The Ultimate Canadian Student’s Guide to Personal Finance in 2021

canada flag with mountain range view

This is the Ultimate Canadian Student’s Guide to Personal Finance (in 2021)!

I was trying to find some sort of guide like this, but it turns out there isn’t one! So I decided to take it upon myself to write it. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make the best of your financial future as a current Canadian student. You’ll learn about the best job finding practices, saving your money, and building your wealth for the long-term. Buckle up, because this guide is PACKED full of information!


Job Hunting

Finding a job is hard, even without a world-wide virus messing everything up. More so if you’re a student. After all, you’re young, inexperienced, and probably need a lot of training to be “job-ready.” Statista shows that youth unemployment in Canada has reached a whopping 16.7% in 2020!

The Ultimate Canadian Student's Guide to Personal Finance in 2021

So… how can you find a job? Here are the 2 main ways that have worked best for me, and I’m sure will yield you good results as well.

Online Outreach

When it comes to online outreach, most students make the fatal mistake of only reaching out to their dream employers. They send out one or two emails, call it a day, and then wonder why they didn’t land a job.

The hiring process, like a lot of other things in life, is a funnel. What this means is that maybe 100 students will apply for a job and 40 emails are passed over immediately. Out of the remaining 60, 35 are eliminated upon examining their resumes and the other 25 are invited to a phone chat. After the call, 10 are invited for a formal interview, and then 3 are actually hired. You might look at these ratios and scoff, but this isn’t even an exaggeration.

The Ultimate Canadian Student's Guide to Personal Finance in 2021

What does this mean for you? It means that no matter how good of an applicant you are, you need to be widening your OWN funnel if you want to stand any chance at all. The more people you reach out to, the wider your funnel, and the higher the chance that you actually land a job.

The actual service you use to reach out doesn’t matter that much, but some good websites to try are:

Network Outreach

Network outreach means reaching out to people within your network for a job, and it is by far the most effective form of job-hunting. Business Insider states that over 70% of jobs aren’t even listed! So if you’re only relying on online outreach to secure a job, you are missing out.

The Ultimate Canadian Student's Guide to Personal Finance in 2021
Infographic from Carleton University; Canadian Student’s Personal Finance Guide

And before you say something like “oh but I don’t have a network” I want you to try something. Count the number of family members you have. Now count all of the friends they have. Next count the number of friends you have. Now count the number of family members they have. Your network isn’t just people who you know; it’s people who know the people you know and the people who know them. If you look for a job through this network, you’re WAY more likely to be successful than simply reaching out to strangers online.

General Job Hunting Tips

  • Be appreciative of the time that potential employers give you and show it (“thanks so much for taking the time for this phone call”)
  • Inform and prepare yourself before any interview
  • Understand that your potential employers are human too and treat them as such (don’t be robotic and/or scared)

If you prioritize network outreach as your main job-finder, build a healthy funnel with online outreach, and follow the general tips, you’re sure to land a job soon!


Saving

Saving is the golden key to financial freedom. It doesn’t matter how much you make; if you don’t save, you won’t build wealth. If you make a million dollars but spend a million dollars, you’re in the same financial position as the person who makes minimum wage and can barely make ends meet. Just to drive the point home, a quote from the author of best-selling book “The Psychology of Money.”

Wealth Is What You Don’t Spend

Morgan Housel

This might seem super simple and intuitive, but statistics would actually suggest otherwise. Pre-COVID, the average Canadian household savings rate was less than $1200 per YEAR. That’s insanely low!

The Ultimate Canadian Student's Guide to Personal Finance in 2021

A lack of good saving habits is what keeps most Canadians stuck in the “rat race” and unable to attain financial freedom. Luckily, there ARE a few things you can do about it.

Set Up a Savings Account

Setting up a savings account with your bank is the first step towards developing good savings habits. The steps to actually do so are quite simple, and often all you need to do is google “Open a Savings Account {Bank Name}.”

