10 things they won’t tell you about retirement

The best-kept secrets of life after work.



From the July/August 2008 issue of the magazine.


If you’re like many middle-aged Canadians, you used to think that you would retire at 55. Now you’re hoping for 65. Once you used to smile fondly at the retirement ads that showed laughing grey-haired couples golfing in tropical paradises. Now you have an overwhelming desire to jump out of the sand trap and smack those smug retirees with a nine iron.

We feel your pain. So let us reassure you. Despite what you may think, there is a lot of good news about retirement. We’ve talked to a wide-ranging selection of financial experts and we’ve come away with one conclusion — you’re doing far better than you think you are. Join us as we reveal 10 things that most people don’t know about retirement, but should.

1. You’re not behind at all

The ads make it sound as if 55 is a reasonable retirement age. In fact, for most of us it’s not. The median retirement age in Canada is 62 for men and 61 for women, according to Statistics Canada. Who does retire early? By and large, federal government employees, who ditch work at a median age of 58. You can credit their early departures to generous pensions that are indexed for inflation. But even public-sector employees aren’t hanging up their work clothes at 55.

If you look at the math behind retirement, you can see why most of us stick around the office a bit longer than we might like. For every year early that you retire, you pay three penalties: you lose a year of potential savings, you lose a year of growth for your retirement savings, and you gain one more year of retirement expenses.

Consider a woman who hits 55 in good financial shape, with a paid-off condo and $100,000 in savings. She can count on her savings to produce $4,000 or $5,000 a year in returns, but she’s too young to start collecting Old Age Security or Canada Pension Plan. Unless she resorts to desperate measures, such as selling her condo or burning through her savings, retirement is impractical.

But look at what a difference five years can make. If she buckles down and contributes $10,000 a year to her retirement fund during that period, and achieves a 7% annual average return, her savings double to $200,000. That bankroll can generate $8,000 to $10,000 a year in income as long as she lives. At 60, she can also start collecting Canada Pension Plan. If she combines those sources of income with part-time work, a phased-in retirement becomes quite practical.

From "The stress-free guide to retiring rich"
Stress-free guide to retiring rich

How to overcome your top 10 fears and achieve your rich retirement dreams.

2. You’ll live longer than you expect

When we’e doing our retirement planning, many of us figure that we’ll live to 80, the average lifespan in Canada. But that average is misleading. It reflects what a newborn baby can expect in the way of lifespan and is dragged down by all the unfortunate people who die relatively young.

If you’ve managed to reach 65 without suffering a terminal illness, you’ll probably live considerably beyond 80. According to StatsCan, a 65-year-old man can expect to live to 83; a 65-year-old woman can look forward to blowing out the candles on her 86th birthday.

And remember — those are averages. Half of retirees live longer, some much longer. Moshe Milevsky, an associate professor of finance at Toronto’s Schulich School of Business at York University, says there is a 41% chance that at least one member of a 65-year-old couple will live to 90. So even if you don’t quit work until 65, there’s a good chance that your retirement could still wind up spanning a quarter or more of your life.

3. You’ll see more of your partner — a lot more

Sure, you love your spouse, but let’s do a little math here. Chances are, for most of your married life at least one of you has worked outside the home. Subtract sleep, travel time and other away time and you’ve seen your beloved for— at most — six hours a day.

In retirement, that figure can easily double. And continued exposure can cause even happy couples to bicker. Fred and Janet Barnes (not their real names) retired to Dickey Lake, Ont., to renovate a cottage after living in and around Toronto for most of their lives.”His perfectionism drove me a little crazy,” says Janet. “My slapdash methods were hard for Fred to take.” The Barneses eventually figured out ways to divide the work so they wouldn’t get on each other’s nerves.

Other retired couples strike different bargains — maybe the kitchen becomes her territory, while the garage becomes his — but whatever the specifics of the deal may be, the important point is to realize that retirement is not just a financial journey. It’s also an emotional odyssey and you should plan ahead to make the most of it.

