Jun 18: Best from the blogosphere

June 18, 2018

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

Workplace pensions disappearing, putting savings onus on you
Writing in the Financial Post, Jason Heath notes that while most Canadian retirees think they saved enough for retirement (42 per cent said they had saved enough, 44 per cent wished they had saved a little more), much of that saving – about 25 per cent on average — came from their workplace pension plans. That’s a problem going forward, Heath writes, because workplace pension plans are becoming quite scarce.

“There have been trends in Canada towards reducing employee pension coverage, shifts towards temporary and contract workers and an increase in self-employment,” he writes. “These all put more personal responsibility onto today’s workers to save proactively to be tomorrow’s happy retirees.

Many of us already know that the Saskatchewan Pension Plan provides a great way for us to save on our own. Those savings can augment your company’s plan or can represent your own personal retirement plan. Sign up today – visit for more details.

What are the best places to retire in Canada?

MoneySense magazine recently put together a video on how to choose a place to retire in Canada.

The magazine says that retirees want to live somewhere that is close to an airport, has a thriving arts and culture scene, good weather, and good healthcare.

What places made their list? Number 1 choice was Victoria, B.C. MoneySense says B.C. has the warmest weather in Canada, and Victoria, while a bit pricey (over $574,000 for the average home), is steeped in history and culture and blessed with fine hospitals.

Taking second place was Ottawa, a larger city with more than 974,000 residents, which has many museums and art galleries, a good and mid-sized airport, and excellent healthcare. Housing is still a bit expensive, with the average price around $481,000.

Number 3 was Orillia, Ontario, which is about two hours’ north of Toronto. This beachfront town of 32,000 has lots of history and culture, a large casino nearby, and boasts affordable housing averaging under $300,000.

An unofficial runner-up selected by the Save with SPP blog might be Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a fine, young-feeling university city with great healthcare and those long, sunny, and non-humid summer days of bright sunshine. Northern lights in the winter, too.

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

New blogger takes over from retiring Sheryl Smolkin

June 7, 2018

After nearly seven years of writing insightful and highly informative blogs for the SPP, Sheryl Smolkin has decided to retire. We certainly wish her all the best – good health, long life, and many adventures on the road ahead.

Our new blogger is Martin Biefer. Martin has been writing for 35 years, most recently with the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, but before that with community newspapers in Ontario and Alberta, and for the old Southam company, in their business magazine division.

Martin retired from working full time a few years ago and returned to his hometown of Ottawa, where he lives with his wife, his large and crazy Sheltie, and his cat. He’s trying to break 100 now and then at the golf course, occasionally doubling out at the Legion darts on Wednesdays, and taking line dancing lessons at the nearby Richmond Arena.

He and his wife are SPP members. “I was fortunate enough to have a pension from work, but I still had room for RRSP savings. The SPP is so flexible. I’m actually quite excited to see what will happen when the day comes that I turn the savings into income.”

Martin plans to write not only about saving for retirement, but ways to save generally, the ins and outs of retirement, the importance of health and fitness as we age, and much more.

“I can already see the importance of growing your network of friends once you leave the workforce,” he says. “A lot of seniors find themselves isolated, and that’s not good for their mental health. We are social animals and we need lots of interaction to stay energized.”

For Martin, there are obstacles to saving these days that weren’t there in the past. “Homes are 10 times more expensive than they were when my folks bought in the 1960s. So a mortgage is a much bigger deal than it used to be. People are carrying around much more debt than ever before, and that can prevent them from saving.”

The solution, he says, “is to start small. If you can afford only $5 a week, start with that. Put that away before you pay the bills and buy the groceries. And when you can, increase it to $7.50, then $10. You won’t even miss it, and you’ll be on the road to being a saver.”

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

6 things my Mom taught me about money

May 11, 2017

By Sheryl Smolkin


My Mom will be 90 this year and we recently moved her to a private retirement home that specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia care. In her prime, she was a feisty, fashionable businesswoman. In fact she sold registered educational savings plans well past when most people retire and her employer finally made a retirement dinner in her honour when she was over 80.

As we sorted through her condo to get it ready for sale, I realized that my mother taught me many essential lessons about money, both before and after I left home. Here are six important things I learned from her over the years — in many cases, by osmosis.

  1. Avoid debt at all cost: When we were growing up, the golden rule was, if you can’t afford it, you can’t buy it. Credit cards were not as pervasive as they are now and we were encouraged to save a portion of our allowance until we had enough to purchase the desired item. Other than a mortgage, my parents paid off their bills every month.
  2. Never pay retail: As an inveterate shopper on a limited budget my mother knew how to stretch a dollar. Her view was and still is that a sale starts at 50% off. She also seized every opportunity to buy clothes for the family wholesale direct from factories in Montreal she was able to visit as a result of family contacts. Internet shopping came a little too late for her, but if she was a few years younger, I bet that she would have loved searching for bargains online.
  3. Get an education: My grandparents emigrated from Europe. Neither of my parents graduated from high school. My brother, sister and I were the first generation on both sides of the family to attend university. For as long as I can remember my Mom viewed education as the key to a golden door that would unlock future opportunities.
  4. Invest in your children: While my Mom taught us the value of a dollar and we had summer jobs to defray the costs of going away to university, she scrimped and saved to make sure all three of us could graduate from a first degree, debt free. In her 40s she became a successful real estate salesperson and then a broker, in part, to help generate money for our education. We have done the same for our children.
  5. Buy and pay off a home: Mom firmly believed that a paid off home is the best retirement savings plan. It turns out that she was right. When she moved to Thornhill in 1980 she bought a semi-detached house for under $100,000 with a down payment of $30,000 realized from the sale of her home in Cornwall. Since then she moved to a condo which is expected to sell for over six times the value of her first Toronto area property.
  6. Save for a rainy day: Once she started making her own money selling real estate and then RESPs, Mom made maximum contributions to her RRSP every year. While initially her savings meant she could afford extras like travel in retirement, in the last few years we have used her money to hire caregivers so she could stay in her apartment as long as possible. And I am grateful that balance of her savings and the proceeds of sale of her apartment will now be available to pay for excellent care as long as she needs it.

