A Money Coach in Canada

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Happy New Year! and it is indeed a new year. If you’re interested in adopting some new, do-able habits for 2008 – guaranteed to yield great results – here’s a Grab N’ Go of ideas. Take what appeals to you; leave the rest for another year.

1. Befriend your money. Spend time with it. Get to know it. Find out what your doing with it – you’ll be surprised at the both good and less kind ways you handle your cash flow.

2. Start Saving. Now. Not when you think you can afford it. Not when your cash flow feels better. Start saving now, even if it’s $10 a paycheque. Test me on this – see if you don’t discover it IS possible. See if within 6 months you aren’t thrilled to have started. See if you don’t start to feel an inner sense of esteem that comes with having savings.
Yes, you may need to dip into it from time to time. That’s OK. With time, you’ll become increasingly adept at finding alternatives to dipping into your savings.
My bank of choice is Citizens Bank of Canada – 3.8% on your first penny, plus, their profits go back to the community rather than international shareholders. (Full disclosure:  I work there part-time!) Alternatives include ING and President’s Choice.

3. Set some money goals. Write them out. I can personally attest to the power of written goals. Mine have ALL come true (with one exception that may yet come to fruition) and I swear, some of them felt impossible at the time. But here I am – I own my own place in Vancouver, I know how to invest on my own, and I have a sweet little nest egg. If I can do it (remember, I at one point had my credit card cut up!) anyone can do it. Set some goals.

4. Don’t get all melodramatic about debt. It’s easy at this time of year to make big vows about getting out of debt. But just like our vows of getting fit – we make good progress for a wee while, then KaBlam! something kaiboshes our efforts and we’re back where we started. Try focusing on the Assets column of your personal balance sheet instead, and make a realistic plan to eliminate your debt in a sustainable fashion.

5. Practice the Art of Waiting 24 Hours. Back in my bad old days, money flew out my wallet because I was the ultra-impulse-shopper. I saw something I knew I just had to have every other day. Here’s what saved me from myself: I give myself genuine, full permission to buy the item… tomorrow. Guess how often I go back the next day.

6. Give yourself a break, already. So many of my clients beat themselves up, thinking “I’m lousy with money” or in fear of judgment by family and friends. A blessed few people are naturally organized in general, and with money in specific. The rest of us are a bit more messy and bear a few war wounds. That’s OK. I prefer imperfect people anyway, don’t you? So let go of self-blame and instead make gentle changes that work for you.

7. Get political. How do you and your money habits fit in the larger scheme? What do we make of the fact that many of us eat too much (that would be me) on a regular basis while across the street (in my case) adults have scurvy or across the globe (all of us) kids die simply because they don’t have the basics covered? What do we make of the fact that we consume the vast majority of the world’s resources? To get started, check out The Story of Stuff.. If you’re a little more radical, get to know an extraordinary black american woman, Majora Carter.

8. Practice Gratitude. When I was a kid, we hastily said grace before every meal. It was a bit rote, yes, but in retrospect, I think it was a very healthy habit. So I’m reintroducing it in my life – saying thanks before dinners, and also with every instance of receiving income. It doesn’t have to be to ‘God’. It could be to a higher power, or simply a moment of reflection on the fact that we have food on our table every day. We have so much. So much. Let’s take due note and practice gratitude together.

Over to you!  Have I missed some simple ones that you employ?

nancy_small.jpg1. Top priority is … me! My own bank balances and RRSP savings that is. After 4 years of giving every. spare. dime. to my business, Your Money by Design, I am financially fatigued! And it took Thicken My Wallet’s post on that topic to bring it home to me. So this year, I’ll do whatever needs to be done to get back to $500/month into an RRSP (I can’t wait to start making my own stock choices again – all the more, in the company of great pf bloggers opinions) , funds for a proper holiday, and finally (!) I’m going to invest money into fixing a bunch of little broken items around my house that I’ve been living with far too long. This may mean my business will not grow as fast as I’d like, but so be it. I need replenishment.

2. Embrace my inner Radical. As Money Relations has noted in comments past, I’m increasingly oriented towards the social angles of money. What do our aggregate spending choices say about our culture? What do we make of the fact that sexy, sophisticated Vancouver – glittering towers and audis (I love them too!) – has increasing numbers of women sleeping outside under cardboard? I spoke out at city hall against plopping a stadium onto the downtown eastside (it’s going through, anyway). I think I may step further out of my comfort zone and – gasp! – start turning up at rallies and protests on various citizenship/money issues. I would never have dreamed in a million years ….

