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Clearing the Gap

 

“Improving Finances” was listed by 38% of respondents to Forbes Health/OnePoll survey.  That’s a lot of us who want to change our finances.  I’m confident that resolution is a re-run for many of us.

 

If you’ve thought about ‘improving your finances’ before, and haven’t made the change that you wanted; if you’ve tried to tackle where your money is going, how to get a grip on whether you’re going to be okay in the future, if you can afford to [fill in the blank] and still [fill in the blank], I have a few tips for you to get you from saying it to doing it.

 

Pick small steps- by small, I mean SMALL. (ironic, I know) Clarifying one thing at a time is progress and will build your financial foundation.  Need examples?  Figure out your monthly take-home income if you’re not sure where your money is going.  Listen to a podcast episode on money if you want to build your knowledge and comfort with finances.  Need recommendations?  Follow me on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn for future posts on this.

 

If you are changing any of your habits, give yourself time to solidify the change.  “A new habit” is actually two steps- you have to stop the old habit and start a new habit.  On average, you need 66 days to form a habit if you do it every day.  Some of your financial goals may not happen every day, so do two things with this information:

 

     ◊  make a plan to check in with your habit at least weekly to keep momentum (even if that’s just a reminder of ‘hey, my RSP limit this year is $45,839 sticky on your mirror)

 

     ◊​   be kind to yourself if you need to re-start when the old habit took over.

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A new calendar year has been changing our bank account amounts for a long time, from RSP maximums indexed to inflation to increases in Canada Pension Plan contribution rates.

 

2024 has some standout amounts that you should be aware of, in addition to the regular, steady changes.

 

WHEN YOU'RE WORKING

 

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contribution amount- the CPP contribution rate for working Canadians has been increasing since 2019, and 2024 is a big jump in the payroll deductions.  The employer & employee contribution rate has increased to 5.95% of contributory earnings and the maximum pensionable earnings have increased to $68,500.  In dollars, that’s a maximum of $3,867.50 from an employee and a matching amount from the employer; if you are self-employed, that’s a maximum of $7,735.00.  CPP2 is new- this contribution covers income from $68,501-$73,200.  Employees and employers contribute 4% to a maximum of $188 each and self-employed Canadians contribute up to a maximum of $376.

 

For perspective, in 2020, CPP maximum pensionable earnings was $58,700 and contribution rate was 5.25%.  that calculated through to a maximum payment of $5,796 to CPP (either split between employer & employee or fully paid by a self-employed Canadian).  Four years later, we’re up to CPP maximum pensionable earnings of $68,500, a 5.95% contribution rate and a maximum payment of $7,735.  Those are increases of:

17% in the maximum pensionable earnings

13% in the contribution rate

33% in the dollar amount of the contribution

 

If your bank account is feeling a little dented, those numbers help explain a few of the dings.

 

The increases in CPP contributions are connected to increases in the CPP payments that you will receive in retirement.  The multi-year increases were designed to take CPP retirement payments from 25% of maximum pensionable earnings to 33%......an increase in retirement payments of 32%.

 

IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN

 

The Canada Child Benefit (CCB) has a cost of living adjustment that is calculated in July every year.  For July 2023- June 2024, the increase was 6.3% (the Consumer Price Index as of mid-2023) and 2024 payments will increase in July, based on the CPI calculated at that time.

Why July?  CCB amounts are based on net family income.  By scheduling the increase for July, the government is using the most recent income data that they have for families.  Another great reason to file your tax return!

 

WHEN YOU'RE SAVING

 

2024 RSP maximum- 18% of earned income to a maximum of $31,560 (corresponding income of $175,333).  If you contribute the full amount monthly, that’s $2,630 per month.

 

Reminder: before making any changes to contributions, check any scheduled deposits that you have happening through a group plan at work so that you don’t over-contribute.

File your income  taxes on time, then check your Notice of Assessment (NOA) from CRA to see how much contribution room you have available for 2024.  The amount on your NOA includes any previous contribution room that you haven’t used plus any new room generated by your 2023 income.  Make changes to your deposits as needed.

 

2024 TFSA maximum- $7,000 of new contribution room.  If you have never contributed to a TFSA, and you were born in 1991 or earlier, you have cumulative room of $95,000.

