Denise Deveau asked the question in the Vancouver Sun today, “When does a university degree really pay off?”

Another TD study is cited that estimates the average cost of an undergraduate degree in Canada to be $84,000 (including tuition, books and living expenses). These expenses also go up every year. With the exception of engineering and medical degrees, society has done a poor job of linking the job market to the educational system.

To make matters worse, a recent Workopolis survey with senior executives reported that 67% had trouble finding candidates with the basic life skills like teamwork, a positive attitude, work ethic and communications.

This impacts the parents of the underemployed/unemployed youth as many stay at home longer and remain dependent upon their parents financially.

The drop in real estate prices and sales impede the ability for parents and seniors to access their equity while many young first-home purchasers have been squeezed out of the market by stiffer mortgage regulations for insured mortgages.

Mental illness came up this week in the Vancouver Sun, too. According to  Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco, a federal study showed there are as many as 800,000 well-educated workers in Canada who suffer from mental disabilities.

In many cases the illness prevents people from working. A 2011 study conducted by RiskAnalytica for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, reported that just absenteeism and presenteeism (being physically present but otherwise unable to be fully productive) due to mental health problems cost Canadian businesses $6-billion annually.

In addition to this lost productivity, employee assistance programs, Healthcare benefits and disability costs factor into the costs for mental health care as does the medication, psychologists and specialized treatments. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) appears to afflict a wide spectrum of people who are not covered by government-funded health care and approach their employers’ benefits programs for help.

According to many experts, mental health problems affect one in five Canadians every year. Most have led normal working and family lives, but also struggle daily to overcome the symptoms of their mental health problems.

This is a lot of information to digest in one week. However, money issues dominate the social and economic discussion today. We need to realize that more and more people will need relief from impossible debt problems that predictably will result from unemployment, underemployment and mental health issues.

Credit Counselling can help!

Everyone’s situation was different – a young single mom with an infant, her mother, struggling couples where women were left to manage the domestic home-front finances, single and divorced women.

One shouldn’t be too surprised. In the past when I have been involved with public seminars regarding money, you could assume that half the audience had been separated or divorced.

Another interesting statistic from the past – many women wait until the New Year to get out of unhealthy relationships and need the tax return to hire a lawyer.

The entire group asked excellent questions, offered valuable opinions on their expenses and were eager to find a better way to manage their money – or to receive confirmation that they are doing okay.

This was excellent timing as Statistics Canada just released the most recent results on their study of household expenses. You will note in the following list of household expenditures that the average Canadian spends, annually, $55,151 (excluding taxes) on food, housing, clothing etc. as listed below.

Average household expenditure
2010 2011
Total expenditures 71,282 73,457
Total current consumption 53,724 55,151
Food expenditures 7,823 7,795
Shelter 14,997 15,198
Principal accommodation 13,598 13,991
Other accommodation 1,399 1,208
Household operation 3,846 4,135
Household furnishings and equipment 1,957 2,027
Clothing and accessories 3,455 3,360
Transportation 11,059 11,229
Health care 2,214 2,211
Personal care 936 1,082
Recreation 3,576 3,711
Education 1,152 1,216
Reading materials and other printed matter 198 221
Tobacco products and alcoholic beverages 1,198 1,199
Games of chance 147 166
Miscellaneous expenditures 1,167 1,602
Income taxes 11,936 12,442
Personal insurance payments and pension contributions 4,013 4,191
Gifts of money, alimony and contributions to charity 1,609 1,673


As discussed at our workshop, averages are deceptive as they include the highest and lowest incomes. And, in the above chart, we know nothing about the family size, if there are children – in fact; child care isn’t even factored into the study.

However, the research is helpful as it outlines what people actually spend their money on.

Other points of interest include their observation that Canadians spent 2.7% more in 2011 than in 2010 on goods and services.

RRSP’s came up in our discussion. This is a bit more complicated as RRSP’s do represent savings – that is to say, a surplus after all the essential costs of living are met. Public policy regards RRSPs as essential as they are now exempted from a bankruptcy proceeding (under certain regulations). Moreover, governments along with financial advisors constantly encourage people to have a retirement savings plan.

More on this later, but first I wish to thank everyone for having the courage to come out last week and participate in my ongoing dialogue with Women and Money.

More seminars are planned and discussion groups are being organized for the future.

For your information I leave you with the RRSP limits since 1990.


