As small children, we imagined the world around us was full of magic. When we were told fantastical stories, we believed them to be true, and they influenced us emotionally for good or ill. At very early ages, we could accept the notion that anything our heart desired would come to us if only we wished upon a star, as Jiminy Cricket sang in the classic animated Walt Disney film Pinocchio. But as we grew we came to understand Jiminy’s claims could not withstand the test of time and experience.
Come puberty and our teenage years, we realized that wishing upon a star – or any other apparently magical object – didn’t bring us A grades at school or help our parents make mortgage or rent payments and put food on the table. We saw that if any supernatural power was at play to improve our lot, it was rooted in the spirit we brought to everyday reality and the work we performed – often hard work. This we understood as a life passage: a coming to awareness about the world as it is, rather than as we wished it to be. It was a time to grow up.
“Many adult Canadians believe that wishful thinking alone will provide some magical means for them to achieve long-term financial security.”
Among us today, though, there are many adult Canadians who seem to have missed this life passage. They have never really grown up. They are by all appearances normal, functioning citizens who believe, like Jiminy Cricket, that wishful thinking alone will provide them some magical means to achieve success. Ample proof of this was provided not so long ago by the Bank of Montreal, which commissioned a national poll showing that on average 34 per cent of Canadians plan to fund their retirement by winning the lottery. In terms of realistic goal setting for smart financial planning and a secure future, this is very bad news.
The troubling nature of the wishful thinking becomes clear when you take a moment to consider Canada’s most popular gambling game, Lotto 6/49. Players have a one-in-14-million-chance of winning the jackpot. The odds of winning big are equivalent to being struck by lightning each and every month over the course of a year. Is this any way to plan for one’s future? Financial planning and financial security based on superstition appears to be endangering the mental health and long-term financial security of millions of us in this country.
Under the circumstances, I believe it’s time all Canadians came to grips with the financial realities and financial planning hurdles that face us in real life. Our economy remains uncertain. Consumer spending and household debt continue to skyrocket, approaching levels at the time of the 2008 crash in the United States. We live at a time when almost a third of Canadians have savings that would tide them over for only one month in the event of a financial emergency such as a job loss.
“We need a nation-wide reality check in order to approach our financial planning, our savings, and our retirement planning like responsible adults.”
This won’t do, and all the wishing upon all the stars in the night sky isn’t going to improve matters anytime soon. We need a nation-wide reality check in order to approach our financial planning, our savings, and our retirement planning like responsible adults. That means bringing rational focus to investment vehicles such as Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs), and other financial tools. It also means getting help to improve our financial literacy skills and our understanding that it is we ourselves – through knowledge, self-discipline, and action – who will determine our financial fate for today and tomorrow.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Canadians should stop playing the lottery. It’s often fun to think, what if? But we must stay rooted in reality.
Just remember, the lottery is a game, not a game plan. Or look at it this way (to revise a famous quote): Be careful what you wish for, you might not get it.