Retirement Tips From the Great One

We started the workweek off at Toronto’s TD Tower with no other than The Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky, as the iconic hockey legend offered insight on spending, saving and planning for retirement in a half-hour discussion with Lee Bennett, Senior Vice President at TD Waterhouse Financial Planning. The often humerous and intimate conversation was peppered with anecdotes on Gretzky’s career and life, from his first car, a used Trans Am he purchased for $3800, to how nerve-racking it was as a coach rather than a player (he won’t return to coaching, FYI.) Retirement may seem like a lifetime away, but, as Gretzky told the audience, the time between the beginning or prime of your career and retirement goes quickly…even if you’re not a pro athlete. Financial responsibility and planning with the aid of institutions like TD Canada Trust is thus something young professionals should start to consider.  Here is what Gretzky had to say about professional and financial planning for retirement.

Stay Active
Plan for an active, balanced retirement that includes new projects and business ventures, strong charitable involvement, exercise, family time and travel. Gretzky said he was not “one of those guys” to do nothing but play golf in retirement (though he admits he did it for a year) and says that staying active is the key to staying younger. As a result, he went on to coach and expand his business horizons into the food and wine worlds and became actively involved in philanthropic work. Staying active isn’t always easy, he cautions, and when he found the adjustment from an intense and regimented schedule to virtually no schedule difficult. You have to create your own schedule and be self-motivated, much the same as the YP currently starting his or her own business or working from home. When he first retired, Gretzky admits he put away his equipment and never played for the first five years. Now, he organizes a fantasy game and plays the occasional Sunday pick-up with his son. 

Don’t Take Too Many Financial Risks
A resonating theme of the discussion was to be conservative with your finances. We are all too familiar with the young person (pro athlete or not) who is met with early financial success only to find themselves broke a short while later. This can mean controlling your personal spending to seeking the aid of a financial planner. Gretzky himself says he won’t make financial risks that involve more than 10 per cent of his net family income. He attributes much of his financial sensibility to his father’s conservative ways and calls his dad his “greatest financial advisor.” He also stresses the importance of starting young when it comes to financial planning strategies – regardless of income. This must be easy for him to say, right? In general, however, he speaks of sensibility and cautions about risks like borrowing and leveraging (a common occurrence among entrepreneurs), advocating instead to putting your money away in the bank. Rather than gambling in things like stocks, he has never been the type to “make ten out of one dollar” and keeps his “money in the bank and the houses he lives in.”


You Don’t Know Everything
Gretzky admits that he thought he knew everything as a young athlete but quickly realized he didn’t and became fully aware of his expertise and lack thereof. As such, he cautions against investing in things you know little or nothing about. For those areas that you may not have knowledge in (for Gretzky, this was both the restaurant and wine industries) he advises to draw on the network you’ve created and seek the refined expertise of others. He sought the wisdom and advice of others in the planning and functioning of his now landmark Gretzky’s restaurant (currently 18 years old) as well as his more recent venture into the wine realm with his increasingly successful winery. By the same token, Gretzky says that he has very few stock investments because he “doesn’t know anything about the stock market.” 

Strike While the Iron is Hot
When your career is going well, keep the momentum going and don’t become lazy or stagnant. For all the pro athletes out there (and models for that matter), Gretzky stresses to work for as long as you possibly can as the shelf life of such professions is obviously way shorter than the typical industry. This piece of advice can be applied to young professionals in general; take advantage of the prime years of your career. Don’t get too comfortable and, if you’re met with success, keep the momentum going instead of growing too confident or secure. Especially for entrepreneurial endeavors, your spiral of success could slow tomorrow, with income coming in ebbs and flows. Take full advantage of this time.

Don’t Let Your Money Define You
Instead of frivolously spending on things like fancy cars, houses, jewellery or watches, put it away in the bank. Gretzky says he doesn’t have a massive collection of cars or ridiculously expensive ones for that matter (meaning those over $100k). He admits that him and his family travel frequently and that his kids had their own cars by 18, but that he teaches his kids that life in general is about respect for your life and that of others, and that money doesn’t value any one of them. Don’t get greedy; a lesson Gretzky learned early on was never to say you “can’t wait until tomorrow.” Enjoy the moment and what you have.

Photo: The Canadian Press