It's Your Money  

Financial survival tips

The world has changed significantly during the past few weeks as we deal with the health and financial implications of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Businesses of all sizes are struggling to cope and many (most?) employees and business owners are understandably concerned about their ability to make it through these challenging times.

While you may not be able to control your income earning potential right now, there are many things that are still under your control.

For this week’s column, I wanted to provide tips to help get through this crisis as best you can:

Stop consumer spending

As much as possible, you should cut down on any discretionary spending at this time. While bored at home in isolation, it may be tempting to cruise the web for online shopping deals, but this is the absolute last thing you should be doing right now. Any discretionary income should be directed toward debt reduction and building up an emergency fund. 

Review your debt from all sources

Now, is a great time to consolidate higher interest debts to a lower rate and make sure you’re paying as little interest as possible.

Much like debt, do a thorough review of all recurring monthly payments that you make

Are there any that can be suspended or cancelled? Are you still paying for that monthly gym membership that you haven’t used in over a year?

Do you really need to pay for Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ at the same time? Anything you can do to cut down your monthly carrying costs should be done right away.

If you are or are expecting to have trouble making ends meet, reach out to all of your creditors and request temporary relief

Most if not all mortgage providers in Canada are offering payment deferral and other such relief measures to those that need them. Make this call now instead of waiting until things are really bad.

Consider setting up a line of credit type product if you don’t have enough set aside in your emergency funds

This would likely be far better than leaving a balance on your credit card or withdrawing (taxable) money from your RRSP account. Having said that, each person’s situation is different and a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) professional should be consulted to determine what source of funds makes the most sense for you.

Be extra vigilant for fraud or phishing schemes

It’s sad to say but there are many scammers out there working to take advantage of this situation. Watch your credit card and bank statements extra close over these next few months and report anything unusual right away.

If additional funds are available, consider investing more into the markets while they are down

While not an option for everyone, catching the inevitable rebound of the market is important. For those that are already invested and thinking of cashing out, remember that your losses are only realized if you decide to sell while the markets are down.

When possible, help out your neighbours

Check in to see if they need help picking up groceries or with any other daily living activities. We are all in this together and it is times like this when the goodness of humanity can shine.  

Finally, try not to panic

Blaming doesn’t help and dwelling on poor past decisions won’t either. Focus on what you can control and try to stay positive. Do what you can to help flatten the curve and keep your family safe and healthy.

Oh, yeah, wash your hands.

Keep calm and carry on

Global capital markets experienced significant volatility last week and officially tipped things into a Bear Market. 

Key developments included:

  • A continued rise in coronavirus case counts, particularly in Italy (which has now expanded travel and activity restrictions country-wide) and most recently the U.S.
  • A marked drop in oil prices after Saudi Arabia and Russia couldn’t come to an agreement on production cuts as a response to lowering demand due to coronavirus concerns.
  • Government bond yields dropping to all-time lows.
  • Stock markets dropping sharply lower most of the week - though stabilizing a little bit on Friday.

While the week was a tough one, it’s important to note that the volatility is in reaction to a health issue, and not to any underlying economic, financial or political crisis.

A major market event can be Endogenous or Exogenous, and it’s important to understand the difference in implications.

An Endogenous Event originates in a financial model like the 2008 financial crisis and we typically try to use fiscal tools and stimulus to aid recovery.

An Exogenous Event is determined outside a financial model.  While fiscal tools don’t work as effectively, they are normally of shorter duration.

So, what should you do?

The Second World War poster created by the British with the words “Keep Calm and Carry On” comes to mind. We’re continuing to advise investors to stay invested, stay focused on their long-term objectives and stay disciplined.

It is no doubt troubling to see the wild swings in the markets, but you need to stay rational and keep the “human emotion element” out of your financial decisions.

If you feel like you need to do something, I’ll suggest these things to you:

  • Try to remain calm. Seeing that this is an Exogenous Event, the underlying financial fundamentals will prevail. Hopefully you already have a globally diversified portfolio that’s in line with your risk tolerance, which means you don’t need to adjust a thing.
  • Stop to evaluate your own situation. Unless you’ve recently lost your job, developed a sudden life-threatening illness or have otherwise materially changed your situation, your financial plan shouldn’t need to be changed.
  • Stick to fundamentals. The old saying of “buy low sell high” needs to be remembered. If you have some un-invested money sitting on the sidelines, this might be a good time to buy.

While this is a time of uncertainty, we do know that equity markets have a history of volatility, but that stock markets go up over time. In fact, markets are up over 70 per cent of the time and many of the strongest growth periods immediately follow market drops.  

We also know that trying to time the market is difficult and that, at times like these, it’s those who continue to stay invested who are best positioned for long-term success.

*Please note that this article is not intended to be personalized investment advice as that is impossible to provide without knowing your entire financial situation and current portfolio holdings. I would be happy to refer you to a licensed investment adviser that I trust if you’d like to receive customized recommendations.

