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Personal Finance

Use your COVID-19 financial support wisely, experts say

Leverage funding you receive by doing a full financial assessment to prioritize spending

Man on phone looking over bills and laptopReceiving financial support through the federal government’s Canadian Emergency Response Benefit? First allocate these funds towards household essentials, including mortgages/rent, utilities, groceries and medications (Getty Images/svetikd)

COVID-19 has not only changed our lives logistically, it has also altered our spending habits. 

Given Canada’s economic projections, it comes as no surprise. A recent Deloitte survey reports that the economy is expected to contract about 20 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, while the national unemployment rate will double. Meanwhile, 96 per cent of Canadians feel the economy will be negatively impacted by the pandemic, with 78 per cent saying the impact will be significant.

With that gloomy outlook comes pressure to maintain our lifestyles, while incomes are down, expenses mount and bills rack up. Now is the time to assess and make wise use of financial support being offered by governments and financial institutions wisely. 

Here are three tips to do just that. 


If you’re receiving financial support through the federal government’s Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB)—which provides out-out-of-work Canadians with up to $2,000 per month for up to four months—first allocate these funds towards household essentials, including mortgages/rent, utilities, groceries and medication, advises Stefanie Riccio, a CPA with Balance the Five. 

Using the government support to meet the obligations that you cannot avoid is key,” she says. “Prioritize disbursements to those expenses that ensure safety and cover the necessities needed for yourself and your family.” 

Set your budget around these necessities, ensuring they are met before anything else, she adds. “To the best of your ability, allow for that to continue in the months to come.” 

This may mean making sacrifices, even to a simple grocery list. “If we have to consume a little bit more pasta during this period, instead of a nice steak or fresh produce, these are trade-offs we can make to balance it out.”

Doretta Thompson, CPA Canada’s financial literacy leader, agrees, adding that now is the time to eliminate unnecessary spending, particularly if you face a loss of income. And, if possible, she adds, reallocate what you normally spend on “nice-to-haves” to build up your emergency fund. 

“The most important thing to keep in mind when managing your expenses is to protect your available cash as much as possible to protect yourself against an uncertain future,” she says. “The current isolation rules mean that many discretionary expenses—from self-care to dining out to entertainment—are not an option.” 


There are other streams of financial support—both at the federal and provincial levels—available to Canadians during this time. 

The CERB, for example, allows individuals to earn up to an additional $1,000 per month, while receiving the $2,000, to pad income. Low-income workers deemed essential to fight COVID-19 and earning less than $2,500 per month for full-time work also qualify for a temporary salary top-up. Those with student loans will have repayments and interest suspended until Sept. 30, 2020. 

A special Goods and Services Tax credit payment for low- and moderate-income households of approximately $400 for single individuals and $600 for couples will also be disbursed to those who qualify. 

Specific to those with children, a one-time payment of an extra $300 per child under the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) payment will be disbursed in May. Provinces have also stepped up to assist parents. Ontario, for example, is offering a one-time $200 payment per child aged 12 or under or $250 for children with special needs who are 21 or younger. Meanwhile, B.C. is offering eligible families that have children with special needs the Emergency Relief Support Fund, which provides $225 per month (from April to June 2020). This assistance is meant to help families provide the necessary care and facilitate learning from home, while schools and childcare centres are closed. Other provinces are also offering assistance, so be sure to check dependent on where you live.   

This support is best leveraged using a “living” budget that is rejigged frequently as incomes and expenses vary simultaneously at this time. Garth Sheriff, CPA and founder of Sheriff Consulting, recommends tracking expenses in real time and setting a limit on discretionary expenses.   

“Just like the news that we receive around the coronavirus is fluid, you have to look at your budget almost on a daily basis,” says Sheriff. “Re-examine your inputs because they could change what you’re spending your savings or income on.”

It’s a strategy Canadians plan to follow, with more than two-thirds saying they will improve cash flow by reducing discretionary spending, according to the Deloitte survey.   


The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Canadian banks and other mortgage insurers are offering those experiencing financial hardship flexible options, including payment deferral (up to six months), loan re-amortization, capitalization of outstanding interest arrears and other eligible expenses, special payment arrangements and commercial and residential rent assistance for landlords and tenants. Eligibility and terms are worked out with the financial institution on a case-by-case basis and available throughout the pandemic.

Riccio recommends reviewing the financial relief options available to you to understand their implications before making any moves. Find out the program details from your financial provider including: what will it mean when you restart payments? Will you have to pay a lump sum of all missed months, plus the month due? And how does interest incur? 

“This is not the time to bank on support without performing a self-assessment on your current financial situation and looking for areas where you can obtain a reprieve on certain expenses for the months to come,” she says. “Those who find that the support [received] does not allow them to meet their needs must be vigilant in sourcing.” [To stay alert and protect yourself from scammers exploiting the situation, see 3 types of real-estate fraud to be on the lookout for]

If you’re dealing with debt, adds Thompson, ensure that you are paying the lowest possible interest rate and, if necessary, discuss short-term changes to repayment schedules to make the minimum payments temporarily. “Maintain as much flexibility as you can,” she says.   


Find out how to pursue government assistance for small business and cut costs during COVID-19, while using these tips to help keep your small business running.   

Be on top of the latest news related to COVID-19, including a compilation of external resources and online news articles, and more details on the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and COVID-19 tax issues.