The Ultimate Canadian Student's Guide to Personal Finance in 2021

If you have any questions about it, just call up your bank! You are the bank’s boss and they’ll be happy to help you out.

If you don’t have a bank yet, I’d suggest checking out these ones:

They’re all quite reputable in Canada, but be sure to do your own research before making any transactions.

Automate Your Saving

A sneaky little trick that nobody will let you know is that you can actually AUTOMATE your saving. This means that you don’t need to stress about saving: the money will be taken out of your account and put into your savings account automatically!

This works so well for two reasons:

  • You’ll never see the money so you won’t be tempted to spend it.
  • It saves you a ton of time!

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Open up your online banking (by phone or by computer)
  2. Find the place where you can transfer money (for TD it is literally called “transfers”)
  3. Click on “pre-authorized transfer service” or anything similar
  4. Select the frequency to be however often you get a paycheck
  5. Choose the start date to be the date of your next paycheck
  6. Select an amount of money that is proportionate to your income (at least 10%)
  7. Select the account you want to transfer money to (Savings account)
  8. Click next and confirm it
How to build savings for your future: set up automatic savings; Canadian Student's Personal Finance Guide
Canadian Student’s Personal Finance Guide

By setting up a savings account and automating your savings, you’re putting yourself WAY ahead of a lot of your peers. Saving is a definite key to long-term wealth!


Investing

Saving may be the golden key to financial freedom, but investing is the accelerant. What may have been a 40-year journey to wealth can be cut significantly shorter when you use the power of compound interest.

Canadian Student's Personal Finance Guide

It doesn’t matter what amount you start with, over 20 years, a 10% compounding rate will more than 7x your money. Compare that with just holding your money in a savings account and you’d be foolish NOT to invest.

Of course, this is assuming that the stock market continues producing 10% returns (which it has for the past 100 years), but even a 1% return is better than just letting your money sit around. That being said, here’s what there is to know about investing as a Canadian student.

Brokerages

A brokerage is simply the company through which you’ll buy and sell your stocks. It’s not super important which brokerage you choose, but a BAD one could cause you lots of headaches.

The five Canadian brokerages that most people use and that you should consider are:

Aside from these 5, you can also open up a brokerage account with your own bank. All of these options have their unique advantages and disadvantages, but be sure to know what you’re getting into before giving your money to any. The best way to compare different brokerages is through online reviews or (my own little secret), Reddit!

TFSAs

The “crappy” thing about buying and selling stocks is that you have to pay tax on any money you make… unless you use a TFSA! TFSA stands for “Tax-Free Savings Account” and when you invest within a TFSA, you get to keep all of your profits.

One thing to note is that the amount of money you can add to your TFSA is capped at $6000 a year. But still, $6000 tax-free is better than no money tax-free.

The process for opening a TFSA is all done within your actual brokerage. I go into much more detail in this post but the things you’ll want to have one hand are:

  • Social Insurance Number
  • Bank information
  • Personal information
How to open an investing account; Wealthsimple screenshot; Canadian Student's Personal Finance Guide

Once you’ve set up your TFSA, you can buy and sell stocks just as you would with a regular investing account. This way, however, you’ll be saving yourself lots of money in the long run!

How to Evaluate Stocks

When investing in the stock market you can either choose index funds/ETFs or individual stocks. If you DO decide to go for individual stocks, I highly recommend doing tons of research before deploying your money.

Some great resources you can learn from from are:

The main takeaways from any great investor are going to be:

  1. Only invest in what you know
  2. Risk only what you can lose
  3. Diversify your portfolio

In the end, as long as you’re continually contributing to your investment account, you’ll accelerate your journey to financial freedom much faster than if you don’t invest at all.


Credit Cards

In 2019, Canadian credit card balances totalled over $100 billion! That means that many people probably didn’t use their credit cards responsibly and are trapped in debt because of it.

