Don’t worry about retirement . . . yet

Financial advice for young adults and those who don't have much money and aren't sure what to do with it

January 18, 2012 | Young Voices
Tobin Reimer | Special to Young Voices

I was recently asked by a friend in his 20s if I could offer some financial advice before he got married. Without knowing the specifics of his situation, I offered some financial pointers.

You can simplify personal finances by seeing them in three parts: You earn money, you spend money, and you deal with money. This article will touch on the last two parts, and avoid the first part like the plague.

The best piece of financial advice I’ve ever heard is: Spend less money. It’s useless advice because it’s so obvious. It’s great advice because it’s the area of our finances where we have the most control. The benefits of spending less money are also obvious: More money for saving, donating and reducing debt.

Often the focus of dealing with money is savings, especially for retirement. Many young adults, however, will experience several major financial events before we get to retirement. We may change relationships, have kids, buy a home, sell a home, change jobs or inherit money.

The following list is intended to be a guide to actions you can take to deal with your money. Working on and learning about these things will give you a good head-start when the time comes to actually think about retirement planning. A financial to-do list

  • Read every bill that is sent to you.
  • Pay all of your bills by the due date.
  • Create an emergency savings account. Save three months of living expenses. It is important to have this money available in case you lose your job/scholarship/other income.
  • Make a one-month budget. List the money you earn and the money you spend.
  • Make a statement of net worth. List the money and large assets that you own (bank account, car) and the money you owe (student loan, credit card balance, money owed to parents). Total both lists and subtract the amount you owe from the amount you own. This is your net worth. Remember that regardless of what this number says, God loves you and you’re worth much more than that to him.
  • Take your budget and look at it after a month. Is it accurate? Are you spending more than you’re earning? If so, take all reasonable steps to spend less. This is also the best time to consider how saving and donating fit into your budget.
  • Take your statement of net worth. How much interest are you being paid on the money you own? How much are you paying to borrow the money you owe?
  • Consider making lump-sum—also known as “one-time” or “principal”—payments on your debts. Before making lump-sum payments on your debts, carefully consider the implications: Will this make my finances less flexible? Will my monthly payments on this debt be reduced by making this payment? How much money will I save in interest?
  • Expand your budget to an entire year, including once-per-year items such as extra expenses at Christmas, vacations and tax returns.
  • Consider opening Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). Contributing to an RRSP may increase your tax return significantly. You can withdraw money from an RRSP to buy your first home or pay for a return to school. Learn about the Home Buyer’s Plan and Lifelong Learning Plan, respectively.
  • If you have kids, consider opening a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) to save for their education. To get some free money from the government, learn about the Canada Education Savings Grant and the Canada Learning Bond.
  • Evaluate your insurance needs. Do you have enough life insurance, and short-term and long-term disability insurance?
  • Review the health and dental benefits available to you from your employer or your school.
  • Create a will. This is important for all adults, especially parents.
  • Plan your retirement income.

Some links Young Voices readers might find helpful

Investor Education Fund This is a great website. It contains easily accessible and extensive information on a wide range of topics. The Life Events tab contains advice for all stages of life – not just for students and young people.

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) (welcome page – language selection) (to english version) The CRA is the part of the Government of Canada that administers tax laws. This website is boring, simple and not too hard to navigate. You won't find much exciting financial advice here, but this is a great resource to quickly find details about taxes and all government savings plans such as the TFSA, RRSP, RESP and RDSP. You can also contact the CRA directly to get specific information about your personal taxes.

Your Money The Your Money website has been created by the Canadian Bankers Association and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. This site breaks down its resources for three groups: students, teachers and parents.

The Canadian Center for Financial Literacy (CCFL) This CCFL website is mostly designed for educators and community leaders who would like to promote financial literacy in their communities. Check out the Resources section for an extensive set of Financial Literacy handouts and worksheets.

Tobin Reimer is an investment specialist with Mennonite Savings and Credit Union. He and his wife Meghan live in Waterloo, Ont. They don’t have kids yet, but they are budgeting for a puppy.

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