It seems impossible that is our last Best from the Blogosphere for the year. The next one is slated for January 8, 2018! I wish all savewithspp.com readers a very happy, healthy holiday season and a new year full of promise and exciting adventures.
If you are starting to think about tax season already, you will really appreciate Janine Rogan’s Professional CRA Hacks. With only 36% of calls actually answered it’s no wonder Canadians are frustrated with the tax system. Furthermore, up to 30% of the time the tax information you receive from an agent may be incorrect, which is as concerning for taxpayers as it is for professionals. A few of her hints are:
Hit redial 10x in a row.
Call the French line but ask for help in English.
Ask for your agent’s direct number and agent ID.
On another income tax-related matter, Andy Blatchford reports in The Toronto Star that during the election campaign, the Liberals promised to expand the Home Buyers’ Plan to allow those affected by major life events — death of a spouse, divorce or taking in an elderly relative — to borrow a down payment from their RRSPs without incurring a penalty.
However, a June briefing note for Finance Minister Bill Morneau ahead of his meeting with the Canadian Real Estate Association lays out the government’s concerns that low interest rates and rising home prices have encouraged many Canadians to amass high levels of debt just so they can enter the real-estate market. “Policies to further boost home ownership by stimulating demand would also exert more pressure on house prices,” says the memo,
Stage 1: The Count Down (1-2 years before early retirement)
Stage 2: Honeymoon (0 – 6 months after retirement)
Stage 3: Identity Crisis (7 months – 1.5 years after retirement)
Stage 4: The New You (1-2 years after retirement)
Stage 5: Smooth Sailing (2+ years after retirement)
The Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick considers the new retirement era and questions How many years past 65 will you work? Carrick says, “Retiring later is bound to be seen as negative, but it’s actually quite unremarkable unless you have a physically demanding job or hate your work. Previous generations may have retired at 65 and lived an extra 10 or 15 years. Retire at 70 today and you might look forward to another 15 or 20 years.”
And finally, Tom Drake at maplemoney goes back to basics and provides a Guide to Guaranteed Investment Certificates. GICs are a form of investment where you agree to lend money to a bank for a set amount of time. The bank agrees to pay you a certain percentage of interest to borrow this money. You are guaranteed a return as long as you keep your money in the bank for a specified period. Terms on GICs generally run from as little as 90 days to as much as 10 years. “It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of GICs. While you probably don’t want to build an entire portfolio of GICs (especially if you are trying to build a nest egg), they do have their place in a diversified portfolio,” Drake says.
Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.
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.
Today I’m interviewing accountant Dave Trahair for savewithspp.com. Dave operates his own personal finance training firm, and he is also the author of five personal finance books. He offers seminars based on his books to organizations, including CPA Canada and its provincial accounting affiliates. His most recent book is The Procrastinator’s Guide to Retirement: How YOU can retire in 10 years or less, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Q: What portion of the population do you think is 10 years or more out from retirement and not saving enough?
A: It’s hard to pin it down to a specific percentage, but I would say the vast majority of people who don’t have defined benefit pension plans are in that boat. Unfortunately, this type of plan is going the way of the dodo bird, because with the low interest rate environment and what’s happening in the stock market, the people running those kinds of pension plans can’t save enough to fulfill their promise. It’s hard to come up with a precise number, but I bet you 80% of people without a defined benefit pension plan are nowhere near ready, financially, to fund their retirement.
Q: Why do you think so many people procrastinate when it comes to planning and saving for retirement?
A: Well, I think for some, it’s just that they’re bad with money, and they spend more than they make. They run on credit card debt, and they’re never really even thinking about getting their lives under control, financially. For many of the rest of us, even if we aren’t fiscally irresponsible, it’s just that life is expensive.
Think of people in their 20s who have just graduated from university. Many of them are saddled with student loan debt and they are having problems trying to find a full-time job in their field. Forget retirement savings. That’s so far down the road. They’ve got more pressing concerns at that stage in their life.
People in their 30s and 40s tend to do things like get married, have kids, and buy a house. These kinds of activities are very costly and therefore, many people find that there simply isn’t any money, at the end of the day to save for retirement. It’s not because they’re wasteful spenders.
Q: Continuing with the same theme, if you ask most people, they’ll probably tell you they’re tapped out. They don’t have extra money left over at the end of the month. Where can these people find the money to save?
A: That’s a very good question, and one of the key concepts in the book. I always tell people when I’m asked, “What’s the first thing you can do to help get your finances under control?” The answer is to somehow track your personal spending.
