Let's be honest: when it comes to personal finances, 2016 was a really bumpy year for many people. As the year comes to a close, it might be a good time to take a step back and reflect on how well you managed your money during the past twelve months. Did anything major happen that impacted your financial situation? Do you have a clear financial picture? These may seem like daunting questions to answer, and maybe you would just rather not know. I understand how you feel.
There is no question that 'affordability' became a major theme or issue for all of us in Canada in 2016. Countless research reports revealed that many of us struggled with our cash flow. Some reports indicated that many of us are only $200 away from meeting our monthly financial obligations. According to a survey done by Ipsos Reid in October 2016, one-third of Canadians are not earning enough money to cover their bills. Debt repayments may be pulling you down or lifestyle choices may have caused financial hardship.
Home affordability in major city centers became an issue for many people. For example, the average cost of a home in Canada reached $481,994 in October 2016. This number is significantly higher in markets such as Toronto and Vancouver. In addition, mortgage rules changed making it more difficult for first time homebuyers to purchase a home. The cost of fresh produce reached new heights and consumers were forced to make substitutions in the stores.
And finally, from a global and investment perspective, there was a lot of uncertainty. Markets were volatile. For example the Brexit vote in the U.K. stunned the world and markets responded. The outcome of the U.S. Presidential Election appears to be having a positive impact on the markets as investors are bullish for the future. But will this joyful sentiment sustain itself as ideas turn need to action? It's hard to say. We could be in for a bumpy ride, or not.
As you wind down 2016, try to carve out some time to reflect upon your life and your financial situation. For example, you may look back and feel you did a great job saving and paying down your debt, but your lifestyle took a bite out of your savings. Or you may look back and wish you had tracked your spending more closely because it felt like your pay was spent almost entirely on obligations leaving little for social time. Look back at each month and take mental note of what transpired.
And finally, be honest with your assessment. Look at your personal situation with open eyes and try not to get down on yourself for mistakes. Celebrate the things you did well and know that in 2017 you can get back on track financially. To that end, ask yourself these three simple questions:
1. What went well?
2. What didn't go well?
3. What needs to change for 2017?
You can't live in the past but you can learn from it. Start by making a conscious effort to make small incremental changes with your money next year.