Beginning in your 50s, you should start thinking about the activities that will fill your day in retirement. “You’re going to need to stay connected,” says Dr. Randy Swedburg, chair of the applied human sciences department at Concordia University in Montreal. Your many options include going back to school, giving your time to charity, or starting your own business.

4. A part-time job is worth $400,000 in the bank

If your retirement savings are a bit smaller than you had hoped, take heart — a part-time job in retirement can go a long way toward making up for an undersized portfolio.

Let’s say that you can make $20,000 a year from your part-time job. That is about what you could reasonably expect a $400,000 investment portfolio to generate in retirement, says Terry Greene, a fee-only planner with MSC Financial Services Ltd. in North Vancouver. So your part-time job is the financial equal of a $400,000 portfolio. Especially if your part-time job consists of doing work youenjoy, you may find that you never want to fully retire.

5. Your employer really does love you

The first wave of baby boomers has already hit 60. Millions more will soon hit retirement age. And there are not that many people coming up behind them. “The demographic trends are suggesting that over the next 10 to 15 years, we’re not going to replace the workforce that currently exists,” says Ted Emond, a senior consultant with Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting firm in Toronto.

The likely result of Canada’s aging society is a potential labor shortage that will make skilled help more and more valuable with each passing year. HSBC Bank Canada, is already attempting to keep older employees in the workforce by letting them work part-time while collecting pensions. Wal-Mart Canada allows its retirees to come back as consultants or to mentor current employees. Count on more employers to do the same as demographics makes skilled employees tougher to find.

6. Government is more generous than you think

The financial planning industry likes to cast doubt on the future of Canada Pension Plan. In fact, CPP is on solid financial ground after the reforms of a decade ago, according to the federal government’s chief actuary. CPP (or Quebec Pension Plan in the case of Quebecers), combined with Old Age Security, will provide you with an average of $11,500 a year if you’ve worked in Canada your entire life and retire at 65. The maximum you could qualify for is about $16,600 a year.

Don’t forget, too, that you’re eligible for a Guaranteed Income Supplement if you’re a low-income retiree. “For low-income [earners], government programs are going to provide you with the standard of living you’ve always been used to,” says Malcolm Hamilton, a consulting actuary with Mercer, a benefits consulting firm in Toronto.

7. You may be missing free money

A Sun Life Financial survey found nearly 40% of us have access to savings programs in which our employer kicks in money to supplement what we contribute. But one in five
of us who are eligible for such plans doesn’t participate. As a result, we lose guaranteed returns of 25% or more.

You should inquire with your human resources department to make sure you’re not missing out. Many publicly traded companies offer employee stock ownership plans with an employer match. If you buy $80 of your company’s stock each month through such a plan, your employer kicks in an additional $20 a month — an instant investment return of 25%. Other companies offer retirement plans in which the company matches your contribution dollar for dollar — a guaranteed return of 100%. In either case, the money is free and you should grab it.

8. You don’t need a million bucks

Financial planners like to say you’ll need 70% of your current income in retirement. To hit that goal, a middle-class couple will need to amass a million dollars or more in savings. But is the 70% figure truly a good estimate of what you need in retirement?

Probably not. Brian FitzGerald, co-author of The Pension Puzzle and chief executive officer of Capital G Consulting in Toronto, says
you have many more costs while you’re working than while you’re retired, so your need for cash in retirement is considerably less than the 70% figure suggests. “There’s a bunch of expenses you don’t have to incur in retirement,” he says. For instance, most retirees no longer have to worry about paying off a house, funding their kids’ education, making RRSP contributions or commuting to work. And they pay substantially less in income tax because they’re earning less.

So how much of your current income do you really need to maintain your standard of living in retirement? “I’m pretty confident that 50% will do the job for most people,” says Hamilton, the actuary. Of course, if you want to live lavishly and travel constantly, you will need more, but if you’re happy to go on living much as you always have, replacing half of your working income should do the job.

