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Personal Finance

4 tips to carve out a realistic retirement plan that works for you

Retiring may seem like an outdated concept, but it’s about finding a path unique to you and your financial landscape, experts say

Man and woman reviewing paperworkWhen planning for retirement think about the big picture and map out how you want to live, including where and what you want to be doing (Getty Images/Anchiy)

Whether you’re drowning in debt, struggling to save or working well into your golden years, retirement may seem not only unattainable, but unrealistic.

According to the 2019 Retirement Income Strategies and Expectations (RISE) survey by Franklin Templeton Investments Corp., 21 per cent of Canadian baby boomers, aged 55 to 64, have not saved anything for retirement, with nearly half saying they would postpone retirement and 15 per cent expecting to work until the end of their lives. Meanwhile, 33 per cent of millennials are most concerned about running out of money when they do retire.

How can we cope with this glaring reality? Here are some tips on how to face your aging years realistically, pave your own retirement path and accept that it may not be the walk on the beach many advertisements portray.


Retirement is more than a projection, it’s a plan, says Barry Choi, a Toronto-based personal finance expert who runs the blog Money We Have. Yet, according to results from a 2018 CIBC poll, 90 per cent of Canadian respondents do not have a formal retirement plan in place.

“People think about their retirement, but they don’t actually plan it out,” says Choi.

He advises thinking about the big picture and mapping out how you want to live, including where and what you want to be doing. Be realistic about whether you can save enough or are willing to make the sacrifices to afford that future lifestyle.

“First of all, look at your lifestyle. If you want to be very active, and you want to travel non-stop, you’re going to need more money,” he says. “At the same time, if you are happy to move to area with a lower cost of living…it might not cost you that much.”

Age is a factor, he says. If you have a certain lifestyle in mind, working towards it should begin in your 20s, 30s and 40s, not when you are 50 or 55, he says. The later your start, the more adjustments and sacrifices you’ll have to make.


You may be richer than you think, says Choi, with some of us more on track than we realize. Assess what it is you “do” have, and fill in any gaps from there, he adds. Perhaps you don’t need to work as much, or for as long, as you thought you did.

“I think it’s a real eye-opener for people when they actually sit down and realize, ‘I don’t need to be in the workforce anymore. I can work less,’” he says.

Stefanie Ricchio, CPA at Balance the Five and author of Beyond The Numbers: See The True Value Of Your Job & Lead From Where You Are, also recommends investing diversely and wisely, while tapping into any additional funding you are entitled to, such as maximizing Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions if you are self-employed or participating in your company’s employee-matching program.

“As I’m running my own business, I make sure that I’m maxing out on my CPP contribution and that I put money aside to buy another property because, for me, that property will be my retirement,” she says.


Weigh your expectations against your financial reality, Ricchio advises. Cutting back to meet current and future needs may be necessary.

It’s a dilemma many Canadians are facing, with top financial sacrifices being saving less money, cutting back personal spending and withdrawing from personal savings, according to the Franklin Templeton Investments Corp. survey. You may not be able to pay for your child’s entire education, buy them a car, move into that bigger house or take that annual family trip, says Ricchio.

“It’s all about reality. What is the true reality from a financial and numbers perspective?” she says. “It’s the reality from the parameters of the life you live and what your future is going to look like.”

If you do choose to prioritize those things, Choi adds, understand the long-term repercussions. “If you are going to buy that million-dollar house that is going to put you paycheque to paycheque now, it’s going to affect your ability to save for retirement.”

Another hard pill to swallow, adds Ricchio, is accepting that maintaining a certain lifestyle may come down to making more money and working harder.

“Sometimes if you want more, you have to do more,” she says. “Change is difficult for a lot of people, but…if you are willing to take that chance, it will pay itself off and you will find yourself in a better place. It really comes down to our mentality.” 


The World Economic Forum projects that Canadians—who, according to Statistics Canada, now have an average life expectancy of 82—will outlive their retirement savings by 10 years. According to a recent Sun Life surveyCounting pennies: the frugal facts of retirement, 47 per cent of Canadians believe this is a serious risk.

That’s why it’s critical to find ways to make your savings last, Choi says.

Investing these days may be a few clicks away with tools like robo-advisers, he says, but nothing beats the guidance from a financial professional to project your retirement over the long-term when planning and as it plays out.

Whether relaxing in an armchair or slogging it out at a side gig into retirement, you’ll need to know how far your savings will take you and how much extra you will need to pull you through, he adds.

“One other thing to talk about is how to make your money last when you do retire,” he says. “This is when you really need to talk to a financial [professional], who can really project those numbers for you.”


Whether just getting started, revising your retirement plan or about to put one into action, CPA Canada has a resource for you. Check out the Planning Your Retirement, The Procrastinators Guide to Retirement or Managing Finances in Retirement sessions.