A Money Coach in Canada

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Does this story sound familiar?

Amanda was determined to spend more responsibly, and especially to stop using her credit card so much. Time and again, she set a firm plan, and over the coming weeks, sometimes even managing for months, she would seriously curb her spending. But inevitably, one day she would succumb to an irresistible temptation and feel like she had ended up right back where she started. Most often things went something like this: Amanda would turn down invitations out for lunch, she would walk on past John Fleuvog’s on Queen Street, and she would content herself with dvd’s at home (after all, hadn’t she bought the Blu-Ray in order to do precisely that?). Then one day when she was perhaps a little tired, or maybe lonely, she would finally say Yes, and out would come the credit card. And having finally broken the strict regimen, she would then go the distance – go out for lunch with friends, then pop into the nearby shop and top it off with late afternoon drinks. $300 gone.

There was always an immediate rush of gratification, but pretty quickly discouragement would set in.
“I’m in debt. Again”. And then she would blame herself. “I have no self-discipline!”.

Chip and Dan Heath, in their latest book “Switch: How to change things when change is hard” have a useful lens through which to understand what just happened.

We are not a sane species! In fact, we are downright schizophrenic. Our minds have two systems at work at the same time, all the time.
One part of our brain is rational. This is the part of us capable of long-term planning, analysis and delayed gratification for the greater good.
The other part of our brain is instinctive. It is, every moment, acutely aware of whether we are experiencing pain or pleasure.
Our rational side provides us with direction. Our instinctive side provides us the energy to get things done. When these two parts of our brain work together, change happens. But when our rational mind is at odds with our instinctive mind, the rational mind will lose. Every time.

When Amanda was faced with a strong enough temptation that put her instinctive, short-term mind into conflict with her rational mind she pulled out her credit card.

This does not mean she is un-self-disciplined.
It does not mean she has an unconscious desire to sabotage herself.
It does not mean she is lousy with money.

She simply found herself in a situation that put her two systems in conflict.

This is the first thing you need to know about changing your money habits. Long-term success requires an awareness of these two parts of your brain, and finding ways to work with both the rational and the instinctive parts. Over the coming mid-week and weekends, I’ll be posting on how to do precisely this.

Hang on to your hats, folks. We’re about to enter a crazy time of the year.

Your shopping is probably mostly done (right? RIGHT??) but there’s plenty of in-the-moment wallet busters in store (sic) for the next 10 days. Here are 5 last minute tips to spend smart between now and New Years.

1. Run, don’t walk, run to your nearest dollar store to pick up gift cards, wrapping paper and bows. You don’t want to spend a fortune on this at the Brand Name store on Christmas Eve! If you have 90 minutes of time, an even better idea: make your own bows from leftover wrapping paper like Karen does.

Happy New Year!
2. New Years Eve. Going out? Leave your keys and your plastic at home. Decide how much you’re doing to spend and use cash. Save yourself from yourself! No oops-overspending hangovers this January 1st on my watch! 😉

3. Create your “standard-polite-decline” in advance to excuse yourself from potentially pricey on-the-spot invites you receive (we’re going out for lunch, join us!). Your line can be whatever works for you. Ideas: a gracious and classic, “Thanks so much but I have other plans” or “another time”; if suitable, ask if you can check your calendar first; have a standby excuse “I need to take the dogs for their walk”.

4. Travelling? Call your cel phone service provider today to be clear about extra charges. Avoid nasty surprises when you get your January bill! I usually purchase about $10 from Bell so I can make extra calls while in Vancouver.

5. Don’t apologize for not spending. I’m not saying cheap-out. But controlling your spending over the next 10 days should be a badge of honour. Settle that within yourself, and then let your actions and your words flow from that place.

TRUTH WILL OUT (Julian Assange) Wikileaks.org - Poster for Wikileaks.org
Holy Smokes, eh?

If you have a “take” on any of this, I’m sure interested in reading it!

Barely 2 weeks after I finished reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and I seem to be seeing it happen before my very eyes!

