Financial literacy empowers people to make smart choices about their financial goals and aspirations. From the most sophisticated investors to those just beginning their financial education, a strong foundation of financial literacy is the bedrock for any successful financial journey.
Unfortunately, many of us learn our most valuable financial lessons from our mistakes: Whether it’s taking on too much debt, panic selling of stocks, or not having a financial plan sooner, we all have a few regrets in our long-term relationship with money. And like many missteps in life, many are made when we’re younger.
We asked our Gluskin Sheff wealth management professionals to provide the one piece of financial advice they wish they could tell their younger selves.
One of the biggest mistakes I made was not investing early enough. I started investing in my late 30s.
I had too much money in cash and didn’t have my money working for me.
The sooner you start, the faster you can grow your savings—and it makes a difference in the long run.
I think what often stops people from investing is fear. There might be some trepidation on where to begin and understanding one’s comfort level with risk. However, when you’re young, time is on your side. You can afford to take a longer-term view of your investments and withstand the inevitable market ups and downs. That’s a significant advantage that many younger people don’t leverage: They have time on their side.
There are a lot of great tools that younger people can leverage. It doesn’t need to be complicated: Talk to advisors and people with experience investing. In the long term, it will pay dividends.
Some young people might not have a significant amount of savings and it can be challenging to get good advice – an easy hack is to leverage the relationships their parents might have with professional advisors. We work with a lot of families and their children. It’s a great way to gain access to high-value advice.
I wish I had spoken to a wealth planning professional a lot earlier in life. My wife and I were both busy professionals (we still are) and while we had savings, we didn’t have a long-term investment strategy. It was very disjointed. If we had a plan earlier, focused on how much to save every month or year, I believe we would be a little further ahead.
It would have also been good to have had a second opinion and some professional, objective guidance earlier on in areas such as how to pay down the mortgage, budgeting and spending, and saving for retirement, just to make sure we were on the right track. It wasn’t until we got that advice, and then when I started providing financial advice for a living, that I understood the sense of comfort and confidence you get knowing that you’re doing the right things year in and year out.
We all make some financial mistakes, but having professional advice can help right the ship.
Living on your own at 16 is an immediate life lesson on how to manage money. While attending high school fulltime, and working nights and weekends, I quickly learned how to budget the little money I had to pay rent and live within my means. My mother said I could come home at any time, but I was determined to prove to myself that I could be financially independent and manage on my own. That experience taught me the importance of keeping track of the money I received and the money I spent, as well as budgeting and planning for the future including unexpected events.
Another great learning experience happened in my mid 20s when I was too young to understand that insurance could be viewed as an investment instead of an expense. When I was working in a small boutique investment firm, I purchased a critical illness insurance policy with a return of premium option. A few years later after making regular contributions to the policy, my household income changed significantly when on maternity leave and I was forced to cut costs. Regrettably, I cancelled the critical illness policy, which would have been money well spent only a few years later.
Without understanding what the future holds, I’ve seen people make similar mistakes.
For instance, many people don’t take advantage of employer matching programs for investments such as RRSPs, pension plans or company shares. They either don’t understand how the programs work or I’ve heard, ‘I’m only going to be here for a year or so.’ Then, several years later, they’re still there and missed out on the employer contributions and the potential investment growth. My advice is to always be curious, ask questions, learn about company matching programs and when you receive a bonus or salary increase, allocate the increase to savings instead of getting in the habit of spending more, or you may never catch up to your lifestyle.
I’ve always been on top of my money, even as a kid. I was very diligent with saving, paying off debt, setting up RRSPs and TFSAs and getting the right types of insurance. I might have been too hyper-focused on saving and doing ‘the right things’ without enjoying life more and recognizing that it’s OK to spend a bit. I should’ve rewarded myself more.
For instance, I would’ve taken more trips. I can name a few trips that I didn’t join people on when I was younger because I thought about work and losing income. An example was a trip my two best friends took to Italy one summer years back. I didn’t go, and today I look back—we’re now older and living in different cities—and I think about the memories I would’ve had; the emotional and intangible return on investment as opposed to having a bit more money in the bank.
I see a lot of clients who get to the point where they’ll never spend all of the money they have. They look back and say, ‘I should’ve bought that car or taken that trip.’ Sometimes people also get to a point later in life where they’re ready to enjoy their hard-earned money, but can’t for health reasons. Or, something unexpected like COVID-19 comes along and you can’t travel, even if you have the money.
If you’re doing the right things financially and are on the right track, maybe it’s OK to splurge and enjoy life a bit more.
For more information on how to facilitate financial literacy conversations, please download our guide.