A Money Coach in Canada

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I’m looking for at least 50 Beta testers for my new online money-coaching product.
No charge in exchange for patience if there are bugs and glitches and in exchange for feedback.

Details on my about-to-be-overhauled business site: Your Money by Design.

update: I’ve blown past 50 and more are welcome! The more testers I have = the more reliable data I get back. We’re looking at an early Feb. launch. Interested? e-mail me directly at moneycoachcanada at gmail dot com.

Never use easy-to-guess PINs...

Guest Post by Harriet Fancott

My debit card was compromised a few days ago. My cell phone rang before 9 am, which seemed odd, so I grabbed it only to hear a recorded message indicating my ATM card had been cancelled. It said I should check my account to see if there was any unusual activity and then go to my branch in person with two pieces of ID to get my account sorted out and obtain a new debit card.

I immediately fired up my netbook to check my bank account while my toddler took it upon himself to tear the place apart by climbing on the table, grabbing pens and attempting to get at my keyboard – not ideal when engaging in online banking. I sat him in his highchair with a bowl of applesauce so I could take care of business.

A quick review of my account revealed a $360 withdrawal from an ATM in Surrey, a suburb about 45 minutes from Vancouver. I haven’t been to Surrey since I worked there about seven years ago so I knew it wasn’t me. Cue a minor panic attack. I then remembered that my card had been cancelled so I had no reason to worry about further charges. Still I had a paycheque to deposit and I was worried about getting back the $360. I needed to go to the bank pronto.

One slight problem: my son is at the age where he cannot go to a bank. At 16-months-old, he’s a nonverbal whirlwind of activity simultaneously charming and dangerous. I told my neighbor the situation, and she graciously took him off my hands for an hour while I hightailed it to the bank.

Clearly compromised cards are so common the bank doesn’t even flinch when you tell them you didn’t withdraw $360 charge from your account. The bank teller casually asked me if any other charges weren’t mine. I briefly considered adding a few but didn’t want to be ushered out of the bank in handcuffs. I asked her how they knew my card was caught in this compromising position with a shady ATM machine in the burbs, and she mumbled something about the police and security and switched the subject. Pressing on, I asked her what I could do to avoid this happening again and she said, “Pay cash.”

I had to fill out some forms, sign that I had not withdrawn the $360, and the teller set a reimbursement to my account in motion. She then set me up with a new debit card. The process was straightforward and took about half an hour.

Money coaches comment: Drawing on my time in the banking industry, this is a common experience. Naturally people want to know which merchant had a compromised machine. Usually the bankers themselves don’t know; the police don’t tell them. For one thing, often the merchant is a victim too (in that they had no clue their machines had been tampered with) and also, sometimes the police still want to catch the criminals so don’t want to give any indication that they’re onto the situation.
Regarding how to prevent it, I never use my card at a machine that is unattended, eg. at the gas pump. Unattended machines give opportunity for the criminals to insert their readers into the machine.

Harriet Fancott is an Associate at Limelite PR and blogs about her family at seetheorun.com

Readers, my understanding is that all (Cdn) banks will reimburse you if money is taken from your account, provided that a) you have never disclosed your PIN to anyone and that b) you sign affidavits. Have you ever heard of anyone not being refunded?

This is a very raw, real story of someone in my life who I know not super-well, but well enough to cry when I read this. I knew her before, during, and now after, her marriage. The story caught me as off-guard as anyone; I would not have predicted this, having seen them together… and the beautiful photos of her wedding on facebook. The writer is grounded, thoughtful and kind. And clearly someone who knows how to respect herself and request what she deserves in the midst of a very rough ride. Her action are more eloquent than any money coaching I could provide.

In September of 2009, I stood up in front of my friends and family and promised to take another person “for better or for worse”. He took me too, but as it turns out, where he wanted to take me was to the cleaners.

