Your money behaviour: Are you normal?

Managing your money is a bit like developing your personal style: There is simply no 'one-size-fits-all' way to do it. In order for it to really work, you have to love it enough to work it. And yet it's hard to live your own financial reality without wondering what's going on in other people's bank accounts.

With that in mind, here are some statistics regarding your fellow Canadians' money habits. So go ahead…take a peek at your neighbors' finances. But be forewarned — while everyone wants to be 'normal', sometimes it's best to go your own way.

[More: Are you in credit card denial?  Find out if your debt is above or below average]

1) Savings

We all know we should set some money aside, but sometimes life — and a few little shopping indiscretions — can get in the way. Is that normal?

Yup, that's totally normal.

According to Statistics Canada, the personal savings rate among Canadians in the second quarter of 2012 was 3.6 percent. Based on the average income, a typical family puts away about $2,275 per year. That doesn't sound too bad until you consider it's being stretched between an RRSP, a TFSA and maybe an RESP for your child's education.

If you're average on savings, congrats — you've started a great habit. Unfortunately, that savings rate just isn't high enough to allow people to prepare for contingencies and set aside funds for the future. Now it's time to look for ways to rise above the crowd.

[More: 5 money-saving myths — busted!]

2) Debt

For many people, debt is a dirty little secret; you get to sport all the spoils of your credit card exploits, and no one ever needs to know how it was financed. Unfortunately, that little secret is getting increasingly hard to sweep under the rug. According to TransUnion's latest quarterly analysis of Canadian credit trends, the average level of non-mortgage debt among Canadians stands at $26,768, a number that has ballooned by more than 37 percent since 2007 and represents a record — although it probably isn't one you want to shoot for.

Debt can really put a drag on your ability to save, invest and build a better financial future. With the level of debt many Canadians are carrying, this is one category where it's best to stand out, rather than fit in.

3) Retirement Savings

Did you contribute to your RRSP last year? Do you plan to this year? About a quarter of Canadians contribute to their RRSPs each year and, according to a survey released by the Bank of Montreal in March of 2012, they contribute an average of $4,670 each.

If you're among this rather elite group of contributors, that's better than nothing — we'll take it! But if you're feeling smug about it, keep in mind that the contribution limit is 18 percent of your earned income up to a maximum contribution of $22,970. Remember, this is a fund you're going to have to live off of one day.

[More: Time, money & marshmallows: Why time makes saving extra sweet]

4) Investing

Most Canadians don't invest in their child's education (42 percent) or retirement (44 percent). In fact, one-third of us don't save or invest anything at all, according to the 2012 Canadian Omnibus Poll.

Yikes!  If there's any way to protect yourself from financial hardships such as layoffs, illnesses and unexpected expenses — not to mention fund a secure retirement — it's having money in the bank. And once you save it, failing to put it to work is just a waste of potential (kind of like that adult kid who's still deciding 'what he wants to do with his life'…).

5) Budgeting

When it comes to budgeting, the results among Canadians are, well, average. According to the Canadian Omnibus Poll, 46 percent of Canadians have a budget. Not surprisingly, those on the lower end of the income scale were more likely to budget their money, and the number of avid budgeters drops off as income increases. It would seem to make perfect sense: having more money makes spending it all less likely.

[More: The numbers don't lie: 5 ways to rate your financial fitness]

Or...not. If you're one of the lucky few in the high tax brackets, don't let that fool you into thinking you're off the hook. No matter how much money you make there's always more to spend it on, which means it's easy to overdo it, no matter what your income (just ask Donald Trump…who has filed for corporate bankruptcy several times).

6) Household spending

You probably do your best to live within your means and make ends meet, but how does your spending really stack up? According to the Survey of Household Spending released by Statistics Canada in April 2012, Canadians spent an average of $53,016 on all goods and services in 2010. That means that the average Canadian spent:

  • $17,000 on mortgage payments (or $10,000 on rent)
  • $10,974 on transportation (couples with children spent the most)
  • $7,422 on food
  • $2,066 on restaurant meals
  • $731 for cell phone expenses

Clearly, some of the expenses in this list are essential, while others are expendable. But here's something you may not have considered: all of them are flexible. Sure, you have to pay your rent or mortgage, but the place you choose to call home — and how much it costs you — is within your control. This is even more true for expenses like transportation, restaurant meals and cell phone bills. In truth, what you spend in any area is largely up to you. In this category, you get to define what's normal based on your own priorities.

Are you normal?

Wanting to fit in is human nature, but when it comes to your finances, following the crowd offers little to no advantage. Managing your finances isn't just about looking good, it's about feeling good, too. Rather than following other people or trends, try getting creative, learn to be consistent when you find what works, and have confidence in the choices that make you feel secure. If you manage all that, you'll probably stand out — and that's a very good thing. When it comes to money, why settle for average?

GoldenGirlFinance.ca is a free personal finance and education site for women.

Nothing contained herein is intended to provide personalized financial, legal or tax advice. Before implementing any financial or legal strategy, you should obtain information and advice from your financial, legal and/or tax advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances, as well as fully aware of current laws and regulations.

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