Far from sailing off into retired bliss, some older Canadians are nearing their golden years with a mixture of worry and fear. And while a number of them are approaching retirement or have stopped working with ease, many others point to a lack of money as a major reason for delaying or forgoing retirement.
The latest government data shows that more people are working, at least part-time, after the traditional retirement age of 65. The Statistics Canada report does not make it clear whether these Canadians are working longer for health reasons, to bolster their finances or because they want to.
An online survey conducted by the Globe & Mail last month suggests Canadians have unrealistic expectations about when they will be able to retire. The average expected age of retirement among the 3,296 respondents was 62, an answer that was consistent among Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials.
The comments they sent us, however, painted a very mixed picture. For some seniors, healthy pension plans, successful investing and homes bought at low prices have afforded them a comfortable retirement.
Many others are doubtful about their ability to fully stop working, citing poor stock returns, too much debt, fear of outliving their money, an unexpected divorce or illness, rising living expenses and the need to extend financial help to adult children.
"I'm scared to death of the cost of living as a senior," says a 61-year-old woman from Montreal, who says she'll need to move to a smaller, more affordable town to make ends meet.
"Even though I planned my post-retirement financial affairs with great thought, I am still surprised how much more expensive it is," says a man, 70, from Goderich, Ont.
A woman from Bowmanville, Ont., says she lost her job after being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 52. She says she is still struggling to find work. "This was supposed to be the final 10-year push to retirement. Retirement is looking much different now."
"The plan was to retire at 55. A job layoff and defined benefit pension loss has impacted the date," says a woman, 51, from Richmond Hill.
A 53-year-old Kamloops, B.C. woman says the fallout from a divorce has set her retirement plans back 20 years.
The cost of providing for adult children was another major financial obstacle cited by many older Canadians.
"University costs for our children have impacted our retirement," says a woman from Toronto, aged 56. "Our children ... can not afford to rent or purchase homes and are with us again."
This 55-year-old woman from Newmarket writes: "I'm fearful that one of my children may come to me for financial help in the future. They are both educated and have good jobs but ... there is no way I could co-sign on a $300,000-plus mortgage."
Pensions – or a lack of – were mentioned repeatedly by those who shared their stories with the Globe.
"A teacher's pension and regular RRSP donations has made my retirement a dream. Not a millionaire, but very comfortable," says this Toronto woman, 68.
"I have no private pension and have not been able to contribute enough to my RRSP, so will work as long as I am physically able," says a Toronto woman born in 1960.
"No pension is putting huge pressure on me as I have a large annual income to replace," says a Calgary man, 60.
A 66-year-old woman from Niagara Falls says inadequate pension income has her wondering whether to delay retirement until age 70. "I can't figure out what cost of living will be 20-30 years from now. It's a worry."
"I retired with an indexed defined benefit pension and have done consulting since," said this Port Perry, Ont. man, aged 74. "I'm cash-flow positive each month."
For many, working longer is the answer.
A 71-year-old man from Edmonton says "working from 65 to 71 has significantly increased my net worth such that I do not have to worry too much about finances."
"I went back to work part-time post-retirement out of fear I would never be able to earn money again," said a Vancouver woman born in 1951.
Meanwhile, this Vancouver man, aged 90, said he worked well into his 80s, "solely because I enjoyed it."
"I could have retired at age 65 with few financial concerns. However, by postponing retirement to age 75, I will be able to do everything that I ever wanted to do," says a Kitchener, Ont., man, 73.
An Ottawa man, now 71, says he retired early and then worked part time for another 16 years. The money he earned helped cover expenses and funded travel plans. "Since my wife retired at 64 and I became fully retired at 70, money is tight."
A 68-year-old man from Grimsby, Ont. says his biggest success has been managing his own retirement investments.
"I have exceeded my financial targets...by going independent (with training) and managing our own portfolios. The reward was 24 per cent returns last year. This year won't be as good, but it will be damn better than what the bank can offer (or I should say take from me)."
Meanwhile, a 52-year-old Mississauga man says "low rates of returns on investments are delaying my retirement."