Friday, 31 August 2012

Do Canada's new regulations mean I need to replace my car seat?

If you weren't yet in the market for a car seat at the start of 2012, then you may have missed the cat that Canadian car seat regulations have changed. As of the start of this year, new child restraint equipment and booster seat requirements were made compulsory. Now don't panic—this doesn't mean you have to wade through scores of “legal” and “illegal” systems; there was a 19 month transition period given to manufacturers to bring their designs up to the requirements, so what's on the market now should be reflective of those changes.
So what has changed? Well, we've followed the example of the lower 48, and have basically made the regulations that were already in place more stringent. Specifically, as per Transport Canada, here are the foremost of the modifications:
  • a lap/shoulder seat belt is now required for all types of car seats
  • There is now more rigorous dynamic testing to include parameters like the US's acceleration corridor, as well as their performance criteria
  • the definition of “infant” has been changed from 9 kg and under to 10 kg and under
  • the maximum weight limit permitted for child seats has been increased from 22 kg to 30 kg
  • booster seats must now undergo dynamic testing
  • the rebound limit on rear facing child seats has been extended
  • school buses are now permitted to use harnesses (that have been certified) for children with special needs
So if you purchased a car seat prior to the implementation of these changes, do you need to replace it? Not if that's your only reason for replacing the car seat. However, if the child seat was in a vehicle that was involved in a collision, it needs replacing. The same holds true if its expiry date has passed, since wear and tear can affect their performance.
Despite its extreme importance, car seat shopping isn't something to be intimidated by; thankfully, in Canada all child care seats that are available on the market must have the National Safety Mark, ensuring that the seats meet Canadian safety standards.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Could you live in 100 square feet?

The average North American house size in the 1950s was 800 sq ft. According to BBC, today, that average is 2300 sq ft...and just because that's the average, it doesn't mean there aren't millions who quickly “outgrow” 2300 sq ft and seek homes in the neighbourhood of 5000 sq ft. Several online writers with an interest in this area have attributed swelling house sizes to both a forgetfulness in how to maximize any given space's utility, and an accumulation of “stuff” that our predecessors just weren't laden with. Not everyone can, or wants to, keep up with that growing house size. Taking care of a larger property means spending more time and money than our ancestors ever did on their homes, which consequently means less time and money to pursue interests and hobbies.
Not surprisingly then, resentment towards this phenomenon has given rise to a movement determined to counter that. All you need to do to see this for yourself is google a phrase like “small space living,” and you'll be greeted by the plethora of blogs and websites devoted to helping people make this a reality. It doesn't stop with returning to the 800 sq ft of the 50s. The community of those who are genuinely excited by the prospect of living “small” is full of people who want to push the limits of this kind of lifestyle. Some aspire to live—with spouse and child—in spaces as small as 400 sq ft...and some are trying to go even further, and live in portable homes as little as 100 sq ft. Can you imagine all the cleaning that wouldn't need to be done for a home like that? You might wonder if this movement is only drawing the ultra bohemian—those who don't have jobs and friends to entertain. Surprisingly, that isn't the case. In fact, there are families in the midst of raising children who are giving the tiny home a go. And these homes are a far cry from dowdy old RVs set up in sketchy parks. People with land are doing this, and they're doing it with style. The home pictured above is an example of a design by Tumbleweed Houses, whose plans range from 100 sq ft to just over 800 sq ft.
Of course, there are concerns relating to stability: how do you ensure that you're covered if anything happens to your mobile home? Well, the good news is that just as a standard house is insured by home insurance, there are mobile home policies that protect your mobile home, as well as other structures on your land (garages, sheds). This coverage protects against things like fires, windstorm damage, lightening, and several other disasters. So if you're daring enough to try extreme downsizing, you don't have to forgo peace of mind!
Making this decision is not without its challenges, and it certainly isn't for everyone, but if it's something you've wanted to try, and if you're intimidated by trying to figure out where to begin, start small (fitting advice, isn't it?): borrow books from the library on minimalism, and create a list of blogs that you find helpful in demystifying small spaces. And above all, have fun.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Home upgrades that hold resale value

