Managing money: Improve your financial management skills at every life stage

Financial literacy

Find out how an ongoing approach to financial learning can help you and your family, from early saving to preserving assets to fund your retirement.


Take a few moments to think about the words “learning” and “education” in the more traditional sense. What initially comes to mind? For many, it may be thoughts of your own school years, or that of your children or grandchildren. Now think specifically about financial education. Is that something you generally associate with younger age groups as well? While many of us may have a tendency to isolate education as something that’s primarily limited to the formal schooling years, with financial education, the reality is that it can and should be an ongoing process, and it’s never too early or too late to start.

A snapshot of financial learning

According to recent survey findings from Phoenix Marketing International, among Canadian respondents (across a variety of age ranges), the top three financial management topics identified as important for younger generations to know about are financial planning, saving and budgeting, and investing. Furthermore, almost half of respondents felt that educating their family about financial topics is “very important.”1

Interestingly, however, in that same survey, when it comes to personal financial education, only 16 percent of respondents identified it as a priority for themselves.2 In other words, while many individuals and families place a high level of importance on building financial literacy among youth and younger generations, many may be overlooking the benefits and importance of their own financial knowledge and its value throughout every life stage.

Being conscious of knowledge gaps in the family

With financial decision-making, oftentimes within families, there may be one spouse or partner who tends to take the lead or who has more of an active role with the finances. In fact, recent data shows that about 60 percent of Canadians surveyed say their spouse or partner does not regularly participate in financial planning decisions. What’s more, about 40 percent said that if they were unable to continue in their current capacity, they weren’t confident or certain that their spouse/partner would be able to take over the planning decisions.3

If this holds true in your household, while this setup may work well for a number of reasons—convenience, lack of time or the splitting of household roles—it’s also important to consider the peace of mind that comes with ensuring both you and your spouse are financially educated, so you’re prepared no matter what life may bring.

While difficult to think about, consider a scenario where a married couple has kept their household responsibilities separate for the course of their relationship, with one spouse exclusively handling the financial affairs, and the relationship either ends or something unexpected happens to that spouse. This could result in an overwhelming and stressful situation for the other spouse who’s then left to try and navigate the finances without the knowledge or confidence to do so.

The same or similar challenges can arise across generations as well. With a growing senior population in Canada, more families are facing situations of incapacity, estate administration and wealth transfer. For those with parents either in or entering that phase of life, without a foundation of financial knowledge or an awareness of these situations and planning processes, there may be a greater chance for conflict, issues and financial missteps.

It’s likewise important to look at financial education from a multigenerational lens. While a family’s focus may be on helping to educate younger generations on financial topics, it can offer a great opportunity for parents, grandparents and other loved ones to augment their own financial knowledge or to build on their existing experience with different areas of planning. By participating in the process, this may also help to seed conversations within your family, which, over time, may be beneficial for communicating your wishes and intentions for areas such as your estate and wealth transfer.

Developing your own approach to learning

If you think about the range and amount of financial decisions you and your family will make over the course of life, and all of the different life events that may occur along the way, a solid foundation of financial education can go a long way in helping to promote informed decision-making and to set the stage for reaching your financial goals.

Whether your focus is more on building broad financial management skills, or you’d prefer to gain knowledge that’s specific to a circumstance or event in your life, how you approach financial learning can be individual to you and should be viewed as something that can fit into your goals and needs.

Using your life stage as a catalyst for learning

Within each broad phase of life, there are generally some main milestones or areas of focus that commonly impact financial priorities and planning during those years and that will contribute to your overall financial picture as well. Depending on your current comfort level and familiarity with financial topics and your particular circumstances, it may be beneficial to use your current life stage as a driver for the type of learning you want to pursue.

In general, there are three main wealth stages individuals move through and between over the course of life:

Stage Description Main objectives
Early savers
  • Getting established in a career, perhaps buying a home, getting married or starting a family
  • Earning and saving
  • Growing assets
Mid-life accumulators
  • Have a stable career, are a homeowner
  • Starting to think about retirement and estate planning and transferring wealth to the next generation
  • Creating a balanced portfolio for preservation and growth
  • Maximizing savings where possible
  • Focusing on retirement goals and short- and long-term intentions for wealth transfer
  • Retired or working less
  • Using accumulated wealth to generate income as a salary replacement
  • Estate and wealth transfer planning is a priority
  • Protecting assets and making it last through the senior years
  • Minimizing risk
  • Managing wealth wisely in regards to income tax

With these details in mind, here are some financial planning tips based on your wealth stage:

If you’re an early saver…

  • Think about and record your short- and long-term financial goals, big and small.
  • Establish a budget that factors in all of your lifestyle expenses and other financial components.
  • Consider setting up a pre-authorized savings plan to help prioritize your savings.

