I frequently write about my goals, but it doesn’t take long before a simple “goals” category starts to attract related posts as a dumping ground or “catch-all”. When I started posting about goals in earnest, back in about 2011, my initial thought was that I was really wanting to convey my “goals for the year”. That year, I created a layout that started with the four quadrants from the Insights Discovery personality profile model, and built upon it as my model. I developed it as my “go-forward” model, and thought it would become enduring, so I didn’t add the year.
In 2012, I updated the design, simplified the layers within the quadrants, and then added detailed tables to track my progress in multiple sub-categories, plus a bucket list.
In 2013, I combined the two previous designs a bit, thought it would be a regular way to display my to-do list (spoiler alert: it wasn’t!), and added the year.
In 2014, I ditched the circular idea, made it look more like my regular to do list with five levels of priority and multiple categories down the side, again looking for a look ‘n’ feel that I could use regularly. Spoiler alert #2 — it didn’t resonate with me.
In 2015, I was looking for a visual for the year — a banner to lead the charge, so to speak – and a visual to manage my regular updates. I started with the simple circle, added in the idea of a “quest”, tried putting it on a coat of arms, didn’t really work. Tried it on a couple of shields, it was okay. Not really resonating with me, but not horrendous. I created a list that showed my big goals for 2015 and my ongoing ones that I wanted to track, and another that would show more of a quantitative approach to measuring my regular updates. It worked well enough for the year, but I didn’t feel like I had my concepts “nailed”.
In 2016, my brain shifted a bit. I realized that essentially my problem was that I was trying to combine several things in a single image, and yet they were all at different levels of specificity and granularity. For the first level, I am really talking about a “personal development model”, and with a little work, I created this one.
I played with format a little bit in 2017, and just updated the colours for 2020 (the shading was off), but this is the new version, and I’m still quite happy with it. There’s just one teeny problem. Literally teeny — when I reduce it to Featured Image size (150px wide), it is too small to read the words on the graphic. So while I like the model, I can’t use it as a Featured Image.
But let’s stop for a moment and re-start the process. What do I need to represent? Ultimately, I have some 236 posts on my blog that relate to goals in some way. Within them, I have the following sub-categories:
My overall “model” for goal setting (the personal development model above), and generally, the philosophy behind goals and personal planning;
Actual goals (including annual goals, bucket list items, #50by50, and daily/weekly/monthly goals;
Implementation (including measurement, tracking, progress reports, and weight loss as a specific multi-post topic.
It’s interesting when I break it down. While there are some 200+ entries, almost 15% of my entire blog, when I review the list I see that many of them seem to be in category 3. However, in actual fact, the posts themselves (aka the progress reports) are actually going to be part of other categories. For example, many of the to do items were related to my website setup and layout. The progress report on implementation does intersect with “goals” as a category, but I would say the main category in that case is my website, and so I would use the website logo instead.
If I think about my overall model, and what would not only look right in a small size but also communicate most of my model, I find myself a bit amused. It’s actually the original one above that I did back in 2012. I like the yin/yang symbol in it too. Sure, I need to update it, and when it is resized it will likely be too small to be read easily, but that’s okay. The look and feel is much better than the diamond model.
For the actual goals themselves, I played with a few options, but in the end, the one I like the best is a simple planner icon to talk about my annual goals.
For my daily, weekly, or monthly goals, I need something a little more direct and to the point, and I like the idea of a bulls-eye suggesting “targets”. I found a clean one, very simple, very easy to see.
After that, I have three very specific ones. The first is for my overall bucket list. This one is a bit quirky, as it is about the “adventure” and trying new things, potentially with some of them not working out quite as planned.
While I’m here, I’ll also mention a related category, which I call “experiences”. I have an image of a whale’s tail, and that reflects a rare experience like going whale watching. Some overlap with bucket list posts, but some don’t.
I also have a separate one for travel, a simple map.
And then I have one specifically for my #50by50 initiative (50 things to do before I turned 50).
Finally, at the end, I wanted one for just “ticking the box” i.e. implementation or progress.
However, just as I have special topics within my big “goals”, I have specific measurement topics too. One is my overall health, divided into two elements with the first being mental health.
Since I’m talking about mental health, I’ll also throw in my “spiritualism” image, reflecting the journey.
The second area is physical health, and I’ll divide that into three sub-areas. The first is general fitness, getting moving. The second is specifically tied to weight loss, and a scale icon works just fine for that, at least traditionally. However, I’m starting a new approach soon that combines the concepts of weight loss, weight-by-age, and gamification, so I’m tweaking the image to add an image of a game die.
That’s a wrap for the category. It’s a lot of sub-images for topics, but as I noted, it is one of the biggest areas of my blog.
Since I work in the public service, I have a pretty good pension. Gold-plated, if you ask some people, at least in comparison to what the average private sector person can get from their employer. Indexed for inflation, guaranteed for life, forced savings with matching input from the employer, and for those who joined the public service before 2014, people often treat it like the classic private pensions that come with a magic number of 85 (and it used to be explained that way).
Basically pensions that use a magic number work as an addition of two things — your age + your years of service. If that number is 85 or above, you can take your pension with no penalty. More recently, there is often a small catch…sometimes you have to be at least a certain age, like 55 years old. In a perfect world, that would mean you would start working for an organization when you were 25, work for 30 years, and at the age of 55 you would have 55 years of age + 30 years of service = magic 85. Most people out there who know about pensions have heard of magic numbers, so why is there a course?
There’s a course for several reasons. First and foremost, the government manages the pension and they have an obligation to explain it to members i.e., what our mandatory pension gives us. To do this, the powers that be at Public Services and Procurement Canada have put together a detailed generic presentation deck on our public service pension plan. They share it with private contractors who are trained in the content, and thus there are financial planners across the country who can give the same presentation with the same information to the federal public service employees who work across Canada.
Second, there is WAY more to the pension plan than simply that number. Bells and whistles and options, oh my! Life insurance, death benefits, lump sum payments, what happens if you are less than 55 or under 25 or 30 years of service, what happens if you started working after 2014, what happens if you are with them less than 2 years, etc. It’s complex and detailed.
Third, the magic number formulas are the way pensions used to work and lots of other ones do, but it’s now more accurate to think of it as a combination of “age, service”, not “age + service”. Very few people are 25 when they start, work 30 years exactly, and hit 55 with the old style magic number of 85. So then the second clause kicks in, which makes the magic number idea almost meaningless now.
Under the pension, the focus instead is on what combination of age and pensionable service do you need to get an immediate annuity (monthly benefits with no reductions), with three scenarios:
Retirement for disability –> any age and at least 2 years of service;
Regular retirement –> Over 60 and at least 2 years of service; or,
Regular retirement –> Over 55 and at least 30 years of service.
If you were in the second category, you’re magic number could be as low as 62. And yet you would qualify. The magic number doesn’t really apply anymore to that category and never did to the first.
