A Money Coach in Canada

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This week was different.  Typically as a money coach, I work with middle-income Canadians.

This week, I met with a group of people in recovery.  I counted it a privilege.

I was there to talk about putting a financial life back together.   Many in the room had once had a sound financial life, but the addiction had trashed everything.  Everything.

We started talking about savings. And then they told me something that left me silenced.  To a person, they now deliberately spent money as fast as it came, because they so desperately did not want the temptation there to return to their addiction.

The full scope of what they’ve got to deal with began to sink in. I had a few suggestions.. but if you had been in my place, what would you have offered?

Photo Credit: kphotographerrrr

About the Author

Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com


  1. In no way do I mean to trivialize what your group went through and in fact I think it’s quite profound what they said. To turn it around regarding finances, I think pf bloggers think about money way too much. For me, this type of behavior is “addictive” but in general is seen as “good”. Is there in any way to channel their motivation for recovery into proper financial management – to manage their fear? Of course, if they are successful in saving their money, then they get into the problem of having excess cash which was the problem in the first place. It’s a tough dilemma…


    Sep 16, 2007
  2. I think with careful planning not only of what to spend their money on but also how to spend it, they might be ok. There are many automatic ways to pay these days. But they can do the planning which is maybe the most important part of finances. Perhaps having someone they are accountable to as well – just like in a 12 step program – would be another step they could consider. After carrying out their plan successfully for awhile, the success may help them continue. We are all tempted to spend our money without a plan or on things we shouldn’t – recovered addicts just have more at stake if they fail.


    Sep 16, 2007
  3. Nancy, what a great question and issue you have raised.

    Through my work (as a Trustee in Bankruptcy) and in my personal life, I have met many individuals who have lost everything (and not only money) due to addiction. As anyone will tell you, the road back from addiction is a very long one and it takes years of 12-step recovery and counselling/therapy before affected individuals can begin to achieve any real “sanity” and balance in their lives.

    When dealing with newly sober or abstinent individuals, I avoid discussing any medium- or long-term goal setting. These individuals are thinking of the short-term only and their priority is staying sober or abstinent, “one day at a time.” I recently conducted a financial counselling session (required in bankruptcy) with a fellow who was struggling, on a daily basis, to stay off heroin. We didn’t talk about money as we should have – we talked about a more pressing priority: what he does to stay sober each day.

    I believe that preliminary goal-setting and money management is only possible for those who have consistently managed sobriety or abstinence for a longer period of time (depending on the severity of their addiction), as their senses are now clearer and, through looking at some of their emotional, psychological and spiritual problems, longer-term change is these areas is now possible, and becomes a priority.

    I think most will agree that budgeting and money management is difficult and annoying at the best of times (although Nancy is diligently working to change this through her work as a money coach!). But for a newly recovering addict, these topics are not even on the radar, and shouldn’t be. So to finally answer the question, What suggestions would I give an addict to put a financial life back together?:

    1. Focus on nothing but your program of recovery until the urge to use is a distant memory. Only then will you be strong enough to put the pieces of your life – including your finances – back together.
    2. Know that compulsivity is ingrained in addicts. After you’ve been sober or abstinent for a period of time, compulsion may arise in other areas of your life (spending, eating, relationships, gambling). Watch out for follow-on compulsions or addictions, and know that they can affect your finances as adversely as your original addiction. So keep practicing your recovery!
    3. Once you start, don’t give up. Like anything, learning the art of budgeting and money management takes time, effort and practice. If you struggle with it, or don’t see success for some time, know that almost all Canadians have this very same struggle with money.
    4. Give back. If you find a formula for success, whether in recovery, love or budgeting and money management, share your knowledge with those who might benefit from it.


    Sep 16, 2007
  4. Liz – what a lovely way of framing it – ie., we’re all in the same boat, but recovering addicts have more at stake. And sometimes I wish every last one of us had greater accountability for how we use our money!

