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Back to School – Not Just for Kids

The air is crisp and the leaves are changing colour. While some things have stayed the same – the end of summer and the start of school – others have drastically changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted us in ways we could never have imagined.

Many of us are juggling the needs of work and our family, others may have spent a bit more than anticipated over the summer, or are having to pull the belt tighter due to changes in employment. Most of us have had to make choices that affect the amount of money we have brought into our household. Whatever your situation, the good news is that fall is a great time for you to “go back to school” by reviewing your financial situation and increasing your financial knowledge, which can help you stay on track for the rest of the year. Here are some tips to get you started:

Review your budget. Over the summer, budgets tend to slide. The fall is a good time to review the budget you set earlier in the year to make sure you are still on track to achieve your personal goals. Look back at receipts and financial statements to see your family’s spending pattern, then account for any new or anticipated expenses. Ask yourself the following questions: Are you saving what you had set out to? Are you able to pay down debt? What is your cash flow situation?

While you’re at it, take some time to outline how you will manage your finances for the rest of the year. With the holidays around the corner, factor this into your budget and consider emergency funds for any big-ticket items that could pop up, such as car or home repairs. By knowing where your money is going, and living within your means, you take control of your spending and reduce your stress.

Review your financial statements. It’s easy to allow financial documents like bank or investment statements to pile up unopened. Take the time to open all your financial documents and review your statements. Be sure you understand the investment fees you’re paying, and how your portfolio is performing. Be sure to note any questions you have for your financial planner or investment adviser. Follow up if there are any changes to your accounts or new investments that you do not recall making.

Study up to increase your financial knowledge. Start by identifying where you may have gaps: there are many places online, such as CheckFirst.ca, that offer quizzes to help you gauge your knowledge. Start with the Investing Basics quiz – it is a good general overview of investment fees, financial planning, risk tolerance and the legitimacy of investment offers. Commit to improving your financial knowledge in the areas you find challenging. While money-management and investments can feel confusing, there are many reputable resources available to help you.

Talk to a financial adviser. If it all seems overwhelming and you’re not sure how to manage your finances, a professional may be able to help and identify areas for improvement. If you have a financial planner or investment adviser, reach out to them for a check-in to discuss your questions or concerns. If you don’t have an adviser and want one, consider meeting with a few individuals to see who might be a good fit for you. If you can’t afford to hire one right now, speak to your current banking institution. Banks have obligations to their consumers and should be willing to talk to you about your situation. Before meeting with them be sure to check their registration and learn how the adviser or bank are getting paid.

Set Goals. Just like in school, setting achievable goals will help you conquer that next milestone. Pay off debt? Save more money? Put away for emergency fund? These are great goals but in order to be successful in meeting them, goals need to be specific, realistic and measurable. Instead try “Pay off $3,000 of debt by the end of 2021” and map out how you will do it.

Be flexible. School today is very different than last year, and you can think about your finances in the same way. Situations change, and as they do, adjust your financial plans, budget and goals accordingly.

A bell isn’t going to ring to let you know you need to learn more about your financial future; it’s up to you to decide when to head back to school and build your own financial know-how. We might not know what the year will bring, but being proactive about our financial knowledge and planning for the future may alleviate some stress. It may just help you sleep better at night and give you one less thing to think about as you tackle all the other demands in your life.

For more information on increasing your financial knowledge, making wise investments, learning about budgeting, how to check registration and how to talk to a financial adviser visit CheckFirst.ca. It is chock-full of helpful tools and resources.

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