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Nov 1, 2023

Financial Literacy Matters For All Of Us!

by Fred J Masters

Improving financial literacy education is now a moral imperative in this country. 

We have to empower all Canadians—especially our young people—with financial knowledge so that they can be in a position to thrive financially.

Since 2011, November has been designated Financial Literacy Month in Canada by the federal government. You would think, then, that Canadians would be in a relatively good position to master their money. Sadly, this is not the case. Canadians are in the midst of a financial wellness crisis from coast to coast to coast.

Many Canadians identify “money worries” as their greatest source of stress. Our schools have not, and are not, teaching students nearly enough mandatory financial literacy to thrive financially. Workplace financial wellness training programs are also desperately needed right now. Canada needed to make dramatic improvements on the financial literacy education front decades ago, but there’s no time like the present. This is a test that Canada must pass as a nation.

How Are Canadians Coping with Their Personal Finances These Days?

Canadians are addicted to debt. It might startle you to learn that Canadian household debt as a percentage of net disposable income clocks in at a staggering 187%, according to the latest data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).1  That figure is higher than any other G7 country, according to the OECD, and it’s not even close. The next highest G7 reading is 148% (United Kingdom), and Canada’s largest trading partner, the United States, has a reading of “only” 102%. 

Crushing debt loads and the many recent interest rate hikes by the Bank of Canada have left Canadians financially vulnerable like never before. It’s no surprise, then, that fears about money are overwhelming many Canadians. A recent BMO Real Financial Progress Index survey found that almost four in five Canadians feel anxious about their overall financial situation.2 For younger adults, the results are even more discouraging, with 90% of Gen Z, 88% of younger Millennials and 86% of older Millennials admitting that money worries are stressing them out. Not surprisingly, all this money angst seeps into our workplace performance.

How Much Financial Literacy Content Is Really Being Taught in Canadian Schools?

When Americans were surveyed, about 85% felt that more personal finance content should be taught in schools.3 In Canada, that percentage approaches one hundred.4 The discrepancy is easy to explain: there are currently 23 U.S. states that have a required standalone course in personal finance for secondary school graduation, and, as a result, many American students are learning about money in a meaningful way.5 In Canada, we’re just not there yet. For example, Ontario secondary school students don’t need to complete a personal finance course at all. There’s a strand dealing with financial literacy in the grade nine math curriculum, and the grade 10 career studies course has a small number of personal finance expectations.

An Ontario school board asked me to write the teacher resource package for the financial literacy content found in that career studies course when the curriculum was updated in 2019. I was asked to write content for four 75-minute classes and then create instructions for the students to complete the budget. Clearly, this just begins to scratch the surface when it comes to financial literacy education. 

The course’s new curriculum was jammed with too many expectations—19 in total for the revised half-credit course—and only three of those dealt with financial literacy. In short, teachers must cover the fundamentals of financial responsibility, including saving options, different forms of borrowing and personal budget basics so that students can create a budget for their first post-secondary year. Sadly, there is virtually no mandatory financial literacy content being delivered in Ontario schools beyond grade 10, and there is certainly no standalone course on personal finance that needs to be successfully completed to graduate.

What’s The Purpose of Financial Literacy Education According to Our National Financial Literacy Strategy?

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) is a federal agency tasked with ensuring that the country’s financial system remains strong. The agency is also responsible for strengthening the financial literacy of Canadians. The FCAC’s National Financial Literacy Strategy states that “a financial literacy effort is only successful if it leads consumers to achieve outcomes that are appropriate for their needs. The measure of success is the outcome (for example, lesser or manageable debt and greater financial resilience). The purpose of financial literacy education is to increase people’s ability to achieve those outcomes.”6

The only reasonable conclusion to draw from this is that our country’s financial literacy education is failing us all right now.

How Do You Ensure That Students Acquire the Personal Finance Knowledge and Skills That They Must Learn to Thrive Financially?

During the Transforming Education Summit 2022, the U.N. Secretary-General, António Guterres, called for a “focus on a whole new set of skills, including digital literacy, financial skills, and emerging technical and STEM skills.”7

When it comes to financial literacy content delivered in Canadian schools, transformation is definitely needed. A first step would involve requiring each secondary student in the country to pass a personal finance course while in grade 11 or 12 to graduate. Additionally, a financial literacy strand could be injected into every math course that is delivered in all secondary schools. 

It could also be mandated that every student in a Canadian college, university or apprenticeship program successfully completes at least one course in personal finance to graduate. Delivering thirteen financial wellness presentations for students and alumni at schools such as University of Western Ontario and Wilfrid Laurier University over the past three school years has confirmed in my mind that there is an insatiable appetite amongst our young adults to learn more about personal finance.

How Do You Go About Helping Those Who Are Now in The Workforce Full-time Learn About Money?

Canadians want to learn more about personal finance: 80% of employees indicate that they want to receive financial literacy education while at work.8 Given that lost productivity in the workplace due to employees spending time worrying about their finances is estimated to be in the $40 billion range annually in this country, it would seem that employers should be jumping at the opportunity to provide this crucial wellness benefit.9  Many of the country’s organizational leaders who are attuned to the financial stress that exists amongst their team members are committed to offering support in this area. This is wise on every level. This is certainly a pressing call to action for “Corporate Canada” to close the gap in this area, given the financial strain that Canadians are enduring.

This Is A Moral Imperative

Supporting Canadians as they journey financially has never been more important. The level of financial literacy education that is being delivered—both in schools and in the workplace—must be increased to help more citizens take better control of their money. In Canada, there is a moral imperative to put all citizens in a position to thrive financially, and personal financial literacy education is the foundation for reaching this goal.

Fred J. Masters, BBA, BEd, PQP, is the author of Lessons on Mastering Money: The Personal Finance Guide for Canadians in their 20s & 30s. He is the President of Masters Money Management Inc. and has given financial wellness presentations to all demographics in Canada, including university students and alumni. He is a retired professional educator, having taught senior financial accounting for decades. He is also a licensed mortgage agent with Mortgage InGenuity Inc. and can be reached at To find out more, visit

This work contains the author’s opinions and ideas as related to the subject matter. The content is by no means designed to provide any reader with individual financial advice. Note that past performance is not a guarantee of future results when it comes to any specific investment or investment strategy. Always consult a competent financial professional for advice when it comes to making financial decisions. No guarantee is made with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the content.