My husband, let’s just call him JerkFace (JF for short), and I met in February of 2003. We started dating in April of the same year, moved in together pretty quickly after that and then went through all the motions you’d expect: We went from renting to owning an apartment, we got a dog, we got engaged and then we got married. We shared everything. We were the lucky ones, I thought, we can easily share everything and it’s not an issue. We never haggle over who pays for what, we don’t fight over who spends more, and we shared everything. We put all our money together, we paid our bills together, and we shared everything. It was to the point where we had to be very sneaky about getting each other gifts because we didn’t have our own accounts, our own cards… who needs it when we have each other?! We shared everything, remember?

From 2005-2008, I worked for a credit union and learned an incredible amount of money and financing and also what sort of trouble those things can get you into. I froze accounts for separating couples, tried to console weeping spouses whose husbands or wives had emptied out the account on their way home to ask for a divorce. I went to a presentation about women and money and the presenter gave a piece of advice that I kick myself now for not listening to: “A woman,” she said, “should always have the means to leave if she has to.” She stressed how important it is to have some money that is just yours, tucked away in a savings account or accessible investment for the rainiest of days. I took this advice and I passed it along, talking to women in bad situations and encouraging them to make sure they had the funds to be able to stand on their own two feet if they had to. The poor women who weren’t at all like me, who weren’t one of the lucky ones like I was, the ones who had relationships that they needed protection from or a backup plan from.

Not me, though. I continued to put every last penny into a joint account and emptied out both my RRSPs and my savings for the down payment on our condo and for our wedding. Even as he advanced at his career and we put him through school when only one of us could afford to go, I didn’t bat an eyelash at pouring my hard-earned money into the life we shared. Now he earned two and a half times what I did, so it was worth it, right? “We” had more money coming in. I didn’t mind that he didn’t have any savings to put towards the wedding, he got paid more so put more towards our bills, right? And once he’s gotten ahead, I’ll go back to school and we’ll pay for me to go. We shared everything, so what was there to worry about?

On October 22nd, 2010 (my 28th birthday), I found text messages in JF’s phone with plans that he was moving out. I was the last to know, he was trying to be considerate by not doing it before my birthday (he’s all heart). So just over a year after we said our “I Dos”, he said, “I Don’t Anymore” and the next morning he left.

He then did things that I never thought he would do, he spent all the money in our account on going out and partying, he refused to speak to me or see me and tried to fully extricate himself from my life. Once all the confusion and the upset began to fade a little bit, I could hear the presenter’s words in my mind as I realized that I didn’t have enough money to stand on my own two feet. If we weren’t sharing everything anymore, what did that mean for me?

In JF’s eyes, it meant I had my salary and he had his and we’d sign a few sheets of paper and that would be it. He figured he’d have to give me some cash to buy me out of the condo (which he was planning on keeping and kicking me out of) but had no intention of paying me any sort of support or paying me back for all the money I had so willingly dumped into our relationship. Alimony? Doesn’t exist, he decided. That was only for if you had kids and the very mention of it was taken by him as a threat and further deteriorated the bits of communication we did have.

So, I found myself staring at a spreadsheet I’d done up at 3 o’clock in the morning, the red digits of my negative expendable income glaring on the screen. Forget being a homeowner anymore, I didn’t know how I’d afford to pay rent. We had so much debt between us that he wanted to split 50/50, all my income would be going towards debt repayment. Forget going to school, I’d have to get a second job just to handle my living expenses. My car, which I’d been thinking of trading in to get a newer car since it was getting old and less reliable, was suddenly an expense that I didn’t even know if I could keep. To say I was overwhelmed would be a massive understatement.