Strategies to deal with debt

No matter how good your investment portfolio is, it will never be as important to your overall financial well-being as the design and implementation of a debt-management plan.

If an investor earns a 10 per cent annual return on their portfolio and everyone else earns eight per cent that year, they feel pretty darn good about themselves. But if that same person pays little or no attention to the various debts they owe and pays an extra four or five per cent of interest that was avoidable, the reality is that they may be far worse off at the end of the year overall.  

While a debt-free existence is a great goal, this shouldn’t necessarily be your top priority. Certain debts, like high-interest credit cards and other loans, should be paid down as quickly as possible – but other loans, such as a low-interest mortgage, may not be a bad thing to keep in place. Each different type of debt you hold should be evaluated and a proper debt-management plan should be put in place.      

So how do you create a debt-management plan? Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling:

Become a better negotiator – You don’t need to automatically accept whatever interest rate you are offered. When negotiating a loan for a new car, a line of credit or a mortgage, take the time to find out what the best rates are at the moment for this type of debt and use your bargaining skills to get that same number.

Pay off the highest interest debt first – While this seems straightforward, many people still elect to pay an equal amount onto each of their debts owing. While this may feel like a good strategy, it will just keep you farther from reaching your goals. It is much better to pay the minimum only on all other debts and put the rest of the available free cash onto whichever account is charging the highest interest rate.   

Set debt ceiling limits – The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) advises that your monthly housing costs, including mortgage, property taxes and utilities, should not exceed 32 per cent of your gross monthly income. They further recommend that your total monthly debt payments from all sources should not rise above 40 per cent. These are good figures to work off of and if a new purchase is going to put you above the 32 or 40 per cent mark, it may be a good time to reconsider.  

Consider reaching a settlement – While not ideal, many people find themselves over their heads with a credit card debt or store financing program. If this debt continues to build up interest and there is no end in sight, it may be time to make a phone call and see what options there are. These creditors will often settle for less on the dollar so that they can guarantee they at least get some of the money back. If you can reach an agreement for a reduced, lump-sum payment amount, you should also demand that the debt be shown as “paid in full” on your credit report.  

Expect rates to go up – When considering taking on debt that will have a variable interest rate, or that will be around for more than a few years, it’s important to understand that interest rates can go up. Just because you can fit an $1,800/month mortgage payment into your budget now, doesn’t mean you will be able to afford the same debt when the rates have gone up in five years and it’s time for you to renew.

The above list of ideas is only a sample of the strategies you can and should use to deal with your debt. A proper debt-management plan can be as simple or as complex as needed depending on your unique situation.

A Certified Financial Planner can be a great ally in this process as there are many different aspects to consider. In the meantime, hopefully the few tips above will at least get you started.


Virus pummels markets

My column two weeks ago discussed the potential economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak and the increased risk to global markets. 

As if on cue (maybe global traders all read my weekly column?) the past week saw a significant drop in equity markets around the world. Increased warnings from the World Health Organization were the main trigger for this huge five-day selloff.  

Investors, looking for a possible safe haven, and worried about potentially slower global growth, flooded into U.S. treasuries, with 10-year yields falling to a near record low of 1.35 per cent. This was the worst week for the stock markets since the 2008 global financial crisis.  

At the time of writing, the virus has claimed almost 3,000 lives, nearly all in mainland China. Their attempts to control the spread have resulted in a sharp slowdown in manufacturing and consumer spending. Other countries may face similar disruptions as well which could lead to a worldwide economic slowdown. 

In my previous column, I shared some data on how global markets reacted to other epidemics over the past 20 years. Each time, the market had a sharp selloff similar to what we experienced this past week and then quickly regained its previous high after the outbreak peaked. 

I wanted to provide a different chart that will show a more visual representation of those various epidemics: 

At this point, it is too early to tell how big of an economic impact the coronavirus will have and when the outbreak will peak, but past events tell us that it too will pass and there is no reason to make changes to your investment plans. 

Major news events like this will often add volatility to the markets and cause emotions to control investment decisions. Throughout history, equity markets have experienced significant volatility and continue to be resilient.

Many of the strongest returns in the markets occur in the periods immediately following a sharp decline. Staying the course is of the utmost importance during periods of volatility as it enables investors to fully recover from these periods and achieve their long-term investment goals. 

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About the Author

Brett, designated as a chartered investment manager and certified financial planner, is the regional director (Okanagan) for IG Wealth Management.

In addition to his “day job," Brett was appointed to the board of directors of FP Canada (formerly FPSC) in 2014, named as the board’s vice-chair in 2017 and took over as board chairman in 2019. 

Brett has been writing a weekly financial planning column since 2012 and provides his readers with easy to understand explanations of the complex financial challenges that they face in every stage of life.

Enhancing the financial literacy of Canadian consumers is a top priority of Brett’s and his ongoing efforts as a finance writer and on the regulatory side through the FP Canada board focus on this initiative.   

Please let Brett know if you have any topics that you’d like him to cover in future columns by emailing him at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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