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Shoppers are seen at Toronto Eaton Centre in Toronto on Dec. 26, 2019. Lockdown has thrown most of what we know about life out the window - including golden rules for personal finance.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

Life under pandemic lockdown has upended many things we take for granted, including the golden rules for personal finance. Gone are the days — if they ever existed — when cutting back on lattes was the key to financial freedom and staying away from avocado toast was a one-way ticket to home ownership.

With restaurants, shopping, and other forms of entertainment off the table, many Canadians are spending less, but most of us aren’t getting any richer. Millennials — a generation defined by economic precarity — are well aware that most universal rules aren’t equally useful for everyone. The Canadian Press spoke with three Canadian millennials who shared the most overrated pieces of financial advice they’ve ever received.

Cut your day-to-day spending

Amy Ding, 31, was raised with frugality at the fore. The Toronto-based founder of Requity Homes grew up in China, and says her parents taught her the importance of paring back her spending from a young age.

“How they grew up, it’s all about savings, you know, for them, it’s like, saving money is the only way to make sure if something happens, you need to have that extra money to stay afloat,” Ding says.

It wasn’t until she graduated from university that it occurred to her how minimal of an effect savvy spending had on her overall savings compared to the amount of income she was making. Put simply, Ding realized money coming in makes a bigger difference than money going out.

In an effort to increase her income, she enrolled in classes with the CFA Institute and set the objective of earning six figures by age 25. Focusing on income, she says, has offered her far more financial security and freedom than stressing over expenses: “Truth not told is that it’s better to focus on increasing the cash coming in instead of worrying about cash going out,” Ding says. “I can save money, but at the same time, I can enjoy life as well.”

She suggests recent graduates take advantage of spare time under lockdown to invest in their own careers. Ask people in your industry for Zoom coffee dates, sit in on webinars, and take time to reflect upon your financial goals.

Now is “actually a great time” to build out your contacts, Ding says. “Everyone is working from home, you save that time on commute, and a lot of people actually have that extra time to potentially network with you.”

University is your ticket to success

Hamilton, Ont.-based social media manager Liz Enriquez grew up with high expectations around post-secondary education.

The daughter of two immigrants, Enriquez says it was drilled into her that university would be the path toward prosperity. But at 18, she had little idea of what she wanted to do with her life. Like many others, she settled on a major that fulfilled her personal interests (English and Cultural Studies), rather than any precise career goals. These interests quickly changed, however, and over the course of five years at McMaster University, so did her major — twice.

“It took me five years to finish a three-year degree, because I didn’t know what I was doing,” Enriquez says.

She eventually finished with a degree in geography, and took up short-term job contracts with the City of Hamilton. After years of bouncing from contract to contract, Enriquez started teaching herself how to use social media tools using online tutorials. In 2018, she took the leap into social media management full-time, where she’s gainfully self-employed to this day.

Enriquez is adamant that her geography background has in no way helped her accomplish this goal. In fact, she knows very few people who directly use their degrees in their day-to-day work — and says that for many, the financial undertaking of university is not worth it.

“Everyone I know is either paying off their student loans or paid them off like, not that long ago,” she says. “So many people working in restaurants in the service industry have university degrees, and now they have to pay off their tuition or their student loans with a low-paying job that isn’t even using what they paid for.”

She suggests young people nearing a decision about university — or graduating with meagre job prospects — embrace learning hard skills through free or low-cost online resources. “Take a few YouTube lessons,” Enriquez says. “The biggest kind of transformation in my life was realizing that life isn’t linear, and that you can take different paths.”

Avoid credit cards

As a financial coach, Victoria, B.C.-based Lindsay Plumb has met with many young clients who are afraid of using their credit cards.

For most, it’s because of messaging they’ve heard from their parents. “Older generations didn’t use credit cards in the same way, and so they still have this idea that credit is bad, debt is bad, spending more than you earn is bad,” Plumb says.

But Plumb views credit as a financial tool. Building up a strong credit score is essential for accomplishing many of life’s goals, like renting that dream apartment or qualifying for student loans. At the very least, she urges young people to get comfortable with spending on their credit cards, because an ‘abstinence-only’ approach can do more harm than good.

Plumb got her own credit card at 18, and learned to use it within the safety net of a low credit limit. For years she lived with a $1,000 limit, only bumping it up to $5,000 when she started a family and her everyday expenses naturally increased.

With unemployment rates currently through the roof, debt offers many a financial lifeline during periods without income. Plumb says it’s important not to fear spending on a credit card — just be smart about it.

“Just have a plan,” Plumb says. “Spending isn’t bad. But mindless spending is.”

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