Get Money-Smart: Financial Advice for Teens and Young Adults

November is Financial Literacy Month. At CPA Ontario, we help the next generation of CPAs grow their financial literacy skills through events, workshops and resources, including our annual financial literacy conference for high school students, parents and teachers.

Our last conference's keynote speaker was best-selling author Robin Taub, CPA, CA. Robin calls herself “Google Translate for personal finance”: she takes complicated money topics and put them into plain language. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, Robin went to work at one of the “Big Four” accounting firms, where she got her CPA, CA designation. Her latest book, The Wisest Investment: Teaching Your Kids to Be Responsible, Independent and Money-Smart for Life, gives parents the information, strategies and inspiration they need to teach their kids about money.

We asked Robin for her best financial advice for teens and young adults.

Young woman with glasses and brown hair taking a photo of a cheque with a smartphone

What’s the number one piece of financial advice you wish you had received when you were younger?

No one is born knowing about money. You have to seek out ways to learn about it, whether from your parents, in school or from other trusted sources. Personal finance is a vast topic so don’t feel like you need to learn everything at once. Focus on the age and life stage you’re currently at and the decisions you’re facing.

Where should teens and young adults start when they begin to learn about finance?

Start with the five pillars of money: earn, save, spend, share and invest. They are the fundamentals you need to know at any age. The specific topics and decisions you’ll face as a young adult are very different than those you would have faced as a preteen.

Listen to a personal finance podcast, watch educational YouTube videos, read a book about money or start asking your parents/guardians or other role models you trust and admire.

What important financial milestones should teens and young adults aim for?

Some typical financial milestones for people in their early twenties are:

  • filing a tax return
  • having a chequing account for day-to-day transactions and savings accounts for both emergencies and long-term savings
  • having your own credit card so you can build your credit rating while learning to spend responsibly
  • operating from a budget (start by using the tools in your mobile banking app)
  • Opening a TFSA (you need to be 18)

Some milestones, however, are personal so start by discovering what your personal values are. What are the things in life that are most important to you? For example, do you value education, adventure or security?

If you don’t know what your values are, I have a free values validator self-assessment on my website. Once you’re clear on your values, you can set goals that are tied to those values, like paying for post-secondary education, paying off student debt, travelling or buying a car.

What’s the easiest way for young adults to start investing?

The easiest way to start investing is by “paying yourself first”: every time you get paid at work, or get money as a gift or as allowance, take some off the top and put it into a separate investment account. Many new investors start out by buying a low-cost index fund, either a mutual fund or an exchange-traded fund (ETF), that tracks a broad stock market index like the Toronto Stock Exchange or the S&P 500. You can even set this up to take place automatically every month.

Another option is to use a digital portfolio manager, also known as a robo-advisor, to automate all steps in the investment process, including building and rebalancing the portfolio.

Rapid fire financial questions


They each have different purposes and eligibility requirements. Do your homework to compare them and decide whether one or both are right for you!

Save or invest?

You can’t invest if you don’t have savings, so first save and then put those savings to work by investing them.

Buying experiences or buying items?

In my book, I write that “Research shows that people tend to be happy with new things initially, until they realize better things are available. Satisfaction with stuff tends to decrease over time, while satisfaction with experiences like travel, hobbies, or concerts and other live events tends to increase with the passage of time.” I’m into experiences like travel and recently visited Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna. And as I write this, I’m working remotely from Lisbon, Portugal.

Best recent purchase?

A Japanese knife. They are the absolute best if you like to cook!

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