How a can of cat food scared me into saving for retirement


I’ve been contributing to my Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) for nearly half my life. Seventeen years sure seems like a long time, but looking back I’m glad I started when I did.

What got me thinking about my RRSP in my twenties wasn’t the mathy math showing the need to have millions of dollars saved by age 65. Nope. What shocked me into squeezing my savings and contributing to my RRSP was cat food.

cat food

Yes, I wrote cat food.

Not the dry crunchy stuff that comes in bags. No. I’m talkin’ tins, people. The moist, slimy, stinky, gelatinous lump of stank that slumps from an inverted can with something tasty like “Fancy Feast” written on the label.

Cat food.

The stuff of my nightmares since seeing a senior woman buy 25 cans of the stank stuff, stacked neatly on the grocery conveyor ahead of me. Being a nosy and conversational grocery shopper, I couldn’t help but ask her how many cats she owned. “None,” she replied.

I always thought seniors eating cat food to afford food was a myth. I wanted to be sure. So I kept asking the woman about cats. She threw me a side-eye and said nothing.

I was a stupid 20ish-year-old. Whether she ate the cat food or not didn’t matter. My fear of eating Fancy Feast in retirement was very real.

This is a grim story, so I’m sorry. But this is a true story, and the truth is sometimes grim. Since I don’t like the smell of cat food, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like the taste of cat food either. I started contributing to my RRSP that week.

This post was supposed to be fun, and then it got owned by Fluffy. Don’t get owned by Fluffy, or frisky, or feasts of fancy. Start thinking today about tomorrow and get some money into your retirement plan now.

This post has been brought to you by a can of cat food.

Your Turn: Has anything ever scared you into saving for retirement? It’s reality check time!



  1. Tom Campbell January 22, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Very sad, but true and hopefully will open people’s eyes. I’m trying to teach my daughter, age 10, the lessons of savings (she save 10% and gives 10% to charity). I’ll have to show her this article.

    Thank you for your articles. I’m enjoying them.

  2. Sheryl January 22, 2014 at 10:04 am

    I had a similar motivation. We used to have a security guard at work, he was in his 60’s. He had a heart attack one day, and was back to work 2 weeks later (pretty much as soon as they let him out of the hospital). I asked why he was back at work so soon, his response was that he could not afford not to work. He died 2 months later. I do not want that to be my future

  3. Kerry January 22, 2014 at 10:07 am

    @Sheryl Wow. I’m not big on ‘The Grim’ but that reality is the truth. Hopefully others will share stories too. Reality checks are needed.

  4. Connie January 22, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Do we have to be scared to save for retirement? Can’t it be a rational decision?

  5. Connie January 22, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Besides, cat food is not that cheap.

  6. Kerry January 22, 2014 at 11:40 am

    @Connie I’m all about being rational. A wake-up call is not a bad idea.

  7. Jacqui583 January 22, 2014 at 11:46 am

    The idea of living on ketchup soup does it for me.

  8. Ruth Cooke January 22, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    I haven’t been able to save for retirement–I’ve barely been able to scrape by. But my wake up call to get to work on securing my future came within the past couple of years, as I watch my parents (who had a decent retirement nest egg and proceeded to blow it all on unwise spending decisions) sink deeper and deeper into poverty. Now my father, who has swiftly advancing senile dementia, really needs to be put in a home, but if he’s put into an appropriate care facility, my mother and brother and sister-in-law (who don’t work and are alcoholics) will end up basically homeless.

    Within a year, I’ll be caring for my mother as well as myself. I don’t want that for me or my kids twenty five years from now!

  9. Emily-Pemily January 22, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I applaud all the public schools that have started personal finance/investment sessions for their students. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if kids learned the basics, right about the time that they got their first seasonal/part time jobs and carried that knowledge through to adulthood? Can you imagine the strength of the Canadian economy with all those informed shoppers/investors?

    (Kerry’s blog would make a good regular homework assignment, don’tcha think?)

  10. Heather Lei January 22, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Cat food prices must be different there. Here we are more likely to buy our cats tuna because cat food is so expensive.

  11. malcolm de winter January 22, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    I was very fortunate, my work which was via the UK government insisted on my pain 6% of my income for my retirement. However I started my work late, and when I got to over 60 I realized it wasn’t enough so I bought five extra years which cost in those days 800 pounds a month or in those days over $2000. Apart from marrying my present wife this was the only really sensible thing I’ve ever done in my life. We can now afford to live and not worry too much about the future.