Real estate markets that skyrocket unchecked make us uneasy. For most of us, they elicit fears that we'll simply never be able to afford home-owning. For those of us who are already homeowners, we worry that our children won't be able to afford it. But for this latter group, we also know that it means we currently hold valuable assets in our hands. So, when we hear news about the real estate market cooling, despite our relief over knowing that those we care about will be able to buy homes after all, there is also some apprehension about selling our properties profitably when that time comes. While there is little we can do to affect overall market prices, there is still a considerable amount that can be done on an individual basis to ensure that your sale is a good one.
Paint – we've listed this one first because it is probably the most economical upgrade a person could possibly give their home. Fresh paint can entirely “clean up” a house. Avoid over-the-top, obvious colours that announce themselves, but at the same time, you'll want to create warmth that whites just don't offer. Your best bet is to stick with soft neutrals that can be accented with white baseboards and crown molding. The effect will be inviting, yet timeless.
Door – consider replacing your front door—preferably with a steel one. This is the first impression that potential buyers will have when they come to view your home, so this is a worthwhile upgrade. Additionally, this is one of those few upgrades where the added value to your selling price exceeds the cost of putting it in.
Flooring – many homes that are carpeted throughout actually have hardwood beneath the carpeting. If this is true for you, then ripping out the carpet and finishing the wood will give you high end flooring for a fraction the cost of installing it altogether. In addition to being the standard of elegance, hardwood floors are also great because most insurance companies cover them for water damage.
Details – update your doorknobs and light fixtures. Like the perfect tie, or purse, these little accessories finish the overall look of your home in a polished, attractive way.
Atmosphere – buyers know that they are not buying your lifestyle...but it sends subtle messages about your home as an environment to live in. With that in mind, keep it tidy, inviting, and clean smelling. Consider boiling herbs or oils to eliminate—and not just mask—smells. Remove any unsightly clutter from the yard. Remember: first impressions go a long way.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Affording post secondary education

Aside from housing, education may be the biggest source of debt for many households. While the merits of pursuing a post secondary education are many, the upfront costs of doing so are huge. Fortunately, however, since this is not a new practice, our society has had ample time to look back on our predecessors and figure out what some of their best (and worst) practices were in affording post secondary education. As such, here are __ ways to ease the financial pain:
  1. Plan ahead – whether this is for something as seemingly small as the costs of stationery items, or for something as large as tuition itself, you will thank yourself for sparing the latte here and there, and directing whatever change you can to these funds. Buying supplies well before you need them falls into planning ahead as well; it can be advantageous because then you are not a hostage of the market prices. You have ample time to shop around for deals.
  2. Get covered – the last thing a poor college kid needs is to have to replace their items owing to theft or damage. Protect your property! A good plan should cover computers, cell phones, smart phones, mp3 players and ipods, books, bicycles, and even clothes. In most cases, you'll be protected against natural disasters and theft. That covers your “stuff.”
  3. Don't pay for what you're not using – while supply lists can be really useful in terms of keeping you focused on what your needs will be, often times unnecessary items sneak onto them. For example, a sibling may have an older edition of a textbook you'll be needing; do you really need the latest edition? You might, but if you can snoop around to find out first, you may save yourself a whole lot of dough. Better yet, see if you can borrow or even leaf through the newer version to learn if the differences will affect you.
  4. Don't pay for what you're not using – nope, that's not an error. Fortunately, most schools in Canada automatically enroll their students in health insurance plans which is important because when you're studying, the distraction of worrying about how to pay for secondary health matters is an unwelcome one. That said, you might already have secondary health insurance—either through your own employer, or through one of your parents if you're still considered a dependent. If that's the case, opt out of your school's coverage. You will be reimbursed for it.
  5. Borrow – if there's an item that will only be useful to you for the duration of a course, try to borrow it.
  6. Shop second hand – when borrowing fails, turn to used items.
  7. Liquidate – when you're done with something, sell it fast. The longer you wait, the more its value may depreciate.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Why you shouldn't get rid of your hard copy library

