Laila is 46, a well-paid professional with a pension plan who says she feels stretched every month. She grosses $133,000 a year. Laila is in a long-term relationship, but she and her partner have their own homes and keep their finances separate.
Laila paid off the mortgage on her Alberta house earlier this year and has since shifted her focus to her registered retirement savings plan and tax-free savings account.
Laila shares the fears of many single people. She is "worried I'll fall short in retirement income," she writes in an e-mail. "What do I need to do to ensure financial freedom and a worry-free retirement without the benefit of a spouse's retirement income?"
Her retirement goal is to travel freely and maintain her standard of living. Although her monthly budget shows a slight surplus, it can be fleeting, she says. She is saving for a six-month, unpaid sabbatical in three years ($30,000).
"Two years ago, I did a kitchen renovation, so extra money went into that." She'd like to retire as soon as she can, but she is willing to work to age 62 to get her maximum pension, which at that point would be $74,880 a year. She lists her retirement spending goal as $90,000 a year after tax.
"I see people struggle and budget every penny, and I want an income where I don't have to think about whether I have enough to retire and travel when and where I want," she writes. "I'd rather have a healthier pension than is necessary and be able to be generous with it than worry about running out."
We asked Heather Franklin, an independent Toronto certified financial planner (CFP), to look at Laila's situation.
What the expert says
Laila appears to be in good financial shape to retire at age 60 to 62, Ms. Franklin says. "She is looking forward to it, and this mindset will prepare her well for the future." Because Laila is contributing to her defined benefit pension plan at work, she does not have much RRSP contribution room, so "RRSP contributions are not critical at this point," the planner says. Instead, she should build up her TFSA, her sabbatical fund and an emergency fund.
One possible drag on Laila's retirement plans is her investment in a family of mutual funds with relatively high fees, Ms. Franklin says. Laila should check the funds' performance relative to their benchmarks to ensure she is getting value for her money.
If not, she could switch to low-fee mutual funds, a portfolio of broadly traded exchange-traded funds or even a robo-adviser – an Internet-based portfolio manager that selects a portfolio of funds or ETFs and rebalances them automatically. Getting value for her money will become increasingly important as Laila's savings grow.
"At this point in time, the fees may not appear too onerous," Ms. Franklin says. "But as the assets increase through growth and with future contributions, the fees will weigh on long-term performance." She recommends a good proportion of dividend-paying blue-chip stocks.
Even with no further contributions, Laila's $81,000 RRSP would grow to about $170,000 in 25 years (when she is 71), the planner says. That assumes an average rate of return on investments of 5 per cent and an inflation rate of 1.5 to 2.0 per cent. Laila would then convert the RRSP to a registered retirement income fund and begin making mandatory minimum withdrawals starting at about $8,500 a year, the planner says.
As she builds up her TFSA, Laila should also focus on solid, dividend paying growth stocks to take full advantage of the TFSA's tax-free status. Her sabbatical fund should be in short-term investments such as guaranteed investment certificates.
Looking forward to what Laila can expect in the way of retirement income, Ms. Franklin says Laila may be "setting the bar too high" by targeting $90,000 after tax. She may be able to live quite comfortably on less. Her current lifestyle expenses (minus savings) are much lower, although Laila has acknowledged that some of the spending categories may be understated.
If Laila retires at age 62 with a pension of $74,880 a year before tax, she could also take CPP benefits early, giving her another $9,600 a year, for a total of $84,480. At age 65, she would begin collecting Old Age Security of $6,900 a year, although some of that would be clawed back because of her high income, Ms. Franklin says. She could draw any shortfall from her non-registered savings, if any, or her TFSA.
The person: Laila, 46.
The problem: How much does she need to save to retire, travel and maintain her standard of living?
The plan: Work to age 62, take early CPP and endeavour to lower investment costs. Take full advantage of TFSA.
The payoff: A financially secure retirement.
Monthly net income: $8,080
Assets: Cash $1,000; sabbatical account $4,500; TFSA $1,000; RRSP $81,000; estimated present value of defined benefit pension plan $600,000; residence $500,000. Total: $1.2-million
Monthly outlays: Property tax $245; water, sewer $120; home insurance $142; heating $80; security $35; maintenance $100; garden $160; transportation $50; grocery store $300; clothing $150; gifts, charitable $125; vacation, travel $500; dining, drinks, entertainment $240; grooming $80; sports, hobbies $50; group health and life plans $112; vitamins $10; telecom, TV, Internet $315; RRSP $800; TFSA $1,400; pension plan contributions $1,463. Total: $6,477 Apparent surplus $1,603, goes to savings account for travel, sabbatical fund.
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