9. RRSPs aren’t always the answer

Canada has five seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall, and RRSP time. But while we’e annually bombarded with ads telling us to stuff money into our RRSPs, don’ think of those four-letter contraptions as your only option in retirement planning.

RRSPs are not your best strategy if you have high-interest debt, such as a credit card balance. Given the 18% or more you’re probably paying on your credit card debt, you should first devote every available dollar to paying down that costly debt. RRSPs may also not be your best option if you’re a low-income earner, since the tax savings that result from making an RRSP contribution aren’t worth much if you don’t pay much tax to start with.

If the federal government goes ahead with its proposal to introduce tax-free savings accounts next year, RRSPs will have an additional competitor for your attention. Ottawa’s proposal, as it now stands, would allow each of us to put up to $5,000 a year into a tax-free savings account, or TFSA. You won’t get any tax deduction
for doing so, but your money will grow tax-free. And you will be able to withdraw the TFSA money without paying any taxes. While the math gets complicated,”I would think people with below-average incomes are better with TFSAs,” says Hamilton, the actuary.

10. There’s a world of possibilities

One option that can instantly multiply your retirement spending power is to leave Canada behind. Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia and Panama all enjoy far better weather than we do, and much lower costs of living. “Overall, there is no question you can live here on one-half to one-third what you could in any Canadian city and have a good lifestyle,” says Tom Dawson, 54, who with his wife, Donna, moved to Panama City nearly two years ago from St. Albert, Alta. The 1,800-sq.-ft. condominium they bought overlooks the Pacific Ocean and the Panama Canal, and cost them less than $200,000. Medical care is excellent, locally grown produce is cheap and foreigners who retire to Panama with a pension can qualify for several tempting tax breaks, including an exemption from property taxes.

The federal government offers primers on retiring abroad (click
on www.voyage.gc.ca and search “Retirement Abroad”). Another
useful source of information is The Canadian Snowbird Guide by
Douglas Gray. But no book or website can fully convey the day-to-day reality of a foreign country. Try out a destination before making any permanent decisions. Rent a home for a year and see what daily life is like. If it matches or exceeds your expectations, you may be able to afford the retirement of your dreams on far less money than you expected.

94 comments on “10 things they won’t tell you about retirement

  1. Very clear, & concise, while easy to read


  2. Who are you guys??? 5-7 percent a year with limited risk???? Jump into reality with 1-2 percent return.

    This kind of BS barley deserves a comment. The part time job at 20K?? Dream on!! Oh yeah, you pay tax on CPP, RRSP withdrawls, etc. Points 8,9 and 10 have merit, want to see your Grandkids every few years??

    reality check please!!


    • It would be nice if the info was up-to-date too. TFSA's have been a reality for a while!!


      • Please note the date……The article was first published in the July/August 2008 issue of MoneySense


    • I retired at 50 and my rates throughout my years of investing averaged 10 %. Yes, sometimes people can’t retire early for legit reasons but most can’t because they are fools when it comes to money.


      • Gregg, if you retired at 50 during the 90’s- well yes you could expect 10%. But today interest rates on GIC’s are 2%. All corresponding bonds pay far less than they did 15-20 years ago.
        To get 10% now- that’s high stakes gambling and in reality unsustainable. Bernie Madoff guaranteed his clients this much, and found out to be a liar. Even in the 90’s this was not prudent investing. Long term, over 30 years, one can expect 4 to 6 percent.


        • I am a Certified Financial Securities Advisor- I certainly hope you have received better advise that what you talked about here by now. If you deal withs Banks that’s a huge problem, first they are not non-profit buildings.

          Never ever, put your retirement money into a GIC, CD, if for a family emergency you need to pull some out, significant lack of access, you will pay penalties, and historically both these have a very low rate of return. Stay away from Fixed annuities, RUN, very high fees, once you are in, you are in, stuck for the rest of your life.

