Wisdom from a windfall

44% of Canadians polled in a national survey for the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada actually did receive a windfall this year, in the form of an income tax refund.

Let me give you a hypothetical. Say you receive a windfall – it could be an unexpected bonus at work or a small inheritance from a distant relative. (Yeah, I know it’s unlikely. Just go with it.) What would your reaction be?

A.  Thank goodness – now we can pay down some debt
B.  RRSP or TFSA?
C.  Yes! Just in time to pay for the kids’ summer camp
D.  Time to call our contractor – I feel a home reno coming on
E.  Walt. Disney. VACATION!

Now consider this: 44 per cent of Canadians polled in a national survey for the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) actually did receive a windfall this year, in the form of an income tax refund.  Of those, 28 per cent said they would use the money to pay down debt—which was the most popular response cited. The second most popular use for the refund money was savings/investments, with 18 per cent of the response.

I’ve got to say, I was surprised by these results. The media frequently reports on the high levels of personal debt in Canada, so I had assumed most of the respondents would have immediately spent this “found” money rather than try to improve their financial situations.

Of course, spending the money isn’t necessarily bad, either. In my case, I was like 12 per cent of the respondents, who earmarked their tax refunds for home improvements or renovations. After eight years of braving the humid summers in Toronto with no air conditioning, my husband and I decided to install a ductless AC unit in our home. The expense will likely boost the value of our home and, more importantly, will improve our day-to-day quality of life in a significant way. While our seven-year-old son, Adam, doesn’t know anything about tax refunds—we often talk to him about spending money wisely, and we try to set an example with our own purchases.

So now go back and revisit your response to my scenario above. How does it compare to the survey results? Have you thought about the messages that your spending sends to your kids?

About the Author

Tamar Satov

Managing Editor, CPA magazine
Tamar is a journalist specializing in business, parenting and personal finance. She blogs regularly in this space with advice and anecdotes on her efforts to raise a money-smart kid.

Highlights

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