Skip to main content

Nurse Linda Hawkins wanted to retire last year, but the sudden loss of her partner of 10 years altered her situation financially and emotionally.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Working in retirement is the new reality for many. Some struggle financially and can't afford to retire, while others simply don't want to stop working. Often it's a combination of factors that determine whether you can choose your retirement date.

We asked three people to share their experiences.

Linda Hawkins, 67, registered nurse, Toronto

Ms. Hawkins is a registered nurse in the cardiac catheterization lab at Toronto Western Hospital. She loves her job but she would have liked to retire last year and travel. The sudden loss of her partner of 10 years altered her situation financially and emotionally, however.

"When you have two incomes and you move to one, it's difficult," says Ms. Hawkins. "Two people can live in a house for the same cost as one person. The only difference is the cost of food, which isn't a lot for people at our age."

She says she's still working because, first of all, she needs a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Also, despite making a statutory declaration of the common-law union with her partner, she hasn't been able to provide sufficient documentation, such as a shared mortgage or joint bank account, to claim survivor benefits for his pensions. Although they shared expenses, each kept their own bank account and Ms. Hawkins had already paid for the house in her name.

Even though she has worked as a nurse for 45 years, Ms. Hawkins says she doesn't have enough pension income to retire, even factoring in Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) benefits. When her boys were growing up, she worked part-time and, back then, part-time workers weren't eligible to contribute to a pension plan, although that's changed now.

Another concern is that she might not be able to care for herself someday and would need to go into a nursing or seniors' home. "That changes everything," says Ms. Hawkins. "It costs at least $3,500 to $4,000 a month just for a single person at a no-frills facility in Toronto. I don't want to be a burden on my children."

She has worked full time for the past 17 years and plans to continue working for another year or two to boost her pension and savings.

Kathy Kilburn, 67, former addictions consultant, North Bay

Ms. Kilburn has had a difficult transition to retirement. When the provincial organization that employed her for more than 20 years was restructured, she faced the choice of applying for a different type of position in another city or taking an early retirement package.

She didn't feel ready to retire at 63, but she took the package because she and her husband didn't want to leave their home in North Bay. She missed the work and still does. While she did some consulting on contract for a while, the kind of specialized work she did is scarce.

"I loved what I was doing," Ms. Kilburn says. "I'd become very knowledgeable and skilled at the work and all of a sudden I was cut off from using that, so it was hard. In aging, job loss is huge for a lot of people because of that role loss. I mourned for my lost job."

Another issue for Ms. Kilburn is that with no children or close family, she very much defined herself through her work, seeing it as her heritage. "The kind of work we were doing made a real contribution in the health-care field. That was really important to me."

Early retirement also meant that Ms. Kilburn lost the benefits that had come with her job, plus the chance to continue earning income and contributing to her pension plan.

"If things hadn't changed, I would have kept on working," says Ms. Kilburn. "I was pretty sure I was going to go at 65, but I would have planned it better and structured it differently. And it would have been my decision."

Suzanne L., 64, former professional, Montreal

Suzanne, who didn't want her last name used, and her husband, a retired accountant, have planned well for their retirement and now enjoy a combined annual income of more than $90,000 from a pension, registered retirement savings plans, tax-free savings accounts and investments.

A former professional in an engineering firm, Suzanne now works part-time as a driver for handicapped children in Montreal, just because she likes to have something to do. With no mortgage or debt, Suzanne's extra income allows them to take exotic trips such as a river cruise in Russia or a safari in Kenya without dipping into savings.

"I plan to continue working as long as they'll have me," she says. "That way I can justify my cleaning lady."