I froze.

“Do you mind repeating the question,” I asked the external examiner.

“Is there a way that financial institutions can make retirement saving sexy, especially for the younger generation? How do we get young people to invest in retirement savings vehicles?

My heart started to beat fast, and I got this sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had no idea how to respond to the question, and I feared that I was going to fail my master’s thesis defense.

I did pass, but I didn’t answer the question all that well. And I still think about the question 13 years later.

Can we make retirement saving sexy?

Seeing how a person’s retirement fund is going to influence one’s lifestyle, ability to travel, access to health care, the opportunity to start a new business, or even leave children an inheritance, it would be in our best interest to sock away some hard-earned cash for a financially secure future.

And yet despite these very compelling reasons, retirement saving rates are abysmal.

We humans favour immediate gratification over long term rewards. We want to dine out, buy new things, take lavish vacations, wear the latest fashion trends NOW.

Besides thinking of our future financial well-being is complicated. Retirement planning necessitates extensive knowledge of private pension regulations and government pension plans.

It can also be a rather depressing exercise. Trying to predict at what age I may need long-term care and when I am going to die is not my idea of a fun filled afternoon.

Furthermore, there are minimal costs associated with delaying such a laborious chore.

The problem occurs once a person nears retirement and realizes that building a nest egg requires years for investments to appreciate.

I have seen firsthand from my research and from the experiences of family members and friends what a lack of funds can do to health, happiness, and peace of mind.

Financial anxiety is one of the most stressful life experiences.

So here are 3 retirement savings hacks that are sure to make saving a little easier.

Saving hack #1: Mirror Mirror on the wall, what will I look like at 65?


This tip is based on some really cool research conducted by Hal Hershfield and his colleagues. Researchers took pictures of participants and ran them through software that aged them. They then asked them to allocate $1,000 to one of four options:

1. Buying something nice for a close other

2. Investing in a retirement fund

3. Planning a fun happening

4. Allocating money to a checking account

People exposed to their older selves put more money into a retirement fund in comparison to those whose pictures were of their current day selves.

Watch the 2-minute video of how it was done.

Saving Hack #2: Automate your retirement savings

Remove the temptation to spend all you earn by having electronic payments set up to directly take money out of your account and deposited into a savings vehicle of your choice.

I cannot advise you about different savings plans, stocks or mutual funds as I am not qualified to do so. But, I can advise you on how to outsmart your brain and change your behaviour.

If you are a current or former student, then you have heard me speak about how our brains were designed to maximize pleasure, and avoid pain.

In this context, the brain sees delaying gratification as painful. Outsmart it by avoiding temptation. Electronic withdrawals solve this issue.

Just start with something. It doesn’t have to be any huge sum. Getting into the practice of saving will help you form a positive saving habit. At the end of the year when you see how much you saved you will be motivated to continue with the practice and increase it when you can.

Success builds on success, and we like to see growth.

That’s why piggy banks work with kids. They literally see their money grow.

Saving hack #3: Create a money play account

Every time you set aside money for your future, you ALSO set aside some PLAY MONEY. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, but it must be placed into the PLAY account at the same time as you make a deposit into your future retirement account.

At the end of the month you need to SPEND all of your play money on something for you. It can be a weekend getaway, a lavish dinner or an expensive bottle of wine that you would have never dreamed of indulging in!


When you get to play and spend some money in the present, you won’t feel resentful of having to save for your future.

Now back to our original question, can we make retirement saving sexy?

Independence, autonomy, being the master of one’s fate, that is indeed sexy.

And if that my friends is not compelling enough to get you to save for your future selves – a photograph of what you will look like in 30 years’ time may just do the trick!

To your retirement success!

Dr. Gill

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