Financial planning: Catch up at any age

If you feel left behind, take heart. A few simple moves can put your finances back on track.



From the July/August 2008 issue of the magazine.


Marianne and Thomas Robinson spent much of their 30s living the good
life in Ottawa. Marianne made
good money as a massage therapist; Thomas prospered
as a graphic designer. Money was abundant and the Robinsons
enjoyed nice vacations and frequent shopping expeditions.

Then the couple (we’ve altered their names and some personal
details) moved to Vancouver in search of a West Coast lifestyle
and mild climate. They had bargained on a slow period as they
established themselves in a new locale, but as the months shuffled
onward, customers failed to appear and they grew nervous. The
birth of their daughter Lydia filled them with joy, but also with
frustration. How would they pay for the added expenses of a child?
How could they find time to care for Lydia and simultaneously
grow their businesses? With incomes languishing, the Robinsons
resorted to living off their credit cards. Marianne, now 38, and
Thomas, 43, soon owed $40,000. They felt angry and desperate.
They wondered if they might need to declare bankruptcy. “It
a struggle,” recalls Marianne. “When
you’re in that situation it
seems like there’s no light at the end of the

Sound familiar? Many of us feel just as left behind as the Robinsons.
We figure that by our mid-30s we’ll be well on the road to
financial success and by our mid-50s we’ll be rolling in
But reality is not nearly so generous. The median net worth of a
Canadian household headed by somebody under 35 is less than
$30,000 — barely enough to buy a minivan. By the time you hit
you’re doing better than average if you’ve paid off
your house and
accumulated more than $65,000 in RRSP savings.

It doesn’t require much of a setback to derail your progress
toward even those modest achievements. At 40, the struggle to
simultaneously establish a career, start a family and buy a home
can defeat even well-intentioned, well-educated couples such as the
Robinsons. At 50, a job loss or a marriage break-up can wipe out a
couple of decades of savings. At 60, an underperforming stock
portfolio or a simple lack of savings can make retirement look like a
disaster. That leaves many of us asking, “How can I catch

To get an answer to that question, we’ve quizzed financial
and money experts across Canada. Our key finding? No matter
what age you are, there are plenty of tactics you can use to help you
achieve financial success and a happy retirement. “Where
commitment, there’s lots of hope,” says Nancy
Zimmerman, a money
coach in Vancouver, who helped Marianne and Thomas Robinson
with their catch-up strategy. Read on to find out how you, too, can
put your financial progress on fast forward.

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