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A Six-Step, Back to Basics Financial Plan for Most Every Canadian

November 21, 2022 | Posted by: Steve McArthur

It's a tough time to know what the right financial move is at the moment. Interest rates are increasing, while stocks are in bearish territory. It's easy to forget that there are smart things that you can do right now regardless of the uncertainty.

1. Get rid of your high-interest debt.
Do you have any debt with an interest rate above 7% or more? (If you have credit-card debt, you likely do!) If so, pay it down first. Why? Well, odds are that any returns you make from investing will be less than the interest you pay on your debts, which sort of defeats the whole purpose.

2. Build an emergency fund.
OK, so you've paid off your high-interest debt. Time to invest, right? Almost. First, you should stash away three to six months of living expenses in a savings account or somewhere else low risk. That way, if you get laid off or your car has issues, you'll have enough cash to ride things out without taking on anymore high-interest debt. Which would put you back at step one.

3. Maximize your employer match.
At last! It's time to invest! So, where to begin? If your employer matches contributions to a Group Retirement Savings Plan (GRSP), start there. You can contribute as much as 18% of your income, and employers typically match 3–6%. For example: if you made $60K and your company matches 5% of your salary - your company will give you an extra $3,000 in income to put toward retirement. Not taking advantage is like refusing 5% of your salary.

4. Max out your tax-advantaged accounts.
The Canadian government, as an incentive to save for retirement, offers two special investment accounts. An RRSP reduces your declarable income so that you pay less tax now, while with a TFSA (Tax Free Savings Account) your proceeds aren't taxed, so you pay less tax later. If you invest outside these accounts, you're voluntarily paying more taxes.

5. Pay down low-interest debts.
Once your TFSA or RRSP is maxed out, consider paying down your lower-interest debts, like a mortgage or student loans, since these debts still have interest that can negate your investment gains. It's hard to be super prescriptive about whether this is the right move for you, because it depends on your debt situation, but definitely look at your interest rates and your investment expectations.

6. Invest in yourself or in your children
If you've reached step six, congratulations! Now you can plan about what to do with the rest of your money. You can put some in a personal investment account, say. Or save for a new house. Or sock away money for your children's college or university education.

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