British Columbia

Uncertainty about the future a big financial worry for many British Columbians

COVID-19 has hit many Canadians hard financially and uncertainty about the future has led many to change their spending habits.

The Credit Counselling Society's released its annual report on consumer debt Wednesday

The Credit Counselling Society of B.C. says COVID has had a mixed impact on people's finances. While gross income for many has gone down, disposable income for others has risen. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

The Christmas season can be one of financial stress for many, but this year that end-of-year stress has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to a report released Wednesday by the Credit Counselling Society, at least one in four Canadians are feeling anxious about their personal finances this year. Among younger Canadians (those under 55), that number jumps to one in three.

"People were ill-prepared for the pandemic because it was an emergency and just lacked the emergency savings necessary to weather through the storm," says Credit Counselling Society CEO Scott Hannah.

British Columbians, says Hannah, are particularly anxious about economic factors outside of their control like the COVID-19 pandemic or an economic or housing market downturn.

"For a lot of Canadians and British Columbians, it's the fear of the unknown," he said. "It's difficult to plan under these uncertain times."

For many, he said, the uncertainty around the pandemic has meant cutting back on extraneous spending.

"Many B.C. residents have been forced to cut back on non-essential spending until they see that things are smoothing out for them," Hannah said. 

"In some cases, it's downsizing from a two-car family to a one-car family. Christmas, for many families this year, is going to be different than in years past because of a lack of their ability to fund it and really trying to stay afloat and keep up with their payments."

Hannah said, however, this can be the right time for some to get more control over their financial situation, especially if government assistance provided some breathing room to tackle debt. 

Hannah says reduced costs from not having to commute to work or not having to pay for daycare have also had one silver lining.

"For a lot of people, while their gross income has gone down, their disposable income has gone up and they've actually saved during this time period and have paid down some of their debt," he said. 

He said for those looking to tackle their finances, it might be a good idea to seek professional help. 

"Money still is that one taboo subject we don't like to talk about," he said, adding that people don't have to suffer in silence.

"Now's the time to take advantage of that and talk about how do I get out of this mess in the future and better prepare myself so that when the next unknown economic downturn hits, I'm in a better position to deal with it."

With files from On The Coast