Do you understand how money is made, spent and saved? It sounds simple, but it’s no secret that the need for financial literacy is as high as ever. The federal government has implemented a national strategy for financial literacy, and provincial governments are increasing financial literacy lessons in school curriculums.
Over the course of my career, I have seen firsthand the positive impact that developing financial literacy can have on every aspect of people’s lives. Building this foundational skill begins with four practical lessons.
Budgeting doesn’t begin with planning where you will spend your money. It starts with tracking where you are spending your money. Unless you know exactly where each penny is going, a budget will be little more than guess work. Track your spending for at least a month. Write it all down. This sounds easy, but it takes a lot of courage to honestly look at your spending and do something about it. Once you’ve figured out where your money is going, you can begin to adjust where the dollars are allocated. Perhaps you need to cut back in some areas to free up funds for other things that are a higher priority. Small changes can yield big results, so ensure your budget is one you’ll actually stick to. Then, put it into practice.
Don’t forget to give
Everyone can afford to be generous. As part of your budgeting, take time to decide what causes or charities you want to support, how much you want to give and how often. Giving is like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. If you plan your donations in advance, giving will fit comfortably into your lifestyle.
Not all debts are created equal. A mortgage or a student loan will likely prove to be an investment, whereas running up a credit card for consumption items like restaurants or the latest electronics will land you in financial trouble. One effective way of getting your debt under control is to “snowball” your debt payments. Line up all your debts and make minimum payments on each one. Then, prioritize the debt with the highest interest rate and use any extra funds to pay that down. Once it is paid off, re-evaluate which debt has the highest interest, and concentrate your extra funds on that one. Eventually, all the debts will be paid off, perhaps except for a mortgage. Being debt-free is incredibly liberating, but it does take discipline to stay that way.
Saving money is important, and it is a good idea to set aside two separate funds. The first is for emergencies. How much you choose to put into this fund will depend on your situation. To determine the amount of emergency savings you need, consider a likely scenario, such as a car that needs replacing or a trip to see an ailing relative. Price out how much it would actually cost, and keep that amount in the emergency account at all times. The second savings fund is for the future, when you are no longer working. There are many options for retirement savings, ranging from mutual funds and RRSPs to self-directed investments. Your unique savings goals will be based on your specific situation.
Whether you’re an old pro or just starting out, practising budgeting, giving, debt payment and savings will sharpen your financial literacy skills and open the door to a brighter future.
Darren Pries-Klassen is the CEO of Abundance Canada. He has been involved with several boards and currently serves as a board member with the Canadian Association of Gift Planners Foundation. To learn more, visit abundance.ca.