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It's Time to Cash in on Canada's New Financial Literacy Strategy

06/26/2015 01:00 EDT | Updated 06/26/2016 05:59 EDT
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Can Canadians turn this month's unveiling of the country's new financial literacy strategy into a collective aha! moment? I think we can.

It has produced a groundswell of energy, enthusiasm and opportunity that we can't afford to lose.

Indeed, the conversation about the financial literacy needs of Canadians just got a great deal louder. The National Strategy for Financial Literacy - Count me in, Canada is an ambitious playbook for country that brings together a wide range of stakeholders, identifies priorities and targets deliverables. Already dozens of organizations have lined up in support.

The good news is that we all don't have to become money experts, but we do need to acquire the necessary knowledge and know-how to make sound financial decisions. And given the persistent warnings about Canada's near-historically high levels of household debt, now is the perfect time to up our game.

Knowledge and Peace of Mind

Research shows that large numbers of Canadians need to become more money savvy. Recent surveys conducted for my organization, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada), found that many Canadian households aren't saving or paying off debt, and that more parents could be taking advantage of the Registered Education Savings Plan.

There are critics who say that education alone won't be enough and that government policy should play a greater role. We can't, however, dismiss the importance of learning. Knowledge can provide both power and peace of mind. And we've found that with the growing awareness about the importance of financial literacy, people are increasingly expressing a need for help and seeking assistance. In fact, the feedback we get suggests more and more Canadians see financial literacy as a critical life skill.

Making Cents of it All

I'm not looking at what some are calling our "culture of credit" from a distance. I'm a member of the federal government's steering committee on financial literacy and in my day job I lead a team that manages an 11,000-member-driven financial literacy education program. It's a grassroots, volunteer effort that's being offered absolutely free, by professional accountants to Canadians across the country.

The face-to-face sessions are tailored to meet the needs of a variety of audiences: adults, students (elementary, high school and post-secondary), small and medium-sized business owners, and newcomers. The sessions range from the basics -- the concepts of credit, debt, budgeting and Canada's banking system -- to the more complex -- using credit to your advantage, managing debt, financial and retirement planning, and the tax system.

The ultimate goal is to help Canadians gain the skills, understanding and confidence to make wise financial choices, based on their individual circumstances.

Canadians are going to spend. We all recognize that. For example, almost half of the respondents to one of our recent surveys say they're planning to spend more this summer than last year. Those who track their expenses, and know how they'll pay for them, will have fewer surprises and worries.

That's why it was so encouraging to learn that many of the survey respondents say they're covering the costs of summer vacations by using general savings, money earmarked for a vacation or a tax refund.

If you need help, seek it. Conversely, if you consider yourself financially capable, you may want to be part of the #CountMeInCA conversation.

It's time to act. Canadians who acquire financial knowledge today will be positioned for a better future. And so, too, will our economy and country.

Check out CPA Canada's financial literacy resources or explore the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's offerings.

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