3 Ways to Pay Off High-Interest Credit Card Debt - Slice; Canadian Student's Personal Finance Guide

All of those scary stats being said, owning a credit card is still supremely important as it will help build your credit score. This score is what banks will use in the future to determine whether or not to trust you when you want to buy a car or a house, so it’s pretty important.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the credit card section of the Canadian Student’s Guide to Personal Finance.

Literally Just Follow These Rules

Many people are terrified of owning a credit card because they don’t want to go into bad debt. However, when you break it down, using a credit card responsibly really only comes down to a few things:

Never spend more than you can afford. Before any credit card transaction, ask yourself “can I pay this off IMMEDIATELY?” If the answer is no, do NOT make the transaction. Basically, treat your credit card like you treat cash and you won’t run into any debt troubles.

Pay off your credit balance ASAP. As soon as your purchase shows up on your statement or app, pay it off! If you don’t want to check your phone every day, set a weekly reminder to pay off your credit card balance. This will ensure that you never miss a payment.

Always pay off your credit balance in FULL. The “minimum payment” is a trap. It’s designed by credit card companies to maximize their profits and minimize your money. How you can circumvent this is to pay off your credit card balances in full!

If you follow these rules, you’ll build up your credit score in no time!

Bad Debt

Bad debt is used to describe any debt that is used to attain something which won’t make you money. This includes debt for cars, purses, fancy food, and clothes. I’m sure this doesn’t need re-iterating, but bad debt will eat away at your finances and make it near impossible to achieve your money goals.

Canadian Student's Personal Finance Guide

Avoid this kind of debt like the plague. If you follow the rules laid out above, you shouldn’t have an issue. But I just wanted to emphasis the malevolence of bad debt once more in case your credit card ever tempts you in the future.

Best Credit Cards

When you use credit cards responsibly, there are actually perks that come along with it. These include cashback on your purchases, accumulation of points that you can spend on certain things, and even air miles! As a student, you won’t have access to the full range of these benefits, but still, some cards stand above others. Here are some of the best student credit cards in Canada:

It doesn’t especially matter which credit card you get (they will all build your credit score if used responsibly), but still, be sure to do your research before applying for any one of these. As long as you follow the three rules above, all of these credit cards will yield you lots of perks and bonuses.


Financial Freedom

Financial freedom means being able to live comfortably WITHOUT the need of your paycheque. This often means that you’ve accumulated enough money that you never need to work again, or you’ve built yourself income-generating assets that cover your monthly expenses.

According to the Global Economy, Canada’s “financial freedom index” is actually pretty high on a global scale:

Canadian Student's Personal Finance Guide

That being said, Canada.com reports that only 30% of Canadians feel “financially secure.”

Canadian Student's Personal Finance Guide

What this means is that Canada is doing “well” compared to other countries, but internally people are still struggling. Financial freedom is not easy to attain, but it is very much worth it.

How to Attain Financial Freedom

The main steps for achieving financial freedom can be summed up in a few points:

  1. Make more money than you spend
  2. Invest it into either growing assets or income-generating assets
  3. Keep on trying to increase the amount of money you invest

Follow these three steps for long enough and you’re sure to achieve financial freedom. It might seem simple, but it’s a lot harder to do in practice than on paper. That’s because people often don’t have the discipline to NOT spend all that they make. Those that do reap the rewards in the end.

Financial Freedom in Canada

Speaking of those that do have the discipline, here are some Canadians who actually HAVE achieved financial freedom (or are pretty darn close) and actively share personal finance tips and tricks.

Chrissy – EatSleepBreatheFi: A mom of two kids in Vancouver who’s on track to achieve financial freedom, Chrissy shares a ton of useful advice, tracks her own progress towards FI (financial independence), and also hosts interviews on her blog! (also her Shiba Inu is really cute).

Nic & Court (& Finn) – Modern FImily: Nic and Court achieved financial freedom in 2018, currently reside in Alberta, and show that financial independence is totally possible even with a kid!

