A Money Coach in Canada

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Live-blogging cnbc’s airing of Buffett and Greed responding to questions from Columbia Business school

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Q: Was Greed at the root of the financial crisis?

Buffett: We’ve got the engine that was ever devised. Greed will continue. But what drives the system is the equality of the opportunity.

Gates: The best systems are ones with good short term metrics and a willingness to do things long term (investing in research, eg) and a willingness to invest in youth. Other countries have seen it (China, India) and are trying to emulate it. But nobody wants to borrow from the extreme leverage US got into. But that’s not the heart of our system.

Q: Mr. Gates, can you tell us what you were feeling when you first heard Lehman’s was filing for bankruptcy?

Gates: The fact that there are ups and downs – he had no sentimentality. The domino effect caused him anxiety – he called up Warren 🙂

Q: Was it a mistake to let Lehman go under?

Buffett: Gives Bernanke high marks on the whole for how he’s handled this.

Q: To what extent to you think that business schools like Columbia were responsible for the crisis?

Gates: Business schools teach wonderful things. The case studies of this crisis will be taught here for decades to come. Leverage is a very dangerous thing. The notion of risk on this was not well understood.

Q: Can you teach ethics in a business school?

Buffett: The best place to teach ethics is in the home. The wonderful thing about it is you can succeed wonderfully in this country with ethics. Practicing ethically is not a hindrance at all. This country doesn’t avoid problem; it solves them. Youth have a wonderful future. This is currently fertile soil and there’s no reason to cut corners.

Q: What industry do you think will produce the next Bill Gates?

Gates: Industries have different paces of innovation. The math of the chip, fibre optics… there are few other industries which will compete for being exciting. Energy industry? Medicine? Those are the three that have the strongest momentum.

Buffett: Don’t let anybody else tell you what to do. Do what turns you on.

Q: Can you explain your key motivation to investing so heavily in the Burlington Railway industry at this time?

Buffett: Well, when I was a kid, I asked for a model railway and didn’t get one! (laughter) Railroads are still key, and will be, to transporting goods back and forth. You have the most environmentally friendly and efficient method in Railway – far more efficient than highways. They use 1/3 less fuel, they put far less pollutants into air. (money coach: YEAYYYY! I own CN Rail shares 🙂 )

Q: What keeps you up at night?

Buffett: I try to live my life so that nothing does! I don’t like to sound like a mortician, but last fall was quite exciting to me – there were opportunities that didn’t exist a year or two earlier. I don’t want to be leveraged so that I cannot participate or so that it keeps me up at night. The corn fields had not gone away. Our innovativeness had not gone away. I knew we just had to straighten a few things out, and we are.

Gate: A pandemic – outliers like that, you have to keep an eye on. Our K-12 system is not improving as it should be. That’s a bit scary and needs more attention. But our system generally has a lot of good self-corrections in it.

Q: May people question the current rally in the market. Is it sustainable?

Buffett: I first invested at 11 yrs old. Guess which year has been the best? The answer is 1954. The DOW went up 50%. (Moneycoach – I think I got that quote right, need to double check). It’s a terrible mistake to look at the economy then look at whether to buy stocks. You should look at any given company and evaluate its longterm prospects. If you find a good company, a bad economy is your friend. It gives you a chance to do things. If you wait to see the Robin, spring will be over.

Q: Can you comment on the work Steve Jobs has done on Apple?

Gates: They’re in a bit of a different business because they sell both hardware and software. They’re an incredible force. Of all the leaders in the industry, he’s showed more inspiration and he saved the company.

Q: What’s the one thing that your MBA didn’t prepare you for?

Buffett: It prepared me very well – specific profs, not the whole degree – I was lucky in that I found what turned me on, early on. A couple profs really inspired me. It gave me confidence in myself, propelled me, gave me tailwind. I later went to a Dale Carnegy course which gave me public speaking skills.

Q: Mr. Gates, what role did pure luck play in your success?

Gates: I was lucky to be born with certain skills. I was lucky to have parents who let me buy as many books as I wanted. And I was lucky in my timing- to be young and looking at the microprocessor just as it was emerging. So timing, skill set, meeting Warren … it’s unusual to have so much luck in one life.