 

Reminder: do not over-contribute!  Many people have more than one TFSA account, and it’s easy to over-contribute.  Your TFSA limit is a global limit- no matter how many TFSA accounts you have, your limit is your limit.

 

Recommendation: review the purpose of your TFSA.  Is this long-term savings?  Do you want growth from this money?  Is it intended to fund a specific purchase, like a new car or a house?  Is it your emergency money?  The investments inside your TFSA should match your goals; the risk level and volatility should be chosen after you’ve chosen your goal for the money in the TFSA.

 

RECEIVING CANADA PENSION PLAN (CPP)

 

 CPP payments are increased once a year using the increase in The Consumer Price Index (CPI).  This keeps your CPP amount equal to inflation (as best as possible, depending on your spending patterns).  What does that mean?  It means you can still buy the same amount of stuff with your pension this year as you could last year, even though prices have increased.  Your CPP amount has kept up with the increase.  This is a valuable feature in any pension, investment return or income stream.

The CPP increase for 2024 is 4.4%

 

RECEIVING OLD AGE SECURITY (OAS)

 

OAS payments are adjusted quarterly for inflation, also using the same CPI as CPP.  The increase from Jan-March 2024 is 0.8%.

 

WHAT IF CPI IS NEGATIVE- DO MY CPP & OAS PAYMENTS DECREASE?

 

No.  If the CPI is negative, payments remain level.  This is true for all government payments that depend on CPI adjustments.

 

 

More information:

 

Canada Child Benefit information

 

CPP contribution rates

 

CPP2

 

CPP payments- 2024 inflation adjustment

 

OAS payments- first quarter 2024 inflation adjustment

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It might not seem like a large bank account balance would be a problem, but it often is.  Many clients hire me specifically to plan to deal with this issue.

 

Whether it's your job that gives regular bonuses, your spending is far below your income or you received a large one-time amount, cash in a bank account casuses pressue to make a decsision.  The right decision.

 

Some general considerations if you are in this situation:

  • do you have an emergency account?  If you lost your income for 6 weeks to 6-8 months, how would you pay your bills?  If you don't have any emergency account, consider moving the cash into a savings account (if it is currently in your main chequing account).  This money's job is to be available; it's not irresponsible to have the money 'sit there doing nothing'.  It's job is to protect your financial stability.

 

  • Are you saving for a specific purchase or a known expense?  If yes, leave that money in cash.  Sometimes, clients tell me that they feel like they could be gaining a higher return, or doing something else with the money.  If you are considering investing in either the stock or bond market, you are taking risk.  Risk that your investment might be worth less when you need to sell it than the day you bought it.  If your timeline is less than 3 years for a purchase/ expense, you don't have the time to invest without taking on large amounts of risk (aka- you would be gambling with money that you know you need in a certain amount in a certain time).  

 

  • Did this money come to you through a loss or a big life change?  Is this inheritance money?  Severance from a job loss?  A settlement after a separation/divorce?  Sale of a business?  I recommend taking time to review your priorities if your money came from any type of 'sudden wealth' event.  In my experience, clients take about 12-18 months to make any decisions on an inheritance.  You need time to review your new situation, set new priorities and test out what your life looks like now.  Using smaller amounts to pay off high-interest debt or purchase something that is meaningful to you is reasonable, but if you are feeling overwhelmed or a bit lost with the money goals, put it into a savings account, gather information and ideas and make decisions later.

If the bank or any other advisor is pressuring you to make a decision or purchase a product, I recommend getting another opinion.  There is rarely a situation that demands a decision on money like this before you are ready.  On the other hand, there are very real consequences to you to making a decision that doesn't align with your situation, goals or values.

 

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CDFA

How Can a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst Help with Your Separation?

Separation and divorce are uncertain times.  Our routines and plans today and in the future need to be re-evaluated and re-planned.  Many of the questions that you have during these times are a combination of personal values and financial impacts.  You can answer these questions effectively by finding a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) to help you.

Below are 4 general areas that you will have questions and a CDFA can help.