I’m in the third category, which is where the magic number used to apply. However, with the new rules, it doesn’t. When I am 55, I’ll only be at 28 years of service or so, i.e. I don’t meet the second criteria, so while I *could* retire at 55, my pension would be hit by a reduction formula i.e. a penalty. If I wait until 57/58, I’ll meet both criteria –> over 55 AND at least 30 years of service. (And, FYI, the so-called old “magic number” would be 87/88, and meaningless).
(Someone on Reddit noted that I had skipped explaining the change from using magic number formulas in my first draft of this post, and it was confusing. Note that there are a couple of presenters out there modify the magic number slightly to still use it as they find it a simpler transition for some people to understand. You *can* keep the magic number idea in your head, if you prefer, if you think of there being a cap on age points as up to 55 points and a cap on years of service as up to 30 points. The disability option or over 60 options remain exceptions, and you can still add up to 85, but I agree with the Reddit people — keeping the magic formula explanation is too misleading, so hopefully the change shows more readily above now — as noted, the short version is that it has changed how the two variables are used i.e. it is “age and service” not “age plus service”.)
Fourth, there’s demand. I know of at least four different courses available. One is simply online, and as far as I can tell, just shares the basic deck with an audio track. There is also a half-day course that seems to go through the basic deck, except in person. A third course is a one-day course that goes a bit more in-depth, and then there’s the one I took — three days with each day broken into two half-day topics per day. In Ottawa, it is offered by the Retirement Planning Institute (RPI).
Lots of people have taken the courses before, and most who have taken the short ones thought they were “okay” while just about everyone raves about the three-day course. Pop wisdom says to take it once when you’re early in your career and once closer to the end of your career. Some would even go so far as to say that you should take it every 10 years as a refresher, but that seems like overkill to me. Maybe the half-day ones are somewhere in the middle, but I agree with taking it early and late in your career. There are definitely aspects that apply to different stages of your career and I wish I had realized certain aspects earlier (around RRSPs, for example).
But the fifth reason came up in the intro to the first session. In short, our pension is so different from most other people’s pension plans that our financial situation overall DOES NOT look like anyone else’s. Our pension plan rates, investments, risk profile, all of it looks very different from the average consumer out there, so why would we take a “general” pension course rather than one that focuses on OUR pension and OUR situation? I’ll come back to that later. I screwed something up awhile back in my financial planning, and this course would have allowed me to correct it. Not huge, but not nothing either.
The first morning session is dedicated to the official deck prepared by the government. I found myself a bit surprised with it — it is remarkably good. No bureaucratese, no “on the one hand” waffling, it is relatively simple and direct. The deck walks you through the pension and benefits website, supplementary death benefit, leave without pay, actual retirement benefits (including indexing and bridge benefits), service buybacks, survivor benefits, group insurance benefits, and other services and information.
It is long and detailed, and incredibly useful. That session alone is worth the price of admission, and those who do the half-day elsewhere with just that deck are well-served, although I suspect it is better handled in person than in a recorded online version.
For me, I would say I liked four of the elements a lot from this session:
a. How the contribution rates are coordinated with CPP/QPP…Under CPP rules, you have to contribute to CPP. Everyone does, public servant or not. And when you turn 65, you’re going to get your CPP. So that is already in place. The maximum insurable salary / earnings under CPP for 2018 is set at $55,900. So your CPP contribution for the first $55,900 is already set … you are paying approximately 2.3% of that amount for CPP already. And they don’t want to “double tax” you, so for the first $55,900 of your salary, they charge you only an additional 9.83%. Add those two together, and you get 12.13%. So you pay 12.13% on $55,900 with some of the money going to CPP and some going to your public service pension. If you earn more than $55,900, you pay 12.13% on the rest.
In summary, the first $55,900 is harmonized so it comes out to 12.13% to two sources, anything above $55,900 is also at 12.13% but that all goes to the pension plan. Which means, drum roll please, you pay the same percentage all the way through, but it is coordinated with what you pay to CPP. I never knew how that worked before, and page 4 of their deck lays it out pretty well…I must confess however that the speaker ad-libbed a bit at this point and it was very helpful to have him help us “see it”. Hence why I think the in-person course is likely a bit better.
b. What you get for retirement…depending on your circumstances, it can be a monthly pension or a lump sum. Lump sums have a bunch of rules about tax limits, transfers to RRSPs or purchasing life annuities, for instance, but there is a nice breakdown of the various options (pp. 10-13). It doesn’t really apply to me since I’ll be doing the monthly pension, but it was good to know.
c. Explanations of the bridge benefit…pp. 26-28 cover your options related to a bridge benefit, i.e. a “top up” to my pension from, in my case, age 58 to age 65 to take into account that I may not take my CPP until age 65. I knew almost nothing about this and the short overview was extremely helpful. There are a bunch of options to work out, basically variables in terms of how long from my age of retirement to age of 65, and I’ll need way more info from a financial planner to work that out, but it was still eye-opening for how it worked.
d. Service buyback options…pp. 29-30 give you the bare minimum of information about service buybacks but the presenter went through it pretty well verbally.
In my case, I worked as a co-op student back in ’93 for eight months. They deducted pension stuff from me at the time, but when my service ended, they just paid it out i.e. paid it back to me. However, that is service that I can “claim” towards my 30 years, and all I have to do is pay what would have been contributed to the pension if I had paid into the service for those extra 8 months (the fact that I got paid back at the time means it is now “eligible” to be reclaimed as opposed to already being in my pension).
Here’s the first kicker, which I already knew. You buy back at your PRESENT rate of pay. In other words, I have to make my contributions of 12% (as calculated above) for 8 months of salary at my current salary, not what I was making as a co-op student. Well, pooh. I wish I knew back then not to take it but just to leave it there. I have another six months in ’96 that was a probationary period, and I can reclaim that too. So I can buy back up to 14 months of service by making just over a year’s worth of extra pension contributions.
The obvious lesson learned, which is not a surprise, is that if you have any service eligible, you want to buy it back as soon in your career as possible because it will be cheaper. If you can buy back a year of service at a current salary of $50000, you’ll pay approximately $6000 to do it ($50K x 12.13%). If you wait and do it later when you’ve got promoted and earning $100K, you’ll pay $12K. Since most people’s salaries continue to increase as a public servant through inflation and promotions, the sooner the better. I didn’t do that and because I didn’t do this great 3-day course earlier in my career, I never thought about it until recently when I’m nearing the top of my lifetime salary rates.
So then we come to the second kicker – figuring out if the buyback is worth it. I certainly wanted to know how to calculate if it was worth it for me to do in my specific situation. I had already asked the official pension people for an estimate of the current cost of all my buyback options rolled together into one lump sum, and they gave me my total. About $17K. Wow. That’s a LOT of money.
As the guy was presenting, he must have read my mind and said essentially, “Some of you may be wondering if you should buy back or not. And as a professional financial planner, I can tell you that it all depends on your situation, you have to weigh the variables and other costs, and decide in the end that the answer is yes.” In 20+ years of advising public servants, he said there were only two situations where it wasn’t in the client’s interest, and both times they were very close to retirement and the purchase was going to mess up other investments.
