Am I on the right track for a successful retirement?

Q: I am diligently preparing for my retirement and doing extensive financial planning. I’m only 57 and in fabulous health, but my parents retired in their mid-60s and then passed away in their mid-70s. They were also in great health, then life threw them both a curve ball. On the other hand, all four of my grandparents lived into their 80s and 90s, so I guess you never know what might happen. I figure I have another 25 years to go and I want to save and plan accordingly. Am I on the right track for a successful retirement?

TO: Comprehensive estate planning incorporates two life expectancy risks: dying too soon and leaving a dependent spouse and/or young children; or living too long and not having saved enough to support themselves financially in retirement. The last situation can apply to your generation and the following ones.

Your parents weren’t too far off in average lifespan for their generation. In his life, work was more physically demandingmedical technology was less advanced, tobacco use was more frequent, and seat belts were optional. As expected, these factors affected life expectancy.

Back then, retirement planning was pretty simple: stash a few years’ savings in a cookie jar and live on it for the few years you had left. He will be leaving soon and his savings will hopefully not run out before then.

But a bigger problem is brewing for his generation and those that follow. Canadians are living longer and this demographic transformation will have huge financial implications for your retirement planning. Today, the average life expectancy is over 80 years, and this number continues to rise, thanks to better health care, cleaner air and water, better disease prevention, and healthier food choices.

The future will look very different because we will live longer, more productive and healthier lives. As a result, the cookie jar method of retirement planning will no longer work.

You still have quite a few years to go before you reach your current life expectancy. And by the time it does, it will have spread again. Based on current projections, by the time you reach age 80 or older, the average life expectancy will approach 90 years. This trend means you could spend 20, 30, or even 40 years in retirement. That’s a lot of time to plan and a lot of time to finance with the money you’re saving today. You could potentially spend more years in retirement than in your working career.

English writer Charles Dickens summed it up perfectly nearly 175 years ago, and the tax lesson still applies today. In his 1849 novel, “David Copperfield,” he wrote: “Annual income £20, annual expenditure £19 [pounds]19 [shillings] And six [pence], happiness result. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expense 20 pounds should and six, misery result”.

To paraphrase Dickens, if you plan for longevity and die with money in your metaphorical pocket, you will have achieved financial success. Whereas, if he has not saved enough for a long life but lives one, he will experience financial challenges or even hardship in his later years.

It is much better to err in assuming that you will live a longer life expectancy than anticipated, having saved too much and dying with excess cash, than to need money in the future and not have saved enough initially. So don’t let yourself down when planning and financing your retirement.

I encourage you to intentionally design your retirement with longevity in mind. Of course, live like today is your last day, but also create and implement a retirement savings plan that will sustain you financially for the rest of your potentially very long life.

Thie Convery, RFP, CFP, CIM, FMA, FCSI, is a Wealth Advisor at Dundas and is planning for a long and bountiful life expectancy of 124 years. His column appears biweekly in The Hamilton Spectator. Thie invites your questions to TheSpecMoney@gmail.com or by visiting ConveryWealth.com.

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