3. Reinvigorate my own praxis – when I spend a mere 15 minutes a day keeping on top of my money, things work like a charm. I’ve been slipping on this, then stuck with a Big Project of getting up to date every couple weeks. So back to 15 a day for me.

I finally saw “the Secret”. I can’t even pretend to be diplomatic here: it appalled and offended me. Here’s why:

1. The underlying theme is utterly narcissistic. Not once, not even once, was there mention of service to others. Of any – even minimal – accountability to others with whom we share this planet (much less this universe). It was entirely focussed on “you can have this.” “you can have that”. Your life should be incredibly wonderful, and if it’s not, you only need start focusing on what you want to get the life “you deserve”. “The Secret”, it claims, “Gives you Everything you want”. Tell that to Benazir Bhutto. Tell that to Aung San Suu Kyi.

2. It perpetuates consumerism. Not once, not even once (sensing a theme here?), did it say, “Stop this Madness! We already freaking HAVE enough! Life isn’t about having more money, more cars, a bigger house, people! ”

In a world where we are increasingly confronted with the impact our consumption is having on our environment, The Secret seems hopelessly 20-years-ago. I guess the authors haven’t heard The Story of Stuff.

3. It insults the universe. Throughout the movie, we are repeatedly enjoined to consider the universe as a catalogue which we flip through, and choose what we want. Our ultimate smorgasborg if you like. Consider the universe our personal catalogue? Consider the universe our personal catalogue? Are you freaking kidding me? How ’bout: be completely blown away, humbled, awestruck by how insignificant we are in the universe? To be specific: we share this universe with 300 species of squid which dwell on the ocean floor, which grow to, oh, around 43 feet, and which only need one tentacle to make very short order of any one of us. Or then there’s the magnificent tiger which can, and does, maul a man to death in minutes. And that’s looking inside earth. Look outside, and the appropriate response to planets and galaxies, immense and inhospitable – even NASA calls them spooky – the appropriate response surely is for us to shut up in awe, not consider it ‘our catalogue’. The Secret puts us pre-Galileo, in which we thought we were the centre of the universe. Give me a break.

4. It insults our critical thinking skills. Drawing on some mysterious phenomena, it asks us to make logical leaps that I simply don’t buy.

A. Yes, there is something called the placebo effect. It is so inconsistent, that scientists still use fake pills as a control, to validate the results of a drug pill. Now whatever we think of medical scientists, they’re not that stupid to keep using anything that will usually, much less always, result in self-suggested healing. Yet The Secret asks me to make the leap from the placebo effect to something like “therefore the mind can heal the body”. I will acknowledge that the mind seems to sometimes play a significant role in healing (and The Secret is making no claim that any self-respecting TV Healing Evangelist doesn’t make) but don’t ask me to make any firm conclusions until we have a lot more evidence.

B. Yes, we are made up of Energy. But don’t ask me to make the leap from being made up of energy to “therefore all I need to do is create mental energy waves, and I can attract whatever physical thing I want, to me”.

C. It also asks me to accept statements by authority figures… with credentials from where? Where do you go to get a PhD in Metaphysics? And Jack Canfield wrote a delightful, wildly successful book (Chicken Soup) – that makes him an authority on “the laws of the universe”? Oh – and let’s not forget that this ‘Secret’ has been suppressed – by who? when? where? how? That is never explained. But it was ‘suppressed’, so it must be a powerful truth, right?

et alia!

5. It insults those it claims to emulate. The Secret claims to be following in the footsteps of the likes of Beethoven, Emerson, Lincoln. These are remarkable people who deserve better than to be associated with dribble like “The Secret”. And their lives were anything but full of “everything they wanted”. Beethoven had a brutal childhood, was turned down by Mozart as a pupil, as an adult was plagued by debt, could not get regular financial support even though his genius was recognized, likely suffered from bi-polar, and ended up deaf. Emerson lost his son to tuberculosis, risked his reputation (and paid a price) for speaking out as an abolitionist and challenging religious notions of the day, and likely struggled his whole life with repressed homosexuality. And Lincoln? Don’t get me started! These men did not have anything like what The Secret promises, and I’d bet my house on the fact that they would scoff at The Secret. They were passionate, they struggled profoundly with life, and in their own ways left us legacies borne of courage and strength. What an insult to associate them with such a self-centered message as ‘The Secret will give you anything you want”.