Despite a recent feature of ours that focused on the advent of the e-textbook, paper copies of books in general are far from becoming obsolete. In fact, contrary to the stereotype of today's youth being robotically hooked on their digital “stuff,” it's the younger demographic that feels a sentimental attachment to the “old ways” of reading...and since these youth are quite literally the future, we can surmise then that physical books won't be disappearing anytime soon. While the portability of an electronic reader makes it an almost indispensable piece of technology, it's more of an “in addition to” rather than an “instead of” counterpart to the hard copy book. There are plenty of reasons (some of them financial) to maintain your old school library:
  1. Aesthetics: books—especially those with attractive covers—dress up your shelves and walls in a way that your Kindle or ipad just won't do. Aesthetics come into play during the actual reading experience as well: we are profoundly (however subtly) impacted by texture. A well bound book printed with quality ink on superior paper with vivid illustrations can give its consumer as much satisfaction as a smooth espresso.
  2. Economy – while there are myriads of free ebooks available, not all ebooks are free. Usually they are bought for as much as, or slightly less than, their paper analogues. However, many of these not-available-for-free-digitally titles can be bought for less than a fastfood lunch at a used bookstore. Until there is a way to sell used ebooks, and until that catches on, paper books win in this domain.
  3. Investment – books have the potential to be artifacts with inherent value as objects (and not just value that comes from their content). Libraries like the Rawlinson Rare Book Collection at the University of Alberta exemplify this. Rare and antique books aren't always identified as such right away...if you happen to come across one, and recognize it for what it is, it can become a source of revenue to you in the future when the right collector comes along.
  4. Minimizing risk – with an e-reader, if it is lost or damaged, your entire collection is affected (though you may be able to recover some of it if it was backed up). With a physical library, it is much harder to lose or damage the entire collection. That said, it is still possible, so you should protect your library against theft or damage from fires and floods with contents insurance. Particularly if you are an accidental collector, you may be surprised at just how much your library is worth.

Monday, 20 August 2012

There's no mouse in my house!

For over forty years, the mouse has been as integral a part of any computer system as the keyboard or monitor. Even the shift from desktop to laptop computers didn't obliterate this humble hunk of plastic and wires; portable computers simply adapted the design of the mouse so that it was built in...but it's still the same awkward two dimensional navigation tool that it's always been. And for this 3D graphics entrenched generation, that simply won't do any longer.
Who is this usurper seeking to supplant the faithful mouse? The current candidate for this undertaking is a system called the “Leap,” and it's made by the Los Angeles-based company Leap Motion. Its makers say that despite its diminutive proportions (about the size of a mini Mars bar), it will allow you to browse items on your computer with the wave of a finger, and will even record hand written notes and signatures for official documents all by motioning in the air. Its creators say that its technology is much more refined version of Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect, claiming that it is 200 times more accurate than any other device currently available. It will track and recreate hand movements with the utmost precision.

How does it work? The device needs to be mounted onto your computer in much the same way that a USB key would be loaded. Once it's connected, it requires a swipe of the user's hand to calibrate it. After that, it will sense gestures and movements you weren't even aware you were making.
It will cost about $70, so it won't break the bank, but even so, you'll want to make sure that it's included in your computer insurance in case anything does happen to it. It will be compatible with both Macs and PCs.

Quick...Somebody get on Pinterest and post pictures of artistic ways to reclaim the obsolete mice that will flooding our offices!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Three Canadian cities to consider for retirement

Do you like to avoid cliches like the plague? (Sorry, couldn't resist!) Then perhaps the snowbird retiree lifestyle isn't your best bet for old age. Want to know our picks for great Canadian cities to retire in? Here they are:

Canmore AB – Retirees today are increasingly opting for mountain towns. Many Canadians are drawn to Canmore in particular, for its breathtaking views, endless options for outdoor activities, and peaceful atmosphere. Nestled in the Canadian Rockies and only an hour west of Calgary, Canmore offers some of the country's best trails for biking and hiking, as well as a thriving skiing culture. Additionally, it's only a short 20 minute journey from the Banff Centre which furnishes this area with plenty of artistic and musical productions.

Saanich BC – small cities are taking on a new appeal for retirees who love the culture afforded by the major cities but who don't love their overwhelming crowd and pace. If you fall into this group, Saanich is a boon. Literally a hop and a skip away from downtown Victoria, Saanich offers its residents an impressive variety of architectural styles situated in an awesome climate to boot. Summer temperatures rarely break the 30*C mark, and winter temperatures seldom dip very far below freezing. Its proximity to Victoria also means that residents have access to great healthcare facilities, recreation centres, and schools, all while feeling like they live in a neverending garden.

