176) and “household operations,” which includes phones and Internet — $4,705, or 5.5 per cent, Slice.ca reports. Rounding out the top 10 (Slice.ca actually gives the top 20) are insurance and pension contributions ($5,067, or six per cent), clothing and accessories ($3,371, or four per cent), restaurant dining ($2,608, or three per cent), healthcare ($2,574 or three per cent) and utilities ($2,460 or 2.9 per cent). Savings didn’t make the top 20.

We can’t do much about most of these categories, but some are “non-essential” and could be targeted for spending cuts. If we were to save even 10 per cent of what we spend on vehicles, phones and Internet, clothing and restaurant dining, we’d have a whopping $2,134.40 to add to our retirement savings each year. Saving five per cent would provide a $1,067.20 boost to your savings.

Global News reports that we Canucks “splurge on guilty pleasures.” Citing research from Angus Reid and Capital One, the broadcaster reports that 72 per cent of us “dine out several times a month,” 71 per cent “regularly order takeout,” and half of us buy coffee daily.

MoneySense notes that a lack of personal savings has a variety of negative impacts for Canadians. Citing research from Abacus Data, the publication notes that only 34 per cent of us could “come up with $1,000 right away without borrowing or using credit.”

Debt seems to be missing from these spending stats.

According to the Financial Post via MSM Money  the cost of paying our debts is cutting into our ability to pay other expenses.

“More than half of Canadians say they’re increasingly concerned about their ability to pay debts as disposable income shrank by a fifth since June,” the Post reports, citing data from insolvency practice MNP Ltd.

“Average monthly disposable income after paying bills and debt obligations fell $142 to $557,” the Post reports, adding that “nearly half — 48 per cent — of the 2,002 respondents to the early September poll by market research company Ipsos said they’re left with less than $200 at the end of the month.”

This is a lot of information, but a picture emerges. We’re not, as a rule, planning on saving anything each month. In fact, credit balances are getting so high that many of us can’t cover all our bills without dipping further into debt. We can understand how we might cut back on spending, but we also have to cut back on using credit, too.

We all have the power to cut back on spending and borrowing. That will not only reduce our costs, it will reduce our stress levels. Imagine a future where you have control of all your bills – it’s an achievable dream. And as you get to that desired level of financial freedom, you’ll have more and more money to put away for retirement.

If you’re looking for a place to grow those hard-earned savings, look no further than the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Be sure to 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

Can tech help us conquer our inability to save?

September 5, 2019

These days, Canadians share two unrelated traits – very few of us, the vast majority, aren’t savers. And as well, nearly all of us, a majority, have a smart phone.

Could one attribute help fix the other? Save with SPP had a look around to see if there are any money-saving apps out there, and whether people think they work.

According to Global News, a great app for those who love to clip coupons is Checkout 51. With this app, Global explains, you don’t present coupons at the cash. Instead, you scan your receipt using the app and get money back via cheque.

“After you purchase items on the list you photograph and upload your receipt via the app. The receipt gets checked and once approved (usually within 48 hours) the money you earned gets added to your account. Once you hit $20 a cheque is mailed out to you,” the article explains.

Global also recommends an app called Gas Buddy which tells you where the cheapest gas prices are in your area, using GPS.

Over at the Maple Money blog, among the apps recommended for us Canucks is Mint, which “helps you track your spending, and also alerts you to when you’ve spend too much (or if you get charged a fee for something). In addition to those things, Mint also offers a bunch of money saving tips to help you manage your money better,” the article states.

They also like Flipp which alerts you to flyers for your area after you enter your postal code.

The CBC likes a number of these apps, and also E-bates which is now known as Rakuten. With E-bates, the network notes, you are basically being paid to shop.” Every time you make a purchase through one of their verified vendors, E-bates will send you a cheque. That’s cash back on top of the regular sales your favorite stores are having – and bonus, the app rounds all the deals up for you as well. E-bates earns a commission every time you make a purchase through their website, and instead of keeping it, they pass it on to you,” the network suggests.

Save with SPP can’t vouch for any of these except for E-bates; we have used it for years and yes, when you accumulate enough savings they’ll send you a cheque. It’s sort of like using a cash back card. We will give some of these other ones a try.

Let’s face it – the cost of living never seems to go down, so any app that offers a chance to save you some cash is probably worth at least trying out.

That extra cash, money that you didn’t earn and is thus “free,” can be used for any number of good things. Saving for retirement seems near the top of the list – perhaps the newfound cash can find its way into your Saskatchewan Pension Plan account, where it will grow into future retirement income. And maybe it all starts with a few clicks on an app!

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 the heck is robo-investing and why is it popular?

September 20, 2018

For most people, investing means a trip to the bank or a broker, a “know your client” interview, and then a portfolio design, often featuring stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Those with smaller amounts of money to invest are often encouraged to start off with mutual funds and branch out later.

