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Are we thriving or merely surviving? New CPA Canada study examines the state of Canadians’ finances in today’s turbulent times


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A recent survey conducted by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) indicates that many Canadians are treading water financially after more than two years of pandemic and economic turmoil. The Thriving or Surviving study uncovers the kitchen table issues that confront Canadians daily, revealing how the country is coping with concerns such as debt, savings, emergency funds and financial literacy.

Overall, roughly one-in-four Canadians (27 per cent) feel worse off financially than they did a year ago, meanwhile just over one-in-three (34 per cent) are optimistic that they’ll be better off financially a year from now. Money-related stress remains high, with almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of Canadians agreeing that they worry about money.

Debt is causing financial fright

Almost half (49 per cent) of Canadians have debt and roughly two thirds (68 per cent) of those with debt are “concerned” about it. One-in-four Canadians have carried forward a credit card balance in the past year and a similar proportion (23 per cent) plan to do this over the next month. Other debt debacles include:

  • More than half of Canadians (61 per cent) who have borrowed money to cover day-to-day expenses over the last two years have yet to pay it back.
  • Nearly half of Canadians (45 per cent) have borrowed some money over the past year. Of this group, 22 per cent have borrowed from banks and 18 per cent have borrowed from family.
  • A whopping three-in-five of those who are under the age of 65 and have a mortgage or other debts don’t think it will be paid off by the time they turn 65.

“Being in debt is frightening and can make you feel like there’s no way out – but there is,” said Doretta Thompson, CPA Canada’s financial literacy leader. “If you are struggling financially, there’s no shame in asking for help and there are several free CPA Canada financial literacy resources and non-profit organizations that exist to help Canadians thrive financially.”

Canadians are on thin ice financially

When it comes to emergency funds and savings, The Thriving or Surviving study found that Canadians are cutting it fine. Strikingly, half (50 per cent) of the country would not be able to come up with  $2,500 in a pinch. Almost two in five (38 per cent) can’t come up with $1,000 and about one-in-four (26 per cent) can’t even come up with $500 during an emergency without borrowing or selling something. Additionally, only a little over half of Canadians (54 per cent) say they have an emergency fund stashed away.

Meanwhile, saving money was mentioned most often as a cause of financial stress for 47 per cent of Canadians; respondents cited they are saving 10 per cent of their after-tax income on average and as many as one third of Canadians are not saving anything after taxes.​

Making the grade

Despite walking a thin line financially, 78 per cent of Canadians graded themselves an ‘A’ ‘B’ or ‘C’ on their financial report cards and feel confident they have the knowledge and skills needed to make the right choices when it comes to saving, managing debt, investing and budgeting.

Here’s how the country nets out when asked to assign themselves a letter grade based on their personal financial skills:

  • Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) end up in the middle – 31 per cent mark themselves with a B and an equal number grade themselves a C
  • Giving themselves top marks with an A is 16 per cent
  • Just eight per cent admit they are failing (F grade)

“There appears to be a disconnect between Canadians’ financial behaviours and how confident they feel about their financial skills and knowledge,” continued Thompson. “Most believe they have the knowledge to make the right decisions when it comes to personal finances, but some key indicators around the state of debt and savings point in a different direction.”

If you’re having trouble managing your money, learn how to deal with debt and take control of your finances with expert knowledge in order to thrive and not just survive. CPA Canada offers many free tips and resources to help Canadians improve their understanding of money and make responsible financial decisions. Its catalogue of financial literacy sessions is available online, including workshops and education materials for all life-stages. There is also a free e-book available to help people cope after job loss and get themselves back on track - Survive and thrive: Move ahead financially after losing your job.

Survey Methodology

These are the findings of an Ipsos survey conducted on behalf of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada. Fieldwork was conducted between March 24 and April 4, 2022. A total of n=2,000 Canadians aged 18+ participated in the survey which was fielded via the Ipsos’ online omnibus. The combined data has been weighted by age, gender, education and region to ensure the sample composition reflects the Canadian population. The precision of Ipsos online surveys is calculated via a credibility interval. In this case, the sample is considered accurate to within +/- 2.5 percentage points had all Canadians aged 18+ been surveyed. A background document can be found online at: cpacanada.ca/thrive.

About Canada’s CPAs

The Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation is used by more than 220,000 professional accountants around the world. Canadian CPAs are valued for their financial and tax expertise, strategic thinking, business insight, management skills and leadership. Canadian CPAs serve in senior roles in Canada and abroad and are recognized as having the highest standards of professionalism and integrity. They work in all sectors of the economy: public practice, industry, government, not for profit and academia. cpacanada.ca

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