Ottawa ON – For such a major city, Ottawa is incredibly clean and visually attractive. Residents of Ottawa are committed to walking and biking, as evidenced by the quantity and quality of pedestrian paths that lace the city...and with the number of business that deliver here, it is definitely possible to get by without a car. With countless free attractions (you can sign out museum passes from the library here!) and an impressive array of ethnic cuisines, the only disadvantage you might encounter is that too many people you know will want to visit you for too long at a time.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The pop-up textbook...well, sort of

Are you nostalgic for your dusty old high school finite textbook? You know, the one about twenty of your predecessors drooled on when they fell asleep trying to use it as a pillow? No? Then you may appreciate Mat MacInnis's zeal for bringing textbooks to life. MacInnis's San Francisco-based company, Inkling, founded in 2009, currently offers 150 digital textbooks for use on the Ipad. One of his leading supporting publishers is McGraw-Hill, a name which ought to conjure warm fuzzy memories in the vein of locker-clad hallways and rat dissections.
It's not like the electronic book hasn't been done already. Between Kindles, Kobos, Nooks, Sony e-readers and the like, the digital bookworm has no shortage of reading devices to choose from. And e-ink technology is easy on the eyes; rather than using light, which can take its toll on your vision after extended periods of exposure, the images rendered by digital ink are actually the result of many tiny spherical beads—black on one half and white on the other—that rotate depending upon the image they are forming. This is not the case with tablets, which, like computer monitors, produce images using light. So why use a less specialized tablet, like an Ipad for instance, for reading? That's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison.
Novels don't serve the same function as textbooks. E-ink technology is wonderful for novels because it allows comfortable reading over long periods, along with portability, with little to no loss of the experience of reading a hard copy version. Textbooks, however, aren't meant to be snuggled up with on a rainy day for hours of entertainment (we're not passing judgment on you if you do this...we're just pointing out that this isn't their primary function). Textbooks are educational tools and are typically used for brief periods of time. And to that end, a digital textbook is a great idea. The digital textbook won't land you in physio therapy three times a week, thereby racking up your health insurance bills. And with its colourful display, it has a very attractive design, which will likely engage students better in their own learning. Additionally, e-textbooks often come with multimedia, quizzes, and the ability to take advantage of social networking for exchanging notes. If you're not sold yet, though, perhaps this will do the trick: for as little as $2.99, you can purchase a single chapter, rather than an entire book. All of this is not to say that owning a tablet is a necessity. Rather, the point is to highlight that if you already have one, it may be worth investigating for parents and students alike.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Frome grime to shine

Maintaining your car is key in upholding its resale value, as well as extending its life so that you don't need to replace it too soon. Usually, though, when we think about car maintenance, we think about internal things, like oil changes and engine checks. To be sure, the guts of the car are what make it go, so it's sensible to assume that these parts take priority. However, maintaining the exterior of your car is important for the same reason that skincare in humans is important: the outside is what holds together the inside and protects it from damage. Additionally, looks do matter; assuming two cars are matched in every area of auto performance, a potential buyer will be more interested in the one that looks better.
Of course, visiting a professional for a detailing job is a reliable way to go, but if you've squeezed your budget to the point where it's not feasible for you to do that regularly, don't have options!
If DIYing doesn't hold much appeal for you, and you feel you can't budget a trip to the pros, consider the next best thing: pros in the making. Remember your friend who teaches high school? Chances are the school he or she teaches at has an auto department. Usually, schools with an auto department offer basic services to teachers at a fraction of the cost of a professional job, and they are supervised by a professional (auto teachers have typically been in the industry for literally decades before they decide to teach). Ask your friend to make an appointment for you...or even get in touch with an auto teacher at a local high school directly yourself.
If DIYing does appeal to you, here are five tips we've gathered along that way that will help restore the sparkle to your car.
  1. When it comes to cleaning, always work your way out from in. Start by dusting an vaccuming the interior, so that you're not simply transferring that dust to an already clean exterior.
  2. When it comes to cleaning glass, try this old wartime trick: use newspaper...just plain old, dry, untreated newspaper. You'll be amazed at how effective it is at making your windows crystal clear. Talk about an economical, low-impact cleaner!
  3. Removing stickers and decals should be done before you wash the car, ideally. The adhesive on these stickers becomes softer in the heat, so sunlight is your friend here. If you live in the heart of Mordor where the sun never shines, a hairdryer will do. An alternative is to saturate the sticker in oil (vegetable oil works just fine). If you leave it for several hours (even a full day), you'll find that sticker slides right off. Once you have removed the sticker, clean up any adhesive it has left behind.
  4. When you reach the exterior, begin with the wheels and the surrounding area. This way, you lessen the chances of dirt from the wheels splashing all over the parts you've already cleaned.
  5. For drying, choose microfiber cloths over cotton. They are super absorbent, and won't cause very fine scratches to your car the way that cotton might.

Friday, 10 August 2012

When cars talk...

