With tomorrow being Halloween, many of us plan to take some time to indulge in the things that scare us. However, for more and more Canadians it isn’t zombies and ghosts that are frightening us, but rather the current state of our finances. Whether you plan to join in on the Halloween spirit or not, consider tackling your fear and take the time to dive into your finances. You never know what financial skeletons might be hiding in your closet.
FINANCIAL SKELETONS AREN’T ONE SIZE FITS ALL
Before you sit down with a bowl of mini chocolate bars and dig into your financial history, it’s a good idea to get a sense of what you’re looking for. A financial skeleton is a secret, undisclosed or embarrassing financial obligation that is negatively affecting your financial wellbeing.
Financial skeletons will vary given each person’s financial situation and, just like real skeletons, can vary in size. For one person it could be a financial obligation that may have been neglected or even forgotten about, like a huge tax debt to Canada Revenue Agency. For another, it could be something wasteful, like a reoccurring payment such as a gym membership they haven’t used in months, which is funds that could have been put towards savings or paying down debt.
PIECING TOGETHER YOUR FINANCIAL SKELETONS
There are a few hypothetical closets where you can begin your dig for financial skeletons. The first place I recommend you look at is your credit report. Whether you are experiencing financial hardship or not, you should review your credit report once a year. It is free to access from both Canadian credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion, and will give you a sense of what loans and lines of credit are currently affecting your credit score.
For many, there won’t be any surprises in the report. However, for some, they might find a line of credit that they didn’t realize they still had payments on, an unused credit card that is hindering their credit score or even a mistake on the report that needs to be addressed with the credit bureau.
Another great place to look is at your credit card and debit card statements. In today’s world of convenience, many of us simply tap our cards to pay for things, meaning we might not actually have an idea of how much we are spending per week. Even if you aren’t carrying a lot of debt, there could still be bad financial habits that you can consider improving.
Take a look at three or four of your past monthly statements and really dive into what you are spending your money on. Are you eating out too much? Do you have a membership that you aren’t reaping the full benefits of? Are you using overdraft too often? Do you frequently impulse buy? Even if you don’t find any major skeletons, I’m sure there are a few cobwebs in your financial closet that could use cleaning up.
BURYING YOUR FINANCIAL SKELETONS
Before we get into burying your financial skeletons, I want you to know that having a few financial skeletons in your closet is a very common thing and nothing to be ashamed of. And the fact that you took the time to look over your finances is a huge step towards improving your financial wellbeing.
After identifying your financial skeleton(s), the next step would be to rank what you have found from highest priority to lowest. If your skeletons are changes to your spending habits or maybe your lack of savings, I would recommend implementing simple and good habits to your current financial behaviour. Try taking a small amount from each pay and auto-depositing it into a savings account or reducing the number of times you eat out to once a week. If you don’t know how to go about doing this, there are a lot of great books and bloggers that discuss personal finance and spending habits. You can also reach out to a financial counsellor to help you establish a better budget.
If the things on your list are open lines of credit, payday loans, and credit report mistakes these need be addressed promptly. Reach out to the credit bureaus to fix the mistakes in your report. Contact the financial institution where you have the loan or line of credit and get informed on the current status of it.
If your financial skeletons are multiple credit cards with missed payments, payday loans or collection actions from creditors, I recommend reaching out to a debt professional like a Licensed Insolvency Trustee, so you can figure out a way to best tackle your debt before it continues to add up.