Here is what I did:
I went to talk to a lawyer. My husband acted as if my seeking out legal advice was an aggressive and unnecessarily hostile move, but it wasn’t. Seeing a lawyer and finding out what I was actually entitled to, regardless of what my JerkFace of a husband thought, was the first step towards me feeling like I had some control over a seemingly impossible situation.
Did some research and got out my calculator. I crunched a lot of numbers and worked out that JF and I would be sharing the debt 2/3 to him and only 1/3 to me, based on our incomes. I found some tools online to help me calculate how much I would be legally entitled to ask for in spousal support (based on our income differential, the number of years we had lived together as spouses and my age). I printed out bank statements, college transcripts and HomeBuyer’s Plan receipts. I also found instructions on how to put together your own Separation Agreement to take to a lawyer so you don’t have to have them draw everything up (and charge you for it).
• Wrote everything down. And I mean EVERYTHING. Every penny I put on our down payment, every monthly expense we had as a couple, every debt, every asset… I even listed out all our shared property down to tea towels and DVDs.
• Used everything I found to draft up an Agreement and gave it to JerkFace. Was he mad? Yeah, he was really mad. And it was a really hard thing to do. I had to get over this stigma in my mind of a woman “going after” her ex-husband for everything he’s worth as some sort of revenge and realize that I am entitled to be able to go on living my life, even if my marriage is over. He accused me of trying to “financially cripple” him, even though it was right there on paper that even with paying me support and fairly dividing our debt, his expendable income was more than three times what mine would be. I realized that to him, “fair” would be him getting everything and being able to walk away without losing anything or even inconveniencing himself.
• Fought the urge to just give in and give up. Breaking up is exhausting and emotionally draining. At the end of a day where you are working hard just to feel like a normal person in public, the last thing you want to do is fight over money and furniture. There were times when I wanted to say, “Fine, just take whatever you want and get out of my life.” Because it was too much to take on. I had to just keep remembering how mad I would be at myself three months from now, when I have no furniture or can’t pay my bills on time. Just keep pushing through it, and it will be worth it in the long run.
• Leaned on my support system. Taking on a battle that you know could end up in court or worse and go on for years is a really scary thing. I don’t think I have ever been through something that so clearly showed me who my real support system is. The people that sat up with me until the early hours of the morning or let me sleep on their couch when being alone was too hard or brought me care packages wouldn’t let me just lie down and die, even when that’s all I wanted to do. They also wouldn’t let me end up homeless or bankrupt or all the other “worse case scenarios” that were running through my mind. I was lucky enough to have an aunt who offered to help with me legal fees, if it came to that, and friends and a sister who would have let me live with them indefinitely if I needed a place to stay.
• Tried to look at it like it was business and not personal. Stepping back from the hurt and rollercoaster of emotions I was going through and just looking at the numbers, the facts and the figures really helped me feel like I could get through it. The laws are there to protect our rights, even when we feel like we can’t protect ourselves.
Going through this Separation has by far been the most difficult thing I have ever faced. Aside from the emotional beating you take, fear of an unknown future and figuring out how to make it on your own seem unconquerable.

But if I could give advice to anyone out there in a similar situation: Stand up for yourself, even when it’s the hardest thing to do. Don’t let someone else control your future because they think you won’t fight for what’s yours. Get support, get advice and make yourself an expert in all things divorce. This is the first step you are taking in a new life, make it a stride forward towards being a confident and “no nonsense” woman.

I hate to be the type of person who looks back on things with regret, so I try be forgiving with myself about the choices I made through my relationship. I made them with the best of intentions and because I really loved and trusted someone and those are all good things. So, if I could go back and do it over again differently, would I? No. Will I ever make those same mistakes again? Absolutely not.

Truth be told I feel pretty self-conscious every time my personal story of my 20-something misadventures with money get splashed in mainstream media, like it did today in the Toronto Star. The reason I drop my guard is simply this: If I could turn things around, anyone can, and that’s a message I believe a lot of Canadians need to hear. There is hope. And if you are in a bit of a money muddle – or in financial hell – you are not alone.

We live in such a pressured culture, don’t we. I think I’ve generally hit my stride in terms of being unapologetic for myself – my values, my beliefs, and my finances – but I sure know what it is to have felt I had to present a particular image, or spend what I didn’t have in order to fit in, or (and this is kinda sweet) to help someone else out ’cause I cared yet didn’t want to admit to them or myself that I, too, was in a bad way.

So yes, I’ve known the acute discomfort of more than one “pay up” phone call (and will *never* give American Express any business again! #wayunnecessarilyrude) and sleepless nights wondering how I’d manage the coming month. And yes, the worst ever was having my credit card cut up by some high-school kid behind the till of the Shopper’s Drugmart on Broadway Ave in Vancouver.

