In November 2019 the McGill University launched a free Personal Finance Essentials program in collaboration with RBC Future Launch and The Globe and Mail. The course aims to teach the basics for financial literacy to enable you to start taking care of your personal finances.
As a self-directed course, you have a 3-month window to complete all 8 modules. Each module contains 10-20 mins of video material with a quiz at the end. Once you complete all modules you’ll be awarded a certificate similar to the one below:
It should be noted that despite McGill’s collaboration in creating and providing the course, it will not count as a credit towards any McGill university program.
Though RBC is another collaborator for the course, it's not overcrowded with advertisement and I was able to spot only a couple of instances where a conflict of interest might exist. The course does mention the use of professional financial advisors and links to free tools on the RBC website at times (like the mortgage payment calculator) but overall, I didn’t feel like RBC was aiming to sell me anything through their involvement.
The course itself is broken up into 8 modules with the goal of outlining basic concepts of personal finance and providing a very high-level introduction into investing. It kicks off with an introduction module laying out the structure of the course and setting the expectations for the material to come.
The second Module dives into Debt and Borrowing, which is one of the most important topics when getting a handle on assessing your personal financial situation considering Canadians have a disposable income to debt ratio of over 170% . The module will introduce you to the calculation of credit scores, rules of borrowing, and outlines some of the different debt vehicles out there including Credit Cards, Lines of Credit, and Mortgages.
Building upon that knowledge the third module, Your Money: Today and Tomorrow, puts money into a time context and explains compounding as well as discounting and how you can make it work for you (or in the case of interest from borrowing, how it may work against you). It will go into the rather simple math of both effects and close out the chapter with some everyday applications.
Module 4, Strategic Budget Building, was one of the most interesting modules for me as budgeting is definitely an area of improvement I can afford to work on (no pun intended). It provides a 3-stepped approach to building a reasonable budget that may be able to set you up for future financial success.
Following the goal of achieving surpluses through budgeting, modules five and six provides an introduction to The Art of Investing. It will cover how to get started with investing by outlining different investment vehicles and the basic tax-sheltered accounts (TFSA and RRSP) available for Canadians. If an introduction to these topics catches your attention, you might want to take a look at my articles explaining tax-sheltered accounts and choosing your first broker.
Module 7 covers the Realities of Real Estate. You’ll get a high-level introduction into real estate and your options as an individual investor to best plan for the growing population and therefore demand for housing. The module will explain major factors when looking for investment properties as well as introduce some metrics like price-to-income and price-to-rent which can help you in your decision-making process.
The course finishes with a module presenting Behavioural Finance, an intersection of finance and psychology, and how it influences investment decisions. Though it outlines strategies you can implement to capitalize on momentum and earnings announcements, my biggest learnings from this module came from my own self-reflection (in terms of risk) as well as the introduction of different psychological phenomena.
Now that we’ve explored the content of the course, I’d like to summarize my most valuable takeaways.
Module 2 on Debt and Borrowing scratches the surface of different debt vehicles and credit scores which I think provides tremendous value for every newcomer to Canada. I really wish I would have completed it/gotten this overview right after coming over. Especially the explanations on how a credit score is built and how it can help you achieve your long time goals are really helpful.
Module 4’s introduction to efficient and strategic budgeting probably provided the most value for me at this stage of my life. I’ve had budgets before but viewed them as too much micromanaging for the value gained. Currently, I’ve been sticking to a lightweight budget investing 50% of my income and beyond that not keeping close tabs on how the rest is spent.
I’d like to change that in the future and perhaps set up at least a plan to achieve long-time goals like owning real-estate and covering expenses for family expansion. The chapter really opened my eyes to how much my spending habits may change over the next 5 - 10 years and provided a strategic approach that is easy to follow.
Overall the course was really valuable and I would especially recommend it to people just starting their personal financial management journey. It covered a lot of important aspects on a very high level and I know for myself, generated a lot of interest to dig deeper.
Thank you for following along on my first ever course review on the blog. I plan to add more courses and book reviews as part of future blog content. Books and courses are a valuable source of knowledge and can often be accessed for free making them great resources to get started.
Have you tried any courses to improve your financial literacy? Which platforms did you use and which courses did you find helpful?
I would love to hear about your experiences!
**Please note that I don’t have any influence or business relationship with the parties involved in creating and hosting McGill’s Personal Finance Essentials.