I was a bit skeptical, I admit, but it was like he was still reading my mind. “If you’re skeptical about that, here’s the real question you’re asking. Should I invest in a gold-plated protected pension, guaranteed for life, and indexed for inflation every year? Yes, as much as you can.” A pretty clear picture. Of course, it depends on where that $17K is sitting right now and if you have it available, but generally, yes. It is also heavily related to something else for me, and I’ll cover that in the hard core financial section below.
The third kicker for me was a small nuance of how you pay that money to the government / pension plan. I already knew there was an option to just pay it all at once, and just write them a cheque. But I don’t have $17K sitting in a bank account screaming “use me, use me for pensions”. I also knew that a second option was to have them estimate when my retirement date is and pro-rate it over my paycheques until I retire. Not a bad option. But the real kicker I didn’t know was that I can transfer FROM MY EXISTING RRSP to the pension plan. I can take $17K of investments I ALREADY HAVE and just MOVE the money over? Hot damn. Sign me up and call me ready for retirement 14 months earlier. Now THAT’S exciting!
2. Legal aspects of retirement and aging
The first afternoon was a substitute presenter, a lawyer who had done the course before, and he was there to talk about the legal aspects of retirement. Now, the course is being taught in the NCR, and some people live in Ottawa and some people live in Quebec. And some people have property in both, or have lived in one and now live in the other. Some married, some not. Some divorced and remarried, some single. So there was a lot of interest in WHAT IF scenarios.
There are a few basic things they were trying to accomplish with the session. It was a lot of “if this, then that” but the overall message was, “if you want our life to be difficult, do whatever you want; if you want to make certain things simple, here’s what you can do.”
For example, have a will, or more accurately, DON’T DIE WITHOUT ONE. It is just way more complicated for everyone involved if you die without a will. Seems obvious, but I confess that Andrea and I didn’t do our wills when we were younger, waiting instead until Jacob was born. We were living together and had even bought a home together, yet hadn’t executed full wills. Not terrible since we were common law in Ontario, but potentially disastrous if we were in Quebec. We have them now, of course, and so we weren’t really interested in that part. We understand the basics, I’ve done the executor duties for my dad and mom, I’m good to go for the most part. But there was a young couple in the course who were in our old shoes, didn’t have wills, and were suddenly seeing the complexity of their situation in being common-law with no will and living in Quebec.
Second, they wanted us to understand that if you’re in Quebec, and you’re not married, your support and survivorship rights are limited. When he started explaining it, the back of my neck started to itch. It didn’t sound right to me, because I thought a bunch of stuff had changed. See, I’m a weirdo pants when it comes to law stuff. I read things most people glaze over when they see. So a few years ago, when the Quebec Court of Appeal granted spousal support to the wife of the Cirque du Soleil owner even though they weren’t legally married, the tabloids went nuts for the amounts of money involved, the newspapers talked about a legal milestone, and legal papers talked about how this meant another province now recognized common law support rights. And I read the last two sources (newspapers and legal papers) and thought “Okay, so Quebec is mostly like everyone else now for common law marriages”. Interesting. A throw-back interest to my law school days.
Except the lawyer was saying that what I thought was now the law in Quebec was not actually the reality.
This guy was reading my mind too because he said, “Now you may have thought that changed when the Quebec Court of Appeal did blah blah blah…” and I was like, “Yes! Exactly!”. Except I had missed something. The Supreme Court of Canada overturned it. I totally missed that happening, partly because I didn’t read the tabloids, the newspapers treated it as “Okay, nobody gets rich, no story”, and the legal papers basically said, “Okay, same as it always was, nothing to see here.” They talked about the decision / outcome of who won, but not the legal implications or issues at stake, at least not in the same level of coverage. It wasn’t revolutionary, it was “same old, same old”. But it is now back to the the way it used to be, and common law spouses can get seriously SCREWED.
Unfortunately, the session did not have a clear presentation that he was following. As I said, the lawyer was substituting for the guy who was supposed to do it, and while he was certainly knowledgeable, it was more like 3 hours of him saying, “Here’s an issue…if you live in Ontario and you’re married, it works this way. If you’re in Quebec and married, like this. If you’re in Ontario and COMMON LAW, then this; Quebec, this. If you’re divorced on a Thursday while wearing a hat shaped like a Beaver…”. It was hard to follow a lot of the twists and turns, and 80% of it didn’t apply to Andrea and I. Of the remaining 20%, we had most of it already covered.
I didn’t feel I got a lot out of the session other than “have a will” (some interesting elements of why you shouldn’t do a holographic will, which was GOOD to know, as I have considered using a kit and/or redrafting the one we have from the lawyer that I’d like to tweak every so slightly and if I do, I should really use the full lawyer for it and just pay the freight), don’t own properties in multiple provinces if you want your life to be simple, don’t get divorced, and if you’re together in Quebec, life is a LOT easier legally if you’re actually formally married. Again, you can have a simple life, or you can have a complicated one, particularly if you don’t do things the right way but want something different from the default.
3. Health and retirement
In a separate blog about my health and weight loss, I blogged about the health session (#50by50ish #50 – Lose weight – Part 5, what changed?) and that I was pretty disappointed with it. It had a knock-on effect of inspiring some other thoughts about my health, but it wasn’t a great session. I was expecting a tightly focused presentation about health in retirement and what to expect, and instead it was a general “health” presentation that was good for anyone at any stage of their life. I liked the presenter, a doctor in the military, but the main thrust of the presentation was “what will limit how long you live?”.
Based on the Ontario Health Study, she listed the five biggest factors:
Exercise — How active are you?
Tobacco — Do you use any?
Diet — What do you eat?
Alcohol — How much do you drink?
Stress — How to you choose to react to life?
Nothing revolutionary in there. It did feed into a larger narrative I have been working on about “am I saving for retirement in terms of (x) investments?” such as health investments, planning investments, financial investments, social investments, etc. But overall, I thought it was “meh”. She did close out with some references to the importance of powers of attorney for personal care, as had the lawyer, but I really would have expected that one of the two of them would have spent a fair amount of time on this. After all, weren’t we talking about health in retirement or legal issues in retirement, when those are likely to be needed at some point?
They didn’t ignore them, but they didn’t spend any real time dedicated to them either. I also confess that I had thought that this session also included the psychology component, and while there were a few references, I was really disappointed it was missing. It wasn’t until the start of the third afternoon that I realized there was a whole session on psychology and so I was a little too harsh perhaps.
Yet I don’t want to imply it was useless. There were some interesting bits. For example:
She referenced Dr. Mike Evans’ “23 and a half hours” video on YouTube that went viral a few years ago, and his site, www.reframehealthlab.com.
