Tag Archives: Sheryl Smolkin

We are making a change!

9 Aug

Hello Readers,

We are changing  our webhost for savewithspp.com on Wednesday, August 10, 2016.  It shouldn’t be a big change, however we wanted to let you know.

Why are we doing this?

To make security enhancements and allow us to have a more mobile friendly layout.

What will change?

Not much, other than the layout. We will still be posting blogs on Monday and Thursday, Saskatchewan Pension Plan will still be managing the blog and Sheryl Smolkin will still be our writer.

What does this mean for you?

Nothing! We hope…. You won’t need to follow us again to keep up with this blog and you can still access our blog at http://savewithspp.com.

If you have any questions please email us at socialmedia@saskpension.com.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Thanks
Stephen Neiszner
Network Technician
Tel: 1-800-667-7153
Fax: (306) 463-3500
sneiszner@saskpension.com
www.saskpension.com

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May 25: Best from the blogosphere

25 May

By Sheryl Smolkin

Due to the holiday Monday (yeah!) and other days away from my desk for random reasons, this issue of Best from the Blogosphere is being written super early. So, on no particular theme we present some great content from the last several weeks.

The Apple watch has received a bad tap from many reviewers, but Retired Syd reports on Retirement: A Full-Time Job that the device works for her. She likes being able to do all sorts of things without digging in her purse for her iPhone like paying for coffee; listening to music; getting directions from Siri; dictating error-free texts; and just lifting her arm to display her boarding pass.

In a guest post on the Financial Independence Hub, Michael Drak writes about one thing he wishes his father had taught him. While he learned about the need for working hard, saving and eliminating debt as quickly as possible, his Dad didn’t teach him about the important concept of Findependence (financial independence) and how it could positively impact his life once it was achieved.

Freedom Thirty-Five is authored by a nameless late-twenties male living in Metro Vancouver. He recently wrote about succumbing to lifestyle inflation. It seems he’s ahead of schedule by one year to reach financial freedom by his 35th birthday. So he has decided to succumb to lifestyle inflation and increase his food expenses from $100 to $150/month; eating out from $25 to $50/month and phone and entertainment from $75 to $100/month. Could you get by on these modest amounts?

Boomer & Echo blogger Marie Engen says unless there is room for occasionally splurging in your budget, becoming too frugal can ultimately undermine your budgeting efforts. Don’t banish nice things from your life. Occasional guilt-free splurges can help you stay on budget if they don’t detract from your other goals. When you don’t feel deprived you will likely find it a lot easier to stick to the plan.

And finally, on Brighter Life, I wrote a piece about Five smart ways to use your tax refund. You can start an emergency fund; top up your RRSP; pay down credit card debt; pay down your mortgage; or, open a Registered Educational Savings Plan for your child.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Canada needs more CPP says lawyer Ari Kaplan

2 Apr

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

As part of the ongoing series of podcast interviews on savewithspp.com, today I’m talking to lawyer Ari Kaplan, a partner in the Pension and Benefits Group of the Toronto law firm Koskie, Minsky, L.L.P.

Ari is the author of Canada’s leading textbook on pension law, and he has acted as counsel in some of Canada’s most widely known pension cases before the Supreme Court of Canada. In addition, he teaches pension law as an adjunct professor of law at both the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall Law School.

In his spare time, Ari heads up licensing and publishing at Paper Bag Records, a leading, independent record label and artist management company also based in Toronto.

Today, we are going to talk about the Canada Pension Plan. In the ongoing national debate regarding how Canadians can be encouraged to save more for retirement, Ari is a staunch advocate for an expansion to the Canadian Pension Plan.

Welcome, Ari, and thanks for talking to me today.

My pleasure, Sheryl. Thanks for having me.

Q: How many Canadians currently have workplace pension plans?
A: Well, that’s a good question to put everything in perspective. Over 60% of working Canadians actually have no workplace pension plan, and they must rely solely on CPP and their own personal savings for their retirement income. 

Q: Why do you think that an enhanced Canada Pension Plan is the best way to give Canadians a more robust retirement income?
A: Very simple. It’s currently the only universal and mandatory savings scheme in the country. It’s portable from job to job. If you’re a student, you can work for the summer in British Columbia and then come back to a full-time job in Ontario, and your CPP credits will go with you. Also, it doesn’t just cover employees. It applies to self-employment, which most workplace pension plans don’t.

Q: As early as 2008, industry guru Keith Ambachtsheer wrote a C.D. Howe Institute commentary about the benefits of enhancing the Canada Pension Plan. Yet, in December 2013, the conservative government in several Canadian provinces voted against this proposal. Why do you think this occurred?
A: Every respected economist in the country supports a CPP expansion. The reason why the current government did not support it is political, not principled.

