Columnists

Pat Kerwin
What are you doing after work? Preparing for the realities of retirement

| October 8, 2012
What are you doing after work? Preparing for the realities of retirement

The real meaning of retirement had come to him the first day. When it didn't matter what time he got up he could stay in bed all day. He didn't of course. Those first days all his interests seemed petty, not worth doing. It seemed to him that he had read all the books he wanted to read, heard all the music he wanted to hear. He thought of closing his eyes and turning his face to the wall. That was on the first days and he put on a show of enjoying having nothing to do for Dora's sake. He even said that he was relishing this slack and idle time. She saw through that; she knew him too well.   

- Ruth Rendell, The Vault

Millions of Canadians in the next decade are going to face the challenges and opportunities of retirement. What was once tomorrow's possibility will become today's reality. Too few people think about those realities before they retire.

Much of what passes for pre-retirement "planning" is an information session on pensions often accompanied by an offer to sell you some financial product.

The Congress of Union Retirees (CURC) believes people should look at the realities of retirement well before they retire. We developed a two-day pre-retirement course that covers the key topics. It is not the final word on retirement but rather an overview to enable a person to begin an exploration. The CURC course is presented by people who have retired and can talk about life on the other side of work from personal experiences.

The course provides the basics on government and workplace pension plans. We do provide people with a checklist of what to look for in a financial planner and advise participants about the potential pitfalls of the heavily advertised "solution" of reverse mortgages.

Our course is not based on lectures by experts on the key facts of retirement but on adult learning through discussion by participants. They discuss their retirement dreams in the context of their expected incomes and expenditures. If the participant has a partner or spouse, we encourage both to attend.

Retirement is much more than setting a budget.

Health is the biggest single concern for retirees. The good news is that if you make it to 65, on average, men will then make it to 83 and women 86. The sobering note is that on average, Canadians will spend 10 years with a significant disability (i.e. persons who report difficulties with daily living activities, or who indicate that a physical or mental condition or a health problem reduced the kind or amount of activities that they can do).

In our course, we also review the essentials around diet and exercise. Few people realize that keeping up and developing friendships is as important to good health as exercising. And one of the ways to do that is by being active in a retirees' organization such as CURC.

As retirees, we are continuously being reminded that we should take nothing for granted. You can plan 10 years ahead based on what you assume will be your income, coverage of drug costs and access to home care if it is needed, but then the unexpected can happen. Stephen Harper flies to Davos, Switzerland, where he informs bankers that the age to receive Old Age Security will be 67 years in the future. Others, like Nortel workers, wake up to learn that their employer is declaring bankruptcy and as a result their pensions will be cut significantly. Other employers are cutting benefits to retirees. Or you move to another province to be nearer to your grandchildren only to discover that the drug you take is not covered by that province's drug plan for seniors. Your spouse could develop serious health problems but if the province does not provide sufficient services to meet your spouse's needs, you are left filling the gap as best you can.

CURC takes on those issues. In the course, we review current campaigns such as the one to expand CPP\QPP. CURC is also a strong advocate for a national pharmacare program that would provide better prices for drugs for everyone and at the same time save governments billions of dollars.

CURC is launching its first pre-retirement courses this fall in Ontario and the Prairies. We will be training retirees over the fall and winter to deliver the course in the Maritimes and British Columbia. More information on the courses can be found by contacting CURC through its website.

In the novel The Vault, Chief Inspector Reg Wexford is only a fictional creation, but his experiences in retirement are all too real. He found his "solution" in the book by assisting on a volunteer basis to solve an old case for which new evidence had just come to light. Everyone should take the time to investigate their retirement options well before the actual day arrives.

Retiree Matters is a monthly column written by members of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC) that explores issues relevant to retirees, senior citizens, their families and their communities. CURC acts as an advocacy organization to ensure that the concerns of union retirees and senior citizens are heard throughout Canada.