I’ve often thought of retiring to a “country location” or at least something like a cottage, and so this session actually prompted Andrea and I to talk about it a bit more too. I read Big Box Reuse by Julia Christensen (BR00115) a year or so ago, and one of the examples in it was about health care in a retirement area of cottages in Michigan (I think). One element the doctor mentioned was that rural healthcare has a huge impact on your life expectancy — yes, you’re not experiencing the stress of city life, but you may also experience an hour-long wait for emergency care. If you dial 9-1-1, who in that area is responsible for responding? Not likely a huge issue for our likely options, but an interesting element.
She gave some links on the benefits and steps to becoming an e-patient with a copy of your own medical record, as well as lists and checklists for all your health planning needs.
At the end of the presentation, there was a “call to action” component, and I don’t think it really resonated with anyone. She had a list of 35 things that people “could” commit to, such as being an organ donor, developing an “attitude of gratitude”, or doing a cancer screening, and the range of things was just too great. I think if she had grouped them to say, “Let’s do ONE thing from column A, ONE thing from column B, etc.” to get us to commit to three things, she might have had a good ending. Instead, it just sort of fizzled out.
4 and 5. Financial Planning Part 1 and 2
The afternoon of the second day and the morning of the third day were more elaborate presentations on what was covered in the upfront overview / introduction on the first morning. Truth be told, this is the main reason people take the course — the real financial stuff. The rest is “add on”.
I loved the session from the beginning, including the opening question. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially, “If you were taking a trip which would last two to three weeks, how much research and planning would you do?” and then the second question, “If your retirement lasts 25-30 years, how much time have you spent planning for it?”.
Such a simple question, but it contributed to my overall thoughts on retirement planning. Honestly? We’ve done the basics for financial, but I’ve never really spent much time planning the rest of retirement. From my other posts, that planning includes health in particular, but I’m also wondering about the psychology side. So I’m going to spend a bit of time on it in the next six months. Picturing what retirement might look like for me.
After the quick intro, we got to the second thing that I learned I had already screwed up. There is a pie-chart showing sources of seniors income, and notes that for most, the breakdown is:
13% ongoing employment;
12% investment; and,
It’s a typical pie chart for the “average Canadian retiree”. And most banks will show you something similar when you talk to them. Except public servants are not the typical retirees. Our pension is great, guaranteed for life, and indexed. It drastically changes our risk profile and our likely sources.
So what did I screw up? My risk profile for my RRSPs. Based on the “typical sources”, I rated myself as moderate for risk, somewhat conservative, and I did my RRSP investments accordingly. Except I have this amazing pension that has almost zero risk, which means if I want an overall balance of moderate, the RRSP investments are less important, and could have been done as high risk for that small portion. I never thought about it when we met with the bank, and they didn’t say anything about us having a different overall risk profile than most Canadians. They don’t know our pensions. However, even when we saw a financial planner a few years ago, he didn’t flag it for our investment choices either. Interesting. Not a huge issue, but I should have done it differently years ago.
The next part of the financials was a lot of extra info and learning about CPP and OAS, as normally they are the next two biggest resources. But most of it was flagging different scenarios and variables around “when do you take your CPP?”, highly relevant assuming in my case that I go at age 58. Do I take it at age 60 or 65? What does that look like? What impact does that have on bridging? Throw in survivor benefits, drop out years, spousal benefits, disability benefits, and clawbacks, and it’s a complicated set of questions. The course isn’t designed to answer the questions so much as getting you to know which questions tend to apply to you. On a cynical side, one might say they are advertising “come see us and we’ll go through in detail” as the presenters are registered financial planners, but to me, that’s just part of the industry, as they do the presentations in part to drum up business. But the presentation was still rock-solid.
The next source is ongoing employment, and listening to them talk about it, I developed less and less interest in continuing paid employment after retirement. I had always assumed that I might do some consulting work, but I’m not as sold on that option. Combining work income with retirement income might raise me up enough in the tax rates to wipe out some of the benefits of the retirement income in the first place. It certainly risks messing up the tax benefits of RRSPs.
The second day was devoted to taxes and various tax shelters (RRSP, Registered Life Annuities, Registered Retirement Income Funds, and Tax Free Savings Account). I confess that my knowledge on the intricacies beyond basic RRSPs is a bit limited. Even to the point of having thought “we have a TFSA” because Andrea has one, as opposed to us both being able or needing to have one. I am not even sure that I have ever really though in detail about the interactions between RRSPs and the tax system over the whole life of the investment — for me, it was always about “invest now, get the tax break now” rather than “is my marginal tax rate lower or higher than what it will be later?”. The presentation went through TFSAs vs. RRSPs in detail and was really well done. I even liked the overview of “what happens to your RRSPs at age 71” (i.e. what you convert them to). And last but not least, there were some good tips on RESPs that we need to follow up on, just to make sure we’re maximizing the usage for Jacob’s future.
After the tax shelters, the presentation moved on to more traditional investments and asset classes, namely guaranteed investments, fixed-income (bonds) and equity (stocks). This is where the risk profile came back in too…obviously, with a secure pension as the main asset, the rest of our allocation can look quite different from the typical retiree.
And then the course got REALLY hard-core. Pension-splitting. Age credit clawbacks. OAS recovery taxes. RRSP withdrawal before age 65. The tax implications of all of it. Cash wedge strategies.
If I thought the opening day session was worth the price of admission, this was that on steroids. It is the REAL retirement planning, and there were a LOT of great questions in there to think about. Sure, some of them didn’t apply, but a lot of them did. Things we had never even thought about. And, as I said, I have my buyback strategy and RRSP profile wrong considering that I’m a public servant. Things I wish I knew back when I was a new inductee, not someone within sight of his potential retirement date.
6. Psychology and retirement
As I mentioned above, there was some psych components in the health section, and I thought that was “it”. I had lost track of the fact that there was a whole afternoon on the topic and I was STOKED at lunch to come back and talk about it. But the session was disappointing. Not terrible, just not up to my expectations.
Don’t get me wrong, it started fine. She worked through asking questions about what “work” means to us, and what we give up in order to do it (things like time, freedom, health). But retirement represents a huge level of change for most people and is even rated higher than pregnancy for the degree of social adjustment required. Then she walked successively through personal identity, lifestyle and relationships. All key areas that are going to be impacted by retirement, and thus “risk” factors for you if they don’t go well. She was fun and engaging as a presenter, but she just didn’t have a frame for explaining things that well in my view.
What I really wanted was a deep dive on some of those issues, and I’ll blog about it in the future a bit, most likely geared towards personality types. If you use the matrix of introverts/extroverts and analytical/intuitive of Insights Discovery (if you’re in government, you’ve seen their work — it’s the basis for the four-colour lego blocks sitting on everyone’s desk), then analytical introverts are “blue”, analytical extroverts are “red”, intuitive introverts are “green” and intuitive extroverts are “yellow”. The colour isn’t that relevant other than to help you identify broad personality traits and remember them.
