A Money Coach in Canada

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Regular readers will know I’ve taken a sabbatical for 6 months to work as Citizens Bank’s evangelist until the fall (ps. check out their hockey contest: www.hockeystars.com). My last seminar series concluded in April, and I’ve wrapped up with my private clients, so my Case Studies will be thin until the fall.


There are a lot of insightful, very real, stories on the web about people and their money.

Krystal, for example, just wrote about her line of credit habits in a past life and how that connects to her relationship.

Mrs. W reflects on how it feels financially, to go on maternity leave.

Growth in Value found himself in the crazy situation of having to tip … a bathroom attendant .

Brown Eyed Girl tells her boss she doesn’t see much opportunity for career development

and Gail, of “Til Debt do us Part” fame, writes about how we measure up to one another, financially.

1790592784_5a460fd1ff.jpgOver my years as a money coach I’ve worked with a handful of people with depression, both unipolar and bipolar. It was a real eye-opener for me, and to be honest, I felt somewhat at a loss as to how best to walk alongside these remarkable individuals regarding their finances.

Here are a few stories. They are true stories, and per usual the names have been changed to protect their identities.

Matt was only 10 years from retirement when bi-polar took him down for the first time. He had a power-career, a salary of over $250K annually, a gorgeous home, and family. The first time the illness struck, he was out of commission for 2 years. He had insurance that took the edge off the financial aspects, but it was still a heavy financial blow. After finding the right mix of meds, and a lot of talk-therapy, he went back to his career – a real victory for him as you can imagine. He did well for a few years, then it struck again. Back to disability insurance. This time, he lost his home and his family disintegrated. He fought his way back, and returned to his career yet again. He only lasted about a year this time, and H.R. had to tell him the painful news that he would not be returning a third time. That blow contributed to a long, long, long time in darkness . No house, no family, no career and an illness that he felt powerless to control.

Now, he makes do on disability totaling about $2500/month. He’s now past retirement age, and that’s it for his income, for the rest of his life. (I don’t know what happened to his RRSPs, and didn’t want to ask).

Sarah knows what it is to feel like you’ve literally lost your mind. She had her own business in her late 20s. It wasn’t a wild success, but it was solid, and she had a middle-class lifestyle. She’d grappled with depression most of her life, and was managing it reasonably successfully with the right “cocktail”. Then the meds inexplicably stopped working and she ended up in the psychiatric ward of St. Paul’s hospital. She can’t remember much about this period. By the time she found her way back, her clients had long gone. She’s doing much better now has a steady job with a $36K salary, but a lot of the time it takes everything she’s got to get out of bed and get to work. Thinking about money at all is more than she can handle. She feels that’s OK, because the depression also means she simply doesn’t spend: She doesn’t care what her home looks like. She doesn’t really care about going on holidays. She lives a very, very simple lifestyle. Whatever’s left of her pay cheque (and it’s a surprising amount), she gives away to people in need – it helps her feel good and she’d rather not have to worry about it anyway. She has no savings, and her employer does not offer a pension plan or RRSPs. She doesn’t care.

Frank, also in his late 20s, very much wants to work, and probably could, if he could find work that didn’t push him too hard. He’s looking for something basic – maybe not dishwashing basic, but certainly not sales, either! He needs work that is routine, steady and that he can “leave” at the end of the day. Here’s where “dependency on the system” comes into play. His income will get deducted dollar for dollar from his disability he receives from the gov’t. That would be OK in itself… but at a certain point he will also no longer be eligible for his subsidized housing. So he may earn $500 more per month than his disability pays him, but his basic expenses may jump by as much as $800 (and remember he’ll also need transportation plus clothing plus all those other hidden work-related expenses.) Net effect: returning to work is simply no do-able.

Here are some basic money management techniques that I suggested and hope they contribute in at least a small way to reducing some of the stress.

1. Ensure that the disability payments get direct deposited. The last thing anyone needs when life is really dark is to remember to get the cheques to the bank.

2. Set up automatic bill payments. Bills don’t stop for anyone, and having creditors calling is horrible at the best of times.

3. For people with bi-polar consider setting a low daily withdrawal limit on accounts to prevent overspending.

4. For someone like Sarah, an automatic savings into a high interest account will be useful. She doesn’t have to think about the fact that money is pooling up (in fact, getting it sent to another financial institution altogether may help), but it will probably be really, really useful to have it there at some point down the road.

5. I think Canada needs more structural support for people with mental illness regarding their money, but I don’t see it coming from our governments any time soon. I encouraged these individuals to meet with others dealing with the same issues, and collectively see if there aren’t creative strategies that could help.

I was somewhat reluctant to post about this, recognizing it’s so sensitive and often very painful. When Matt and Frank met with me, together, I went home and wept – both at the raw deal they’d been given, at their determination, and when I realized that as fortunate as I think we all are to live in Canada, we sometimes still leave people almost stranded.

Readers: Have you or anyone close to you had depression or another mental health issue as an ongoing part of life? If you have any suggestions on money management that helps, please (!) share them.

Photo Credit: Cocomariposa

218317068_0e367bfc72_m.jpgSheila is a single mom with three kids. She lives in a the GT area. Her income is solid enough to keep her in reasonably solid financial shape. She does watch every penny though.