There was political pressure from business lobby groups who did not want to be forced to contribute employer revenue toward their employees’ retirement. There was political pressure from the financial services lobby, because they do not benefit at all when the retirement savings of Canadians is held in the CPP Trust Fund.

And finally, there’s fear among Canadian voters, who’ve been led to believe that anything opposed by business must be bad for them, too. Some of them also don’t want to be forced to save for retirement.

Q: Instead of expanding the CPP, the late finance minister, Jim Flaherty and the provinces endorsed pooled registered pension plan legislation as the way to encourage Canadians to save more for retirement. What are the key features of PRPPs?
A: Good question. PRPPs are basically like voluntary employer-sponsored group RRSPs. The funds are locked in, so it resembles a registered defined contribution plan. Your funds can also be ported to another plan and there are survivor benefits. So, it’s basically like an “RRSP-plus.”

Q: Why do you think that PRPP’s are not the answer?
A: Well, I think PRPPs are just a prime example of what I said earlier ­­­– political lobbying by business and the financial industry.

  1. The employer is not required to contribute a dime even if the company voluntarily sponsors a PRPP.
  2. An employee can opt out, or voluntarily set their contribution rate to zero, which gives zero benefit to the employee.
  3. There’s very little benefit security. Like I said, it’s like a DC plan, so you get to choose member-directed investment funds. If you don’t invest your money well, then you won’t get a good pension.
  4. The cost structure is really not that much different than a 500-member group RRSP. The management expense ratio (MER) will be much higher under a PRPP than under a large workplace pension plan or, for that matter, under CPP, where the efficiencies of scale are such that the costs are very, very, very low.
  5. It will create a huge windfall to insurance companies and other financial institutions who manage these funds, because there’s very few cost controls. There are lots of problems in group RRSPs with so-called “hidden fees” and there’s no indication that that will change with PRPPs.

I can go on, but I think you get the idea.

Q: Groups such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business say that required employer contributions to an expanded CPP would amount to a significant payroll tax that could slow down economic growth. How would you respond to this statement?
A: To be quite blunt, this is a false and misleading statement. Anyone who tells you it’s a tax is not telling you the truth. This is employee money. It goes into a pension fund. It then goes back to the employee.

Q: Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne’s government is currently holding consultations on the design of an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan. What are some of the key features of that plan?
A: At the end of December of last year, the Ontario government introduced the first reading of the bill for the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan intended to commence at the beginning of 2017. The reason for the delay period is because there’s hope that the next federal government may agree enhance CPP, which could make the ORPP redundant.

But the key features are that it’s a mandatory plan. It’s like an adjunct to CPP. So, it would be mandatory in all Ontario workplaces, except where the employer already has a workplace pension plan for its workforce, and it would be integrated with the CPP.

Q: Several other provinces, like PEI, may jump on the same bandwagon, so why do we still need a national CPP enhancement?
A: Well, it would better if the federal government came on board to make it nationwide. I mean if we just have it province by province, then it’ll be more of a patchwork. This could influence inter-provincial mobility. We don’t want to discourage full inter-provincial mobility by Canadians.

Q: Well – and, of course, the other issue is – just like pension legislation across the country, which is similar, but actually very different when it comes to the details – we run the risk of getting ten or 11 completely different plans.
A: And that would result in over-regulation and an increase in transaction costs although the whole point of this is to minimize and optimize the costs of running the fund — which is why CPP is good model.

CPP is viewed as one of the best universal, mandatory state-sponsored pension plans in the world. It would be a shame for us to have to rely on province-by-province, patchwork participation in such a scheme.

Also, you know, at the end of the day, this is really something that benefits all Canadians, regardless of what age or generation they are in. One way or the other, taxpayers will be taking care of older Canadians who are poor. It’s better that Canadians have their own resources to take care of themselves; and that’s an optimal use of taxpayer resources.

So, I just really think it’s a good idea, and I really think that this is the ballot question for the upcoming federal election this year. We saw this 50 years ago when CPP was introduced. I believe this year there will be a renaissance of that issue.

Q: Thanks, Ari. It was great to talk to you.
A: My pleasure, Sheryl. Be well.

—–
This is an edited version of the podcast posted above which was recorded on February 3, 2014.

Mar 30: Best from the blogosphere

30 Mar

By Sheryl Smolkin

Lots of good reading this week from the blogosphere.

If you are not sure what kind of pension plan you have or how it works, take a look at how employee pension plans work by Kevin Press on Brighter Life.

Retire Happy guest blogger and pension analyst Sean Cooper writes about three costly pension mistakes and how to avoid them. For example, if possible wait until you vest in your pension benefits (two years in Saskatchewan) before leaving or taking early retirement.

