man holding dollar sign

Give Yourself the Gift of Financial Literacy this Holiday Season


By Alphil Guilaran, Financial Coach
Financial Literacy Counsel


After every holiday season, our mailboxes and in-boxes receive visitors in the form of bills from the countless expenses of the holiday season. We’ve used our credit cards for food, flights, gifts, hotels, gas, and all the costs associated with celebrating the Christmas season.

Even the most financially literate of us who are wise with our finances, find ourselves facing credit card balances that increase stress around money. January is by far the month wherein Canadians face some of the largest credit card statements of the year. So what can you proactively do to overcome and combat money stress this time of year?

Here’s three of our best tips in order to have not only a Merry Christmas, but also a Merry January:



“Boundaries are like gates, they let the good in and the bad out.” – Dr. Henry Cloud

We are relational beings and Christmas is a great reminder of the reality that we thrive in healthy relationships but we are also fractured through unhealthy ones. The topic of money inevitably creates more tension and has the potential to fracture relationships even further.

Through our work with VCH EFAP, our team has learned over the years that more and more couples and families are being torn apart because of the lack of boundaries and healthy communication around finances. These are motivated by fear, anxiety, pride, unrealistic expectations and building up walls rather than boundaries.

Boundaries and budgeting go hand in hand because they are like guardrails on the sea to sky highway preventing you from falling off the proverbial financial cliff. For a majority of the residents we coach, balancing the demands of life, career and money is the epicenter of money stress. Our commitment is to ensure that you have a game plan for the road ahead to balance both, and be present in the lives of those you love and care about.

Our team of financial coaches work alongside Dr. Stacy Sprague and her clinical counsellors and together we form a critical care team. We work to counsel and coach VCH employees who need a personal breakthrough in the area of finances or act as mediators to advocate on their behalf to resolve tense family conflicts that involve finances.



“Cure without care is more harmful than helpful.” – Dr. Henri Nouwen

In my 19 years of experience coaching high income young professionals, handing them a credit card, line of credit or a loan without financial literacy or an instruction manual is like giving a 16-year old a driver’s license without caring enough to give them driving lessons to avoid danger to themselves and others.

To get out of debt, you need to work with an advisor who will provide not only trustworthy advice (the cure) but who will also take a longitudinal approach for your financial wellbeing in order to reach your goals and desired outcome (the care).

Here are some proven steps to tame the debt monsters in your life and don’t hesitate to reach out to us for financial coaching to customize a debt repayment program during and after residency.

Step 1: Make a list of what you owe

  • Knowing is half the battle when it comes to combating debt.
  • Create a budget so you’re telling money where it should go so you’re in control.
  • Make a list that includes balance, interest rate and minimum payment amount.
  • Line them up not by balance owing but by interest rates from high to low.

Step 2: Pay off high interest debt first and a little extra money to highest interest debt

  • Make minimum payments on all your debts but focus on on the one with the highest rate with more than the minimum payment so you can make a dent on the principal.
  • You get a cheque in a Christmas card, an RRSP refund in the new year or red envelope with money in it, commit it towards the highest interest rate debt.

Step 3: Live as if you didn’t get a raise this year and take a credit card break

  • A sure fire way to free up some extra cash to pay down debts is to live on the same income as you did before you were given a raise such as the bump up in pay you receive whenever you begin a new residency year.
  • Take a break from using credit cards to put your life back into perspective and identify where you are susceptible to or using retail therapy to temporarily build up your self worth or trying to impress others.



Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” – Jim Rohn (1930 – 1999, American entrepreneur & author)

According to one of my favorite writers on the topic of finance David Trahair, we need to first and foremost identify if our spending falls into the category of a cash cow or a cash pig. From there, we need discipline and discernment to buy more cash cows than cash pigs.

During residency orientation in June, one of the money management principles I left with R1 residents was the principle of “buying more cash cows than cash pigs”. Cash cows are purchases that create more money for you such as good quality investments and education. Cash pigs give you temporary gratification such as fine dining, gambling and retail therapy.

Since orientation in June, the average debt of the residents my team and I have coached is hovering about $190,000. We are very happy that we are able to assist them with timely advice and a game plan for becoming debt free.


In Closing:

On behalf of my team, I wish you all the best this holiday season!!! Our doors are open to serve you and your family with the resources, tools and timely advice you will need to combat money stress and get your financial house in order this holiday season.

We look forward to providing you with financial coaching services through VCH EFAP’s Financial Literacy Program in partnership with the Financial Literacy Counsel and Resident Doctors of BC.

Please do not hesitate to contact VCH EFAP at 604.872.4929 or 1.800.505.4929. You can also email me at alphil.guilaran@flci.ca or Dr. Stacy Sprague at stacy.sprague@efap.ca

Have a Merry Christmas from your friends at VCH EFAP and Financial Literacy Counsel!

Whether you’ve just begun your journey in R1, completing residency in the next 12 months or anywhere in between, increasing your financial literacy is a gift that will keep on giving as you make important financial decisions throughout your lifetime.

Vancouver Coastal Health’s Employee and Family Assistance Program (VCH EFAP) led by Dr. Stacy Sprague, launched the EFAP Financial Literacy Program in 2011 in partnership with the Financial Literacy Counsel and Resident Doctors of BC to increase the financial literacy rates and reduce money stress for medical residents throughout British Columbia.

By reaching out to VCH EFAP at 604.872.4929 or 1.800.505.4929 or alphil.guilaran@flci.ca, residents and their partners receive these free services as part of their benefits plan:

  • 2 private financial coaching sessions every year
  • 1 hour of legal counseling for incorporation, locum contracts, family law etc.
  • Request a financial literacy workshop for your academic days or retreats 

After residency, we are also a resource to the Physician Health Program of BC to help practicing doctors thrive and flourish as they face life’s transitions and new normals due to unexpected life events.

author: Kejia Wang