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Dave Munroe, 75, with his vintage Ducati motorcycle. The retired life insurance agent and financial planner jokes that the bike is his “life’s work” because he picked it up in 2004 – but has hardly had time to look at it for nearly a decade.

Paul Darrow/The Globe and Mail

As Dave Munroe tinkers with the carburetor cables on his yellow 1974 Ducati 750 Sport, he begins to tell the motorcycle's story. Just a few hundred were made, he says. With its single seat, tucked-in handlebars and a higher state of tune than the standard GT model, it was built to race. His voice perks up: "Hardly any two of them were the same."

The 75-year-old Nova Scotian has been racing, collecting and rebuilding motorcycles since he traded up an old scooter in 1958, frustrated that it didn't go fast enough. The Ducati, Mr. Munroe jokes, is his "life's project," but there are three more in his garage and another in his office.

The retired insurance agent from Waverley has spent his life living by the same motto he always passed on to clients: "You have to plan." This attitude has earned Mr. Munroe the freedom to keep playing with cars and motorcycles long after retiring in 1998.

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But he's spent his life watching savings habits move away from that, as Canadians increasingly choose to spend money in the now while racking up historic levels of household debt. "That principle of sacrifice, short-term pain for long-term gain, is a tough sell," he says.

As a financial confidant to many of his insurance clients, "The most satisfaction I got was convincing people to save a significant portion of their income for when they wanted to stop work and have a life of leisure."

Forty-seven per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 64 say they don't contribute to a retirement savings plan, according to a survey of 1,912 people conducted last November by polling firm Leger for Toronto-Dominion Bank. The survey also found that 32 per cent of workers intend to work into retirement because they'll need the money.

"For many people, when they retire, it's not about no longer working – it's about changing their lifestyle," says Crystal Wong, a TD financial planner based in Victoria.

Telling someone to put together a financial plan – carefully paying down debt, regularly saving – may seem like the most basic of financial advice. But many Canadians don't give it a shot – even though it's a "cornerstone" of getting the retirement a person wants, Ms. Wong says. "It's discipline."

Mr. Munroe grew up in Nova Scotia, and bought his first scooter in 1957 for $100 from a friend who needed money. Within a year, he had his first motorcycle – a 1952 AJS 500 Single. "I used to ride everywhere with it," he says. "Next thing I was on a racetrack and became a maniac."

Soon after, he bought a 1961 Triumph TR5 A/R and drove it to Dawson Creek, B.C. to spend a year as a land surveyor. He returned to Nova Scotia and studied engineering at Dalhousie University, but soon found himself working as an insurance agent for London Life Insurance Co.

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As an agent, he met the who's-who of Halifax, and received regular invitations to join business ventures. He tried a few, including investing in a company that repaired shipping containers, but becoming a founding partner of the Dartmouth motorcycle dealer Pro Cycle in 1983 was his most fun – and "we could buy motorcycles cheap," he says with a laugh.

Mr. Munroe and his partners sold the business last year. "More money for toys," he says, smiling. But in this case, keeping an eye out for opportunity really allowed him to blend his love for bikes with his penchant for saving for the future.

That habit punctuated his whole career. He paid off his first house in 13 years, and then another, and avoided unnecessary vacations. "I was still driving an old beat-up [Plymouth] Valiant when many of my contemporaries were driving new BMWs," he says. The car, he jokes, "fit into our austerity program."

A person is never too old to start an austerity program of his or her own, says Ms. Wong, the financial planner. "Once you identify where you're spending your money, you can identify areas you can cut out or cut back – whether you're in your 20s, 50s or 70s."

Mike Henry, Bank of Nova Scotia's senior vice-president of retail payments, deposits and lending, says the first step, simply, is to make a budget. "Have a plan ... and understand how much you need," he says.

Every person's situation is unique, but working with savings calculators available online – or, better yet, Mr. Henry says, an accredited financial adviser – "should surface some savings."

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When Mr. Munroe retired from London Life, he and his wife, Carol, moved to the northern Halifax suburb of Waverley, but he didn't quite leave work behind. He'd spent his whole life on boards – including the Children's Aid Society and the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation – and kept it up in retirement.

His involvement only deepened then, as he chaired the Canadian Auto Association's Maritime board, and later its national board, for several years.

Which made fixing up that Ducati take longer than he expected. He jokes that it's his "life's work" because he picked it up in 2004 – but hardly had time to look at it for nearly a decade.

Today, still, Mr. Munroe remains active in his local community, including as a director of the Chebucto Wind Field, which opened a 10-megawatt wind-energy farm on the outskirts of Halifax in December. He got involved after feeling "embarrassed" that his go-to car, a 1965 Sunbeam Tiger, only got about 12 miles a gallon – in spite of his bringing climate change concerns to the fore at CAA.

Realizing the car released close to two tons of greenhouse gases into the air a year, Mr. Munroe bought enough shares in the company to offset the car's pollution for five years. And even though he's made the Tiger more efficient, getting about 25 miles a gallon, he remains heavily involved with the wind-energy company.

But that's a drop in a bucket compared to everything else he's accomplished, he says. "I don't know how I got it all done, to be honest."

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