Another Look At Life Annuities (Part 1)

18 Dec

By Sheryl Smolkin

Receiving a regular paycheque makes it easy to budget. The amount that appears in your bank account every month is what you have available to spend on necessary and discretionary items.

But once you retire and have to figure out how to make your lump sum savings last for the rest of your life, budgeting isn’t as easy. How much can you afford to spend? What if your investments earn less than you expected when you set up a withdrawal plan?

One way to add financial certainty is to buy a life annuity with all or a part of your retirement savings. A life annuity is purchased from an insurance company for a lump sum amount and it guarantees that you will receive a set monthly amount for life (unless the annuity is indexed).

While payments from a basic life annuity typically end when you die, at an additional cost you can add provisions like a guarantee period (i.e. payments will be made for a minimum of 10 years even if you die) or a joint and survivor feature that will continue to pay out until the death of the last spouse.

Annuities are purchased from licensed life insurance agents representing insurance companies. Life insurance agents are compensated by commissions that are factored into the cost of the annuity.

Life annuities have got a bad rap in recent years because with lower interest rates they are more expensive to purchase. Also, many people do not like the idea that they lose control of their money and that upon the death of the last annuitant or the expiry of the guaranteed payment period, the principal will not revert to their estate.

However, the upside of an annuity purchase is that if you live beyond the age that it is assumed you will live to when the original annuity purchase is made, your return on investment could be much higher than if you invested the money yourself.

If you purchase an annuity with funds from a registered plan (i.e. SPP, RRSP, DC pension plan) you must begin receiving payments by the end of the year you turn 71. Because all of the money in your account has been tax-sheltered, the full amount you receive monthly will be taxed at your incremental rate.

In contrast, you can purchase an immediate or deferred annuity from a non-registered account. For example, at age 65 you could opt to manage a portion of your money for the next 15 years, but use a lump sum to purchase a life annuity beginning at age 80. Your monthly payments will be higher than if the annuity started at age 65. Furthermore, only a portion of the benefit representing investment earnings after the purchase will be taxed.

You can use the RetirementAdvisor.ca Standard Annuity Calculator (or other similar online calculators) to model either the size of the lump sum it will take to generate a specific monthly benefit or the amount of the monthly benefit a specific lump sum will generate.

Monthly benefits you receive from the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security or a defined benefit pension plan are in effect, life annuities. Depending on your expected expenses and the amount of savings you have available, you may decide you do not need additional annuity income.

In the conclusion to his 2013 book “Life Annuities: An Optimal Product for Retirement Income”[1], Moshe Milevsky, Associate Professor of Finance at York University’s Schulich School of Business notes the following:

“Behavioural evidence is growing that retirees (and seniors) who are receiving a life annuity income are happier and more content with their financial condition in retirement than those receiving equivalent levels of income from other (fully liquid) sources, such as dividends, interest, and systematic withdrawal plans. Indeed, with growing concerns about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in an aging population, automating the retiree’s income stream at the highest possible level—which is partly what a pension life annuity is all about—will become exceedingly important and valuable.”

If you have rejected an annuity purchase in the past or if you have never seriously considered investing in a retirement annuity, it may be time to take another look.

You can also use your SPP balance to purchase a life annuity directly from the plan. For more information about SPP annuities, take a look at Understanding SPP annuities. Because you purchase the annuity directly from SPP, there are no commissions or referral fees and you can be sure you are getting competitive rates.

[1] This book can be downloaded in pdf and ebook format at no cost.

Dec 15: Best from the blogosphere

15 Dec

By Sheryl Smolkin

Whether you plan to spend Christmas holidays in the snow or on the beach, looking for the best deals can lighten the load on your budget, and observing some basic safety rules can minimize the risk of theft of both your property and your identity.

RewardsCardsCanada and RewardsCanada are two sites to bookmark if you want to stay abreast of the latest travel card deals.

For competitive prices on hotel rooms, take a look at Trivago and Priceline. Trivago’s hotel search allows you to compare hotel prices in just a few clicks from more than 200 booking sites for over 700,000 hotels throughout the world. On Priceline you can search for express deals or for deeper discounts by naming your own price and bidding on hotel rooms.

