16 Tips to Help Manage Your Finances

Ian MacNeill | February 13th, 2017


Spring is not just the time of the year to spruce up the home and organize closets, it’s a great time to tidy up cluttered financial matters. To help us get started, we asked six expert financial advisers for tips on how you can get your financial house in order.

Jennifer Tweddle, Wealth Adviser, CIBC Edmonton

1 Obviously you want to start by paying off credit cards but, even if you can’t, consider talking to your bank about a line of credit or a low-interest rate loan in order to consolidate and reduce debt.

2 Budgeting is a great way to manage spending, but it’s hard to be disciplined or sometimes even take the first step. Start by tracking spending for a month or two and then reviewing, that way you can make informed choices about where your money is going. You might decide $70 a month on coffee is too much or not, but at least you’ll know the score. Free budgeting tools are online aplenty. Use them.

3 If you have more than one child and you want to help them save for their education, create a family RESP rather than individual ones for each child. You’re allowed to contribute $50,000 per child, but any or one of them can utilize any or all of the savings. In other words, if only one child needs it, they can have it all!

4 Open a Tax Free Savings Account. TFSAs are one of the great underutilized savings vehicles in Canada. If you don’t have one, the contribution limit is $41,000 through the end of 2015, with annual limits of $5,500 per year thereafter, i.e. you could put in $46,500 tomorrow. Any and all profits on investments in TFSAs is non-taxable, and you can take the money out at any time to pay for whatever and put back in, or not, at a later date.

5 Still paying the mortgage monthly? Stop that. Switching to biweekly or even weekly payments can shave years off amortization. While you’re at it, you know that Christmas bonus or gift of cash you got from a favourite relative? There’s a Harry Potterish way to astronomically increase its value: put it on the mortgage.

Next: Mark Berry, Senior Wealth Adviser, BMO Nesbitt Burns

Mark Berry, Senior Wealth Adviser, BMO Nesbitt Burns, London


6 Most people are aware of the advantages of pension income splitting, but few understand the benefits of Prescribed Rate Loans. These allow you to lend money to your spouse, which can then be invested. The CRA says you have to make some form of payment back to your spouse, but the rate is currently pegged at one per cent. If a lower-earning spouse invests the money, all the capital gains and profits are shifted to them.

7 Speaking of spouses, the time to have a serious discussion with one about what retirement will look like is now and before your annual visit to your adviser. Partners often have dramatically different ideas about what retirement will look like. The time to talk is now.

8 Is it time to rebalance your portfolio? Nobody should be trading for the sake of trading, but an annual check to see if your portfolio needs rebalancing makes sense. Objectives change over time, and portfolios should reflect those changes. People are living longer than ever, and there’s a good chance many Canadians will spend more years in retirement than they did working. We need to prepare for that.

Next: Stéphane Langlois, Private Wealt Consultant, Manulife Private Wealth. 

Stéphane Langlois, Private Wealth Consultant, Manulife Private Wealth, Quebec City


9 Speaking of financial advisers, spring is a good time to do a quick re-check of your adviser’s credentials and references, and check with regulators and see if there have been any complaints. These things happen.

10 Clean up the clutter by reading annual statements and comparing annual returns from different advisers. After comparing, you may want to choose consolidating to the adviser that reached your goal.

11 Get familiar with financial institution or adviser websites. New tools for understanding and managing assets are popping up on them all the time. These range from budgeting tools to programs that allow you to test drive investment accounts. Check ’em out.

Next: Leanne Kaufman, Head, Estate & Trust Services at RBC Wealth Management

Leanne Kaufman, Head, Estate & Trust Services at RBC Wealth Management, Toronto


12 If you don’t have an estate plan, do it. One of the greatest missteps is to forget estate planning altogether with the belief that all will be taken care of by those who survive you. Bad idea, as any estate lawyer who’s dealt with warring families will tell you. As part of the plan, do not forget your power of attorney because it is equally important to address who will be responsible for your financial health if you are still alive but lacking mental capacity.

13 While you’re at it, revisit investment plan beneficiary designations to ensure they do not conflict with your will. Often beneficiary designations on investment plans such as RRSPs/RRIFS and TFSAs, and life insurance policies are determined at the time of plan creation and then are often not revisited or even thought about again.

14 If you have included testamentary trusts in your estate plan for tax reasons, revisit your plan in 2016 with your tax advisers. The tax rules have changed when it comes to trusts, and you need to be aware of the implications as your current plan may no longer meet your goals.

Next: Tony Maiorino, Vice-President and Head, Wealth Planning Services at RBC Wealth Management.

Tony Maiorino, Vice-President and Head, Wealth Planning Services at RBC Wealth Management, Toronto

shaking hands

15 If your wealth, legal, tax and other advisers only have a relationship with you, consider an informal meet-and-greet with your spouse and possibly other family members. This will allow your surviving spouse and other family members to continue working with advisers who know your history.

Next: Richa Hingorani, Senior Manager, Financial Planning, RBC

Richa Hingorani, Senior Manager, Financial Planning, RBC, Toronto

piggy bank

16 Put your savings on autopilot. By making regular contributions to your RRSP you ensure that time and compounding growth work to your advantage. Also, the best part is you don’t have to scramble for cash as the holiday bills roll in. And it’s a good idea to treat bonuses and tax refunds as if they were never there – do not pass go, do not spend $200 – put it in your RRSP!

Bonus tips

Visualize your savings or retirement goals.

Maria Contreras, a senior manager, savings accounts at RBC, suggests posting an image that reminds you of your goal as a screen saver on your computer or mobile phone. Could be a beach or a picture of a child you want to put throught university.

Eliminate impulse spending.

Sure you want it, but how about going home first and spending a day or two deciding if you really need it?

File your taxes on time.

About eight per cent of Canadians miss the tax filing deadline and, if they owe, the penalties can be deadly. For example, if you failed to file for 2014, the penalty would be five per cent of the 2014 balance owing, plus one per cent of the balance owing for each full month the return is late to a maximum of 12 months. Even if you can’t pay, file. Contact the CRA – they will work out a plan with you, but you have to take the first step.