53% of Canadians are struggling to pay their bills: poll

By Maleeha Sheikh

More than half of Canadians say they can’t keep up with the cost of living, according to a new Angus Reid Institute poll.

Those polled say they couldn’t manage a sudden expense of more than $1,000 if it were to come up. So which bills are proving to be most stressful and how can you get out of this tight situation? We get some advice from the experts.

“During the pandemic it’s been a real challenge trying to balance the chequebook,” says Barbara Accogli, the co-owner of Port Credit Pizza e Dolci.

Accogli opened up the restaurant in Port Credit four months ago, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We own a business and our challenge is to make sure we always have enough funds to have those rainy-day moments. The rainy days come in sometimes and you don’t have the funds,” she says.

It’s a common theme for Canadians. According to the survey where 1,622 people were polled, one in seven Canadians say they couldn’t deal with a surprise bill of any amount right now. Three out of four say they’ve modified their spending in recent months. Seven out of 10 polled say money is a source of stress.

“You have to budget every day. Figure out what you’re spending, see where you can cut out on your spending. If you don’t know how to budget properly you won’t be able to survive in Canada,” one man tells CityNews.

The cost of food, gas, and energy in particular are adding to household bills.

Three-quarters of Canadians say they have modified their spending in recent months. Discretionary spending (53 per cent), major purchases (41 per cent), extra trips in the car (31 per cent) and vacations (29 per cent) are some of the things Canadians say they are skipping out on recently. One in five (22 per cent) say savings have been deprioritized.

Finance expert Kelly Keehn says results from the survey aren’t surprising but they are alarming. She says for many it may become unmanageable.

“Especially when you look at how thin the margins are of Canadian with their savings, what they’ve had to endure during Covid, maybe themselves or a spouse or adult child that is still not fully back in the workforce and so navigating that loss of income,” Keehn says.

Canadians actually saved a record amount during the pandemic, but a Royal Bank analysis finds those gains weren’t evenly distributed. Wealthy households accumulated cash, while lower-income ones likely used money to pay off existing debts.

For those with debts to pay, Keehn has this advice: “See where you can trim the fat but not on the simple pleasures that are not going to move the needle like going out to the movies with your family or getting that cup of coffee. Look to see if you’ve got high interest rate credit card debt, can you get on the phone with your bank, see if you can get that into a lower interest rate product.”

“If you’re missing payments, this is a big one, then get in front of a non-profit credit counsellor or insolvency trustee. You don’t have to go down that route but you want to at least know your options before it’s too late,” Kheen advises.

The finance expert adds if you’re really strapped for cash, try talking to your bank to see if you can skip a payment on your mortgage. She says it won’t hurt your credit score and may give you enough cash to deal with some short-term financial struggles. The main piece of advice: Don’t ignore your financial situation. Do something about it.

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