Extreme Saving: Setting a retirement goal of age 35
Derek Knight is living mortgage-free and saves more than 70% of his income w ith the goal of retiring in the next few years. Derek and w ith his w ife Mandy play Glenn Lowson photo for National Postw ith their children Madelyn, 4, Ethan, 3, and Evelyn, 1, in the living-roomof their Port Dover home.
When Derek Knight was 15, his mother drove him and his sister to Callahan’s Beach House Restaurant in Port Dover, Ont., and told them to ask for jobs.
They are not hiring, the kids reported back.
“Go back in there and start clearing tables. They’re either going to call the police or they’re going to hire you,” she said. She dropped them off at the waterfront eatery every day for a week where they worked for free until the restaurant finally hired them.
His mother valued hard work. Mr. Knight’s father refused to work. She divorced him and remarried a workaholic, a man who worked full time as a crane operator and then toiled for hours on their farm, a man who feared debt and paid for his house in cash.
Mr. Knight’s childhood experiences shaped his ideas about money. Today, the 31-year-old father of three saves more than 70% of his net income with the goal of retiring in a few years.
“There’s a lot of work involved in making a dollar so you should try to hold on to them and stretch them as far as they can go,” he says. “I’m saving for financial freedom. Since I was a little kid, I’ve always been frustrated by the idea of working until you’re 65 and enjoying the last couple of years of your life when you’re no longer physically capable of enjoying it.”
Experts say that if you are in your 40s, you’ll have to put away 15% to 20% of your income for retirement. If you start in your early 20s, you only have to put aside 3% to 5%. In 1982, Canadians saved almost 19% of their disposable income, according to Statistics Canada. In 2005, Canadians put away a mere 1.6%. Numbers have climbed up slightly, for a rate of about 4% last year.
Extreme savers like Mr. Knight are clearly not the norm. Comforted by ballooning home prices and low interest rates, Canadians have embraced a culture of spending and borrowing. But with experts warning us of a rude awakening if we don’t increase our savings, can we become more like Mr. Knight? Do we even want to?
Canadians plan to save an average of $9,859 in 2013, almost $600 more than they planned last year, according to the BMO Household Savings Report.
Quebecers expect to save the least ($5,477) and Albertans are putting away the most ($18,000). Women plan to save less than men ($8,091 versus $11,631).
Only half of respondents say they’re saving enough, blaming high expenses (71%), low income (65%) and debt repayment (52%) as barriers.
Mr. Knight wants to have $741,000 saved and invested in dividend-paying stocks and bonds. With say a 4% return, this allows him to live off of the income — almost $30,000 a year — which is in line with his family’s expenses.
He’s about 40% to his savings goal. “Based on the fact that we save about $80,000 net per year for our household, [retirement is] about five to six years away.”
What happens if he doesn’t get 4% after inflation? He will go back to work.
To retire comfortably at 35 with an after-tax retirement income of $50,000, Caroline Dabu, head of retirement and financial planning strategy at BMO Financial Group, suggests that someone would need $2.25-million in investments. This will last them until the age of 90. (She assumes an average tax rate of 40%, a rate of return of 5% and an inflation rate of 3%.)
So the earlier you start saving, the better.
As a kid, Mr. Knight saved everything. He had a pumpkin-shaped plastic pail brimming with bills. But in high school, he unwittingly spent his savings on lunch. “That was a slap in the face because it was unconscious. Years of hard work were gone in months — it was $2,300 that I blew on French fries and burgers.”
His mother kicked him out of the house at 18. Eight years later, he had paid off the mortgage on his $103,000 condo.
“When I first started my apprenticeship [as a plumber], I made $11 an hour. I was making $400 take-home a week with a mortgage,” Mr. Knight says.
If he had money left over at the end of the week after paying his bills, he took it to mean that he was not putting enough into savings, so he would top them up. He used to write down everything that he bought.
He married a penny-pincher who spent her early twenties backpacking around the world. His wife, Mandy, can buy $100 worth of groceries with $20. They keep a stockpile of non-perishable items that they bought on sale, so their basement looks like they’re prepared for an apocalypse. They have a 3,000-square foot red brick, split-level home with a two-car garage and a big screen TV but no cable. Mr. Knight borrows free movies from the library.
They have top-end $250 car seats but the kids only wear second-hand clothing.
This past January, the couple vacationed in Las Vegas but they didn’t gamble and bought groceries from Wal-Mart instead of eating out.
“Most days I see the benefit of a dream, a goal and the drive,” says Ms. Knight who is a high school teacher. “But you can go way overboard, you can be washing out zip-lock bags and working 19 hours a day … We’re not interested in being free at 33 if it means feeding our children Kraft dinner.”
She does admit that sometimes she sulks (with a bag of Halloween candy that she bought on Nov. 1 for 25 cents) and thinks of how her life would be better if she spent more.
I don’t think you should have to suffer. But ask yourself if you want steak or if you want ground beef so you can afford to go to a basketball game
“We have incredibly exciting life goals and incredible goals usually involve taking an unconventional path,” she says. “Lots of people are searching for happiness and fulfillment; in my experience you can’t find it in a store. Reminding myself of that usually helps.”
Mr. Knight doesn’t feel like he is missing out on anything in life. He now makes about $100,000 gross a year working as a maintenance planner at an oil refinery and he often works overtime.
“I don’t think you should have to suffer. But ask yourself if you want steak or if you want ground beef so you can afford to go to a basketball game.”
Gail Vaz-Oxlade, TV host and author of Money Rules, says she would advocate for people to be balanced.
“For those people who have decided this is what it takes, I applaud anyone who has the gumption to do the hard stuff. That being said, I’m not going to rinse my tooth floss and dry it on the doorknob. There are people who train their cats to use the potty so they don’t have to buy litter,” she says.
“Everybody needs to walk their own path. The only time I get angry is when people are being stupid about long-term consequences… I’m a proponent of saving, even a very small amount when you’re paying off debt.”
Mr. Knight doesn’t want to work and scrimp forever. His biological father lived without working until he recently died.
“I think he had the right idea. He didn’t want to work but I think he went around it the wrong way. He was okay with everyone else paying for him to have the dream. My dream involves my wife being retired also. It involves my kids having the schooling and housing that they need.”