More than a third of Canadian homeowners were caught short at least once in the past year, unable to cover their expenses, a new survey has found.

Manulife Bank Canada found rising housing costs are making it difficult for homeowners to balance their big financial obligations: paying down their mortgage, saving for retirement and managing day-to-day expenses.

The survey found 37 per cent of homeowners couldn’t pay their bills at least once in the last 12 months and that six in 10 are not confident they will have enough saved for retirement.

Some will benefit from the rising cost of housing by having significant amounts of home equity, but not enough savings to fund their retirements.

“Our research has consistently found that becoming debt-free is among the top financial priorities for Canadian homeowners. They must also find a balance between debt repayment and saving for retirement so they don't end up house-rich and asset poor,” said Rick Lunny, president and CEO of Manulife Bank Canada.

A full 94 per cent of respondents said they wish to continue to be homeowners in the early years of their retirement. Among those in their 50s, 74 per cent want to remain in their current home. Fewer than two-thirds expect to be mortgage-free at retirement.

The average Canadian with a mortgage has an outstanding balance of $181,000, up $6,000 from the number reported last fall. Average mortgage debt remains highest in Vancouver at $259,000, compared to $217,000 for Calgary and Edmonton, $194,000 for Toronto and $156,000 for Montreal.

More than a quarter of homeowners predicted their home equity will make up 80 per cent or more of their household wealth at their retirement. Another 17 per cent said it would account for 60 to 80 per cent of their household wealth.

Lunny says difficult decisions may lie ahead for many homeowners.

“If you reach retirement with significant home equity but limited savings you may need to adjust your thinking if you wish to stay in your current home,” he said.

That may include delaying retirement, accepting a lower standard of living in retirement, moving to a less expensive home and borrowing against home equity.

“With a conservative, disciplined plan, borrowing against your home equity can be an effective, low-risk way to supplement your retirement income while still enjoying all of the benefits of staying in your current home,” said Lunny.

He said the best option is to work with an advisor well before retirement to get a plan in place.

The survey also found that 57 per cent of respondents said the recent decline in the Canadian dollar would impact their spending. Within this group, a quarter said they’ve reduced their online cross-border shopping, and another quarter said they’ve cut down on shopping trips to the United States.

Seventeen per cent have changed or cancelled a cross-border trip due to the dollar.

The Manulife Bank of Canada poll surveyed 2,373 Canadian homeowners in all provinces between the ages of 20 to 59, with household incomes of $50,000 or more. The survey was conducted online by Environics Research between Feb. 3 and 20. National results were weighted by province, income and age.