5 steps for getting your financial house in order this year

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Now that we are well into January, you’ve probably had many possible new year’s resolutions running through your head…lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more, spend more time with family…the list goes on. Where do you start?! My belief is that “getting my financial house in order” should be on, if not at the top of, most Canadian’s new year’s resolutions lists for 2017, and here is why.

As Canadians find themselves dealing with ever-increasing debt levels, a greater and greater portion of their monthly paycheck goes towards servicing this debt.  With grocery and gas bills on the rise, it’s predicted that the average Canadian family could spend $1,600 more in 2017 than 2016. So, now is the perfect time to review your financial health and set a plan for the coming days, weeks and months.


Step 1: Determine your personal net worth.

Review your current financial situation by creating a personal net worth statement. This should be done annually so you can see if you are gaining ground or not. List all your assets (e.g., home, car, investments) and give a realistic value for each. Then list all your debts (e.g.,mortgage, car loan, credit cards, lines of credit, etc.). File this away for next year so you can review your progress year over year

Step 2: Plan to pay down debt.

Review your list of debts from your personal net worth statement and create a debt reduction strategy.

Higher interest unsecured debt should be attacked first.
By reducing this debt first, you will free up more of your monthly income to be used to reduce other debt, or create savings. Paying down high interest, unsecured debt is a two-pronged approach:

  1. Stop (or limit) the future use of the unsecured debt.
  2. Pay more than the minimum the lender requires.

This seems simple in theory but can be difficult in practice because “life happens”. The budget you create should have some provision for unexpected expenses which can help with reducing the tendency to use the debt for such unexpected expenses.

Use cash on a go forward basis
Plastic (credit and debit cards) is very convenient and can lead to unanticipated or overspending. Leave the cards at home (in a safe place) to limit your access. Get receipts for everything you spend. Remember you are now using cash and without the receipts you have less ability to track where the cash went.

Step 3: Create a budget.

A budget is not a four letter word and it is not something to fear. A budget is merely a plan for how you want to spend your money. There is the old adage: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Nothing could be more true!  A budget is key to improving your financial health. If you already have a budget, pat yourself on the back. If you don’t, the beginning of the year is a good time.

The best way to create a budget is to review your spending patterns over the previous months because where your money has been going is probably a good indication of where it will go in the future.

  • As a starting point, look at your bank statements, credit card statements, etc.
  • It doesn’t matter what form your budget takes (pen and paper, Microsoft Excel, software, online), as long as it done in a method that you are comfortable using regularly.
  • It doesn’t matter what form your budget takes (pen and paper, Microsoft Excel, software, online), as long as it done in a method that you are comfortable using regularly.
  • Some resources to check out include the online budget calculator offered by the Federal Consumer Agency of Canada, and the budget tool and free mobile apps at Mint.com. Software for purchase such as Quicken can be useful, however, they come with a cost to purchase.
  • Look to online tutorials to help you create the best budget for your situation.
  • For your budget to be most effective and to be most successful achieving it, be sure to involve your spouse and your children (they will need to learn this as they get older) in the process .

Step 4: Create savings.

Pay yourself first.
Your budget should also have a monthly savings amount built into it. An effective way to do this is through payroll deduction. This way you aren’t tempted to dip into any savings you planned for at the end of the month.

Piggy bank_lavendarAutomatic Money Transfer
Another method of “forced” savings is to have your money automatically transferred from your checking account to your savings account according to your pay schedule. Start small and after a few months if you can handle slowly increase the amount. Out of sight is out of mind – over time you won’t even miss it!

Use a piggy bank
Collect your loose change. Loonies and Toonies can add up quite quickly!.

Step 5: Track spending.

An often overlooked step, you need to track your actual spending and compare it to your budgeted amounts. Review your budget at least monthly to see if your spending compares to your budget. If you find you are spending more in a category then the budgeted amount, you either need to increase the budgeted amount or decrease the amount you are spending.


Getting your financial house in order an important resolution. Create a plan and work towards achieving your plan. Don’t try to change everything overnight as you are more likely to give up and return to your old ways. If you find you are in over your head reach out to a professional such as a Licensed Insolvency Trustee for help.

RobM_HS
Rob McLernon is a Licensed Insolvency Trustee (LIT) and a Chartered Insolvency and Restructuring Professional (CIRP)  with our Nova Scotia Grant Thornton team. He’s been working primarily in the consumer insolvency area since 2003. In addition to being a LIT, he is a Certified Insolvency Administrator and Counsellor. Rob has extensive background knowledge on debt restructuring and brings this to his current role.

 

 

Find the fun in scrimping and saving – strategies to knock debt out

OK, with the New Year a week in, how is your resolution doing? Finances seem to be one of the items topping the list this year for Canadians. You may have holiday shopping, entertaining or travel bills that need paying. Let’s not forget those credit card balances you’ve been carrying for a while. But how do you make room in an already tight budget and figure out which debt to tackle first.

So, it’s time to look around and find creative ways to ‘scrimp’, cut back, change things up and presto: extra money to apply to that holiday (or old) debt and then eventually add to our savings.

Where to start? There are some easy, tried and true ways that when added together really can result in more money in your wallet.

