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The Smart Cookies

You're saving for what? Add to ...

The financial state of our households is continuing to deteriorate. That's the consensus of a report released yesterday by the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada. If you're wondering how your household stacks up against others, skimming the report will feed some of that curiosity. It will also reveal a number of stats that should get you thinking, like the fact that savings for vacation and entertainment get higher priority among younger households, compared to savings for education or a down payment. We've got a problem if we're funding the Florida pot, and neglecting the college fund.

We're also using other people's money to buy the things we shouldn't. Our rising debt-load continues to be primarily caused by consumption rather than asset accumulation, and the percentage of total consumer debt represented by credit cards and personal lines of credit now sits at 77.7 per cent. Compare that with just 21.1 per cent in 1989.

More than half of the respondents said day-to-day living expenses are the main cause for their increasing debt. Daily living expenses are likely things that can be reduced with seemingly little effort. But when was the last time we looked at our day-to-day or fixed expenses for smarter ways to spend?

Could you call your insurance provider this afternoon and double your deductible and save 15-20 per cent? Could you call your gym and cable provider after work to put your membership and deluxe package on hold for the summer? Could you do some research online to see how your credit card stacks up against others and reduce your interest rate and annual fees?

Eighty-four per cent of respondents to the survey have credit card debt. Lowering your interest rate even a fraction will make a big difference to your bottom line. To see how much, run your own numbers here. If we regularly took a mental or physical scan of where our money is going, we could likely eliminate more unnecessary costs than we might think.

Consider also if your daily purchases are worth the trade off of not having money to travel, retire comfortably or save for your child's education.

Increasing debt, paired with no savings, equals little room for much else, especially unexpected emergencies. Consider if an unexpected expense of $5,000 showed up on your doorstep today, could you cover it? According to the report, one quarter of us couldn't, even with the temporary aid of a credit card or line of credit.

You can start an once your debt is eliminated, or at least manageable, by stashing as little as a few hundred dollars into a high-interest savings account and build from there. If you don't have one, find one that's right for you here. Make it a regular practice to stash small amounts into your account instead of your wallet. Your safety net will grow over time.

You can skim the full report here to see how you stack up in other areas.

The point of this report, or any other financial stat or observation you read or hear, shouldn't be to overwhelm you and cause you to throw your hands in the air and do nothing. The point is to heighten awareness of your own picture and make smarter moves in the right direction. Then you can move onto funding the Florida vacation pot -- and feel good about doing it.

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