Now, if I took those four types and applied them to sense of personal identity, then the analytical types (blues and reds) are likely to be the most affected by retirement in terms of their sense of “who they are”. The reds are the cliché for big bosses who run companies or teams, and then retire and try to run their household. They’re used to being in charge, and they’re going to delegate tasks to family members and run a tight ship at home. Only to be told to ship out instead. If blues and reds don’t have anything to replace it with — a volunteering role, a new project to lead — they can often feel lost. Greens and yellows identify more with people, so the loss of their “work title” won’t affect them (leaving the people will, but that’s the opposite of the blues and reds).
The best example though is that a lot of athletes are strong reds. And when they are finished their athletic careers, they often have no idea who they are. They identified as a hockey player, a football player, a skier, and now, they’re not. So lots of athletes talk openly how they flounder for a long time adjusting to that change. It was “who” they were, and when they can’t do it anymore, they lose themselves.
There was almost none of this in the presentation. More like “it might be an issue for you”. Well, there’s an easy way to tell. If you get people to think about their personality profiles and decide if they are blues and reds, then you know that for them there is a REALLY HIGH chance that it WILL be an issue. Which means THOSE people need to think about mitigation strategies to offset the risk in retirement. If they want retirement to go well, they need to know how to handle that loss of identity.
By contrast, the intuitive / emotional greens and yellows are going to be worried about saying goodbye to everyone. They’re losing close friends, people who seem like family. One colleague retired, and because she didn’t want to say goodbye, she comes back for luncheons with the group about once a month (a regularly scheduled thing). She is a solid green (an intuitive introvert), and it is really important for her. I think it is part of what made her stay working past her retirement date — she would miss the people. Other people may choose to handle it by ensuring they have “replacements” at the ready — volunteer groups, a new social circle, joining a seniors group, something to provide the now-missing social interactions.
For me, I will indeed miss certain people, but I will also lose a lot of social interaction during the day. If I went with zero social interactions at home, that would be a risk to my happiness (I need some, but not as much as most). However, the loss of “identity” could be quite large for me. I’ve got ways to mitigate it, but easier to handle if you plan in advance rather than after the fact.
As I said, I was excited for the session and perhaps my expectations were too high. Five minutes in and I thought I could present a better frame than what I was seeing. Something that would tell people, “No THIS part is about YOU” and “this part maybe less so”. I’ve done a bunch of reading since then on some websites and books, and I think I’m going to blog about it in the future. Some really interesting stuff.
That’s a wrap
And that was it. The course was over.
The training was great, well worth the cost (even though work was paying for it), and I really liked the fact that they let you bring your spouse for free. Private sector, public sector, stay at home, whatever, they can come too. Andrea and I did the course together, and it led to some interesting side-conversations about various pieces. Given that I’m 8 years older than Andrea and will hit my retirement date about 7 years before her, it also means that some of what I’m looking for is a plan of “what I’m going to do while waiting for her to retire”.
For the first two months? I’m hoping to simply nap and read. 🙂
Back when I was looking at things to do before I was 50, there were a few items that looked rather, well, boring. Tick box items that were more “being a good little human and taking control of my life” rather than anything worthy of a 50 things list. And one of those items was something like “blah blah blah plan my retirement blah blah blah”.
To be honest, I didn’t know what it exactly meant, or would mean, when I put it on my list, and I thought it might be one of the items that I did during the year but wouldn’t include as an actual numbered item in the end. Just a to do list thing, nothing “list-worthy”.
And then a few funny things happened. I had a conversation with my brother about his so-called retirement. He’s doing a bunch of contract work and really enjoying the freedom of choosing the contracts he’s interested in and passing on those he isn’t, as well as doing a lot of work from home rather than in an office every day. Huh. That sounded appealing, although not necessarily the types of projects he’s doing, mainly as I have other interests, and I showed enough interest that he was asking what my plans were for retiring — going early? Anytime soon? Forming our own company? No, I’m not planning on going early, so that’s not an option, but it did get me to doing more thinking about what I *do* want to do after I formally retire.
A little while later, a coworker retired. She was on pre-retirement anyway, and basically just got fed up with the day-to-day crap that often weighs us down in any job and so she put in her papers and left. And I was highly envious. Not quite to the level of jealousy, but I envied her the freedom.
Which was a bit odd, because at various points of my life, I have derived a lot of my personal identity from my job and occupation. Equally, I generally have liked my job over the last ten years, and I would say considerably more positive than negative over the last 25. Was I really looking that forward to retirement? I hadn’t necessarily thought so, not in any “keen” sense, particularly as when I retire, Andrea will still have some years to go.
Finally, I took a retirement course that’s offered through work and it covered a range of topics. And I found myself getting REALLY excited about the idea of retirement and the things I plan on doing. Not surprisingly, a lot of things are ones that I want to do NOW but just never quite seem to have the time between work, errands, playing chauffeur, being too mentally tired at the end of the day, etc. And very few of them look much like going into an office to work.
And as I got excited, I started thinking more about a generic phrase that was running through my head…am I making ALL the investments that I need to NOW in order to retire the way I want? Health-wise? Education and learning? And even more simply, what does retirement look like to me and for me? A rare opportunity to think of your future in relatively selfish terms. Sure, some of it will be shared with Andrea and Jacob, but not 24/7 obviously. Writing is likely to figure prominently. Astronomy and photography I hope. A decent routine to my week that is a bit more relaxed than 9-to-5. No commuting, god I want to stop that now. Cooking. There are bigger items too like travel here, there and everywhere, but for day to day living in Ottawa, the freedom is inspiring.
Suddenly, the topic became list-worthy, indeed.
So I’m going to blog about some of the aspects of retirement and what it might look like, the issues that I think people aren’t talking about in the right terms (like in the course I took), questions that I’m wrestling with, etc. First up on the list? What I gleaned from the retirement course.
Way back when I got married, some 10 years ago now, we discussed the fact that we were taking a pretty simplified and organized approach to our planning, somewhat different from what we found online, and perhaps when we were done, we’d write it up and post it too. Well, fast-forward ten years and I’ve never made the time to do it. Lots of other topics intervened, and yet I had it on my list. Partly even just to be able to share some of the photos as examples.
A little over a month ago, I saw a guide online and thought, “Okay, we’re out of date, but maybe somebody out there will find it interesting at least.” And so I added it as a 50by50 item. Sixteen topics broken down into 9 posts:
As I wrapped up the previous post, I said the next one was optional for some people, hence why I kept it for last. In reality, photography in general is probably not optional, everyone wants some mementos. But there are FIVE big questions you will have to decide when it comes to photography.
A. Professional or not?
Picture this scenario. You’ve just spent six months planning what is likely the biggest event of your life. It probably comes third behind buying a house or buying a car in terms of the total cost, but maybe even second if you’ve never bought a NEW car. And the amount of work you put into it is way above the research you likely did on houses or cars. It’s BIG. And it all takes place in a single day. No rewind. No take-backs. No do-overs. We’re live, baby.