If you are planning a road trip, the pamphlet “How to Go on Ice and Snow” from Car Care Tips | CAA Saskatchewan presents well-illustrated, easy-to-read information that will aid you in becoming a safer and more efficient driver despite winter’s adverse weather conditions.

Independenttraveller.com offers 10 trips for holiday travel including flying in and out of smaller airports if possible to minimize wait time and have a more hassle-free arrival and departure. 

And last but not least, the Canada Safety Council offers The 12 Travel Tips of Christmas. Two of my favourites are:

  • Check to make sure your passports, visas and vaccinations are all up-to-date.  Leave copies of your passports, driver’s licence, credit cards and other important documents with family members in case of theft).
  • Inform your bank and credit card companies where you are going and for how long. This way your account won’t be flagged for suspicious activity when you make purchases in a foreign destination.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

The Dreaded B word: Budgeting

11 Dec

By Sheryl Smolkin

Everyone has their own system for handling the family finances, but if you are carrying expensive debt and always borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, you definitely need to do some serious budgeting. If you think you can’t afford to save for your children’s education or your own retirement, closely scrutinizing how you spend your money will help you to uncover ways to free up the funds you need to plan for the future.

Budgeting isn’t rocket science but it requires time and commitment. On her television show Til Debt Do Us Part personal finance maven Gail Vaz-Oxlade helps floundering families by putting them on a cash-only budget and dividing up into jars the amounts they can spend each week for each category, including debt-repayment and savings.

All nine seasons are available to watch online and there is more information and there are budgeting tools on her website.

Almost every personal finance blogger has done a series on budgeting and created budgeting spreadsheets you can download. For example, take a look at the Squawkfox budget series and tools. Retire Happy’s Jim Yih has also posted templates from his Take Control of Your Money workshop.

When my husband and I were first married, money was scarce and we budgeted quite carefully. Although we kept separate bank accounts, we did have a joint account for paying house expenses.

Once we had children our expenses increased but we also earned more. We still kept separate bank accounts, but each of us was responsible for specific expenses.

This ad hoc arrangement has worked well for us and for many years we have not had a formal budget. However, as we get closer to retirement, I realize that we will have only about 50% of our pre-retirement income. Therefore, it’s time to take a serious look at how we are spending our money now and how we will spend it once we are on a fixed income.

I can write off a portion of our house costs because I work from home, so I have a pretty good handle on these expenses. Most other expenditures like food, clothing, gas, car repairs, insurance, entertainment, travel, pet care, gifts etc. are charged to credit cards so we can accumulate airline points. It will take some time but it shouldn’t be too difficult categorize and analyze these expenses.

Finally, both of us withdraw cash at irregular intervals to pay for personal grooming plus lunches out and other miscellaneous expenses. These amounts are more difficult to track and we will have to make lists in our smartphones or find the right smartphone app to organize the information.

Once I get a handle on what we are spending now as compared to what we will have available to live on in future, I will track our monthly expenses as against income and projected income on a spreadsheet.

Some of our expenses will go down after retirement because we won’t have to pay professional fees and my husband won’t be commuting to work. We will also pay lower taxes and no longer have to save for retirement. Going down to one car or moving to a less expensive home are longer-term possibilities. But there is no doubt we will have to make compromises.

Whether you are just starting out or close to retirement, you may need help to create and stick to a budget. On the Canadian Finance Blog, Tom Drake discusses How to Choose a Fee-Only Financial Planner. If you are deeply in debt, the Saskatchewan Credit Counselling Society can help you consolidate your debts, develop a budget and get back on track.

If we had budgeted more carefully over the last 15-20 years we would have more to spend in retirement. But you can start right now. If you have used budgeting tools or resources that you recommend to others, let us know and we will share them in a future post.

Dec 8: Best from the blogosphere

8 Dec

By Sheryl Smolkin

Continuing with a Christmas theme this week, we bring you blogs with ideas about how to decorate, eat and shop frugally during the run up to the big day.

On Free Home Decorating Ideas, check out Cheap Christmas Decorations including paper cut-outs of snowflakes that create a visually striking Christmas curtain, novel inexpensive ways to wrap your gifts and a budget centrepiece.

