TIMEWISE: Member Profile

Financial wellness for generations

May 30, 2024


For Nicole Lewis, being able to take care of her family when she retires is one of her top goals.


Nicole has worked with Alberta Central for six years and is now the Manager of Communications and Marketing.


The 39-year-old and her husband, Nick, have two daughters – 8-year-old Maggie, and Ellie, who just turned 4.


“We joke that we’re never going to be able to retire, because we have small children,” she says with a laugh. “But definitely for me, I’d like to be able to not just look after myself but also be able to provide support for my children where needed. So, it's just determining how can I help them where I can, where it makes sense, and still look after my own financial picture.”


Whether that means helping her kids pay for post-secondary education or a down payment on a home one day, having the financial security to support her loved ones in retirement is an important savings milestone for Nicole.



Moving back home

The family of four now calls Calgary home. While Nicole had previously lived in Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto, she ended up moving back to Calgary where her parents still live. The Stampede city is also not too far of a drive to visit her husband’s family in BC’s Kootenay region.


“It’s nice that we’re close to family,” she says. “That was kind of the rationale for moving back.”


Nicole has been a member of CSS since she started working for Alberta Central in 2018. Prior to that, she worked for a lottery corporation in Vancouver that offered a public-sector pension, and that’s when she started to become familiar with the concept of saving for retirement.


“It was definitely an appeal of getting this [Alberta Central] job was to have another registered pension plan, because previous to that, in between working different jobs, not a lot of employers offer that,” she says.


Being in her late thirties, Nicole understands that she still has time on her side to allow her retirement savings with both CSS and her credit union grow, but she admits the importance of saving wasn’t always top of mind in her early career.


“So I had, up until my 30s, probably not even really thought about it at all,” she recalls. “And then you start to have children and you start to think ‘okay, what’s the long-term plan?’ So that was kind of when it switched gears for me, and I realized this needs to be seriously thought out.”


Nicole says while saving for retirement has more meaning for her since she had a family, it hasn’t been without its challenges – particularly, the challenge of navigating conflicting advice.


“For example, instead of looking at the long-term view, some people are saying you should just be putting your money in the stock market, and that’s one person’s opinion,” she explains. “And then another person’s opinion is ‘no, all of it should be going into retirement savings.’ So finding that happy medium of what works but also what makes sense can be challenging.”


She adds that she appreciates features of CSS that make saving easier. For instance, the fact that her employer deducts (and matches) her pension contributions automatically each pay period.


“It’s nice to know that there is something automatic happening, because I’m notorious for not being good at saving money,” she says. “It’s like you don’t even have to think about it. It’s nice to know that it’s there. It’s like a safety net.”


"It’s nice to know that there is something automatic happening, because I’m notorious for not being good at saving money."


Nicole Lewis (2)

Taking an active role

Similar to an RRSP, members have the option to decide how their pension contributions are invested between the Plan's four investment funds, each with different levels of risk vs. return. This provides some flexibility so individuals can invest according to their own goals and comfort level with risk.


Nicole’s pension funds are 100% invested in the Balanced Fund. The Balanced Fund is CSS’ default investment fund that is ideal for medium to long-term investors. The fund is broadly diversified with exposure to global equities, fixed income and alternatives.


“I think you do need to take an active role, so even if that just looks like checking the calculators and reading one post, or sending an email to [CSS] to ask some questions,” she explains. “You do need to think about it, and the earlier you think about it, the easier those decisions can be.”


Nicole has also used myCSSPEN to check the details of her pension funds, including the contributions she has made that are also matched by her employer. She also attended an information session that covered how the pension plan works, how to top-up your plan with additional voluntary contributions and what to do when you’re ready to retire.


The myCSSPEN Compass tool also helped Nicole create a customized retirement plan and shine a light on whether she was on track toward reaching her retirement savings goals.


“The nice thing about that tool is that it’s a good starting place for understanding how it all works, and then you can sort of dig into the details a bit further after that,” she says.


Nicole Lewis (4)

Along with the online tools and resources available to her as a CSS member, another simple yet effective approach Nicole uses is having a good old-fashioned budget. If that means foregoing certain purchases to prioritize saving, then that’s something Nicole and her husband will do to stay on track.


Planning for the unexpected when it comes to health is also an important factor.


“Because even if you're the healthiest human being alive, as your life extends, you may have different costs than you expect,” she says.


While Nicole is well on her way toward achieving financial wellness, she also realizes the importance of planning for some fun things in retirement, too.


“We also would like to travel and do some of the stuff that you see in the stereotype of retirement. I think that for my husband and I, that's important too.”


Of course, each CSS member’s situation is a bit different, and your goals and approach to saving may differ from Nicole’s. Along with the various resources available on our website, the CSS advisory team is also here to help point you in the right direction before and during retirement. Please contact us for complimentary advice that fits your own personal vision of financial wellness.

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