According to the 2013 Sun Life Unretirement Index,1 Canadians are growing increasingly comfortable with the idea that retirement may just have to wait a bit.

This report, which surveyed over 3,000 Canadians, validated and confirmed a trend observed in previous versions: Canadians expect to keep working longer before experiencing the joys of retirement. They currently expect to work until age 67. Of those expecting to work beyond the traditional retirement age, 63% expect to be doing so because they have to, while only 37% expect to keep on working by choice.

While circumstantial issues such as the 2009 financial crisis may still be a factor, Canadians’ retirement expectations seem nonetheless to be undergoing a profound shift. Consider for instance the percentage of respondents who expect to be working full time after age 65. In 2008 and 2009, it was 16%. In the wake of the crisis, it hit 20%. In 2012, it jumped to 26%! And while people remain very concerned about whether their savings will be enough to get them through, other factors may also be in play. It’s likely, for example, that with the government’s move last winter to raise the Old Age Security eligibility age, people may think that Canada, like many other countries, is on its way to raising the official retirement age.

In the detailed survey results, one thing really seems to stand out. Perceptions of retirement are certainly changing, but the fact is that we’re relying disproportionally on those perceptions to formulate our own retirement expectations. And nowhere is this more evident than in Quebec.

It looks like we need to take a hard look at our own retirement planning: Is it based on hard numbers or are we just flying by the seat of our pants?

If you’re looking for concrete evidence of retirement planning, you won’t find it in Quebec. Quebec respondents (n=505) are the least likely to be making regular payments into a registered retirement savings account (16% vs. 22% for Canada as a whole) or to have discussed their situation with a financial advisor or planner (24% vs. 29%). They’re also the least likely to have gotten started on retirement planning (34% vs. 43%) or even to have talked it over with their spouses (20% vs. 30%).

Overall, only one in two Quebec respondents (49%) believes that he or she has the necessary knowledge to plan for retirement. That’s pretty far behind Alberta (58%) or Manitoba and Saskatchewan (59%).

But for all that, Quebecers feel pretty good about their personal finances. When asked about their personal savings or debt levels, they’re the most likely to opt for “good” or “excellent” (24% vs. 18% for Canada overall regarding personal savings and 41% vs. 35% regarding indebtedness). Quebecers are definitely a happier lot too (65% choosing the “good” or “excellent” level compared with 58% in Canada as a whole).

Still not the most reassuring statistics, are they?

Quebecers’ relatively sunny view of their financial status may in fact have something to do with their very optimistic—perhaps too optimistic?—idea of the savings they’ll need to produce sufficient retirement income. Quebecers expect to live on $45,000 a year in retirement, practically identical to the expectations in other provinces. To get there, however, they set a savings target 27% lower than the Canadian average ($281,536 vs. $385,687).

If there’s one thing to take away from the detailed results of Sun Life Financial’s Unretirement Index Report, it’s that Quebec respondents seem a bit more carefree about retirement preparation than everybody else. This nonchalant attitude regarding savings seems to be linked to a lack of planning for the future. Asked what he or she would be doing at age 66, one in five respondents checked “don’t know.” And to the question about whether they saw themselves at risk of outliving their savings, the most common answer was once again “don’t know”—at 42%!

This is probably the most troubling aspect of the results. Understanding our real long-term financial needs is the fundamental prerequisite to any concrete action. It’s genuinely risky to base your retirement preparations on nothing more than your own perceptions and impressions. It can’t be said often enough: careful financial planning is a much better and safer way to go.

1 Ipsos-Reid survey conducted between November 29 and December 6, 2012 for Sun Life Financial

Original content : Indice de report de la retraite : Passer des perceptions à la planification, by Sylvain Bouffard for

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