As 2019 fades in the rear-view mirror and 2020 looms ahead, advisers recommend that Canadians assessing their current financial health take a look back to discover how they got there and what they can resolve to do differently in the coming year.
“The point going into the New Year for a resolution is just do something, take the first step,” said Brian Betz, a counsellor at Money Mentors in Calgary. “Put down a spending plan on paper.”
Just resolving to spend less won’t cut it, he said. It’s time to be specific. Set realistic goals and achievable targets, with a specific timeline.
And that applies to extra income raised by getting a part-time job or selling an unneeded asset.
“Put it on your debt or into your savings. Make sure it’s earmarked for something,” said Betz.
When Mark Kalinowski, a financial educator for the Credit Counselling Society, cut back on his caffeine habit after a spending review revealed his addiction to Tim Hortons coffee was costing him about $15 a day, or about $5,500 a year — much more than he expected.
Keeping track of spending is easier these days because of technology, he said, noting there are many free budgeting programs and apps available to track and warn consumers when they spend unwisely.
“Keep your ultimate goal really visible,” he advised. “If you want to go on a vacation to Paris, make it the screensaver on your phone.”
Never go to the grocery store without a shopping list, Kalinowski added. But buy pork or chicken when it’s on sale, even if your grocery list says beef.
Employees should also resolve to take full advantage of employer programs, he said. They should find out if their employer will pay for part of a gym membership or cover other fees and always claim allowed expenses for things like mileage, parking, physiotherapy, dental appointments and pharmaceutical drugs.
Laurie Campbell, CEO of Credit Canada, advises against making resolutions. Instead, she suggests setting a goal that follows the SMART process (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound).
When paying down debt, choose between the avalanche method, where high-interest debt is tackled first, or the snowball method, where you pay off the debt with the smallest balance first and then move onto next one, she said.
Consumers should resolve to schedule a “no-spending” day each week, Campbell said, and reach out to phone, internet, cable and gym service providers every few months to negotiate better rates and packages.
Every financial plan should include a retirement component and that can extend beyond RRSPs and TFSAs to include voluntary company benefit plans with matching employer contributions, if available, said Craig Hughes, a director of tax and estate planning at IG Wealth Management.
Resolve this year to build an understanding of programs such as Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan, he added.
“Position yourself for retirement success by understanding what these programs offer, recent enhancements, benefits commencement dates and strategies available to optimize the amounts you’ll receive from them,” he advises.
Resolve to protect yourself from scams such as the fake Canada Revenue Agency calls currently making the rounds in Canada, says tax specialist Lisa Gittens of H&R Block.
She recommends making sure the caller is a CRA employee by asking for their agent ID, name, phone number and office location, then hanging up and calling back at one of the official CRA numbers found on their website.
Remember that the CRA will send notices to your mailing address if they have an official issue to talk to you about, she said.