Manulife Bank just released the results from their Spring Debt Survey and they found that more than half of Canadians (53%) have at least some non-mortgage related debt. Although there’s been a decline in credit card debt (which is good news), debt has increased on personal loans, home lines of credit and other types of debt which implies people are simply consolidating their debts onto lower-interest forms of debt.

Debt can be crippling if you don’t get it under control

I love how Canadians are being smart about their debt and trying to lower the amount of interest they’re paying, but it’s still rather concerning that so many of us have debt. It’s not like I expect everyone to be debt free, but when looking at the survey results, some of the findings are a bit alarming.

  • 33% of Canadians say their spending growth outpaces their income growth
  • Nearly 40% of Canadians who went into debt cite doing so because they live beyond their means; 19% cite not being able to break the debt habit
  • 9% of Canadians admit to being clueless about how much they are spending, every month, on average

Read those three stats again. Are you surprised? Unfortunately, it really doesn’t surprise me. I try not to judge anyone, but it’s really not hard to tell when people are spending well beyond their means. I’ve worked with people in the past who would constantly take vacations because they found a deal on flights. Nevermind that they would still have to pay for food, accommodations and attractions. These same people would then complain about how they’re constantly in debt. 

Then there are people who always seem to be spending money like it’s no big deal. They’ll brag about eating at the nicest restaurants, they’ll buy a new phone every year (even though they cost $1,000+), and they’re always wearing the nicest clothes even though they’ve got an entry-level job.

For some of these people, it’s clearly a fear of missing out which leads them to overspend, but for others, it may simply be a lack of education. Money or credit rather has never been easier to access. You can quickly get into debt and still not feel the effects of it since we’ve become a minimum payment society. 

How to get your debt under control

I personally haven’t had any debt issues, but I’ve also always lived by three personal finance rules.

  • Spend less than you make
  • Pay yourself first
  • If someone offers you free money, take it!

It’s crazy to think that people these days don’t spend less than they make. If your expenses are more than what you’re bringing in, then there’s clearly a problem. The issue is that credit makes it so easy to spend more money than you have. If you want to get out of debt, you need to create a budget to ensure that you’re spending less than you make. If you already have debt, come up with a debt repayment plan so you can get out of the red.

When it comes to paying yourself first, build it right into your budget. Make sure you’re setting aside money for things such as vacations, retirement savings and any long term saving goals you may have. Many people make the mistake of waiting until the end of the month to see how much they have left before they start saving, in most cases, they have nothing left.

As for free money, what I’m referring to is pension plans or RRSP matching that your company may offer. This is becoming increasingly rare so if you do have this an employee benefit, make sure you take advantage of it!

Final word

Giving yourself a financial foundation early will help ensure you’re set up to meet your money goals. However, if you’re currently in debt, there’s no need to panic. Come up with a plan to eliminate your debt and then start saving for your future by using a high interest savings account.