WooHome.com features Top 46 Outdoor Christmas Lighting Ideas to Illuminate the Holiday Spirit. Some of these are pretty elaborate and could run up major hydro bills, but it’s fun to look at the pictures.

In a guest post on DaveRamsey.com, Jenny Martin explains how you can plan a frugal Christmas dinner. Last year her family managed to feed 10 people Christmas dinner for only $20! That included a turkey and everything else, down to the paper plates and plastic cups. She says it all starts with a plan.

Well-know chef Jamie Oliver’s blog has a whole bunch of great holiday recipes that could easily become part of your family’s Christmas tradition . A yummy vegan mushroom, chestnut & cranberry tart looks a bit complicated but it might be just what you are looking for if your daughter informs you at the last minute that her vegan friend is joining you for the holidays.

And when it comes to those last minute Christmas gift, you may get some ideas from Christmas gifts: 288 brilliant Christmas gift ideas from Stuff. Twelve Christmas gift ideas for animal lovers includes a self-flushing, self-cleaning litter ‘toilet’ that comes with everything needed to keep it running for nine months. At $299 it may be hard to justify the expense, but think of all the money you will save on kitty litter with the self-cleaning granules!

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Dec 1: Best from the blogosphere

1 Dec

By Sheryl Smolkin

Black Friday (imported from the U.S.) will have come and gone when you read this, but if you haven’t already started your holiday shopping, the beginning of December means the pressure is on to get it done without breaking the bank.

Kerry K. Taylor says on Squawkfox that using the Flipp app on your Android, BlackBerry or IPhone is the easiest way to browse flyers/weekly ads and save money. With more than 80 of your favorite Canadian stores at your fingertips, you can quickly search for the items you need, highlight the best deals and clip items straight to your shopping list.  Some retail stores found on Flipp include: Target, Walmart, Best Buy, IKEA, Macy’s, Sports Authority, Big Lots, Kroger, Sears and many more.

In Easy ways to save money this holiday season Jill Buchner from Canadian Living suggests creating a photo book through a site like picaboo.com, where albums start at about $10. Or, enlarge a special photograph for just a few dollars and frame it to make a personal piece of art.

Mike Collins on Debtroundup also discusses several  Simple Holiday Shopping Tips to Save You Money. Agreeing to a spending cap with friends and family and setting a gift budget and sticking to it are two valuable pieces of advice.

The Christmas break is prime time for Canadians to travel near and far, particularly if you have teachers or students in the family. On Moneyning, David Ning offers 50 Budget Travel Tips and Ways to Save Money on Vacations. For example, taking a train at night can save you the cost of accommodation and tons of prime daytime hours when you would rather be doing anything else except traveling from A to B.

And finally, Christmas is not just a time to give gifts but to give the gift of your time to those who are less fortunate. Brighter Life blogger Joanna Marie Nicholson writes about Giving back: How to find time to be a volunteer.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

BOOK REVIEW: 397 ways to save money

27 Nov

By Sheryl Smolkin

Earlier this year we interviewed Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox as part of our Personal Finance Bloggers series. Although Squawkfox has been blogging infrequently over the last few months, her blog continues to be a hilarious and invaluable resource for money saving tips.

So when I was looking for books with great cost containment ideas to review for savewithspp.com readers I was delighted to come across Kerry’s book “397 ways to save money” published in 2009. As I flipped through the book, it became apparent that the vast majority of her suggestions have stood the test of time.

This 275 page book is divided up into four parts with several chapters in each part:

  • Big Decisions: (renting, home ownership, financial choices, shopping)
  • Home Management: (home maintenance, energy, cleaning)
  • Room by Room: (kitchen, living room dining room, kids room, garage etc.)
  • More ways to save: (vacation, pets, cheap family dinners, monthly maintenance checklists)

Here are 10 of my favourite tips in the book:

