Canadians can’t walk the personal finance talk

By Michelle Schriver | August 5, 2022 | Last updated on December 4, 2023
2 min read
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Building wealth isn’t rocket science, writes industry executive Sam Sivarajan in his 2022 book Making Your Money Work: The Secrets to Financial Health. “It is simple, but it is not easy.”

Given the financial and economic uncertainty of the last couple of years, that axiom hits home harder than ever. A recent survey reflects the inevitable results: Many Canadians think they understand personal finances, but they have little proof to claim such understanding.

In the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada’s “Thriving or Surviving” study, survey respondents gave themselves passing grades on their financial skills despite a lack of supporting evidence.

More than three-quarters (78%) of those surveyed gave themselves grades of A, B or C for skills such as saving, managing debt, investing and budgeting. Yet, the survey revealed plenty of room for improvement in personal finance skills.

For example, many respondents lacked emergency savings — only 54% said they have an emergency fund — and 50% said they wouldn’t be able to come up with $2,500 in a pinch.

About half of respondents (49%) had debt, and more than two-thirds of those in debt said they were concerned about it.

Overall, one-quarter of respondents (27%) felt worse off financially than they did a year ago, and only about one-third (34%) were optimistic that they’d be better off financially in a year.

Money stress was high, with almost two-thirds of respondents (65%) saying they worry about money. The most cited cause of financial stress was saving (47%), with one-third of respondents not saving at all.

On a positive note, 43% were saving at least something each month, and respondents’ average savings rate was 10% of their after-tax incomes.

That’s the kind of applied knowledge that may come easier as a result of advice and the associated accountability. As Sivarajan writes, “Advice allows you to apply … knowledge directly and usefully to your specific situation.”

CPA Canada’s online survey of 2,000 Canadians aged 18 and older was conducted by Ipso between March 24 and April 4, 2022. The polling industry’s professional body, the Canadian Research Insights Council, says online surveys can’t be assigned a margin of error because they don’t randomly sample the population.

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Michelle Schriver

Michelle is’s managing editor. She has worked with the team since 2015 and been recognized by the National Magazine Awards and SABEW for her reporting. Email her at