Boomers headed for choppy retirement waters: analysts

 

As the leading edge of the baby boom approaches retirement, they are confronting a big challenge: there has seldom been a worse time to live off savings.

More than 60 per cent of Canadians have no company-based pension plan, and with interest rates at rock bottom, the payoff on safe government bonds may not be enough to even keep pace with inflation.

That means it may take $1 million in investments to generate the same retirement income today as $500,000 would have generated five years ago, analysts say.

Canadians instinctively know they are headed for choppy waters.

Independent polls reveal a common theme of growing anxiety, with more expecting to delay retirement, believing they will need to lower their standard of living, and a majority fearing they will one day run out of money.

Susan Eng of CARP, an advocacy group for Canadian seniors, says the problem is boomers have simply not saved enough, and many nest eggs were devastated in the 2008-09 economic storm.

On top, the post-recession landscape of high risk, volatile markets, and low-yield investment expectations is not a good time to cover that shortfall.

"We receive calls when things go bad," said Eng. And there's plenty of examples of things going bad, she said.

These include seniors with unreasonable expectations of the lifestyle they can expect in retirement, trusting their finances to unqualified advisers, or retirees hit by bills they had not expected, such as the high cost of chronic care or residential care.

"A full 25 per cent of people in the middle income group, not the poor but those in the $50,000-to $80,000-income group, will have a dramatic drop in their standard of living on retirement," she says.

That's why experts say it's never too early to start saving for the post-work years. But there are also some steps Canadians can take to help them-selves today if they are five or 10 years away from calling it quits, they say.

As simplistic as it sounds, the first action should be to make a detailed plan of needs and means with a financial adviser. Experts say many people still don't take this elementary step until it is too late.

The plan need not require advance mathematics but it should calculate your annual living costs, and for how many years, measured against your investable assets and the reasonable rate of yields, while making allowances for surprises, such as unexpected medical costs, high inflation, or a stock market shock.

That will tell you the life you can afford, rather than life you want.

"The low-growth environment is changing a lot of financial plans," says Steve Shepherd, vice-president of equities with the Bank of Montreal. "People need to accept they are going to need to save more, work longer or perhaps re-evaluate expectations for retirement."

Adrian Mastracci, a portfolio manager with KCM Wealth Management, says someone with a house or other fixed asset who intends to down-size should consider doing so when real estate prices are still elevated. This also gives more time for realized profit to be invested.

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