Woman paying bills on digital tablet
Personal Finance

5 tips for making your hard-earned dollars last longer

 As Canadians struggle with debt and daily expenses, experts weigh in on how to get your spending and savings on track

Woman paying bills on digital tabletEstablish what you can realistically afford to contribute to your retirement savings based on your household expenses, your own savings goals and other financial commitments (Getty Images/JGI/Jamie Grill)

Getting the most from every dollar means different things to different Canadians.   

Life stage, income level, where you live, relationship status—these, among other considerations—impact how we spend and save our money. 

But with almost half of Canadians being $200 or less away from financial insolvency (where liabilities exceed assets) every month according to an Ipsos poll that was conducted in April, it seems we could use some advice on how to stretch our dollar. And what better time to take it in than Financial Literacy Month

These tips from financial experts will help you make the most on what you earn.


Before building a long-term financial plan, map out how things would pan out if you made zero changes today, suggests Jason Heath, certified financial planner and managing director of Markham, Ont.-based, Objective Financial Partners, Inc. “Without doing anything differently, the current trajectory, the saving that you’re doing, and the debt that you’re repaying, how does your future look?” he says. 

By asking yourself these questions, you’ll gain insight into where you are on track, and what shortfalls to address, Heath says.

“First and foremost is to determine how much you should be saving before you get into the nitty-gritty budgeting exercise,” he says. “That’s much better than just budgeting for budget’s sake.”

CPA Saher Zuberi, finance support officer at Peel District School Board, recommends writing a letter to your future self, describing what you want your financial future to look like. 

“Now you can set short-term goals that allow you to reach that future self,” she says. “You’ve got an Easter egg to reach for.”

Ensure your savings strategy is on track with those aspirations and that your spending habits are aligned when building a budget, she adds. “The starting point is your Excel spreadsheet. It’s a really good way to think about your future and put yourself on a plan.”


Zuberi believes this is the most common, and greatest hurdle, to successful financial planning. Failing to see the impact spending patterns have on your finances will likely set you back, she says.

“The No. 1 concept missing in Canadian society, and globally, is establishing the wants versus the needs,” she says. “We [need to] recognize that we are a consumeristic society and to say it’s OK not have what the other person has and live within our own means.”

CPA Blair Randall, manager at Vine Group in Hamilton, Ont., encourages aligning your fixed expenses (mortgage, car and insurance payments, etc.) and discretionary, or variable, expenses (food, entertainment, etc.) to start and cutting back from there. 

“A lot of people don’t want to give up the new car or new clothes…but if it has to go, it has to go,” he says. “They have to tone it down a bit.”


Cutting out less obvious expenses can save substantial dollars down the line, experts agree.

Look to recurring, monthly expenses such as your cellphone, internet or cable bills, Heath recommends. Consider changing providers, getting rid of under-used services or negotiating a better deal. Cancel increasingly popular (and pricey) subscription services, Randall adds. 

Heath suggests also revisiting lines of credit as well as credit card insurance and investment statements. Are there options to consolidate them? Can you better invest your money? Seek avenues to reduce fees, get better rates and garner higher returns, he says. 

“It may sound silly finding a way to save a few dollars here and a few dollars there, but it’s not a few dollars if it’s a recurring expense that you can continually save money on, on an ongoing basis,” he says. “Expenses are directly within your control, so sit down and try to find ways to reduce spending.”

Beyond that, Randall says, if you’re in the market for bigger ticket items including vehicles and appliances, try inventory sales or buy them used. 

“Think about how you are financing that purchase…think about that interest rate,” he says. “There are ways to save on fixed expenses that people don’t think about.”


Your retirement savings should trump in most situations, Heath says. 

For example, maximizing RESP contributions to receive the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG)—20 per cent of your total contribution, up to a maximum of $500, per child, per year—for your children’s education may seem logical, but not if it compromises your own savings, he warns.   

Think twice before stashing all your money in one savings basket, he adds. Establish what you can realistically afford to contribute based on your household expenses, your own savings goals and other financial commitments. 

“Everyone needs to be more focused on themselves and make sure they are OK,” he says. “It’s finding that balance between providing for your kids, or [other] loved ones, and yourself.”

For individuals living paycheque to paycheque, Heath recommends thinking big picture, increasing income and/or reducing costs to “squeeze some savings out.” He adds: “When somebody takes on a long-term view of their finances, it can be a lot more motivating to try and find ways to save.”


According to Statistics Canada, Canadians are steeped in debt, owing $1.77 in debt for every dollar of disposable income, and spending 14.9 per cent of their money on debt obligations. 

It’s an opportunity, Heath believes, to shift focus. With a push to invest and save, he says Canadians miss out increasing their net worth by paying off debt. Carving out a plan to be debt free and/or ridding yourself of high interest payments is a better financial move, he believes. 

“Life is a long game. It’s not about the next paycheque, the next month or even the next year,” he says. “The smallest steps over a number of years can make a big difference when you look back in retrospect.” 

For Zuberi, overall, financial planning comes down to financial literacy. There are no boundaries upon how and who it can impact, if the knowledge is not there, she says. “Financial literacy is not math. That is the disconnect and it crosses low-income, high-income and medium-income. It crosses professions.” 


For tips on making your heard-earned dollars work better for you, look to CPA Canada’s Stretching Your Dollar financial literacy series tackling topics including: Journey Out of Debt, Don’t Get Scammed, Know Your Money, Stretching in Savings and Facts about Tax. Or take the Financial Wellness Guide’s interactive questionnaire, which will give you a personalized assessment of your current financial situation and pinpoint areas to improve on.