I am pleased to report that I have never been caught driving a car like the one in Uncle Buck, where the title character leaves a little explosion upon each arrival he makes. That said, I haven't always driven a noiseless machine. I have definitely contributed my share of noise pollution to the roads I frequent simply by driving there. So what commonly heard car sounds require immediate attention, and which are not so serious? Let's take a look.
Thumping: is typically the result of a flat tire. If the flat occurred while the car was parked, then hopefully you'll notice it before you take off. Otherwise, you'll immediately feel and hear its thumping vibrating from the suspension. A flat tire at the front of your car will tend to drag the car towards the side of a flat. We really don't advice driving on a flat. It'll wreck your tire in no time. Without air in the tire, the sidewalls will get pinched between the road and the wheel rim. Even driving one measly kilometer with a flat is long enough to damage the tire, and if the tire detaches from the rim as flats often do, you could really damage your wheel as well.

Screeching: screeching with no other sound attached to it shouldn't alarm you if it's coming from inside your wheels, especially if you notice it more when you're slowing down, and when the weather exhibits damp conditions. Your brake pads are simply grating against the discs, but they still work. Adding new brake pads should do the trick for eliminating the sound.

Screeching that ends in a putter – if this sound is coming from under your hood, as it likely is, you won't want to take off for a road trip anytime soon. Get it checked out as soon as you can. That sound is the sign of a faulty belt, faulty tension, or a misaligned pulley.

Puffing – puffing that comes from under the hood, especially when your car is idle, is serious. It's a sign that an exhaust manifold is not working as it should, and that hot exhaust gases are being released into the air. It's illegal to drive a car in that condition, not to mention ultra dangerous for you, since it will expose you to carbon monoxide.

If ever you are uncertain, err on the side of caution and ask somebody—a mechanic, ideally, but a friend or family member who knows a thing or two about cars (expertise is not necessary) should be able to offer a helpful opinion as well.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Money Matters: a 10 item checklist (Part III of III)

So far, we've covered the importance of monitoring savings, income, bills, bank statements, transportation spending, housing, and healthcare. So what remains?

8. Insurance – reviewing your insurance policies (auto, home, etc) is important for a couple of reasons. Primarily, it ensures that you are protected in the case of unforeseen misfortunes. Additionally though, looking over your policies and doing a bit of comparison shopping can save you a considerable amount. Make sure that you are getting the best rates you can possibly get. If you are unsure, talk to an insurance agent or financial planner.
9. Investments – stay on top of your investments; know how much you have placed where, and make sure you have a sense of how well or how poorly your money is doing there. It may be time to reallocate your resources. Also, be aware of how your goals and needs change in relation to your investments. We all know that higher risks have the potential for higher yields...but if stability and predictability are critical for you at this point in your life, then mutual funds may not be the route for you. Again, if you are unsure, speak with a financial planner, and even consider signing out some library books on the topic.

10. Day to day expenditures – Ahhh. I've heard it told that packing your lunch and skipping the Starbucks in favour of a thermos of home-brewed coffee can actually save far more than you would ever imagine. But is it true? I definitely think so...but it wasn't until I started tracking every single expenditure I made that I began to see this. Are you daunted by the prospect of doing that? Don't be! It can be as simple as you want it to be. If you make a habit of keeping a notebook or electronic device with you where you enter your spendings, plain old arithmetic will tell you where you stand daily, weekly, monthly, however frequently you choose to check. But it can be even easier than that, if you so desire. I'm personally a huge fan of Mint which is free to use. You can link your bank account (multiple accounts, actually) to it and have it instantly create charts and graphs that compare your actual spendings with your goals for various categories that you get to determine. What else does Mint have to boast about? There's a Mint app for just about every device out there, so you can use it on the go (which is how we do most of our spending).

So as you can see, keeping track of your finances is actually very doable. Of course, you may find that there are other categories you would like to add to this checklist. Conversely, there may be categories you feel you don't need to visit so regularly...but if you find yourself at a loss, try using these tips as a starting point, and customize it as you go.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Money Matters: a 10 item checklist (Part II of III)

We left off last week with Part I of a ten item financial checklist you can use as the framework for ordering your finances. Today we'll look at:

4. Bank statements – like credit card statements, bank statements need to be checked frequently to verify that all of the spending contained therein is, in fact, your own. You also want to make sure that returns are recorded as such; I once to an item back to a store, only to find out, when my statement arrived, that instead of having refunded the money to my account, it was charged a second time!

5. Auto/transportation – keep a log of your spendings on gas, repairs, and oil changes (this is also a great way to track when you are due for a change, since you'll be recording dates as well). If you don't own a car, keep track of your transportation costs (cab fare, bus fare, etc).

