“First of all, be really clear about what matters to you, so you don’t spend money on things that add little real value to your life,” she says. “And secondly, look at your spending patterns to see where you may be wasting money. You could divert some of that money into a savings plan.”
When you’re able to reduce your expenses by giving something up or getting a better deal, financial writer and television personality Gail Vaz-Oxlade says the key is to actually bank your savings and not spend it on something else. “Ultimately it’s about squirrelling away those dollars. To this day, if I have $600 left at the end of the month it goes into savings.”
Engen also says being frugal doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. As the main income earner when her children were young, she took full advantage of the public library and local community centres that offered all kinds of free or inexpensive activities.
“You just have to do a little bit of research to see what’s available and what you may enjoy. If you like concerts and sporting events, by volunteering you can often get free admission,” she says.
There may be periods in your life where it is more difficult to contribute to an RRSP (called RSP at Tangerine), but Vaz-Oxlade says the earlier you start, the more flexibility you have and the more room for interruption. “I opted to pay for a nanny for ten years instead of adding to my retirement savings, but once my children were older I was able to catch up by making accelerated RRSP contributions.”
Vaz-Oxlade also believes that everyone should have an emergency fund equal to six months of essential expenses to help keep the family finances on an even keel in difficult times. “It should be cash in a high interest savings account so it is easily accessible.”
But she is adamant that the only emergencies that warrant dipping into the fund are job loss, illness, a death in the family or any situation where you’re unable to work for some period of time. “New tires for your car are not an emergency. They are an expense you can budget for.”
If you do have a financial setback, Engen says that in order to get back on track, you’ll have to pay down debt and reduce all unnecessary expenses. “You may have to sell something. You might have to get another part-time job to bring in extra money.” Once you’re back on your feet, she says your first priority should be to rebuild your emergency fund.
Saving over the course of a lifetime to pay for a leisurely retirement can require discipline. However Vaz-Oxlade thinks it can be as easy and automatic as brushing your teeth. “We don’t brush our teeth so we can keep them to age 80. We just do it. To save regularly, you need to make it an essential part of your routine.”