Too many clowns with no financial plan

You have to be a real clown not to have a financial plan and be saving for your retirement. Right?

Not really, you would just be among the approximately 80% of Canadians who don’t have any sort of comprehensive financial plan, according to the Financial Planning Standards Council.

Who are these people? They are people such as the 51-year-old rodeo clown I met this past week who goes by the name Shorty Leggs — and has no RRSP and isn’t too interested in starting one.

“I’m about to the retire,” he told me between his assignments at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, where his job is to entertain the crowd and also to distract the bulls if a rider is in danger.

In the past year he suffered major injuries in two separate incidents that resulted in a total of six cracked ribs. “I didn’t have any insurance so I kept on working. Insurance companies won’t even touch me.”

And he’ll keep working, just not as a clown. He plans to start training race horses. “I don’t think about it,” he says, referring to retirement.

The FPSC’s data will tell you’s he’s probably not as content and happy as he would be if he had a financial plan. I have to tell you I didn’t sense a trace of sadness in that clown about his financial choices.

I have a few friends, some of whom I might describe as clowns, who conduct their lives the same way. They haven’t contributed to an RRSP in years and they don’t bother with Registered Education Savings Plan for their kids. I’m not sure they’ve even heard of a tax-free savings account.

Are they really in that much trouble as they live for the moment?

According to a study done for FPSC, about 60% of people with no financial plan worry about their financial situation, compared with 44% who have a comprehensive plan. About 13% of those with no plan said they expected to retire to the lifestyle they want versus 44% for those with a plan.

“A big part of this is the focus on instant gratification. People’s concept of living for today has been skewed to meaning to not even give any consideration to the fact that at some point in their future they might not have a job and at some point there will be other demands on their pocketbook,” says Cary List, FPSC chief executive.

He thinks there is a fear factor to financial planning because most people think it means giving something up and they don’t want to do that. But who says you can’t have a selfish financial plan — I wouldn’t — that is designed to make sure you die with as little cash as possible and use as much of it as you can in your own lifetime?

“Financial planning is not just about retirement planning,” says Mr. List, adding it can be used for other life goals, including some short-term gratification. “Planning is not synonymous with saving and having X million dollars when you die.”

All that’s true but there is a certain percentage of the population that doesn’t bother to plan because they have no disposable cash to plan with, says Benjamin Tal, a senior economist with CIBC World Markets. “You can’t ask people making $20,000 to contribute to an RRSP,” says Mr. Tal. “The focus should be how many that make a reasonable amount money and still don’t contribute [to RRSPs and other investment vehicles]. That’s really a lack of planning.”

Moshe Milevsky, a finance professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, says there might me some method to the madness of people who are not saving any money for retirement.

“There is 20% to 30% of the population whose standard of living will actually go up once they retire,” says Mr. Milevsky, adding Statistics Canada data supports the notion that if you are earning median wage or lower and you retire, the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security might provide a better standard of living than you had before.

Those people find themselves retired but without the expenses that involve going to work and the costs of a mortgage and kids. “Relative to what you experienced at 55, 65 is better,” Mr. Milevsky says.

But if you want more? You can always keeping working, as least as long as you’re able. It’s at that point when no financial plan might have the biggest impact on your life. “What do you want the last 18 months of your life to look like? Are you willing to live in a nursing home provided by the province or do you want something better,” Mr. Milevsky asks.

Is that something you want to clown around about or are these clowns having the last laugh because they live for today?

Garry Marr, Financial Post · Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010

Pam Martin, Invis, Mortgage Broker, Best Mortgage Rates, Kelowna,Vernon, Penticton, Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada