November is Financial Literacy Month in Canada. Check out part three of our #FLM2019 blog series below:
We are always advised to be a “smart financial consumer”. But with so many financial products on the market and various opinions on how to manage our money being thrown around, figuring out what your best options are can be overwhelming.
The general notion is that a smart financial consumer is someone who has a basic understanding of their financial rights and responsibilities. This might seem like a hefty task and there is a lot to take into consideration, but it’s best to take it one step at a time to ensure the information you’re getting is not only manageable but retainable. This reminds me of a joke that my son told me. “Dad, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The same approach applies to being a smart financial consumer. We need to break this down into manageable chunks.
To help get you started, I’ve compiled some of my go-to tips when advising people on saving. Whether you have recently filed for a bankruptcy or consumer proposal, or you are just looking to start saving for your future, this information will help you get on the right path.
TIP #1: DON’T TREAT SAVING LIKE A CHORE
Saving your money is an extremely smart financial move. You work hard for your money and it’s important to not only spend it wisely but save it wisely as well. If you treat saving like a chore, you will be less motivated to do it. Try paying yourself first using preauthorized payments. On each payday, set up an auto-withdrawal from your chequing account that automatically deposits a set amount into your savings account. Aim to put away between 5-10% of the pay amount. For instance, if you make $1200 after taxes twice a month, you’d put away $60 each payday, giving you a savings of $120 a month.
Making your savings a preauthorized payment will put the money away in your account automatically and after a few months, you may even forget that it’s coming off your pay. Your savings will grow without it being a hassle for you.
TIP #2: LEAVE YOUR SAVINGS ALONE
While it will be extremely tempting to spend the money you are saving on something you want, it’s important to leave your savings alone. You will never be able to save money if you are using it as part of your regular spending. If you are tempted by your savings, try creating a separate savings account from your chequing account. In your chequing account, keep what you need to pay for bills and other expenses like groceries and gas. Put the rest into your savings account. Then, restrict your access to your savings account via your debit card. This means you will only be able to access your money from your online banking account or by physically going into a branch, ensuring that you only use your savings when it is absolutely necessary.
TIP #3: PAY LESS TO YOUR BANK
We shop around for a lot of things – from our phone plans and internet services to professional services and cars. Why should the way we choose a bank be any different? Part of being a smart financial consumer is knowing what you are paying for bank fees. Try your best to regularly check your interest rates and bank fees. Then, check with other banks to see if they can do better. Things to consider when looking at bank fees are:
- How much am I spending monthly on my regular bank fees?
- How much am I spending on ATM fees?
- Can I change bank packages to spend less?
- Will the bank reduce/eliminate bank fees if I keep a certain balance in my account?
- Can my current bank do better?
Some people are opting to use online banks because they tend to offer better rates and lower fees. For some people, this is a great option. However, if you are someone that likes dealing with people face-to-face, keep in mind that these banks typically don’t have any brick and mortar locations and this might not be the option for you. Sometimes when it comes to banking it’s important to look at what suits your lifestyle first, before you look at fees.
TIP #4: FIRST THINGS FIRST, SET UP AN EMERGENCY FUND
Once you have started to establish a good amount of savings, you’ll probably start imagining what you should do with it. Before you even think about investing, you need to establish an emergency fund first. Financial experts recommend that you should put away enough money to cover three to six months of living expenses in your emergency fund. While this would be an amazing amount of money to save, this is not always possible. If you are just starting off or starting over, try saving one month’s of living expenses first and add to it as you go along.
It’s also smart to put your emergency fund into a savings account that could earn you interest. Best case scenario, your emergency fund will be sitting for a while. You might as well earn from it. Talk to your bank about savings accounts that provide rewards like interest and discuss the benefits and restrictions of certain types of accounts like TFSAs.
To learn more about emergency funds, check out my blog “Saving for a Rainy Day: A Guide to Starting an Emergency Fund”.
TIP #5: DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
Money management is overwhelming. Between work, school, family and other responsibilities, there isn’t much time in the day for us to sit down and plan out of financial futures. If you are overwhelmed, there is no shame in asking for help. There are trusted financial professionals available to you for almost any money matter you can think of and many offer free initial consultations to get you started.
If you don’t know where to start looking, or how to know when someone is trustworthy, visit the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. They have an abundance of resources that can help you figure out not only who to look for but what qualities in a professional to look for too.