But I’ve also known the quiet inner confidence of choosing to take charge of the mess. Of putting one step in front of the other, and after withstanding setbacks, discovering I really did “arrive” at a much better place.

If you are in need of a safe place to take a look at your own finances, and if you would like to put some building blocks in place to help you move forward, I can help — but not quite yet! I’m on a sabbatical from money coaching until January 2011. At that point, my business Your Money by Design will be live and kicking again, and ready to help (at entirely affordable pricing). If you would like to be on the wait list, feel free to e-mail me personally at money coach canada (all one word) at gmail dot com. Helping folks who are going through what I went through is one of my greatest joys. And I promise you, with time and a bit of effort, you can have your own turnaround story.

With care and high hopes for us all,


466623275_8fcc33a475Photo Credit: flattop341

Sometimes people really are broke.

Not the I can’t take the holiday I want this year broke, but the world is closing in on me, and I’m going down broke.

Tell-tale signs of the real deal include

  • inability to pay bills on time, over an extended period
  • chronically “robbing peter to pay paul”  (ie. using money intended for one thing to cover something else)
  • no cash for saving or investing
  • scrambling to pay rent/mortgage over an extended period
  • sleepless nights

Sometimes even these extremes are simply a matter requiring better management of income.   But usually when this is a chronic lifestyle, it’s time to acknowledge:   I’m broke.

This is not the end of the world.

It’s a starting place to take stock, and plan a course of action.

Here are 5 initial steps to take.

  1. Determine that an increased income is your top priority. It trumps your relationship.  It trumps  having fun.  It trumps any preference to avoid the situation.  And against nearly every life coach, dare I say:  It trumps (for now) pursuing your passion.  This isn’t a downer, folks.   It’s a deep recognition that you are in charge of your life.
  2. Take stock.  Do it on paper.  What are the most critical financial needs you have?  What resources are available to you?
  • Write out: with as much clarity as possible, your exact financial situation and cash flow needs.
  • Research:  Are you eligible for any sources of funding such as insurance or benefits or employment insurance?
  • Collect:  Does anyone owe you money?  Or favours?  How can you collect, strategically? Who could help you out, if it comes to it?
  • Seek:  Do you have any forgotten treasures?  Assets you could liquidate (craigslist helps)? Term deposits (which can usually be broken in serious circumstances such as job loss/medical issues)?  Savings accounts?  even RRSPs (last resort)?  unused Lines of Credit or credit cards?
  • Call:  Which creditors can you call to ask for some temporary relief?

3.  Relentlessly seek ways to improve your income. Heads-up:  You need to be strategic here.  In the gut-wrenching anxiety of the moment, you may be tempted to take any old job.   Unless it pays enough to give you financial lift over time, “any old job” probably won’t cut it.  It will simply prolong your situation, while it consumes your precious time.  Ask, and keep asking, “how will I obtain the income I require?”

Here’s an exercise.   For one month, every night before bed (so the ideas can settle and morph in your subconscious overnight), write at least 3 possible things you could do to obtain adequate income.  By the end of the month, you’ll have nearly 100 ideas.  Allow yourself complete freedom to write down anything.  Sometimes crazy ideas make you a millionaire.     This exercise also trains your mind to be alert to possibility.

4. Deliberately be gentle with yourself. It’s possible you will take a number of hits until things turn around.   Don’t beat yourself up in the mix.   Give yourself a break.  Hang out with friends who truly care about you.  Ask for help, where you can. Identify places to go (literal or figurative) that nurture you.  Respect your own privacy – come up in advance with your own key messages if people make enquiries.  Press yourself into your faith praxis if you have one. Continue with yoga and meditation if it’s part of your life.  Keep yourself inspired, for example, read stories of others who struggled and lived to see another day (of course you will too!).  Above all don’t let your current financial circumstances define you.   You are So.Much.More than your financial life.

5.  Firmly ground yourself in the fact that this too shall pass.  Canadians who have not been broke at some time are the exception.   Much as we valorize people who build wealth steadily, almost everyone has had really tough times.  It doesn’t last.  Take it from one who’s been there!

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