No vacation? Find serenity with these five financial wellness tips

Have you been thinking about money lately? Wondering where to find more? Thinking you could do a better job of managing the dollars you have? If so, you are in good company.

Between figuring out how to pay for bills that added up over December holidays, wishing for warmth or a vacation and looking at the beginning of tax season, this is a time of year when people are often prompted to take a closer look at their finances.

Canadians and money

Yet the picture we see when we look closer isn’t always good. Canadian households are holding record levels of debt, and savings rates continue to be low.

With less than 40 per cent of paid workers covered by a registered pension plan, saving for retirement is a critical challenge for many families.

Surveys show large portions of the population in Canada report they are financially stressed, and that this stress ripples out and negatively affects other aspects of their lives.

As a researcher in family economic health, colleagues and I have been researching the financial challenges and opportunities for Canadian adults in mid-life.

Our research shows that the more money family caregivers need to spend on the care needs of others, the worse their own personal financial, social and health outcomes are. It also points to the need to consider our own care needs as well as our families’ when we plan our financial futures.

The financial crisis of 2008-09 sparked increased interest in financial literacy worldwide. In Canada, the Task Force on Financial Literacy defined financial literacy as having the knowledge, skills and confidence to make responsible financial decisions.

Following on the work of the task force, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada consulted widely and developed a national strategy for financial literacy.

Now researchers are moving beyond the idea of financial literacy, which tends to focus on what we know about finances, to thinking about financial well-being or financial health — the outcome we want to achieve.

What is financial well-being?

An international authority on consumer finances, Elaine Kempson, defines financial well-being as the capacity to meet one’s current obligations comfortably and the resilience to maintain this capacity in the future.

That’s challenging for many reasons. We have to make decisions for today that are going to help us in a future with a lot of unknowns.

Children can be brought into financial discussions in age-appropriate ways. (Shutterstock)

It isn’t just financial knowledge that matters, but also what we are able to do with that knowledge in our economic and social environments.

Further, as research in behavioural economics is showing, our brains can get in the way. We think we are making perfectly rational, logical decisions when we aren’t.

Technological innovation in financial services (“fintech”) can be difficult to keep pace with and understand.

And, although there are lots of resources, it can be difficult to figure out which are appropriate for our own situation.

So if you’ve been finding it difficult to get control of your money and make the changes you want to make to improve your financial well-being, there are some good reasons it might be challenging.

While some people respond to a challenge by digging right in, others prefer to look the other way and hope it will all work out in the end.

However, when it comes to money, looking the other way can result in big problems — or at the very least, missed opportunities.

Tips for increasing financial well-being

Whether you feel overwhelmed by your finances and don’t know where to start, or you think things are pretty good but you’d like to make them better, it’s never too late to make a change.

Here are some tips and techniques to start improving financial well-being.

1. Spend less than you earn

Think about three big categories of money: spending for today, saving for the future and giving to the causes and organizations that matter to you and your family. When we spend less than we earn, we create the space to save and to give to others. Note: spending includes debt repayment!

2. Do the math

No one tool is best, but most of us could use a little help in making a budget, revising it as needed and tracking spending. Use what works for you, whether that’s a spreadsheet, an app, financial software or a pencil and paper. The best tools are the ones you use. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has some great information on budgeting and many other aspects of finances.

3. If possible, don’t do it alone

If you have a spouse or partner, work to be sure you are on the same page with financial decisions. Financial stress can be a significant source of tension in relationships. If you’re single, could you have a low-budget finance date or breakfast with a friend to compare notes?

And if you have kids, bring them into money conversations in age-appropriate ways. Research is showing parents can be important, positive financial role models for their children.

4. Save off the top

Arrange to have a set amount come out of your chequing account and go into a savings account each payday. Revise the amount as your pay changes over time. Aim to have three to six months worth of expenses in savings to cover emergencies. Investigate tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs) and registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) for longer-term financial goals.


Read more: How to determine what’s better – RRSPs or TFSAs?


5. File that tax return

Even if you don’t owe taxes, file that return!

Filing is the only way to get refundable tax credits like the GST/HST refund. Federal and provincial governments use the income on tax returns to establish eligibility for benefits and supports like the Canada Child Benefit.

Even if you don’t get a sunshine getaway this year, if you’re responsible and proactive right now, a piece of that serenity will be within reach through your ongoing wellness — and the occasional well-planned splurge.

Karen Duncan, Associate Professor, Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Businesses Can Determine If Design Thinking Is Right For Them

Design thinking has become the recipe du jour for innovation.

For some, it is the route to transformative thinking and revolutionary change.

For others, it looks like chaos, where millennials plaster the walls with sticky notes and play with Nerf toys and Lego. Others see it as a fad that has failed.

Fad or not, design thinking (creative problem-solving) has been adopted by governments, tech companies, consumer goods manufacturers, health-care organizations and many others. For my book, Design Thinking at Work: How Innovative Organizations Are Embracing Design, I interviewed large organizations that have adopted design thinking.

I wanted to understand why they embarked on a design thinking program and what their experience was.

I heard the usual stories about its benefits — how its fluid, iterative approach could bring great insights and find hidden opportunities. But I also heard about real obstacles to making it work.

Organizations adopted design thinking for many reasons, not just innovation. Some programs grew out of previous initiatives that had failed; others came about as a result of senior management’s frustration that the organization was slow and bureaucratic; others to improve contact with customers, to encourage collaboration or to attract and retain talent. Some had all of these goals, and more.

Bridging the cultural gap

At one large hospital, the design team stood out starkly from the rest of the organization.