  12. Juan Refrito January 22, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    I think what’s all too often lost in personal finance commentary is the simple message that saving money is a necessary and often overlooked first step to investing and planning for retirement. I have friends who will tell me, a knowing gleam in their eye, about some great stock tip, magical asset allocation, online investment guru, or other strategy for rapidly growing their money. But most don’t even think about the need to save money so that they have cash to invest in the first place. Worse still, I think it’s quite common for folks to borrow money, even advance money from their credit card, so that they can chase that miracle stock tip, etc. I guess what scared me into being an aggressive saver was realizing that way of looking at things is putting the cart before the horse and that if I wanted to take steps towards securing my financial future I needed to worry first and forement about saving what I have, not worrying about get rich quick strategies that most of the time just make matters worse.

  13. Noel D'Souza January 22, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Kerry, fortunately you paid attention to your retirement worries as a young woman and did something about it.

    Unfortunately there are SO many consumer distractions today that tell us to have it all now, “buy now pay later”, YOLO, etc that it’s easy to ignore retirement savings for decades. But once you get started and automate the process, it can be quite easy!

    I hope some young people get inspired by your experiences!

  14. Merlin January 22, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Once you get into the culture of saving, it can be fun!

  15. Aceling January 22, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Great article! Thanks Kerry! I started saving late in life. On a couple of occasions, I worked for companies who had retirement plans and when I left, I collapsed the plans. Bad move! Some 15 years ago, I met with a financial person through the credit union I deal with. When she looked at the amount of insurance, she suggested I close two of the policies. That in turn got my RRSP on a serious start – to the tune of $25,000. I had that much room for RRSP money as I had not been putting any money in. And so, after that, I would maximize my contribution. I also have a small TFSA and look forward to expanding my savings in that category. Folks, it’s never toooooooo late!

  16. Mike Holman January 23, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    I think that at one time, cat food may have been a cheap food option, but now there are so many tasty, cheap (and mostly unhealthy) choices at the grocery store that I can’t imagine anyone buying cat food to eat.

    That’s my theory at least.

  17. Smartalox January 23, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    I would not advise people to eat Cat food to make ends meet. As most have indicated, Cat Food prices are often higher than the other alternatives.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve recently seen seniors in my local grocery store buying BABY FOOD as what I would assume would be an alternative to fresh foods. Often baby food is inexpensive (intended to be affordable for single parents), fortified, and can often be found with generous markdowns because new parents refuse to buy jars with ‘sell by’ dates that are approaching expiry.

  18. Potato January 23, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Well, the anecdote dates from 17 years ago when cat food was much cheaper (I do not know what has fuelled the cat food inflation over the last decade but it’s been nuts).

    For me, I’m aiming for an early retirement (mid-50’s to ~60) and that’s largely fear-driven as well. My dad’s side of the family has amazing longevity, and my 91-year-old grandfather still has a full complement of marbles. My mom’s side, not so much — her parents needed full-time care because of dementia by their early 70’s. I’m in a very intellectual field, and even the early stages of cognitive impairment would affect my ability to work, which are already hitting my mom and she’s not even 65 yet. I hope to get lucky and take my dad’s side’s mental health, but I have to plan for the case where I won’t be able to work in science at this level past my mid-50’s, and possibly at any job after my mid-60’s. Add on to that a budget for a home care worker and you get a formula for extreme savings (and if all goes well, I’ll just have to suffer through a lovely early retirement).

  19. Tim January 24, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    The lady in your tale is just plain dumb. I debunked this myth a while back (see link). There are lots of cheaper options for eating cheap.

    On the good side, what ever makes you wake up and start saving. Go for it.

  20. Dan January 24, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    T o me, it is a little upsetting that in all the comments, nobody is asking why lots of seniors are in a
    position ,not abel to buy food, heat, clothes,transport, housing, and on an on.
    Most of these people worked their buts of in Canada, over the last hundred years.
    Before the Wars, Canada was good for a few well to do but most of the working peoples life was not so great.
    Today with $500,000 houses $800,000 condos $50,000 cars, we forget about the seniors, the man and women who build this country. No company pension and a low Gov. pension, if any.
    We should and demand a better future for al of us and not for a few .And yes, this includes saving.
    Don’t forget, history will repeat itself, but maybe cat food, imported from China,might be cheaper.

  21. Mike Dionne January 24, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    Psst, she was just f’ing with you. In other words, she wanted you to mind your own business.

    I do the same thing all the time. When I cancelled my water heater rental, I told them I don’t need a water heater anymore.

    When I cancelled my landline, I told them that I was moving to New Zealand and didn’t need it anymore.

  22. Laura January 26, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    What did it for me? My student loans. I worked full-time & over-time for three years, living with my parents, to pay those puppies off. The 1st paycheck that didn’t go 75% to those D@mn loans (because I finished paying!), got blown big-time. The 2nd paycheck, Dad drove me to an appointment he had made for me with an investment advisor. I was told the leftovers I blew, were my mad-money, and good to play with. “But, Little girl, it’s time to grow up.”

