Tag Archives: Saskatchewan Credit Counselling Society

2016 Financial New Year’s Resolutions

By Sheryl Smolkin

As the old year draws to a close, many people resolve to reduce stress by getting more sleep, working out more often and eating a healthy diet. But for others, the financial pressure of taking from Peter to pay Paul is what keeps them awake at night.

If they could only find ways to get their finances under control and be sure that their family is properly protected, their anxiety level would plummet. If you fall into that category, here are some resolutions you can make to improve your finances, free up cash to save for longer term goals like retirement and give your family more financial security.

  1. Write it down: At the end of a month, do you have any idea where your money went? If you tap your credit or debit card each time you buy a cup of coffee, fork over $20 for every baby shower at the office and bring home take-out three days a week because you are too tired to cook, it’s not surprising that your bank account is running on empty half way through the month. Make a note in your phone or on a spreadsheet of every dollar you spend for a month and you will be able to identify money wasted that could be saved instead.
  2. Use cash: It may sound old-fashioned, but if you withdraw a set amount of cash each week to cover transit, lunches, coffee, dry cleaning and other miscellaneous expenses, you will spend much less than if you use your debit card or your credit card to pay for every small expenditure.
  3. Avoid credit card debt: Credit cards are a wonderful convenience if you pay them off every month and don’t have to pay interest charges. However, if you do accumulate credit card debt you could be paying as high as 20% or more on your outstanding balance which compounds every month. Furthermore, if you do not make minimum payments on the due date, you may lose your “grace period” and interest will begin to mount from the date of purchase of each item.
  4. Pay off high interest debt: If you owe money, resolve to pay off high interest debt as soon as possible. In some cases you may be able to borrow money on a lower interest line of credit to pay down higher interest credit card bills. You may also be able negotiate with creditors to accept a fixed amount each month. If you are stressed because of your debts, struggling to make your minimum payments, and need a plan to get your finances back on track, the Saskatchewan Credit Counselling Society provides free, confidential debt solution services.
  5. Pay yourself first: Waiting until the end of the month to direct money into savings is not a productive strategy as by then, the cupboard is typically bare. Decide on the amount you want to add to SPP, your RRSP, TFSA or unregistered savings every month and have the funds automatically transferred. After a few months you won’t even notice the difference.
  6. Re-think your needs: Do you still have one or more landlines although every member of your family has a cell phone? Do you really need cable TV when all you have been watching is Netflix? Are two cars a necessity or a luxury if you are on a convenient public transit line? Will the party be more fun if you buy a new dress you may never wear again? There are loads of ways to cut corners without significantly compromising your quality of life.
  7. Review your insurance: Is your family protected in the event of the death of you or your spouse or both? Your workplace benefits may include some life, disability and health insurance, but is it enough? Understand your employee benefits and augment them where required. Critical illness insurance can provide peace of mind if you succumb to a listed condition and suddenly have unexpected bills.
  8. Talk to your partner: If you have a partner or a spouse, talk regularly about your finances. Make sure you both have access to each other’s computer passwords and any bank or investment accounts that are not joint. If you think managing your finances now is a problem, imagine if only one of you is left behind to provide for the family with no understanding of family finances and where important documents are kept.
  9. Teach your kids: None of us were born understanding the value of a dollar or knowing how to manage money. Children learn from their parents. Give them an allowance or pay them for doing chores above and beyond their day-to-day responsibilities. Establish what they are responsible for paying for out of their own money. Don’t be afraid to say, “It’s too expensive,” or “We can’t afford that.” As your children get older and get part-time jobs, require that they save a portion of everything they earn towards their post-secondary education. Encourage them to donate time and money to the charity of their choice.
  10. Make a will: Having an up-to-date will is essential to ensuring your estate is distributed as you intend it, and that your death doesn’t create a legal and administrative burden to your family. If you die without a will, a court will appoint someone to administer your estate and distribute the assets according to a formula set out in provincial estate and family laws.

Also see: Financial New Year’s resolutions

The Dreaded B word: Budgeting

By Sheryl Smolkin

Everyone has their own system for handling the family finances, but if you are carrying expensive debt and always borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, you definitely need to do some serious budgeting. If you think you can’t afford to save for your children’s education or your own retirement, closely scrutinizing how you spend your money will help you to uncover ways to free up the funds you need to plan for the future.

Budgeting isn’t rocket science but it requires time and commitment. On her television show Til Debt Do Us Part personal finance maven Gail Vaz-Oxlade helps floundering families by putting them on a cash-only budget and dividing up into jars the amounts they can spend each week for each category, including debt-repayment and savings.

All nine seasons are available to watch online and there is more information and there are budgeting tools on her website.

Almost every personal finance blogger has done a series on budgeting and created budgeting spreadsheets you can download. For example, take a look at the Squawkfox budget series and tools. Retire Happy’s Jim Yih has also posted templates from his Take Control of Your Money workshop.

When my husband and I were first married, money was scarce and we budgeted quite carefully. Although we kept separate bank accounts, we did have a joint account for paying house expenses.

Once we had children our expenses increased but we also earned more. We still kept separate bank accounts, but each of us was responsible for specific expenses.

This ad hoc arrangement has worked well for us and for many years we have not had a formal budget. However, as we get closer to retirement, I realize that we will have only about 50% of our pre-retirement income. Therefore, it’s time to take a serious look at how we are spending our money now and how we will spend it once we are on a fixed income.

I can write off a portion of our house costs because I work from home, so I have a pretty good handle on these expenses. Most other expenditures like food, clothing, gas, car repairs, insurance, entertainment, travel, pet care, gifts etc. are charged to credit cards so we can accumulate airline points. It will take some time but it shouldn’t be too difficult categorize and analyze these expenses.

Finally, both of us withdraw cash at irregular intervals to pay for personal grooming plus lunches out and other miscellaneous expenses. These amounts are more difficult to track and we will have to make lists in our smartphones or find the right smartphone app to organize the information.

Once I get a handle on what we are spending now as compared to what we will have available to live on in future, I will track our monthly expenses as against income and projected income on a spreadsheet.

Some of our expenses will go down after retirement because we won’t have to pay professional fees and my husband won’t be commuting to work. We will also pay lower taxes and no longer have to save for retirement. Going down to one car or moving to a less expensive home are longer-term possibilities. But there is no doubt we will have to make compromises.

Whether you are just starting out or close to retirement, you may need help to create and stick to a budget. On the Canadian Finance Blog, Tom Drake discusses How to Choose a Fee-Only Financial Planner. If you are deeply in debt, the Saskatchewan Credit Counselling Society can help you consolidate your debts, develop a budget and get back on track.

If we had budgeted more carefully over the last 15-20 years we would have more to spend in retirement. But you can start right now. If you have used budgeting tools or resources that you recommend to others, let us know and we will share them in a future post.