6. Housing – if you are renting, there shouldn't be a great deal of fluctuation in your monthly payments. However, be aware of rent increases when you are faced with them, and decide if the increase is so much that it makes a move worth considering.

7. Health/Medical – while we are fortunate to live in a place where our provincial governments fund most of our health benefits, there will be the odd item that either requires us to draw upon secondary insurance, or to pay out of pocket. Dental work, vision care, and some types of physical therapy are examples of items that are typically not covered by basic provincial insurance. Make sure your payments for these services are up to date, and make sure you are aware of when your benefits periods start and end in order to make the most of use of your plans.
Be sure to check in soon for Part III, to get the rest of your list, and to learn how to implement it as easily as possible.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Money Matters: a 10 item checklist (Part I of III)

There was a time when work took up so much of my time and energy that I had absolutely no clue whether my finances were in order. It wasn't that I didn't care...I just had no idea how to ensure that I was going to do a thorough job of it. That meant that I needed to (a) design a comprehensive system for managing my money and (b) implement that system. I was already so overwhelmed with other responsibilities, that if a simple, straightforward method of doing this wasn't immediate and obvious, I just wasn't going to get around to doing it. Fortunately, I've since had time to set up a checklist of items that do a pretty good job of covering my basis:

1. Savings – make sure you check this figure regularly, so you have a strong sense of where you are, and where you should be headed. This will enable you to spot when and where you seem to lose money faster than you should. Without monitoring, you really don't realize how easily money can be lost.

2. Pay Stubs – if you are on a salary, you may not see the value of checking your pay stubs, but errors do happen, and it only takes a minute to check them, so consider it time well invested. If you do casual work or any sort of shiftwork at all, then this step becomes imperative. Because your hours may fluctuate from pay period to pay period, and because you may be entitled to different bonuses and incentives for working particular shifts, it is key that you verify your hours and pay rate have been recorded accurately.

3. Recurrent bills – check your credit card statements to make sure that they are accurate. While credit card companies are quite good about catching fraud, they often miss it, so make sure someone isn't enjoying five hundred dollar dinners—or even twenty dollar gadgets—at your expense. Additionally, check that your phone, cable and internet bills are being recorded correctly, according to the terms you agreed to, and ensure that you are not being billed for services you did not ask for or use. Look over your utility bills as well to monitor trends in your own use. For example, you may be spending a time and half your typical electric bill in the summer months if you are overusing your air conditioner. Reviewing your bills can help you monitor that and adjust your spending accordingly.

Stay tuned for the next two installments of this piece to find out about other areas you need to track, and to learn of a free tool to help you do this easily!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Save like a centenarian

Sam L. Savage, a consulting professor at Stanford University, coined a phrase which—if you were hitherto unfamiliar with—ought to completely change the way you plan for retirement. This phrase, “the flaw of averages,” comes from his book The Flaw of Averages: Why We Underestimate Risk in the Face of Uncertainty. In this book, he explains why financial planning that requires guesswork shouldn't be done on the basis of averages. One way he gets the point across is to use the following analogy:
Consider the case of the statistician who drowns while fording a river that he calculates is, on average, three feet deep. If he were alive to tell the tale, he would expound on the “flaw of averages,” which states, simply, that plans based on assumptions about average conditions usually go wrong. This basic but almost always unseen flaw shows up everywhere in business, distorting accounts, undermining forecasts, and dooming apparently well-considered projects to disappointing results.1
What does this mean for retirement planning? Well, consider the way in which most of us go about planning for our old age: we find out what the average lifespan for our demographic is, then determine our average yearly spendings, and perform simple multiplication to figure out how much we should be setting aside. The trouble with this model is that,
A) Many people live well past the average life expectancy
B) There will be years when, owing to circumstances beyond your control, your spending will be considerably higher than your “average.”
Following Savage's reasoning, then, the best way you can safeguard against this is to overestimate. You may not live to be a century, but you should plan as though you will. You may not spend more than your present-day average spendings, but again, you should plan as though you will. A significant portion of our elderly population find themselves running out of money by the time they hit their late eighties/nineties largely in part because they have planned their futures based on the averages.
The lesson to be learned here is that if you are going to use averages as any sort of benchmark, treat them as an absolute minimum which must be added to...because as Savage concludes, “decisions based on average numbers are wrong on average.”

1. Savage, Sam. The Flaw of Averages: Why We Underestimate Risk in the Face of Uncertainty. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2009. Print.