Tax breaks key to Canadian retirement plans: Survey

“People start saying, ‘Hold on a minute, I don’t even have a pension plan’,” she says. “And the people who do have a few dollars saved have watched it disappear.”

There likely will be some collective amnesia once the economy recovers and people go back to their old ways, Eng says, but she believes there will be some lasting changes in attitude, too, led by the massive generation of baby boomers on the edge of retirement.

“When they are faced with that reality, there are some who are going to say, ‘Government, save us!’ but most will say, ‘Let me see what I have to do to deal with this going forward’, ” she says.

Doug Mitchell, 61, took charge of his own retirement savings in 1991 when he left an oil company to start his own consulting business, withdrew his pension funds in a lump sum and put it in a Locked-In Retirement Account (LIRA). He’s deeply frustrated that his money is now subject to restrictions to which a typical pension isn’t, because he retired before turning 65, but he and his wife managed to make their “dream of Freedom 55” a reality a few years ago.

The Toronto-area couple has travelled through Europe, wintered in Florida and has visited a grandson in Calgary, but Mitchell says the downturn has still squeezed their well-laid-out financial plans.

“You go to school for 20 or 25 years to get an education to work hard and earn money and save money,” he says. “You work hard for 30 or 35 years, and I want to spend the next 30 years spending it.”

©Canwest News Service 2009