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Managing Money as a New Canadian

Moving to a new country and becoming a new Canadian is incredibly intimidating. Not only do you have to know a whole new currency, you have to learn to manage it as well. This blog features a story from a new Canadian from India who breaks down what they learned by establishing their financial well-being in their brand new home. 


Humble Beginnings

On January 22, 2018, I landed in Regina as a new Canadian on a cold night with my husband and my 10-year old daughter. In 2019 alone, approximately 85,000 immigrants landed in Canada from India making it one of the main source countries for new immigrants to Canada. I am so excited to be one of them.

Our family of three came to Canada carrying around $30,000 CAD (~1.7M INR) of survival funds. We knew that if we weren’t careful, we could spend all of it in the first six months – especially if we did not secure a job so it was important to be cautious with our spending until we got our legs under us in our new country. We educated ourselves about spending money in Canada by not shying away from asking questions to colleagues, neighbours and fellow immigrants.

Little did we know, that $30,000 could quickly dwindle on things you didn’t even expect to purchase when adjusting to a different environment. For instance, the three of us had never purchased winter jackets before but it was an essential buy as we had moved midway through winter in Canada. We had a choice to make between thrifting or buying. “Frigid” would be an understatement when it comes to Saskatchewan winters so buying new jackets to last us for years was a reasonable choice.

We leased a condo apartment in the first week of us having landed in Canada. Putting cash down on a used van to ensure we were mobile and independent was also important to us. We shopped for kitchen supplies from the dollar store and our furniture shopping ended after buying a box spring and a few mattresses. We were ready to take on the world and build our new nest each day, piece by piece!

Budgeting

Finding a job as a new Canadian is hard. It took us five months to get stable jobs that covered our monthly expenses and allowed us to begin our savings again.

Being salaried employees in our previous jobs, my husband and I were well-versed in the principles of budgeting and saving for retirements and emergencies. Having a conversation about budgeting and setting strict spending rules was a great place to start. Our google spreadsheet had titles like groceries, gas, utilities and even alcohol & salon expenses. Every little detail mattered and was essential for us to plan better. We now use the Conexus Budget Calculator. This is a wonderful tool that allows you to get a clear picture of monthly expenses in percentages.

A perception survey conducted by Insightrix in 2020 stated that 62% of Saskatchewanians say money causes stress and 61% say their top financial concern is not having enough savings for emergencies. Being disciplined in saving money may seem like a hassle at the time, but it quickly transforms into hope, security and confidence as you know you are covered for emergencies and you can take comfort in the fact that you are actively contributing to your future (ie: down payment on a future home).  We have learnt over time that categorizing savings in different accounts and naming them after our goals/purposes (ie: “vacation”, “home expenses”, “miscellaneous”, “emergency”) is helpful for staying on track. Here’s a helpful tip: you can save emergency savings in a TFSA account as well as the interest earned on that account will not be taxed.

Building Our Credit

As a new Canadian, it’s important to start building your credit score as soon as possible. In most cases, the credit history you’ve built in your home country does not transfer into Canada and unless there is enough cash to pay up front for all purchases, a family will need to work towards building a decent credit score.

To get credit, you need history and to build history, you needs to get credit. This is a vicious circle!

We were lucky to get approved for basic credit cards with no annual fees under the newcomers’ program.  In cases when a financial institution does not have a program like this, you can opt for a secured credit card.

When building our credit score, doing these things helped build it up faster:

  • We ensured that we paid out the card fully every month before the due date
  • Avoided cash transactions
  • Used no more than 30% of our credit limits
  • Avoided unnecessary credit applications

Our First New Car

As we were taking baby steps towards settling here, we were yearning to buy a new car. Being avid road-trippers, getting rid of the van and buying an SUV was at the top of our list.

We thought a six-month credit history was enough and started car shopping around summer. However, we soon found out that six months was not going to cut it. After trying four different dealerships, 11 hits on our credit report and waiting for an additional three months, we managed to get a loan from Ford Credit after we accumulated nine months of credit history. We did manage to hit the road before fall with our first camping trip to Moose Mountain in our brand new black Lincoln MKX Reserve.

My experience of working in a credit union helped me understand the importance of saving and having a good credit score. However, a few things should be left to the experts. For instance, I wish we had met with an advisor for the car loan before venturing out on our own. The 11 hits on our credit report knocked our score down further and that cost us time to rebuild the credit.

Buying Our Home in Regina

Coming into a new country – you are faced with the decision: “Should I buy or rent?” Our decision depended solely on the fact that we needed stability, preferred paying a mortgage versus renting, and having a place we could call “our home”. A mortgage seemed like a better option and a better use of our savings. We used money saved from our survival funds and extra savings from our jobs for a down payment. Researching the importance of having a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) was also crucial for us. We opened our RRSP account as soon as we started working and set up direct debit contributions into the RRSP account. RRSPs can help you save for retirement, save taxes and you can withdraw from an RRSP account for a down payment under the first time Home Buyer’s Plan. This withdrawal helped us with extra wriggle room for buying new furniture and paying lawyer fees. A first-time home buyer can withdraw up to $25,000 from their RRSP account without worrying about taxes as long as they pay back the withdrawn amount within 12 years. We managed to get keys to our new home in July 2019!

We Are Still Unfinished

Financial literacy is a critical life skill. I was lucky enough to learn a lot by working for a credit union and could pass it down to my husband. We often wonder how things would have shaped up differently if my career path took me to a different profession. We try to financially educate every new Canadian we come across and try to make the transition easy for them. Our friends believe we have a story with a happy ending. We believe that we are still learning the fine skills of being financially healthy and staying on track while continuing to do what we love – traveling, camping, and living each day as it comes!

If you are a new Canadian and are on your own journey, I wish you the best of luck. If you have any questions – don’t hesitate to reach out to a Conexus financial advisor who are here to help you out, every step of the way.