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Monday, September 27, 2021

Pattie Lovett-Reid: Before heading to the polls, implement a financial safety net

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HUNTSVILLE, ONT. — Whether you want to go back to polls or not, we are destined to do so in September.

The timing, many would argue makes a lot of sense, as the damage done to many household balance sheets over the last year has largely been undone.

The central banks globally have been printing huge sums of money, government fiscal programs have been over the top and Canadians have less debt than prior to the pandemic. In fact, credit card balances have been paid down and many are sitting on buckets of cash.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadians saved a surplus of $212 billion in 2020 compared to just $18 billion in 2019. Translated: that is just over $5,000 per person in savings compared to just under $500 the previous year.

That is a lot of money itching to be spent.

The stock market has gone up approximately 18 per cent this year, the housing market has been on fire and while there is fear of the Delta variant lingering, the sense of financial euphoria has been compromised only a little.

The government is banking on the fact you won’t bank your money. Earning next to nothing in savings vehicles or Guaranteed Investment Certificates alone will encourage Canadians to spend or even invest it despite growing concern over high valuations.

You might argue the amount of stimulus pumped into the system was overkill and while we don’t know that for sure, we know it was extraordinary.

The average Canadian is likely feeling pretty good as the economy begins to heat up, the vaccination rate increases and the Canadian Recovery Benefit (CRB) extends beyond the election.

For smaller business owners who have benefited from the government safety nets such a loans and rent relief, the bigger issue for many is how Canadians will transition from government support and saving, to spending money.

Business owners are frustrated trying to recruit employees back to the workforce. On the surface, it doesn’t appear we have a labour shortage, we are still seeing 325,000 net jobs lost due to the pandemic. Nor is it really a wage shortage. Anecdotally, people have told me they simply aren’t going back to work until the summer is over and the CRB runs out.

Small business owners hanging onto the lifeline of government support worry what will happen when the money dries up. Will alternatives like a five to 10-year loan program at zero interest be part of the transition or even a waiving of GST to encourage people to spend. More clarity is needed and business owners will be listening to platform plans closely.

What is on the horizon?

My hope is that Canadians recognize the unique opportunity they have to use excess cash they have built up to pay down debt. Now is the time to fortify your household balance sheet. Be a little selfish and build yourself up financially.

Short term, the government will continue to offer up some support, central banks will continue to do their part in this low interest rate environment and the massive build in savings will provide Canadians with a once in a lifetime opportunity to deploy this cash wisely.

Of course, there will be some who need more help than others. And a very real risk is the virus lingers longer. Only a small portion of world’s population is actually vaccinated while inflation will likely tick higher.

Bottom line, you can only control what you actually can control and that is to put the massive amount of savings to good use aligned to your unique family financial situation.

The job of the next Parliament won’t be smooth sailing. We still have jobs to recoup, sectors to be rebuilt and stimulus to be withdrawn.

However, I believe many Canadians are welcoming the re-opening of the economies and there are reasons to be hopeful. Just remember you don’t have to single handily prop up the economy.

A more prudent approach may be to build for the future.

We have seen how the role of government has changed and its influence on society is increasing in a powerful way. At the same time, government-country relationships are frayed and increasingly more challenging.

But we don’t need to over complicate things. There will be talk of large government debt levels but nobody really cares right now because every country around the globe is in the same situation.

However, a word of caution: you can’t run your household finances like the government does. Why? You just don’t have the same sort of safety net in place.

Now is the time to put that safety net in place.

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