Many Canadians are faced with countless financial decisions every day. We earn income, pay bills, buy necessities, build savings and deal with the many “curve balls” life throws our way. However, while we may be used to dealing with our own money, statistics show that Canadian women on average only score 58% on financial literacy assessments (Statistics Canada, 2014). While 58% is a passing score, times are changing. More and more women are taking responsibility for their financial situations, becoming household breadwinners, independent business owners and equal financial contributors. It is more critical than ever for women to invest time in improving their financial literacy skills.
HERE ARE THE FACTS
- Canadians are choosing to be single longer. In 2016, the percentage of single-person households in Canada reached an all-time high at 28.2% (Statistics Canada, 2016).
- The number of lone-parent families continues to increase in Canada, and while the number of lone fathers has increased, lone mothers still consist of 81% of the close to 700,000 lone-parent families in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2014).
- More and more Canadian women are pursuing post-secondary education. The number of women who hold a post-secondary degree or diploma in Canada has increased by almost 30% over 20 years (Statistics Canada, 2013).
- Canadian women are participating in the workforce more than ever before. In 2014, the labour force participation rate for Canadian women was 82%. This represents a 58% increase since the 1950s (Statistics Canada, 2014).
- The amount of Canadian women who are becoming self-employed is increasing faster than that of Canadian men. The number of self-employed women in Canada grew 13% in ten years (1999-2009). That number is 3% higher than the number of self-employed men (Susan Ward, 2009).
So what does this have to do with women and financial literacy? The statistics show that more Canadian women are managing households, whether they are alone or supporting a family. This means that living expenses, investments, savings, and debt payments in many households are not only the responsibility of women but an increasingly important priority when planning for life and its unexpected events. On top of that, the increase in women pursuing post-secondary education means that more women are now holding student loans and higher amounts of personal debt. And with more women choosing self-employment as a career option, women must not only manage their personal finances but business finances as well. The importance of a strong understanding of financial management has never been greater for Canadian women. The next question is, how do we deal with it?
Here are a few tips for becoming more financially literate:
TIP #1: SELF-EDUCATION IS SELF-CARE.
If you’re concerned about your financial future, you’re certainly not alone. As with many things, a good place to start is with research and self-education. Begin your financial education online by exploring resources from government organizations like the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and Service Canada, your provincial Financial Services Agency (e.g. Money Smart Manitoba) or financial literacy organizations such as Prosper Canada.
Once you have some foundational information, move on to the websites and online resources provided by financial institutions such as banks, investment companies, professional finance designations (e.g. CPA Canada) and financial advisors. When reviewing the information on these types of sites, it’s important to look at more than just the institutions that you use. Look at all available banks and investment companies to compare information, rates, policies and reviews.
If you are looking for a specific answer and can’t seem to find it on these sites, you can Google your question. Just remember to look for your answer on qualified sites from professional finance bloggers and financial organizations. Check for any certifications, are they a CPA, LIT, a financial counsellor or work in the finance industry? Do they belong to organizations that can provide legitimacy? Does their site look professional and well maintained? When it comes to Google search queries, it is important to look at multiple search results so you can get the best answer to your question.
TIP #2: WHEN IN DOUBT, TALK IT OUT.
If you have questions about your finances, it’s important to seek answers. Talk to your partner, a financially-savvy family member, a trusted friend, or a financial advisor about your concerns, thoughts and financial goals. It’s important to find someone with whom you can have an ongoing, open dialogue about finances because financial decisions can be overwhelming at times. If you’re in a relationship, it’s important to discuss each other’s financial situation and goals, both as individuals and as a couple. If your partner is used to controlling all of the finances, ask to be included in the discussion and make sure you understand what is happening with your money.
If you are in a single-person household, try talking to a parent, a sibling or a trusted friend about your situation. Discuss your goals, ask advice, or even hold each other accountable for paying off your debts or achieving a specific financial goal by becoming ‘budget buddies’. Having a trusted person you can discuss your finances with helps relieve some of the stress and confusion that tends to arise when dealing with one’s personal finances.
Many banks provide financial advisors to their clients, some investment companies offer free consultations, and local organizations such as libraries, resource centres and community centres offer financial courses on occasion for free or a small fee. If you aren’t comfortable or perhaps are embarrassed discussing your finances with a loved one, these are all options for getting non-judgmental financial advice.
TIP #3: SET A BUDGET AND DON’T BUDGE IT.
You’ve heard us say it before, and you’ll probably hear us say it again. When it comes to financial planning, a budget can be your best friend. Sometimes knowing where to begin with your budget is the most difficult part, but hopefully, after some self-education and self-reflection, you will have the financial literacy foundations to help get you started.
First, you’ll want to write down your income and your expenses. There are many free income and expense templates available for instance, Google Sheets and Excel online. There are also a few budgeting apps you can try, or you can simply jot it all down on a piece of paper. Once you see your income and your expenses laid out, you can then take the extra step in determining if there are funds that could be going towards financial goals. Are there ways you can cut down spending to put more money towards a vacation or your child’s RESP? Maybe you’ll discover that you have some extra funds available that you can put towards an emergency fund or your retirement? Once your income and expenses are in check, use your budget to look at the big picture (your financial goals) to see what strides can be made, or what changes need to be done in order for you to begin achieving those goals.
Women may still not be on a 100% equal playing field when it comes to money, but we can take the steps necessary towards closing not only the wage gap but the financial education gap in Canada. With the proper knowledge, support and drive, any woman can begin to take positive steps towards controlling her financial future. And while we may be living in a #GirlBoss day and age, it’s important to remember that financial literacy is beneficial to everyone, regardless of gender. To learn more about financial literacy and ways to improve your financial well-being, check out our other blogs or follow us on Twitter @GTDebtRelief.