Book’s goal is to help you get back in control of your finances

May 26, 2022

If you’ve ever felt pushed around by your personal debt, and how it interferes with your life plans, then Money Like You Mean It, by Erica Alini of Global News, is the book for you.

The reason, she begins, that so many of us “have so much debt” is not just because “of the choices we’ve made or because of our individual circumstances.” The fact that we live in a world where it is extremely easy to borrow has created a reality where Canadians hold over $2 trillion in household debt.

“That’s roughly equal to the size of our entire economy… (or) the value of all the goods and services we produce as a country,” she explains.

Credit cards have never been easier to get, and “with a typical annual interest rate of 20 per cent, they can sink you into debt really quickly.”

Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) can be even easier. Alini quotes Scott Terrio, who recently chatted with Save with SPP, on this topic. HELOCs are dangerous because “your ability to borrow is often tied to your home equity – the portion of your house you truly own.” Your home’s equity grows as you pay down your mortgage, so HELOCs run counter to that trend. The average Canadian with a HELOC has a credit limit of $180,000 and owes “a whopping $67,000,” she writes.

But Alini offers some ways you can fight back. Her “Money-Bucket System” helps you to earmark money for short-term and long-term savings while having off what you need to manage essential payments like rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, property taxes and debt.

Long-term savings should be in an investment account (for things like retirement) while short-term savings (vacations, an emergency account) should be in easier-to-access savings accounts.

This approach will set you up to chip away at debt while saving for the future. It won’t be easy, she warns. “You’re going to be in a fight against debt your whole adult life, whether you’re paying it off or trying to stay out of it… try to spare yourself the mental struggle as much as you can.”

A chapter on housing offers a great overview of owning versus renting. There’s also the idea of saving on housing costs by moving somewhere cheaper. Be careful, Alini advises. While “you’ll be able to buy a bigger home, and life isn’t quite so stupid expensive,” you could also face “of a soul-sucking commute or having to big up on a big-city job and the earnings and career potential that may go with it.”

After an interesting look at work – including whether or not freelance jobs are really worth the time and effort – Alini turns to retirement, which she calls “one of the trickiest parts of personal finance.”

Three trends have emerged that are making it harder for Canadians to afford retirement – “the gradual disappearance of employer pensions, the fact that we increasingly live longer but also take longer to land a decent job, and low interest rates.”

Fifty years ago, full-time employment “often came with the promise that your employer would take care of you in retirement,” usually through a defined benefit (DB) pension. Such pensions “guarantee you a certain level of income in old age – often based on length of service and rank – for every year of retirement until death.” But the percentage of Canadian workers with such plans has dropped from 40 per cent in 1977 to just 25 per cent by 2018, she says.

More common these days are defined contribution plans (like the Saskatchewan Pension Plan) where the payout is based on how well contributions have been invested. Some employers match contributions made by employees. “A plan where you put in five per cent of your monthly compensation and your company pitches in another five per cent is like having 100 per cent guaranteed return, because the employer’s contribution doubles your own. That’s nothing to sneeze at,” Alini writes.

Those of us without a workplace pension plan “will have to save our way to retirement by ourselves… this means figuring out how much to save and where to put the money,” she writes.

If you haven’t started saving for retirement, the time to start is now, Alini writes. “The sooner you start, the easier it’s going to be to reach financial independence. And by easier, I mean exponentially easier.”

The book then provides great information on your savings options – registered retirement savings plans, tax free savings accounts, and the tax implications of investing in non-registered vehicles. The solid section on investing includes a key summary on assessing your appetite for risk.

Alini concludes by stating “I hope this book has helped you understand why it sometimes feels so hard to achieve financial goals that our parents’ generation largely took for granted. And I hope this helps you set aside any shame, guilt, or self-blame. Instead, I want you to embrace the challenge and fight back.”

No workplace pension? No problem. Consider the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. SPP members can contribute $7,000 annually to SPP, and can transfer in up to $10,000 from other retirement savings vehicles. SPP will grow your money at a low fee, with professional investing, over time. When it’s time to get out and retire like you mean it, you’ll have a nice stream of retirement income thanks to SPP.

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Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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