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With ‘good genes,’ Ian, 68, works to stretch retirement savings

With dog Lily at his side, consultant Ian Richardson run his business from his home in Oakville, Ont.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

This is part of our ongoing Working in Retirement series that looks at people who, for various reasons, choose to remain active past the traditional retirement age in today's job market. Read earlier stories about Jim, Janet, Marion, Henry and Sharon.

At age 68, Ian Richardson might be choosing to work past the time when others have punched out of their professional lives for good, but he's not about to forgo a life of leisure.

"I'm not crazy. I've got my golf clubs in the trunk of my car at all times," he says, speaking on the phone from his home office in Oakville, Ont. He also makes sure he plays during the work week rather than on weekends, to prove "that I don't have to work all the time."

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Finding that balance takes patience, though. Mr. Richardson is the principal of eBiz Professionals Inc., delivering consulting services to agriculture and food industries, which includes anything from writing operating standards for the goat and rabbit sector, to working on procedure documents and market development.

It's a business he started 15 years ago after spending decades in the pulp and paper, and printing businesses. Like other white-collar workers who want more autonomy and decide to leave the corporate world, Mr. Richardson took his marketing and management skills and started his own consulting business.

Three years back he decided to restructure the business and moved it into his home, working solo on some projects and bringing in expertise as required.

Although his commute time dropped to zero hours down from 10 each week, the work for government and agriculture clients is project-based and deadline driven. When cycles heat up, it's difficult to stick with the original plan: to work an average of three or four days a week and at the cottage for the summer. Instead, think six days a week and late nights.

"There's no such thing as average in this business," he says.

Mr. Richardson's late career trajectory, however, seems more average than ever today. He's one of the growing number of baby boomers hitting retirement age but not actually leaving the work force. Whether it's because they feel they don't have the money to retire, uneven economic conditions such as the stock market dive of 2008 have spooked them, or they simply like to work, more aging Canadians are delaying retirement.

The trend is on track to continue. According to an Ipsos Reid survey released in February, six in 10 respondents said they expected to work past retirement age. In 2008, only 48 per cent gave the same answer. More recently, a HomEquity Bank study of Canadians aged 55-plus, released on Monday, shows that most respondents believe if they retire at 60, there's a good chance their money will run out before they hit 80.

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"Working into the retirement years is now the new normal," says Adrian Mastracci, a portfolio manager with KCM Wealth Management Inc., in Vancouver. "The extra income helps the nest egg last longer and keeps mind matter a little fresher. After all, the money may have to last past age 90."

That's certainly the concern for Mr. Richardson. Although longevity is something to celebrate, long life is also a challenge for financial planning – and it's something he's had to seriously consider when creating his own financial plan. His father is 95 and still in good health, having worked as a consultant well into his 70s. Mr. Richardson's mother only recently passed away at age 93.

"The genes are there," he admits. "So if I'm earning for a few extra years, I don't have to dip into my savings. That takes some of the downside out of the question, 'What if I live too long and outlive my funds?' It's something you have to think about."

Léony deGraaf, a certified financial planner and elder planning counsellor in Burlington, Ont., says she's glad to see Mr. Richardson has built the question of longevity into his financial plan. Everyone should be looking at their own family's health history when building a retirement strategy.

"If your parents lived well into their nineties, that's probably a good benchmark for you. On the other hand, if cancer or heart attacks at a young age run in the family, extra insurance planning should probably be part of the equation," she advises.

Luckily, Mr. Richardson has built a nest egg that includes company pensions, registered retirement savings plan funds and real estate. With the extra income he continues to bring in, he says he feels fortunate to work not because he has to, but because he wants to.

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"The best thing you can have is options and the freedom to choose," he says. "You want to set up your life and your financing so that you have maximum choice as you go along."

For Mr. Richardson, that means working at home with his dog Lily at his feet, and heading to meetings with younger clients who appreciate his long-term view and experience in both agriculture and the dot-com industries. It also means, though, that he sometimes feels out of sync with most of his friends who are already retired, some of them for years.

"I live in a different world than they do. They wonder why I'm stressed some of the time," he says, but mentions that for the most part they've all adjusted. He just knows there won't be any business talk when they get together for couples' outings.

Rhonda Sherwood, a certified financial planner with ScotiaMcLeod in Vancouver, says Mr. Richardson's choice to work past 65 – and work for himself – likely has positive emotional consequences that go well beyond dollars and cents, even if there is some pressure that goes along with work. People who retire suddenly can be in for a shock, so easing out slowly makes sense.

"We forget all the value-based things we get from employment," she says. "I find that most people [when they reach retirement age] want to steer sway from the high-pressure corporate world and work on their own terms. Self employment or contract work is the preferred choice."

Still, Mr. Richardson doesn't see himself working forever. One of his sons just announced he would be adding a first grandchild to the family in November, and the other is getting married this July. While turning 65 didn't compel their father to take retirement and say goodbye to his company, these new events could eventually do it. They feel more significant and life changing.

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"There may well be a new horizon out there," Mr. Richardson says. "But I think it's probably more about refreshing ourselves rather than fading away."

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