Debt repayment is an enduring priority for Canadians in setting financial resolutions for 2017, according to  a recent survey by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). And yet many clients often lack a definitive plan to cut back on discretionary spending and direct those savings toward debt reduction.

"I don't think many Canadians can tell you what their monthly surplus is or what their monthly deficit is," says Jeff Brown, vice president, community banking and emerging markets at Meridian Credit Union in Toronto. "It's not something we want to think about."

As a financial advisor, you can help put your clients' spending habits into context and set a clear plan for saving and managing their debt, says Scott Wambolt, senior vice president, retail and business banking, at CIBC in Toronto.

Brown and Wambolt offer the following ways you can help clients stick to their financial resolutions:

> Tell stories
Share personal anecdotes showing simple ideas that your clients can use in their own lives. You can use these stories as an entry point to discuss areas where they might free up cash to add to their savings or pay off debt. 

For example, Brown tells of his efforts to find a cheaper cellphone plan for his family. The $100 in monthly savings he found by moving to another carrier enabled him to increase his RRSP contributions.

Help your clients find those "small wins," he adds, and suggest they keep a written log of their expenses or track them using a mobile app. 

> Relate distant goals to immediate actions
Big-picture goals, such as retirement and sending children to university, can feel at once important and distant. Clients have an abstract idea of how much money they will need, and don't always have a concrete plan for getting there.

That's why you need to break down lofty goals into practical steps that your clients can integrate into their everyday life. For example, suggest that with every paycheque received, they allocate a portion to pay off their most expensive debt, and another for long-term savings, Wambolt says.

> Illustrate the impact
Sometimes, clients underestimate the effect that minor expenses can have on long-term plans. When you produce a graph that itemizes clients' cash flow, make sure to highlight not just the big expenses, but also the small ones, Brown says.

"You have a responsibility to understand the larger goals and what's getting in the way of them," Brown says. "Where advisors can be very helpful is in helping clients understand the impact of their decisions."

For example, you might alert them to their discretionary expenses, Brown suggests, to help them identify where they can cut back. 

> Encourage them to follow-up
Remind clients that you are available to revisit their plan — once a year or every few years — should their circumstances change and they have to adjust their goals.

You can take that opportunity to see if clients want to consolidate their consumer debt, refinance their mortgage or consider savings recommendations, Wambolt says.

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