By: Dianne Nice

The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail surveyed 1,000 retired readers to find out what life is really like after the rat race ends. Here are their top 10 tips for those of us still in the working world.

1. Start saving early

Not surprisingly, none of the retired readers surveyed by The Globe said they wished they had started saving later in life:

“Save from your first paycheck and don’t stop until you are ready to retire.” — Ashak, 69, Edmonton

“Start early to save your 10 per cent in a safe vehicle.” — R. Fader, 65, Bright’s Grove, Ont.

“Pay yourself first and have money deducted at source and deposited into your retirement savings plan. Aim for 10 per cent of your salary.” — H. Booker, 66, Richmond, B.C.

“I told my children if they remembered only one piece of advice from me it should be: ‘the miracle of compound interest.’ We began saving for retirement at age 25. Last month I retired at 62 with more income than I earned the last year at work.”

“It is imperative that young people save part of their income very early in life (it does not matter how little but it is the habit-forming that counts) so that they can retire at the same standard of living.”

2. Don’t take too many risks

If you start investing early and for the long term, you can take less risk with your money, readers say:

“If you can live adequately with an investment portfolio that has a lower return but better protects you from risk, then do it. Living through a financial crisis (2008) that resulted in a significant decrease in my portfolio was very stressful. I have since taken steps to better protect my investment portfolio from the uncertainties and unpredictability of the world’s financial markets.”

“Nortel was a brutal reminder of asset allocation and an instance of blindly listening to my financial adviser as regards to not selling.”

“Invest wisely for the long term and ignore short-term market fluctuations.” — Pat, 54, Toronto

3. Retire free of debt

Think it’s OK to retire with debt? Think again, Globe readers say:

“Retire with a functional and caring relationship, debt free, mortgage paid out and a safely invested back-up nest egg investment portfolio.” Bill Moore, Quebec City

“Top three things that helped the most: paying off mortgage and eliminating all debt; living within our means; and saving and investing conservatively – supporting our kids through school and gaining independence so they haven’t moved back!”

“Our retirement decision was made easier by the fact that we recently paid off our mortgage and our debt. We have always endeavoured to carry no balance on our credit cards and were aggressive in paying off our mortgage in the past five years. Staying within your means is a critical factor in being able to retire early.”

4. Live frugally

Avoid retiring with debt by living within your means, readers say:

“Invest conservatively, live simply, eschew the luxuries. Accumulate sufficient capital to generate enough money to live on (as quickly as you can) and then get out of the rat race.” — Bill Moses, 71, Owen Sound, Ont.

“If you do not have extra cash for a purchase, do not buy, period. No card balances ever. Save extra for a treat now and then.” — R. Fader, 65, Bright’s Grove, Ont.

“Compromise on the big ticket purchases to save more. Do you really need the $100,000 car?”

5. Be a DIY investor

No one cares as much about your money as you do, so get educated about your investments, Globe readers say:

“Many financial advisers truly care about their clients but they are making lots of money off you while you take the risks. Learn as much as you can about managing and investing your money including taxes. Carefully managing your money over your life can give you freedom, choices and control for your life.” — Rick Dubecki, Burlington, Ont.

“I wish I would have taken a more active role in my financial planning before I retired. I should have taken more courses and learned more about various investment options.”

“Think of your investments as very long term, as a personal pension plan that will spin off payments through your old age. If you have the skills, take the securities course or equivalent and become a self-directed investor. You’ll save a fortune in fees and build a portfolio better aligned to your needs and situation. Have fun!”

6. Buy quality, dividend-paying stocks

Retired readers report having no regrets about investing in dividend-paying stocks as they accumulated retirement savings:

“Stick with quality companies that regularly increase their dividends and ignore the market.” — Chester Brown, 67, Kingston, Ont.

“Avoid growth stocks and stick with dividend-payers. Most all the best dividend payers continued to pay through the crash of 2008-9. Read all you can to learn about investing.” — Stu Lach, 64, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

“Buy blue chip dividend stocks and make your own portfolio built on long term. Be contrarian to the market declines and buy on the big dips.”

7. Think twice about mutual funds

When it comes to mutual funds, retired readers are not in favor of the high fees involved:

“Invest in ETFs, not mutual funds. Even out yours and your spouse’s IRA amounts, so that you can split the income after retirement and reduce taxes.” — H. Booker, 66, Richmond, B.C.

“I would have gotten rid of my mutual funds earlier and purchased etfs and bonds. Save earlier and consistently is the advise I would pass on to younger generations.”

“Never buy mutual funds or use a financial advisor who is not fee-based.”

“I wish I had not invested in mutual funds. I would have done so much better if I gone the DIY route with ETFs and individual stocks as I do now.”

8. Look beyond IRAs

Many retired readers said they wish they’d been better able to maximize tax-free savings accounts:

“I would seriously look at not putting money into an IRA if at all possible. We never had TFSAs during my working years but I would consider them instead.”

“I would have never put so much into my IRA because the taxes for withdrawal are far more than the tax refund I received when putting it in. I also know that I am very fortunate to be in this position!”

“Don’t save everything in IRAs. Also look at your IRA regularly but on an after tax basis. It feels good to say you have 500 thousand in an IRA but the reality is it will be a lot less.”

9. Pensions are great, but…

Readers with pensions are glad to have them, but suggest a cautious approach:

“Don’t depend on the government to support you in your old age. Build your own pension plan. Start to save at a very young age and pay yourself first. Open a separate account for retirement. Save all your change every day, throw it in a jar and deposit it in this account every month – it will add up fast. Invest the money using an advisor. Never touch the principal.” — Norman Law, 74, Calgary

“Join the company pension plan or start saving for your retirement without delay. It is very important to retire with a satisfactory income. I see seniors all the time who have to penny-pinch to make ends meet, or who do without because they have such a small income.”

10. Try before you buy

Interesting suggestions:

“My husband retired in 2010 and I retired in 2012; both early retirements. To figure out if we could afford to have my husband retire early, we lived on what we thought our new income and expenses would be for at least six months before applying for retirement and banked the difference. Then two years later we did the same for me.” — Patricia Docking, 56, Vancouver


What creative money-saving advice do you have?

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