Michael James on Money helps you to calculate the interest rate your annuity is actually paying. He likes the idea of reducing longevity risk by purchasing an annuity but he says that according to his calculations the payouts on annuities seem much too low.

You have the ring and you are planning the wedding but do you have a joint financial plan? Diane O’Leary, guest blogger on the Financial Independence Hub discusses financial planning for young couples serious about their future together.

And finally, on Million Dollar Journey, Frugal Trader shares how his family of four lives on one government salary. It certainly helps that they have paid off all of their student loans and they have been mortgage-free since 2010. He also thinks twice before making impulse buys at Costco.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

 

Mar 23: Best from the blogosphere

23 Mar

 

By Sheryl Smolkin

Spring is definitely in the air and every day the piles of snow and patches of ice in my neighbourhood get smaller. This week we report on a potpourri of interesting blogs and articles from some of our favourite bloggers.

We usually catch Robb Engen on Boomer and Echo, but he also regularly writes for his blog  RewardsCanada. This week he posted an interesting article about why it is so hard to cancel a credit card. Credit card companies advertise great bonuses on points when you sign up with them but they are counting on inertia to retain you as a client once the deal is in the bag. If you are smart enough to want out, they make you jump through hoops before you can cancel.

On StupidCents, Tom Drake’s mission is to help you “turn wasted sense into common cents.” Recently guest blogger Michelle offered some ideas on how to save money on your wedding. She suggests you can barter many services in exchange for free wedding products. It can also help to chose something other than a diamond and buy a pre-owned wedding dress. In a previous blog she suggested that you get married off season and not on a weekend.

If you think you have to keep your income low in your 64th year because the OAS clawback is based on your income in the previous year, take a look at Understanding the OAS Clawback by Doug Runchey on RetireHappy. He says there is a provision in the Income Tax Act that allows the clawback to be based on your income for the current calendar year, if your income in the current calendar year will be substantially lower than it was in the previous calendar year.

In Thanks for the $2000 CRA on the Canadian Personal Finance blog, Alan Whitton aka the Big Cajun Man concludes that he and his wife are not eligible for income-splitting because his wife earns too much, but in any event he says this would not be enough to buy his vote because “As usual, the program is half-baked (much like the TFSA and other ideas), and I am not a one issue voter.

And finally, on get smarter about money, Globe and Mail columnist Rob Carrick writes about the gift of a debt-free education he and his wife are giving their two sons. There is no family fortune so they will not be living on Easy Street, but they will be able to graduate debt free from a four-year undergraduate program of their choice. He says if you can’t help your kids graduate debt-free, the next best thing is to help limit their debt. In today’s challenging world for young adults, that’s a great early inheritance.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Mar 16: Best from the blogosphere

16 Mar

 

By Sheryl Smolkin

After two weeks away in the sun at a resort with flakey WIFI, I have lots of catching up to do! However, I managed to download the replica edition of several newspapers every day, so I wasn’t completely out of touch.

I was particularly interested in a series of editorials in the Globe and Mail articulating the newspaper’s vision as to how the retirement savings system should be reformed. The editorial team views higher TFSA contributions as an unwarranted future drain on the economy and advocates increasing RRSP contribution limits instead.

They also support ramping up CPP and eliminating RRIF withdrawal rules. You can read the whole series by clicking on the links below.

Reforming Retirement (1): How the TFSA turned into Godzilla
Reforming Retirement (2): Getting Ottawa’s mitts off your RRIF
Reforming Retirement (3): More RRSP, not more TFSA, please
Reforming Retirement (4): Canada needs to ramp up CPP, ASAP

Cait Flanders who writes Blonde on a Budget is in the 8th month of a year-long shopping ban. She says she has never been happier and shares 3 truths she discovered about her minimalist lifestyle plus information about her next minimalist challenge for 2015.

On Money We Have, Barry Choi writes about 10 Signs You’re Living Beyond Your Means. Several of my favourites are: when you have zero savings; low monthly payments are your only option; and, you buy only name brands.

Banking on Your Mobile Phone by Tom Drake on Balance Junkie reminds us that there are smart phone apps for business finance, budgeting, bank accounts and mobile payments. Paypal and Google Wallet are probably the most popular mobile payment apps. Most banks also allow to you pay by mobile with their own apps as well.

And finally, on Canadian Dream: Free at 45 Tim Stobbs writes about how a job in customer service that he was overqualified for in 2002 was a valuable experience because he had great co-workers, the company promoted from within and it had a defined benefit pension plan.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Author Gail Bowen: A Saskatchewan Success Story

5 Mar

By Sheryl Smolkin

 

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

Hi. Today I’m talking to Saskatchewan retired professor, author and playwright Gail Bowen. I’m an avid reader, so when I read her most recent Joanne Kilbourn mystery, “The Gifted,” which was published in 2013, and realized that she wrote 18 earlier books I decided to go back to the beginning and read as many of them as possible.

