A financially secure retirement may be a thing of the past as more and more seniors are carrying debt, which can lead to a diminished quality of life and unnecessary stress. Over half of Canadian seniors surveyed carry at least one form of debt, as reported in a Leger study commissioned by Financial Planning Standards Council and Credit Canada

But take heart. If you’re one of those retirees still carrying credit card, home renovation or other kinds of high-interest debt, it’s not too late to get back in the black.

How does debt in the golden years happen?

“Often it’s as simple as not having a plan, combined with putting today’s priorities ahead of tomorrow’s retirement and difficulty saying no to children and/or grandchildren,” says Jamie Golombek, CFP®, a Toronto-based managing director, tax and estate planning with CIBC and personal finance columnist.

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Jamie offers these tips to ease the pressure and hasten the return to stress-free senior years:

  1. Add it up: When you commit income and expenses to paper, prepare a written budget and look at monthly cash flows, hidden surprises—like the total amount spent on take-out food and interest payments—may come to light. A better understanding of the money available versus the money being spent can help you find simple ways to reduce costs without feeling deprived.

  2. Divide and conquer: Once you have a clear picture of what you’ve been spending your money on, your next step is to take a hard look at which expenses are needs and which are wants. Start by putting the essentials such as housing, food, transportation, clothing and health care in the “needs” column. While you may be able to reduce some of these costs, it is usually easiest to cut back on discretionary expenses, such as entertainment, travel or dining out (aka the “wants”) until debt is eliminated.

  3. Minimize interest: Speak to your bank or creditors to see if debts can be consolidated at one lower interest rate. And, resist making only the minimum payment—a strategy that can lead to decades of debt and interest. Once debt is paid off, you can redirect what you had been spending to pay down debt to an emergency fund or to save for future needs or wants.

  4. Maximize income: Many seniors find that working part-time, consulting, or renting out a room in their home is a useful way to bring in some extra income until debts are paid down. A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional can help you understand the financial benefits and risks of bringing in income post-retirement.

 

Adds Sandra Sherk, an accredited financial counsellor with Credit Canada:

  1. Put the plastic away: Resist the urge to use credit cards for a month or two. Using cash will help curtail unnecessary expenditures because you’ll need to be sure the money is there before you buy.

  2. Review telecom plans: Do you really need tens of gigabytes of data and oodles of long distance on your cell phone plan? Are all of those specialty channels necessary on your television? It’s surprising how much can be saved in a year by making slight adjustments to existing telecommunications packages.

  3. Do the math: Use Credit Canada’s online budget and debt calculators and forms, as well as monthly trackers, to help you work through the numbers.

  4. Find a trusted advisor: If you’re heading into your retirement with debt, a non-profit credit counselor can help you sort out your next steps. A CFP professional can help you build a realistic plan and budget so you can pay off debt and achieve your retirement goals, stress-free.

 

Above all, don’t panic and don’t be embarrassed to seek help, says Sandra. “Budgeting is a life skill we all need to acquire and nurture, and it’s never too late to learn.”


To find a CFP professional in your area to ease your mind and help you get back on track, use our Find Your Planner tool.

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To learn how to master retirement planning, read Navigating the Senior's financial road map and  Keep debt down to ensure a happy retirement.