Gillian MacKenzie lives what looks like a comfortably middle-class life. The 44-year-old is a developmental support worker and her husband is the lead hand at a steel-manufacturing company.
They own a four-bedroom Craftsman-style house in a leafy community 30 minutes south of Niagara Falls, Ont. They have four sons between the ages of 8 and 13. The youngest takes gymnastics lessons on weekends. The oldest loves to draw.
But despite the rosy exterior, the MacKenzies are stressed. They fear that no matter what they might do, they will not have enough saved for retirement. "Honestly, I try not to think about it because it's upsetting," Gillian says. "We both figure we're going to be working right until the day of our funerals."
The 40s used to be a transitional decade for most people, when mortgages got paid off, kids started being more independent and an end to the working life started appearing on the horizon. That's no longer the case. Forty may be midlife, but financially, many of today's fortysomethings are kinda screwed.
"This is the prime decade to start thinking about retirement, absolutely," says Jim Yih, an Edmonton-based retirement planner. "You start to think about things in your 40s: Do I have enough time? Do I have enough money? Have I saved enough?"
For many people in their 40s, the answers are probably, no. Chances are, not even close. Part of the problem might be living large: Today's fortysomething have taken on record high mortgages and are drowning in record levels of consumer debt.
Another part of it is the fact they started families later than their own parents.
In 2013, the year for which the most recent data are available, women in Canada were 28.8 years old when they had their first child and men were 31.8 years old, according to Statistics Canada, up from the average age of 24.9 and 28.5, respectively, in 1980. That means that instead of saving for retirement, today's fortysomethings are still shouldering the costs of raising and educating their offspring.
The MacKenzies are definitely being squeezed by the high cost of raising kids. Three years ago, Gillian took a pay cut in order to be able to spend more time at home, and to reduce the high cost of before- and after-school care. She'd rather put that money into RESPs, for their future education.
Elder care is also an line item for the family. Gillian's parents live in a nursing home, and every month she and her husband put $100 or $200 a month into their bank accounts to give them a bit of spending money.
"Some months we can't afford to put anything in and it feels horrible," Gillian says.
Ballooning housing prices are another reason Freedom 55 is not in the cards for most people who are in their 40s.
Although they left Toronto 16 years ago in part to find more affordable real estate, the MacKenzies are still paying off their mortgage.
Back in mid-1984, the average price of a Canadian house was $76,214, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. If prices kept up with inflation, that number would have slightly more than doubled today. Instead, as of last November, the average house price in Canada has increased sixfold, to $491,509.
"A lot of 40-year-olds have moved in to bigger houses and gotten bigger mortgages as a result," Yih says. "The traditional idea that a 40-year-old should have a significant part of their mortgage paid down isn't necessarily happening."
Last spring, the ratio of household debt-to-disposable income hit a record high of 167.6 per cent – meaning that households owed $1.68 in debt for every buck of disposable income they have.
A large chunk of that debt is due to high mortgages, but it also comes from dipping into lines of credit to do renos, throwing dinners and vacations on credit cards or taking out car loans.
It's hard to consider going without the amenities our parents did, but the fact is, our jobs aren't as good as theirs were. Fewer employers offer pensions now compared with our parents' generation, says Rona Birenbaum, founder of Caring For Clients, a Toronto-based financial planning company.
Employer-provided pensions have been steadily declining for decades, according to a report released last year by Ottawa-based think tank the Broadbent Institute. About 46 per cent of working Canadians could count on a pension from their employer in 1977, while only 38 per cent could in 2011.
That makes saving for retirement more difficult and more stressful for many people.
"Endlessly. I worry endlessly," says Marie C., a 46-year-old accountant who lives an hour's drive north of Toronto. "I work on a contract now," says the mother of two who wished to remain anonymous. "I'm not on a pension plan. I'll be working until I'm 90."
Like many of us, Marie can see the clock ticking down but feels mostly out of options. She and her husband are still paying off their mortgage, and will be using whatever extra money they have to pay for postsecondary education for her children, who are now 16 and five-years-old.
"It may come to the point where we may look at selling the house to fund our retirement," she says.
As for the MacKenzies, they've tried to balance the need to save with the desire to have a life. Once or twice a year they will take a family trip, whether it's visiting the aquarium in Toronto and staying at a hotel or spending a weekend at a family resort in Niagara Falls. Every three years or so they will go to Florida.
But on a week-to-week basis, discretionary spending is kept to a minimum. "Getting together with friends – it's at somebody's house," Gillian says. "We just can't afford to go out any more."
So, yes, if you are in your 40s, you likely have it harder than your parents did when it comes to saving for retirement. But Yih says that only underscores the need to get serious about it any way you can.
The people who failed to do so and are now in their 50s are the ones seriously stressed about it, he adds. Sometimes, when he teaches workshops, anxious fiftysomethings try to lighten the mood by joking about "Freedom 85."
Nobody ever laughs.
If you want to share stories of your own 40s, please get in touch. Dave McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or share your thoughts online using the hashtag #globehalftime.