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Q & A: Your questions on managing your money in 2018

Q & A: Your questions on managing your money in 2018

So what do you do if you overspent during the holidays and you're facing a financial hole? The new year presents an opportunity for fresh start, financially speaking.

Shannon Lee Simmons, a certified financial planner, founder of the New School of Finance and author of the new book Worry-Free Money: The Guilt-Free Approach to Managing Your Money and Your Life, answered viewer questions during a recent Facebook Live hosted by CBC News' Jacqueline Hansen.

The first four months of the year are "kind of wild" for the finance industry, Simmons said, as the new year brings new goals, coupled with the arrival of RRSP season and tax season.

"There's this surge of energy and excitement around people's finances, so it's a great time to sit down and look at it because people are motivated," she said.

Here are some highlights from the chat:

What if you blew your budget over the holidays?

"Happens to everyone," Simmons said. "It can be discouraging and daunting, and then we start feeling like we're bad with money when we blow our budget. That's why I'm actually anti-budget."

She doesn't think we should be budgeting so specifically that we break our spending into small categories. We just end up borrowing from other categories and overspending.

So, do you need a budget?

"I'm not saying that everyone can just go to town and spend whatever," she said, suggesting that people have a "hard limit" —  a line separating the money you have discretion whether to spend, such as on groceries, gas, dinners out and coffee shops, from the money that you don't, such as for bill payments and savings.

"As long as you're spending within that hard limit, I don't care what it's on, and nobody should," she said.

A budget needs to be realistic and flexible, or you're going to fail at it, she added. "The more that people feel like giving up, the more likely that mindset will carry forward into the other financial parts of their life."

If I have a student loan, should I invest or increase my loan payment?

There is no black-and-white answer, Simmons said. It depends on age and your goals.

If someone has consumer debt, unsecured lines of credit or credit card debt, Simmons said, pay those off first, then build up an emergency fund. As for student debt, she is fine with prioritizing other things, provided that student debt payment isn't crippling. 

"I'm OK with balancing it, because we need to be realistic or else it's not going to feel good. It's not going to be a plan that you are going to want to stick to necessarilly."

If you take money out of a tax-free savings account, will you be considered to be earning taxable income?

No, you can take money out tax free. That's the nature of the account, Simmons said. But be wary of contribution room.

A TFSA provides a certain amount of room every year and that's cumulative, she said. If you're maxed out and you take out money in 2018 and then put it back in this year, you might wind up over-contributing.

"Just be mindful that a TFSA might not be an account that you want to come and go from," she said. She often suggests clients deposit or withdraw money from a TFSA once a year, to make it easy to track contribution room.