Patricia Lovett-Reid

I have some great news: Canadians are living their retirement dreams. The preparation and the planning are paying off.

According to the new TD North American Report on Retirement, close to 70 per cent of Canadian retirees say their retirement experience has been exactly or mostly what they were expecting. Compare that to the experience of our neighbours south of the border: Less than half of American retirees say their retirement is what they were expecting. A whopping one in four Americans say they are not living their retirement dream at all! Overall, American retirees are more concerned about their finances than we are.

The state of one's retirement depends largely on where you live. The question is, why?

The recession is one reason. It had a more significant impact on American retirees than it did on Canadians. That's led to a heightened level of anxiety regarding personal finances south of the border.

So, why did the recession affect each group differently? In my opinion, it comes down to small but significant cultural differences. Canadians have a reputation for being more conservative with their money. This approach is sometimes used to negatively stereotype Canadians as staid, or boring. But when it comes to banking and finances, boring can be beautiful.

Another reason may come down to differences in our health care systems. The top advice given by American retirees to younger generations is to take better care of their health. Then, retirees advise talking to your spouse to ensure you have the same retirement vision. And, finally, retirees advise others to max out their 401Ks (these tax-deferred savings plans are in some aspects similar to Canada's RSPs).

Among Canadian retirees, the order of advice is reversed. First, they advise maxing out an RRSP and taking care of your health ranks third. But Canadians can learn a lesson from our neighbours to the south — living a good retirement requires a balanced alignment of health, lifestyle and finances.

The statistics show that one in four American retirees are worried they will run out of money. Twenty-eight per cent say they might need to find a job to supplement their retirement income. Fewer Canadians face these possibilities: Thirty per cent say they were not impacted by the recession and only 12 percent worry they might run out of money.

I'm sure many retirees would like to turn back the hands of time to tweak their retirement plans. Thanks to time and compounding, small changes can produce surprisingly different outcomes. It's helpful to talk to retirees about the lessons they've learned and the mistakes they've made.

Thirty-eight per cent of Americans say they definitely did not save enough money (vs. 21 per cent of Canadians). While 21 per cent of Americans worry they did not start saving early enough, only 10 per cent of Canadians feel the same way. That being said, a significant number of retirees on both sides of the border did not start saving until they were over 40.

The two smartest things retirees say they did in planning for their retirement were working for a company with a matching retirement savings plan or pension plan and living within their means.

That last point is important, because it will give you a better indication of what it's like to live on a fixed income. Essentially, it's living on a budget. Knowing what that budget will be makes planning a little bit easier.

* Check out our retirement guide

I think what this portrait of North American retirement shows us is that retirement is more than a simple set of financial planning rules. To me, it's a series of choices that you make with the people you'll spend retirement with, and the professionals who can help you reach that dream. My mother always told me to listen to my elders ... it was good advice then, and it's good advice now.