Collecting Financial Information
  • What do you own?
  • What do you owe?
  • How much do you earn?
  • Is there any excluded property that won’t be divided?
Building a Spending Plan
  • We all spend money. Post-divorce, you may need to make different choices about where and how you are spending.  Discussing a plan during the division process gives you a clearer picture of what is necessary and what is possible.
  • When you have dependent children, it’s important to review and divide their expenses.  Both parties should understand the costs and who is responsible for what.
What Happens in the Future?

When you are making choices about how to divide assets and debts, it’s important to understand how your decisions today may affect your future.  Some common questions are:

  • Am I going to be okay if I keep the house?
  • My spouse has a pension; now that we’re separating, I don’t know what my retirement savings look like.
  • Paying for our children’s education is important to me; can that still happen?
Follow-Up Items (if needed)
  • Life insurance is often discussed during separation to secure spousal and child support obligations. I can follow up with you to ensure that the policies are in place with the correct beneficiaries.
  • Changes to wills and powers of attorney post-divorce- you need to re-plan for your assets to be given to your heirs.  I can follow up with you to update your plan to reflect your new situation.

If you have questions about your separation and the implications of the decisions that you are making, at whatever stage you’re at, please contact Sara at 519-569-7526 or [email protected]

More information about the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst designation here

Information about Collaborative Family Law here.  I’m excited to be working with this group of professionals who are committed to preserving the dignity, integrity and long-term best interests of your family.

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Executing Your Changes, Using Your Tools

Executing Changes, Using Your Tools

 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about setting and adjusting your goals and how to use your tools to reach them.  This week, let’s look at how to use all of those things to build a plan.

Your goals are the most important part of your plan.  It can be easy to focus on investments- most advisors are paid on the amount of investments they manage.  There has been an increased discussion about the importance of planning, however not all advisors are interested in, or compensated for, planning.  As clients, sometimes we pull the focus away from planning -  We’re sure that if we own the right investments that provide the right rates of return, we’ll hit our goals.  Sometimes we assume our advisor knows our goals.  In a traditional advisor- client relationship, it can be hard to change focus to look purely at the planning side of things before diving into investment management.

A comprehensive, personalized plan reflects your goals back to you, and shows you a path to reach them.  Sometimes there is more than one way to arrive at your goal; when you work with the right advisor, you get the information you need to choose the best way for you and advice on how to implement the plan.  Sometimes you just need to use what you have, sometimes you need to stop a certain action to make another one happen.  Sometimes, you are likely to reach all of your goals without changing your current behaviour, but you didn’t know that until you had help with a plan.  The value of this scenario, reaching your goals with your current behaviour and tools, is the freedom to develop new goals. 

Increase your likelihood of reaching your goals in 2018 by starting now.  Spending time now to review your goals, detail your tools and work with WD Development on your plan allows you to start 2018 using small, consistent changes that will move you towards meeting your goals.  Contact Sara at 519-569-7526 or [email protected]

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Intensity vs Consistency

Organizing Your Tools

Last week, I wrote about setting goals, breaking them down and mapping out a plan to meet them.  This week, we look at assessing and understanding the tools that you have to meet your goals.  Understanding how to use our money and assets is best done with both intensity and consistency (see video below).  In a recent survey by the Financial Planning Standards Council, 40% of Canadians don’t feel in control of their financial futures, and 30% of Canadians are overwhelmed by their financial options.  Our goals and plans for our money are attached to our emotions- often our goals are very personal and meaningful to use.  It can be difficult to know how to make choices when there is so much riding on the outcome.

Small to Big

Money coming in and money going out should be understood as much as possible when building a plan to meet your goals.  Understanding the ins and outs on a monthly basis will help you understand what’s available to meet long-term goals.  If adjustments need to happen to create room to meet long-term goals, the adjustments will happen on a monthly, per-item basis.  It’s important to review your priorities before making changes- cutting back on a really important-to-you expense could end up not meeting your long-term goals.

Big to Small

If you have long-term goals, knowing how much you need to meet them and a projection of what is needed will help you develop a plan.  If your long-term goals are still a bit fuzzy, a projection of how your financial future plays out over a long period will help to give you an initial direction.  An initial plan can generate conversations about what you’re comfortable with, what you want to change.  If a career change is on your wish list, take a look at what the new income, benefits, new location (if applicable) does to your long-term plans.

