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Retirement advice from your 30-year-old self

We asked two financial advisors: ‘What retirement financial tip do you wish you’d given yourself when you were 30?’

By: TERRY CAIN

Date: December 3,2014

It was 1960s activist Jerry Rubin who coined the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” But when it comes to financial advice, older likely means wiser.

We asked two of Canada’s top financial advisors to do a bit of mental time travel and to consider this question: “What retirement financial tip do you wish you’d given yourself when you were 30?”

Their answers are a revealing look at some of the most important fundamentals of financial planning.

Diane McCurdy, the Vancouver-based author and financial planner has no less than five recommendations – and they apply to life in general as much as retirement planning. Her first is: Be a better listener.

“My mother said, ‘You learn from your mistakes,’ and that is true, but you can also learn from others’ mistakes,” says Ms. McCurdy, president of McCurdy Financial Planning Inc. In other words, her message to her 30-year-old self is to listen to and benefit from the experiences of others.

Ms. McCurdy’s second tip is: Do what you’re best at.

“Find your passion, make it your life’s work, and seek help in other areas,” she says. That means not only relying on doctors and lawyers for medical and legal expertise, but also other areas, such as buying a home and financial planning.

Recommendation number three is: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Ms. McCurdy is a big believer in having a financial process with personalized written goals for each year. She adds that the goals should be reviewed once a year or more often if changes are happening in your life, for example getting married, having children, buying a home, etc.

Her fourth piece of advice for her younger self is: Always take money off the top.

Some people refer to this as “paying yourself first.” Specifically, it means automatically taking a percentage of gross income and putting it into savings/investment accounts.

“There will always be something to spend money on, but if you take it off the top, you will always have it, and then you will always be able to maintain your lifestyle in retirement.”

And Ms. McCurdy’s final tip is: Take risks in things you know and understand. For example, if you are in the technology industry, and feel confident investing aggressively in that sector, go ahead and do it – but never with more than 5 per cent of your investment funds.

When you’re 30, retirement seems like a very long way away – and saving can be the last thing you want to do with your income. But your future self has a message – get started early and life will be a whole lot easier down the road.

David Baskin is the president of Baskin Wealth Management of Toronto. He says the most important element of planning is taking personal responsibility for your future.

“The Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security will keep you from starving to death but will not provide a pleasant lifestyle for most Canadians. The power of compounding [interest] in growing savings makes early contributions to tax-free savings accounts (TFSA) and retirement savings plans (RSP) amazingly effective when done young. Forty years of compounding at 7.5 per cent per year turn $1 into $16 over that time period. And that is a very achievable rate of return.”

Mr. Baskin also points out that putting money aside for the future shouldn’t be daunting. “Anyone can save,” he points out. “For the price of one latte a day, a young person can put $2,000 a year into a TFSA. Saving is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to get started and grind it out.”

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