How do Canadians earning U.S. dollars deal with the windfall that a low loonie brings?

The falling loonie has implications for the Canadians who make their living state-side, but who still reside in Canada.

And what should they do with the extra money in their bank accounts when the loonie is low?

Kevin O'Neil has worked in the United States for nearly 16 years. He's had to live with the swings of the loonie and how that affects his life as a person who gets paid in U.S. dollars. (CBC)

Every month, Kevin O'Neil makes a monthly budget, using a tool on the Bank of Canada website to estimate where the U.S. dollar will be in the month ahead.

The LaSalle resident is a computer systems analyst in the auto industry, who works in the U.S. and gets paid in U.S. dollars.

After nearly 16 years of this routine, he knows the changing dollar is a fact of life.

"You learn to live with it," O'Neil said.

A kind of 'lottery win'

Jack Carr, a professor of economics at the University of Toronto, likens the bump that Canadians with cross-border employment are seeing right now to a lottery win.

"In some sense, the Canadians in Windsor who work in the United States have had a minor, or maybe not so minor, lottery win," Carr said in an interview. "And how long that that stays is anybody's guess."

For people like O'Neil, Carr said there are various options to cash in on the gains in their bank accounts.

"You could put it in the bank and earn a very low interest, you could put it in the stock market, which is fairly risky, but presumably they are going to save it and not spend it because they don't know how long these gains are going to last," he said.

'It was a surprise'

In recent days, the Canadian dollar has been sitting below the 69-cent US mark, which means it now costs well over $1.40 to buy a U.S. dollar.

O'Neil said the current drop in the loonie has seemed faster than dips in the past.

"I wasn't ever expecting to see it go below 70 cents [US] again, so it was a surprise," he said.

Having lived with a paycheque in U.S. dollars and a changing loonie for many years, O'Neil has developed strategies, like doing his monthly budget.

He also limits the amount of money he changes into Canadian dollars.

"Keep your U.S. money for U.S. expenses and only convert into Canadian what you need to convert for your expenses that can't be paid in U.S. dollars," he said.

For him, that involves doing as much shopping as he can state-side, so he won't lose money when converting currencies.

An opportunity to save

O'Neil said the higher the U.S. dollar gets in relation to the loonie, the more taxes he will have to pay in Canada.

And so while he may have more income when the loonie falls, O'Neil said "it sort of comes out in the wash."

He admits if the loonie stays low, he and his wife will have an opportunity to save a bit more money than they otherwise would.

Sean Middaugh, a Windsor-based financial planner, said that every person has individual needs when it comes to financial planning.

But he said anyone who ends up with extra cash as a result of a situation like this might want to look at their debts.

"With interest rates as low as they are, it's a great opportunity to actually sock down more money against that debt and eliminate that debt sooner," he said.


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