Graduating to financial adulthood is not about taking a university course or living entirely debt free. It also isn’t about your age. The essence of being a financial adult is that you set your priorities and you are in control of your finances and money, instead of your money controlling your life (or lack of a life). You’re proactive versus reactive and out of control. If you do these well, or even know how to do some of these, congratulations! You’ve graduated!
You have at least one week of income as a basic preliminary emergency fund.
For anything expensive, you shop around before taking on any new debt. This includes shopping for the best interest rate, examining your insurance, scrutinizing your cell phone contract, and monitoring your credit card interest rate if you usually carry a balance. Kids impulse-buy until they’re out of money; financial adults don’t tend to spend until they’re broke.
You have an RRSP and/or Tax Free Savings Account and make a regular monthly contribution. It doesn’t matter how small it is – at least you’ve started and have traction.
Whether you’re single or married, rich or broke, you have a properly completed will. It may be a $20 do it yourself kit if you’re single, or a lawyer-prepared one if it’s more complex and you have kids.
You know the actual amount of your net take-home pay every month. You can’t control your money if you don’t even know the exact amount you net. Don’t keep talking about your gross pay as if you had that to spend.
You spend less than your monthly take-home pay. You may (at the start) have 10 cents left, or $1,000 – but you’re spending less than you earn. Financial adults figure out how to pay for something, and then buy it, not the other way around.
You have a proper filing system for your financial records. It may only be six large envelopes for each of the last six years, or a ton of file folders (if you’re super organized by choice). Kids get to say “I lost it.” Financial adults don’t have that option.
You have at least two specific and measurable financial goals. Saving more in your RRSPs, or paying off your credit card are not financial goals – that’s a hope and a dream. It needs to be specific: Save $150 a month in RRSPs is specific and measurable. Reduce your credit card balance by $200 or more every month until it’s paid off is a measurable and specific goal that significantly boosts your odds that it will happen.
You do not lock yourself into longer-term fixed expenses by signing contracts for cell phone plans, gym memberships, alarm systems, electricity contracts, etc.
You define “I can afford it” as the ability to pay cash for something, and not by the amount of the monthly payment.