A Money Coach in Canada

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Mike Todd is a friend of mine, and like me shares a deep interest in money, and how money can change the world, and like me he shares a strong connection to Vancouver’s DTES (my other home). I asked him to guest post about his journey from investment advisor to coming alongside some of my sisters in my old ‘hood.

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What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been

I’ve spent just about my entire adult life thinking about money, in one way or another. And along the way that thinking has changed dramatically.

This relationship with money started with my first full time job as a customer service representative with Templeton Management, the company started by the late great investor John Templeton. (Somewhere around here I have a photo of a younger version of me standing next to a smiling Sir John.) Twelve years later I walked down Toronto’s Bay Street for the last time when I left my position as Vice President – Alliance Distribution with Fidelity Investments. (Come to think of it, the photo of Peter Lynch and me is probably in the same box as the one with Sir John.)

From there I went to World Vision Canada to start their Corporate Development work. After a year there, my wife and I moved out to Vancouver to help a friend get Linwood House Ministries up and running. Among my responsibilities as Director of Engagement at Linwood is fundraising… a term I really don’t care for at all.

From start to finish my resume screams, “Money!” I’ve gone from helping people with their money (and helping their advisors make money) to raising money for a large global relief and development agency, to helping a small relational group of folks interact with some of the wonderful people who call Canada’s poorest postal code home.

Personally my relationship with money has followed the same apparent trajectory as my career. I’ve gone from making lots, to making some, to making little. At the same time, we went from the big house, to the smaller house, to the small condo, to the basement suite. I don’t tell you this to boast; I want you to see how little and how much money means to me. Personally, I don’t care about it. But as a tool to help us change ourselves and change the world? It’s critical.

I said above that I don’t really like the term “fundraising”. I’ve joked with friends that I’d like to be successful raising funds for Linwood by breaking every fundraising rule in the book. I’m not interested in separating you from your cash. I’m interested in changing the way you think about money. And I’m interested in changing the lives of all of us, from wealthy West Vancouver, to the notorious Downtown Eastside, and all points in between.

It seems the more we have, the more we need. The more we get, the less happy we are. The more we pursue, the less fulfilled we are. And while we cling tighter to what we have, more and more of our neighbours have less and less. That’s a bad combination. My own spirituality is responsible for many of the choices I’ve made on this journey, but I have friends who would claim to be atheists who are feeling the same way. So, this isn’t about religion, if that’s worrying you. Corporate greed is running rampant, and keeping up with the Joneses is driving many of us into the kinds of debt that could sink us.

Something has to give. We need to try something new.

I invite you to think about your money in a different way. Call it postmodern philanthropy if you like. Take a look around. If you live in Vancouver, spend some time standing at the corner of Hastings & Main. (And if that idea terrifies you, drop me a line and I’ll meet you down there and we can stand together.)

Don’t give up on your money, but instead look at it as a catalyst for change. I started out on this journey rather naively thinking that I was here to change the world. Instead, I’ve come to the realization that what needs to change is me. I can’t change the world. There are too many problems, and I’ll simply get frustrated and quit. Here’s the irony though: If I start thinking of others instead of myself, if you do the same, and then if we both encourage others to try and look at the world like that, in other words if we change, then the world will change too.

Recently I had this conversation with an acquaintance. He responded angrily by asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?!” I pointed out that the answer to that question is supposed to be, “Yes.”

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Mike Todd lives in Vancouver BC, and would love to interact with you on this issue, or anything else you want to talk about. He blogs at Waving or Drowning? and tweets at @miketodd07. If you would like to learn more about Linwood, check out the blog. They’re on Twitter and Facebook too.

I hadn’t realized she was lesbian. In true Suze Orman style she asserts It Gets Better!

Have you ever travelled someplace which has very different standards of living than your own? Or have you done some serious backcountry hiking?  A former money-coaching client of mine, the super-awesome, world-travelling, (and gourmet-dessert-making) Katherine, recently spent some time in Yukon’s backcountry.  She had some insights about possessions and the joy of life.  If you relate to her guest post, I’d be interested in hearing from you.  Leave a comment (below) on this post if you have a moment.

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a month in the Yukon on a leadership course with NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). The company I work for sponsors 2 people a year to attend. The premise of the school is that while you spend a month in the Yukon backcountry learning backpacking and whitewater canoeing skills, you’re also taught valuable leadership skills that you can take into future outdoor guiding, work and life.

As much as I had enjoyed the outdoors in the past, I hadn’t spent more than 10 days in the backcountry since I was 14 years old. However, because of the work that I do, I am familiar with what it takes to do a trip like this. Or so I thought.

I knew that living minimally was going to be essential. Especially for the backpacking portion where you have to carry everything you need. The motto goes “ounces equal pounds and pounds equals pain”.

Though I don’t live a luxurious life, I do enjoy certain comforts in life; indoor plumbing, toilet paper and nice sheets all rank high on my list of life’s comforts. Though I did prepare myself for a month of thermarest sleeping and “nature’s outhouse”, I was terrified at the idea of using “nature’s toilet paper”; smooth rocks, moss and I still shudder at the suggested pine cones.