          BONDS- Due to their stereotype single bonds can be very volatile, can go down in value, and have lower returns over a long period of time.

          SINGLE STOCKS- We do not suggest single stocks as part of your investment plan. Over the long term “uncle billy bob’s Investment” do not work.. but if you must limit it to 10% of your portfolio.

          ETF’s- These are baskets of single stocks, intended to act like Mutual funds, Sounds good in theory, but they are not mutual funds.

          EQUITY INDEXED ANNUITIES- these limit you loss, while you allow them to limit your gain, Not Good.

          WHAT YOU SHOULD DO- First You should invest your company plan if there is one available, but only if your employer matches the amount (it’s free money immediately) then max out your TFSA’s, after that return to your RRSP’s deposits. the reason for this when you retire, only the RRSP’s are taxed on withdrawal, why pay more taxes than you have to, So max out your TFSA’s.. if you look properly you can find RRSP’s – TFSA Mutual Funds that have averaged 10-12% for the last 20 years, I even have one that has averaged over 19% for the last 10 years. Look for long track record’s don’t purchase a new Mutual fund that has been only around 3 years or less, (it’s still in Diapers),, long track records of growth, team management that has experienced the market up’s and downs. charts are available, If fact I recommend funds that you can take advantage of the market upswing, then lock-in your gain (-new market value-) not worry about the downturns in the economy. Most proper Mutual funds have 80- to 100 Funds bundled in a certain area. Use these 4 types 25% of your portfolio in each, Growth Funds, Aggressive Growth Funds, International Funds, Growth and Income Funds. Seek an advisor that has ” the heart of a teacher”, to educate you, You don’t want or need a daddy to hold your hand – or a baby sitter, it’s your money tell it what to do… have the advisor show you your options, you pick them… DON’T freely give you money to ANYBODY. (re your Bernie Madoff comment)

          Have fun, you future is bright.


  3. the most important factor in deciding when to retire is knowing exactly how much you spend each year. Once you can match that with post-retirement income – pension, RSP, CPP, OAP, part time employment, reverse mortgage, etc – then go… and enjoy your retirement. All too often people wait and wait far too long and then still spend their retirement years worrying about money. Get a financial planner to do the math for you and then stick to your budget. Retirement is GREAT!!


  4. TFSAs and RRSPs have nothing to do with providing retirees with an adequate income level. The role of TFSA and RRSP are simply to reduce the money supply by tying up money in bank accounts. These vehicles provide the banks with opportunities to increase the debt load of Canadians under the rules of the Canadian Bank Act and the Canadian Deposit Insurance Fund.
    The Canada Pension Plan was introduced when I was just getting into the labour force. I recall a lot of the 30+ adults around me degrading the CPP and some actually campaigned against the CPP. I, for one, am very glad their opposition to the CPP colapsed. I may not be living high on the hog in retirement but I am comfortble and I'm not taking a part-time job away from a high school, college, or university student.
    People seriously interested in providing for their retirement should go tohttp://www.canadianlabour.ca for a look at the Canadian Labour Congress Pension Plan. The CLC plan expends on the CPP offering much better financial support to a much broader cross section of low to middle income earners than RRSPs or TFSAs.


    • Hey, Waynbo, currently CPP for 2016 is maxed at $13,110.00, OAS $6,846, Only if you have earned above average income for your working life time, and if you have contributed the MAX each year. CPP average last year was $7,552.. Annual total using averages $7552 plus $6,846= $14,398.00 per year that works out to $1199.83 per month. Not fun… better yet even $100 per month invested from age 30-70 in average growth stock Mutual fund, works out to be $1,176,000.00… average growth rate 12%, live on 6%, the extra six percent to cover inflation and market fluxuations. this would give you an additional $5,880 per month.. A $100 bucks per month.