If I understand it correctly the sequence of events are as follows:

1. November 28, 2010: Wikileaks releases all kinds of highly-sensitive documents of the U.S. under their mantra of “keeping governments open” . (is that goal objectionable?). This debacle is now being referred to as CableGate.

2. Dec. 7th, 2010: Juliann Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of wikileaks is arrested in the UK for alleged sex crimes committed in Sweden. While I am a feminist and want to see justice done for any woman who was a victim of sexual violence, the time of this seems just a wee bit too.perfect. Assange’s accounts are frozen, and folks can no longer donate to Wikileaks via Paypal.

3. December 8, 2010: Netizens are in an uproar and the eerie ANON takes down Mastercard’s website.

Here’s what they (ANON) say about themselves:

This is a guest blog by a coworker with a lively online persona … but not from my lips or typing shall his/her identity be revealed. I did manage to coax out this guest post on the all-too-common habit of eating out too much for our budgets to handle. Northerners or readers in remote places will particularly relate, I suspect!

Lunch for Wednesday

Having a single income, owning a home with constant repairs needed, and living in the North where the cost of living is at an all time high makes a person consider setting up an IV system instead of paying for real food. Add to this the temptation of working downtown where there are at least half a dozen establishments with friendly staff waiting to take $20 and hand you a quick answer to the question “what’s for lunch?” and I’ve found myself looking at an empty bank account wondering what happened more than once.

One solution to this is to stop eating. A BETTER solution to this is stop impulse eating. When I moved out of my parent’s place at age 17, some of the advise my mom gave me was “always lock your door”, “cook big meals that can be frozen”, and “learn to budget”. The last two I’ve really taken to heart recently. Every pay day, I sit down and think of what I want to eat for the next two weeks until my next pay cheque. On my last shopping trip, I got everything I needed for breakfasts and lunches for 2 weeks for about $45, and everything I need for suppers for $50, including snacks and desserts. That is every meal I will need for 2 weeks for under $100.

When shopping for food, people tend to do it all in one place, which is understandable, but tends to lead you to do all of your shopping at higher end grocery stores where the meat and produce is fresher and readily available. Unfortunately this also means that the frozen and boxed items are more expensive. Frozen foods, preserves and dry goods are made to the same factory specifications, which from a freshness standpoint makes it a moot point as to where you actually pick them up. A can of soup is a can of soup. My tendancy now is to pick up all of my dry/frozen goods at a grocery store down town, which is the cheapest in YK, and then pick up my fruits/veggies and meats at a store closer to my house.

Another way I save on my food bill is to make a big meal every weekend and freeze the majority of it in single serving containers. If I make a soup or stew on the weekend in my slow cooker (which is a marvelous invention might I add), that will do me for a week or so. Now, the same soup for lunch every single day tends to get quite dull, which is why I make something different every weekend and stockpile my frozen meals. Lasagana here, stew there, pulled pork every once in a while, and I’m happy.

We as Canadians tend to waste a lot of food. One reason being that we buy too much of it, and we buy it on an impulse. When I got home from the store, I used to have to clear out some space before I was able to put any of it away, and a lot of the new items I was putting in the fridge was the same stuff I had just tossed out because I didn’t use it the last time. Just because it sounds like a good idea in the grocery isle, doesn’t mean that you will use it. I’ve also taken to looking at my grocery cart a lot instead of what’s on the shelves, either planning meals in my head and making sure I only get what I need, or just trying to aviod the “oh shiny” reaction to a new flavour of chocolate coated something-or-other that may catch my eye. When it comes to treating myself, I could justify pretty much anything, so long as there was carmel filling involved somehow. Now, it’s 1-2 treats tops per pay period.

All in all, this has made for a much smaller food bill, and a much healthier diet. No more coming home from the store feeling like I accomplished something, then realizing that I spent $100 or so on treats, and only have enough real food for maybe 4 meals. Who knew that taking my mom’s advise would work out so well :).

-Luggy Deadnick

Readers: I eat out for lunch maybe once/week, tops. That’s partly due to the fact that I can walk home – in -30C, mind you – every day for lunch. How often do you buy lunch, and what do you attribute it to?


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.

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