It should come as no surprise to anyone that managing personal finances can be stressful. Often, it seems like no matter how hard we try to save money and make smart money management decisions, we can never seem to get ahead.
Indeed, most adults worry about money on a regular basis – as much as an hour a day on average. It’s the source of much friction and argument in relationships, as well as a leading source of stress in general.
A 2018 study found that 44% of Canadians believe their financial situation has a negative impact on their mental health. Perhaps more startling, 30% reported financial stress to be a greater worry in their lives than even overall health and well-being.
People also report missing out on events and experiences in an effort to save money, and suffering ill health effects from their stress and worry. Clearly, something needs to be done about this problem.
The good news is most people are willing to take steps and make an effort to improve their financial management strategies and abilities. It’s not always easy to find consistent, coherent advice that you can put to use in your daily life, however.
To that end, I’ve compiled a list of 12 strategic financial management tips from experts that women can use in their everyday lives. Whether single or married, a working professional, student, or homemaker, and everyone in between, there are tips in this guide that every Canadian woman can use to improve her personal finances.
The goal of this advice is to help women – who are often left out or looked over in financial management conversations – to make smart, strategic financial management decisions in an effort to improve the state of their personal finances. This advice can also help to reduce the overwhelming stress that money issues can cause and, ultimately, to help Canadian women live better, healthier lives.
So, read on to learn 12 useful strategic financial management tips that you can put to work in your life right away!
#1 – Search for Bargains and Deals, and Use Coupons and Loyalty Cards and Apps
These days, there are virtually unlimited resources available to help you save money on purchases, from big-ticket items to everyday necessities. Retailers are always running promotions of one form or another. Whole companies have sprung up to catalogue and manage these myriad promotions and deals, giving rise to numerous websites and apps that are available, many for free (ad-supported) or a small annual membership fee.
It doesn’t need to take hours out of your week to find deals, bargains, coupons, or sales, but they can save you substantially on your purchases. Even $50 per week saved on groceries and household necessities translates into over $2,500 per year you can put toward other, better uses. After all, the same products and services are available whether you pay full price or a discount – why would you want to pay more than necessary?
Some of the methods that you can use to better take advantage of these savings in your daily life include:
- Reviewing weekly circulars either from your paper, direct mail, or online, for all of your usual stores. Cut out coupons and keep them in an envelope in your purse or car, so they are with you when you need them.
- Download a coupon or deal app, or sign up for a coupon or deal website. Examples include Groupon, eBates, RetailMeNot, and many more that can be readily found with a quick Internet search or wherever you get your apps.
- Sign up for store loyalty programs (not credit cards, but loyalty cards or initiatives) when available. Many stores offer these programs, allowing you to earn points on your purchases that you can redeem for gift cards or same-as-cash on later purchases.
- Comparison shop for major purchases from multiple sources. Again, there are many apps that can help with this, especially barcode-scanning-based apps that instantly show current prices from multiple online and brick-and-mortar retailers.
- Monitor prices on major purchases, and don’t feel you have to buy them right away. Sometimes waiting a few weeks can mean saving $100, $200, $500 or more.
#2 – Set Up a Monthly Household Budget
Almost all sources of financial advice will tell you that setting up an ideal monthly budget breakdown, and sticking with it, is one of the best ways to manage your money. That’s easier said than done for most people, of course, but it doesn’t need to be overly complicated.
When most people search or ask, “How to budget your money monthly?” they don’t want the answer to be something that they have to spend hours and hours doing every month. Luckily, there are many apps and programs that can act as a monthly budget planner, both free and paid services.
Many banks offer tools for their customers that can link with their accounts to better help manage a budget, as well as monthly budget calculators and the like. However, we often find it easiest to stick with a simple monthly budget template that can be managed in your favourite spreadsheet program.