Q: In the context of your unique friendship, what do you admire most about each other?

Buffett: It’s my athletic ability (laughter). What I most admire about Bill is his view about what he should do with the wealth he accumulated – he knows he benefited from society and he knows every life is of equal value to every other human life. They’re going to use the last half of their lives to improving lives of 6.5 Billion people around the world.

Gates: His integrity as an example. His sense of humour. But his desire to teach – to put things in simple terms so others can understand – it’s a real gift I admire incredibly.

Q: Dean of Columbia Business School asks: How do we develop business leaders who understand context and connect the dots?

Buffett: I think that what I learned from _____ (Graham?)_____ – having sound principles takes you though everything.

Q: Do you think we’re through the roughest times?

Buffett: The financial panic is behind us. The spillout is still with us. It will end – it won’t go on forever. To try to pick the bottom – don’t pass up something attractive today in the hopes of finding something even more attractive tomorrow.

Q: Will clean energy investments help pick up the economy?

A: We don’t yet know which of the energy industries will pan out long-term. You’ll have to be careful to find one with its cost-structure in line, not one being pushed along by subsidy.

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I can list the money books I wholeheartedly endorse on one hand.   A new one just got added to the list, and I’ve got one copy to give away to a reader, or someone you care about, who would benefit from some thinking about money.

The Secret Language of Money is not The Secret redux, its title notwithstanding.  Rather, it is a grounded, thoughtful invitation to explore our relationship with money – the ways we give money meaning that it doesn’t really have, and how that plays out in our lives.

If you’re tempted to believe you and I are rational about money, consider this experiment at Harvard, replicated 600 times:

Groups of economists and financial specialists were set in an auction environment and shown a $20 US Dollar Bill up for auction.  In over 600 “auctions”, not once did that $20 sell for less than $20.  HUH?  Exactly.   Presumably this happened because the prize ceased to be about $20, and became about winning.

That may seem a bit far from our every day money realities.  The book brings it all a lot closer to home.  See if some of these don’t ring true:

  • After a setback or disappointment, do you spend a bit of money to feel better?
  • “I’ve already spent more than I planned to.  I might as well go ahead an buy XYZ too, since I’ve blown my budget anyway.”
  • “I lost money in the stock market, so I won’t invest in the stock market anymore!”

Between my work in my life as a money coach (currently on sabbatical, btw) and my own self-discovery about my relationship with money, I have concluded that unpacking our hidden money drivers is imperative if we want any hope of managing our money effectively.

This book will help you – or a friend – do that.  It could be one of the most helpful Christmas gifts you provide someone.

Interested in a free copy?

Leave a comment describing one example of irrational thinking about money you’ve either engaged in personally, or have observed, and your name will go in the draw!   The draw will be next Sunday, Dec. 13th so the book might even arrive in time for Christmas (if you observe it).

UPDATE: Congrats to Nola who was selected by the Random Generator to win the book. Thanks all for your comments — they could form a blog post in themselves! Nola, I’ve e-mailed you. If you didn’t receive it, pls check your junk box just in case. If still nothing, leave me another comment.
ALSO: Thanks to McGraw Hill for donating the books!

I found this Radical (my word) Advent Calendar on the Toronto Sun. Yay, you, Suzanne Elston, for writing this.

It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, by a remarkable Presbyterian priest/author named Frederick Buechner:

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ”

‘Nuff Said. Read it for yourself.

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Photo Credit: StarryNight1

Set up a piggy bank.  During Advent, each day you will contribute to the piggy bank per below.  At the end of advent, choose a not-for-profit to which you will use the savings to write a cheque.

December

1: For every finger and toe your children have — intact and unblemished by landmines — add 5 cents. Landmines have killed or injured more than 70,000 Afghans in the past two decades.

2: For every female in your family who is free to go to school, pursue a career, or walk openly in the street, add 50 cents.

3: Add 10c for every time you’ve voted in a democratically held election.

4: Add $1 if your drinking water is safe. An estimated 5 million people die every year from illnesses caused by drinking poor quality water. 1.1 billion people lack access to safe water.

