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August 2018

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Surfing to Financial Wellness

Financial wellness has become a thing.  Corporate wellness programs that focus on exercise and healthy eating are now expanding their scope to include financial wellness and organizations are realizing that helping employees stay financially fit is a great way to reduce their stress and keep them focused on their work.  My calendar is filling up with speaking engagements to help employees think about how to optimize their finances. In addition to education on financial wellness, organizations promote their internal financial programs like matching RSPs, company pension plans and Employee Stock Purchase plans.

Why don’t employees sign up for free money?

While the financial wellness sessions are well attended, it is often tough to increase participation rates in programs where companies actually offer employees free money. How can this be? Although these kinds of programs offer employees a chance to access free money, participation requires money, and that becomes an issue for many.  Joining an Employee Share Purchase Plan, signing up for a RSP matching program or even joining a company pension plan, all require a piece of a paycheque. Which means that they compete with kids programs, home repairs, Zumba classes, car payments and everything else in the budget.

A similar issue happens in other aspects of personal finance. Nearly half of Canadian credit card users don’t pay off their credit cards each month despite punishing interest rates north of 20%. (BMO ‘s 2015 credit card report). Consumers select longer mortgage terms even though slightly higher payments could knock years off the loan. We select car loans with an average duration of 69 months and often roll in negative equity from our last car loan. Only about half of university students have their education funded by an RESP, leaving $7,200 of free government funding on the table.

Are you swimming up financial waves or surfing down them?

So it seems that we are swimming up the financial wave rather than surfing down it. If we could free up some monthly cashflow, we could access this free money and accelerate our ride to financial wellness.

  • Freeing  up cashflow would let us participate in company programs like share purchase plans and matching RSP plans. These plans often provide free money in addition to a growth opportunity
  • Having available funds would mean that we can take full advantage of government giveaways like RESP grants, RSP tax deductions and tax savings by maximizing TFSA contributions
  • With some extra monthly cash we could pay off our credit card balance in full, saving us from ongoing interest charges
  • Extra funds would also enable the ability to pay cash for other purchases, eliminating the need for additional consumer loans.

By getting ahead of these things, our money starts to really work for us. Free money from our employer programs can help drive us forward. We can reduce the interest cost and the impact of taxes that are pulling our finances backwards.

How to ride a wave of financial wellness

So how to get on the wave and let our money do the work? Here are some thoughts:

  • Make a list of all of the government plans that are relevant for you (TFSA, RSP, RESP etc) and the extra value to you of getting to full participation in each and the cashflow needed to do so.
  • Build a similar list of all available employer plans inclusive of pension plans, stock purchase plans and RSP matching programs. Again, calculate the extra value to you of getting to full participation in each and the cashflow needed to do so.
  • Then list out the annual interest cost of not fully paying off any revolving credit each month. Eliminating that can also add extra value to your net worth.

Then look for ways to make some changes to start surfing down the waves. As an example, by getting your credit cards paid off, you could save on monthly interest payments. Could that interest amount be the extra you need to enrol in your company’s share purchase plan? Bit of a two for one. Is there a way to reduce household expenses to maximize RESP contributions and take advantage of the maximum government grant of $7,200 per child? Its money that you will need, might as well have it come from the government, rather than you. If you need more ways to find savings to enjoy the benefit of these programs, check out the ideas in Cashflow Cookbook. If your company has a matching RSP program and you are tight on cash to contribute, complete a form T1213 (available here) to reduce the tax withheld by your employer. You won’t get a tax refund in the spring, but it will ease your cashflow so that you can join the program and get the employer provided benefit.

By making some simple changes you can surf a wave to financial wellness and let your employer, the government and even your financial institution help.

What ideas have you found to surf your way to financial wellness?

Photo credit Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Tap Into Easy Savings

Behold the beautiful RC Harris waterworks building. Built in 1930, it was dubbed the Palace of Water. With marble interior, gleaming brass fixtures and an Art Deco style, it has earned its historic building status. Despite its advanced years, the plant still produces 800 million litres a day of fresh, clean drinking water. I live across the street from it, so I see a daily reminder of how lucky we are to have a virtually unlimited supply of the life-giving nectar. Could this water plant be a reminder of how to tap into easy savings?

At current rates, water costs about $3.80 for a cubic meter. That’s a lot of water. Putting it into terms we can relate to, filling a one litre bottle costs about 1/3 of a cent. Quite economical. Especially when you compare that to, say Dasani bottled water which is also made from, well, tap water and costs about $2 at retail.  And what to make of those souls lugging cases of bottled water from Costco to minivan, then minivan to driveway and driveway to kitchen, typically somewhere near the faucet. Yes, the thing that spouts the unlimited supply. Splurge on a fancy stainless steel water bottle, and enjoy some fresh tap water while saving the oceans from some polyethylene terephthalate that they don’t really need.

Picture a 17 pound block of sugar

But people don’t just drink water. they drink a lot of soft drinks. In 2018 we will drink about 65 litres of the stuff per person. Thats about 200 cans of pop for each of us. Which you can think of as us consuming about 7.8 kg of sugar (picture a 17 lb weight plate at the gym – not that they come in that size). 200 cans of pop holds about 30,000 calories or enough to help us each gain 8.6 lbs a year. If you are drinking the diet version, you will save the sugar, but you may be embalming your body with a curious mix of chemicals. Cost wise, these 200 cans of pop add about $400 year which we could all put to better use.

Looking at a typical fast food lunch, the “entre” is somewhere around $8-$10 but the drink adds another $2. So swapping out the drink for plain water is another way to tap into easy savings. It’s like having a 20% discount card at every restaurant in town. And the drink may be adding 15 – 20% of the calories as well, and loading you with sugar that you can do without.  Ask them to put the water into your refillable bottle, saving them the cost of the cup and the earth the extra landfill. If they whine about giving you tap water explain that you need it to take your pills. 

Sparkling, glacier fed, oxygenated, imported or tap?

At high end restaurants, they love to get the fancy water flowing to swell the cheque size. Up selling. Some restaurants run contests around it to optimize profits. Others actually “make’ their own signature water. When the question comes, request tap water. Maybe add a bit of lemon. Won’t affect the conversation, the business deal or the taste of the food. Another way to tap into easy savings.

An easy habit to change

CBS recently reported that 75% of Americans fall short of the recommended 10 cups of water a day. Time to hydrate. I know, water is a bit boring. Add some ice. If you substitute tap water enough times, everything else will seem too sweet, your health will benefit and you will free up  bit of cash for debt repayment or incremental savings. Switching to water works the same as changing any habit. More on that here.

Have you switched to tap water? Still stuck drinking pounds of sugar a year? Let me know!