  23. Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet January 28, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    The fact that many people who retire at 55 actually return back to work after a few years tells me we aren’t saving enough. That’s enough to scare me into saving as I definitely don’t want to go back to work after retiring

  24. Jen January 29, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    I hope this lady was just messing with you. Then you could have shown her your post about how dry lentils are the cheapest thing on the planet. Wet cat food? I never buy my cat that fancy stuff.

    Anyways, I was scared into saving harder after my company transferred me in my late twenties. Even though I had a very good salary and no family, I found it very hard to pay to move. The company paid for my airplane ticket and shipping, but I found I inevitably needed to pay thousands more to get new stuff, ship more stuff, put a deposit on a new apartment, and set up in general. I realized then that even basic living was very expensive, and my savings could be hit hard by things that people don’t even talk about costing a lot.

  25. Cyndi January 29, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    I wish I’d had a direct investing account back in my 20s, I’d probably be retired now in my 40s. My retirement plan includes RRSPs, TFSA and a direct investing account which automatically reinvests which eventually will create a decent supplemental income stream of its own. I don’t like how RRSPs are sold. They are sold on the premise that you will have less income when you retire which to me implies you are retiring poor. I don’t want to retire poor. Educate yourself on your money and don’t depend on any government or bank created system to create your wealth, use them if they make sense to you but realize these systems profit those who created them. My stock portfolio is much more gratifying invested in common companies I understand, dividends every quarter, I know the return based on my purchase price. I did a project in highs school buying stocks, tracking and reporting results all pretend. I now own one of those stocks for real, it split after I bought it and the stock has gone up, what could be more satisfying than being in charge of your own money.

  26. Potato January 29, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    @ Cyndi

    Even if your standard of living is the same in retirement as in your working life (that is, you make and then spend just as much on stuff), your income needs will be lower because you aren’t having to save for retirement anymore or pay down a mortgage if you’re a homeower. On top of that, your income will likely be more tax efficient (pension and dividend tax credits, or capital gains partial inclusion rates). For most people pitching RRSPs on the basis of a lower tax rate later in life is a perfectly reasonable thing to do and doesn’t necessarily mean retiring poor. Even for the minority of people where that’s not the case (e.g. those whose incomes would be low enough that RRIF income reduces GIS benefits, leading to high effective tax rates in retirement, or those who save so much and invest so well that they make more in retirement), that may not have been the *plan* at the time the RRSP was set up. I don’t like that they’re marketed on getting a tax refund…

    And of course, there are self-directed RRSPs where you can invest in stocks.

  27. Bob Bell January 31, 2014 at 11:53 am

    I’m so glad that not everyone was taken in by this story. Cat food is more expensive than tuna. Sorry Kerry, you either reported on an old urban myth story or were taken in by the woman.

  28. Vicky Global February 9, 2014 at 7:59 am

    It’s inspiring to learn that you have been motivated to start saving for your retirement at an early age. I just started mine as well. Though some of my friends think it isn’t necessary for the moment since we’re too young for it. But I think otherwise. I’m not from a wealthy family, and I don’t want to get old poor. So it is just wise to start saving for your retirement as early as now.

  29. Fehmeen February 12, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    This story shocked me. I had never even heard about the possibility of humans consuming animal food so to think that it dies happen is pretty shocking. These sort of reality checks are everywhere – it’s up to us to notice them.People get laid off and don’t find work, they develop illnesses and end up selling their homes to pay the hospital bills, and worst of all, people move on to the next world and leave behind dependants….Nobody wants to be in any of these situations but it could happen to anyone.

  30. Mel @ brokeGIRLrich February 14, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Holy cow. That would’ve scared me into saving for retirement too.

    I freaked out when I saw all the numbers of how much you need to save to be ok in retirement and became very convinced I was going to need to live in a cardboard box. Under a bridge.

    I’m still not convinced I won’t, but I’m sure trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.

  31. Leslie February 19, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    I’ve always saved, but had to give a big chunk to my ex as part of our divorce settlement… so now I’m amping up my retirement savings again. It is so much fun to watch it grow. As the age of retirement comes closer, I sure hope I’ve saved enough to enjoy my later years and not have to worry about every can of “tuna” I buy.

  32. andrew March 2, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Wait! People actually eat that stuff? I thought it was just an urban legend or things that you see in the movies. I need to start saving for retirement now. What’s my first step? Should I start out small and build up or put away everything that I can right away?

  33. Rhonda Wylie April 8, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    We started saving later in life, as well. When we were younger we were blowing and going. We make a decent income now, but it’s still so hard to play catch-up on the retirement accounts. I encourage all you young people to start early and just make it a lifelong habit of saving.

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