How about nixing the daily coffee fix? If you buy one $4 latte each day, that coffee habit will set you back $28 a week, about $120 a month and $1,460 per year. Keep that up for five years, and you’ve slurped away $7,300, not including any money you might have earned by investing your cash instead.

Take a look at your cable TV, Internet and smart phone contracts too. Candidly telling your supplier you intend to make savings can actually result in some! Discuss the packages and contracts you have and see where you can remove TV channels that you don’t watch, eliminate phone features you don’t need . . . or perhaps where bundling services can result in overall cost savings. Perhaps you no longer need a landline. And, when your smart phone contract comes up for renewal, consider forgoing the tempting upgrade to new technology and stay off contract with a streamlined package of services at a reduced fee.

We all know that eating out can be a significant drain on finances. So too, can be daily visits to the grocery store. It’s proven that popping in for milk typically leads to the purchase of at least three other impulse items. Instead, take time on the weekend to plan a week’s worth of meals and purchase all the supplies in one shopping trip. Quadruple make and freeze favourites like Chili that can serve several meals. Utilize a crock pot slow cooker too: prepare quickly before you head out the door and return to a meal all ready to go – and a great smelling house! Of course, it always helps to use coupons if you have them (look on line and print off) and check with your preferred grocery store as to which day of the week has the most cost savings and offers.

Other small ways to cut back:

  • Cancel magazine subscriptions or agree with friends to share the cost and circulate the issues.
  • Give up expensive habits like smoking and alcohol.
  • Install a programmable thermostat that can easily cut your energy bill by 10 to 20% (check out the NEST).
  • Stretch the gaps between hair cuts or colour treatments – after all Ombre is a trend.
  • Before shopping for new clothes, clean out your closet and figure out where you can re-style and re-purpose some of what you already have. You may be able to sell some items at a consignment store or re-discover outfits that you can adapt or re-incorporate into your current favourites.
  • Don’t spend a lot of money entertaining your children. They mostly crave time with you . . . so implement fun no-cost family activities like tobogganing nearby, or movie and game nights at home where everyone unplugs from devices and spends quality time together.

The money you save may later help fund a great family vacation!

If you or a family member are facing financial struggles or would like some help with managing your debt, one of our professionals is available to discuss your situation. There are many options available to help and you may not need to go bankrupt. Contact us for a confidential, no-obligation, complimentary consultation. Call us toll free from anywhere in Western Canada 310 8888. Visit us online at www.GTDebt.ca or www.GT.Alger.ca.



Which is the best method for paying down debt: Snowball or Avalanche?

Avalanche method recommends paying highest interest debt first, while snowball advocates smallest amount first.

Many of us have used our credit cards, cash advances and borrowed money over the holidays, shopped our way though the malls, ordered online and picked up gift cards for our friends, family, coworkers and picked up those little secret Santa gifts, all of this adding to the costs of the holidays. We purchased a turkey or ham, all of the trimmings, some spirits, made baked goods and bought boxes of chocolates.

Aside from the 5lbs you would like to lose, how many of us are going to be going on a debt diet over the next few months? Which is the best method to conquer those few debt pounds we plan to lose?

Blake Elyea, from our Vancouver office spoke to Canadian Press about some of his thoughts regarding the Avalanche method and the Snowball method, but which will work best for you?

‘Avalanche’ involves paying highest interest first

The avalanche method involves tackling the highest interest rate debts first — an approach that can save you money on interest payments, but may require more willpower if your highest-interest debts are also the largest ones.

“Mathematically that’s the best approach,” Elyea says. “However, you’re not going to see the instant results necessarily as quickly with that approach. It’s going to take more discipline.”

If you’re going to adopt the avalanche approach, you should be checking your balance and tracking progress and making a small budget to reward yourself when you reach your  short term goals.

‘Snowball’ method tackles small debt first

The snowball approach, popularized by U.S. radio and TV personality Dave Ramsey, involves tackling your debts from smallest to largest.

Knocking off the smallest balances first — while maintaining the minimum payments on all the other debts — gives the debtor some “quick wins,” making it a good approach for those who need to see some instant results in order to stay motivated, says Elyea.

“We all like instant gratification,” says Elyea. “We want to see that we’re making progress.”

It’s your choice

Although the avalanche method will save money on interest payments compared with the snowball technique, Elyea says any strategy that involves taking stock of your financial situation and actively tackling your debt load is a good one.

“If you have a structured way you’re going to approach your debt, either method is going to get you there,” says Elyea. “One might take you a bit longer than the other.”

If you are in a position where your debts feel overwhelming, one option might be to get a free consultation from a licensed trustee, not only can a trustee assist with helping you to plan and budget, but they may be able to offer additional debt reduction suggestions such as a  consumer proposal, an informal proposal to creditors, and, in certain situations to file for bankruptcy.

Whatever your financial situation may be after the holidays, if you feel financially hungover, there are options, take stock, develop a plan and reach out for help if needed.

Grant Thornton – Canada | We provide solutions for people with debt and financial challenges.

If you are facing financial struggles or would like some help with managing your debt—one of our professionals is available to discuss your situation. There are many options available, ask us about a consumer proposal. Contact us for a confidential, no-obligation, complimentary consultation. Call us toll free at 310 8888.

Excerpts adopted from the Canadian Press article: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/debt-experts-recommend-avalanche-strategy-but-snowball-works-too-1.2886215