As a personal finance writer, I always try to be positive when I talk about money. I understand that managing your finances is no easy task. I openly admit that I’ve made some mistakes in the past which is why I try to relate what I’ve learned to you. But there’s one thing that drives me nuts – people who don’t take saving for retirement seriously.
I’ll hear the same excuses over and over again. “Oh, I can’t afford to save for retirement right now” (but you can afford a vacation?). “I’ll start saving more later” (you can’t even manage your finances now). “What’s an RRSP?” (no reaction to this one). I can’t explain if it’s a lack of maturity or if some people just don’t care. What I do know is that you could be screwing your retirement.
Get your shi*t together!
Canadian debt levels are at all-time highs, but many people don’t seem to care. Some believe that it’s good debt since it’s tied to their mortgages, but what about all the other money you owe?
Credit cards have an average interest rate of 20% while car loans can easily be 6%+. It’s going to be hard to save for retirement if you’re carrying consumer debt. Wouldn’t you rather have the power of compound interest work for you instead of working against you?
It’s also foolish to just assume that you’ll save more later. I rarely buy this because I find that the people who say this are the ones who are struggling to save anything now. Really? Are you all of a sudden going to save 200% more in a few years? I suppose that’s possible if you’re currently saving nothing, but it’s still not a strategy I would depend on. I suggest looking at your budget to see where you can make some adjustments now. You do have a budget right?
Even if you’re saving, it may not be enough. There’s this old saying that if you save 10% of your income, you’ll be just fine. I’m not so sure that applies in the major urban areas where the cost of living is much higher. Not only do you need to save more money but you need to invest it.
Putting your money in a savings account just because you’re conservative is not good enough; inflation will outpace any interest you earn. On the flip side of things, despite what someone may tell you, going all-in on stocks is never a good idea. If you come across someone who claims that they can guarantee you a high return in the stock market with no risk; run as fast as you can. The odds are it’s a scam.
You also want to pay attention to the fees you’re paying. A 2.5% management expense ratio (MER) for mutual funds may sound reasonable at first until you realize you could be saving hundreds of thousands of dollars if you become a DIY-investor or use a robo-advisor.
Regardless of where and how you invest, make sure you understand what you’re invested in and why. Don’t put your blind faith into others – this is your money after all.
Stop waiting for a windfall
Whenever the Lotto Max jackpot approaches $50 million, I always buy a ticket. I dream about the homes I’ll buy all over the world and how I’d live off just the interest. Of course, I don’t actually expect to win. It’s fun to dream, but it’s not reality. Way too many are hoping to win some kind of lottery (literally and figuratively).
Let’s take a look at real estate. Home prices in Canada have risen over the last couple of years. The gains are insane, but the assumption that prices will only go up is foolish. Earlier this year the Huffington Post wrote an article about how housing was going up by $550 a day. Some readers believed this to be a factual story and rushed out to buy a home thinking that a $700,000 house would be close to a million in just over a year. Making money has never been so easy right?
If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. It doesn’t help that boomers have only seen real estate go up in price so they’ve encouraged their kids to go all-in on real estate. It’s also gotten to a point where millennials expect a down payment gift from their parents these days.
Expecting money from your parents (as a down payment or inheritance) when you’re an adult is just sad. It’s great if they’re in a position to help you, but you should never expect money from them. How exactly will you learn if you keep getting bailed out? You’ll also be screwing their retirement in the process since they’re giving you money they might need.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
There’s a reason this term is overused. Again, I admit that real estate prices have been skyrocketing, but there’s no way to know where things will end up. It’s not realistic to assume that your home will fund your retirement. You can’t exactly sell off a room when you need some cash. Plus, even if you sell your home when you retire, you’ll still need a place to live.
Some people (myself included) are fortunate to work for an employer that offers a pension plan. Although I believe my pension value will be more than enough to fund my retirement, not for a second am I depending on it. I’m 30+ years away from retirement – anything could happen in that time. I could quit my job or get laid off, or my employer could scrap the pension plan altogether. It doesn’t make any sense for me to depend on a single income source.
Retirement savings has become such a big issue that the Canadian government decided to overhaul the Canadian Pension Plan. Yes, the payouts will be higher but even when you combine that with Old Age Security benefits, I wouldn’t say it’s enough to live on. Money that we get from the government when we retire is meant to be an income supplement. We can’t depend just on retirement benefits to pay for our golden years.
The final word
Screwing your retirement happens more often than you think. The things listed above can happen to any of us. Instead of waiting for a miracle to happen, educate yourself, learn how to invest, and maximize your TFSA and RRSP.