For this year’s instalment of NWT Literacy Week, a territorial organization is asking every resident – young and old – to think about money.
“Each year we take a week to think about how literacy impacts our lives,” said Katie Randall, youth and adult services co-ordinator with the NWT Literacy Council in Yellowknife. “With finance, there’s this whole other set of terminology and skills that people need.”
Randall said her organization is all about promoting different types and understanding of literacies, and that handling money requires basic skills like being able to read and count, but also involves other expertise.
Instead of the 15 minutes of reading the NWT Literacy Council usually promotes for the week, the organization is encouraging everyone in the NWT to take 15 minutes to think or talk about finances between Sept. 22-28.
“It can be anything from playing monopoly with your family, to reading a book about it, to spending some time checking your online banking,” said Randall. “There are a whole bunch of resources on our website to help get you started.”
Two of the biggest issues Randall said she and the council are asked about are how to talk to kids about money, and to whom to go to ask questions about finances.
“For kids, it can be tough, especially now when so may of them never see cash – just a magic plastic card their parents swipe at the grocery store to get stuff,” said Randall. “It’s a pretty abstract concept and, if they can’t see the money going in and out, it can be hard to help them understand.”
The NWT Literacy Council has resources about talking to children of various ages about money and how to introduce the topic from a young age.
Randall suggested setting up a store-like environment in the home to practise making transactions and giving change.
Hay River’s resident financial coach Shelley Maher said some of the most common problems she sees with people when it comes to finances are a lack of communication and understanding between partners when it comes to money, not having bank accounts set up to fit specific needs, and creating realistic budgets.
“You can’t go on a budget diet,” she said. “They just don’t work. Like normal diets, you end up quitting or cheating because the system doesn’t fit your life.”
Maher believes that, before individuals and families even attempt to “fix their finances,” they should figure out what their priorities are and make sure that any plan they create actually fits their lifestyle.
“If you like shopping and shoes, great,” she said. “Make sure you budget for that. Don’t just cut it out because it’s not a necessity. Your finances are a great opportunity to take stock of what is really important to you and figure out how to make it happen.”
Maher said gaining an understanding of expenses that come up less-than-monthly and budgeting for them regularly is key to financial stability, citing things like vacations and trips for children’s sporting events as two of the most common in Hay River.
“Some people here have to plan to go to Newfoundland twice a year,” she said. “Priorities change between people and situations.”
Maher said most people skip right over the first and most important step when it comes to planning how they handle their money, going straight to a restrictive budget and becoming overwhelmed by the jargon and abstract concepts she went to school to fully understand.
“You have to start with who you are and what you want,” she said. “And you have to set up your money system to really work for and honour yourself.”
— Sarah Ladik