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Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Last Stroll

Posted by Tim Stobbs on April 8, 2016

I feel like I should almost be walking around my office with a sign on my back that says “The End is Near,” so I can stop talking around the issue of how much longer I plan on working.  While I don’t plan to formally commit to a given date I am thinking of something in the range of late 2017 to spring 2018 which of course even talking about to people gets them a bit nervous.  It’s like they suddenly all realize that when I talked about taking an early retirement for the last decade I was actually serious about doing it.

I don’t provide an exact date because it depends on several variables like how much renovation work we do before I quit on the house or do we do that afterwards, how the stock and bond market does in the next few years and what other opportunities come up in the mean time.  So for now I’m keeping things vague and plan to give more formal notice when I get closer.

What has been interesting as I start to close in on my last two years or so of my engineering career if that fact I’m actually already starting to shift gears in my head to my post full time day job life.  I’ve signed up for a online writing class and I’m working on a series of novels right now.  Then I have to get back to editing the novel I finished last year and wondering when I should start putting out the submission letters to publishers. I’m also thinking about when I should start up a new writing blog and when I should finally shut down this one.  I do want to provide some post-retirement updates to those that are wondering how it all turns out but at the same time I can’t see keeping this blog going indefinitely.  Then I’m also working on plans on how exactly to pull the money out which accounts and when.  Then also deciding what exactly I’m going to tell people at parties when they ask what I do for a living: do you go with ‘private wealth management’ or ‘writer’?

Yet oddly enough the one pain point I realized during this last stroll was: I will no longer be an engineer at some point.  I will likely cease membership in my professional association after a few years post work and no longer even bother wearing that iron ring and the thought of this actually scared me.  Why? Because that title as been a particular part of my identity for twenty years now.  I’m so used to thinking of myself as an engineer and introducing myself this way that breaking that habit will be particularly painful for me to do.  After all saying it was an excellent short hand for how to describe me to others, so I could say “I’m an engineer” which would translate to: smart guy, good with numbers, geeky, and may have issues with social situations.

On the other hand, dropping that title from my identity will provide an opportunity to define myself without the usual baggage.  This of course is rather good since I in fact do well in most social situations and aren’t so geeky that I can’t talk to regular people.  In fact, one of my highlights to employers has been you get the geeky engineer who can actually explain stuff to the non-technical crowd.  So when I free from that title I can be just who I am rather than my old stereotype.

In the end, I can to really ask myself: who do you want to be?  I don’t need to conform to a stereotype so I’m free to just be myself with all the complexity that implies.  It’s a bit of an exciting time to have that opportunity to reinvent yourself, but of course also a bit confusing to reshape an identity that has been core to my life for 20 years.

When the Government Thinks Your Poor

Posted by Tim Stobbs on March 4, 2016

I have a confession to make to you all.  I generally ignore our Child Tax Benefit statement that comes in from the federal government each year.  Why? Well with our combined income we don’t really get a whole lot of money from it and second all of the money I do get, plus some of our own, goes immediately into the kid’s RESP.  So from my point of view the money doesn’t really exist since it only passes through my bank account on the way to the RESP account.  I think of it as my kid’s money and not mine.

So when I did all my retirement planning I generally ignored any potential tax perks I may get when I leave full time work and our income sinks like a stone.  I knew we would be paying less tax but I didn’t really consider that we may qualify for any other benefits programs like an increase to our Child Tax Benefit.

Yet the other day it did occur to me finally that we would get a bit more Child Tax Benefit, so I finally sat down and plug our projected numbers into the government calculator.  Then my jaw hit the table when I saw the result.  See the screen shot below.

Child Tax Estimate

In my head I was expecting perhaps $100/kid per month, so $2400/year.  I certainly was not expecting $8,873 a year.  So how the hell did that happen?  Well it appears that there was a high degree of dumb luck on the numbers when I looked into it.  I figured we would end up between my wife we would have a taxable income of about $26,000/year between RRSP withdrawals and some work (recall my wife will keep running her daycare after I leave work which is her choice).  The rest would come from TFSA accounts so won’t impact our qualification for government programs.  That $26,000/year number is just under the threshold to tie into the National Child Benefit Supplement which for two kids under 18 is fairly generous (over $350/month), then we would also qualify for a few other programs like the GST credit which would give us a bit extra money.

Of course all of this is set to change with the next federal budget as they have previously promised to overhaul these particular benefits during the election campaign.  So I can’t depend on these numbers but it does provide me with some useful input towards my retirement planning.

