Flexing your Financial Fitness – by Laura Elizabeth St-Cyr

My Name is Laura St-Cyr, I am a mom, a wife, a community leader, business owner and lover of health, wealth and living life to the fullest.  I graduated with a degree in women studies and immediately started working in the world of finance.  I have always been passionate about empowering women and this has translated to my business endeavors where the majority of my clients are successful executive women or female led business owners.

Understanding where we came from can help us better get to where we are going.  I come from a long lineage of business owners across Canada and a family history of entrpreneurship and business succession from one generation to the next.  I have seen in my history how wealth can be lost, businesses can die and how money can come and go.  I know what I know because I have been curious, I have a strong desire to always learn and try things, and because I am aware of what is in my DNA – much of which can be changed if we put our mind to it.  Over the last 15 years of financial planning for families and business owners I have seen and experienced so much both first hand and second hand.  I encourage everyone to take a quick peak in the rear view mirror so they can be aware of where they came from as they focus on the road ahead.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that I say to myself whenever I feel overwhelmed by tasks I should have started long ago.  It is now a saying I repeat at least once a week when onboarding new clients when I hear them say things like “I should have saved more money sooner for my retirement” or “I should have paid off those debts faster when I had less expenses” or “If I had only had a plan, I would feel more secure.” I hear those statements and many others around regret and disappointment daily from people and I always reply with “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the next best time is today.”

Most good habits are formed in the same way.
–  Create a plan
–  Start small
–  Be consistent
–  Create some accountability measures.

This is widely understood when we look to improve our physical wellbeing.  If you are a member of my gym, Love Your Body Fitness, or an active athlete anywhere in the world you will know change begins with a plan to go to the gym a couple days a week to get you going, and the building consistency over time.  You grow in your fitness journey by checking in and often bench marking your success to your goals and eliminating risks that can prevent you from achieving those goals.  I lay my gym clothes out the night before so I don’t struggle to find my attire and it sets me up for a win right away.  I am all about celebrating the quick wins to build momentum along the way to the big ones.  Well the same holds true to our financial fitness practice and our overall financial well being.

With the new year still fresh upon us and the tax season here, if you didn’t plant that tree 20 years ago, today is the best day to do it!

For most Canadians, money worries are the greatest form of stress.  As we stress, we invite chronic illness into our bodies and into our minds.  Financial stress affects Canadians of all incomes and all age groups. So whether you are a young professional or an established business owner about to inherit intergenerational wealth, money can always be a worry at some point or another to you.  The good news is, no matter your net worth or your age today, there are 5 easy steps to ensure you are creating a process towards success.  The solutions to your plan may look different than your friend and your neighbours, but the 5 steps below should help guide anyone or any business towards flexing financial strength and better achieving their goals, which ultimately lead to greater overall mental and physical well being too.

Identify Goals & Create a Plan: Your fitness goals may be something like improving your strength, increasing your endurance, or lowering your body fat. Whatever your goals are, write them down and identify your short, medium and long term goals.  Don’t make those goals money driven like I need $1.4M in retirement savings, but make them meaningful such as, I want to buy a home in the next 3 years, pay off my debt on my credit cards, pay off the business loan or my student loans now that I am specialized doctor and earning an income for the first time.  Maybe your long term goal is to settle down somewhere hot and sunny 6 months of the year or maybe your goal is to be fit and financially secure so that I can enjoy and pour into my future grandchildren and great grand children! Whatever your goals are, write them down and then create a plan of action to get there.

Start Out Slow: Most trainers will advise against jumping into a 6 day/week intensive training program.  A good trainer will look at your goals, your personal fitness levels and any injuries you may have had.  They do that so they can curate a plan of action that slowly builds towards your goals.  The same applies to your financial habits.  Grow your habits slowly.  While setting a huge part of your income or business revenue towards savings may be initially desirable, starting with 10% of your income or earnings may be a more realistic goal that can modify when you hit plateaus and are feeling comfortable at that level.  This approach will build long term healthy wealthy habits, allowing you to make sound financial decisions and prevent reactionary decisions that can jeopardize your financial future and goals.

Commit to Financial Fitness: Mental preparation is key.  When my trainer tells me what our focus will be on in our next session, I marinate on that through the week.  It allows me to mentally arrive, ready and expected of what the next 60 mins of my day will look like.  Our finances carry a lot of mental weight and baggage, in addition to identifying your goals and creating a plan, get yourself ready to learn a few new things.  Knowledge is Key – New information can allow you to make more confident decisions and will help prevent you falling into old spending habits, avoidance tactics around money, or analysis paralysis in your finances.  So mentally commit yourself to making finances a new area to grow in and arrive with a positive mindset, even if you have to fake it till you make it!

Seek Support to Pay Yourself First: It is easy to skip a boring workout, especially when the workout is not well organized, disconnected from your goals and not personalized in its approach, or worse, inconvenient.  When building your financial strength, personalizing and streamlining the approach so that it is replicable and scalable in your life or in your business is a key driver to success.  Similar to searching for a gym or a personal trainer, you should search for a financial advisor to guide and support your journey to building and preserving your wealth.  Some examples of how to do this are, set yourself up with automated savings, so when your pay-check comes in, savings are automatically transferred to your investment accounts.  This dollar cost averaging approach, not only ensures you buy more when prices are low and less when prices in the market are high, but it ensures compounding growth on your dollars.  Ensure you budget and track your expenses, there are plenty of great automated budgeting software programs such as Mint or Quickbooks that will streamline your life and leave you with time for what you enjoy doing most.  As you search for a  personal trainer to help guide and coach you in your fitness journey, build an advice team around you for support and accountability on the financial side.  That should include a financial planner and depending on your personal needs, maybe a collaborative approach with accounting and tax professionals too.  Similar to a personal trainer, a nutritionist, your doctor and other allied health professionals, your financial planner and value advice team should honour your goals and vision and work to support you in a way that is meaningful to you, your lifestyle, and beliefs.

Check Ins & Accountability: It is a common fitness practice to review progress.  This week my trainer showed me how I used to deadlift 115 lbs but have now built up to 140 lbs.  Some people track progress through weight, others through repetitions and some based on time.  Some use a book while others use techy apps on their phone or smart watch.  No matter how you do it, just do it! When it comes to checking in on your finances, the point is to make sure your plan is on track, to stay agile with the times and to ensure you are making steps in the right direction.  We can all fall off course once in awhile so whether you are monitoring your finances on a weekly, monthly, or semi-annual basis having the financial check in calls with your advice team is going to allow you the support to pivot when needed and keep you on the right track to success. Sharing your financial goals with others and talking about those goals and plans is also a meaningful step towards accountability and be sure to include your spouse or life partner in the discussions.  If you own a business, you may want to ensure your business partners are involved in the check in discussions so that everyone is on the same page.   When owning a business the personal and professional worlds of finance become increasingly complex so ensure that your advice team and financial planning works holistically with your big picture.

Most people focus on their fitness to live longer and healthier lives.  The longer we live the more important it is that we do not outlive our finances.  Over time we also weather different storms, so it is important to not only build out a plan but to mitigate the risks we can face such as illnesses, injuries, or losses which can reduce our income as we take time to recover.  Your planner should be running scenarios and sharing with you what your dollars will look like if inflation is higher for longer.

As you ramp up your fitness efforts this season and as your turn your gaze to the tax season ahead, make the mental decision to start something new on the financial side that will set you up for success.  Look for a professional that you have a great fit with and identify your goals, create a plan, start the year with small successful steps and before you know it you will be looking at that tree you planted 20 years ago and be well ahead with your financial wellbeing.