  1. Change your ATM habits: Use only your bank’s ATM machines to make withdrawals. Know how many free ATM withdrawals you can make each month from your account. Some banks offer free accounts including ATM withdrawals for seniors.
  2. Don’t insure your kids: The purpose of life insurance is to serve as income replacement for the insured’s dependants. Pass on agents who try to sell you on the investment aspects of a cash value policy. Instead, save for your child in a registered educational savings plan (RESP).
  3. Barter to save money: Generally bartering is the trading of goods and services without the use of money. Check out the website U-exchange.com to find like-minded people to swap services such as website building for a haircut.
  4. Pass on extended warranties: Don’t buy extended warranties on inexpensive product like cameras and kitchen appliances. The only time a warranty makes sense is if a repair will devastate your budget.
  5. Don’t pay for shipping: Look for a free shipping option when you order from an online store. Many online retailers offer free shipping when you buy up to a specified dollar amount in merchandise.
  6. Turn off all electronic devices: Turning off your unused electronic devices like gaming consoles and computers is an easy way to save electricity. By turning on your computer only when needed for three hours each day rather than running it continuously can save you $75/year.
  7. Watch the price scanner: Mistakes on electronic price scans are common at the grocery store. Watch as your items are scanned at the checkout and you could save many dollars per month and even score free food. The Retail Council of Canada has a Code of Practice and a list of participating stores you can read here.
  8. Open the dishwasher to air dry dishes: Skip your dishwasher’s heat dry cycle by opening the dishwasher door to air dry dishes after the final rinse. I do this frequently because the full cycle is ridiculously long. Its mice to know it also saves me money.
  9. Skip the sofa bed: A sofa that can be used as a bed may seem like a good idea if you have frequent guests, but they can be much more expensive that a regular couch. They take a lot of room you may not have to open and even top of the line models may be uncomfortable. A blow up bed is easy to inflate and move and a queen size costs around $100.
  10. Buy clothing at the end of the season: Winter in Canada is interminable and most things are on sale by December 26th at the latest. If you can make it through the fall with last year’s wardrobe you can refurbish it with quality items at half the cost or less late in the year.

I really like the Hardware Store Shopping List for all of the do-it-yourself energy-saving projects so you save money on gas. However, by the time you fill your cart with items like caulking, weather stripping, attic insulation, low flow showerheads, programmable thermostats, dimmer switches for lights and compact fluorescent light bulbs to replace incandescent, you will definitely have a big upfront bill.

This is a great book to read once, go back to and help you set achievable goals for saving money. You can browse several chapters here and order the book online from Amazon or Indigo for about $11.00.

Kerry K. Taylor

Derek Foster tours Saskatchewan

26 Nov

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In October best-selling author and self-proclaimed “idiot millionaire”, Derek Foster, toured Saskatchewan talking to people about how to invest in their future.   He spoke to groups in Regina, Saskatoon, North Battleford and Kindersley about his straightforward approach to investing and why he thinks SPP is a “no brainer” for people looking for a retirement savings plan.

If you missed hearing Derek’s presentation, we’ve captured several media interviews from his visit to Saskatchewan:

Global Morning News Regina on October 23, 2014:  http://goo.gl/19f8gU;

Global Morning News Saskatoon on October 28, 2014:  http://goo.gl/6q8kUO;

CBC Radio’s Saskatoon Morning on October 30, 2014:  http://goo.gl/0OZGjh.

Do you have any money saving tips that you use to help build your retirement fund? Share your ideas with us, http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Nov 24: Best from the blogosphere

24 Nov

By Sheryl Smolkin

Do you typically buy a fistful of gift cards for holiday gifts? Just in time to save you a bundle, Boomer & Echo’s Rob Engen writes about How To Hack Gift Cards For Big Discounts. He suggests buying gift cards with your cash back credit card, the RedFlagDeals forum dedicated to buying and selling gift cards and purchasing discounted gift cards at Costco. Who knew?

On Retire Happy, government benefits expert Doug Runchey explains that Receiving a partial OAS pension affects the amount of GIS a pensioner will receive in two ways:

  1. A pensioner receiving partial OAS will receive more GIS than someone receiving a full OAS pension, to make up for their lesser amount of OAS.
  2. A pensioner receiving partial OAS will receive GIS up to a higher income, compared to someone receiving a full OAS pension.

Jonathan Chevreau on Findependence Day Hub profiles a 28 year old Winnipeg-based investor named Saxon Funk who has a firm plan for achieving financial independence through various passive streams of income. But his real play for findependence comes through real estate. He was attracted to real estate when he discovered he could buy properties at 10% down, and he caught the Winnipeg real estate cycle at just the right time.