First off it tells me that I will likely get enough government benefits that I shouldn’t need to save any additional money to finish funding the kid’s RESP account.  I had previously estimated I would need around $20,000 stashed away for that prior to leaving my day job (I had assumed five years of contributions at $4000/year).  But now it entirely reasonable that we should get enough government funds to cover that amount.

The second particular useful fallout of likely getting more benefits than I thought would be the fact this provides a minor cushion to my plan.  As you may be aware one of the particular risks of retiring early and living off of investment income is if you get a series of bad returns on your investments in your first five years, you may end up running out of money in the long run.  So to combat this issue I have a series of backup plans on the ready to help cushion the blow should anything go wrong during those critical five years including: being able to cut back on some spending, having a year’s worth of spending money put aside, being willing to pick up some part time or consulting work in those first five years…you get the idea.  This unexpected money just provides an additional cushion, if we ended up needing it.  On the other hand, if things go well, I would continue to not depend on the government benefits and just put the money aside for the kids.

Ah the joys of having a government think I’m poor based on income, just because I don’t tend to spend a lot regardless of our income.  So this was news to me, did anyone else out there with kids look at this when planning their early retirement?

Retirement Basics: Spending

Posted by Tim Stobbs on December 5, 2015

When planning your retirement you need certain basic things that just really can’t be avoided if you want to have a good plan.  This isn’t to say your plan needs to be a 332 pages bound document with appendices, but rather you need to have an idea of what you want to do, how you will get there and what everything will cost.

Ironically when starting planning most people start the the wrong spot.  We want to think about all the wonderful things we would like to do with our new found free time or we want a savings target to work towards. Wrong. Stop. Halt! Wrong idea folks.

What you really need to start doing is so basic it isn’t even funny. You need to answer the following question:

Where does your money go right now?

Yep, that’s it.  Not hard right? Well expect it seems that most people don’t have a bloody clue where all the money goes each month. So let’s start with how many dollars did you save last month?  Do you even know or have a clue on how to find out? I suggest starting to look at your transactions in your chequing account.  What investments do you normally make and what do you save for? Kids RESP, did you put money aside for a house down payment? Also did you remember to include your pension deduction or group RRSP that came off your cheque prior to going into your bank account?  After a bit of effort you should be able to find out that number, just don’t include any delayed spending such as saving up for a vacation or your annual house insurance bill.

Now the second part, what on earth are you spending your money on?  If you look at your credit card do you even remember all that times you used it?  After a month it can get a bit fuzzy, which is why I signed up for Mint Canada which pulls all that information together for me.  Then I sit down with my wife and we classify the spending about once a month.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should help give you an idea on where the money is going.

The last part of your spending is going to be hard if you use it: cash.  Cash is so easy to spend and not keep track of, so I installed a basic spending tracking app on my phone and then enter in a note when I spend cash.  Other people like paper and keep a notebook.  So people just keep receipts for everything and enter them in a spreadsheet once a month.  Try out several different means to track your little spending.  Just don’t worry if it isn’t perfect.  I still miss the odd transaction myself, but typically it is under $5 in a month.

Now armed with this information you can do some fun calculations like: your after tax savings percentage.  To calculate add up all your savings and divide it by your take home pay plus any pension savings.  A month of data for this is okay, but a year is even more accurate.

So it would look like this: (savings including pension)/(take home pay + any pension savings taken off on your pay stub).

This one number is basically all you need to start your retirement planning as it will tell you how long you have to continue to work at your current lifestyle assuming you have nothing saved already or very little.  The results go something like this (see here for more data points):

  • 5% or less – I hope you like slavery because your job is going to feel like that for the next 66 years.
  • 15% – You have a 43 year career ahead, so if your twenty this may be okay otherwise that could suck.
  • 25% – It’s now down to 32 years which is actually potentially okay even if your 30 years old.
  • 50% – Now we are talking, you are down to a mere 17 years of work.
  • 75% – Holy cow, you are good at savings you could be out in a mere 7 years.

So now you can see the consequence of having a low amount of savings %, you will be working for a VERY LONG TIME! Of course if you already have some savings you can divide that by your yearly savings rate and deduct that off your years to work total.  So if you save $15,000/year and you already have $30,000 saved you can deduct two years off your result ($30,000/$15,000 = 2).  So if you got 32 years as your result, you would actually have only 30 years of work left.

The point here is to realize that by choosing not to save you are also choosing a long working career.  Most people never realize this is the case and so you need to start here when you plan your retirement.  That way you can actually see the results of your choices regarding spending.  Now you can really look at your spending data from above and ask the question: is this worth it to me?  The one thing made a huge difference to myself on what I spent my money on.  Hopefully it can help you too.