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From Struggle To Stability: Creating A Tailored Management Course For Those Living With Low Income

22 June 2023
Author: Carrie Wong and Nandita Bijur
By Carrie Wong & Nandita Bijur for OMSAA

Now more than ever Canadians are recognizing the importance of financial well-being – achieving peace of mind about our financial situation, feeling secure in our ability to absorb a money setback, and having the freedom to make choices that allow us to enjoy life. However, research shows that 63% of Canadians living on low-income are very concerned about their ability to meet basic expenses and that 54% of Canadians with income under $50,000 say they are in poor or terrible financial shape. Financial stress severely impacts our physical, emotional, and mental health.

While financial wellness is affected largely by economic and social factors, individual behaviours and psychological factors also play a role. Financial stress is compounded when people feel a loss of control and lack the appropriate knowledge and information to make decisions in their best interests. Although there are many places to find financial information and financial literacy education, they’re not tailored to people receiving social assistance for example. Mainstream financial advisory services are often inaccessible and not well equipped to meet the unique needs and challenges of people living with lower incomes.

Financial information tailored to meet the needs of people receiving social assistance
Prosper Canada recently developed an online course to help individuals and families living with low-incomes learn about money management topics in an accessible way, using plain language, with information and resources relevant to their circumstances. The design of this course was informed through a service design process incorporating insights from participants with living and lived experience with Ontario Works, and subject matter experts, advocacy organizations, and frontline practitioners at community organizations.

The service design process
Service design is a human-centred design method that facilitates an in-depth understanding of people’s experiences using a particular service to design programs, services, or products that better meet their needs. By empathizing with and understanding their pain points, we can create evidence-based solutions that work better for everyone. By focusing on the people who face the most challenges to achieving or maintaining financial security, we can ensure our course addresses people’s core needs and is more accessible and relatable for the people who need it more.

To better understand the problem we were trying to solve, we started by reading existing literature and articles and conducting interviews with subject matter experts about saving and investing on a low income. We then delved deeper through in-depth interviews with people who have lived experience of the issues faced by individuals receiving social assistance. Finally, we validated our findings with experts in the field of supporting people living on low-incomes through their money challenges: frontline staff from financial empowerment and community agencies.  

This approach allowed us to learn from and check our findings with different groups involved in building financial security for people living on low-incomes, and eventually design a course for them.  

What we learned through service design
The key findings of low-income people on social assistance we discovered:

  • The biggest barriers for people living on low-income to start saving and investing are low emotional bandwidth, not having enough money after meeting basic needs, and finding the financial system too complex, unapproachable, and hard to navigate.
  • They are more vulnerable to frauds and scams as they are more likely to be disconnected from mainstream financial systems. As a result, they often experience distrust of financial systems and feelings of isolation. 
  • Accessing affordable and straightforward resources and advice is challenging because of the lack of information that is relevant, unbiased or tailored to their needs, especially for folks who have low digital literacy. 
  • Planning ahead is an important mindset for saving money and investing, but many people are often only able to look a few days or weeks into the future. It can be very hard to plan ahead when folks are living in survival mode. 
Making the most of your money online course
The Making the most of your money online course takes into consideration all that we have learned through our service design process, to create a resource that is user-friendly and tailored to people’s needs. The course covers several ways people can maximize their income and access available resources, including government benefits and community supports, while minimizing expenditures, as well as understanding how to save, and invest in themselves. Additional resources point to tools and information about budgeting, filing taxes, debt management, frauds and scams, and goal setting. 

Pilot testers of the course, which included practitioners and people with lived expertise, validated that the financial topics covered are relevant, useful, interesting, and easy to understand. Many expressed eagerness to share with their loved ones, support persons, and caseworkers. 

The vital role of frontline practitioners
Through this project, we were able to learn from people who had access to financial empowerment help (e.g. understanding the importance of budgeting, how to track expenses, etc.) and those who weren’t connected to the right help at the right time. Accessing financial empowerment tools and resources during key interactions with municipal services can bridge that gap and improve peoples ability to navigate financial challenges. For example, at the Toronto Public Library, staff from community agencies are providing on-site help with tax filing, accessing important government benefits, learning to save and budget, as residents come in for library programs, to browse books, or just use the computers. 

As practitioners working with people in financially vulnerable situations, this means that you are a vital part of the system, able to share relevant financial information and resources to help individuals feel more confident and in control of their financial situation. Ultimately, this can lead individuals to feel empowered to make effective money management decisions and to advocate for and seek the supports to which they are entitled.

In addition to sharing the Making the most of your money course, we encourage you to seek training and development opportunities to better support the clients and communities you work with. Please reach out to Carrie Wong at for information about Prosper Canada online courses or training for practitioners.

Nandita Bijur (she/her) is a Senior Officer of Program Delivery and Integration at Prosper Canada, working with municipal and community partners to design and integrate financial empowerment support into existing municipal services. As a service designer who has worked with frontline organizations and governments, she is most energized by learning how to make complex systems accessible and understandable. 


Carrie Wong (she/her) is the Manager of Learning and Training at Prosper Canada. Carrie is responsible for leading learning and training strategy and initiatives, including the development and delivery of financial empowerment training and resources to organizations supporting financially vulnerable Canadians.

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