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Why we don't need to save as much for retirement as we've been told: expert

When it comes to saving for retirement, don't panic. That's the message in a new book by author Fred Vettese. Vettese says when it comes to saving for retirement we don't need to save as much as we're often told because we spend much less as we get older.

Fred Vettese: The Essential Retirement Guide: A Contrarian's Perspective

Frederick Vettese says when it comes to saving for retirement we don't need to save as much as we're often told becaue people spend much less money as they get older. 6:20

When it comes to saving for retirement, don't panic. That's the message in a new book by author Fred Vettese. It's different than a lot of the advice people are given about how much money we'll need to save to get through old age.

Vettese says when it comes to saving for retirement we don't need to save as much as we're often told because we spend much less as we get older.

His book is "The Essential Retirement Guide: A Contrarian's Perspective." 

Read an edited and abridged transcript of the interview below, or listen to the full interview by clicking or tapping the image at the top of this page. 

Fred Vettese: The Essential Retirement Guide: A Contrarian's Perspective

Q. Your book opens with the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. Why does this story teach us about retirement planning?

There is the obvious analogy towards savings. The ants are the savers. Our country, I think, is dominated by ants. The message in the media comes, almost exclusively, from the ants: Save more. Save until it hurts. You're probably not saving enough and you're headed for a bad retirement. Some of this is true but we have gone way overboard. It's important to save something but we shouldn't be going overboard.

Recent savers show they have saved more than they needed to, to maintain their lifestyle after retirement. The national savings rate is calculated improperly. If you fix the calculation you find we are saving a lot more money now, on average, than we were 30 years ago.

Q. You say people don't need to save as much for their retirement as we've been led to believe. How did you come to that conclusion?

Some people have to save more, maybe 15 per cent of middle income Canadians, But a lot of people are saving too much — 70 per cent is a common target but it doesn't take much analysis to see that 70 per cent can't be the right number for most of us. During the years when we are raising kids and paying a mortgage we tend to live with 35 to 40 per cent of our gross income left for personal consumption, maybe not even that. So, if we live most of our lives with about 35 to 40 per cent, why do we need 70 per cent at retirement?

I've done the calculations all sorts of different ways and I've found that 50 per cent is a much more realistic target. That takes a lot of pressure of your savings.

Q. People are living much longer than previous generations. How does that factor into how people should be saving?

It's something we have to take into account. Our life expectancy has grown a lot and we actuaries, being the gloomy people we are, tend to take this as bad news. In the book I talk about how 74 is the new 60, meaning that mortality rates for a 74-year-old now are about the same as they were in the '50s for a 60-year-old.

In general, we are meeting the challenge of growing old and saving for retirement. The national average retirement age bottomed out in 1998-2000 and has been rising ever since and will keep rising. We have a lot more retirement years than we contemplated and if we have to give up a couple of those years it's no big deal. 

Q: How much longer are people working now to help pay for retirement?

First of all the average retirement age has already climbed about two years in the last 15. Some say it will climb to age 65 but what do we mean by retirement? If someone is working 25 per cent of their time at a hardware store but is retired from his or her job as an engineer, is that retirement? The whole concept will become more murky.

You're going to find that people in their 60s don't mind having an attachment to their workplace but don't want to have to deal with the grind of a full day's work like they used to have.

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