The Yellow Brick Road of Financial Advice

1. Calculate your net worth Take the market value of all your significant assets including houses, investments, vehicles,/cash savings,/and subtract what you owe on your mortgage, credit cards, LOC, student loans, vehicle loans, etc. Focus on the big-ticket items…. you can ignore the $50 you have stowed away in your sock drawer! Whatever is left over, whether positive or negative, is your net worth. This is the starting point and yardstick for measuring your financial progress. Going forward, you will need to revisit this calculation on a regular basis to determine your progress. 2. Pay yourself first – and save it!/ You should be aiming to save at least 10% of your after-tax salary. Every payday, that 10% has to get from the daily chequing account where your salary is deposited to a high-interest savings account… like clockwork with no ifs, ands or buts!/How to invest that money is another lesson, but for now, just get a system in place to make ensure you put it aside — money left in a chequing account has a way of disappearing! Overcome your forgetfulness and/or temptation and make that money invisible by setting up an automatic/transfer/to a designated savings account every payday. If you are struggling to meet the 10% goal, you need to list up your monthly expenses and find some low-hanging fruit you can cut and divert into savings./ Dining out, travel, phone/internet/cable plans and gym memberships can add up quickly and are good areas to carve out some savings. 3. Understand where your money is going The top two overspends for Canadians are housing and transportation. The cost of your car is not just the monthly payment! You must include the insurance, gas and/repairs – and it shouldn’t eat up much more than 10% of your after-tax income. Do the same calculation with your housing and make sure to include the mortgage, repairs, utilities and property tax. Aim for a maximum of 30% of after-tax income, not whatever the bank or mortgage stress-test says you can afford. If you find you are way over the 10% target for your car you can easily downgrade, but a change in housing is much more involved. There are numerous fees and related costs to factor in, not to mention the fact that it may be difficult to find a cheaper housing option in your area. We recommend doing the calculation and at least get a benchmark of your current situation. You may be able to save on utilities, repairs or home improvements, or even try and generate some extra income to get closer to the 30% target. 4. Prioritize your debts and create a repayment plan Not all debts are created equal, some cost a lot more than others! If you carry a credit card debt from month-to-month or graduated years ago and are still trying to pay off your student loan, you need to create a repayment plan and stick to it. The interest rate on credit cards assures that paying the minimum every month will only enrichen the card company and cost you thousands in interest charges. Student loans also carry higher interest rates and can handicap your post-graduation financial life for years. We appreciate the value of education but find that many students are not very cognizant of the loan details and just how much the interest rate and payments will be post graduation. Only borrow what is absolutely necessary to get you through your education and don’t bank on a big post-graduation paycheque to quickly reduce that student loan – it may not happen for a few years! A few good books and/or a money coach would be a great addition to building your financial education but learning how to master the above basics won’t take much of your time and give you a solid start to a successful financial life.