For effective financial planning you have to start with what’s happened in the past. That is your personal spending. Once you have a handle on where all the money went in the past, then you can take proactive steps to get your finances under control and probably find some areas where you could cut back and free up some spare cash for your retirement savings.
One of the big problems out there is revolving credit card debt. According to the Canadian Bankers Association, only about 60% of Canadians pay off their credit cards each and every month and, therefore, don’t incur interest charges. That means about 40% of Canadians can’t even pay off their credit cards, which means, essentially, that they’re spending more than they make.
Q: My first thought when I got your book was that it’s a great road map for saving in the last ten years before retirement, but the information is quite similar to most of the personal finance books I’ve read. What’s different about your book? What makes it a must-read for all Canadians and, in particular, those who are only a decade from retirement?
A: Yes, fair question. The first point that I’d make in response is that there is no magic bullet when it comes to personal finance. It’s really pretty basic. You could sum it up in one sentence.
All you have to do is live your life, spend less than you make, and do something positive with the excess money. The problem is most people aren’t doing that. There are books out there that play upon peoples’ wish to get ahead financially, easily or automatically. That’s just taking advantage of readers. The really good personal finance books out there, attack the root of the matter (as my book does) which is that your spending has to be less than your income.
What makes my books different — this one and the other ones I’ve written — is that I give away Microsoft Excel spreadsheets people can actually apply to their own situations. I use the spreadsheets as examples in the book, and then I say, “Look, go to the next step. Download the free spreadsheet, punch in your own numbers, and see what conclusion you come to about your life.”
Q: If readers are approaching retirement with consumer debt and a mortgage, where should they put their money first? Should they hold off on making RRSP contributions until they are completely debt free?
A: Good questions. I would say that it depends on the type of debt. If we believe the Canadian Bankers Association that at least 40% of Canadians have ugly credit card debt, the only thing these people should be thinking about is trying to get rid of that obligation. Forget paying down the mortgage. Forget making RRSP contributions. Even if there is a tax refund on RRSP contributions, they are effectively financing it at a very high interest rate because the alternative would be to pay down their credit cards.
There’s a chapter in the book on four people in that situation, which basically lays out the different options for getting rid of credit card debt. The problem is that it really requires a mind shift. It requires people to change their basic habits and it is really, really difficult to get them to do this.
Once a family has paid off their credit cards, the decision becomes “contribute to an RRSP or pay down the mortgage.” The first observation I would make in that case is that either option is a good alternative. You’ve got extra money, whether you pay down the mortgage or make an RRSP contribution, you can’t lose in either case.
However, with the ultra-low interest rate environment right now and assuming the person we’re talking about is in a reasonably high tax bracket, making $80,000 or $100,000 or more, it’s difficult to beat the huge economic benefit of a tax refund.
Q: To what extent should Canadians planning for retirement take future health and long-term care costs into consideration, and how can they quantify these amounts, for budgeting purposes?
A: That’s a very difficult question to answer and a very challenging thing for many people. We have provincial health plans in Canada, so we’re a lot further ahead than our neighbors to the south. The government plans aren’t perfect, but they’re a good basis for covering many of your health costs.
However, some other areas related to healthcare are not covered by the provincial plans, and this becomes a big problem for couples, say, when one of them has an ailment that requires him/her to go into a long-term care facility or nursing home. That can be very, very expensive. This is when people get into trouble with their finances due to health costs. In a lot of cases, it will be one of the spouses who needs long-term care and the other one is still living in the house, so it essentially almost doubles the family’s living costs.
Many people are able to cover the high costs of long-term care because they bought their home and own it out right. That is why I always encourage people who can afford a home to buy it and pay off the mortgage. Then you’ve got something worth significant money so you could sell and downsize or even take out a home equity line of credit to finance costs related to long-term care.
It really is an individual thing that requires a lot of thought and is difficult to pin down. It’s difficult to budget for retiree health care costs and yet the expenses can be onerous if you’re not prepared.
Q: I noticed you were recently interviewed for the “Me and My Money” column in The Globe and Mail. Your investments are very conservative – a high-interest savings account and guaranteed investment certificates. This is very contrary to what even independent financial advisors usually recommend. Why don’t you hold any equities?
A: I have no exposure to the stock market. That’s because I’m a very conservative accountant. I don’t like losses. I have spent a lot of time studying the stock market. I wrote a book on it called Enough Bull a couple of years ago.
