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The magic number for retirement savings is $756,000, according to poll of Canadians

Jonathan Chevreau: While that is the average amount individual Canadians believe they’ll need to amass, up to 90 per cent don’t have a formal plan on how to get there

Three quarters of a million dollars is the magic number Canadians think they will need to save for retirement, according to a CIBC survey being released today.

Well, $756,000 to be precise.

But while that is the average amount individual Canadians believe they’ll need to amass, up to 90 per cent don’t have a formal plan on how to get there. A majority (53 per cent) aren’t sure whether they’re saving enough, but 37 per cent haven’t even thought about retirement, or if they have say they just can’t save.

And it’s worse for women: only 22 per cent have a formal retirement plan or even a good idea of how much income they’ll need, versus 32 per cent of men. Even on the cusp of retirement, by age 55, 43 per cent of women and 27 per cent of men lack a plan.

”I’d love to think they’re thinking about it but that’s the opportunity the poll suggests: Canadians should invest time in this,” said Jennifer Hubbard, Managing Director of CIBC Planning and Advice.

Perhaps it’s skewed by youth, but I was amazed that almost one in five Canadians (17%) “haven’t thought about retirement.”

The data is all individual, not addressed to couples but it’s well nigh impossible to plan for something you haven’t even begun to think about it. As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail.

Unfortunately, few individuals are close to accumulating even a significant fraction of that $756,000. On average, Canadians have saved $184,000, a figure that’s higher than I might have expected, given the abysmal retirement savings levels south of the border. (According to the Economic Policy Institute, almost half of U.S. families have no savings at all, the median amount is US$5,000 and the median for U.S. families with savings is just US$60,000.)

Many Canadians count on the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and (for those with no other resources) the Guaranteed Income Supplement. Some will depend almost entirely on Ottawa because 30 per cent of the 1,523 adults CIBC polled online (randomly) in mid-January have saved nothing at all, while another 19 per cent have under $50,000. The ongoing decline of employer-sponsored Defined Benefit pensions makes CPP and OAS a lifeline, so it’s fortunate that younger people will benefit from a CPP that’s being gradually expanded.

With life expectancies rising, it strikes me as optimistic that the average age Canadians hope to retire is 63, although Hubbard wasn’t surprised by that figure.

Perhaps because they have a longer time horizon, younger investors expect they’ll need to amass more than those already within hailing distance of retirement. Millennials aged 18 to 34 believe they’ll need $917,000, versus $842,000 for Generation X members aged 35 to 54. And Baby Boomers aged 55 or older told CIBC they will need just $518,000.

“The real message buried in these statistics is that people need to get more engaged in planning what they want their future to look like”

Doug Dahmer

Even among those on the cusp of retirement (including older Gen Xers aged 45 to 54 and Boomers up to age 64) 32 per cent have saved nothing. Drilling down on those who have saved, the average is just $345,000, while 49 per cent have saved under $250,000.

The traditional recommendation for those in this situation is to work longer, save more and to scale down lifestyle expectations. But as Hubbard observes, “It’s less about how much you’ve saved, but how your savings line up — or don’t line up — with your lifestyle goals that really matters.”

Depending on who you talk to, how much you need to retire ranges from nothing at all to well over $2 million. At the bottom end of the scale, one expert who didn’t wish to be named said a senior couple can live a no-frills basic lifestyle solely on $38,000 a year from CPP and OAS. Higher-income individuals with DB pensions may need to “replace” just 50 per cent of their work incomes once they retire, provided they’re mortgage free, have launched the children and no longer have to save for retirement itself.

Certified financial planner and Boomer & Echo blogger Marie Engen agrees low-income seniors who seek only a basic level of retirement income don’t have to save; however, she estimates a middle-class retirement ($42,000 to $72,000 annual joint income) will require a nest egg between $250,000 and $1 million, which is where most of the CIBC subjects polled seem to be.

Just because you make it through the money-related obstacles doesn’t mean you won’t have problems in retirement.

It’s the “deluxe” retirement aiming for $100,000 of joint annual income that requires the big bucks; in the absence of DB pensions, Engen estimates a couple needs $2.2 million to generate such a high-end lifestyle. While 6 per cent told CIBC they’d need $2 million, only 1 per cent have saved that much. And while 14 per cent think they’ll need between $1 million and $2 million, only 2 per cent have saved that much. (26 per cent don’t know.)

Doug Dahmer, founder of Burlington-based Retirement Navigator and, puts the $756,000 figure into perspective.

“Assessing if this is enough money is the equivalent of answering the question ‘Am I going to be OK?’ without defining what OK looks like. The real message buried in these statistics is that people need to get more engaged in planning what they want their future to look like.”

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