If you like folksingers from the 1960s, you’re probably familiar with Phil Ochs, who sang “I ain’t marching anymore” and many more catchy protest songs. He came to a sad end (self-inflicted) and one of his last albums was entitled Rehearsals for Retirement. (Yes, I still have the original vinyl and the song title is actually one of the chapter titles in Findependence Day).
That title also serves as today’s blog title and happens to be a key strategy for those who are pursuing financial independence. I’m taking this week off from my day job at MoneySense but it’s more or less a “Staycation”: a working vacation spent at home. Other terms for this are “Veranda Beach” or (in Quebec), “Balconville.”
In the book, I write that the day after Findependence may well be the same as the days and weeks before: you continue to practice whatever craft or profession that got you to Findependence. You’re not “retired,” you’re still productive and you still wish to be engaged in the world, connecting with the workplace, colleagues, friends and family — either virtually or physically.
Definition of Findependence
Let’s step back a second and review the definition of financial independence (findependence for short). I wrote about this on my Financial Independence blog last week at MoneySense.ca, which you can find here. Based on how I interpret the Wikipedia definition of financial independence, it is a prerequisite for retirement: that is, you can’t have retirement without findependence, but on the flip side, you CAN have findependence without retirement. Findependence is also the precursor to such variations on retirement as phased retirement, semi-retirement and today’s theme of “rehearsals for retirement.” A one-year “sabattical” is one long such rehearsal but as I write below, even a one-week paid vacation from your day job can be a rehearsal if it’s a working staycation.
Varieties of Staycations
There are I suppose two or three types of staycations: one is where you really take a vacation from work of any kind; another is where you continue to work, but on your own projects rather than an employer’s. Your time being your own, you can also do a hybrid of these, which is the route I’m going this week: doing various errands and chores one normally might tackle on weekends, but also engaging in social media, writing and other work-like tasks.
As I experience this, I’m reflecting that a working staycation is very much like Och’s Rehearsals for Retirement. I have several friends who are both findependent and fully retired, in that they no longer perusue economic (money-making) activities. But of course, they end up as busy as anyone else: household chores, shopping and maintenance don’t go away even if full-time employment ceases to be. You may pursue various artistic or entrepreneurial activities that may or may not lead to economic reward down the road.
If you still have a day job but have reached the point where you have several weeks of paid vacation each year, you may find a working staycation an excellent trial run for retirement. When I wrote the first edition of Findependence Day in the summer of 2008, I began the writing during my paid vacation weeks from my newspaper staff columnist job. Since I had been a freelance writer for several years in the 1980s, I was familiar with the rhythmn of writing at home. At some point I can see finishing my journalism career in the same way, supplementing the various “Findependence” sources of multiple income with the odd freelance assignment, book royalties and the like.
As I write the first draft of the blog entry you’re now reading, I’m doing so on a MacBook Air in my back yard. The sun is shining, a waterfall is splashing into our fish pond, cardinals and blue jays are pecking away at a bird feeder and life is good. I’ll go back into the house to polish this and format it for the web but this is an example of the kind of life I describe as “findependence.”
If you’re contemplating such a step but unsure about whether you’re suited for it, I recommend trying a week or two of a working Staycation during paid leave from your current day job.
Not yet retirement, but perhaps a rehearsal for it!
Note to US book reviewers & financial bloggers
One of the activities in which I’m engaged this week is promotion of the US edition of Findependence Day. Any journalist in the mainstream media can request a review copy by emailing email@example.com. If you’re a financial blogger or a financial planner with a newsletter or good social media followings, I’d be glad to mail you an access card in order to download the e-book edition in most major formats. I’ll also email you a Word file of the end-of-chapter summaries, such as the one below. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chapter 3 summary
Finally, as promised, here’s the next installment of the end-of-chapter summaries of the main lessons learned in the book:
Chapter 3: Poor Boy Blues
You can’t save by spending; Be an Owner, Not a Loaner
• Frugality needs to be a lifetime habit, ranging from brown-bagging work lunches to taking public transit half the time.
• Don’t just focus on cutting expenses through small sacrifices; find ways to increase your income.
• Beware financial industry gimmicks like “spend ‘n save” cards.
• Department store credit cards charge the highest rates of interest.