Within a culture of scientific professionalism, their casual dress contrasted with the formality of medical staff. Even their use of language was different — for the designers, the word “experiment” meant just giving something a try; for doctors, an experiment was a formal undertaking with placebo controls and fixed protocols.

These differences illustrated a cultural gap, one that could block design teams’ ability to innovate. As the lead designer told me:

“When you turn up at a clinic on a Monday morning to do an experiment, the desk staff … they’re just not going to want you near them, they don’t know why you’re there, they’re not going to really trust you.”

Pressed to show what they could do, design teams went out of their way to reach out to the rest of the organization and build legitimacy.

In many cases, this meant taking on small projects to show what they could do. However, these incremental projects could quickly become overwhelming. Said a design leader in a multinational drug company:

“The innovation team was spending a lot of time herding cats across the organization. Most of the effort was around [organizational] structure and scope of responsibility, and less about demonstrating what [design thinking] could potentially offer.”

Some organizations dealt with this by setting up independent labs, located some distance from head office. Yet there was a risk here too — such labs could become isolated from the organization, seen in one large retailer as “crazy cowboys,” rather than transformative innovators.

Some projects could never get started

Many potentially significant innovations had trouble getting off the ground because other parts of the organization were unable or unwilling to implement them.

In some ways, these findings are not surprising. Organizations are not typically set up to tolerate the fundamental questions design thinkers ask. For one Danish government lab, challenging organizational thinking was critical:

“What is the framing? What is the understanding of the problem? From where do we know this? Why do we assume that this apparently simple solution or approach will actually work for someone?”

In a culture where employees are under constant pressure to solve problems and move on, such questions can be seen as distracting or even threatening.

How to make design thinking work

It’s still possible for companies to have a successful design thinking program. They can use design thinking as a vehicle for cultural change and for creative collaboration; for either incremental or disruptive innovation.

Design thinking isn’t a cure-all for every organization, but under the right conditions, it can bring great value. Shutterstock

But businesses are unlikely to accomplish all of these at once. There are several different ways of implementing design thinking –centralized or distributed, for example – and which direction companies choose depends on their goals.

Is design thinking right for every organization?

If a company’s culture is all about efficiency, it may be a difficult fit. The iterative, messy nature of design thinking can be disruptive to an organization that relies on repeating the same process, time after time.

There are good alternatives, however, to adopting it internally — many consultancies now use design thinking for problem-solving, and many design firms offer excellent innovation services.

Incidentally, the Danish government lab shut down in May 2018. Its founders aspired to disrupt the bureaucracy, but its true impact was hard to measure.

In the end, it was replaced by an initiative focused on digital technology. Its demise was a blow to many, myself included, who believe in design thinking.

It’s not a cure-all for every organization, nor is it a dying fad; in the right conditions, it can bring great value.

But for businesses to make a success of it, they must exercise common sense by being clear about their goals and making realistic choices. This is neither a transformative nor a revolutionary concept. Sadly, such common sense in the business world is not always so common.

University of Toronto receive’s $100M donation, largest in school’s history, for construction of new innovation centre

Heather Reisman and Gerald Schwartz behind donation to build centre

The University of Toronto is receiving the biggest donation in its history — money that will go towards studying artificial intelligence and how it affects society at large. 

Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman are giving $100 million to the university to build a brand new innovation centre in their names. Construction is set to start on the 750,000-square foot Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre this fall. 

The facility will be a space where students, faculty, researchers and business people can improve technology and the way humans interact with it, Reisman said.

Reisman is the CEO of Indigo Books and Music and namesake for the book retailer’s famous Heather’s Picks, while Schwartz is CEO of private equity firm Onex Corp.

“That crossover between how technology is evolving and how we as people want to evolve — that is at the heart of what this initiative is all about,” she told CBC Toronto.

“This major initiative will create housing and infrastructure and energy for technical innovation, coupled with the human implications of what this technology is doing with us and for us.”

“Toronto, and by extension Canada, is at the very centre of what’s happening with artificial intelligence. It’s just our wonderful good fortune that some of the great brains in the world are here.- Heather Reisman , CEO of Indigo Books and Music”

The new complex, named the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre, to be housed on the eastern edge of the school’s downtown campus, will feature two towers and provide space to smaller Canadian companies, in addition to the school’s researchers.

The centre will support research about the links between science, technology and the humanities — including a focus on the ethical and societal effects of AI and other technologies.

University president Meric Gertler said the donation “will enable a deeper examination of how technology shapes our daily lives.”

More opportunities for entrepreneurs

Reisman and Schwartz, CEO of private equity firm Onex Corp., say they’re proud to call Toronto their hometown and want it to remain a hub for innovation and scholarship.

“Toronto, and by extension Canada, is at the very centre of what’s happening with artificial intelligence. It’s just our wonderful good fortune that some of the great brains in the world are here,” said Reisman.

Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman are donating $100 million to U of T to expand its innovation and entrepreneurship programs. The couple has been supporting U of T for years. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

Geoffrey Hinton, an artificial intelligence pioneer and a retired professor from the university, said the donation will be a boon for the burgeoning field.

“It will help consolidate Toronto’s leading position in the AI world,” Hinton said in a statement. “It will also bring together scholars from an array of disciplines to study the implications of AI in today’s world.”

One tower of the complex will house the new Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society and the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a non-profit organization that focuses on machine learning, the school said.

The second tower will be home to laboratories for researchers in regenerative medicine, genetics and precision medicine.

Reisman and Schwartz say they’re excited the centre will provide more opportunities for both young and established entrepreneurs.

“The chance to not only do something here [in Toronto] but to play a small role in reinforcing Canada’s opportunity to remain a leader in the world — it’s great,” said Reisman.