Setting up a budget is all about looking at your needs, wants, income, and expenses, putting dollars to categories, and then having the self-discipline to stick with it. Rather than try to rehash every aspect of budgeting here, take a look at this excellent article on the subject, which offers in-depth information and a simple, six-step process to create a monthly budget template.
#3 – Use Different Accounts for Different Purposes
Whether or not you utilize my #2 tip and develop a monthly budget, you can accomplish some similar results by utilizing different accounts for different purposes. It’s far too easy when all of your money is co-mingled in a single account to justify expenses and purchases that might otherwise be non-essential.
At the same time, it’s a lot easier to manage and stick to a budget when your money is segregated into a few major accounts or buckets. You can transfer or divide up your income based on percentages, or move certain amounts of money from your primary account to specific accounts. This can be as involved and detailed or simple and easy as you prefer.
For most people, a single primary checking account can serve as the source of everyday funds for regular purchases, whereas individual, specialty accounts – checking, savings, or hybrid – can be ideal for non-routine purchases and needs. Saving up for a car, home repairs, or a vacation is much easier when you have separate accounts into which you can put a percentage of your money every week.
This doesn’t have to only be for purchases, either. An “auto account,” for example, could be used not only to save for a new vehicle or regular lease or loan payments, but also for auto insurance, repairs and maintenance, and everything related to the car.
It’s easier to not touch those accounts for other purposes when they are separate, rather than a free-floating pool of all your money. It also provides much greater and easier visibility to your spending by category when you segregate your money into different accounts like this. The net result is you’ll be more able to get the things you want, more able to stick to a budget, and more able to strategically manage your money and plan your expenses.
#4 – Invest in Your Future
Developing a personal investment plan is also critical to good financial management. Saving for yourself, your family, any current or future potential children, education, and other expenses are all important to consider. Putting aside money now, and allowing it to grow over time, is basically earning free money for you. You don’t want to miss out on that!
So, how do you invest in your future? There are many options, including:
- Open an interest-bearing savings account.
- Invest in mutual funds or other investment accounts that are managed by professionals.
- Take advance of government bonds as a stable investment.
- Utilize government tax-deferred or tax-free investment accounts for education and childcare expense.
- Teach your children about savings, and, once they are old enough, sign them up for one of the many investment plans for young adults that are offered by banks and financial institutions.
- Develop a 5-year investment plan, and review and modify it annually based on changes in your income, expenses, or life circumstances. Aim to set aside 5-10% of your income per year for savings and investment.
#5 – Start an Emergency or Rainy Day Fund
The average household savings rate in Canada is between 1% and 4%, where it has remained for the last several years. That’s not nearly enough to handle many of the kind of life emergencies and unplanned expenses that can pop up at any moment.
Recent statistics show that between 40 and 50% of Canadians are just $200 or less away from being unable to pay their bills. A sudden appliance breaks down, car repair, medical or dental bill, family emergency, or other unplanned expense will put many people in the red. It can also force hard choices between things like food, transportation, shelter, and personal well-being. So, do you need an emergency fund? Absolutely!
Instead of being in this precarious position, plan for the unknown future by starting an emergency or rainy-day fund for whatever might come your way. Establishing an emergency fund is easy – a separate bank account solely dedicated for that purpose is a good place to start. Set aside a certain percentage or dollar value amount out of each paycheque or other income sources into that emergency fund.
There are various emergency fund calculators and tools that you can find online, but even they are probably more detailed than you really need. Most experts agree a true emergency reserve fund should have at least 3 months’ salary in it at all times (or, the equivalent of 3 months’ expenses). But you have to start somewhere, and the sooner you start saving, the more that money will grow and accumulate.
#6 – The Most Important Investment: Yourself
While we’re on the topic of investing and savings, it’s important to remember to invest in yourself. As the saying goes, “Invest in yourself – it pays the best interest of all!” But how can you invest in yourself, and what does this mean? Simply put, it means you should invest time in yourself, invest money in yourself, and aim to better yourself – physically, mentally, spiritually, or all of the above.
