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Financial literacy:

Ask and then demand

by Tim St Vincent

Is it important to teach financial literacy and for everyone to have access to it? Yes! There, that was easy; my article is done for the month!

Okay, maybe I should provide a little more detail. As a country, we have (I believe) one of the best financial institution infrastructures, rules and regulatory environment in the world. This was clearly visible when the world was going through a financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. While Canada was impacted, the effect was relatively minor when compared to the rest of the world. We stood firm and proud.

However, at the individual consumer level, we aren’t doing so well and have no reason to be proud. We have the highest consumer debt of the G7. I would have thought for sure that the U.S. would have beaten us on this, but no, we are number one. (yay?) Let’s look at a few more stats.

• 35 per cent of Canadian struggle to pay their bills at month end

• 40 per cent of Canadians don’t pay off their credit card in full (because they can’t afford to)

• 44 per cent of working Canadians would find it hard to pay their bills if their pay was delayed one week

• 45 per cent of Canadians find their debt level to be “overwhelming” – as in, they can’t stop thinking about it)

• 46 per cent of Canadians are $200 or less away from being broke at month end

• 50 per cent of Canadians report living pay cheque to pay cheque

• 50 per cent of Canadians have no budget – coincidence? I don’t think so! I think if more of us had a budget, then fewer of us would be living cheque to cheque!)

• 62 per cent of Canadians feel they have too much debt

• For every dollar of after-tax income – the pay deposited to your bank account – the average Canadian owes $1.78

This is just the start of some pretty scary stats! It is even more frightening when I start looking at stats for the 55+ and 65+ age groups. Among other things, they are the greatest at risk groups for getting behind in payments and for filing for bankruptcy. I don’t want to scare you too much, so let’s just stop with the stats I provided. Pretty scary aren’t they?

How did things get this bad? I don’t know, but I think we all agree that we need to find a way to make things better, and soon. How can we make things better? Well, with most things I feel that education is often a good place to start. In this case education focusing on financial literacy, and it is never too early or too late to start. We need to develop financial literacy programs for the elderly, we need to start them for our youth – whether they are in elementary school or university, it should be present at all levels – and ensure it is available for people in the workforce. Recent surveys have found that between 82 per cent and 87 per cent of employees want some form of financial literacy education to be delivered in the workplace.

How then do we go about delivering this lofty goal of delivering financial literacy at all levels? That one is easy too. Ask, then demand.

Talk to your school trustees, and superintendents. Start petitions for the minister of education and your local principal. If these people don’t see the demand, nothing will change. People are graduating with math skills and may be able to calculate interest, but they don’t have knowledge of the real life implications of it. That is what is conveyed through true financial literacy.

If you are in a seniors’ complex, approach your activity coordinator and tell them you want this. Ask, then demand. Seniors are one of the most at-risk groups for financial difficulty. The idea of the golden years has tarnished over time.

In the workplace, approach your human resources department or your employee wellness person (if you are lucky enough to have one), or your union. Ask, then demand financial literacy education. Many organizations, such as the Credit Counselling Society, provide this education at very little to no cost.

Financial literacy is key to all of us, at all stages of our lives. Seek out a source and bring it to you wherever you are. If you are in a remote location, no worries; webinars are available! Education is out there. All you have to do is ask for it, and if that doesn’t work, then demand it.

Tim St Vincent is a retired CFP and is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance with the Credit Counselling Society, a Non-Profit organization. If you wish to contact Tim for a free workshop or webinar, have a question or would like to submit an article idea please contact Tim at 1-888-527-8999 ext 1330. You can also contact the Credit Counselling Society for further information or assistance at 1-888-527-8999 or visit or

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