And while I usually interview financial experts and authors in this space, when Gail brought to my attention that 2015 is the 25th anniversary of the publication of the first Joanne Kilbourn book, I thought savewithspp.com readers would enjoy learning more about this homegrown celebrity.

In addition to writing the award-winning Joanne Kilbourn series, Gail has had several plays produced, and she wrote a radio play, “The World According to Charlie D,” based on a character in her books. Many of the Joanne Kilbourn stories have also adapted as television movies by Shaftesbury Films.

Welcome, Gail.

Well, thank you, Sheryl. It’s lovely to be here.

Q: Gail, you were an associate professor of English at First Nations University of Canada. How did you get started writing mysteries?
A: Well, I was asked to write something by a friend, and it was a book called “An Easterner’s Guide to Western Canada/A Westerner’s Guide to Eastern Canada.”

And my friend called me on Sunday afternoon. The deadline for the book to be published was Wednesday, and he asked me if I would do this.

At that point, we had three, small kids at home. I was teaching at the university. I was very involved in politics, and I said, “No, I’m sorry. Thanks for thinking of me.” And when I hung up, my husband said, “You know, when a friend asks you to do something, maybe you should give it a shot.”

So, I called him back, and that changed my life. After that project I was asked by the publisher if I would be interested in writing a mystery. So my writing career started when I was around 45.

Q: How did you find the time to write? How long does it take you to actually write a book from beginning to end?
A: Well, I always say each book takes two years. I have learned “to write in the cracks.” I really am very disciplined, and if I have five minutes, I’ll write for five minutes. It’s the only way I could ever get things done.

Q: Joanne Kilbourn is a widowed mother, political analyst and university professor who gets involved in frequent criminal investigations. Is she or any other characters in the book based on people you’ve actually lived and worked with in Saskatchewan?
A: No, they’re not. I mean of course there are small things. There are gestures, there are situations I use. But that tends to be almost the genesis of a creative idea.

I guess the thing I’m asked most frequently is whether Joanne is me, because her take on life is like mine. And I think of her very much as a very Canadian protagonist. When I started, that I was determined that she would be middle-aged and that she would age in the book, and that she would be very much a Canadian woman.

Most American female protagonists in mysteries are sort of lone wolves, but I think Canadians tend to be more community-minded, and Joanne is firmly rooted in her community. She has friends. Her family is so important to her. And she tends to also have very good working relationships with the police, which is often not the case in American mysteries.

Joanne also is really someone who, when she sees injustice or inequity, rolls up her sleeves and tries to do what she can to right what she perceives as wrong. And, again, I see that as a very Canadian attitude.

Q: Well, that was one of the reasons I was so excited to discover the series, because I love reading Canadian books about Canadians. So, 25 years is a long time, though, to write about one family of characters. How do you keep it fresh? And how do you keep coming up with new and evolving plot lines?
A: Well, I think, in part, it has to do with  my decision to have Joanne age. This has allowed her children to grow and to bring new people into their lives, and for Joanne to change. I’m also a very different woman now at age 72 than when I started writing this series.

I think the other thing, too, is that as the series goes on, Joanne is more aware of the fact that nothing is forever. And so she really cherishes the moments that she has, but she also can kind of plow through the times that are not good.

Q: Well, realistically, nobody ever has that many murders in their life.
A: Oh, God, no. You’re quite right, of course. Anyone who’s witnessed that many murders would be looking down the business end of a rifle by now. But Henry James has that great line “you have to give the writer her givens,” and so it’s a willing suspension of disbelief. You know, she just kind of perks along despite the dismal, existential facts.

Q: I’ve been to Regina a few times, but I learned a great deal more about the city from your stories, particularly about some of the tension that exists between aboriginal and white residents. Did you draw on your experience teaching at First Nations University in the development of these characters?
A: Oh, absolutely. I live in a very affluent, white area of Regina; and we have a very blessed life. Ten minutes from my house, I could be in North Central Regina, where kids as young as maybe nine or ten are on the streets and prostituting themselves. I feel so strongly that something has to be done. I loved teaching at First Nations, and we were an integrated university, so I taught as many non-aboriginal kids as aboriginal kids. But I I did see the reality of that life, and it’s just insupportable to me. And I think that’s one of the things that also drives Joanne.

Q: Shaftesbury Films, the company that currently produces the “Murdoch Mysteries,” made several of your stories into television movies. Did you write the script? And what was it like to participate in the creative process and then see the finished product?
A: Well, I didn’t write the script. I would now, you know. I think I’m more confident.

Christina Jennings still is head of Shaftesbury and that was their first foray into television. She has had tremendous success with the company and we remain good friends.

