“I used to lack confidence in what my worth is. I wouldn’t be able to assess how much I should charge or how much I should be paid. …Through my network of women who are in the field, I learned to ask for what I feel I’m worth.”
Rubina Ahmed-Haq is a journalist and personal finance expert and the go-to money expert in Canada for several media outlets. She regularly appears on CBC News Network, CBC The Goods, CTV Your Morning and Global Toronto. She writes for HOMES Publishing Group, ratesupermarket.ca and is a contributor at Yahoo! Finance.
As a business reporter, she has worked for CP24 from the Toronto Stock Exchange and reported for BNN. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star and various other national magazines. Rubina is also the brain behind personal finance behind Always Save Money.
Do you think financial advice lacks inclusiveness?
I think a lot of advice follows a one-size-fits-all approach and seems to be geared more towards men or the breadwinner of a family. It works if you have a steady job, and you’re able to save for the future and max out your RRSP. But that’s not the reality if you’re a stay-at-home mom/parent. In that case, you most likely don’t work and don’t have room in your RRSP for retirement. The message won’t work if it doesn’t apply. We need more tailored advice. We need to be able to target – whether it’s women, single mothers, men who don’t have kids or double income families – specific situations because giving general advice, like saving ten percent of your income just doesn’t work anymore. It just goes over people’s head because it doesn’t make them feel understood.
Every single day, people from all walks of life ask me for financial advice, and almost every time it’s a different issue. I think people are hungry for information, but can’t find it easily. When they walk into a bank and see pictures of seniors on a beach with “This is your retirement dream” under it, it’s disheartening. They aren’t made to feel good about their goals, especially the short-term ones like paying off their car or saving for a down payment.
If you were to give general financial advice, what would it be?
Financial literacy was born out of the financial crisis in 2008/2009 people started realizing they didn’t want to listen to a financial planner passively. They wanted to be able to do it themselves or at least have a good understanding of where their money’s going, and have a say in whether they wanted to be an aggressive or conservative saver. Since that event, people have started to question whether their advisors are asking all the right questions, especially when it comes to risk.
So, I think general advice is good when it makes people reassess their spending and saving habits. What I would add to that is: your emergency savings account should represent three months of your spending. That way, you can comfortably find another job or new means of generating an income. At the same time, saving that much isn’t feasible for a lot of people, especially if they’re not making very much money to begin with, or struggling to pay their bills. In that case, I would suggest they start with saving twenty dollars a week and then bump it up to thirty dollars a week when they can. By building that habit, they might be able to get to a point where they’re not living paycheck to paycheque.
I came across this fantastic idea the other day. You want to get to a point where payday is not a day you look forward to so you can pay for stuff in your life, instead, it just happens, and you keep on going.
Was there ever a time when you didn’t feel comfortable talking about your finances?
No, because I think being open with your financial situation is incredibly important. There’s a tendency to be guarded with how much money we make or save, and how well we can pay down our mortgage or debt. Not to say you should brag about these things but if someone comes to you, I say, be open. When friends come to me and ask how I’m saving for retirement, I’ll tell them honestly where I’m at and what I plan on doing. Sometimes I’ll explain everything if I feel it’s going to help them. I put it in context: if you want to be like me, then you can do this; if you want to do more, you have these options. Women love to share when the conversation is about our children or families or other experiences. We’re not shy about letting our feelings be known so why doesn’t that apply when it comes to money?
Got any questions that would help people understand their finances?
I would start with:
- What are my short-term goals?
- What are my long-term goals?
- How much have I already saved?
- Have I ever successfully saved money?
- Is saving a habit I’ve mastered?
- What’s my debt situation?
- How unrealistic is the balance on my credit card?
- How do I plan on reaching my goals?
- Are my investments working for my current situation?
- How many fees am I paying?
What would tell your younger self?
To save more money! In my twenties, I was terrible at it. Honestly, I was awful. I had student debt, $6000 on a credit card, and still wanted to have fun. I didn’t worry about my financial future at all. At 28, I woke up. The moment coincided with my first full-time job so everything fell into place and I ended up being in a position to buy real estate with my brother. Which brings me to another point, don’t feel like you have to do it on your own. There might be people around you who want to share your finance journey and work together. If you want to start a business, there are so many networks to find people you can connect with; who have a similar financial situation and outlook as you.
Was there ever an area of personal finance you didn’t feel confident about?
I used to lack – and still do in some cases – confidence in my worth. Sometimes I’m unable to accurately assess how much I should charge for a job or how much I should be paid and just take whatever amount I’m offered. But in the last three to four years, I’ve learned from my network of women in the field about how to negotiate and be more outspoken. I’ve realized that asking for what you’re worth doesn’t mean you’re greedy.
As told to Cara Lau exclusively for Stnce. We make taking financial ownership approachable and relatable.