Money: How Setting and Keeping to a Budget Can Make Your Settlement - and Your Whole Life - Easier

Many newcomers arrive in Canada with a bank account containing between 10 and 20 thousand dollars. Even if you start with more than that, your goal is the same; to find a source of income before your money runs out.

To create a budget for yourself, start by figuring out your actual living expenses. Food, rent and transportation costs are unavoidable. You'll also need winter clothing and you may have to pay your own utilities. If you are self-employed or earning money with contract or occasional work, you should probably set aside some money for taxes if they are not deducted by your employer. Let's say the total comes out to $1450 per month.

This would come to $8,700 for six months. Even if you are very careful with your money, your actual total is bound to be higher than this. Expect to add several hundred dollars for the occasional meal outside of your home, some treats now and then, and possibly an internet connection if you have a computer you are using for your job hunt.

Keep Living on That Budget for as Long as You

Can If you find a good job before the deadline you set for yourself, you should keep working within the same budget for a while longer. You can allow yourself a bit more fun. Buy a television or computer, subscribe to cable tv or specialty internet services. Increase your food budget. Buy some furniture. Go out a bit more. But set yourself an entertainment budget, to make sure you can put some money in the bank.

The next step is to start working toward the future. Start establishing credit. Look at courses you can take to find a better job or get a promotion at your current job. Start a special bank account where you can put money that you are saving towards a house. Once you have been in Canada for a year or more, a good steady job and a $10,000 down payment could get you a mortgage. This would be a good time start saving to buy a car (and pay the thousands of dollars of year you'll need for car insurance). It may be wise to find some investments that will earn you interest or to start saving for retirement or your children's education. Investing in RRSPs and RESPs can reduce your taxable income so you pay less at tax time.

If the unexpected happens and you find yourself unemployed again, the money you've saved can help you through the setback.

If you are careful with your money for your first five years in Canada, you will be well on your way to success.

Worst Case Scenarios

Many newcomers arrive with a back-up plan; if you don't get a job in a certain length of time, you will return to your homeland to either give up on your move to Canada or to earn some money there so you can come back and try again later. It is important to stick to that plan. If a plane ticket home costs $1,200, make sure you make your decisions early enough to keep your options open. If you go over your spending limit - holding out to find out if you got that last job you were interviewed for - you may find yourself stuck here with no money and no way to get out of the situation.

At that point, you will be in the same boat as many refugees who came with even fewer financial resources - and you may be forced to take any job you can get.. Shawn Mintz of ACCES employment services warns that if you stay in a survival job for more than two years, it can be very difficult to get out of it and into your field of expertise. So go ahead and take a short-term job if you must, but never allow yourself to be satisfied with it. Minimum wage in Ontario is $7.75 per hour. With a job like that, you will take home well under $1,000 per month, so you will need two jobs just to pay your basic expenses. Your transportation costs will be higher and you will have little time or energy to hunt for that job you really want. If you are on your own, it would be a good idea to find some roommates to share rent and some other expenses.

If there are two of you, your combined survival wages might bring in $2,500 per month. If you did this for six months, continuing to survive on a tight budget and putting a little in the bank, you might have enough money saved in six months or a year for one of you to go back to school or to full time job hunting - better prepared than you were the first time.

The Ontario Works program can provide short-term financial support to clients while helping you work toward your goal of finding paid employment. A Social Services caseworker will discuss your short-term and long-term goals and tell you about the services available to you. The financial assistance that is provided may include funds for food, shelter, clothing and other household items, a monthly drug card to cover the cost of prescribed medication, other benefits such as winter clothing allowance, back to school allowance and dental services for children, prescription eyeglasses and transportation for medical reasons.

Don't let pride prevent you from getting the help you need when you need it. If the assistance is enough to help you get through the hardest part of your settlement process and become a contributing, tax-paying citizen - then everybody wins!

CNM