They are good movies, and I like them. I think Christina did a really good job. But the movies are so different from the books. For one thing, there are no aboriginal people in them. And the Eastern European names common in Saskatchewan that I used were Anglicized.

Q: So, what have the sales of your books been like? Can a Canadian mystery writer make a living?
A: I could make a very poor living. But movies pay a lot. Yet as far as mystery writers, are concerned my income from my books is probably in the top five percent.

Q: So, if someone has always wanted to write fiction, but doesn’t know where to start, what would you advise them to do?
A: Well, I would advise them to start. Don’t wait. You know, you can’t move one domino in your life without moving all the other ones. There are times when I kind of wished I’d started earlier; and, yet, I wanted to be with my kids. I wanted to work at the university.

But there is no substitute for just sitting down and treating it like an office job. Nothing beats just putting your bum on the chair and doing it. The thing to do is just trust yourself and write the kind of book you want to read. That’s always kind of been what I’ve done, and it’s worked well for me.

I still believe a good book will find its way. And I think that’s what you have to believe if you want to write. I mean you have to believe yours is a book that will work.

Q: With the evolution of technology, many people are self-publishing books. In your view, what are the pros and cons of self-publishing versus the more traditional route of submitting a book for publication by a publisher, like McClelland & Stewart, as you did?
A: Yeah. Well, I’ve done a 180 on that. I’ll tell you I used to be so opposed to self-publishing. I think it was because I kind of grew into this with the old memories of vanity press – you know, where if no publisher would take your book, then you published it yourself. But, in fact, I am now a proponent of it.

I’ve been writer-in-residence at three libraries so my own evolution as far as self-publishing has grown. I’ve actually had students of mine in Regina who I’ve watched go through the process of getting something self-published, and I really recommend it highly. But if you self-publish one of the major problems you will have to contend with is how to distribute your book.

Q: I understand you’ve almost completed another book at age 72, when many people have packed it in. What keeps you writing? And do you have plans to retire the Joanne Kilbourn series at any point in the foreseeable future?
A: Well, I don’t. I mean obviously I’m going to have to at some point. Right now, before I talked to you, I was going through the edits from my editor on the new book, which is called “The Singing Grass.” And it’s very different from the book that’s coming out in March, which is “12 Rose Street.”

I’m having fun. That’s why I keep on writing at 72. So, I think as long as I’m feeling excited about what I’m doing, I will continue to do it. But the one thing I’ve promised myself from the beginning is that I don’t want to write a series that goes on too long, where the margins get bigger and the plots get thinner.

Q: Thank you so much for talking to me today, Gail.
A: Oh, it was my pleasure, lots of fun. The whole creative process just fascinates me, so it was my pleasure, Sheryl. Thank you.


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Gail Bowen’s newest book 12 Rose Street was released March 3, 2015. Back copies of her earlier books are also available for purchase and from public libraries in Saskatchewan and across the country.

This is an edited transcript of a podcast recorded on December 14, 2014.

Feb 26: Best from the blogosphere

23 Feb

By Sheryl Smolkin

Well, one more week and RRSP season will be over for another year. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about contributing to your retirement savings plans including SPP for another 12 months.

In the three+ years savewithspp.com has been up and running, we have posted many blogs about the importance of paying yourself first and the mechanics of retirement saving in Saskatchewan Pension Plan, RRSPs or TFSAs.

Here are some of my favourites you can take a look at again to refresh your memory.

Pay yourself first
Save early, save often
FAQ: Employer-sponsored Sask Pension Plan
Can my spouse join SPP?
Why transfer RRSP funds to SPP?
What if I move away from Saskatchewan?
How do I know my SPP money is in good hands?
Pension Plan vs. RRSP?
SPP or TFSA?
Retirement savings alphabet soup
Understanding SPP annuities
Book Review: RRSPS THE ULTIMATE WEALTH BUILDER
How much can I contribute to my RRSP?
How to save for retirement, Parts 1, 2 and 3

You may also want to review some of these posts written by some of our favourite bloggers:

Retire Happy: RRSP Quick Facts 2015
Boomer & Echo: A Sensible RRSP vs TFSA Comparison
Canadian Personal Finance Blog: Pensions and Spousal RRSPs
Brighter Life: Six things you may not know you can do with your RRSP
Forward Thinking: Bruce Sellery on how to get excited about your RRSPs

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

SPP Flourishing, says General Manager Katherine Strutt

5 Feb

By Sheryl Smolkin

 

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

Hi, today I’m very pleased to be talking to Katherine Strutt, General Manager of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Since I first spoke to Katherine for savewithspp.com in December 2010, she has been featured numerous times in print, on radio, and on TV.

But when I realized it’s been four years since I formally interviewed her, I decided it was time to ask Katherine to bring savewithspp.com readers up to date on some more recent SPP developments.