There’s a relatively new kid on the block called robo-investing that does things a little differently, so Save with SPP decided to try and understand the principles behind it.

First, this is a robo-service, reports a Global News article. So instead of meeting someone, you visit a website and sign up. “When you sign up with a robo adviser, you usually have to answer an online questionnaire about things like your financial goals and how nervous you get when the stock market goes down.”

Next, the article notes, the robo-firm will “invest your funds in low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs) based on your personal profile and risk tolerance.” Because an ETF approach is used, fees are usually low, around 0.5 per cent versus the 1-2 per cent charged “for traditional investment advice,” the article reports.

Over time having a low-fee investment vehicle can be important. Two per cent doesn’t sound like much, but when charged to your account for 25 or 30 years, it can really eat into your investment returns, leaving you with less to live on in retirement.

The up side to robo-investing, the article says, is the low cost “set it and forget it” approach. The robo-firm reacts to market changes based on your preferences, rebalancing your portfolio when markets surge. This not only saves you time and trouble, the article notes, but it is automatic – great if you are a procrastinator.

The down side? The fees are low, sure, but there are no management fees if you buy stocks and bonds in your self-directed portfolio. There are standalone ETFs that rebalance themselves, the article notes. Advice from the robo-adviser is somewhat limited, the article says, but it concludes that the option is an attractive one for younger investors who are building their savings.

Save with SPP likes any and all forms of savings vehicles. And SPP itself is also worth a look when discussing retirement savings options. The SPP Balanced Fund has posted some impressive numbers since its inception in the 1980s, and SPP fees are on the low side – from 1992 to 2017 they averaged less than 1 per cent per year.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

How to avoid the growing trend of financial elder abuse

March 8, 2018

As my mother has aged and her dementia has progressed my sister and I have had to take over more and more of her financial affairs. To simplify matters, while she was still cognizant enough to do so, she added us as joint owners of her chequing account. When she last revised her will years ago, she also signed powers of attorney for property and health naming us to act on her behalf.

Her foresight has allowed us to sell her condo when she moved to a nursing home and invest the proceeds of sale to support her. But the unfortunate reality is that at this stage my mother or any other person in a similar situation would sign almost any document a trusted friend, relative or caregiver put in front of her. And if one of these individuals is unscrupulous, the results could be a disaster.

In June last year, Global News reported on the case of a Saskatchewan woman who was convinced by her daughter to sign over everything before she underwent hip replacement surgery. When her mother came out of the hospital she had nothing left but a small pension. In another case, the police laid criminal charges against a 49-year old caregiver after she allegedly stole close to $270,000 from an elderly Coquitlam couple under her care.

Leanne Kaufman, Toronto-based head of RBC Estate & Trust Services has seen her fair share of financial elder abuse. “It’s not always easy to see financial abuse of an elder as it’s happening. More often, cases are discovered after large portions of one’s savings have gone missing,” Kaufman says. “But there are warning signs that loved ones should watch for. One big red flag is if a new friend, companion or romantic interest appears on the scene.” She also suggests that another red flag is social isolation. “Loved ones should be on the lookout for any sudden changes in social networks and patterns of behavior.”

The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors Forum has developed a series of resources for seniors including What every older Canadian should know about financial abuse.

If you think you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse, ask for help. Abusers may try to make the victims think that they are the causing the problem, but this is typically not true. If injured parties do not have a family member or close friend who can help them, there are community resources they can use to stop the abuse.

For example, banks or credit unions, local seniors’ centres, doctors and the local police can help. The Saskatchewan Public Guardian and Trustee works to protect vulnerable adults’ property and can also investigate allegations of financial abuse.

Here are some tips and safeguards to help protect yourself or others who may be vulnerable to elder financial abuse now or in future:

  • Keep your financial and personal information in a safe place.
  • Have an enduring or continuing power of attorney prepared appointing someone you can trust to look after you, so that even if you are ill and unable to look after yourself, your finances will be protected from others who might try to take advantage of you.
  • Ask for help if you think you are experiencing financial abuse.
  • Keep a record of money you give away and note whether it is a loan or a gift.
  • For major decisions involving your home or other property, get your own legal advice before signing documents.
  • Ask someone you trust to look over contracts and other papers before you sign them.
  • Be very cautious if you open a joint bank account – the other person can take away all the money without asking.
  • Make an effort to keep in touch with a variety of friends and family so you don’t become isolated.

Laura Watts, a Toronto lawyer who focuses on elder law issues told Global News the prototypical “unsuccessful son in the basement” accounts for about 75% of elder financial abuse cases perpetrated by family members. “Picking a power of attorney with budgeting acumen and who isn’t in financial stress themselves is critical,” Watts says. “You should always pick someone who doesn’t need money.”

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Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.