February 20, 2019

Sense2Dollars Financial Empowerment Guide

These modules were developed out of the Sense2Dollars Research Project. They are evidence-based resource for Financial Literacy educators and/or facilitators who are working towards financial empowerment of newcomers and immigrants.

Results from our research findings, namely, the environmental scan, service provider consultations and literature review confirm that financial literacy workshops are readily available in Toronto; and where workshops do not exist, community-based agencies have a wide range of curricula, train-the-trainer programs, and resources from which to develop newcomer-friendly content. The content of what many agencies use is Prosper Canada’s curriculum. However few “newcomer-specific” curricula exist, so we adapted the pre-existing and widely used curriculum with our research findings, integrating wherever possible, a financial empowerment lens.

How to effectively use these modules:

  • You can use the module independently of one another
  • Facilitators should take time to read each guide thoroughly and prepare themselves with the material at hand
  • Modules will be best delivered for different language-groups with the use of an interpreter
  • Best suited for groups of 8-10 participants
  • Most helpful for newcomers who have been in Canada for at least one year and have some knowledge of the financial system and basic financial literacy. For newly arrived Canadians, facilitators will have to adapt some of the material to cover the basics

Below you will find a rationale for why each module was developed and a list of intended outcomes. For more information please contact: Shankari Balendra, Settlement Worker at sbalendra@accessalliance.ca

This introductory module was developed because our research findings demonstrated that financial behaviours and attitudes for newcomer were largely influenced by pre-migration contexts, including familial systems back home, to political systems as well as the role of government and social security. This module encourages newcomer participants to explore their pre-migration systems. It also introduces them to understanding the importance of distinguishing between and prioritizing needs and wants and provide a concrete example of how to set priorities and how to organize a budget based on those priorities

Intended outcomes:

  • Gain knowledge about financial terms like financial literacy, financial hazards/risks, and financial empowerment
  • Gain understand of how much it costs to cover basic needs such as rent, housing, and transportation in Toronto
  • Increase understanding of the “needs” versus “wants/desires” when it comes to financial planning
  • Ability to set achievable financial goals or make realistic financial plan
  • Recognize the importance to keep records of total income versus total expenses

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This workshop was developed to introduce newcomers to the Canadian banking system and an array of products and services.

Intended Outcomes:

  • Gain knowledge about the terms like interest, interest rate, and fees
  • Gain understanding of the different banking systems such as private banks and credit unions
  • Gain confidence to ask questions when it comes to using a financial institution, credit union or bank
  • Gain knowledge about availability of low-cost, affordable accounts offered by financial institutions or banks
  • Gain knowledge of consumer rights when using a financial institution or bank
  • Ability to avoid paying fees and high interest rates when it comes to financial products

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This workshop covers concepts like pay-yourself first principles, compound vs. simple interest, RESPs, Canada Learning Bond, and introduces participants to TFSA accounts. Through our research findings we learned that newcomers tended to invest in their children’s education over retirement plans for themselves, and therefore a portion of this module is focused on understanding RESPs.

Intended Outcomes:

  • Recognize the difference between what “wants” and “needs” are when it comes to shopping
  • Develop savings plan through “pay yourself first” method
  • Gain familiarity about different savings account options and interest rates
  • Understand the difference between RESP and Canada Learning Bond
  • Understand and identify the difference between compound interest and simple interest
  • Ability to save money even in small amounts

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Our survey data showed that 83% of survey respondents were not planning for retirement, and only 23% expected to retire (values much lower than average Canadians). We developed this module because we believe that it is important for young families living on low-incomes to be familiar with the Canadian retirement system because of the implications of being on low-income. Financial planning option and financial products in mainstream banks are gear to middle and high income families (a problem emphasized in the literature). Low-income families need long-term planning strategies geared to their incomes. We adapted John Stapleton and West Neighbourhood Houses’ report on 5 Steps to Retirement Planning on a Low-income. 

Intended Outcomes:

  • Increased understanding about retirement saving options
  • Recognize differences between an exemption, deduction and a non-refundable credit
  • Become familiar with the following parts of Canada’s retirement system: Old Age Security, Canada Pension Plan and Guaranteed Income Supplement
  • Gain knowledge on how and when to qualify for Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement
  • Gain understanding of advantages and disadvantages of having an RRSP account

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Our research findings showed that newcomers demonstrated great skill and capability in making choices around shopping and savings despite how they rated themselves.  In our needs assessment, they rated themselves as average (37%) or very low (45%) in terms of their level of financial literacy and knowledge. However, when we dug deeper, our qualitative interviews showed that newcomers had advanced knowledge and skills around budgeting, saving, and money management. What newcomers lacked in their first 6-12 months of being re-settled, was consumer knowledge- where and how  (e.g. coupons, sales) to shop cheaply and effectively. In addition, they were vulnerable to scams.

**We had combined this workshop with income taxes, so the module is shorter than the rest. We realized that for Income and taxes, Prosper Canada’s curriculum was very applicable for newcomers and our evidence did not have new findings with regards to taxes.  

Intended Outcomes

  • Be able to identify the best places to shop for the best value
  • Learn how to compare prices or do price match before making a purchase
  • Become aware of different deals and sales through grocery store flyers and coupons
  • Gain understanding of how to read and make sense of the “unit price”

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