A Zoomer, according to media mogul Moses Znaimer, is one of the 15 million Canadians aged 45-plus who together make up 54% of Canadians over 18. If you’re in that age bracket and you’re still at work, chances are you’re thinking about what your retirement will look like. If you’ve already retired, you may be looking for ways to enrich your lifestyle.

According to a 2013 poll commissioned by Sun Life Financial, having an active life in retirement is what’s most important to Zoomers*. Today’s retirees aren’t spending their days in front of a TV. They’re walking, running, travelling, returning to school, volunteering and working part-time. 

Dennis Watson and Sue Lamb are two Zoomers who are actively enjoying their retirement. How they each arrived at that enviable position provides insight into successful retirement planning.

Dennis Watson: it’s all about the plan

After a 40-year career in TV sales and management, this 63-year-old admits he’s the poster boy for retirement. “I’m sleeping in, reading more, golfing more and travelling,” he says. “Life’s good!”

Watson recently returned from a trip to Thailand and Cambodia and relishes his annual sojourn at his winter home on the west coast of Mexico, from the end of December to early April. He’s also planning a trip to Europe for next fall.

How did he get to this enviable place, after only two years in retirement? Watson credits an old adage: "People don't plan to fail; they simply fail to plan!"

He says he created a plan for retirement savings very early. He initiated three practices to secure his financial future: “Starting with my first full-time job, I saved about $1,000 a year, putting money every month from my pay right into the tax-sheltered RRSP. Even a little amount today will look like a lot in 40 years. Then I borrowed money to max out my annual RRSP contribution. Finally, I used my income tax return to pay down my mortgage. Every year, I was moving ahead nicely.”

As the years progressed and his income grew, he was able to diversify by investing in the stock market. He listened to the advice of an acquaintance in a stock brokerage firm and bought quality stocks — banks, insurance, telecommunications companies — as well as making sure he had the right insurance for the needs of his family at the time, including term insurance and a whole life policy that’s now completely paid up.

With the end of his career drawing near, Watson created a plan to leave work (he gave his boss two years’ notice) and set goals for what he wanted to do in his early years of retirement. He hired a financial planning firm so that he could receive objective advice. Telling them first what he wanted to do — be active, travel extensively, work in the community — he then asked, “With everything I have, can I do it?”

Since his wife participated in all these discussions, she clearly understood their financial situation. They walked away from their planning meeting with a collection of documents in one file, showing all their assets, including investments and insurance, and including their legacy plan.

His words for the wise? “Retirement is the next stage in life. Embrace it, and enjoy it for all it’s worth. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal, so don’t go to the grave wishing you had done that one thing you always wanted to do. I worked hard for 40 years, so that I could enjoy the next 20 years — or more!”

Sue Lamb: Time to explore

After two years of retirement, this 61-year-old Zoomer and her 59-year-old husband have just completed a major life change: They’ve downsized from a house to a condo. “We went home shopping on a Sunday morning and bought in the afternoon,” she says.

In their new condo in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, they’ll lock the door, take a five-minute trip to the border, and fly out of the airport in nearby Buffalo, New York for destinations around the world, leaving no worries behind.

Lamb loves to travel. A look at her 2013 logbook shows how far she’s roamed: New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji last January, with a few days in Los Angeles; Florida for two weeks in July; and a week in Tennessee in November, where she really enjoyed the Grand Old Opry. Early this year, she plans to visit Mexico, then Paris and London in the spring, and take a river cruise in the fall.

How did she arrive at her retirement nirvana?

Twenty-five years ago, Lamb maximized her RRSP contributions to save on taxes. In 2005, she received a package from her employer; she credits a financial advisor for helping her invest that pension money wisely.

Lamb suggests people approaching retirement “start aggressively planning at age 50 – sooner is even better.” Her sons, age 32 and 30, are taking her advice: They both have plans already.

Now that she’s retired, Lamb has more time for entertaining her family and knitting; right now, she’s working on baby blankets for her two grandchildren. After working non-stop in sales at a pharmaceutical company for 35 years, most of that time on the road, she doesn’t miss her full-time job: “not at all, not for a minute!”

She says she “loves retirement to bits and can’t wait for my husband to retire at the end of 2014.”  Enjoying “family, laughter, and exploring new places” top her retirement priority list. “Both my husband and I have worked hard all our lives,” she says. “We’re in great health, young, are financially set and with the sale of our home will have lots of disposable income to play with, rather than have it tied up in real estate.”

Common ingredients for retirement success emerge from Lamb’s and Watson’s stories: Work hard, start saving early, and put as much money into RRSPs as possible. A career-exit strategy helps, too. For best results, this approach calls for sound financial guidance from a trusted advisor.

* 40.4% polled say enjoying an active lifestyle, the number-one response, is most important. “The 2013 Picture Perfect Retirement Contest,” commissioned by Sun Life Financial.