Staff Reflections: Caroline (Financial Literacy Program Coordinator)

Change at will.

I took over running the Financial Literacy Program at the United Way of Bruce Grey in 2020. When I speak with a client, we look at their finances in a holistic way to help deal with the issue that is most bugging them and other issues that may help ease some pressure. In 2021, 26% of my clients were coming to me to talk about debt. Debt was the 2nd most cited issue from clients after wanting help with budgeting. In 2023, 36% of clients cited debt as their main financial issue, now the 1st most cited issue.

Debt is heavy. It weighs on our emotions, our physical body, our relationships, and in so many other ways. I am seeing more and more people who are using credit to pay for basic living expenses. With a sudden drop in income, the debt we already carry becomes even heavier.

I recently met with someone who had just been laid off. We talked through their monthly expenses, income with work versus Employment Insurance, their assets (the things they own), and their debts (the things they owe). We talked about taking a Crisis Budget approach. This means reviewing all expenses and stripping away any non-essential costs. This helps decrease the amount of new debt you take on when you have a drop in income. It is a short-term approach to budgeting. We also talked about some programs they are eligible for that can help lower some of their existing bills. And we talked about their debt.

We talked through the details of each debt; the creditor, whether it is secured or unsecured, the balance owing, and what monthly payments, if any, they made in the past month. And with all that information, we were able to talk about all the options available; negotiating with their creditors themselves, taking a consolidation loan, using a debt repayment program, credit counselling, a Consumer Proposal, and Bankruptcy. I provided general information on debt options and then introduced the person to trusted experts, a Credit Counsellor at Credit Canada, and an Insolvency Trustee. These experts will give this person information on what these options look like in this person’s specific situation. Talking with the experts doesn’t commit anyone to doing those options; it provides specific information for the person to make an informed decision for themselves.

In this case, I felt so satisfied and happy to share realistic information with this person. The relief in their voice after talking about options and learning about some programs that can help lower some bills was clear. So often, financial issues are so big and scary and overwhelming. Talking through the issues and having the situation laid out on paper helps take the fear from inside you to the outside so you can look at it and see it isn’t the massive three-horned monster that has been haunting you; it is a small two-horned monster that can be handled.