This can include education/continuing education, for example. It can also include more everyday things, like buying a gym membership and committing to get into better shape. Even a vacation or spending time with your family can fall under this heading.
Hobbies, professional courses, physical or mental health – all of these things are important to a well-balanced life, and worthy of some of your hard-earned money. They aren’t luxuries, but rather, some of the best ways to invest in yourself. Your long-term health, happiness, and well-being are worth it!
#7 – Retirement Savings and Planning – It’s Important!
Planning for your retirement, and starting your retirement savings is extremely important. The earlier in your professional life you start, the more time your money has to grow. There are a host of different retirement planning calculators, retirement financial planning tools, and different retirement savings plans in Canada. While professionals can advise you on what type of retirement plan may be best for you, ANY kind of retirement savings program is better than nothing.
Pensions, outside of government work, are largely disappearing. Defined benefit plans, where employees contribute towards their own retirement, have become the norm for most of today’s workers. Tax-free savings accounts (TFSA) allow for up to $5,500 in contributions annually, while registered retirement savings plans (RRSP) have a cap of just over $26,000. No matter what your answer is to, “How do you plan for retirement?” the important thing is to start saving ASAP.
Much of the power of retirement savings plans in Canada and elsewhere comes from their ability to generate funds over a lifetime, compounding earnings to generate more earnings, in an exponential cycle that can turn a small amount of money into a lot by the time you are ready to retire.
For example, a worker who is 25 has around 40 years of working life to save. If they put just $2,000 per year into a retirement account earning an average of 5% interest, by the time they retire at 65 they will have over $242,000 (while only having contributed $80,000, effectively generating $162,000 in free money).
As income and contributions scale up (and in some cases are matched or contributed towards by employers as well), the return goes up even more dramatically. Start saving early for the largest impact on your retirement!
#8 – Spend Less Than You Earn
The most basic financial management tip is to spend less than you earn. This will help you avoid going into debt or running into financial trouble. But how do you spend less than you earn, and what’s the best way to spend less than you earn (and still enjoy life)?
There’s a lot of debate on the subject, and advice will certainly vary. Much depends on your own personal preferences, habits, and what motivates you. Budgeting, knowing your income picture, and planning your purchases accordingly can help a lot.
You don’t need the latest model car, or a house that has many extra rooms you have no use for. Be smart with how you spend your money, and have a realistic picture of your true expenses and income that accounts for savings, emergency funds, retirement, and all of the other things we’re talking about in this guide.
Don’t give in to temptation and make impulsive purchases a regular habit. You don’t have to be ultra-frugal and cheap, and are certainly allowed to treat yourself to luxuries. Some tips to help you spend less than you earn include:
- Use cash to help keep spending under control. It’s a lot easier to manage your spending when it’s real, physical money than when it’s plastic/credit.
- Carefully evaluate the pros and cons of any purchase decisions for both the short and long term. Life can change fast, and it’s far better to have an extra few thousand dollars in a savings account than the latest and greatest thing.
- Have self-discipline on your spending. Be willing to reward yourself with some things you want, but stand firm on most expenses that are outside of your budget or financial plans.
#9 – Monitor Your Credit Report and Score
At the core of your financial health is your credit report and score. Too often, however, many people fail to monitor their credit and practice good credit-friendly habits to maximize their score. It’s not simply a matter of having a high score with the two major credit reporting agencies for the sake of it. It translates into lower interest rates on loans, more opportunities for borrowing, and, as a result, saves you money in the long run.
Demonstrating you are a low-risk borrower by having a solid credit report and score costs you nothing, can save you a fortune, and simply requires a little effort and good financial management practices.
The first step is to obtain your credit report and review it. If you’re wondering how to get a credit report, it’s simple – you can obtain it for free annually, as well as access your score or report through paid third-party companies.