 

There is a way to clear the uncertainty and evaluate your options.  To start your plan, contact Sara at 519-569-7526 or [email protected]

 

Financial Blind Spots

 

Intensity vs Consistency-Simon Sinek

This was extracted from a talk on organizational culture, but the theory is applicable to our finances as well.  Neither intensity nor consistency alone will get us to our goals

 

 

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How to Support Your Small Changes and Your Big Changes

This is Part I in a 3 Part series: How to Actually Make the Changes You Want

Change is hard, and can take a long time.  We make goals, promises and wishes, then surrender to our routines rather than step onto a new path.  Your goals aren’t going to go away; this can be the time that you meet them.

 

Take stock of how 2017 has gone for you so far.  Did you make New Year’s Resolutions in January?  If you did, how have they worked out?  Evaluating the success and failure of past ideas/goals/ commitments has value for us.  If you made a resolution that you soon abandoned, it is helpful to go back and take a closer look.  Maybe the resolution didn’t matter enough to you to commit the time and energy to make it happen.  If that’s the case, let that resolution go and move your attention somewhere else.  If the resolution does still matter to you, take a look at what else you might need to make it to the goal. Resolved to cook at home more and eat out less but you haven’t so far?  Sometimes our goals need to be broken down into steps that we can turn into habits.  You might reach that goal if you signed up for a regular email recipe, chose two a week to cook on your least-busy nights of the week to start and planned to eat chicken burritos every Wednesday (or whatever meal is most popular and easy to make in your house).  Now you’ve turned 7 decisions made daily into 5- Wednesdays are already decided, one day a week you’ll pick 2 recipes to try, and you need to sort out 4 other dinners. Once that pattern becomes a habit, move further into the remaining days until you’re happy with your level of eating out vs eating at home. 

 

For the resolutions that you’ve kept, evaluate the effect on your life. Did the change meet the goal that you thought it would?  If you committed to exercising more but the early-morning gym run is leaving dark circles under your eyes, perhaps a change in timing is needed. We can’t always predict the outcome of meeting our goals.  We assume that getting what we wanted is good, and it can be.  Sometimes it means we have to make other decisions or adjustments to meet our bigger goals. In a situation that took several years to unfold, spouse A was offered a job approximately an hour from Spouse B’s job.  It was a good offer, in a location that both wanted to live in.  Spouse A took the job, and Spouse B worked on negotiations with his current employer to change his sales territory to include the new home location.  He thought the new territory would leave him closer to home 3 days a week, and the commute to the existing territory would be manageable for 2 days a week.  After setting this up, he realized that the territory was significantly larger than he thought, meaning he was now travelling an hour from home in 2 directions, instead of one; the new territory wasn’t generating the sales he anticipated, and he liked driving less than he thought.  The goal was achieved, but once it was, further evaluation was needed.  Don’t shy away from making decisions that may be adjustments of previous decisions.

 

Questions to ask:

What did I think my life was going to look like this year?

 

What areas are different from my expectations, what areas line up with my expectations?

 

If you had trouble answering the first question, spend some time thinking about what your goals and expectations are.  We all have them, it can be difficult to pull them out of a busy life into conscious thought. 

 

To discuss your goals, progress and changes and develop your own plan, contact Sara at 519-569-7526 or [email protected]

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Knowing your Own Bottom Line

Knowing your Own Bottom Line

 

Changing employers, contract positions and total career changes have become a normal part of our landscape.  Today, we look at the range of information, impacts and decisions that go along with that. Some information and questions are obvious:

  • Is the regular compensation higher or lower?
  • Is there a bonus structure?
  • Is the time commitment higher or lower?  This could involve daily commuting, regular travel or number of responsibilities and resources given to meet them.  Vacation time and flex time may also be considered here.
  • Is there a benefits package?  How does it compare to your current package?
  • Do you expect opportunities in the future for change to compensation or time commitment?

Something that may be less obvious: Reviewing the above only makes sense if you know what your own needs and goals are.  If your current position pays enough to meet your needs and goals, moving to a  higher pay, less flex time position may not make sense for you.  If you haven’t developed your own plan, there may be a temptation to take the higher pay only to realize that it wasn’t worth it to you later.