• The secret of building wealth is to be a business owner.
• Be an owner, not a loaner means investing in stocks rather than bonds; or better yet, starting your own business.
• While the biggest fortunes come from starting a business, most of us are better off diversifying our equity exposure through index funds or Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs).
Some may wonder why if I celebrated my Findependence Day and 60th birthday party over the weekend (see previous blog), then why on earth am I still going to work to engage in the stressful job of putting out a worldclass personal finance magazine.
My answer ran today on my sister blog housed at MoneySense.ca, which we call the Financial Independence blog.
Here it is in its entirety.
A belated Happy New Year to all readers and a reminder that every adult Canadian can take a big step this week towards their ultimate financial independence. I refer of course to the fact we can all contribute another $5,500 to our Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs), bringing the total cumulative room to $25,500 (going back to the program’s launch in 2009). For the benefit of any American readers, Canada’s TFSA is the equivalent of the U.S. Roth plans, albeit with different rules.
In other words, if you acted at this time each year, you’d have contributed $5,000 in each of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Now that it’s 2013, the annual limit has been raised to $5,500, the first time the limit has been adjusted to accommodate inflation.
Of course, assuming you invested wisely in each of those years, your balance should by now be well north of $25,500, and in some cases may have grown past $30,000.
TFSAs a particular boon for young people
I truly believe that maximizing the TFSA is the single biggest step Canadians can take in their quest for financial freedom. As we noted in Julie Cazzin’s “Make Your Child a Millionaire” feature in the current issue of MoneySense, the TFSA is especially a boon to young people because they have such a long investment time horizon ahead of them.
Unlike RRSPs, which require earned income the prior year, an 18 year old can qualify for the full TFSA $5,500 limit this year (they may need parental assistance to come up with the money, but that’s permitted by the rules. Think of it as a tax-effective early inheritance!). Not only that, but they can contribute to TFSAs well into old age, unlike RRSPs, which end after age 71. You better believe that half a century of maximizing TFSAs and investing wisely will mean multi-millions down the road.
Do this right from the get-go and you may not even have to worry about RRSP contributions, although those in higher tax brackets should probably do both.
But how to invest wisely? For the young in particular, but also older people seeking income, I think equities are the only way to go in TFSAs, especially with interest rates being so low as they are now.
I’m all for international investing but if you already have lots of RRSP contribution room, I’d use the RRSP for US dividend-paying stocks, since the tax treaty shelters Canadians from the 15% foreign withholding tax.
Despite the “tax-free” moniker, TFSAs won’t stop you from being dinged by that tax on foreign securities. For this reason, I like TFSAs for Canadian dividend-paying stocks. Yes, I realize the dividend tax credit makes Canadian dividends a good choice for non-registered (taxable) accounts, since the tax is roughly half what it is on interest income. However, Canadian dividends also result in the annoying “gross-up” calculation come tax-time, and such phantom dividend income can ultimately hurt you on the OAS clawback. And to me, zero tax is preferable to even a “low” rate of tax, especially if you plan to reinvest those dividends.
Canadian Dividend ETFs are my choice
For all these reasons, my personal choice for TFSAs this year are Canadian dividend-paying ETFs. A year ago, when it was part of the Claymore family, I publicly stated that the iShares S&P/TSX Canadian Dividend Aristocrats Index Fund (CDZ/TSX) was a tempting choice, at least for those who already have plenty of exposure to the big Canadian banks. To be included in that index a stock has to be a common stock or income trust listed on the TSE and have increased dividends for at least five consecutive years.
This year, there is a valid new alternative from Vanguard Canada: the Vanguard FTSE Canadian High Dividend Yield Index ETF (VDY/TSX). The management fee on VDY is just 0.30%, half the 0.60% of CDZ. (MER is 0.67%, we don’t yet know what VDY’s MER will be). But keep in mind that VDY amounts to a big bet on the major banks: a whopping 59% of the ETF is in Canadian financials and in fact the top four holdings are all the big banks. CDZ has much less exposure to financials (just 21%) and minimal exposure to the big six banks in particular.
Half and half is one compromise
One way to go might be to split your contribution between both ETFs: say $2,750 in each. Remember, though, this assumes you have plenty of US and foreign stock exposure in your RRSP. Younger people for whom the TFSA comprises the lion’s share of their wealth should strive for plenty of US and foreign stock exposure through similar types of ETFs. We’ll be looking in depth at these in the next issue of MoneySense, currently in production.
