Guest post by Enoch Omololu, resident personal finance expert at Savvy New Canadians.
Record unemployment rates, over half a million deaths, a pandemic-induced economic contraction, and a looming recession...the last few months have been one bad news after another like we haven't seen in a long while.
While the stock markets are rebounding, the economic, social and psychological impacts of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt for months and years to come.
As we cope with this new reality, here are some personal finance moves you should be making to improve your financial situation.
1. Have an Emergency Fund
Those who lost a job or source of income during the crisis will attest to the importance of having a money cushion for life's unexpected emergencies.
Experts advice that you should save 3-6 months worth of expenses in an account you can easily access at a moment's notice.
An emergency fund can save the day if you temporarily lose your primary source of income, your car breaks down, or your home requires a major repair. Instead of seeking a last-minute personal loan at high-interest rates, you can dip into your emergency pot.
Earn reasonable returns on your savings by keeping your emergency funds in a high-interest savings account.
2. Prepare a Will
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, online will service platforms saw a surge in people who were looking to create a will. In fact, Willful, a top-rated online will provider, saw a spike of 700% in visits compared to the same period in 2019. If you have dependents, creating a will should be top-of-mind when you make your financial plan, even when there is no pandemic.
A will gives you the final say on how your assets are distributed when you pass away, and how your minor children are cared for. It gives you the opportunity to choose an executor and you can use it to minimize the tax burden on your estate.
In addition to a will, you should also consider putting a Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive in place.
3. Review Your Investment Portfolio
A rapidly falling stock market easily exposes the gaps in your investment portfolio. Folks who have taken on more investment risks than they are willing to stomach can find themselves bailing out and selling assets when the markets are plunging, resulting in significant losses. Review your portfolio to ensure it is adequately diversified and in line with your risk tolerance. Also, take a look at the fees you are paying. With all the options available these days, you should not be paying the outrageous fees (2% and higher) that remain the hallmarks of many mutual fund investments in Canada.
If you are comfortable with buying and selling investment products online by yourself, an online brokerage account can save you a ton of money in fees.
With the advent of all-in-one ETF portfolios that cost 0.25% or less per year, you can ditch expensive mutual funds for good.
If you prefer someone else to do all the work, consider using a robo-advisor and pay 0.75% or less in management fees.
4. Get Life Insurance
Similar to creating a will, you should have life insurance if you have children or a spouse you support financially. The two main types of life insurance are term and permanent life insurance. A term life insurance is cheaper and works for most people. Permanent life insurance come in various formats and offer lifelong protection.
5. Cut your Expenses
If you are trying to top-up your emergency funds or survive on a tight budget, look for opportunities to cut your monthly expenses.
One option available through your bank is to take advantage of their offer to suspend or defer mortgage and credit card payments.
This is not a best-case scenario option as your interest fees continue to accumulate while you take a payment holiday.
You can use more traditional strategies to lower your expenses by:
- Cancelling unused subscriptions and memberships
- Negotiating bills such as internet, phone and cable
- Planting a vegetable garden
- Using a free cash back or coupon app
- Cutting your bank fees e.g. by using a free chequing account
- Avoiding overdraft and NSF fees, and more.
Use your savings to pay off high-interest debt aka credit card balance and save up to 19.99% in interest costs.
6. Maximize Cash Back Rewards
While stay-at-home orders have helped some of us save on the cost of daily travel to our workplaces, grocery expenses continue to rise for pretty much everyone!
If you are not yet on board, it is time to embrace the use of free grocery cash back apps like Caddle, Checkout 51, Paymi, Ampli, and many others.
These free apps send you new discount offers every week covering basic grocery items and other household purchases and you can find cash back offers as high as 20%.
Some of these apps track your purchases automatically, and in some cases, you need to upload your purchase receipt in order to unlock your cash back earnings.
The best cash back credit cards can also help you save some money. Start with one of the no-annual-fee options that pay you up to 2% cash back and pay off your balance every month to avoid unnecessary fees.
7. Watch out for Fraud
With all that's going on in the world today, you'd think that fraudsters would take a break. Sadly, that's not the case. If anything, some of them have even doubled down on their nefarious activities during the pandemic.Watch out for phishing scams and remain protective of your personal information online. Don't give anyone your financial information unless you are sure they are legitimate.
If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.