But as we gather to celebrate our Mom on Mother’s Day, I realize the most important lesson she taught me is the power of love and family through good times and bad. My daughter’s family lives in Ottawa so she only sees her great granddaughter every few months. She may not remember her name or how she is related but she knows she is someone important and her hugs and kisses are more valuable than anything money can buy.


One in five Canadians look to home equity for retirement funding

September 29, 2016

By Sheryl Smolkin

Financial planners will tell you that when you are planning for retirement you should not include home equity as a potential source of income. That’s because you have to live somewhere, and increasing numbers of older, healthy Canadians hope to “age in place,” at least initially.

However, for many Canadians the equity in their home is their greatest asset. So the findings of a new HSBC study that 20% of pre-retirees believe that income from downsizing or selling a property is likely to help them pay for life after work are not surprising. But income from downsizing or selling property is currently helping only 5% of retirees to fund their retirement.

Among pre-retirees who have started saving, people that have either stopped and/or faced difficulty (29%) are most likely to consider using property downsizing or sale income than those who did not face difficulty.

Those closer to retirement are more likely to think that income from downsizing or selling property will help them fund their retirement. Pre-retirees who are committed savers (26%), are the most likely to think that income from downsizing or selling a primary or secondary property will help them to fund their retirement. Those who are comfortably affluent (13%) are the least likely.

Looking forward, working age people and retirees of all ages have plans to change their living arrangements in the future. These include moving to:

A smaller home: 59%
A retirement home: 59%
A care home: 49%
Another city/ town in the same country: 33%
Live closer to family members/children: 27%
A bigger home: 26%
Another country: 15%
Live with my children: 13%


Sixty-two percent of people in their 50s plan to move to a smaller home in the future compared to 59% of people in their 40s and 49% of people 70 or over. Sixty-three percent of people aged 60 or over plan to move to a retirement home at some stage, compared to 55% of people in their 40s. Those who have received some sort of retirement advice are also more likely to think they will move to a smaller home (65%) than those who have received none (41%).

I must confess we buy lottery tickets every week (aka a tax on the statistically- challenged) in the vain hope that if we win “the big one” we’ll be able to renovate a large bungalow in a central part of Toronto and rent or buy a pied-à-terre in Ottawa where our daughter’s family lives.

However, in the meantime, as long as my husband and I are in good health, we are planning to stay in our three-story North York home. Currently Joel is using the basement apartment as a work room where he makes beautiful cutting boards, bowls and other decorative items. But when the time comes that we need help to remain in our home, the apartment can be used by a live-in caregiver.

At least that’s the plan for now! No doubt as the years go by and we move through the “go-go, go-slow and no-go” stages of retirement, our plans may change. And it is comforting to know that if we do live into our 90s, that the equity in our home is available to help finance a variety of options later in life.

Jun 6: Best from the Blogosphere

June 6, 2016

By Sheryl Smolkin

This weekend I happened to be in Ottawa when Run Ottawa was taking place. Over 47,000 runners did 2 km, 5 km, 10 km, half marathon and marathon runs in unseasonably hot weather – over 35°C!  We cheered on my daughter who ran 5 kms and it was also wonderful to see so many parents and very young children running hand in hand.

Because Canadian summers are so short, we all want to take advantage of them to do as many outdoor sports and activities as possible. So in this week’s Best from the Blogosphere I direct you to blogs/articles offering safe summer exercising hints.

In 8 tips for exercising in summer heat , Joe Decker advocates staying hydrated, wearing loose, light-coloured clothing and replenishing your electrolyte and salt intake while exercising.

Summer fitness dos and don’ts by Corrie Pikul suggests that you don’t protein-load before your workout because too much protein before a sweat session could elevate your basal temperature, making you feel even hotter. She says you are better off saving the protein bar for after your workout, when it will help you rebuild muscle.

Love Your Summer Workout: 10 Motivation Tricks by Hallie Levine Sklar recommends that you find a shady route if possible and try to walk, run, or cycle on dirt or gravel paths, since asphalt and concrete tend to radiate heat and reflect the sun’s rays, making you feel warmer.

Carolyn Williams  in 5 tips to keep you working out all summer long says a fitness buddy will help keep you from getting distracted by all the other tempting activities summer has to offer instead of exercising. She reminds us to stretch before running to help avoid injuries and set summer goals so workouts become more meaningful.

And finally, 24 tips for a fitter summer vacation by Kissairis Munoz gives lots of hints for healthy summer travel including try to avoid adding in extra meals to compensate for jetlag, beware of buffets and plan a getaway around a fitness event or competition like thousands of visitors to Ottawa who ran this past weekend did!