We are living in challenging times and every day Albertans face the unprecedented combination of economic uncertainty, ongoing COVID-19 dangers, volatile stock markets, a shaky job market and rising costs of living expenses. In a recent national poll by FP Canada, more than forty percent of people in Alberta ranked money as their biggest cause of stress in life and more than half said the pandemic had impacted their finances.
Financial stress can impact your health and relationships, while negatively affecting how you approach money and planning for your future. The good news is that you can take control and do what’s right for you. By taking these five steps you can reduce your stress level, optimize your expenses to weather the storm and avoid unwise investments.
1. Start with your budget
When it comes to your finances, there is no better ally than your budget in order to understand where your money goes and give you a plan of action that can relieve stress. If you don’t have a current budget or know how to make one, visit CheckFirst.ca to build your own. Compare the money you bring in to the house, and your expenses. Consider looking for areas where you can reduce unnecessary costs and make a few changes if you’re spending more than you make. For example, maybe you can take that step you always talked about and cut your cable or stop using food delivery services and cook at home instead. Once you have built your budget, make sure you review it at the end of each month to stay on track. Take note though, a budget isn’t a dream scenario – use real numbers and take action based on what you learn.
2. Establish or strengthen your emergency fund
Unforeseen events happen. Whether your hot water tank goes on the fritz or you unexpectedly lose your job, unwanted expenses can strike when you least expect them. Saving and protecting emergency funds are a great way to hedge your bets against these unforeseen circumstances and avoid the financial impact and stress that can occur. A solid budget includes dedicating some of your income to an emergency fund. Open a separate savings account, ideally one with a decent interest rate and low or no fees, and start automatically contributing what you can. Even $40 every two weeks can net you $1,000 in savings within a year – the key is to consistently save the amount you are comfortable saving, no matter how small.
3. Defer payments
You are not alone in feeling the financial stress of COVID-19. Many Albertans are facing unprecedented challenges, which has made meeting financial obligations like paying mortgages, utilities, and other monthly expenses more difficult. Fortunately, many businesses, banks, service providers and municipalities recognize this and are providing payment deferrals for up to six months to help ease your financial stress. If you’ve reviewed your budget and removed all unnecessary spending, your next step is to identify bills that may qualify for a deferral. Try and pinpoint the smallest bills you can defer that will help you balance your budget. Just remember that deferred payments still have to be paid – they do not cancel or eliminate the amount owed, but instead put them on hold to give you time to either grow your income, or further reduce your expenses.
4. Consider using an investment adviser or planner
Sometimes calling in an expert is a necessary step to help reduce the stress you might be feeling about your financial future. If you have investments, you are not alone in worrying about the volatility of the stock markets and the rapid changes in your portfolio. Making an appointment with a registered financial adviser or planner and seeking their knowledge and guidance can be a great way to review your investment portfolio against your financial plan, ensure you’re staying on track with your goals, and make any adjustments as needed. Learn how to ask the right questions and check the registration of your investment adviser by searching “Choosing the right financial adviser” on CheckFirst.ca.
5. Beware of “get rich quick” opportunities
Current economic conditions create a breeding ground for fraudsters looking to capitalize on the fear and vulnerability of hard-working people trying to make ends meet. Fraudsters use economic uncertainties and current trends to sell COVID-related investments, forex trading work-from-home opportunities, and too-good-to-be-true offers with the sole purpose of stealing your money quickly and efficiently. If you’re approached with a red flag of fraud such as an investment opportunity with the promise of significant returns with little to no risk, you could be dealing with a potentially fraudulent investment that could make your financial situation worse. Don’t make rash decisions with your money. Learn more about the red flags to be wary of, and always check the registration and disciplinary history of the individual or firm offering you any investment at CheckFirst.ca
Financial stress is an overwhelming reality for many households across Alberta. Take control of your financial security and relieve stress by taking action through these five steps. Visit CheckFirst.ca for free, unbiased resources to empower you through every step of your investment journey, detours and all.
 Seto, Steve, Financial stress biggest concern for Albertans during pandemic: survey, 660 News, Jul. 13 2020.