Welcome, Katherine.

Thanks a lot, Sheryl.

 Q: Katherine, how many people are SPP members, and how much money is in the plan?
A: Well, we’ve had a real growth spurt over the last few years. We now have just over 23,000 contributing members and approximately 10,000 retirees. So our total plan membership is 33,332. And these members collectively have $403.8 million in assets. So we’ve had a real growth spurt.

Q: I see from your 2013 annual report that 1,415 new people joined SPP and 801 people transferred funds from existing retirement savings to their SPP account. I was one of them. Has the plan continued to grow at the same rate in 2014?
A: We want to reach a target of 1,500 new members in 2014. As of mid-December we had 1,228 people joining so far this year so we may not quite get to the 1,500 mark, but we’re going to be very close. And in terms of people transferring money in, 981 members have transferred in, so we’re past the limit that we had last year and still growing. We anticipate that that will continue to the end of the year.

Members had until December 31 to transfer money in for 2014 because it’s on a calendar year basis. But in terms of contributions, they can make their 2014 tax year contributions up until March 2, 2015. 

Q: Now I know there have been more middle-aged or older plan members. Are you starting to see the younger people waking up and realizing that they should start saving earlier?
A: Well, the average age last year was around 42 years old, and now it’s down to 40. So that two year drop may not seem like it’s a lot, but it is because that means that we are getting the younger members in.

It’s always a struggle to attract younger members because I don’t think eighteen-year-olds ever think they’re going to be sixty-five and they have other financial priorities. But I believe we’ve made some inroads by advocating they “start small and start now.” You know, you don’t have to wait until you’ve got a lot of money to invest. A little bit consistently saved is the answer.

Q: Because the annual maximum SPP contribution is $2,500, most people have additional RRSP contribution room. Why should they belong to both the SPP and a personal RRSP instead of concentrating all their savings in their own or their company RRSP?
A: That’s a really great question, Sheryl, and we get members who ask that as well. We tell them that the SPP gives members access to top money managers they may not be able to access on their own. SPP also gives members a strong investment product at a very low price. The costs of running our plan are around one percent or less, and this compares to fees in a retail mutual fund that can be anywhere between two and three percent.

So many members tell us that they wish they could put more money into their account because they see value in the product. However, if they have more than the $2,500 contribution room, a lot of them typically contribute both to SPP and to a personal RRSP in order to get the maximum value from their SPP investment.

Q: Employers can offer SPP as a retirement savings option to their employees. Tell me how that works.
A: Employers can set up an SPP pension plan and allow their employees to contribute via payroll deductions. We work with both the employer and the employees to establish the plan at the workplace, and then we handle all the paperwork and communication. SPP makes it so simple for both the employer and the employee to be part of it because we have a dedicated team at our office to help employers. Gail Genest, our Manager of Business Development, works with many companies to help set up SPP in workplaces. So anyone, employer or employee, who would like a presentation about SPP should contact our office.

Q: How many Saskatchewan companies are taking advantage of this easy way to help their employees save for retirement?
A: We saw about a 7% growth in 2014, so I think that’s a testament to Gail getting out there and talking to businesses and creating some awareness. We currently have 303 employers with just over 1,500 employees who are taking advantage of SPP through their workplace. It’s also available on the payroll platform.

Q: You did some interesting research in April 2014 around how important a pension plan is for attracting and retaining employees. Why did you conduct this study and what did you learn from the results?
A: We really wanted to know what employers and employees thought about saving for retirement partly as a way of helping us frame our message to these groups. And we learned that the expectations of the two groups are quite different.

For example, 57% of employees surveyed said a pension plan is very important in deciding a new career opportunity. They also ranked pension plans as more important than cash bonuses. But because employers assumed the opposite there was a disconnect between what employers thought their employees wanted and what employees really wanted.

We also found (not really surprisingly) that only 12.5% of employers surveyed offered a pension plan. Those that offer plans do so because they feel it’s the right thing to do and as a way of attracting potential employees. Most companies that don’t offer a pension plan cited the cost as the main reason.

Q: How would you respond to small employers who say they can’t afford to set up a pension plan because it’s too expensive and too time consuming to administer?
A: Well, it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. Using SPP as an example, it’s very easy to set up. We handle all the paperwork, and the employer simply establishes the payroll deduction and the payment schedule. We handle the employee signup, the questions, the distribution of the tax receipts and statements. I think we take the complexity out of the equation and allow employers, no matter how small, to set up a pension plan. Furthermore, in discussions with employers, we found that offering a pension plan is a very important tool in retaining and attracting staff, especially for the small employer. I think a lot of people don’t expect a small employer to be able to offer a pension plan so it’s a way of helping them distinguish themselves from their competitors.