Do you know How Your Daily Commute Affects Your Finances? Dan Wesley from Our Big Fat Wallet reports that the average time Torontonians spend commuting is 80 minutes – the longest time in the world. In contrast, Saskatchewan Jobs says the average commute time in the province’s two largest cities is only 20 minutes. Another reason to count your blessings!

And if unexpected, frequent required changes to eyeglasses for family members is putting stress on your budget, you may be interested in How I saved over 50% buying eye glasses online, my recent blog on Retirement Redux.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

More Saskatchewan residents living pay cheque to pay cheque

20 Nov

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK

More working Canadians and Saskatchewan residents are living pay cheque to pay cheque, As a result they are saving less and falling further behind in meeting their retirement goals according to the sixth annual National Payroll Week Research Survey, conducted by the Canadian Payroll Association (CPA). 

Nationally, more than half of employees (51%) report that it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay cheque was delayed by a single week. In Saskatchewan, the percentage is even higher – 56% say they are living pay cheque to pay cheque, up from an average of 52% over the previous three years.

Another finding confirms that more than a quarter of those surveyed are living very close to the edge. A total of 26% say they probably could not pull together $2,000 over the next month if an emergency expense arose. In Saskatchewan, 28% would be hard pressed to come up with the funds.

The low savings rate has become even more prevalent this year. Half of all employees nationally (57% in Saskatchewan) are putting away just 5% or less of their pay, up from an average of 47% of employees over the past three years (41% in Saskatchewan). Financial planning experts generally recommend a retirement savings rate of 10% of net pay.

Part of the reason for low savings is that 44% of employees nationally, and 54% of employees in Saskatchewan, are spending all, or more than, their net pay. Among the top reasons for increased spending, the survey identifies: children, home renovations and education.

“Those who are trying to save but finding it hard to succeed should consider directing a portion of net pay into a separate savings account and/or a retirement savings program,” says CPA President and CEO, Patrick Culhane. “They can speak to their organization’s payroll practitioner to arrange this.” 

Retiring older and needing more retirement savings 

Fully 79% of Canadian employees and 75% of Saskatchewan employees expect to delay retirement until age 60 or older – up from 70% and 57% respectively over the past three years. The number one reason cited for retiring later in life is that employees are not able to save enough money.

Employees continue to raise the bar in terms of what they think they will need to retire comfortably:

  • Fewer now feel that savings under $500,000 will be sufficient (10% in Saskatchewan, down from an average of 11% over the past three years; 18% nationally, down from an average of 21% over the past three years).
  • Many think between $500,000 and $2 million will be required (71% in Saskatchewan, down 1 % from an average of 72% over the past three years; 68% nationally, up from an average of 60% over the past three years).

Yet despite upward adjustments in perceptions of what constitutes an adequate nest-egg, the vast majority of employees are nowhere near reaching their goals – 75% nationally and 74% in Saskatchewan say they have put aside less than a quarter of what they will need in retirement (up from an average of 73% and 70% respectively over the past three years). And even among employees closer to retirement (50 and older), a disturbing 47% of employees nationally (and 43% of employees provincially) are still less than a quarter of the way there, indicating a significant retirement savings gap, according to Culhane.

Debt overwhelms many

Over one-third of employees (39% nationally and 34% in Saskatchewan) say they feel overwhelmed by their level of debt (up from an average of 32% and 29% respectively over the past two years). Nationally, 1 % of respondents this year indicate they do not think they will ever be debt free, and one-third say their debt has increased from last year.

The number one step that employees believe they can take to improve their financial situation is to earn more (27%), while spending less dropped to second place from last year and decreasing debt remained flat. “Earning more is not always feasible,” says Culhane. The CPA suggests that automatic savings through payroll is the best strategy for financial well-being.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan allows members to contribute up to $2,500/year to their SPP account using a credit card online, through online banking, automatic debit from their bank account or credit card or by sending a cheque. Up to $10,000/year can also be transferred to SPP from a personal RRSP.

Companies can also set up SPP in the workplace and employee contributions can be made by payroll deduction.

 

 

 

 

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