    Lana – wow – thoughtful, informed reply. And I totally agree: thinking Big Picture and long-term was too much to add to a very full plate – ie., the challenge of staying clean on a day to day basis. One guy came up with a way to use his money that took my breath away: restitution. He knows there are a number of people, esp. family, who lost money as a direct result of his addiction, and so his excess money is being directed their way.
    A couple other ideas I came up with were putting the funds into long-term GICs or Term Deposits, locked up tight, possibly with even a letter stating under absolutely no circumstances to release the funds (banks will sometimes release them under extreme circumstances like job loss).
    I wonder if there are any agencies which will handle their money for a few years – investing, paying out the basic needs, and a mutually agreed upon cash ‘allowance’? Several in the group wished their was such a service.

    Mariam – yes, one of the things each person recognized was “all that energy that used to go into supporting this habit, is now available for constructive stuff”.
    And you indirectly pointed out something I believe: we all have our ‘addictions’, just some of them ‘look good’ to society, and help us ‘get ahead’ while other addictions can trash a person’s life, and those around them.

    It was a moving experience for me — I felt like I was in the presence of heroes.


    Sep 16, 2007
  5. as someone who has worked a lot with people in various stages of addiction, i have to agree with you, nancy: it would be great if there was an agency that helped people take care of their money. when i was working in the downtown eastside, i can’t tell you how often i was asked to keep people’s money for exactly that reason. i never did, but i was always sad to say no, knowing that their request came from such a strong desire to become or stay clean.

    i’m not sure that i’d totally agree with lana. i think we’re slowly finding out that the “first you need to concentrate on your recovery” approach doesn’t work for everyone. i don’t know about money management but i can tell you that the same approach used to be used for working: “you need to be clean for x amount of months before you can go back to work.”

    but really, everyone thinks and feels differently. for some people, the challenge and routine of going to work is exactly what helps them become stable in their sobriety. i would imagine that it could be similar with money management.


    Sep 16, 2007
  6. Hi Nancy,

    Great responses from everyone. Having wrestled with addiction myself and having now supported and counselled others, I can appreciate the struggle and the challenges with money.

    For each addict there is the required full acceptance of ‘powerlessness’ – a full admission of being ‘out-of-control’ with the required humility and accountability to others. During this period it is very hard to manage extra available funds as the addiction is both ‘baffling and cunning”. That being said, there is a need for a new sense of self-worth that can come from beginning to make concrete, pro-active choices in a variety of areas of life.

    Financially this could mean:
    – reducing credit limits on credit cards to the absolute bare minimum so no funds are available for sudden urges and binges. Locking them up, having others hold on to them, or ‘freezing’ them are always options too.
    – payroll/rrsp deduction made ‘at source’ by the employer and put into compay managed RRSP’s, savings or Pensions, etc. That way it never shows up in your daily bank account.
    – paying off existing debt more quickly – increasing the monthly or minimum payments being made – if neccessary (as credit cards will only make the minimum payment withdrawl automatically) pay off your credit cards (and reduce the limit) with a loan and have the loan payments come directly from your bank account (probably at a lower interest rate)
    – make money one of your accountability items with your sponsor and include it in your ‘circles’ or levels of relapse prevention warnings and strategies.
    – set up a trust account (as others have mentioned) where you do not have access to the funds put away every month. There are ‘term deposits’ I believe that can be ‘locked in’ for set periods.

    At some point, when a good measure of sobriety is reached, the question arises, ‘what did I get sober for?’ In other words there is a healthy stage in recovery when a singular focus on the “one-day” can become limiting in that there is no vision for a better tomorrow in other areas of life that can help prevent relapse. In my career & life coaching work, it is of great help for those moving beyond ‘just sober’ to plan for a life and career with meaning, authenticity and hope. Having some money responsibly put away or managed can help support that new vision once we’re ready.

    Hope these thoughts are of help.


    Sep 17, 2007
  7. hello there

    if i just may add something to what gregg said. it looks like gregg comes from a 12-step approach. i personally really like that approach but i think it’s important to remember that it doesn’t work for everyone.

    accepting powerlessness and being in a state of humility makes a lot of sense from a 12-step point of view but may not be how a person sees it who does not use that method of recovery. sometimes feeling one’s own power again (as opposed to the power of addiction) is what does the trick, and gaining a sense of power by dealing with money intentionally rather than impulsively/compulsively using it on the addiction may just be “what the doctor ordered.”


    Sep 18, 2007

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