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Financial Smarts

By Connie Jeske Crane

As an event professional, by definition you spend a lot of time meeting other peoples’ needs. But let’s turn the focus around for a minute.

Are you protected in case of an emergency? Saving for retirement? Ready for tax season? In other words, have you been applying your well-honed planning skills to your own financial health?

Rita Plaskett, president of Agendum Inc., a Toronto event planning firm, says of event entrepreneurs, “I think there are a lot of people who just decide to do this but they don’t think of the ‘what ifs.’ And the ‘what ifs’ will hopefully never happen but if they do, you need to protect yourself.” Plaskett calls financial planning the “job on top of a job.”

While financial planning can be daunting and it doesn’t get your day job done, being proactive is crucial. We asked Plaskett, a veteran third-party event planner, and two Toronto-area financial planners for advice on meeting the financial challenges of self-employment.

Reframe your perceptions: Chris Enns is both a professional opera singer and a financial planner serving self-employed creatives through his business, Rags to Reasonable. He sees financial stability as possible but says for entrepreneurs it isn’t “tied to a big corporation that you’re pretty sure is going to pay your paycheque every Thursday for the next 40 years. We can’t make that kind of stability but we can get a lot closer.”

Improve your financial skills: Even if budgets, tax forms and RSPs aren’t your jam, there’s hope. Financial planners liken financial literacy to exercise—it hurts, it takes time, but you’ll get stronger.

Know where you stand: Want to sleep at night? Working out the numbers can help you build real stability. “Start out with the right processes, because if you don’t and get behind, for some people it could be almost impossible to get caught up,” says Plaskett.

Define YOUR success: Too many people omit this, but Enns says thinking about how you define success is important. “It’s really easy to take the financial checklist, where you’re supposed to be at age 30, 40, 50, 60 and just say ‘Oh that’s success.’” He recommends questions like “What is my money for? What am I trying to do?” before you stuff money into financial vehicles.

Practical Measures

Insurance
Since starting her business 18 years ago, Plaskett says she’s carried three kinds of insurance: business interruption insurance, $5 million worth of commercial general liability and $3 million in errors and omissions liability. The latter two, she adds, are viewed as a plus by other companies if you’re responding to an RFP

Supplemental Health Benefits
If you’re not covered under a partner’s plan, Plaskett advises looking into personal supplemental coverage (medical, dental, life insurance, etc.) and also long- and short-term disability coverage. Check into discounts through professional associations like CanSPEP and MPI. 

A Will and Power of Attorney
Adam McHenry, an investment advisor and associate portfolio manager with Manulife Securities Incorporated, says everyone should “make sure they have their will and their power of attorney in place with a lawyer.” Financial planners can also steer you towards professionals such as lawyers if needed. 

A Financial Cushion
To smooth out the rollercoaster ride of variable income, Enns recommends saving one to three months’ salary, adding this isn’t a traditional emergency fund, because “variable income isn’t an emergency, it’s an inevitability.” A buffer brings more debt resilience, and is often the first thing Enns helps clients create. “Afterwards we can start making progress on bigger goals.” 

Taxes
“One thing I see getting ignored over and over is tax,” says Enns. “If you’re not getting tax taken off your cheques, it can be really stressful.” Beyond standard practices (organizing receipts, hiring an accountant), for entrepreneurs, McHenry says, “What I recommend is having an account set up that, when you get paid, you will automatically deduct, say 30%, and move it to that account, which sits until tax time so that when you do have a tax bill at the end of the year, you have a source to pay it with and there are no surprises.” Such an account gives you some flexibility too—talk to your advisor about putting some funds towards RSPs to lower your tax owing, for example. In a further step, Plaskett maintains a separate account for the HST she collects and remits it quarterly. “In my mind it’s just an HST account, I never look at it.” 

Vacation Time
If you’ve created some financial stability, you can also think about time to recharge, says Enns: “Knowing when you can afford to do that—so you don’t have to sit there for two weeks and just stress about how you really should be working—is a game changer.” 

Retirement Planning and Investments
In a 2019 survey of “flexforce” Canadians, TD found 72% are finding it difficult to save for retirement. While long-term planning is challenging, if you’ve achieved some stability, small monthly contributions do add up, says Plaskett. As for specifics, she says that’s highly personal: “Real estate, US currency, tax-free savings accounts, RSPs—these are some tools I have used over the years, and they all do something different… Your financial advisor would be the best person to advise you. 

Financial Advice
Finally, speaking of advisors, get a good one. Expect to meet with your advisor twice a year in person (at times like RSP season), says McHenry, and also contact them when you have questions. Of his role, McHenry says, “I try to get ahead of things, so I reach out to my clients…. We check you out and catch any problems in advance and address any of the foreseeable planning points that need to be looked at.” 

Retirement by the numbers

According to a 2018 TD survey of “flexforce” Canadians, more of us are feeling unprepared for retirement—making this a key aspect to discuss with your financial planner. TD found:

64% anticipate they’ll work into their senior years because they don’t have enough saved to retire

72% find it difficult to save for retirement

41% are not sure when they'll retire given their employment situation

75% wish they had made financial contributions towards retirement at an earlier age

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