Changing employers or careers can also generate options related to the benefits that you are leaving.  Questions about what to do with a Defined Benefit pension plan need careful analysis that draw in your personal situation.  There is often a time limit to make a decision about commuting (moving your benefit amount out of the plan and managing the money yourself) or remaining in the plan.  The impact of this decision may not be felt for many years.

Sometimes, you don’t have a choice in the change; layoff or company closure forced the change.  Understanding your personal goals and financial situation gives you the information that you need to decide what your next step looks like.

In the midst of change, it can feel impossible to call a time-out to review your needs and goals.  Without the relevant information and analysis however, you may find yourself writing a ‘ladder against the wrong wall’ chapter in your life.

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”  Stephen R. Covey

 

To start your plan, contact Sara at 519-569-7526 or [email protected]

 

10 Tips for Changing Careers without Losing Your Mind

 

When Does It Pay to Go Back to School in Midlife?  This is a U.S. based article, however, the questions are relevant.

 

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Getting and Giving

Getting and Giving

 

On this Thanksgiving weekend, many of us will have an opportunity to spend time with family and friends.  This holiday can be a time to reflect on what we are thankful for, or what we have received.  Christmas is only ** days away.  Pre-Christmas can be a season of charitable solicitations, a time when many focus on giving to family, friends and charities.

Recent Statscan statistics reveal that 84% of Canadians claimed a charitable tax deduction, and 44% of Canadians volunteer their time.  Like other areas of your life, taking the time to develop your giving plan can have significant positive impact for you and those that you help.

A meaningful giving plan starts with a discussion about what issues you care about and why you want to support them.  What does community mean to you?  What are your views on international versus local ventures?  Answers to these initial questions will drive the rest of the dialogue about where and how to have an impact on issues that matter most to you.  A deep discussion about your values will connect your giving to the rest of your plan; income, spending, investments and estate planning will all start to reflect your values about who and how you want to be in your community.

To have a conversation that starts with your interests and goals, ending with an executable plan, instead of starting and ending with tax strategies, contact Sara at 519-569-7526 or [email protected]

 

Places to Go to Stretch Your Thinking:

 

Questions and Framework to Evaluate Your Giving

 

Volunteering and Charitable Giving in Canada

 

An Answer to Some Headlines Generated by the Above StatsCan report

 

A Journey from Charity and Donors to an Investment Fund

 

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Planning for Special Needs

Planning for Special Needs

 

Creating and maintaining a family always comes with unexpected highs and lows.  The birth of a child is a joyous event, regardless of the challenges. When a child is born with special needs—whether developmental or medical—parents can face unique challenges that can initially feel overwhelming.

When first learning their child has special needs, parents face a steep learning curve, says Kathy Netten, a social worker with the complex care program at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto. Parents need to learn medical terms, how to navigate the healthcare system and how to advocate effectively. Because many conditions are discovered in infancy, they are often learning how to be parents for the first time. And, they may also be grieving.

Sick Kids has over 50 social workers like Ms. Netten who provide counselling, therapy and support services for families with special needs children. “We are available to help parents find resources and work effectively with care teams, to problem solve when there are challenges, and for the very difficult decision-making,” she says.

From her experience, Ms. Netten says parents will often push themselves to physical and mental exhaustion to benefit their child. “The key is to find a balance between hope and despair, even under the most difficult of circumstances. Hope will allow parents to take care of their own emotional, psychological and spiritual needs so they can care for the developmental and medical needs of their child.”

Parents must also be mindful that financial questions are not forgotten at this most critical time, only to become an additional burden later on. While it can be difficult to think about long-term financial concerns, a firm financial foundation will not only protect your family, it will also free you to focus on the physical and emotional needs that only you can meet.

For parents of special needs children, this can be even more important. A typical family will see income increase over time. However, for families with special needs children—especially those that have the most complex needs—literature shows that income actually decreases. Medication and equipment costs, time taken from work, and lack of knowledge of available assistance programs are all contributors.

A comprehensive financial plan for families in this situation will:

  • Clarify your current financial position and options
  • Identify potential future costs and/or obstacles
  • Review available government programs and benefits
  • Develop your estate plan to protect all of your beneficiaries

To review your situation and explore how a personalized plan would benefit your family, please contact Sara at 519-569-7526 or [email protected].

 

Originally published by Financial Planning Standards Council. Adapted with permission.

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