Skip to main content
opinion

Well into the second grinding year of the pandemic, more people are worried about how much they have saved for retirement than their physical and mental health, job security and debt.

Meanwhile, in other financial news, the country braces for a summer and fall spend-a-palooza where billions in extra savings accumulated during the pandemic are expected to flow into the economy.

In this disconnect lies an insight into Canadians and their retirement. There may be no aspect of life that causes more worry and less action. Ever seen a poll, in good times or bad, that found people generally satisfied with their retirement preparedness? Me neither.

The latest view of our complicated relationship with preparing for retirement is found in the 2021 Canadian Retirement Survey from the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan. Of the 2,500 people who were polled in April, 48 per cent said they were very concerned about have enough money in retirement. Only the cost of day-to-day living ranked as a larger worry. Health and other financial/economic worries lagged well behind.

Worry about retirement is partly a function of economic vulnerability. The poll results suggest 52 per cent of Canadians have been financially harmed by the pandemic, notably younger and lower-income people.

Other vulnerable groups include Indigenous and racialized seniors. They have average retirement income that is, respectively, 25 per cent and 32 per cent lower than seniors who are white, says a separate report issued this week by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

But worry about retirement saving exists among higher earners as well. In the HOOPP survey, 42 per cent of those making more than $100,000 said they were very concerned about their retirement savings.

Let us quickly recap some recent financial highlights that these high earners had an opportunity to benefit from: rising house and cottage prices, dynamic stock markets and soaring demand and prices for everything from used cars to non-fungible tokens.

One more highlight for the well-off is the opportunity to save more money than ever as a result of economic lockdowns that curtailed travel, concerts and commuting to work for many. In the HOOPP survey, almost half of participants said they were able to save more money.

Some of this money is best kept in bank accounts for emergencies and some can justifiably be spent in a boom that has already been branded the Roaring Twenties. But, clearly, a lot should be put away for retirement using tax-free savings accounts and registered retirement savings plans.

People certainly understand the conceptual urgency of retirement saving. In the HOOPP poll, 67 per cent of participants agreed with the statement that there is an emerging retirement crisis.

Look to the high level of worry about day-to-day living costs for clues about why people don’t do more to prepare for retirement. Inflation, which hit the highest rate in a decade last month at 3.6 per cent, is a particular problem for households suffering financially in the pandemic. But in a broader sense, the issue with retirement saving is that those with the wherewithal are unwilling to cram it into their day-to-day living costs.

Home buying is a big part of the problem. The prices home buyers are paying in expensive cities across the country leave little room for retirement saving in the near and medium term.

Oh, by the way: It’s a personal finance fallacy that your home is your retirement plan. You’ll want RRSPs and TFSAs that produce income to supplement your Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits, Old Age Security and, if you’re in the fortunate minority, a company pension. In fact, a lot of the retirement income from all these sources will go toward keeping up your house over the years so you can get a decent price when you sell.

HOOPP commissions an annual retirement poll as part of its advocacy work in promoting the availability of company pensions. “The poll results show people are aware of their inability financially and behaviourally to save for retirement,” said David Coletto, CEO at Abacus Data, the firm that ran the HOOPP survey. “That’s where pensions help – in overcoming this psychology.”

Stay informed about your money. We have a newsletter from personal finance columnist Rob Carrick. Sign up today.