Before setting off, the instructors did a final check of our goods for the 2 week backpacking section. The course recommended a 90L pack. Though I hadn’t backpacked before, I knew that this was absolutely gargantuan given my 5’5” height and smallish frame. Especially considering that my personal gear consisted of 2 pair of long johns, 2 pair of underwear, 2 pair of socks, 2 layering tops, a rain jacket, rain pants, a warm jacket and some toiletries. The rest (pants, t-shirt, boots etc…) were on my body. I even had to argue with the instructor to bring my 2oz deodorant as my “luxury” item (there were certain things I wasn’t prepared to live without) However, once we packed in all of the group gear (including an astounding 1.5lbs of food per person per day) my pack weighed 47lbs. I was set. Everything I needed to live was on my back.

As the days went on, the group of us (14 students in 5 tents and 3 instructors) finally found our groove. Our days consisted of waking up, packing up, breakfast, a class, hiking, a class, dinner and much needed sleep. Since I’d never backpacked before, I considered the end of each day an achievement; I was still standing.

Because I wanted to remember this experience, I journaled. I made it a point at the end of each day to find 3 things to be thankful for. As our time went on, my 3 things became more and more basic such as; being dry, being warm and thankful that I avoided blisters and illness.

Then it occurred to me, here I am in the Yukon, tackling quite possibly the greatest challenge of my life, having a great time, making new friends, learning new skills and I only have 47lbs of “stuff” with me. In the past couple of years, I was guilty of trying to fill my life with “stuff” to fill a void and try to find happiness after going thru a painful divorce. Constantly buying new clothes, new furniture and shoes, Ah! Shoes!

Many people warned me that this experience would be life changing and I can now agree. Since I’ve been home, I scrutinize every item I own. Did I really need that? Did it really bring me the joy I thought it would? To be fair, there are some things that did (the new couch sure is comfy) but did I really need all those shoes?

If I took my conscience shopping everywhere, I suspect I’d stop shopping.

I had two facebook interchanges on the topic this week, one of which also reminded me of a Lululemon issue.
Here are the discussions. What do you think?
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1. To Foie Gras, or not to Foie Gras
Facebook: 28 June 12:47.
Christopher Flett is a business coach extraordinaire, for women. Working with him gave me tremendous lift-off when I started my money coaching business.
Here goes:

Christopher Flett: Kits Farmer’s Market:Just told to “F&CK OFF” by animal rights activist because I like Foie Gras. Full story here: http://tinyurl.com/l5trs8
28 June at 12:47 · via Twitter · Comment · Like

Nancy Zimmerman at 12:52 on 28 June
I’ve been confronted to do a lot of thinking about this kind of issue because of the whole seal hunt thing up here. One question to myself, to which I don’t know the answer but it’s a good question, is: To what extent do I accept responsibility for the humane treatment of the animal that ultimately I eat?

Rikia Saddy at 21:37 on 28 June
I too believe in the circle of life, but I can’t see the point of torturing animals before we eat them. There are many delicious foods that don’t require shoving a hose down the throat of a goose and forcing in 3 pounds of grains and fat, several times a day.
Isn’t a normal-sized goose liver sufficient?

Christopher Flett at 19:51 on 29 June
No it isn’t. If it was, we wouldn’t have to feed them extra helpings.
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2. Made in China
This is an on-the-ground perspective from a former client of mine who sources materials for her company overseas.
(She wrote from Thailand, btw!)

Saw your status and wanted to comment (since I’ve just spent the past week and a half visiting factories in Asia!) Definitely in China health hazards are a plenty. As you can imagine, clothing is ridiculously dusty (especially anything cotton related such as cotton spinning) Every time we do a visit we look for such hazards and the factory owners always tell us the same things… they educate the workers on dust hazards and provide masks but the employees don’t comply.

I’ve been to cotton spinning mills in India and after a 2 hour tour, my nose tickles for days! The factories are usually in hot places so the workers refuse to wear the masks since it’s already so hot without masks on. Don’t get me wrong, I totally don’t agree with it, but I have seen some factories genuinely try to enforce rules to no avail (and for the past few years if an employer got really strict, employees would just move to a more lax factory: I suspect that’ll change a bit now with the slowdown)

Anyway, my two cents after having seen the manufacturing side of things! Manufacturing is certainly a crazy world, don’t even get me going on the labour end of things! A lot of people’s perceptions is that people like Nike produce in sweatshop environments. In actuality, large brands (Nike, Patagonia, mec) are leaders in making improvements in health/safety/pay by ensuring that work hazards are minimized, overtime is paid etc… it’s hardly a perfect world and factories don’t always comply but with more and more brands coming on board it’s getting better. It’s the “no name” brands or knockoff brands (where price is the number one concern) that have little/no standards. Anyway… I digress!

I think the whole manufacturing/3rd world thing is very catch 22.