5: Add 25 cents for every shower or bath taken by members of your family today. Two-and-a-half billion people lack access to water for sanitation.

6: Add $1 for everyone you know with HIV/AIDS. 270,000 children die of AIDS every year.

7: Add 50c if you can name your family doctor. Add $1 if you’ve paid a visit to his or her office this year.

8: Add 5c for every year of your life untouched by civil war or conflict.

9: If you live above sea level, add $1. The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people die every year from drowning in low-lying coastal areas.

10: If you have flood insurance, put a loonie in the box and count yourself lucky.

11: Add 25c for every toy gun in your house (don’t forget video games).

12: Add 25c for every time you’ve called 911.

13: If you’ve had a permanent address for more than six months, add 50c. If you own your own home, add $1.

14: If you have open access to information through newspapers, the Internet, radio or TV, add $1.

15: Add 50c if you’ve ever written a letter to the editor. Add $ 1 if it was published.

16: Add 1c for every book that you own. If you have more than 100 books, add $2.

17: Add 50c for anyone in your family or circle of friends that serves as a member of the armed forces, police, fire or ambulance services. Now call them up and say thank you.

18: Add 50c for every one of your children who attends a publicly funded school. An estimated one billion adults are illiterate. Two-thirds of them are women.

19: Add $1 if you’ve ever sought legal council.’

20: Add $1 if you’ve ever been called for jury duty. Add $2 if you’ve been privileged enough to serve.

21: On this, the darkest day of the year, add 2c for every light bulb in your house. Don’t forget your Christmas lights!

22: If you’re free to visit with friends and family over the holidays, add $1.

23: Add $1 if you’ve sung Christmas carols this season. Add $2 if you sang them in public.

24: When the stockings have been hung by the chimney with care, add 25c for every gift under the tree.

25: If your family celebrates Christmas Day with a sumptuous feast, add $5.

26: If you didn’t recycle Christmas wrappings and boxes, add $1.

27: Add $1 if you had fast food today. One billion people suffer from obesity in the developed world. In the developing world, one billion people are starving.

28: If you have a drug plan, add $1.

29: If you have a pension plan, add $2.

30: If you have ever collected employment insurance or disability benefits, add $2.

31: Add $5 if you attend or host a New Year’s Eve party.

January

1: Add 10c for everyone you called to say “Happy New Year!”

2: Add a loonie for every member of your family who received a flu shot this year.

3: Add 50c for every member of your family who has lived past 70 years of age. In Zambia, life expectancy dropped from 44 to 33 years between 1990 and 2000.

4: Consider how fortunate you are. And then consider that 50% of the world’s children live in poverty.

5: Sit down with your family and decide where you would like to send the contents of your Advent Sharing box. Suggestions include UNICEF and Oxfam.

6: (The Epiphany) — Add up the contents of your box and then send a cheque to the charity of your choice.

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I love when disparate elements converge. Yesterday, a twitter pal asked for info on investing ethically. Today is Blog Action Day and the topic is Climate Change. (check out Gordon Brown’s blog post on the topic, or The White House’s post, er, but they’re not much better than mine – wicked grin) And the rapidly melting polar ice-caps made the news again – of much greater significance to me now that I live in Yellowknife.

Combine these, et voila:  How could I *not* post about how I factor in eco-ethics in my investment choices for Blog Action Day? (transparency: I’m drawing on an article I had originally published in Shared Vision magazine)

Disclaimer!  Disclaimer!  I am not a financial advisor (see masthead).  This is how I approach my personal investment choices.  Do your own research, or hire a financial planner.  This isn’t investment advice!

OK then.  Here goes.

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So I saw The Corporation, I saw Inconvenient Truth, and I know about how Halliburton is this really evil company and so is Monsanto.  It’s enough to make you swear off investing forever, and in fact one woman in my (former) investment club did just that.

“It’s all dirty!” she cried, “I’m outta here” (or words to that effect).  I empathize.