Once you get your report, you should review the information. Often, people have much lower credit scores than they should due to the presence of incorrect information in their credit bureau report. You can request the information be updated or corrected, often resulting in a bump to your score.
Once you have your information, you can see what factors are lowering your credit score, and work to address these. There are several good online resources to help you find the best ways to improve your credit score. Significant debt, high credit card utilization, prior missed payments, and bankruptcies are common causes for low credit scores.
Paying your bills on time, responsibly using credit and loans, and making sure your information in the credit bureau report is accurate can go a long way towards ensuring your score remains as high as possible, giving you the best interest rates and access to credit and loans.
#10 – Use Credit Cards Sparingly and Responsibly
Credit cards are a great tool to make purchases convenient, but effective financial management means you need to put their use in context, and use them sparingly and responsibly. We’re not talking about prepaid credit cards in Canada here, but rather the traditional, buy-now-pay-later variety.
Essentially, a credit card is a revolving loan that you’re drawing against whenever you use it. If you don’t pay off your outstanding balance within the month, then you pay interest on your purchases. This adds up quickly, because the interest rates on most credit cards are quite high (the Canadian average is around 19%, with rates as high as 30% or more in some cases).
The best way to approach credit cards is to only buy things that you can afford, and work to immediately pay off the total outstanding balance. Making the minimum payments only is a terrible way to manage your finances, and can leave you with significant credit card debt.
At the same time, if you are already in deep credit card debt, then you should work to pay off that debt.
#11 – Learn From Your Money Mistakes
As the saying goes, those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. This applies just as well to financial management. We’re all human and fallible, and are going to make mistakes in our money management.
Even with the best advice and intentions, you’re likely to fall into debt from time to time, overspend, impulse buy something you didn’t need, etc. It is definitely okay, and not something to beat yourself up over. But you should take a brief moment to analyze what happened, and try to learn from your mistakes. That’s the only way we get better at anything in life.
Chalk them up as a lesson in what not to do in the future. Research, read, and get good advice. Learn the right way to approach the same situation in the future. Even the most successful people in the financial world have had setbacks and made mistakes. The ones who are truly successful learn from those mistakes and become better as a result.
#12 – For Debt Relief, Unexpected Expenses, or Urgent Quick Cash, Get a Short-Term Loan from iCASH
With all of that said, when you do run into financial trouble, you need to know where to turn for help. When debts are piling up, unexpected bills or expenses hit, or you just need some urgent, quick cash for whatever reason, a short-term loan can be the best option.
Running up extensive credit card debt is extremely costly, and cash advances from your credit card even more so. Short-term loans can provide significant cash at an affordable price, and are a much better choice than relying on credit cards (or missing bill payments, which can destroy your credit score).
Today, there are new and exciting ways to access short-term loans. In the past, banks were really the only source of loans and credit products. Now, however, there are innovative online lenders who make it easy to access short-term loans. One leader in online personal lending is iCASH, a licensed direct Canadian lender that’s rapidly becoming the gold standard for short-term loans.
iCASH offers short-term loans of up to $1,500 that have no restrictions on their use, so you can use them to deal with whatever life throws at you. You can apply online in just minutes. The simple online application eliminates the need for tedious paperwork, and there are no documents required to be mailed, faxed, or scanned.
iCASH evaluates every loan application in-depth and doesn’t rely on your credit score to measure your risk as a borrower. Where banks have very high credit score requirements for their loans, iCASH has none. Even people with bad credit can qualify for a short-term loan from iCASH with ease.
What’s more, because of the online platform, iCASH can take your application, offer an instant approval, and get you your loan funds 24/7/365. The entire process can take as little as 30 to 60 minutes from start to finish. Interest rates are affordable and well below credit card rates, and there are flexible repayment options to suit your needs.
When you need a fast-short term cash loan to help improve your finances, make ends meet, and pay your bills on time, you should immediately think of iCASH. To find out more or to start an online application, visit the iCASH website.