Counting the cost of retirement

April 5, 2010 | Viewpoints | Number 7
Mike Strathdee |

Are you somewhat jealous of your teacher friends, who, in their early 50s, are already counting the days, only a few years away, when they can say goodbye to their day job while enjoying a full pension? Do you wonder how your circumstances will ever make retiring possible?

It is pretty difficult to find any biblical support for the modern notion of retirement—turning our back on work at a certain age. God made us to be productive. But society has taught us all to look forward to retirement, if not how to plan for it properly.

Concerns about retirement are increasingly common in media and government discussions, as the largest generation of Canadians ever approaches and enters its retirement years: Fear about not having enough is a dominant theme. One recent poll of Canadians aged 50 and over found that about half of them weren’t sure that their pensions, government and otherwise, would provide them with a comfortable retirement.

Part of that pessimism may relate to ever-increasing expectations of what a “comfortable retirement” means. Most North Americans now view as necessities many things that previous generations would have called luxuries, or in many cases, not even have dreamed of. The financial industry contributes to retirement fears and gloom by insisting that people need to save $1 million or more to avoid being in dire straits in the autumn and winter of life. Hearing what seems an impossible goal induces paralysis and denial for some.

It is also true that many of us aren’t making retirement savings a priority. Some may be better off paying down debt or contributing to the new Tax Free Savings Account (especially people earning $36,000 a year or less). Only a third of Canadians put money into an RRSP this year, and 30 percent haven’t yet started saving for retirement. This suggests many people don’t have the cash to save for retirement or are spending it on other things.

The picture is not all bleak, however. Actuary Malcolm Hamilton says even people who start saving for retirement at age 50 with their debts paid off, and make large contributions every year until they retire, will be okay. He thinks many Canadians can live comfortably on a much lower retirement nest egg than what other expert voices claim. Saving $300,000 in an RRSP while receiving full Canadian Pension Plan and Old Age Security benefits, a retired Canadian would have an annual income of about $30,000 after tax.

What’s the church’s role in all of this? Will leaders help people to live within their means, save for later years and maintain God-honouring expectations? Help us, O Lord, to number our days and to count the cost of getting there.

Mike Strathdee is a stewardship consultant at the Kitchener, Ont., office of Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC). For stewardship education and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca.

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