Navigating Debt

Published: February 6, 2023


With the rising cost of living, high inflation, and increasing interest rates, Canadians are concerned about their finances. Debt can be a difficult and overwhelming issue to manage. After all, money stress directly impacts our physical and mental wellbeing. 

And now, for many families, borrowing – or going into debt – has become a daily fact of life. From credit cards, to student loans, to car payments, so many across Metro Vancouver are concerned about their finances. And, for those with fixed or limited incomes, it’s a getting harder to keep an eye on where our money goes.  

Not sure where to start? We can help. In this post, we’ll review all things debt-related in simple terms. From tracking debt to creating a payment plan, Family Services of Greater Vancouver is here to help you take control of your future and finances. We envision a community where people are empowered to make the most of their money.  

Figure out what you owe  

While difficult, figuring out how much debt you have is important. Take it one step at a time, and slowly build the full picture of your debt. By knowing what we owe, you can better plan your debt repayment strategy. 

What to look at:  

  • Credit card statements 
  • Credit reports 
  • Past due utility accounts 
  • Collections letters 
  • CRA Notice of Assessment 

Need some help finding this information? Our 1-on-1 financial coaches are available to help 

Track your fluctuating expenses 

Unexpected expenses can throw off your debt repayment plans, so try your best to plan ahead.  

Think about the surprise expenses that came up last year. How likely are they to happen again? How expensive were they? Are you able to pay them should they arise again?  

Unexpected expenses might include: medical bills not covered by benefits, car repairs, electronics replacement or repairs (phones, laptops, etc.), school field trips for kids, gifts, veterinary car, moving expenses, and many more.   

Impulse buying happens when you spend more money than your meant to, usually on something you don’t really need. This doesn’t mean you need to cut out all the purchases that brought some joy; it’s just another opportunity to look at how you spend money. 

Again, consider when this has happened to you in the last year. What were your motivations behind impulsive purchases? Next time, how can you resist your spending temptations more effectively? Creating a system can be very helpful. 

Impulse expenses might include: clothes, accessories, dining out, home décor, gadgets, electronics, lottery tickets, online shopping, etc. 

Set Your Priorities 

Managing debt can be overwhelming at first. For a lot of people, borrowing money is necessary to fund basic needs. Your goal should be to do the best you can with what you have. If you’ve gotten this far, are you able to make changes in your spending? Money saved somewhere can always go towards paying off debt. 

Choose your strategy 

There are two main strategies for paying down your debt: snowball and avalanche. 

  1. Snowball: prioritize the smallest debt first by increasing your payments until it’s paid off, and then move on to the next smallest debt, and repeat.
      • Pro: you can clearly witness your progress, which can be very motivating.
      • Con: if your larger debts have higher interest rates and fees, you might end up paying more overall in the long run if you prioritize smaller debts. 

     2. Avalanche: prioritize the debt with the highest interest rate by increasing your payments until it’s paid off, and then move on to the next debt with the highest interest rate, and repeat.   

      • Pro: you get rid of the most expensive debt first.  
      • Con: it’s harder to see yourself making progress. 


Due to the high inflation environment we’re experiencing in Canada today, the Financial Empowerment team at Family Services recommends the Avalanche strategy. It enables you to pay less in total interest and shift from paying debt to starting to save. Looking for more info? Reach out to schedule a call with one of our coaches.  

Your credit score and why it matters  

A credit score is a measure of your credit (or borrowing and debt) history. It shows lenders how well you managed and paid debt in the past. Factors that go into your credit score include: 

  • If you regularly miss payments; 
  • How long you’ve had credit; 
  • If your debts have been sent to a collection agency; 
  • Being close to, at or above your credit limit 

Why is it important to have a good credit score?  

  1. Higher credit scores usually allow you to negotiate lower interest rates. 
  2. You may be refused loans or credit if the lender deems your credit score too low. 
  3. Down the line, a low credit score makes it difficult to get a mortgage and buy a house. 

We Can Help 

Still feeling unsure about what to do next? We can help. At Family Services of Greater Vancouver, we offer free workshops and 1-on-1 financial coaching. Our coaches are trauma-informed and provide service in English, Español, Việt, Français, 粵語 (Cantonese), 普通话 (Mandarin), and برای ایجاد (Farsi).   

Contact Us
Online: fsgv.ca/financial-empowerment
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 1 800 609 3202