I’m still torn everyday on what I feel is right or not. The sewers (the workers, not the plumbing system!) make a base wage of less than $5 day (there’s a lot more money to be made in incentives though) and by Western standards, that’s hardly a lot of money. Then again, most of the workers are under 25, without an education and live in factory dormatories (hardly luxurious) accommodations. Then again, they are able to send home at least 50% of their income to their families (typically dirt poor farmers) which is not something that I’d be able to do in Canada! So, because of our Western greediness, the farmers kids move to the factory towns to be able to send money home to support the rest of the family. So does that mean that by buying things we’re exploiting the workers? Or would they be worse off if we didn’t buy anything? The issue I have is if companies (such as lululemon) keep shifting where goods are made because labour costs get too expensive (labour costs in China have been increasing at more than 10% a year for the past few years) and start giving up the Chinese factories in favor or vietnam, bangladesh, etc… that’s where I think the “west” gets exploitative.

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3. Lululemon and child labour
Before Lululemon became a public company, but well into its meteoric rise, I attended a grass-rootsy talk about fashion in Vancouver. Chris Chip was a guest speaker, and discussed sourcing his materials. Apparently he had hired a few young girls in his factories overseas. He openly discussed his dilemma: Odds are that if he didn’t hire the young girls they’d be in the sex trade instead. So what, he asked the audience, would we do in his position? Turn them away knowing the alternatives? Hire them and feel good about providing a safer situation? Hire them and feel lousy about child labour?

2573957186_147bb0cae8_o1.jpgA guest post by Dawn Bowles, Founder and CEO of DreamBank.
Photo Credit: Techvibes

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A tremendous amount of waste is incurred during the holiday season. Garbage from festivities, unwanted or disposable gifts, packaging and wrapping, in addition to the vast over-consumption, threatens to reduce the enjoyment–and usurp the true intention and meaning–of the season. As we approach the holidays, many of us are keen to reduce our yuletide impact on the environmental. Many of the proposed changes won’t reduce the enjoyment of your festivities – or the pleasure of spending valuable time with those you cherish:
1. Send E-cards Rather Than Paper Cards. Sending online invitations (such as evites or MyPunchBowl’s swank new eCards) not only reduces waste but also makes it easier to plan and keep track of invitees and attendees. It may also be preferable to send greeting e-cards, rather than a physical cards which often promptly wind up as trash. (While, we all have that one parent/sibling/friend who actually saves every single card, they are the exception rather than the rule). If you think an e-card isn’t exciting, consider sending from a site that has amusing ones. One of my favourites is someecards (whose slogan is “when you care enough to press send”). They have an amazing selection of snarky messages sure to get a good laugh.
2. Choose a Virtual Gift Registry. One of someecards cards reads, “Thanks for getting me a gift I don’t actually have to return”. I understand that sentiment well. I founded DreamBank.org, so you could do just that–no waste involved. DreamBank is a kind of virtual gift registry which enables you to give and get the perfect gift. How? We’ve created an “everything registry” where you can start a fund for yourself or for someone you care about. Then you invite friends, family and fans to the “dream”. It could be a musical instrument, sports equipment, even a trip. The waste involved with discarded gifts and shipping and wrapping is reduced, as is the hassle of shopping for and returning gifts. Plus, we give 10 % of all net transaction revenue to charities. So your holiday gift results in someone else’s gift as well.
Of course, if you’re feeling particularly charitable, there are plenty of great sites that can help you organize a giving campaign or send a laptop to a needy child in the developing world.
3. Reconsider Plastic. Bring cloth bags to stores to avoid getting plastic ones and eschew disposable dishes. While plastic plates and utensils may seem more convenient, these disposable items can last 10,000 years in a landfill. No one enjoys washing dishes, but perhaps you can organize the cleanup with your guests. After all, guests frequently offer to help–why not take them up on the offer? In fact, if you like the person (and we hope you do) it could give you more time to chat. Or you could plan the cleanup ahead, asking for assistance before the party, so everyone knows what they’ll be doing. Plus, you’ll gain some peace-of-mind.
4. Be Mindful of Food. Remember that your eating habits affect the planet’s health so try to purchase ingredients locally and be aware of how and where your food is produced. The gift of food doesn’t have to be limited to your guests. There are those whose holidays could be made more festive by your donation to a local foodbank or by organizing a food drive to support a soup kitchen.
5. Think About Meaning. Is the holiday about the myriads of gifts, or about connecting with your family? Does your house really need to have the most lights? What’s really important to you? Connect with nature by talking a nature walk or by putting extra effort into making environments hospitable for local birds. Make some gifts rather than purchasing them (edible gifts are a good bet–who doesn’t love cookies?). You can even volunteer with family to help those in need, and create an experience that might be more memorable than the gift of new Ugg boots. Vancouver and Toronto both have volunteer sites for their city and “Do-it!” offers online information on opportunities in the UK. Many other areas have similar sites.
It doesn’t take all that much effort to make a difference. And making these changes will probably reduce your stress level and the holiday energy drain as well. So you’ll be free to enjoy the festivities knowing that you’ve embraced the true sentiment of the season.

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