How much money do you need to retire? Forget pulling out your calculator. Turn to your computer, tablet or smartphone instead.
As we head into 2016, a growing number of online tools, apps and websites can help Canadians plan for their retirement with a few (and sometimes more than just a few) clicks.
Wondering whether you will outlive your money? Not sure how much you will receive in government pensions after 65? Scratching your head over whether you are saving enough in your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) or tax-free savings account (TFSA)? There is probably an app or online calculator for that.
We can certainly use the help. According to results from a 2015 BlackRock survey of 2,000 Canadians, 40 per cent said they had only a general sense of how much money they would need to retire, and another third admitted they had no clue.
Those who work with financial planners to create a comprehensive plan covering budgets, taxes, estate planning, retirement, investing, debt and risk management are substantially more likely to report feeling their finances are on track. But it is not always easy to find an adviser, particularly for those in smaller communities or with less than $100,000 in assets.
Enter retirement websites and apps. But which ones to choose? After all, search for "Canadian retirement calculator" and 504,000 results pop up. To cut through the clutter, here is a quick snapshot of some helpful, free, Canadian-friendly options.
Forget sweeping advice claiming Canadians all need $1-million to retire. The reality? Everybody's number is going to be different. A bookworm who plans to spend most of her days in a hammock (with free library books) will obviously need far less than a jet-setting traveller with a penchant for the exotic. The Retirement Goal Planning System app, from the Allianz Global Investors Center for Behavioral Finance, helps users think carefully about retirement goals and what matters most to them, whether that is financial independence, starting a second career or enjoying the company of friends. Think of this app as the first step in giving a financial plan some structure.
Of course, no one can accurately predict when they will die. But this website uses a variety of factors to make an educated guess. Professors at the University of Pennsylvania developed the site, which gathers information regarding life events, stressors, physique, fitness and health, to estimate how long the user is likely to live.
If the number shocks – being told there is a 75-per-cent chance you will live well past 87 will do that – it is meant to. No one wants to outlive their retirement savings. Best to assume your predicted longevity is real, and then plan for it.
Wondering now much retirement money you will receive from the government? Want to know how much more you should be saving now to close the gap between government pensions and your financial goals? This is the website for you.
Have your Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Statement of Contributions on hand (you can get it at the My Service Canada Account site) and start plugging in your numbers. This federal government calculator gives a rough estimate of how much income to expect from CPP and Old Age Security once you retire.
This easy-to-navigate and useful site, compliments of the Ontario Securities Commission, has clear and simple calculators perfect for retirement planning beginners. Use the retirement cash flow calculator, the online retirement budget worksheet, or watch videos about how your investment risk profile changes over time.
Paul Shelestowsky, a senior wealth adviser with Meridian Credit Union in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., says it is one of his favourite sites and recommends it. "An adviser will make the numbers a lot more accurate, but this is a good starting place," he says.
This free online educational tool and retirement calculator offered through the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy (the original U.S. version was created by a Boston University professor) is different from other tools that calculate how much we should be spending, saving and insuring to maintain our standard of living. Unlike other calculators that ask users to input what they want their annual retirement income to be – as studies have shown, we are woefully inept at coming up with that estimate – ESPlannerBASIC takes the guesswork out of the equation. It decides what the magic number should be, based on something called "life-cycle consumption smoothing." It aims to keep the standard of living as consistent as possible throughout a person's lifetime.
What's more, it makes other assumptions that most users probably would not, such as living until 100. Sure, nine out of 10 of us won't actually hit that milestone, but why take any chances?
The 'Big Five' and beyond
Banks and some insurance companies offer retirement savings calculators, too. While they often don't require you to be a client to access them, be prepared for nudges about what they can sell you based on the information you enter.