As I noted in a recent MoneySense blog, age 62 seems to be the magic age for some prominent Canadian members of the financial industry (banking and pensions respectively) to “retire.” Of course, we prefer to say they’ve reached their “Findependence Day,” since I doubt either BMO’s outgoing chief economist, Sherry Cooper, or Mercer partner and actuary Malcolm Hamilton, will be moving from full-time employment to full-stop traditional retirement.
As I say at the bottom of the blog, more boomers are leaving center stage but I expect many will linger in the theatre for some time yet, whether they embark on writing, public speaking, consulting or shift more to volunteering and charitable work.
So is 62 a “good” age to declare one’s Findependence? As always, comments welcome below.
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After a bit of a hiatus, the Investor Education Fund has resumed publishing of my blogs within its Masters of Money platform, now well into its second year. Here’s one of two recent posts on Early Retirement, which include some personal reflections on this topic in light of my recent job change to become Editor of MoneySense Magazine.
We’re now ramping up for a new series of blogs at IEF. Meantime, I’m also blogging at moneysense.ca. Last week, I reviewed a book — Managing the Bull — which also made the distinction between Retirement and Financial Independence. As I note in the blog titled “Another Vote for Financial Independence” there seems to be a growing recognition of the distinction between the two terms.
And just as you can distinguish between Findependence and traditional full-stop Retirement, similarly you can distinguish between Early Retirement and Early Findependence. As I’ve noted before, Findependence can often occur much earlier than traditional retirement: sometimes decades before. In fact, it’s never too early to establish financial independence: if you can pull it off in your teens so much the better. Of course, few of us have the good fortune of the Miley Cyruses of the world so most of us will have to settle not for Early Findependence but Findependence somewhere between mid-life and the traditional retirement age.
Retirement overrated, Findependence underrated?
In the current issue of MoneySense Magazine now on newsstands (Retire in Luxury for Next to Nothing), we include a story asking whether traditional Retirement is Overrated. One person who has retired at 59 insists that to the contrary, Retirement is UNDER-rated, but we also include two professionals who continue to work in their chosen fields well past their mid 60s.
Personally, I’m coming around to the view that it’s quite possible and perhaps desirable to aim for the seemingly contradictory goals of both Early Findependence but Delayed Retirement. Think of any rich and famous artist, musician or business person, be it Steven Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, JK Rowling or Mick Jagger. All these people experienced early success and therefore Early Findependence.
But it’s telling what they chose to do with that Early Findependence: in almost every case, they continued to do what they loved and that had been the source of their worldly success and accompanying financial independence. Jagger is still rocking, Jobs was designing the next generation of Apple devices until his last few months of life, Zuckerberg is a billionaire but still engaged in his 20s at the social media giant he founded and Rowling has now branched out beyond her 7-part Harry Potter novels to pen a new adult novel that’s reviewed in the current New York Times Book Review.
Findependence as means, not end
This also tells us something important about the nature of work and wealth. If you’re really passionate about something and doing work that satisfies the soul and that the world benefits by, then wealth is merely a byproduct of that activity. Let’s not confuse the means and the ends. Financial Independence should not be viewed itself as the goal (or end) but merely the means to an end, which is whatever vocation, business or creative pursuit you are called to do.
Thanks to Sheryl Smolkin of Moneyville and the Saskatchewan Pension Plan for the following 10-minute audio podcast about Findependence Day. Among the many insightful questions Sheryl asked was whether the “Didi Quinlan” character was modelled after Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Suze Orman or other financial reality TV shows. She also probes about the origins of the Vinyl Museum and other aspects of the novel drawn from real life.
You can access the podcast by clicking here. Note that to get to the actual audio you need to click the blue segment entitled Jonathan Chevreau Podcast. Those who prefer to simply read an abbreviated (but not verbatim) transcript can just keep reading the text that follow’s Sheryl’s link.
My latest Financial Independence blog at moneysense.ca looks at BMO Retirement Institute’s study showing there is a big discrepancy between the retirement aspirations of young Canadians and their savings habits to date. Click here for my take on it.
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