Q: Do you have sort of a ballpark number of your employers who put some money into the plan to employee contributions? 
A: That’s truly anecdotal because we don’t track that, but I would say half or more.

Q: What happens if someone joins SPP planning to contribute, let’s say, $200 a month but can’t afford to continue contributing for a few months because his car broke down or he loses his job.
A: Life interferes, right? And again, I would have to say that SPP is very flexible in that regard. So contributions can be changed, stopped or started by a member at any time. We know the best approach is to keep contributing, but sometimes it’s just not part of the game plan, and SPP can accommodate those circumstances very easily.

Q: Who determines how members’ contributions are invested, and how can members be sure their money is safe?
A: The plan is governed by a board of trustees, and they are responsible for setting the investment policy and hiring the investment managers. They work with an external consultant to review the investment policy on at least an annual basis, sometimes more often. The board also reviews the managers’ performance on at least a quarterly basis.

Furthermore, we have administrative staff who are monitoring investment performance, and the board reviews it as well. Within the investment policy, the Board has implemented both quality and quantity guidelines. This is a way of reaching the goal of strong returns while controlling risk. Finally, the investment managers invest in companies of the highest quality.

Q: Are there any plan changes or enhancements on the drawing board you can talk about?
A: Well, we’re always looking at our web services and seeing what enhancements we can make in that area. For instance, we often get members looking for their tax receipts or statements online, and we’re certainly looking at how we can enhance that online experience, but only as we can afford it.

We are very mindful that we are dealing with member funds and we must keep expenses as low as possible so that more can be returned to member accounts.

Q: If readers want to find out more about the plan and fund performance, what sources of information are available to them?
A: We have a number of sources: obviously our website, saskpension.com, our blog, savewithSPP.com and our toll-free line 1-800-667-7153, which is available all across Canada. We also encourage members to sign up for our monthly newsletter which is another source of ongoing information.

Q: Thank you very much for talking to me today, Katherine.
A: My pleasure, Sheryl.


This is an edited transcript of a podcast recorded on December 14, 2014.

 

Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Achieve financial literacy on mymoneymychoices.com

13 Jan

By Sheryl Smolkin

 

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

Hi, today I’m kicking off the 2015 SavewithSPP.com expert podcast interview series. I’m delighted that Gail Vaz-Oxlade has made time in her busy schedule to talk us.

Gayle is truly Canada’s money maven. She has worked in the financial services arena for 25 years as a writer, reality-television host, public speaker and corporate spokesperson. Over the last several decades she has published 15 personal finance books, four of which were on the best-seller list at the same time in January 2012.

She has also filmed almost 200 episodes of her television programs, Til Debt Do Us Part, Princess and Money Moron. In addition, she regularly blogs and answers questions from readers on gailvazoxlade.com.

But, what I’d like to talk to her about today is mymoneymychoices.com, an online financial literacy program she founded just over a year ago.

Welcome Gayle.

Hi, thanks for having me.

Q: So Gayle, how do you define financial literacy? How big an issue is lack of financial literacy in this country? 
A: The issue itself is huge because most people already know most of what they need to know but aren’t doing it.

Q: You describe mymoneymychoices.com as Canada’s first comprehensive financial literacy program designed to raise the money IQ of Canadians by drawing on community support, a solid financial roadmap and gamification for reinforcement. How did you come up with the concept?
A: I was actually between television shows. I had a big whack of time off and I read about an organization in the U.S. that that used positive peer pressure in order to change behavior. So I laid out this roadmap of everything you need to do in the order I think you need to do it in, to build a rock solid financial foundation.

Q: What are your goals for the program?
A: Really what I want people to do is stop saying “I don’t know where to start.” If you go to mymoneymychoices.com and register – it’s absolutely free – and you just take the steps as they are given to you in the program, then you will work your way to being financially healthy. I want people to come together in communities and support each other, teach each other and work together in order to increase their community’s financial literacy. 

Q: You say the first level is the hardest. Why?
A: In the first level, which I say has all the heavy lifting; you have to do your six-month spending analysis. You also create a debt repayment plan to get your consumer debt paid off in 3 years or less. You have to build a budget and you do your first net worth statement.  And very often I find that people don’t understand why the pieces are necessary. I say to people all the time, if you do the net worth statement today and it looks really bleak, it’s irrelevant, because it’s not where you are today. It’s how different it will be when you do it in six months for the second time.

Q: Do you have any sponsors or partners? Or, are you solely responsible for the development and maintenance costs of the site?
A: I would love sponsors to support us, but the thing is that, whenever you affiliate with anyone, typically what happens is they then have some say in what you do. And so I bore the costs of the development of the site myself and I set up the My Money My Choices Foundation, where I’m taking donations. In late 2014 I ran an Indiegogo campaign and raised $3,785.