And when that action is happening, who is taking photos for YOU?
Because you know you want some good photos to remember the day forever, to capture some of the moments. And YOU’RE not taking the photos, you’re busy. Your closest family isn’t taking the photo either, because they’re probably in a lot of them. So who are you asking to take the photos?
Sure, you can ask an extended family member or a close friend. They may be good, they may even be talented, but they’re probably not trained to do it. They may never have even done a wedding before. Are you really asking them and trusting them to get it right the first time they try it?
I know, I know exactly what you’re thinking. Well, it’s all digital now, right? Take a pic, if it isn’t great, take it again, right? Simple. But here’s my two cents…if you think just anybody can take the photos, and you’ll be happy with them, then you have decided two things:
1) The camera must be doing all the work; and,
2) The amount of money you spend on a photographer is not related to the amount you spent on the rest of the day (i.e. you’re really treating it as a separate expense, it’s not part of the rest of your investment for the day, hence optional).
For me, it was a no-brainer. I wanted a professional photographer because I know the camera doesn’t do all the work and the photography expense was part of my investment in the day. They went hand-in-hand.
Now, if you’re not sold on going the professional route, that’s your call. I would recommend against it, but your wedding, your choices. I will give you a couple of other points to think about before you decide. First, remember too that you are putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of someone else to take the photos. What if the photo of great grandma Bertie doesn’t turn out that well, and that was a KEY photo for you? What if they are so excited and nervous, they mess up big time and get hardly anything? You’re probably not paying them much, if anything, so you’ll get what you pay for…but are you willing to put that weight on a friend or family member? If you remember back to when I wrote about the cakes, we wanted something simple, just a simple cake made by a friend. Didn’t care about icing, or wording, or pictures, or anything. It would just mean something because it was made by a friend (plus it would be REALLY tasty hehehe). She was worried that if it didn’t turn out, it would ruin our day, which was completely the opposite of what we wanted. Nevertheless, she went WAY above and beyond what we were asking or hoping for…but she didn’t get much chance to relax for the day. And she missed the ceremony, which I feel guilty about…so remember that you are asking them to WORK your wedding. Which might be fun for about 30 minutes, and then after that, it is just plain work.
Second, you aren’t paying someone to take photos. You’re paying someone to capture the right photos with the right exposure and lighting, and to do so while staying as unobtrusive as possible. To fade into the background if possible. Obviously, they don’t when they’re taking posed shots, but our photographer took pictures during the ceremony and I was only vaguely aware of him. Equally, there is a shot of me with my mother getting ready, and I have no real memory of the photographer being around to take it. There is an art to taking photos without being in everyone’s face while they’re doing it, and inexperienced people rarely have it.
Third, if you are thinking of going this other route, do a dry run of sorts. Get a few of your wedding party together one weekend with your family member or friend, or whoever is going to take the shots at the wedding, go to a venue on a nice day, and take about an hour’s worth of photos. These are the EASIEST photos to take as they are posed. Everyone knows to look at the camera. Everyone knows when the photo is being taken. No chance of a candid shot catching someone at a bad angle. Then look at the photos and decide — are they “good enough”? Do they have good lighting? Are they, for lack of a better benchmark, the best photos you have ever had taken of you? A good photographer will give you good shots, regardless of your clothing or setting. They’ll make it work.
What do the photographers often have to contend with? A pressure-filled situation, dealing with Bridezilla and Groomzilla and their extended family, wrangling them all together, getting them to listen, and being able to decide on the fly between three different lenses, two different settings, and choice of lighting equipment to make it all work. To get it right the first time, cuz we’re LIVE, baby!
Often, experienced photographers have already dealt with contentious family issues too. Like, for instance, the parents are divorced, dad brought some skank that he left the mom for, mom is there with her boyfriend of the week, there are extra kids involved, and someone wants “the family photo”…experienced photographers know what to ask in advance, and then mix and mingle people at the session to both ensure the bride and groom get the photos THEY want, without starting a family war. People are being rotated in and out quickly, aren’t sure which one is supposed to be “the” big photo, and thus aren’t fighting to be in it themselves while keeping someone else out. Equally, an experienced photographer knows how to deal with the slightly larger bridesmaid who doesn’t look quite as comfortable in sunshine yellow as the three size 2 bridesmaids beside her, and to help them feel both comfortable at the time and welcoming of the photos afterward. I’m a larger guy, and the thought of 1500 pictures of me is borderline dread-inducing. But it’s a wedding, everyone will be taking shots of my new wife and I’m supposed to be in most of them. Like an accessory. Know what? The posed ones that the photographer took are ones I even LIKE, and I almost never like photos of myself. For instance, I have (at least) a double chin because of my size and body shape. So head shots are not my favorite thing either. Yet, as an experienced photographer, he knew that the best look for me would be leaning forward, with my head tilted up. Guess which photo is our “wedding photo”?
Okay, that’s the end of my sales pitch for hiring an experienced professional photographer.
Now, for a second, let’s look at the business model for wedding photographers prior to about 2003. Digital wasn’t very sophisticated yet, so the truly high-end photographer was still using film. Which meant they had total and complete control over the entire process. They took the photos. They developed the negatives (or had them developed). Then, they would go through small proofs with you, and you would order your prints from them. Along with books, enlargements, etc. It was basically a complete monopoly in each situation, a monopoly of one-to-one once you chose them. Then digital came along and people started asking for copies. The digital copies. And disruption entered the photo business.
While many photographers hung on to the old business model, others broke it into discrete elements:
Fee for working the wedding and reception (hourly or set rate for the day);
Fee for basic development of a “core” set of prints, including some retouching;
Fee for providing copies of some set number of e-prints, often in limited quality for format (i.e. low res for web, not good enough to blow up or do 8x10s);
Fees for providing other levels of quality of prints; and,
Fees for printing certain books or “photo” sets.
Basically, they created an “a la carte” menu, but if you wanted the same as traditional, you would just take a+b+e. It could add up quickly though, and it really didn’t meet my needs/desires. I was looking for other business models.
A friend of ours had found a photographer for their wedding by advertising at the local college in their photography program for someone who was looking for more experience, a set price for (a) above, and all the digital prints would go to the couple. Worked out for them, but it’s also a bit of a risk — what if the budding photographer screws up, because they’re not that experienced? Does that matter to you?
It mattered to me. I wanted more experience than that. Plus, not for nothing, every professional photographer out there will tell them (just read the blogs or discussion forums) that trading “exposure” and “practice” for their craft is really bad business for the photographer. It undervalues their output, which is what they’re selling. Some photographers are REALLY quite passionate about it, in the same way people complain about the exploitative nature of unpaid internships. Now, in my friend’s case, the photographer was paid (albeit cheaper than full-time photographer) and did a good job (one photo in particular is contest-quality, in my view), so it was win-win all around. But a bit more risk than I wanted to take. I wanted the best photos I could afford.
