Savings jar

Rural residents get help with financial literacy

Hay River is a small town of about 3,000 people located along Great Slave Lake in Northwest Territories. Approximately half of the population is Indigenous, made up of First Nations, Métis and Inuit. Recently, the Hay River Library signed up to run a series of Money Matters financial literacy workshops for its residents.

Money Matters is a free introductory financial literacy program for adult learners that has been delivered to Canadians since 2011 and has reached over 80,000 adults. Hay River Library ran workshops on all five topics from the program: Spending Plans, Banking Basics, Borrowing Money, Ways to Save and Smart Shopping. The suite of Money Matters for Indigenous Peoples offers workbooks and workshops for Indigenous learners, which includes additional information and design elements to reflect the realities of Indigenous communities in Canada.

In total, Hay River Library saw 70 people attend their various workshops, all of whom identified as Indigenous. The sessions were facilitated by ABC Life Literacy Canada’s Indigenous Outreach Specialist, Ryan Walker-Melton.

“We had a great turnout to the workshops and the audience was very diverse. Some were in the shelter system or had housing assistance, some were just out of high school while others were older retirees.”

Walker-Melton says the attendees appreciated the information they learned from the workshops and found it useful. She says that many of the attendees receive government cheques and were being charged service fees to cash the cheques. One of the workbooks covered the fact that every Government of Canada cheque under $1,750 could be cashed free of charge by a Canadian citizen at any Canadian bank.

“There was almost a collective gasp from the audience when they found out that they didn’t have to pay service fees to cash a Government of Canada cheque. They had all been paying $5 to $10 in fees each time they cashed a cheque and none of them knew that they could cash them for free. It’s really unfortunate that they were being taken advantage of, because those fees add up, and the money could be used for other things like food or rent.”

The participants also learned about comparing interest rates and determining type of credit for their needs, the benefits of opening up a RESP for their children, and how to budget.

“One of the interesting takeaways was that many of the learners didn’t go grocery shopping with a list,” says Walker-Melton. “In a community where the number of stores is limited and consumers don’t have as many choices to shop around for the best price, it’s really important that they come prepared and are generally more aware of how much they are spending. With limited options around, it can be easy to fall into debt and bad habits.”

To learn more about Money Matters or to bring a workshop to your community, visit