There’s little old me with my middle-class income on the one hand. There’s great big planet-screwing corporations we love to hate on the other.  And somehow I need to bridge the two if I hope to retire in a manner to which my dachshunds are accustomed.  I need to leverage my money off the initiatives of the c-word entities in order to become the multi-millionaire I aim for (yes, really.  And don’t laugh – my tiny loft in gastown may just do it all on its own if the real estate insanity continues.)

Here are 3 approaches to building our wealth and keeping our consciences, as well as the planet, clean.

1. Get comfortable with wealth. Many of us with a strong ethical orientation carry deep in our hearts a quiet distaste for wealth in general. The last thing we want to do is participate in inequity, when there are kids not getting the basic nutrition they need.

Here’s how I handle it.  No bones about it:  I want to become a wealthy (in the bank account sense of the word) woman. I believe that if there’s money floating around out there in the world – and there is! –  I’d like to be one of the people directing its flow.  Unless my own values change, I’m quite sure that a million here or there in my own portfolio will be directed towards initiatives that I want to see thrive because they’re doing something good in the world.  And I bet a million or two in your portfolio would be similarly directed.

2. Get comfortable in bed with imperfect corporations. Consider this:  Just like within the mix of humans, there are in fact some lousy corporations, but also some pretty wonderful corporations (I have a crush on – and invest in – Apple for example), and just like humans, even the good ones may have asymmetries, areas where they screw up until someone calls them on it (like Apple who got their knuckles rapped about their lack of commitment to the environment, and has since had a remarkable turnaround).  Let’s allow for that – a measure of imperfection that we can live with.

3. Let’s work on changing from the inside rather than critiquing from the outside.  I’m not suggesting we take on the truly dreadful companies, of course.  But if there’s a company that’s doing well, but with an area or two that could use improvement, let’s support what they’re doing right, and use our shareholders’ votes to move it further in a good direction.  Individually, our few votes may not hold a whole lot of sway (although never underestimate the power of one!) but collectively, if those of us with like minds start purchasing up shares, we may be stronger than we dream of.  A great example of this is the Interfaith Centre for Corporate Responsibility. Sister Daly had a legendary exchanges with GE CEO J. Welch regarding the polluted Hudson River, culminating in GE paying to clean up the river.   So be strong!  As a shareholder, you have every right to request the company you own take climate change seriously and examine its operations accordingly.

There you have it – my general approach to this investing ethically business.  In the coming week, I’ll review a couple of the companies I own and how they stack up vis a vis our planet earth.  Readers – any of you have investments you feel good about?  Care to share?

I’ve been a bit glum recently.
Bono summed things up for me with the query:

When you look at the world
What is it that you see?
People find all kinds of things
That bring them to their knees.

What I’m seeing up here in the north, increasingly, is just how complicated is the relationship between Canada and First Nations peoples. And it’s bringing me to my knees, frankly. It’s pretty damn dark. And that’s probably all I can say about it.

Reminders that sometimes Big Ideas that Change the World actually do get realized and really do start to change the world provide welcome cheer to me on this rainy Saturday in Yellowknife.

RED

The RED campaign initiated by Bono is one such Big Idea. Yeah, it can appear commercial. Yeah, it probably lets us all too easily off the hook. But as Raincoaster once pointed out (kicking my ass all over town, as only she can do! -I say with gratitude and affection), small starts can lead to deeper thinking about the underlying causes of injustice. So I say, YES! to RED!

What is RED? It simply offers each of us a choice as consumers, with several iconic brands, to select the RED brand item to purchase. A percentage of each sale then goes to a their global fund, and every penny goes directly to Africa, especially towards AIDS relief.

Products you can choose include:

Starbucks – RED card/mugs

Apple – RED ipod

Dell – RED computers

GAP – RED scarves, t-shirts

AMEX – RED card (UK Only?)

Hallmark – RED cards.

Sometimes when it all seems to overwhelming, and when I just can’t see how I can possibly be of any help to anyone, it’s nice to know other people with a whole lot more influence than me have done some serious legwork. The RED campaign has already raised millions of dollars, a scale I can barely comprehend.

Me? Sure, I’m in. I’ll buy RED when I can. That’s easy. The hard work for me is to find a way to serve (I am a civil *servant* after all) and not impose upon, the original peoples of the NWT – if it’s even possible.

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