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Financial Lessons from the Young and the Old

Gerry Cameron - Jan 07, 2019
Luckily, you may not need a million to retire.

Every year during RRSP season, we see hundreds of advertisements from financial institutions telling us we need to save for retirement.  And that’s sound advice.  However, it’s the amount they tell us we need to save that can cause anyone to stop dead in their tracks.

For a while, $1 million was the magic number, but recent articles are saying that number seems a bit too low to stop working.  But let’s stay with $1 million; for most people, a $1-million retirement nest egg is not going to be in the picture.  So, the question remains – is there a strategy to live comfortably during retirement with an amount far less than the advertisers want us to believe?  According to my father-in-law, who has been retired for a few years, the answer is yes.

His answer is to adopt a frugal lifestyle, and he’s the first to tell you that it has brought many rewards. First, being frugal teaches you to have a lot more respect for money regarding purchases, starting with food, shelter, and clothing.  This mindset also results in less waste which is good for the planet.  Second, it teaches you to fully recognize what’s important to you, what you really enjoy, and then figure out how to do it for as little as possible.  Here’s a simple example:  My father-in-law loves to walk.  It gives him the exercise he needs to stay in shape, and it also gives him the opportunity to stop and chat with his neighbours. He also loves to read.  So, to combine these two loves, he starts his mornings by walking to the local library.  There, he catches up on the news by reading the major papers, and most times, he leaves with a book, CD, or DVD, all free of costs with compliments of his free library card.

He still loves to learn, so on most Saturdays, you can find him taking a free course at Home Depot. He also loves a great bargain.  When it came time to replace his range, he found a store that sold refurbished appliances, saving him hundreds of dollars, with a full-year warranty.  Spending less gives him great satisfaction, and he’s enjoying life.

A year after graduating from high school, my daughter was ready to go to college and pay her tuition with her own savings.  When I asked her how much she saved, the amount in her bank account astounded me.  How did she manage to save an amount that would allow her to put a healthy down payment on a house?  Her strategy was simple.  If she saw something that she wanted to buy, she would hold off for a week.  After seven days, if she still wanted it, and it was still at the store, she would purchase it. If it wasn’t in stock, then it wasn’t meant to be.  She confessed that most of the time, after seven days, she gave it no thought, and the amount saved went into her bank account.  It’s a strategy we can use during retirement, and this frugal lifestyle has served her well; she bought her first house just after her 22nd birthday.

A friend of mine retired in his fifties.  He always held the belief that it’s not the amount you make but how you spend that really matters.  And his life reflects this belief.  He lives in a major city that offers excellent public transportation, saving him from buying a car; his apartment is covered by rent control; and he belongs to a non-profit food co-op.  He and his wife both took cooking courses, so most meals take place at his home while entertaining friends.  My friend has learned that spending does not bring happiness.  He has learned to live on less and enjoy his life.

Does this mean you should not treat yourself?  Absolutely not.  It’s nice to reward yourself from time to time.  It just means learning to cook well allows you to enjoy meals on a smaller food budget.  It means learning to fix appliances, at times with the help of YouTube videos, for pennies on the dollar.

At the end of the day, it means coming up with new ideas and learning new skills to live a more satisfying life while cutting expenses.

This article was recently published in Edmonton Prime Times ( and Calgary Prime Times (