A Money Coach in Canada

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On Saturday, a conversation with a money-coaching client strayed into the realm of worldview, philosophy and religion. It happens more often than you’d think. We start out figuring out how to get out of debt or how to save for the kids’ tuition, and in the mix talk about financial anxiety and somewhere along the way we often start to frame those questions in a larger picture. Me included.

I’m one of a dying breed – someone who is, dare I say it, a practicing member of organized religion. Unfashionable but there you have it.
Specifically, I am a parishioner of St. James Anglican Church – socially liberal (yes to gays), theologically conservative (yes to Jesus being God-in-the-flesh not simply a good moral teacher), and politically activist (lets feed the hungry and house the homeless already).

I believe that some day I will be asked (gently, but still) to account for my life. I imagine the two main questions will be something along the lines of,

1. Nancy, I went to a lot of work to create the earth. earth How deeply did you enjoy it?

2. And, you also shared the world with a lot of other people just as inherently valuable as you. How well did you love your neighbour? (and anyone who knows the story of the good samaritan knows that ‘neighbour’ doesn’t just refer to your friendly summer rooftop bbq with the people in your condo strata, but the people who your culture tends to easily dismiss and despise. In my case, I interpret that as my literal neighbours, the homeless who are addicts and often mentally ill).

Re: #2: I hope I’m inching my way towards allocating my money towards caring for my neighbours. I’m not going to disclose specifics, but a few more people get practical care than otherwise might, and I’m also learning, when asked for change, to overcome my awkwardness and buy the person some groceries at a nearby shop. This doesn’t happen often, but it feels right when I do it.

Also, I’m changing how I eat for my own good, but also to better respect the inequities in access to food (ie. it’s not right that I’m carrying excess kilos while the homeless lunatic across the street is malnourished).

On the first question, my 2008 goal is to slow down and absorb the simple pleasures in life. I had one this weekend – discovering a sweet little song, innocent, youthful, lovely. Catch the lyrics – they’re worth it. Here it is:

This one’s for you, Telly 😉

stock-market-bull.jpgSo, a lot of the time when I’m a guest speaker and tell my story about my own foibles with money, what I HOPE people will grab onto are the little habits and changes-of-thinking that got me turned around. What most people DO seem to get all excited about is that I learned how to do my own investing via a group of about 12 women who taught ourselves how to invest. (we called ourselves Twanda, for anyone who’s seen ‘fried green tomatoes’).

The world of investing seems to be an area of confusion, intimidation, and yes, boredom for most of us. We know it’s important, but our eyes glaze over, and the thought of reading financial pages is right up there with listening to MPs in parliament. bored

Here is an Extremely Brief explanation of how we did it.

1. There were about 12 of us, who committed to stick together for 5 years. This long Is NEEDED, trust me on this, to make it worth it. None of us had any financial background at all. No financial planners. No book-keepers. No econ majors in the group (we were a lot of film types and health care, and educators).

2. We formed a limited partnership and got set up with a bank account at our local credit union, with the Chair and Treasurer as signing officers. We got a self-serve brokerage account too.

3. We each paid $30 per month into the kitty. Every 6 months or so, we had $1500 (about the minimum you’d want to aim for) with which to invest.

4. How did we choose what to invest in?

a. We read the Beardstown ladies, and read a lot of The Fool. We also checked out ChicksLayingNestEggs.

Note: These days, these are all still good starting resources, but there is a rich mine of DoItYourself information available from your fellow Canadians who blog about their personal investing. It takes a while to develop the vocabulary and get the significance of their posts, but over time, it will become easier. Money Relations is a great place to start – my favourite, and uses layperson’s language. More technical/advanced blogs include CanadianCapitalist , FinancialJungle and GuerillaInvestor (very manly, that one!). There are lots out there – poke around.

Anyway, we taught ourselves some of the basics: how to evaluate a company. Key ratios like P/E, Margins etc. It sounds complicated, but honest, once you get it, it’s sooooo easy. Kinda like learning to ride a bike.bike

b. We kept our eyes open for companies we used in our regular lives, that we liked, and believed had a future.

SunRype made us a ton of money. Rona did even better. Avon would have done well, but the currency fluctuation held us back (oops! hadn’t thought of that. Live and learn!). Le Chateau also did us very proud. Each person would take a turn presenting a company including the financials.

c. Every 6 months we’d review the companies presented and debate which one to buy this time ’round. These debates got intense! I wanted starbucks, but other people didn’t like their ethics. Another member wanted Weightwatchers, but we only liked companies that had been public at least 5 years. As it turned out, we could have made a chunk of change, and the member didn’t let us forget it!

Mostly, we used a lot of common sense. Has the company been around a while? Is it a fad, or here for the long term? Do they have a good enough cash flow to keep going for the forseeable future? Do we like the people managing it? All of this took research of course, but isn’t too much different than simply checking into an individual’s personal finances – do they overspend? Do they have savings? Do they have debt? Is their networth growing or diminishing – are they making something of themselves? And are they good citizens?

5. If I recall correctly (I think I do) we never made less than 18% in any given year. This included the 2000 disaster. But more importantly than the money, we each developed a sense of competence and enthusiasm for investing.

Please, oh please – none of the companies above are my recommendations (we bought – and sold – them years ag0) and none of the above should be in any way construed as advice. I’m a money coach, not an investment advisor. It’s simply the experience I had that taught me how to make my own investing choice.

Twanda!

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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.

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