If you look at long-term historical rates of returns, say, for the Canadian stock market, the S&P/TSX composite total return index which includes reinvested dividends, has done fantastically well — 9% per year. The problem is, for many reasons, most people come nowhere near what the ideal index has made.
That’s because they get emotional when the stock market crashes. They panic and sell at the wrong time. They sell low and buy high, which is the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. The other issue is that when it comes to personal finance, who has fifty years to go to retirement? You can’t assume that you’re going to earn the long-term, fifty year historical average rate.
I love fixed income products like GICs because they’re easy to understand; they’re guaranteed if you buy them from a financial institution, like any of the big six banks that are members of the CDIC (Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation); and, you can’t lose your money. The downside of course is they’re not paying very much interest. You’d be lucky to get about a two percent average rate of return.
The problem is most people using the recommended strategy of an investment advisor have a lot of exposure to the stock market. They think they’re making six or eight percent after fees and, therefore, laugh at GICs making two percent, but in many cases, they aren’t earning what they think they are.
Q: At age fifty-seven, you’re less than ten years from the normal retirement date of age sixty-five. Do you have a planned retirement date in mind?
A: I don’t really have a retirement date in mind. I mean, I love most of what I do. My plan is to slow down, do less hours, hopefully do some of the things I currently do, like writing and giving seminars, and earn some money doing that. I plan to slow down but I really don’t have any dreams about stopping work at sixty or even sixty-five, so again, that’s an individual choice.
Q: In closing, if you had one piece of advice for people who are ten years out from retirement, what would it be?
A: Well, first of all, I would say you have got to track your spending. I know it’s boring. I know it’s time consuming. I know not everybody is a specialist or likes dealing with spreadsheets. But that’s the most powerful information you can get because it’s personal. That’s what you need to start with: your family’s personal spending.
Q: Thank you, Dave. It’s a pleasure to talk to you today.
A: Thanks for having me, Sheryl.
As part of the savewithspp.com continuing series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers, today I’m talking with Dan Wesley, author of the personal finance blog “Our Big Fat Wallet.”
Dan is in his late 20s, he recently got married and he lives with his wife in Calgary. Finance isn’t just his hobby, it’s his career. He currently works in the corporate finance group of a large petroleum company.
A couple of unique things you should know about Dan:
He’s an accountant with a professional designation and a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
He’s never had any consumer debt.
He pays his credit cards in full every month.
He is able to get discounts on virtually everything he buys.
Q: First of all, tell our listeners, why is your blog called “Our Big Fat Wallet”?
A: I guess the name originally began as a joke. When I was in college, I had a roommate who used to say I had a big fat wallet because I carried a lot of coupons and that made it look bigger. And I still do carry coupons. So that’s where the name comes from.
Q: Why did you start blogging and what are your goals for the blog?
A: I started my blog because I’m passionate about all things related to finance and I wanted to empower people to take control of their own finances no matter what their age or their financial situation is. I’m hoping my blog will be a place people can learn about all topics related to finance, but also have fun and interact with others as well.
Q: And how long have you been blogging?
A: Four months.
Q: How frequently do you post?
A: I usually post three times per week on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. It was a bit of a struggle keeping that up during tax season, but I managed to pull it off so I’m hoping to continue that schedule in the future.
Q: Tell me about the range of topics that you blog about.
A: I write about everything related to personal finance with more of a Canadian focus, and specifically focusing on saving, investing and frugal living.
Q: There’s probably over a dozen well-known personal finance bloggers in Canada. What do you think is different about your blog and why do you think it’s a must-read?
A: I think the main difference with my blog is that I’m a professional accountant and I work in the finance sector, so readers are getting two perspectives. They’re getting my own personal opinion, but also the technical side as well. But I also try to make my blog as much fun as possible. So I’ve been doing some random company facts articles that tend to get a lot of attention.
Q: How many hits do you typically get for each blog?
A: It’s tough to say because it’s a pretty wide range. My most popular content has thousands of hits and seems to become more popular over time.
Q: What are some of the more popular blogs that you’ve posted.
A: The most popular content so far has been my “interesting facts” post on Costco. A couple of months ago, I posted some facts about Costco that a lot of people don’t know, and it was recently featured in The Globe and Mail and The Huffington Post. Some other popular content has been “Why I gave up on Air Miles,” “How to reduce your mortgage penalty” and “How I multiply my savings.”
Q: So tell me a couple of interesting facts about Costco that our readers might not have heard about.