In our case, we reached out to three companies. One of them was very traditional. They would give us low-res photos for our website, but only a small number, and not good enough for even printing 4×6″ prints; everything else would reside with them, and if we wanted to print books or prints for anyone, we would have to go through them and pay the relatively extortionate prices that they all charge for that end of the business.
A second company was a bit more digital, and people would be able to view and order prints online, but again, we could have SOME prints electronically, but not very many. Most would reside with the company and if we wanted more prints ten years from now, we would go through them. All rights rest with them, and to ensure it, they hold all the files.
We kept poking around, and a friend of ours who had been married a couple of years before gave me the name of his guy. Bill was a retired press photographer, and while he liked working as a photographer, he had no real interest in controlling all the production factors for printing. Lucrative, but not the business model he wanted to spend time managing.
Instead, he charged us an upfront fee for the day to take all the photos, a combined rate to give us some basic retouching electronically, and about 1500 photos or so for us for the day. Full digital images, including the RAW image for about 500. He’d basically go through and weed out where he had, say, four copies of the same pose, or where one of the people was squinting or picking their nose for example. But everything else? It was all ours. He even offered to hook us up with some of the high-end printers, if we wanted to, but he noted that most people just used regular retail sites like Black’s to do their prints. No one else even came close to that kind of deal. So he was basically offering us (a) + (b) above, with complete copies of the e-versions and we could do what we liked with them.
And since I was adamant I wanted digital copies of everything so we could reprint at any time we wanted, and didn’t want to be locked into a supplier for life, it was an easy choice of the three.
I confess I had a bias against the previous model. Back when my father retired some 20 years before, my siblings and I got together and had some group photos taken. It was all film-based, we got some proofs, and we did a large blow-up of the best of the bunch. We could have ordered more stuff individually, and we all thought about it but never got around to it. Fast-forward about 10 years, and my father had passed away. I was interested in getting a set of pics made for each of us, and I tried to reach out to the photographer. Guess what? He wasn’t a photographer anymore. Sure, he had tons of boxes of photos and negatives sitting in his basement, a flooding disaster waiting to happen, and there were no backups. He wasn’t even sure how long it would take to find them. I was asking him about buying the whole set — proofs and negatives — and he didn’t really want to sell me the negatives. So, in the end, I cheated. I just scanned the proofs I had. I didn’t want big blow-ups anyway, so scanning was fine for my purposes. I’d rather have had control of the negatives for the future, but well, that wasn’t his business model. So when it came time for our wedding, I wanted full digital versions both for archival purposes AND to be able to put them on the web or print at will. Am I likely to print often? Of course not. But I paid for the photos to be taken…I wanted the flexibility to be able to control what I did with them later. I couldn’t enter them in contests or anything, or sell them, they weren’t “fully” mine, but they were fully licensed to me for our use.
Originally, when people started offering videography for weddings, it was a bit hit-and-miss in my view. At the low-end, it could look like the movie, The Blair Witch Project, with shaky handheld cameras and rapid cuts. In the middle, people would take modest quality cameras and put them on tripods with a “set” view for the ceremony, speeches, and most promisingly, the first few dances. I have a video camera, and I shot video of my brother’s wedding and it isn’t bad, but far from professional. I also used our little hand-held camera to capture my sister-in-law’s ceremony and first dance, and it is good for the ceremony (a bit basic), but looks BAD for the first dances due to low-light conditions. I used the same camera at my wife’s friend’s wedding, same time-frame as our own wedding, and I had to edit the ceremony and dance videos to even make them VISIBLE due to similarly low light. Okay as a souvenir, but not ideal. At the high-end, people were walking around with the cameras you see camera crews doing roadside interviews or weather reports with, which isn’t surprising since often they were the same cameramen using borrowed equipment from the TV station.
Fast-forward 10-15 years, and you have huge growth in video due to the high-quality you can get from cellphones now. And so videographers have had to up their game. The big trend is the use of GoPro on small stands (easy to get closer to the action) and, wait for it…drones. Of course, drones only make sense if you have a venue that includes an outside component that will benefit from a birds-eye view. You might try flying a small drone in a church during the ceremony, but it’s a recipe for disaster and distracting, plus the Minister will likely freak on you. But it can be quite impressive.
Personally, I think a lot of the smaller cameras now make the “added” value of professional videography a lot lower. It’s hard to do it unobtrusively as the big cameras come with huge lighting options, but if you can get close with a cellphone, or a stand-alone DSLR, why not? Some of the DSLRs will even shoot in HD and even 4K. Way overkill for what you need, but if all you’re doing is putting it on a tripod somewhere and letting it run for awhile, that’s not rocket science and may not be worth the larger cost to have it done professionally. Just personal preference though — it wouldn’t be worth it to me, I’m fine with the photos.
One of the benefits you frequently get with a professional photographer from the area is knowledge of all the different venues around…ones that look good in early morning or late afternoon, ones that are great in case of rain, ones that aren’t 20 couples all lined up waiting to get in for their shots that day (there’s an arboretum in Ottawa that looks like Grand Central Station on Saturday afternoons in July — there are BRIDES and GROOMS everywhere!).
We did a few impromptu shots near our wedding venue, as a block from the site was a place my wife and I considered our “corner”. When we were first dating, we both lived in the same neighbourhood. I lived on Nelson Street, she lived on Besserer. If we were going somewhere, maybe out for dinner or just over to the market or the mall, we would meet “at the corner” — i.e. Nelson at Besserer. It was about the same distance from both our places and en route to commercial areas, so it was a good place to meet. On the way home from work, we’d frequently part there too. Later at night, I’d walk her home, but if we were just commuting, it was “the corner”. So we took some pics there, nothing that really stood out, just for fun.
We then moved on to more formal pics (having done a few at the theatre already) to a site that is actually under a bridge in the downtown on a walkway. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Under a bridge?”. Partly why it is popular with certain photographers is that it isn’t super busy, and the backdrop is cool. But more importantly, it’s also covered (i.e. dry) with lots of natural light coming from the sides. I was a bit doubtful at the start, but it turned out great. Plus, we did some shots at the boat with various configurations at the bow of the boat.
D. Photo checklist
So, one of the first “planning” questions that you will get asked by the photographer is if you have your “list” of desired shots. They’ll take lots, they’ll have ideas of their own, etc., but do you have a “set” playlist so-to-speak of your greatest hits? There are obvious ones:
Bride and groom;
With parents, alone and together;
With both sets of parents;
With siblings, etc.
And so you’ll likely come up with 20 or so “must-haves”. And a good photographer will keep that list handy, ticking them off as they go, although it will be interspersed throughout the day. You may, for example, decide that you REALLY want a good shot of you dancing with your great grandfather, and that will happen near the end of the day. But you may also want some of you getting ready, and that should be on your list.
