Circumstances like these can “create a vicious cycle,” suggests Sellery. In addition to affecting sleep and job performance, money stress could impact close relationships and perhaps worsen a financial situation even further. He says that people dealing with financial struggles also experience a sense of stigma or shame. “I think it does a disservice to people who find themselves in that circumstance, and it doesn’t help to give them access to the resources and the support [they need] to make different choices.”
Statistics Canada reported that the “more vulnerable households increased their debt to make ends meet,” as inflation soared during 2022—those in the lowest income brackets had the highest increases in debt. The total consumer credit card balance rose over 15% year-over-year, surpassing $100 billion, due to increased usage and reliance on credit cards, according to the Equifax report.
What are the steps to paying off debt?
If you’re dealing with multiple sources of debt, Sellery says it’s important to start with a snapshot of your current financial situation.
First, create a chart or spreadsheet and fill in the lenders, the amounts you owe, the interest rates and the minimum monthly payments. Calculate the total amount you owe.
The second step is figuring out how you’re going to address the debt, he says. That might mean increasing your cash flow or cutting expenses. To cut expenses, Sellery recommends looking at ways to reduce your discretionary spending (a.k.a. spending on non-essentials other than rent or bills). To increase your income, consider taking on an extra shift at work, getting a second job or a side hustle, or renting out a unit in your house, for example. Once you have a surplus of funds (extra money you don’t need for essentials), you can start to pay off debt using either the avalanche (paying of highest interest debt first) or snowball method (pay off debt from lowest to highest amounts). (Read more about these two strategies to pay down debt.)
Where can you get help for debt?
If you are struggling financially or dealing with a high level of debt and don’t know what to do next, you have options. Sellery recommends either accessing your workplace employee assistance program (EAP) for financial counselling services, if you are employed, or getting a free financial assessment from a non-profit credit counselling agency, like Credit Canada, Credit Counselling Canada or the Credit Counselling Society.
Credit counselling agencies can connect you with services appropriate for your financial situation, and they can help you develop a plan to pay off your debt. At Credit Canada, Sellery says: “Counsellors are trained to identify the options that are available [to Canadians] and then provide recommendations.” Some of the solutions may include: negotiating loan interest rates with a lender, or creating a debt consolidation plan or a consumer proposal, depending on your circumstances and eligibility. (Some agencies charge a fee for these services.)
Where can you get help with stress and other mental health issues?
Sometimes, as Sellery mentioned, money struggles can be a symptom of mental health issues. If you are experiencing feelings of anxiety, depression or ongoing stress, consider reaching out for help. Your mental health can impact your ability to function and make it harder to work on improving your finances or accomplish everyday tasks. (See MoneySense’s guide to free and low-cost mental health resources.)