A: Well, they don’t mark their products by more than 15%. They have some of the lowest staff turnover in all of the retail sector. They haven’t raised the price of their hot dog combo since 1985. Just things like that, people find really interesting.
Q: As noted in your introduction, you say you can get a discount on anything. Share some of your secrets with us.
A: There’s lots of different ways that you can get discount. For example, when I book a flight, I use discounted flight credits that I bought online, and then I’ll wait until there’s a seat sale to book the flight. West Jet flight credits other people can’t use are sometimes sold at a discount on Kijiji.
Q: What are some other examples of unusual ways to save money that readers or listeners may not be aware of?
A: For groceries, I actually started trading coupons with people last year. I bought a coupon book and I traded with other people who had the same coupon book but didn’t need certain coupons that I needed. And so far I’ve saved over $300 this year on groceries just through coupon trading.
Big ticket items like furniture or a car or a house, I always negotiate off the list price. So when we bought our house, I managed to get about $30,000 in upgrades thrown in just through negotiating with the builder.
Another big way get a discount is to time your purchase. We bought our car later in the year when the new models were coming out, and the dealer was trying to get rid of cars from the previous year and we saved $2,500 off the list price.
Q: So how did you manage to graduate from University with no debt and $10,000 in assets? What are your secrets?
A: The secret is, there is no secret. I did that basically by living within my means and making a detailed budget and sticking to it. So I didn’t have a lot of income for most of those five years.
Q: Did you live with your family or did you live away from home?
A: I lived away from home during the school year, but I moved home during the summer to save money and I worked full time. I bought used text books. I saved on transportation costs by living on campus. We didn’t really go to any fancy restaurants ever. Oh, and I applied for scholarships, as many as I could, even if I didn’t think I had a chance.
Q: Did you work part-time as well when you were in school?
A: No. I wanted to focus more on completing assignments and extra-curricular activities. But during the summer, I worked full-time, probably more than full-time, sometimes at two jobs.
Q: What kind of jobs did you do in the summer?
A: I worked at a casino. And I also worked mowing lawns. Just odd jobs that students normally have, fast food, things like that.
Q: Do you have a mortgage on your family home?
A: Yes, but we managed to save 20% to the down payment to avoid the CMHC Insurance cost. And then we used the builder’s lawyer to avoid paying the legal fees, which saved us around $1,500.
Q: Do you have a favourite personal financial blogger that you read religiously?
A: It’s tough to pick one but I’d probably say Robb Engen’s blog, “Boomer and Echo.” I’ve followed it for years now and he’s been a big help to me. I like that blog because Robb deals with everyday financial issues that anyone can relate to. And he writes in a way that anyone can understand.
Q: Your blog is fairly new. Have you had any sort of money-making opportunities or spin-offs yet as a result of writing this blog?
A: I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a writing job. I’ve been writing for the website howtosavemoney.ca, just on basic tips and tricks on how to save money. And I’ve also received two job offers in the past couple of months, which is flattering, but I’m happy and not looking to leave my current job. But other than that, no. The blog is pretty much brand new.
Q: If you only had one piece of advice to give young people heading off to university or starting their first job, what would it be?
A: It’s probably tough to pick one, but two big things: live within your means and make a budget. If you do those things, I think your finances will take care of themselves whether you’re in school or just starting out in the workforce. And when I say making a budget, I mean make a detailed budget and stick to it.
Thanks very much Dan. It was a pleasure to talk to you.
This is an edited transcript of the podcast you can listen to by clicking on the graphic under the picture above. If you don’t already follow Dan’s blog “Our big fat wallet” you can find it here. Subscribe to receive blog posts by email as soon as they’re available.
Within the last few weeks the push to expand the Canada Pension Plan has been gathering steam in Ontario and PEI. Here are some articles from the mainstream media that will bring you up to speed on the arguments pro and con.
But I really like Tim Stobbs’ take on the argument that we can’t expand CPP because higher payroll taxes will kill jobs. On Canadian Dream: Free at 45, he says, “Raising a tax won’t kill jobs…it will likely shift some around, but not remove them from the total. So don’t hide behind that as an excuse to avoid changing a program that will help the majority of people save for retirement.”
But even if CPP is expanded, it will take a generation or more for Canadians to realize the full benefits of an enhanced program. That’s why you need to save and invest on your own. Find out how to maximize your savings for retirement and other objectives in 5 Financial Principles from a 34 Year Old Millionaire Investor.
Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere. Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.