Sheila’s bf of 14 months is in a different tax bracket – he earns about $40K more than she does. And he doesn’t have kids. During the first months of love, this didn’t seem to be an issue. She was willing to be more extravagant than usual, and he also picked up the tab a lot.

Now, the difference is starting to bubble up to the surface. His lifestyle simply does include lots of weekends across the border, upper-scale dinners out at least a couple times a week, and a generally more easygoing way of spending his money.

Sheila is quietly starting to resent feeling obliged to rearrange her budget to afford this lifestyle – even though he does help defray the costs quite a lot. Lately her bf has also made an offhand comment or two about being willing to help pay for dates with her, but not if the kids are involved (eg. going out for pizza and a movie together – something she would do as a treat, not a regular event).

After affirming Sheila’s right to set financial boundaries, we came up with a few approaches on broaching this thorny topic. At this point, the starting place is simply opening the conversation, more than coming up with specific financial strategies. A couple “rules of engagement” included:

  1. Remove any judgment. Her bf is allowed to have the lifestyle he wants; she’s also allowed to put boundaries on her spending. He’s not being extravagant and she’s not being cheap.
  2. Give themselves permission for the conversation to be awkward and possibly go badly. It may take a few tries before talking about money, much less coming up with an M.O. that works, starts to come naturally.
  3. Assume the best possible outcome: that they can come up with ways that feel good to both of them that take into account both his lifestyle and her budget.

Readers: how have you started conversations about money with people close to you? Did it feel awkward? Did it get better? Did it create a wedge between you, or open the channel of communication?

photo credit: Rick

One of my clients is in an interesting position. His job is costing him money. Quite a bit, actually. He’s in the entertainment industry, and part of what goes along with that culture is attending a lot of parties (some of which require bringing a gift), and a lot of post-wrap events over beer. You get the idea.

Being in the loop is part of his professional currency, so opting out is not really possible. Yet, he’s not high up enough to get a fat expense account. So a lot comes out of his personal bank account.

We’ve come up with ways to minimize the damage (avoid situations where he usually ends up buying a round, using cash to put a limit on what can become an endless night, pulling back a little but not entirely, etc.)

But it’s a tough one.

Readers: Anyone else out there whose job requires you to fork over money of your own, in order to facilitate your professional success? How do you handle it?


Photo credit: emdot. Creative Commons Attribution License

This past week I began working with 3 new clients. One of the critical conversations I have with new clients is about the stages of change. This is a well-documented process used by dietitions, addictions counseling and coaches alike. Understanding the process increases the likelihood of achieving lasting change.

So many people come to me frustrated and discouraged about their experience managing money. This will help.

Stage 1: Precontemplation.

This is the stage when a habit is actually not working well, but the individual is oblivious. You know how sometimes you can see a friend or family member who is chronically overspending or wasting money (at least in your eyes), but if you try to say something about it, it’s not well received? She either doesn’t ‘hear’ your comments, or she denies there’s any problem, or she has 1,000 reasons why she cannot change. During the precontemplation stage, change is not likely to occur of course. (Note to family members – as tempting as it may be to say stuff to the person you care about, I urge caution. Sometimes commenting, or judging, or shaming drives the person deeper into this stage, rather than encouraging the person to try a new behaviour.)

Stage 2: Contemplation

During the contemplation stage, the individual acknowledges something needs to change for their own well-being. Usually this ‘awakening’ is due to specific, personal and relevant feedback. It could be exceeding a debt threshold. It could be a desire to buy a home. It could be one too many birthdays and still feeling not ‘grown up’ about money. During this stage, the person may slip back to stage 1, or they may move to the next stage.

Stage 3: Determination

The individual decides to take action. This is a critical stage. Deciding to take action is one thing. Taking action likely to lead to long term success is another thing. The most common example I see are clients who are freaked out by their debt. They are panic stricken, and all they can think about is how to get rid of this horror as fast as possible. Part of my role is to help the person get grounded, and make thoughtful action plans based on a more holistic picture of their finances. Shameless self-promotion: having an objective third party involved at this stage is likely to create a more balanced, not panic-driven, action plan.

Stage 4: Action

Enuf said. Well, maybe not: This is simply proceeding on, ideally, a series of small, incremental actions as ‘determined’ upon in stage 3. The action plan needs to be sane and sustainable.

Stage 5: DeRail

Yup, this is almost always part of the process. Again, many of my clients are discouraged because they’ve tried in the past, but feel they are right back where they started. The fact is, most long-term changes require a series of repeated attempts before things finally seem to stick. The key during this phase is to have some help getting back on track again, and minimizing the length and intensity of this stage.

Stage 6: Lasting Change

yes.jpgThis is the point at which there is a substantial shift in financial behaviour. In my own life, one lasting change I’ve experienced is impulse shopping. I simply don’t do it any more, full stop. Another example is saving – I always have savings account getting pooled up for holidays, christmas, taxes etc. I’ll describe these in more detail in a future post. Suffice it to say that these were big accomplishments for me that, as you can imagine, resulted in a much more stable and proactive relationship with my money.

Reader feedback wanted: have you experienced long lasting change in some area? Would you say the above is a fair analysis of how you experienced change? Or have you experienced the frustration of seeing from the outside a harmful money habit, that the person you care about just didn’t see for himself or herself?

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