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Ever wonder who’s teaching your kids about financial literacy in school? In Burnaby, B.C., it might be Alim Dhanji, a certified financial planner (CFP) at Assante Wealth Management in the Vancouver area who has taught financial literacy everywhere from elementary schools to colleges and universities. I invited Mr. Dhanji for a Q&A to hear his take on what young people are thinking about when it comes to money. Here’s an edited transcript of our exchange:

Can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to deliver financial literacy sessions for students?

My sister is a physiotherapist and I began helping her and her fellow classmates with their finances soon after they graduated. From there, I was introduced to the Master of Physiotherapy (MPT) students at the University of British Columbia who had asked me to speak to their cohort about financial literacy. I have now been presenting to the MPT cohorts bi-annually for over 15 years and have gotten to know their situation quite well over time. I also began volunteering through Junior Achievement and teaching younger students at elementary and high schools.

What’s your take on the level of financial literacy among young people today, and how does it compare to what you knew when you were that age?

There wasn’t much available on financial literacy when I was a student, and I had to figure a lot out on my own. Luckily my dad is an accountant and I was able to get some training from him. Today, it can be very overwhelming with the amount of information out there, especially when it comes to financial products. I’ve found that young people typically have a higher level of financial literacy these days, however it is more investment-focused rather than planning-focused.

How much does home ownership come up when young people talk about their financial goals, and how optimistic are they about getting into the housing market?

Most young people that I meet with want to own a home and it comes up almost all the time in our initial goal-setting meetings. However, many feel that it is out of reach. I believe that through managing cash flow, cutting discretionary spending where possible and setting aside money regularly for a down payment, it can be attainable. I encourage young people to stay positive. Options include living in a city that is more affordable or starting with a smaller place and moving up later on.

One of the striking financial trends of the past 18 months is how many young people have got into investing. What are the most-asked investing questions in your sessions with young adults?

They have asked questions around cryptocurrency, low-cost ETFs and investing in higher risk sectors. Sample questions: should I be investing in bitcoin and ethereum? Should my portfolio be heavily weighted in technology, or is it safer to stay diversified? Which stock is going to produce the highest return? There are investment platforms that have made it very accessible for young people to get into the market without understanding the risks.

What do you tell a young person starting in the work force who asks, how can I best get started as an investor?

Before starting out as an investor, it would be important to write down your goals and have a plan for the money you are saving. If your goals are shorter-term, then having the money invested in lower-risk investments would be ideal, or perhaps it would make sense to pay down any high-interest debt. If your goals are longer-term, understanding your risk tolerance is important when creating a diversified portfolio.

Invest in stocks or pay down student debt – which would you suggest as a top priority for a new grad with a job?

If the new grad is uncomfortable with debt, then the answer is easy. Pay down the debt. However, if the grad is able and willing to take on some risk through a diversified portfolio and earn a higher long-term rate of return than what the debt costs, my recommendation would be to start investing in order to get ahead.

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