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Finance

My 5 Most Successful Steps to Retiring As I Wish

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Ever since I started working, I’ve been thinking about the day that I can stop – for good. Thankfully, I’ve had very good jobs and worked with amazing people. My work has been challenging and my tasks have been interesting. All that said, work is not my passion in life. I’m not one of those people who bounds out of bed every morning because I’m excited to get to the office. Nope. I’m willing to admit that I’m happier with life when I’m not at work. Whether it’s two weeks away on my annual vacation, two days away on a weekend, or a day off during the week for whatever reason. I’m always happier with my life when I’m not at work.

Thankfully, I learned this truth about myself when I was quite young. As a result, I started my retirement planning when I was 21 years old. Here are the most successful steps that I’ve taken over the years to maximize the odds that I can retire as I wish.

Contributing the Maximum to my RRSP

In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the best decision to start investing in my Registered Retirement Savings Plan at age 21. I still remember my parents’ accountant telling me that taking the tax deduction while I was a student wasn’t the best idea. He didn’t have any qualms with me contributing to my RRSP but he thought I should wait to claim the deduction in the future when I’d graduated and was working in my chosen profession.

Looking back, I can see that his advice was very good. Admittedly, I didn’t really understand it. My lifelong love of learning about all things personal finance was nascent so I didn’t appreciate the wisdom of his words. At 21, I happily claimed the deduction and spent it on some item whose memory thereof has been lost to the mists of time.

Stupid decision or not, the RRSP-habit was formed. I have contributed the maximum allowable amount to my RRSP every single year since age 21. The money first went into GICs, then into mutual funds, and finally it is now all invested in exchange traded funds. As I learned better, I did better. Over the years, my MERs have dropped and my returns have skyrocketed.

Contributing the Maximum to my TFSA

In 2009, the federal government introduced the Tax Free Savings Account. I can still recall sitting at my computer desk and hearing the words come out of the Minister of Finance’s mouth as I listened to the recap of the federal budget. My head whipped around and I immediately started paying attention. What had he just said? There was going to be a new way for me to save money without paying taxes? Tell me more!

My wise younger sibling then said the following to me:

“Blue Lobster, for you, the TFSA is just another retirement savings vehicle.”

Lightbulb on!

Ever since it’s been available, I have been making the maximum contributions to my TFSA. These contributions have never been sullied by interest rates incapable of matching inflation, as are offered by GICs, nor have they been brutalized by the higher-than-necessary MERs of mutual funds. Nope. I immediately put my TFSA money to work in dividend-paying ETFs.

After another discussion with my accountant, I decided that my TFSA could be used to create a tax-free stream of income in retirement. If I invested in dividend-paying ETFs, then I could withdraw the monthly dividends from my TFSA in retirement. It would be tax-free cash flow. Cha-ching! There was also the tiny little benefit that money from my TFSA wouldn’t impinge my ability to get OAS payments.

Was this the smartest use of my investment? Probably not. I now listen to the wisdom of Bridget Casey of Money After Graduation, and she’s convinced me that I should’ve gone for growth by investing in different equity ETFs. She’s probably right. There was a bull run in the stock market from 2009 to 2020. My TFSA would be bigger had I made different investment choices.

Contributing a Good-Sized Chunk of my Paycheque to my Brokerage Account

This is where the rubber really hits the road. Once I’d paid off my mortgage, I had a good bit of money remaining in my bank account every two weeks. (For the record, I’m a big believer in accelerated bi-weekly mortgage payments.)

Instead of spending that money on this-and-that, I put it to work in my non-registered investment account at my brokerage. My former mortgage payments went straight into ETFs. As with my RRSP & TFSA investments, I put everything on the dividend re-investment plan. When I got raises, I diverted some of the newly-earned money to my investment portfolio and some of it went to increasing my standard of living. As time passed, I was able to get to the point where I’m investing 1/3 of my net pay into my brokerage account and living on the rest.

Staying Away from Debt

In today’s world, it is very hard to avoid all debt. I understand that. I don’t like it, but I understand it.

For my part, I’ve had student loans, vehicle loans and a mortgage. Thankfully, I’ve never had revolving credit card debt. In the interests of transparency, I’ll admit that I do use my credit card but I pay the balance in full every single month.

However, I don’t have debt. The last time I bought a vehicle was in 2008. I used my line of credit and I did everything possible to pay off that LOC-debt within 6 months. It sucked but I didn’t care. I knew that having a car loan for 5 years would’ve sucked too. In my mind, 6 months of short-term sacrifice was well-worth the extra 4.5 years of car-loan freedom. And, yes – my former car loan payments were re-directed to my investments once that debt was gone.

My house has been paid off for 15+ years. While the property taxes, utilities and insurance aren’t cheap, my housing costs are far less than they’d be if I still had a mortgage to pay on top of everything else.

Life without debt is generally better. Instead of money going to your creditors, it can be re-directed to paying for your life’s dreams. It’s best avoided altogether. And if you can’t avoid debt, then minimize it to the greatest extent possible. While it’s in your life, do whatever you can to get rid of it as soon as possible.

Playing the Lottery

Bet you weren’t expecting that one, were you?

It’s true. I play the lottery every week – to the tune of about $20/wk. Even though it hasn’t yet paid off, I consider this one of my most successful steps.

I’ve heard that the lottery is a tax on the stupid, and that those who can’t do math are the ones who play the lottery. I don’t care. The fact of the matter is that I can’t win if I don’t play. Someone has to win and it might as well be me.

Let’s face facts. I’m contributing the max to my RRSP and my TFSA. One third of my paycheque is going into my investment portfolio. I don’t have any debt. Spending $1040 per year on lottery tickets is not going to make or break me. My retirement plans are still on track. If I win the lottery, they’ll just get a fantastically, awesome boost and I can retirement today instead of tomorrow.

Playing the lottery is my indulgence and I’m not giving it up. Other people will spend their disposable income as they wish. I will too. No judgment.

Final Thoughts on Why I Save So Much

I’ve been working in my current position for a long time now. Believe me when I say that my feelings towards working haven’t changed. I’m still happier when I’m not at the office. And I say this despite the fact that I have mentally challenging work. I’m rarely ever bored by my work. My colleagues are truly wonderful people who carry their weight and are always there for me when I need guidance, advice, or mentorship. My bosses are all fairly good people. And while I would never turn my nose up at a raise, the truth is that my compensation allows me to live the life I want. Even my benefits are not too shabby. All in all, I have a working situation that many others can only dream of yet I’m still far happier when I’m at home or with family or on vacation.

I have no illusions that my feelings are unique or that others prefer working to spending time doing what they love with those whom they love. The difference between me and them is that I’ve created a financial foundation for myself where work is becoming optional. This blog post is about the most successful steps I’ve relied on during my working life. Thanks to them, I’ve put myself in a position where I don’t have to allow my paycheque to be the overriding factor in decisions about my life. If my paycheque were to disappear, I wouldn’t have to find another one immediately… or at all. I have the comfort of knowing that my investments – and hopefully a newspaper-worthy lottery win! – will replace my paycheque when I’m ready to part ways with my employer.

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