Almost 90 years since the term “nuclear family” made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary, Canada’s households have evolved into a diverse array of family structures.
Today, while married couples continue to be the predominant type of family structure in the country, their group now also includes a growing number of same-sex spouses. Common-law couples are increasing in number, as are families led by a single parent. By contrast, couples with children still living at home now account for a smaller percentage of Canadian families.
Regardless of the household makeup, there’s one thing all Canadian families have in common: the need for a solid financial plan that takes into account life’s major changes and milestones.
“Regardless of family dynamics or structure, what seems to be a constant is that everyone needs a plan,” says Lee Bennett, senior vice president, financial planning at TD Waterhouse. “Because every situation is unique, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and your plan should be tailored to your family’s specific needs and goals.”
As families advance through life’s many stages – the birth of a child, a job promotion or, conversely, a job loss – they need to ensure their financial plan is updated to take these major life events into account, says Ms. Bennett.
This isn’t always as simple as taking out another insurance policy or putting an extra $100 a month into an RRSP. The birth of a child, for example, means planning for a host of new expenses, which may include moving to a larger home, purchasing a vehicle, bigger grocery bills and post-secondary education.
A certified financial planner can work with families to help simplify the process and distil all the variables into a clear and realistic action plan, says Ms. Bennett. She notes that today’s financial consumers are more knowledgeable and like to do research on the Internet before making decisions. But while it’s good to be a proactive consumer, the wealth of information available today can be overwhelming even to sophisticated investors.
“Working with a qualified financial planner means having an expert who can take all the information and bring it down to what’s important to the individual – what it means to them, their situation and how they can put into place a saving program that still ensures good cash flow,” she says. “Most importantly, it means having someone who can create action items that are focused around the financial plan.”
Financial planners often bring new information and perspectives to the table, says Ms. Bennett. A couple planning for their child’s education, for instance, may decide to open a Registered Education Savings Plan with monthly contributions based on what they think they can afford. But with the guidance of a financial planner, the same couple can create a more accurate plan based on factors such as whether or not their child might pursue post-graduate studies, go to school in the United States or abroad, and perhaps work part-time or during summer breaks.
“It isn’t always as straightforward as just putting money away into an RESP,” says Ms. Bennett, “and a planner can devise a plan customized to your financial goals.”
Successful planners, she says, take the time to understand their clients’ goals and check in regularly – at least once a year – to update the plan based on evolving situations and goals. But clients also need to take an active role in keeping their plan up-to-date by letting their planner know about major life changes, says Ms. Bennett.
“A financial plan is not meant to be a one-time event,” she says. “It’s meant to be a starting point, a working document that continues to evolve as your life changes and evolves.”
Working with a financial planner sooner rather than later is key, but it’s never too late to start, she adds.
“If you start earlier, you have the benefit of more flexibility to explore various options with your planner,” says Ms. Bennett. “And once you’ve found the right planner, build a rapport and do your part to keep the relationship going.”
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“A financial plan is not meant to be a one-time event. It’s meant to be a starting point, a working document that continues to evolve as your life changes and evolves.”
In its latest census, taken in 2011, Statistics Canada counted 9.4 million families, up 5.5 per cent from 2006. Here’s what Canadian families look like today, and how they’ve changed over the last decade:
Married opposite-sex couples in 2001 versus 83.6% in 2001
Common-law opposite-sex couples in 2011 versus 15.9% in 2001
Married same-sex couples in 2011 versus 0.1% in 2006 (same-sex marriage became legal in Canada in 2005)
Lone-parent families in 2011 versus 15.7% in 2001
Couples with children living at home in 2011 versus 43.6% in 2001
Stepfamilies of all couple families with children in 2011, the first year stepfamilies were counted in the census
Multi-generational households percentage of all private households in 2011