There’s no shortage of clever articles telling people how to better manage their money. These are often accompanied by pictures of attractive, thirty-something women toting shopping bags galore. Whether intentional or not, this sends the wrong message: that people who struggle to manage their finances do so mainly because of cavalier attitudes about spending.
Most of us are guilty of the odd indiscretion, but there’s often a bigger issue at play here. Many people genuinely do not know how to make good financial decisions – and who could blame them? With so many choices for investment and savings options, how do we decide where to put our money, or how much of it to put there?
There’s no quick fix but, thankfully, you don’t need a finance degree to take control of your financial future. Here are three simple ways to move confidently towards greater financial well-being.
1. Invest time in your own financial education
Whether you have a financial planner or not, it’s important to achieve at least a basic level of financial literacy so you can fully understand why some choices might be better for you than others. This can be done fairly easily by spending just an hour or two each month learning about financial planning issues like building wealth, debt elimination, investing, and estate planning. Read books or online articles, attend a free seminar or webinar, and ask questions to people you know who handle their money well.
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) is a great resource for Canadians who would like to increase their financial literacy. It provides guidance on things like paying down debt, budgeting, building savings and increasing your knowledge of financial products and services. Their website offers an assortment of useful articles, tools and calculators. A particularly nifty feature on this site is the financial literacy self-assessment quiz. It shows whether you’re better, worse or the same as the average Canadian with regard to tracking your expenses, making ends meet, planning ahead, staying informed and choosing financial products. Once you know which areas need improvement, you can look for resources on those subjects. This might include asking your financial planner to spend a bit more time going over those points in your next meeting.
If your company offers employee-sponsored financial education programs, this can be an effective way to raise your financial literacy and decision-making confidence. These programs sometimes offer tools, such as T.E. Wealth’s ProsperiGuide, which can help teach you how to make more informed decisions. Such programs tend to be more customizable than the off-the-shelf solutions you may get with other resources, and can be especially beneficial if you are given the option of meeting one-on-one with a financial planner.
2. Take advantage of company pension and benefits programs
It’s astonishing how many people don’t take the free money their employer offers through pension and benefits plans. It sounds absurd – but there are logical reasons for this. Sometimes, employees do not have a clear understanding of what they’re missing out on in terms of actual dollars or, if they do understand, they lack the necessary budgeting skills to set aside sufficient funds for contributions. You would never refuse $50,000 if someone handed it to you, so why would you walk away from a program that can do just that? It’s well worth your while to take a bit of extra time and effort to understand how your employee benefits work. Schedule a meeting with your Pension and Benefits representative and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Or, if your employer offers financial counselling by a third-party provider, a one-on-one meeting with a financial planner can be invaluable. These professionals are usually well versed in all aspects of financial planning and can help you see the big picture in order to adequately plan for your short and long-term financial goals.
3. Learn to manage your debt
Debt is almost a given in modern life. When managed well, it can be a means to an end such as getting an education, owning a home, or starting a business. However, when not managed well, debt can be an obstacle to financial wellness rather than improve it. You cannot plan and save until you have learned to manage your debt.
There are various debt management strategies so you’ll need to do some homework to figure out which one makes the most sense for your situation. The Government of Canada website provides services and information related to managing debt, so this is a good place to start your research.
If you have access to employee-sponsored financial planning services, meeting with a certified planner provides the benefit of more customized debt management solutions, so it’s a good idea to take advantage of that resource. A planner can look at your total financial situation and help you discover ways to save money in areas you may not be aware of. For instance, tax-saving strategies can raise your overall income leaving you with increased funds that can be used to pay down your debts more quickly.
Taking control of your financial well-being may not be the most exciting task in the world, but when you do, it can be exhilarating to watch your savings grow.
For more information on T.E. Wealth’s financial education services, please visit our website.
Lucy Conte, T.E. Wealth