Lawyers Financial provides free financial planning services to all members of the Canadian legal community, including students and article candidates. That means free advice from seasoned professionals on insurance and investment products, and even tips on budgeting or paying off student loans. Did I mention it’s free? Too bad that sometimes even free isn’t cheap enough. Because if you’re like me, being open about your personal finances is more discouraging than going to the dentist. Here’s what happened during my financial planning session with Lawyers’ financial advisor, Michel Dugal. Spoiler alert: I lived to tell the story.
ARE YOU “BAD” ON MONEY? ME TOO!
In fact, imagining a stranger looking at my bank account was tantamount to having one of those dreams about going to school naked. Although I come from a middle-class family and have never suffered from food or housing insecurity, my income as a writer has always been modest. For the sake of transparency, I would have been well below the poverty line last year without the federal CRB payments. Things like home ownership, RRSPs, or stock market investing have never felt like they apply to me.
Before we even met with Michel, he sent my husband and I a cash flow spreadsheet to track our income and expenses. I was horrified. But I was so squeamish about looking directly at all those dollar amounts ($1,500 to take home!?) that I nearly missed the worksheet’s goal, which was to show us which areas of voluntary spending we could reasonably save on. I realized that when we think of financial planning, we often only think of investments, stocks, or big purchases like real estate, but it doesn’t have to be that grandiose. Simply creating a balanced budget that fits your lifestyle is a big step towards better financial health.
THE IDEA THAT A STRANGER WOULD BE LOOKING AT MY BANK ACCOUNT WAS AT THE SAME TIME ONE OF THOSE DREAMS WHERE YOU WRITING TO SCHOOL NAKED.
Also, I’d always mistakenly assumed that just because I wasn’t making much, I was bad at money management, but the cash flow worksheet helped me feel proud of myself because I was also spending remarkably little — actually less than I made. When more money comes in than goes out, how can you be bad at it?
THE $20,000 ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
While I was fortunate to have my parents supporting me through college, my husband took out around $20,000 in student loans to pay for his undergraduate studies. Since we never really talk about it, that was the part of the meeting that felt like couples therapy. There are real questions: Should we prioritize his loan payments over building our savings account or starting investing? My husband took out the loans before we met (he wasn’t even allowed to vote or drink alcohol, for the record). What role do I want to play in repaying this money?
But Michel understood the complexity – and ubiquity – of this topic. Student debt is something that affects an enormous number of young people and there is no one size fits all solution to deal with it. That’s why it was so helpful to have someone review our situation who doesn’t have an emotional interest in it. Michel explained that since we had a few hundred dollars left over in our budget each month, it actually made more sense to put that money into investments that could potentially yield higher returns than the interest rates on the loans, especially given my husband’s loans through December 31, 2009 Frozen December 2022. This way we can use the money we earn from our investments to pay off loans in the future.
When the subject of investing came up, Michel also respected our relatively low household income. While other financial planners may be dismissive of clients who can only make $100 monthly contributions to a mutual fund, he remained enthusiastic about the fact that even small payments can make a big difference over the long term due to the power of compound interest. “There is no better time to invest than today,” Michel explained during our meeting. “If there had been a better time, it would have been yesterday.”
All that money stuff makes my eyes shine (I don’t actually read this article, just the headlines)
Finance is really confusing and it’s pretty much impossible to keep up with all the acronyms. And while every industry has its own vocabulary and specialist knowledge that can feel more like a foreign language the higher you go, the difference with finance is that there is no escape. The world of finance touches everything we do. So even if you feel like unsubscribing, the financial world isn’t going to unsubscribe from you any time soon. Almost romantic, right?
In our upside-down world (beware the euphemism!), it’s not uncommon for most resources to go to the people who need them the least. Think of celebrities every awards season with their grab bags of $500 shampoos while tackling college with the $5 store brand. It is no different with finances. Just as wealthy people can pay to have their wealth managed professionally, those on lower incomes do not have equal access to opportunities to grow their wealth. That is why it is so important to take advantage of free services and education when they are available.
I get it, money is weird. We all have at least one example of a time when we also felt very bad about ourselves. And it’s understandable if our reaction to this gross feeling is to shut ourselves off. Money is toxic anyway, so it doesn’t matter if I take it seriously. And no budgeting is going to turn my salary into Jeff Bezos’, so why bother? The answer is because it’s not so black and white. While participating in things like financial planning may feel like you’re just giving in to our culture’s unhealthy obsession with money, when done right, it can have the opposite effect. There’s a lot of space between debt insomnia and superyachts. Somewhere in this vast abyss you are worrying less and enjoying your life.
BOOK YOUR FREE FINANCIAL PLANNING SESSION NOW.
CBIA/Lawyers Financial is a not-for-profit organization that offers free financial planning to every member of the Canadian legal community. Ask how we can help you manage debt, invest wisely, and build a budget that leaves room to live.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the topic. In relation to your specific circumstances, you should seek advice from a specialist.