Bob – Tawcan: Currently residing in Vancouver, Bob invests heavily in dividend stocks and shows how achieving financial freedom is doable through building passive dividend income.

Maria – Handful of Thoughts: Maria is a millennial mom who paid off her mortgage in less than 5 years and currently owns 9 rental properties! She is actively sharing advice on her blog and helps other families achieve mortgage-freedom as well!

Dale – Cut the Crap Investing: Dale is an ex-advertising writer who now contributes to MoneySense, MillionDollarJourney, and his own blog Cut the Crap Investing where he shares his portfolio builds and their returns! His blog is great for investing insights.

Of course, there are many other Canadians who have achieved financial freedom, but these are just the ones that I consistently follow and who provide the most inspiration to me. I’m sure that you’ll be motivated to take charge of your personal finances as well if you spend enough time on their pages 😉


Recap

woman draped in a flag of canada; Canadian Student's Personal Finance Guide
Canadian Student’s Personal Finance Guide

There you have it: The Ultimate Canadian Student’s Guide to Personal Finance in 2021! We covered a lot of ground, and it’s worth taking the time to go through each section, but here’s a quick recap:

  • Job Hunting
    • Widen your funnel. The more people you reach out to the more likely you are to actually land a job
    • Use your network to secure jobs. You’ll have much better luck!
  • Saving
    • Saving money is a must for financial success.
    • You can set up a savings account by googling it, and also automate your savings to save you time and energy.
  • Investing
    • Investing will significantly accelerate your wealth-building.
    • Use a TFSA to save yourself a ton on taxes.
    • Research stocks before you buy.
  • Credit Cards
    • Never spend more than you can afford.
    • Pay off your credit card ASAP.
    • Pay off the full balance every time.
    • Follow these rules to stay out of bad debt and you’ll build your credit score in no time.
  • Financial Freedom
    • Financial freedom is totally attainable and a pretty awesome way to live.
    • There are lots of inspiring Canadians who share their journeys and who are great to learn from.

I genuinely hope that this was useful and that you’re one step closer to financial success after reading this guide. Of course, it’s not completely comprehensive, but that’s why I encourage you to let me know in the comments or via email if you think I missed anything. If I did, I’ll be sure to add it. Happy wealth-building everyone! 🇨🇦


Thanks for reading through the Canadian Student’s Personal Finance Guide and thank you for following along! If you enjoyed this post, I encourage you to share it with others who you think will benefit from it. If you’re working on accumulating money that you can invest with and want to learn about how to build income opportunities as a student, head over to this post here. To learn more about me, head over to this link here. Finally, if you want to get exclusive updates and tips, drop your email in the “get updates” box (might have to scroll up a bit.)

8 Comments

  1. What an amazing post, Jeff! Very nice work. This guide makes it so easy for a young person to take easy steps in the right direction!

    I will share this with all the young people in my life. I hope that, by hearing this message from a peer, other young people will be inspired to take control of their finances.

    PS Thanks so much for the mention! It’s an honour to be included in this list of amazing Canadian bloggers. ❤️

    1. Thanks so much for the support Chrissy!
      Your blog is a big inspiration and I’m really glad you enjoyed this post!

  2. Wow what a great post Jeff – great compilation and I’ll for sure be letting our readers know about it! I seriously wish more people your age were as interested in personal finances like you! I am beyond confident you’ll reach FI in your 30s (if not sooner).

    Thank you so much for the mention and so glad you found us 🙂

    1. Thank you for your vote of confidence Court and Nic!
      Yup: the goal is to grow more awareness of FI and all things personal finance amongst young people!
      I really appreciate your support.

    1. Thanks for the support Maria! Little known fact: I’m actually pretty obsessed with rental real estate, so I was super impressed when I found out you have 9 properties!
      Might have to teach me how you did it one day!

    1. Thanks for the comment! And yeah all of the jobs I’ve worked have been through a connection or referral. Online job hunting is hard!

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