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Get creative when it comes to saving for retirement. (Photos.com)

Get creative when it comes to saving for retirement.

(Photos.com)

Retirement

No cash for an RRSP contribution? Time to get creative Add to ...

For years, contributing to an RRSP was just a passing thought for Kathleen Ross – something she knew she ought to do but never seemed to have the extra cash for.

“So many times, it crossed my mind that I should be putting something into an RRSP,” says Ms. Ross, a Hamilton, Ont., resident and single parent to a teenaged son. “But then RRSP season would come around and I wouldn’t have the money, so I ended up not doing it.”

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Many Canadians can probably relate to Ms. Ross, who finally opened an RRSP account three years ago and now puts $250 a month toward her nest egg. While there’s greater awareness today of the importance of saving for retirement, many people still find it hard to come up with money.

According to a survey released this week by the Bank of Nova Scotia, close to 65 per cent of Canadians believe they can’t afford to contribute to an RRSP. Not surprisingly, more than 21 million Canadians today have unused RRSP contribution room totalling close to $633-billion, according to Statistics Canada.

Of those who do have an RRSP, many wait until the last minute to make a contribution. In a survey conducted last October and November by the Royal Bank of Canada, 25 per cent of respondents who intended to make a one-time RRSP contribution said they planned to do so in February, just before the March 1 deadline.

Saving for retirement doesn’t have to be a drag on the budget or a last-minute scramble, the money experts say. Their best advice: save throughout the year – a few dollars here, a few cents there. It’s a concept that seems obvious and simple enough, says cash-flow coach Karen Collacutt, but it’s one that many Canadians fail to put into practice.

“We tend to build our life based on the money we have coming in now and we plan for what’s happening today, this week and this month,” says Ms. Collacutt, who is based in Barrie, just north of Toronto. “But we don’t really look beyond that, which is why many of us find it hard to save for something that seems so far off in the future, like retirement.”

Perhaps the best – and most commonly used – way to save year-round for an RRSP is through an automatic savings plan set up by a bank or through a financial adviser, Ms. Collacutt says. But there’s no need to stop there, she says. For Canadians looking to jumpstart an RRSP or top off regular contributions, there are many additional ways to “find” RRSP money throughout the year.

For instance, employer-sponsored savings programs that match all or part of employee contributions are a frequently overlooked source of RRSP money, Ms. Collacutt says.

“It’s free money, so if you’re not taking advantage of the matching program at your work you’re throwing away money,” she says.

Many Canadians finish making their Canada Pension Plan contributions by October or November, which means they get a slightly bigger pay cheque in the last months of the year.

Instead of spending this extra cash, Ms. Collacutt suggests putting it into an RRSP account.

Richa Hingorani, a Toronto-based regional financial planning consultant with the Royal Bank of Canada, recommends a similar approach with salary increases.

“Act like the money is not there and invest it in your RRSP,” she says.

Ditto for tax refunds, which Ms. Hingorani says can provide an early start to next year’s RRSP contribution and allow investors to enjoy compound interest for a full year.

Ms. Hingorani also suggests looking into banking or credit products that provide cash rewards. The Royal Bank, for example, has a “financial rewards” program that allows customers to redeem points earned and put them toward an RRSP.

Other banks, such as TD Canada Trust, offer plans that trigger savings each time a customer buys something with a debit card or pays a bill online. Ms. Ross set up such a plan with her bank not too long ago. Now every debit card purchase or online bill payment she makes adds $1 to her savings account.

Finding ways to save small amounts of money throughout the year can turn into a creative pursuit for some people. Veronica Leonard, a freelance writer and editor in Belleville, Ont., says she used to play a game where she challenged herself to round up her RRSP account each time it was within $10 of the next hundred.

“There used to be days when I’d round up $10 on Monday, $3 on Tuesday and check my RRSP balance on Wednesday and see it had dropped $50 and feel like I was betting on the horses,” Ms. Leonard says. “But it added up and when I made my annual lump sum contribution, I usually had several hundred extra dollars that had dribbled in over the year from my top-ups.”

Ms. Ross in Hamilton also believes in making a game of saving. She recently came across a money challenge that calls for weekly savings equivalent to the corresponding week in the year. So in the first week of the year, she would set aside $1 and then incrementally increase the amount by a dollar each week – $2 in the second week, $3 in the third, and so on.

“By the end of year, if I keep it up, I’ll have $1,378’” Ms. Ross says. “Just in time for Christmas – and the next RRSP deadline.”

It all adds up

By saving a few dollars here and there throughout the year, you could end up with a nice sum to put toward your RRSP. Here are a few tips:

Automate it

Set up an automatic monthly savings program with your bank, which you can put directly into an RRSP.

Find a match

If your employer offers a matching savings program, make sure you sign up, even if you can afford to make only small contributions.

Forget about your extra cash

Treat cash bonuses – such as a salary increase or tax refund – as though they don’t exist. Put them straight into your RRSP.

Top it up

Check your RRSP account regularly and round up the sum each time it gets within $10 of the next 100.

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