A Money Coach in Canada

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Argh!

Just when I was getting sleepily comfortable with my worldviews, Harvard’s Michael Sandel had to mess with my head.

I’ve been cool with taxes for quite some time now. I wasn’t always. As a teen and into my twenties, I saw no reason why my hard-earned money should fund other people’s issues. I vividly recall being thrown back when my boss at the time, whom I admired greatly, was completely at ease with taxes.

Over the years, I’ve become at ease with paying taxes too. Now, when I hear “tax cuts”, I warily wonder which services we are going to lose. And beyond paying for items I use myself – universities, health, safety via police – I also want to live in a society where the hungry are fed and the homeless are housed. That society just feels better to me.

Until I considered it from another point of view. This other point of view forces a clash between my deep-seated sense of independence (I’m nothing if not “my own person”) and my commitment to fundamental rights and freedoms versus my desire for a kind, compassionate society and .

The reasoning goes like this:

1. Taxation = the taking of our earnings.

2. Taking of earnings = forced labour

3. Forced labour = slavery

ERGO: Taxes are a form of slavery.

If I don’t have the sole right to the fruits of my labour, that’s like saying the state is a part owner of me.

Readers. Agree? Disagree? Is this way of posing the issue a red herring?

Paul – I bet you have something to say 🙂
And maybe you, Canajun Finance?

If you have time and inclination, here’s the lecture:

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I remember when I didn’t hope for much at all, financially. I’d read about folks who put $500/month or more away into their RRSPs and they seemed so very far away from me. Who were these people, I wondered, who had $500 a month to spare?

For several years during and after University (grad ’93), I experienced frustration: I was bright, educated and capable, yet somehow the life that included $500/month RRSP contributions (and the sophisticated condo and the great wardrobe and the espresso machine) seemed as far away as the moon. Looking back, I now realize we early Gen-Xers genuinely did have a rough go of it – the baby-boomers really had crowded us out as we tried to find our first McJobs; we graduated with particularly steep credit card and student debts; and on top of that Vancouver’s real estate went nuts so it was really hard to even start on that core asset.

I didn’t even know how to hope for much.

And then through a set of events most readers know, I had a turnaround. It wasn’t high drama, but it was a determination to shift things. And they did over the past 1.5 decades. They did.

Here’s one goal I’m still working on: financial independence. I have a figure in mind that I need and it’s a figure that at one point felt impossible. It no longer feels impossible – this money coach is a chunk of the way there!

All I’m saying is this, to those of you who feel stretched, who struggle to make ends meet or who are fatigued of trying: don’t give up. Give yourself permission to hope – and keep hoping. We need to live our lives, day by day, with an underpinning hope. I’m not talking magical thinking here, I’m talking hope.

It’s the first week of Advent, the week of Hope. Religious or not, I encourage us each to lift up our hearts, strengthen our spirits and live out of hope.

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.

Madoff - what it means for you

Back in the day, and by that I mean when the Romans occupied Israel, there was fraud the likes of which would do Madoff proud. So Jesus, perhaps alluding to a current event, told this story which has baffled many good christians. It seemingly flies in the face of what Jesus stood for. It goes pretty much like this:

A man, let’s call him Jack The Fraudster, was in charge of a Wealthy Man’s possessions (somewhat like a financial planner, I suppose). He had climbed his way through the ranks of the household staff and over time paid certain staff favours in exchange for them turning a blind eye to various peculiarities. This really pissed off the honest staff who found themselves unable to climb the ranks unless they colluded with Jack. Finally a few were mad enough that they approached Labour Relations in HR who waffled for years because they didn’t have any real power and besides some of them were in on it … but eventually the rumours reached Wealthy Man who ordered an investigation. The findings were troubling to say the least.

So Wealthy Man hauls in Jack the Fraudster, whom he’d trusted with pretty much everything, and confronts him. Jack the Fraudster is nothing if not weaselly and manages not to get sent to prison on the spot, but he is sent packing. Because Wealthy Man didn’t heed HR’s sound advice, Jack the Fraudster was allowed to personally clean out his desk. He did so, taking along his stewards Seal.

Jack knew as soon as word got out he’d never find employment as a steward again. He also knew he had no other particularly useful skills. He was screwed for life. Unless…. unless …

Unless he committed one last grand act of fraud which would gain him serious favours with some up-and-coming people and at the same time might, just might, appease Wealthy Man enough to have him shut the you-know-what up about his bad behaviour.

This is what he did. He went tearing around to all the up-and-coming people who owed Wealthy Man things like hundreds of jugs of olive oil, or cattle, or exotic spices. And he offered them pretty much a receivership deal: If they would pay just half of what they owed, he’s stamp (with the Seal) the records as being Paid In Full.

This accomplished 2 things:
1. Up-and-coming people owed him, big time. He’d be welcome at their homes for extended couch-surfing stints.
2. Wealthy Man, who probably assumed he’d never recoup his losses, got at least half of what he was owed instead of having to write it all off.

Wealthy Man had to hand it to him. In fact he chuckled about it at many a dinner party. (By the way, you didn’t think Wealthy Man became Wealthy Man by playing clean, did you?)

Here’s where things go sideways. We all expect Jesus to say, “Don’t do that!” but instead, he says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Here’s my take. First, there’s just no way, no way, he is encouraging his followers to commit fraud. But I think he is acknowledging that Jack The Fraudster got one thing straight – he knew that finding himself a home was the #1 thing to be concerned about, and Jesus is acknowledging that it was really savvy to use all things at his disposal, things of much less personal significance (no kidding), to secure a future home for himself.

So for us, religious or not, the message could be something like: Get Clear on what’s of supreme importance to you. The things that make life worth living. Home. Family. Friends. People. and Get Clear on what is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Make sure what is inconsequential is serving the purpose of what is of supreme importance. A bit no-brainer, yet we always seem to need the reminder. I certainly do.

I’m no theologian. But that’s my take wearing my money-coaching lens.

Yesterday was All Souls Day. It’s about as close to ancestor worship as we Christians get, I guess. It is a time to remember the people connected to us who have died, and say prayers for them: May light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace. is a classic prayer.

I don’t know much about my paternal lineage. I may be Jewish. I may be German. I may be both. Sometime before I die, I hope to find out more.

But in the meantime, I do know that my paternal grandparents, both American-born, lived in Germany for a number of years before WWII. My grandfather ran a factory there. They were recalled home just before the Germans attacked Poland, if I have my story right.

For a whole host of reasons, I didn’t stand to inherit much, and I didn’t, when they died. I don’t mind that fact. But I do have the painting below. They acquired it in Germany. I don’t know what it’s worth (or not worth) and it was in disrepair until I had it cleaned and reframed. Over the years, it has an increased importance to me – both intrinsically and the fact that it is something tangible handed down to me. I don’t even know where to begin in terms of having it appraised. If you’re an artist, and know about these sorts of things, I’d be interested in hearing from you.

I’m curious. Do you have items that have been handed down to you? Do you prize them? Or are you nonchalant (I was at first, truth be told)?

Here’s the painting, by the way:
Painting from my grandparents

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