Q: Is My Money My Choices, aimed at any particular age or demographic?
A: No it’s not. The reality is it doesn’t matter if you are 23 or 43. If you’re not aware of where your money is going then that’s the first place you have to start. If you’ve done all those things already you can just pick through those on the program until you get to the level where you are implementing something new for yourself. For example, it might be the level in which you investigate disability insurance and life insurance

Q: Give me briefly how the program works. I see there is a leader board and different prizes and levels.
A: The prizes are really icons. They are what you can use to show the world where you are and how you are progressing through the steps.

Q: What is the community element? From what I read on the website, you can’t do this on your own. You’ve got to be part of a tribe or a team.
A: You can do it on your own because anyone can use the roadmap. However if you are working within a tribe then what happens is you benefit from the support that comes along with that. When you have a whole community cheering you on, or kicking your butt depending on what you need that day, you’re much more likely to get back on the horse if you get bucked off.  That’s part of the purpose of the community.

The other part is that some people within a community are very good at some things and other people are very good at something else. And, when you bring it all together you create cohesion, together with process, together with management skills. When you bring all those things together you make it much stronger than each individual trying to do all the pieces alone.

Q: What role does the watcher play?
A: The watcher is the first guy to do the teaching. Typically the watcher is someone who has some money expertise whether it is official or not. And that person’s job is to help the first few people go through level one, and then guide those same people through the various other levels and encourage them to bring more people into the tribe so that they can become teachers and mentors to their own protégés. Ultimately, the watcher will manage the whole process and say “okay, this is how we’re doing as a community.”

Q: If a group of people want to get together and participate in your game on your website, do they have to have a watcher or does someone become a watcher because they are the first one who gets through the levels?
A: I’ll give you an example. I was invited to speak to a church community in Thornhill a few weeks ago, and I agreed as long as they set up a My Money My Choices tribe as part of the process. A gentleman named Emilio who is well along the way because he’s been following me for years became the watcher for that church community. He set up a Facebook page so people could communicate with each other. He made sure that there were books in the library so that the resources were available if people needed help making a budget or doing a spending analysis. He did all the administrative and support stuff to make sure that as people started coming into the program they didn’t get sidelined by small issues.

Q: That’s really cool. So it’s 23 levels. Can you give me some examples of what participants learn as they progress through the various levels?
A: Sure. The very first level, as I said is the hard one because what’s it’s laying the ground work for everything else. Once you’ve done level one you move on up to the point where you are putting process in place. You’re using a spending journal. You’re posting to your budget every single month. You know where your money is going. As you move up you also start allocating money to savings. You get your debt paid off. Ultimately, the reason there are 23 steps is because I don’t expect people to go from 0 to 100 in 12.2 seconds. It takes time.

Q: So you say you’ve had 8,000 people register on the website. How many of them have progressed through all the levels?
A: Nobody yet.  Because at the last level you are maximizing your RRSP, you have paid off your mortgage, you are maximizing your tax-free savings account, and you’ve got all your consumer debt paid off. This is a process. You are incrementally improving your financial position all the way along in very, very small steps.

Q: There are ways to earn extra points. What do you do with those points? What do they do for you? 
A: This is a very interesting phenomenon. One of the pieces of research shows that the points in and of themselves are what people want. They don’t care what the points translate into. It’s human nature. We like to gather things. We like to accumulate things. We measure our success in points. We like the point system.

Q: What kinds of things do people do to earn extra points?
A: It’s the idea that every time you post to your spending journal or push your spending journal to your cash flow budget you acquire more points. The reward system is based on action. If you are actively participating, you keep accruing points.

Q: Do you have any plans to changing or enhancing the program,?
A: I’m not going to touch the My Money My Choices program as it currently exists. I worked on it for about two years before I actually put it up. I think it covers all the bases. If people send me good resources to supplement it, I will add those resources over time once I have vetted them. But really, I don’t have to reinvent stuff if it’s okay and it’s working. What I want to do is use some of the Indiegogo money to create more of a presence on the internet that helps people find the program.

Q: You always seem to have dozens of projects on the go. Is there anything new and exciting still in the developmental stage you can tell us about?
A: I have a new book coming out in January 2016 called “Money Talks, When to Say Yes and How to Say No.” And that will deal with all the relationship side of money. How do you have those really difficult conversations that people just seem to be avoiding? Whether it is the conversation you have before you get married or the conversation you have with your parents because they keep hitting you up for money and you are dead sure they don’t have a retirement plan. So it’s all about having these difficult conversations and how best to position them.

Q: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today Gayle.
A: Oh, my pleasure.

13Jan-GVO2

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find out more about mymoneymychoices.com and how to play the game here. All of Gayle’s books are listed here and can be ordered from Indigo or Amazon.