A Money Coach in Canada

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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.

Saturdays are usually case studies … but it’s nearly christmas so instead, here’s a last minute gift idea to help people save! (thanks, Amanda for pointing it out). If you don’t save enough, see what it does …

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.

A group of us said stop sign to Subway Sandwichand McDonalds and wherever else we werej0309276.jpg

and decided for the month of november to lunchbox.jpg


cookingtogether2.jpg at home.

StrangeBird ,


TKO from Ontario

Wooly Woman



and Kristina

(wow – how’s that for alliteration!)
all gave it a genuine best shot.

Annnnnddd, by the highly technical random-machine aka Dane (mgr and amazing barista – ask him about the DaneFactor that separates his lattes from everyone else’s) at WorkSpace, the winner is KACIE!

Kacie – not sure if you live in Canada or the US.  Would you prefer a Choices or a Safeway $25 gift card? Leave a comment – or actually, send me your preference to ngzca at yahoo     com.   Congrats!

And congrats to all of us for a fun month of healthier eating (in my case) and fatter bank balances.

Move over, Nancy! Money Relations is here!

When Nancy first approached me to do this guest post, I… shuffled my feet at the opportunity.

What was she saying? Blog about my baby steps towards investing…? Was there a hidden message somewhere – that any idiot can do it?!

Good thing I’m not that easily offended by the truth. Below describes my financial story with notes of insight along the way.

My first investing experience came when I was a kid banking at the Bank of Mom . I had saved my birthday/Xmas monies and I had deposited it with BMOM at separate installments. Little did I know that the bank did not keep good accounting records and when it came time to withdraw, I got an NSF.

As you can imagine, that was the last time I banked with Mom and I opened an account with a CDIC institution member.

Note to self 1: Keep track of own dang money.

Things went swimmingly after that, I had my own pocket money at an early age with a paper route and I could afford my own things.

Note to self 2: Lugging newspapers in winter sucks. Need to retire from newspaper biz. Save money.

Later on, I puttered around in university but I have to admit I really didn’t find my calling until I was hanging in the computer labs. Unfortunately, I hadn’t signed up for any computer courses. As a result, I flunked the courses that I was registered for and I enrolled in college instead for computer engineering. I had already blown 2 years of tuition in university.

To this day, it nags me that I don’t have a degree as I’m pretty bright (really, I swear). I graduated from college and Mom bailed me out of tuition debt.

Note to self 3: Thank and forgive Mom for BMOM fiasco.

I got my first real job in the tech field during the dot com meltdown. It was with a small company and I considered myself lucky that I could even find a job. During the interview process, I said my expected salary was 42k. I started at 28k!

Luckily, after my 3 month probation, I got what I had asked for (which was unexpected). At my year end review, my salary was raised to 52k (which was also unexpected as I didn’t even negotiate nor was it requested).

Note to self 4: Get foot in door. Shut pie-hole and work. Project positivity – rewards will come.

It was rough times working with this company as all the R&D money had dried up to go to defense contracts after 9/11. Still, being in such a small organization I learned a lot. And Mom was at it AGAIN nagging me to save.

Note to self 5: Look towards future. Start saving and investing for real. Begin with mutual funds.

After 3 years with the company, my hours were reduced in half. It wasn’t unexpected as bodies had started disappearing (in a non-murderous way). During my off days, I started to look for work elsewhere.

Note to self 6: Financially stability rocks. Don’t live paycheque to paycheque.

Within three months, I got a job at my current organization. I earn a good living and it’s secure with a great pension and health benefits plan. The chances of career development are low and I’m not sure if I want to put in the same blood, sweat and tears as I did with my old company.

Note to self 7: Don’t live for job. Nice to have choice to work or not. Seek financial freedom.

So here I am today. I’ve done my due diligence with savings and I’m debt free. I don’t own a house and I rent. I’ve reached the step in my financial progression where I want my money to work for me.

I looked into my previously invested mutual funds and I realized that their performance trailed comparable funds that track indexes – with much lower management fees. Now why would I pay more to people to screw up for me? I can do that very well on my own, thanks.

And that’s exactly what I have been doing… investing by myself and screwing up here and there but it’s okay. I’m learning from my mistakes and my good decisions have outweighed my poor ones. I just need to do this more consistently.

Note to self 8: Start small. Get in the game and learn. Motivation: don’t lose money.

I started my blog to write down my journey in life as it relates to money. It helps keep my finances on the front burner but I don’t obsess about it. Making money for its own sake is meaningless. I am lucky in that I grew up in a family that stressed financial prudence but I don’t let its influences dictate who I am.

Note to self 9: Need to find own investment style. Gather information from internal and external sources. Make decisions best for self.

So there you have my financial story up to now. We each tell unique stories with different chapter emphasis on budgeting, savings, investments, etc. It just depends on your life circumstances.

Now go write your own fairy-tale by finding out what works best for you.

Note to self 10: Tell readers to write their own dang notes.

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