We Asked Students If They Know Anything About Personal Finance
Are millennials really as bad at their finances as everyone assumes?
A few days ago, after anguishing over my most recent credit card statement, I began to think about the ways I could better handle my money. Aside from deciding to Uber less, and pledging to buy groceries instead of ordering takeout, I also made a folder for receipts and paycheques—which I labelled "TAXES AND SHIT"—so that, when it comes time, I can hopefully file my own tax returns and get some solid money back.
I know I'm not the only financially dysfunctional student out here—almost all of my friends, whether they're 18 or 28, have no fucking clue how to manage their money. After all, tax returns and RRSPs aren't taught in Canadian high schools—which is why a new petition from a member of the City of Toronto's Youth Cabinet pushing for that very thing to happen is so appealing. Who doesn't wish they learned about some of life's toughest bureaucratic bullshit before they had to deal with said bureaucratic bullshit?
But how misinformed are today's students? Being that November is financial literacy month in Canada, I figured I would spend a day going around Toronto's Ryerson University to find out. Here's the results (they're not pretty).
VICE: Do you know how to file a tax return?
Ali: No idea. I've thought about it, but I don't have enough knowledge myself, so I usually get help from my parents.
Do you keep any of your receipts?
For everything, or just some stuff?
Definitely [important stuff.] Especially [things like] bank receipts, or things that have to do with work, like paycheques. Those are important things so I hold onto them in case I might need them, but something like going to a store? I wouldn't hold onto it.
Are you aware of RRSPs?
No, I've heard about it, but I don't know what it actually is.
OK. Do you have a retirement plan?
No, not at the moment.
Do you consider yourself financially smart?
No, because I know things like how my paycheque works and how I'm spending income, but I don't know what's coming out of my paycheque, or how taxes work, or how that's going to affect me in the future.
Does it frighten you that you're not very educated on financial plans and taxes?
Yeah, it does frighten me. A lot.
Arts and Contemporary Studies
VICE: What's your job outside of school?
Roncato: I work as a server at Jack Astors.
How do you budget your money?
I rely on my money as a server to both go to school and live. I try to only live on my tips, and bank my wages. That's the only way I can actually find a way of saving money.
Have you filed a tax return before?
I have not. My parents have helped me with my taxes, but I don't ever touch that.
Doesn't that kind of worry you?
Absolutely. It's terrible. I'm 23, I should know what's going on with my money. I should always know about what's going on.
What about retirement?
No, I have no idea.
No, oh my god. Something to do with retirement? I have no idea.
Yeah, it is. Why do you feel like you don't know about these things?
It's terrifying. I feel like I should have been taught through school, but I also feel like I should take some responsibility and teach myself. [laughs] I don't know. It's scary.
VICE: Do you budget your money?
Davoodi: Yeah, I have to. I used to live alone, but now I have a roommate, so if I don't, I can't pay rent.
But are you good at it?
I think so! I basically just see what I need and don't need. If it's necessary, I take care of that, if it's not necessary, it definitely goes on the backburner, and then I just work from there.
Have you ever filed a tax return?
Yep, I have. Some of my work is contract, so I have to.
Well, I have a filing cabinet, so I just keep everything organized that way. I don't have too many things that go into it, so it's not too hard to manage.
Compared to most students, that sounds incredibly organized. Do you have plans for retirement already?
I've thought about it. I don't have a job that would be conducive to that yet, and there are savings, but they're for more immediate things. I don't [have] an RRSP.
You sound financially smart.
No, I think I'm pretty stupid. [laughs] I've made some risks that lost me some money, but now I'm just floating. I'm still learning. I've learned a lot from mistakes.
Arts & Contemporary Studies
VICE: Do you work right now?
Bajracharya: I don't actually. I did during the summer, but once school started, I kinda wanted to focus on that. It's my last year so I wanted to commit.
How do you budget without income?
I'm not the greatest budgeter. My mom thankfully takes care of my rent and basic living expenses, so I'm very fortunate in that sense.
So have you ever filed a tax return?
I have, in the past, but not by myself. My mom is an accountant so she really guides me through a lot of things like that.
That's interesting to hear.What about retirement plans?
Not really. I have a [Tax-Free Savings Account] (TFSA) that I've had since I was a kid, so that's been accumulating through the years, but for retirement? I haven't thought too much about that. I probably should.
How much has your mom been an influence on your financial knowledge?
She's kind of instilled in me from a young age to prioritize how I would spend my money and not spend my money on everything. I feel like there are a lot of things that I don't know about finance that I think I should—especially as a young person in Toronto.
Are you actually good at saving money?
No, not at all. As a student, it's hard! Like, do you go out, or do you buy food? It's a difficult playing field, because you want to enjoy your experience as a university student.
New Media, Formerly Business
VICE: So, you lost your wallet a few nights ago while drunk?
Weninger: Yeah, there was like $30, but everything was in there: debit cards, credit cards, student cards. Now I have to replace all of those.
Great place to start. Have you ever filed your taxes? Do you even think about it?
No. My parents usually take care of it for me.
Your parents give you a budget. Do you stick to it?
Kind of. My parents give me money every two weeks, because I'm not working right now since I'm trying to focus on school, but I just spread that out as much as I can.
Where do you usually fuck up?
Clothing, shopping, eating out. [laughs] Stuff like that.
You don't think about retirement at all, do you?
I do, a little bit. I'm only 20.
Does that worry you at all—that you might be older and go, "Oh shit, I should have planned this earlier"?
Yeah, I think it's going to hit me when I have a [career]. I mean, who wants to work until they're 70?
Do you feel like you're financially smart?
I think I have a pretty good understanding how taxes work, but it depends, sometimes impulse purchases—shoes, clothes—stuff that is really disposable.
Off that point, do you keep any of your receipts?
You know you can use a lot of receipts for necessities and get tax returns on them at the end of the year, right?
Are you serious? I had no idea. [It would be good] if our school[s] told us about that.
VICE: You've filed a tax return before?
Conn: Yep. It was tricky, I felt super unprepared, but my finance minor definitely helped me.
Do you feel like you were prepared to be an adult and do taxes before university?
No, and I don't think I would have without [minoring in finance]. A lot of the courses I take in business don't even prepare me.
Have you thought about retirement at all?
Absolutely. I have an RRSP, a TFSA, and I have investment in stocks, so I just want to keep on top of those and build my equity.
Jesus Christ. I bet you budget well.
Yeah, I have a line of credit I take out—it's $10,000 a year, and I try to stick below $150 a week. That's everything: transit, food expense—you know, I pack a lunch when I can. I was blessed enough to have my first two years paid for through the jobs that I worked and saved my money from.
It sounds like, more than anybody I've spoke to, you know how to save your money and you know how finances work. Do you feel like a lot of people are clueless when it comes to those things?
Absolutely. I know, in the business management program, there's only two courses that [teach you how to do proper finances.] Unless you go that specific route, you're not gonna get that kind of knowledge.
I think, honestly, the best way to do it would to take finance majors from schools and have them teach kids in high school everything they need to know five years down the road: take out a loan, pay off a credit card, deal with student student, and, you know, do your taxes. Usually, they'll have to [pay] someone a couple thousand dollars to do these services for them, when really, they should know how to do it themselves.
Follow Jake Kivanc on Twitter.