  5. TFSAs and RRSPs have nothing to do with providing retirees with an adequate income level. The role of TFSA and RRSP are simply to reduce the money supply by tying up money in bank accounts. These vehicles provide the banks with opportunities to increase the debt load of Canadians under the rules of the Canadian Bank Act and the Canadian Deposit Insurance Fund.
    The Canada Pension Plan was introduced when I was just getting into the labour force. I recall a lot of the 30+ adults around me degrading the CPP and some actually campaigned against the CPP. I, for one, am very glad their opposition to the CPP colapsed. I may not be living high on the hog in retirement but I am comfortble and I'm not taking a part-time job away from a high school, college, or university student.
    People seriously interested in providing for their retirement should go tohttp://www.canadianlabour.ca for a look at the Canadian Labour Congress Pension Plan. The CLC plan expends on the CPP offering much better financial support to a much broader cross section of low to middle income earners than RRSPs or TFSAs.


    • I checked out the website and found no information or details about an expanded CPP. Just a political wish list. This is not helpful.


  6. OMERS — my buddy retired at 54. Yes, 54. Technically, 55, but he had so much vacation and sick time accumulated, that he took off months before his 55th birthday. Worked for a municipality in southwestern Ontario — yes, meaning the Ontario taxpayer showered him with subsidized employer-contributions to his Defined-Benefit pension plan — and retired at 55, WITH NO PENALTY. Yes, you heard me right: no penalty for early retirement. Apparently, they also get a "bridge pension" — also subsidized by the Ontario taxpayers — to account for the age 55-60 period. So while even federal employees would get an early retirement penalty, Ontario's municipal workers don't. And it is ALL SUBSIDIZED by the Ontario municipal taxpayers. Nice eh?

    Oh, and his annual pension, by the way? $60,000.

    I rest my case.


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  72. Still looking for an answer…can I receive a government supplement if I retire at 62 living in Ontario. My work pension and my cpp combined would net me20000 Annually?


  73. I find Canada to be an absolutely boring place to live. The focus is all about possessions and status. There is very little cultural life. Most recent immigrants are either planning to return home for retirement or planning a move to the USA. In fact, most of the retirees I know try to spend as much time south of the border as possible and would move south without hesitation if they could only get green cards.


  74. Any helpful tax saving tips or links to blogs relevant to seniors living in Ontario would be appreciated, for my widowed 80 yr. old Mom whose total annual income is a bit below $30,000, owns her own house, does not have any disabilities, medical deductions, or investments, yet has to regularly pay out over $1,000 owing in personal income tax each year to Revenue Canada. (Other than increase the monthly amount of her income tax deducted through her former employer? She’d rather hold on to that $100+ additional monthly amount it would take to cover what she keeps owing CRA annually and prefers to pay them back in equal monthly payments spread out through the current year.) The reason I ask is because I find it absolutely incredible that she has to pay so much tax on so little income. — If anyone out there keeps an eye on personal income tax reforms needed that should be better scrutinized and restructured. As well as how the Ontario Health Premium taxable income bracket grouping requires the same $300 premium whether your income is just over $25,000, but less than $36,000 — hardly equal for the lower taxable income recipient.


  75. Some Canadian life insurance companies offer impaired annuities for people with severe health problems which affect their life expectancy. Annuity payments are higher than a standard life annuity to compensate for a likely lower income period.

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  76. Great article. Have lived outside of Canada for 20+ years, and yes, do plan to come back. How does CPP calculate the pension $ I might receive given my time out of Canada. Also like your reference to age of retirement. Living in Asia, still having fun at 62 I don’t see a need to stop for now. But will want good references to charity work I can do when I get back home.


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  78. This was a great read. I came in expecting to see a bunch of unhelpful or obvious clickbait buzzwords, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this article is loaded with great advice. As my wife and I plan for retirement, we’re torn as to how much we should rely on financial planners. We’d love to take care of everything ourselves, but retirement seems complicated enough that we might want to employ someone. Does anyone have any advice on this subject? Thanks!


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