I’m a money coach. I help people take hold of their cash flow and start aligning it more intentionally with their values. I very much desire that my clients get ahead. But make no mistake: this money coach is not about dictating to the universe exactly what kind of life I demand of it. Rather, I’m doing what I do because moving from being broke or having an unhealthy relationship to being in the black, solidly, opens a lot more possibility for wise, compassionate use of money.

The “secret” is no secret at all. It simply plays on our culture’s desire to have more, do more, be more, get more.  Been there.  Done that.

Most of my money coaching work is with middle/upper-middle income earning canadians. Lawyers. Tech industry. Teachers. You get the idea.

I got a contract though, paid for by VanCity and operated by Family Services of Greater Vancouver, to facilitate some basic money skills seminars to populations outside of my norm:

Recent immigrant women (one of whom co-signed for a loan against the family home, which her husband promptly used to buy another house in his name only. hmmm. She was there to learn the basics about money, because she obviously sees the writing on the wall).

People on disability due to mental health issues – one of whom had been a $200K/annual salary, and in his mid 50s, bi-polar struck. Lost the home. Lost the family. Lost all his money. Now, he’s figuring out how to make it for the rest of his life on $1500 month.

And people in recovery. Each group moved me in its own way, but something about this last group took my breath away. I live on the edge of Vancouver’s downtown eastside, Canada’s poorest postal code (thanks for caring, City Council. Not. May your tombstones read: cared passionately about the 2010 olympic games bauble. Didn’t do one serious thing to provide housing for the mentally ill and addicted on the street down the road. Yes, I’m disgusted.) Anyways:

I walk past scrawny, unattractive drug dealers on too-small-stolen-bikes every day, peddling their pathetic wares to equally scrawny, unattractive brain-wasted humans on the street every single day. It’s easy to assume that’s the end of their stories. Not always.

Fifteen men, some of whom had been on the street selling drugs just a couple months ago, others who had middle-class jobs and lifestyles and lost it all at the feet of their addictions, all of them congregated in my little money skills workshop as part of their just-completed-rehab recovery. They were so open about the horror of the addiction, and the damage it had caused them. Some of them were even able to go to the next step and acknowledge the damage their addiction had caused others (can you imagine the pain of that — acknowledging that your addiction caused the woman you married her life savings, as well as your own? –acknowledging that you actively contributed to others becoming addicted? –acknowledging that your own family will never help you out financially again, because they’re so fed up with you?)

255723_6162.jpgAnd there they were, having completed tougher work than pretty much any CEO in Canada – the grit to live through withdrawal, followed by the start of the process of staring down whatever demons drove them to addiction in the first place, and facing the fact that they don’t have a lot to work with: no money. no prospects of immediate employment (would you hire someone with a year or more gap in their resume?) . and knowing they many people will treat them as the outcasts. And still, they are courageously giving it their best shot.

So we talked about very primal, real stuff:

how to get the cheapest cigarettes (don’t be judgmental. They’ve just dealt with something much worse; the smokes will get dealt with in its own time.)

how to pay rent and buy a safeway card or army&navy card whenever money comes, right away, to ensure the basic life needs are met before the money disappears on stuff (the difference between low income and the rest of us is that we don’t end up being kicked out of our homes when we are impulsive or unwise with our money).

how to rebuild credit (one guy was blown away when he realized he had a fresh start, since he’d never had credit in his life). (a couple of them, it wasn’t the legal creditors who they were nervous about!).

how to be discreet about money so every one of their buddies didn’t come with their hands out.

and believe it or not, their greatest interest was the legit investment world. One guy, in the fourth session, came to me with a realistic plan for putting away $50/month into a high interest savings, and within 18 months buying his first stock. For him, it was absolutely revolutionary – an alternative way, a hopeful way, of getting ahead legitimately. (note: the investment part is not a formal part of the program. The conversation just went there and I simply described what has worked for me).

I am privileged – and feel it – to work with any person about their money.

But I want to give a particular tip of the hat to this latter group: you are some of the gutsiest people I’ve met in my life. If you got through the addiction and came out the other side, you can do freakin’ anything you set your mind to. I salute you.

wow. I wish I’d said this (click to see the video):


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