A growing number of Canadians plan on working longer because they haven’t saved enough for retirement. We see it at a macro-level; Canadian households owe a record $1.65 in debt for every dollar in disposable income, meanwhile the personal savings rate in Canada stands at a paltry 3.9 percent.
There are plenty of reasons why we owe too much and save too little. The economy stinks, people get laid off, and salary increases are few and far between.
That said we’re often our own worst enemy when it comes to taking care of our finances. Here are eight habits that are killing your retirement dreams:
1. You don’t watch your spending
It’s tough to stop a money leak when you have no clue where your money is going. Small daily purchases do add up (latte factor, anyone?), but these spending categories can bust your budget much faster – big grocery bills, dining out too frequently, filling your closet full of new clothes, one-click online shopping, and expensive hobbies, to name a few.
The solution: Write down everything you spend for three months. I guarantee you’ll have an ‘a-ha’ moment at best, and at worst discover something useful about your spending habits that you’d be willing to change.
The goal of course is to spend less than you earn. It’s one of the major tenets of personal finance.
2. You want the newest ‘everything’
Fashion and décor trends change, technology constantly evolves. Staying ahead of the curve means shelling out big bucks for the latest and greatest products. The problem is your capacity to buy new things will never keep up with the pace of innovation and change. It’s an endless cycle.
The solution: Wait. Early adopters pay a hefty premium to be first. Look no further than televisions, where the latest innovations can initially go for between $5,000 and $10,000 – 10 times what they’ll cost in a year or two.
The bigger issue is the psychological need to always have the latest gadget or be at the cutting edge. Ask yourself whom are you trying to impress.
3. You have the constant need to upgrade
Fewer than half of all iPhone users hang onto their smartphones until they stop working or become obsolete. Most want to upgrade as soon as their provider allows it – usually every two years. A small percentage upgrades every year whenever a new model is released.
While spending a few hundred dollars on a new phone every other year might not hinder your retirement plans, it could be a symptom of a bigger problem. The constant need to upgrade your technology, your car, and even your home can be a big drain on your finances.
Nearly three in 10 homeowners get the urge to move every five years, and 14 percent actually want to move every year.
The solution: The same buy-and-hold approach that you take with your investments can also apply to your major purchases. The Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick suggests a 10-year rule for homeowners to combat the odds of a housing crash and to save on transaction fees.
Extending the life of your purchases, even by a year or two, can free up cash to pay down debt or save for retirement.
4. You treat credit card debt as a fact of life instead of a hair-on-fire emergency
Life can be expensive but there is no excuse for using credit cards to support your lifestyle. Despite what your friends or coworkers might say, credit card debt is not a fact of life. This may come as a shock but you can save up in advance for a vacation or new kitchen appliances.
The solution: Nothing can ruin your finances quite like high-interest credit card debt compounding every month. Stop everything and assess your income and expenses. Cut discretionary spending, put any savings plans on hold, and throw every cent towards your highest interest debt until it’s gone.
5. You use low interest rates as an excuse to finance depreciating assets
Borrowing to invest can make sense when your expected return is greater than the cost of the loan. But it’s a mistake to take out a loan – even at today’s low interest rates – to finance consumables and depreciating assets.
Common reasons to take on debt today include weddings, vacations, furniture, and vehicles. A home equity line of credit can provide flexibility to pay for big purchases, but the habit of borrowing from your future self to pay for today’s consumption is a major retirement killer.
The solution: You need a financial plan. Most of us can wrap our heads around saving for retirement but we struggle prioritizing and funding our short-term goals. A good plan helps you identify what’s important in both the immediate and distant future and steers your savings towards the appropriate goals.
Put a dollar amount and a timeline on your goals and start saving. Trust me, it’ll feel great to pay for your next vacation or big-ticket purchase in cash.
6. You’re too complacent
Doing nothing is often the best course of action when it comes to a volatile stock market, but financial inertia can cost you in other ways. Some of us can’t find $50 a month to save for retirement, yet we pay $15 a month or more in bank fees, won’t drive half-a-block to save money on gas or groceries, and don’t bother returning items of clothing that don’t fit.
Worse examples of complacency are when people don’t take advantage of their employer matching RRSP program, don’t shop around for a better rate on their mortgage, or continue to pay high fees on their investments.
The solution: Sometimes we need a wake-up call or major life event before we start taking our finances seriously. Once you see how much complacency is costing you that’s usually enough to motivate you into taking action.
7. You put off retirement savings until a later that never comes
“We’ll start saving for retirement once we’ve paid off our credit cards-line of credit-mortgage.”
There are so many priorities competing for your hard-earned dollars. Sadly, retirement savings is easy to put on the back-burner while you deal with more immediate needs like a big mortgage, two car payments, a new trailer, and some expensive seasonal hobbies. Retirement is far away and you can save later, right?
If you’re already killing your retirement dreams with the previous six habits then later might never come.
The solution: There’s a reason why ‘pay yourself first’ is such a powerful savings tool. Money is automatically whisked out of your account before you get a chance to spend it. Like some kind of magic you barely notice and are somehow able to live on the rest.
8. You keep your long-term savings in cash
You actually managed to get some money from your chequing account into your RRSP or TFSA. The problem now is that it’s sitting in cash – you actually need to take the next step and buy an investment such as a mutual fund, ETF, stock, bond, or GIC.
This is a uniquely Canadian problem as investors have nearly $75 billion in excess cash sitting in their portfolios.
The solution: Whether it’s risk-aversion or analysis paralysis, you need to take action and get your retirement savings working for you. Speak with a financial planner who can help you make sense of your investment choices and risk tolerance. Read books, blogs, and magazines to try and educate yourself about investing and how to build a portfolio.
A good place to start is with the model portfolios listed on the Canadian Couch Potato blog.
It’s true, we do plenty to sabotage our own retirement dreams. The good news is that it’s never too late to take control of your finances and start saving for retirement. Start by fixing bad habits that have a negative effect on your finances.
Save enough and you can retire on your terms.