Goodbye snow … hello debt? How to manage your spending instincts as the weather gets warmer
Snow isn’t entirely out of the forecast yet for most of Canada, but listen to marketers, and you’d think spring is in full swing. According to the ads, it’s already time to think about getting your lawn summer-ready, buy patio furniture, switch out your winter tires and — while you’re at it — why not trade in your clunker for a hot new ride?
Summer may be the season most Canadians look forward to, but for Canadian wallets it’s a time of dread.
Over half of Canadians polled last summer on behalf of Bank of Montreal said their summer spending habits have “negative long-term effects on their savings.”
More than a quarter said they resort to debt to afford their summer expenses. Another 27 per cent admitted they dig into their savings during the warmer months, while 13 per cent said they stop saving and put debt repayment on ice for the season.
Last year, the average Canadian planned to spend $1,346 on travel, dining, recreational activities and things like barbecues and summer sports equipment, according to a CIBC poll. The previous year, that figure stood at $1,766.
It’s easier to succumb to the temptation of an impulse buy when we’re out and about on a sunny day rather than hurrying past window shops in the winter slosh.
And we don’t just spend more because there’s more to do when the weather is nice. Clear skies tend to make us more shopping-prone, research shows.
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“Sunlight is the weather variable that appears to have the predominant effect on both mood … and consumer spending,” reads a study by researchers at the University of Alberta and the University of Winnipeg.
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Watching monthly expenses rise as the mercury goes up is something that happens even to the pros.
“My spending definitely goes up in the summer,” Jason Heath, managing director at Toronto-based Objective Financial Partners, told Global News.
But there are ways to embrace spring and summer without ravaging your finances.
Plan for the seasonal spending surge
If you know you’re a summer spender, the best way to deal with it is to “budget for it,” said Heath.
Lots of people face higher or lower spending during the year. Things like property tax bills and heating and cooling costs can account for dramatic swings in your monthly budget, noted Heath.
The key is to be aware of those variations and plan around them. So if you know you tend to shell out more in warmer months, you can ramp up your savings or debt repayments during the winter, said Heath.
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Have kids? Think about a ‘summer activities fund’
It can become especially difficult to stay on budget when you have kids, said Heath.
“In the winter, your typical weekend with the kids might be watching a movie and playing indoors,” he said. In the summer, though, there are amusement parks, petting zoos and trips to the farm, he added.
Even if you’re not going on vacation, the spending opportunities abound and enforcing financial austerity on the little ones doesn’t seem fair.
But you can save ahead for summer fun.
“A summer fund is a great opportunity to set aside $2,000 for seasonal activities,” said Heath.
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Set up an automatic savings program
Planning ahead for summer spending works well for those who thrive on budgeting. But what about those of us who get cross-eyed just glancing at an Excel sheet?
If want to stay on track financially, but would rather look at your finances as little as possible, setting up automatic transfers from your chequing to savings accounts might be the way to go.
“Setting up an [automatic savings program] doesn’t mean you can’t have summer fun. It simply means you’ll be paying yourself first — one of the most important principles of saving — so you can save money year-round regardless of what season it is,” according to personal finance guru Preet Banerjee.
The trick is to spend only what you’re left with, without dipping into credit cards and lines of credit.
Plan for your vacation and avoid exchange rate shockers
Like a summer fund, a vacation fund can help you gradually save for your dream holiday travel, said Heath.
It’s also a good idea to pre-pay as much of your vacation expenses as you can, so there will be fewer opportunities for busting your budget while you’re away, he added.
And if obsessing about daily expenses isn’t your idea of R&R, consider relying on cash, rather than credit cards, for everyday vacation expenses, added Heath. Even if you aren’t collecting receipts, keeping tabs on how much you’re spending is easier if you’re carrying cash rather than pulling out the plastic.
Finally, if you’re travelling abroad, make sure to buy foreign currency in advance to avoid exchange rate shockers.
If you’re heading south of the border, it’s easy to set up a bank account where you can build up your vacation fund directly in U.S. dollars, noted Heath.
Saving up in other foreign currencies via a Canadian account can be tricky. But if you’re taking recurrent trips to the same overseas destination, it might be worth setting up a bank account there for you vacation funds, said Heath.
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