I sort of screwed up on our list. We had the standard shots that we wanted, and since we don’t have multiple sets of parents with extra spouses running around, there was no family drama to work around in that sense. So we wanted shots of us, shots of us with our families, shots of our friends (mostly candid), and shots of some of the milling around at the ceremony / reception / etc. (all candids). For formal stuff, we wanted Andrea getting ready, me getting ready (an addon), the ceremony, after shots at the theatre, shots at our corner, formal posed shots with the wedding party and parents, and some posed shots at the boat. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. We didn’t do a shot-by-shot list, and often those are discouraged anyway as they get a bit pedantic at the loss of spontaneity. The photographer worries about it, you should not be during the big day.
How did I screw up? I oversimplified something. Let me show the progression:
Andrea getting ready:
Pre-ceremony i.e. me getting ready:
The main ceremony:
Post-ceremony “meet the couple”:
Formal pose at the theatre:
Under the bridge:
Now, if you look at that last photo, you’ll see a small, well, imbalance I guess. Andrea and I, check. Her parents (in between us), the maid of honour in blue (her sister, plus her husband up tall and her daughter), her grandfather and my mother. Or, put differently two from “my side” of the family and six from “her side”. We didn’t try to take all my siblings for these photos, as we would catch them later at the boat.
And that’s where I made my error. I said, “Okay, check, we have Andrea’s family covered, now we need to make sure my family is covered”. Except, we didn’t have ALL of Andrea’s family covered, we only had immediate family. I had over-simplified in my head. We went off to the boat, did a bunch of photos at the front of the boat. Mostly with my family. Andrea with her new brothers-in-law, my mother with her grandchildren, different siblings and their families with and without us, all the new sisters-in-law together.
The photographer was up on the dock, looking down and snapping away:
For my family, they are some of the best photos I have ever seen of us, partly as it had been so long since we did that kind of posing with all of us. The one with my brothers? Awesome.
We were starting to run a bit low on time. All those photos and milling about were taking precious minutes. I passed by one of my new cousins, and she asked if it was time for them yet. And in my head, even that question wasn’t enough to trigger a re-consideration. I had in my head “Okay, we have all the photos of Andrea’s family plus now my family, soon it will be time to do all the friends and guests at once.” I didn’t even twig to the idea of Andrea with all her extended family. We would love to have photos of her with her cousins, great aunt and grandfather, aunts and uncles, etc. And because I had checked off the “Andrea and family” box, at least mentally, we moved on to the “friends” photo.
A better checklist would have solved that problem. And, to be honest, that’s also not on the photographer. Bill was up on the dock, we couldn’t even communicate very well, he had no idea who we were rotating in and out, he was just snapping away for us. At the end, I would have said quite confidently we had “everything”. Sigh.
Now, here’s a small question-mark. How long would you want your formal photographer to be around? Most suggest they stay until dinner and then bail. Why? Because they’re being paid by the hour (or a set rate for the day), and that day is getting pretty long for them. They were working while the bride was getting ready, as early as 11:00 for us and well nigh on to 6:00. We wanted him to keep doing candids and the first dance, which created a small wrinkle. Once he was on the boat, it wouldn’t be easy for him to just “hop off” and go home. So we arranged for the boat to dock early (after dinner, after some dancing) so he plus a few others could “escape” for the night. Then we danced some more and called it a night. While some parties routinely go until 2:00 or 3:00, ours was over in advance of midnight. I’m a bit disappointed with some of our dance photos, but it was also a difficult lighting situation and we didn’t want to lug all that extra equipment around on the boat too. Good enough, sure, but a little more difficult than it would have been if we were at a traditional venue.
Oh, and by the way? If the photographer is working through dinner, it’s kind of a good practice to feed him or her. 🙂
E. What and how are you printing?
Back in the pre-digital days, your choices for printing were rather limited. You went with a photographer and they would have a predetermined set of printing options — a big book for you, some smaller books for the parents, and options for producing individual prints for lots of people. All with extortionate mark-up rates.
Now, you have a plethora of choices. There are tons of sites out there with basic photobook options — not photo albums where you insert photos, but actually printed books based on what you upload. And almost all of them come with some pre-set wedding themes and mockups to use as well as an option to let THEM design it for about $10-$20 more. Or you can go with ones that are specially-focused on wedding photobooks. It’s all a bit DIY, and you may be better off letting someone else design it for you if you know someone good who won’t ask for your first-born child as payment. Again, there’s some choice involved.
Or you can just print a bunch of photos and stick them in photo albums.
I will also mention a few other things to consider as you’re working through your photography needs.
1. Ask those extra amateurs to take a whack of extra photos and share them with you. We had a nephew, niece and family friend all taking lots of extra shots and they gave us the e-versions. One of my favorite photos from the boat — a semi-posed shot — is actually from the friend, not the formal photographer who was shooting right next to her. His are good, but just for timing of shutter snaps, his missed part of our smile and hers was perfectly timed.
The same family friend also thinks it is a great “gift” to give to the couple — copies of the photos from the wedding, sometimes even before a professional photographer has shared any.
2. It isn’t really required anymore since so many people have smartphones, but some couples will put small special cameras (like pinhole cameras or just small digital ones) on each table and ask the guests to fill up the memory card through-out the night. My experience is that there are interesting ones where you see people interacting who only met through the wedding — like your high school best friend talking to your wife’s grandfather — but the overall “benefit” of the photos is a bit low to justify the expense.
Instead, give people a URL or have them share on FB, say ten photos they take at the wedding with their smartphone. Turn it into a small challenge. Tell them too that the bride and groom CAN’T be in any of them to make sure they get all the candid ones of the crowd.
3. Plan ahead to use your photos in multiple ways. Lots of people get their shots, share a few on FB, print a brag book for the parents and a souvenir book for themselves, and they’re done. Not me. I’ve done the books. I printed some smaller prints for souvenir frames for the wedding party and parents. I put them on my gallery website. I re-used them to produce a calendar for my wife, with all 12 months having shots from throughout the whole six months of experience planning and having the wedding. I copied them over to a digital photo frame so they can run randomly. Some people do mugs, or puzzles, or handbags, or notebooks, or fridge magnets. Maybe NONE of those things appeal to you, but I bet you can think of some other use besides just photo albums.
4. Find something creative to do for the photos when they’re being taken. There are lots of shots out there on the web where people have pretended they were running from something, and the photographer photoshopped in Godzilla. Or there’s the somewhat overused photo booth idea. If you can, find something meaningful to you. I even just loved the rocks in our formal pics as props. I’ve seen some great shots online where people took pics in classic hotel lobbies or lounge rooms with a bunch of different heights, and an old-fashioned filter added to the shots. Throw in a couple of props like gin bottles and Tommy-guns, and you have something fun and different. Don’t go crazy and try to have everyone in a giant tree, but you can do something other than the standard everyone in a row.
And that’s what we did. We organized our wedding in six months, and even though people told us we were crazy, everything we “needed” worked out. A few compromises here and there, but nothing that was a deal-breaker for us. We just had to remember that inflexibility in one area (six month window) meant we had to be flexible elsewhere (venues).