If you’re a mid-life accumulator…

  • Review your short- and long-term goals to ensure your financial vision is matched with the right investments.
  • See where you may be able to increase your savings in RRSPs, TFSAs or RESPs; in general, try to make your retirement savings a priority and maximize your contributions where possible.
  • Ensure you have the appropriate mix of investments to build your savings within your projected time horizon before retirement.
  • Turn a focus to estate planning, including a Will and Power(s) of Attorney (called a Mandate in Quebec), and start giving thought to your preferences and intentions for transferring wealth.

If you’re a preserver/spender…

  • Revisit your financial plans to explore the options in structuring your finances to support your retirement lifestyle.
  • Consider the potential for senior care or other healthcare-related needs and how those costs may impact your overall financial picture or your wealth transfer intentions.
  • Take the time to review your estate plans and carry out any further planning as needed. If you haven’t done so already, work on building an inventory of all of your assets.

Note: To learn more about some of the core concepts in building sound financial management skills, please read the Spring 2018 Perspectives article, 6 financial literacy principles.

The RBC Wealth Management Financial Literacy program

RBC Wealth Management (WM) understands the value of financial literacy for all age groups and its direct connection to informed financial decision-making. To support financial education for those age 16 and over, RBC WM offers an RBC advisor-led comprehensive approach to building sound financial management skills with the RBC WM Financial Literacy program.

  1. Wealth-Affluent Monitor-Canada. Spring/Summer 2019 key findings and proprietary data reports in partnership with RBC Wealth Management. Phoenix Marketing International. July 2019.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Government of Canada. Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. Financial Literacy Month webpage. Accessed August 2019.

This document has been prepared for use by the RBC Wealth Management member companies, RBC Dominion Securities Inc. (RBC DS)*, RBC Phillips, Hager & North Investment Counsel Inc. (RBC PH&N IC), RBC Global Asset Management Inc. (RBC GAM), Royal Trust Corporation of Canada and The Royal Trust Company (collectively, the “Companies”) and their affiliates, RBC Direct Investing Inc. (RBC DI) *, RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc. (RBC WMFS) and Royal Mutual Funds Inc. (RMFI). *Member-Canadian Investor Protection Fund. Each of the Companies, their affiliates and the Royal Bank of Canada are separate corporate entities which are affiliated. “RBC advisor” refers to Private Bankers who are employees of Royal Bank of Canada and mutual fund representatives of RMFI, Investment Counsellors who are employees of RBC PH&N IC, Senior Trust Advisors and Trust Officers who are employees of The Royal Trust Company or Royal Trust Corporation of Canada, or Investment Advisors who are employees of RBC DS. In Quebec, financial planning services are provided by RMFI or RBC WMFS and each is licensed as a financial services firm in that province. In the rest of Canada, financial planning services are available through RMFI or RBC DS. Estate and trust services are provided by Royal Trust Corporation of Canada and The Royal Trust Company. If specific products or services are not offered by one of the Companies or RMFI, clients may request a referral to another RBC partner. Insurance products are offered through RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc., a subsidiary of RBC Dominion Securities Inc. When providing life insurance products in all provinces except Quebec, Investment Advisors are acting as Insurance Representatives of RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc. In Quebec, Investment Advisors are acting as Financial Security Advisors of RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc. RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc. is licensed as a financial services firm in the province of Quebec. The strategies, advice and technical content in this publication are provided for the general guidance and benefit of our clients, based on information believed to be accurate and complete, but we cannot guarantee its accuracy or completeness. This publication is not intended as nor does it constitute tax or legal advice. Readers should consult a qualified legal, tax or other professional advisor when planning to implement a strategy. This will ensure that their individual circumstances have been considered properly and that action is taken on the latest available information. Interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors are subject to change. This information is not investment advice and should only be used in conjunction with a discussion with your RBC advisor. None of the Companies, RMFI, RBC WMFS, RBC DI, Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates or any other person accepts any liability whatsoever for any direct or consequential loss arising from any use of this report or the information contained herein.

®/TM Registered trademarks of Royal Bank of Canada. Used under licence. © 2024 Royal Bank of Canada. All rights reserved.

Let’s connect

We want to talk about your financial future.

Related articles

Financial advice from our women leaders to the next generation

Financial literacy 7 minute read
- Financial advice from our women leaders to the next generation

Building financial literacy among the younger generations

Financial literacy 6 minute read
- Building financial literacy among the younger generations

Financial management tips and strategies for young adults

Financial literacy 9 minute read
- Financial management tips and strategies for young adults