RRSP $ limit

1990 (Old limits)
1991 $11,500
1992 $12,500
1993 $12,500
1994 $13,500
1995 $14,500
1996 $13,500
1997 $13,500
1998 $13,500
1999 $13,500
2000 $13,500
2001 $13,500
2002 $13,500
2003 $14,500
2004 $15,500
2005 $16,500
2006 $18,000
2007 $19,000
2008 $20,000
2009 $21,000
2010 $22,000
2011 $22,450
2012 $22,970
2013 $23,820
2014 $24,270

As a financial expert I believe financial independence means being able to support oneself, having your own income, and to be able to sustain a decent quality of life or standard of living without needing financial support from anyone else. Not only does this mean having a sufficient income source, it also means being knowledgeable and able to manage personal finances – from bills and debt payments to savings commitments to investing and everything in between.

Many married women are financially dependent on their spouse, and many single women are financially dependent on either credit, or their parents/family/friends, or all of the above. Why is this more of an issue for women than it is for men? The answer is simple – women generally do not make as much money as men do – even for the same work!

In Canada, as in many countries, there is a gender wage gap in favor of males. According to the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, in 2012 women’s weekly earnings were equal to 82.3% of men’s weekly earnings in full-time employment (averaged over all fields). For all employment including part-time, women’s weekly earnings averaged only 75.3% of men’s wages.

Reportedly in 2008 dual-earning relationships, 65% of women worked roughly the same amount of hours as did their spouse, but only 27% of them received equal weekly earnings and 57% received less earnings than their partners.

When women put in equal hours, they are often paid less than men — this is due to less women working in higher paid fields like science and technology, as well as some sexist wage gaps still existing within the same positions. And since women are the ones bearing children and giving birth, they often work less hours outside of the home than men due to pregnancy and parenting. Working less hours outside of the home, combined with earning less for those hours than men do, causes women more likely to be financially dependent, on men, debt or others in order to get by.

The consequences of being financially dependent can be damaging to relationships, self-esteem, and overall happiness, on top of the financial disaster should the safety net fail. For example, according to the National Marriage Project (US), a woman’s standard of living can drop up to 27% after divorce, while a man’s standard may rise by 10%.

Financial independence often will allow a woman to follow her own dreams in life, have a higher level of self-respect, and attract more respect from others. An independent women has personal safety in knowing that through her own abilities she can survive without depending on others. Priceless!

Here are a few steps to financial independence:

Maintain Earning Ability

If you are currently employed, think about what you can do to improve your employee value and earning potential, and work toward that goal constantly. Stay abreast of new skills and technologies in your field, take on new responsibilities, and never become complacent of your work and your salary.

While out of the workforce for parental leave, stay employable by updating your skills and renewing any of your required licenses and certifications. Stay connected with your industry community through networking and reading related publications.

Or start a new career or consider opening your own business that you are passionate about. Begin with going back to school or taking some night courses. Volunteer or intern within your desired field to get your foot in the door.

Find a mentor. Find someone in your previous, current or new field of employment to help guide you with making the best decisions to success in re-entering the workforce, or advancing your career. She/he may know the most desired courses to have under your belt, the best companies to apply for a starter job, and be able to give you a good reference to the right people to get your career going. Keeping in mind a good mentor is NOT a YES person, they are there to help you grow and yes, growing can be painful – but worth every second of it.

If it has been a long time since you last applied for work, consider hiring a professional interview coach and/or resume writer. It could be worth the investment to save yourself time job hunting and get a good, well-paying position. Again, not a YES person, get a professional.

Take Financial Ownership

Get knowledgeable about personal finance – be involved with household money management, financial planning and investment decisions.

  • understand your rights and your responsibilities when it comes to money and debt
  • know what accounts and debts you have
  • know your and your partner’s credit report and/or credit rating
  • know how to file your income tax return and what your family’s return looks like
  • know your regular expenses and financial/investment commitments


Reduce debt and increase savings, as a safeguard for the future. If you are creating debt while ignoring your savings, you are putting a financial burden on your future. In the event of divorce or other unforeseen income loss you would be in serious trouble. So take that stress off your shoulders by spending responsibly now – getting your finances in a safe place that doesn’t rely on future income to save the day. If you need help with managing your debt and becoming debt free, consider contacting a licensed credit counsellor.

For guidance on taking ownership of your personal finances, join our Maven Mentor community. Our Mavens are women who have become secure with their money relationship, are experts in their field, and are looking to provide inspiration and knowledge to other women.