In my research I have found one age group that is at much greater financial risk than others.  It’s the age 55 to 64 group – both male and female.  The risks for this group are almost always health related.  Most Canadians greatly underestimate health risks.  Individuals in this age group who have had to stop working due to health issues are not eligible for many retirement benefits until they reach age 65.  In this corridor leading to retirement there are increasing expenses such as prescription medications and health aids, but often there is little or no insurance available.   Until the individual reaches age 65 they find it necessary to tap into their savings or to take on more debt.  Even upon reaching age 65, some continue with financial challenges.

Three key factors for financial security later in life:

  1. Be financially literate.  This does not mean becoming an expert in everything.  Make it a personal policy to not sign anything if you do not understand the full implications of it.  Keep asking questions and doing research until you are satisfied.  If any professional leaves you feeling stupid – leave them.
  2. Do not live in a community that is beyond your level of affluence.  Pretending to fit in is pointless.  Friends will care about your financial difficulties and never make you feel embarrassed about your situation.
  3. If you are a couple you need to work together to determine how best to save money, and, how best to protect one another financially when the first partner dies.  Do not defer this conversation.

A book I picked up recently – The Solvency Struggle[1] – provides some interesting insights on what it feels like to live in financial difficulty on a day-to-day basis.  The then 64 year old, university educated author documents her penny-pinching challenges throughout a one year period.  It’s painful to read the trade-offs made by Allen.  In my opinion it’s also an unsustainable approach.  Very little financial detail is provided such as a net worth statements for her or her husband or the returns made on RRSP investments so it’s difficult to assess what has gone wrong.  What is clear is that Allen and her husband are poor.  They are living in housing geared to income, struggling with daily bills, and depriving themselves of prescription medications and other health care such as dental work.   Her health issues prevent a return to almost any type of paid employment and therefore no additional sources of income are available.

An excerpt from her book (p. 114) provides some insight as to the struggle of living with a low income:  “…I am weary of even attempting the “strictest scrutiny” of the impact of every financial decision, global, environmentally…Even when I do try, the potential for innocently getting it wrong is huge.  I never wanted to be an expert on everything…I have no longing to live as if every decision matters…”. 

Too many people rationalize their lack of ability to save for retirement as something they will adjust to later in life.  Allen demonstrates how painful it is to live without financial resources – a place none of us wants to be.

[1] Roberta Allen (2012), The Solvency Struggle, One grandmother’s yearlong fight with the Debt Dragon’ while facing financial reality.