Are You Happy?

Joyce Wayne’s outlook on Canadian spending habits and a happy retirement.

No matter how fleeting the feeling of happiness, most of us strive to be happy throughout our lives.  The good news is that the greatest number of people reported their highest level of happiness in the late 60s or older, in a poll reported by the website

Research shows “that people report the highest level of happiness after the age of 55 in three key areas: their financial situation, their physical appearance, and their overall well-being.”

In the same three key areas, people reported their lowest levels of happiness between the ages of 45 and 59 or during middle age.  The dip in reported happiness could be due to anxiety about a looming retirement, paying for kids’ university education or taking care of aging parents.

These statistics prove that it takes time to get retirement right, but if we think seniors have it unquestionably easy these days, a recent survey sponsored by HomeEquity Bank regarding older adults’ holiday spending list, points in another more complicated direction.

Although seniors report to be happier than their middle-aged brothers and sisters, we’re still worried about finances and apparently, we’re becoming more anxious as our Millennial children face hard times getting or keeping a steady job commensurate with their education. The high cost of breaking into the housing market is an added worry for parents of Millennials.

The HomeEquity survey, which posed questions about spending habits, home ownership and various supports to children and grandchildren, was conducted at the 2017 Toronto Zoomer Show in Toronto.  The results are surprising.

More than a third of those surveyed (35 per cent) would take a holiday if they could access the cash to do so. I totally understand. My husband and I sold some recreational property in order to take our honeymoon. It was the only way.  At the Zoomer Show, 12 per cent reported they would pay off debt if they could. No doubt.  I worry about paying down my mortgage each and every day, no matter how many friends and advisors tell me not to. But monthly payments take a big bite out of our cash flow.  Another ten per cent would help their children or grandchildren.

The most surprising result is that 21 per cent surveyed have provided one-time financial support, such as down payments, weddings or education, to their children or grandchildren. Another 14 per cent have children or grandchildren living with them and 5 per cent provide help with childcare.

“Canadian seniors are the financial foundation for their families,” says Yvonne Ziomecki, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Sales at HomeEquity Bank. “While the data clearly shows that seniors would love to spend their money on travel or home improvements, many have children and grandchildren who still rely on them for financial support.

Whether it’s helping with education or getting into the housing market, Canadian seniors will likely spend their money on children and grandchildren this holiday season,” remarks Ziomecki.

This timely holiday spending survey doesn’t negate the fact that seniors are happier than ever before, but it does point to a new and disturbing trend among middle class Canadians —and one which is more dire for what’s left of middle-class America where only 30% per cent self-identify as middle class. Thirty years ago that figure was 70 per cent.

During a recent episode of TVO’s Agenda, Ekos Research President Frank Graves stated: “Today many see their children doing worse than they did, or they themselves doing worse than their fathers. Since the end of World II, most people believed they would do better than their parents. Now those numbers have flipped.”

According to Statistics Canada’s latest census data, it takes $70,336 to hit the median household income required to join the middle class in this country. That is the middle point on the national income ladder although across Canada, a middle-class income can fall anywhere between $33,000 and $130,000 depending on where you live.

A recent Global News report demonstrated how those under 45 are feeling the real squeeze. They are making thousands of dollars less for full time work than today’s seniors did.  At the same time, it takes a young person five more years than their parents to save enough for a down payment on a house, and that’s before the percentage spike in down payment regulations, kicking in at the beginning of 2018.

It’s no wonder that our holiday spending lists are changing radically and that our kids need our help more than ever.

When I consider my daughter, freshly graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree, a great gig featured in two Shakespearian plays this summer under her belt, I feel happy and proud. Right now, she and her boyfriend, are working as servers in good restaurants where the tipping habits of the guests are generous. They’re loving their life in downtown Toronto; they don’t consider a car a necessity and they’re not even talking about buying a house…yet.

What this tells me is that our kids are trimming their expectations to meet tough times where full-time work with benefits and a pension is disappearing. Although house prices have declined in the GTA, the average price of home in November was $761,757 and Royal LePage is predicting that Canadian house prices will rise by 4.9 per cent in 2018.  The Globe and Mail reported that Royal LePage chief executive officer Phil Soper expects slower markets in the first half of 2018 as buyers adjust to the new rules, but he said natural supply and demand forces will ultimately triumph over “regulatory tinkering.”

My Christmas/Chanukah gift list hasn’t changed for 2017, but I’m expecting an adjustment during the holidays to come. The new reality makes me more cautious with my spending habits and more certain that I must keep working part time to keep this family’s ship off the rocks. Another solution is to take a reverse mortgage and tap into the equity in my home.

A reverse mortgage is a means to provide your children with an early inheritance and make a serious difference in their lives now, rather than watching them struggle financially. I wouldn’t need to repay that debt until I move, sell or pass on and it might just be an imaginative way for all of us to stay happy.

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