Advice Column

Ask Lisa

Have a personal question you'd like to ask Lisa?


Ask away!

Fill out a short form and Lisa will get back to you with her answers.


Lisa Zamparo

I’m a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), business coach and personal finance expert in Toronto who can help you make intentional decisions with your money. My personalized approach to financial planning can help you achieve your goals by aligning your spending with your priorities.

Ask Lisa

Needs Some Education

My partner and I opened up an RESP when each of our three children were born – we set up small monthly contributions and haven’t thought much about it since. There was no strategy or plan behind what we did, we just knew RESPs were good for education savings but truth be told, I don’t really understand how they work or if they were the right choice. For example, what happens when I start to withdraw money? And are there strategies I should know about to make the most of the RESP?

Now, 12 years later, in the beginning of another school year, these questions are top of mind. Post-secondary education seems that much closer, and I’m worried we won’t have enough savings to cover the costs of schooling. My parents paid for my school expenses so I never had student loans or had to worry about how much it cost. They’ve offered to help with our children’s education costs which takes a weight off my shoulders, but I can’t help but feel like my partner and I should’ve been able to plan for this ourselves. I’m feeling really disappointed in myself to be in this position – that I haven’t prioritized saving the way my parents did. I used to think they needed to lighten up and have more fun with their money… but I’m starting to see it differently.

What advice would you give to someone in my situation? How can I best prepare for these looming expenses, and how can I set my children up to have better savings habits than myself?

Aspiring Saver Buried in Debt

For most of my adult life, I’ve been buried in debt – student loan debt, personal lines of credit and credit card debt. I didn’t grow up in a financially supportive family and have been on my own since moving out at 16. I’ve been working full time in a variety of different jobs since then, and I paid my way through college by working full time while studying.

Although I’ve always tried to stick to a budget, several setbacks and “reckless” spending (i.e. more than a few shopping sprees) have led me to my current situation – over $60,000 in debt before the age of 30 and no real savings.

I’ve consolidated my debt in the past few years and have started to aggressively pay it down now that I’ve advanced in my career and am making a decent salary. However, I’m not sure how to go about saving (and eventually investing) while I am still in so much debt. I want to do both, but does it make sense to start saving when interest is still accumulating on my debt? Is it better to do one at a time or do both at the same time?

Aware and Awake

I’m in my mid-50s with two teenage daughters and a start-up catering business. Last year, my husband and I decided to get a divorce. During our marriage, I was a stay-at-home mom and managed our day-to-day expenses. But when all the paperwork started to come out through the divorce proceedings, I found out that he had been taking money out against our credit card at 21% interest and that he had refinanced our mortgage to buy stocks. When I realized how much debt we had, the feeling was indescribable. I can remember all the times I signed documents and thought nothing of it; I completely trusted his judgement.

To be fair, he has been very generous with our children. So, as we figure out what’s fair money-wise between us, I do not need to worry about their future. Initially, it was a real concern for me as my eldest doesn’t have great spending habits and my youngest still lives at home. Because my children are taken care of, I’ve recently had the time and energy to focus on understanding financial statements, investments, and properties. I think I’m heading in a good direction.

My question is, how do I make sure I’m financially secure? At this point, I think I’d have to go back to an entry level position since I’ve been out of the workforce for over 21 years (even though I have an economics degree). Although I have my amateur catering business, I’m not sure I can rely on it for a steady source of income. I’m counting on the return I can make from investing my settlement fund as well as using some of it to buy a rental property down south. But will that be enough?