A Money Coach in Canada

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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.


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.”

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.

IMG_8600 Virginia Slims ad: We've come a long way, baby

I love Madmen. But man, do I hope those days are gone for good: the women-doing-the-typing thing, the drinking, the smoking and yes, that kinda marketing. The marketing whose goal first and foremost (and often, only) is to increase sales even if those sales are killing people (directly or indirectly).

I hear there was a mild brouhaha at this years Barcamp in Vancouver. I can imagine it, a bit — I still remember when twitter went mainstream and the sense of despair that this space for open, real conversation between people with a point of view but without something to sell, was now going to turn into one more friggin’ “channel”. Some people can get pretty twitchy about these things (and sometimes, I can too).

Don’t get me wrong – I just paid for a whole bunch of radio advertising, so I don’t have a hate-on for marketing per se. But I hope it transforms from the inside out.

I hope marketing transforms into a place where marketing is about listening, I mean really, listening, as much as telling. I hope it turns into a way of taking values of us ordinary joes and adapting business accordingly so that we can feel good about the companies we buy from (think: organic, free-range, non-toxic, free trade, women-friendly).

As the prescient ClueTrain Manifesto put it (excerpt only):

  • Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
  • Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.
  • Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
  • Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
  • Companies attempting to “position” themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about
  • .

Here’s hoping!

ps: for a kick-ass example of great marketing, including use of social media, just get yourself entangled with ING. They are Rocking this space is an authentic, transparent way… and helping us all become savers to boot.

This is a very raw, real story of someone in my life who I know not super-well, but well enough to cry when I read this. I knew her before, during, and now after, her marriage. The story caught me as off-guard as anyone; I would not have predicted this, having seen them together… and the beautiful photos of her wedding on facebook. The writer is grounded, thoughtful and kind. And clearly someone who knows how to respect herself and request what she deserves in the midst of a very rough ride. Her action are more eloquent than any money coaching I could provide.

In September of 2009, I stood up in front of my friends and family and promised to take another person “for better or for worse”. He took me too, but as it turns out, where he wanted to take me was to the cleaners.

My husband, let’s just call him JerkFace (JF for short), and I met in February of 2003. We started dating in April of the same year, moved in together pretty quickly after that and then went through all the motions you’d expect: We went from renting to owning an apartment, we got a dog, we got engaged and then we got married. We shared everything. We were the lucky ones, I thought, we can easily share everything and it’s not an issue. We never haggle over who pays for what, we don’t fight over who spends more, and we shared everything. We put all our money together, we paid our bills together, and we shared everything. It was to the point where we had to be very sneaky about getting each other gifts because we didn’t have our own accounts, our own cards… who needs it when we have each other?! We shared everything, remember?

From 2005-2008, I worked for a credit union and learned an incredible amount of money and financing and also what sort of trouble those things can get you into. I froze accounts for separating couples, tried to console weeping spouses whose husbands or wives had emptied out the account on their way home to ask for a divorce. I went to a presentation about women and money and the presenter gave a piece of advice that I kick myself now for not listening to: “A woman,” she said, “should always have the means to leave if she has to.” She stressed how important it is to have some money that is just yours, tucked away in a savings account or accessible investment for the rainiest of days. I took this advice and I passed it along, talking to women in bad situations and encouraging them to make sure they had the funds to be able to stand on their own two feet if they had to. The poor women who weren’t at all like me, who weren’t one of the lucky ones like I was, the ones who had relationships that they needed protection from or a backup plan from.

Not me, though. I continued to put every last penny into a joint account and emptied out both my RRSPs and my savings for the down payment on our condo and for our wedding. Even as he advanced at his career and we put him through school when only one of us could afford to go, I didn’t bat an eyelash at pouring my hard-earned money into the life we shared. Now he earned two and a half times what I did, so it was worth it, right? “We” had more money coming in. I didn’t mind that he didn’t have any savings to put towards the wedding, he got paid more so put more towards our bills, right? And once he’s gotten ahead, I’ll go back to school and we’ll pay for me to go. We shared everything, so what was there to worry about?

On October 22nd, 2010 (my 28th birthday), I found text messages in JF’s phone with plans that he was moving out. I was the last to know, he was trying to be considerate by not doing it before my birthday (he’s all heart). So just over a year after we said our “I Dos”, he said, “I Don’t Anymore” and the next morning he left.

He then did things that I never thought he would do, he spent all the money in our account on going out and partying, he refused to speak to me or see me and tried to fully extricate himself from my life. Once all the confusion and the upset began to fade a little bit, I could hear the presenter’s words in my mind as I realized that I didn’t have enough money to stand on my own two feet. If we weren’t sharing everything anymore, what did that mean for me?

In JF’s eyes, it meant I had my salary and he had his and we’d sign a few sheets of paper and that would be it. He figured he’d have to give me some cash to buy me out of the condo (which he was planning on keeping and kicking me out of) but had no intention of paying me any sort of support or paying me back for all the money I had so willingly dumped into our relationship. Alimony? Doesn’t exist, he decided. That was only for if you had kids and the very mention of it was taken by him as a threat and further deteriorated the bits of communication we did have.

So, I found myself staring at a spreadsheet I’d done up at 3 o’clock in the morning, the red digits of my negative expendable income glaring on the screen. Forget being a homeowner anymore, I didn’t know how I’d afford to pay rent. We had so much debt between us that he wanted to split 50/50, all my income would be going towards debt repayment. Forget going to school, I’d have to get a second job just to handle my living expenses. My car, which I’d been thinking of trading in to get a newer car since it was getting old and less reliable, was suddenly an expense that I didn’t even know if I could keep. To say I was overwhelmed would be a massive understatement.

Here is what I did:
I went to talk to a lawyer. My husband acted as if my seeking out legal advice was an aggressive and unnecessarily hostile move, but it wasn’t. Seeing a lawyer and finding out what I was actually entitled to, regardless of what my JerkFace of a husband thought, was the first step towards me feeling like I had some control over a seemingly impossible situation.
Did some research and got out my calculator. I crunched a lot of numbers and worked out that JF and I would be sharing the debt 2/3 to him and only 1/3 to me, based on our incomes. I found some tools online to help me calculate how much I would be legally entitled to ask for in spousal support (based on our income differential, the number of years we had lived together as spouses and my age). I printed out bank statements, college transcripts and HomeBuyer’s Plan receipts. I also found instructions on how to put together your own Separation Agreement to take to a lawyer so you don’t have to have them draw everything up (and charge you for it).
• Wrote everything down. And I mean EVERYTHING. Every penny I put on our down payment, every monthly expense we had as a couple, every debt, every asset… I even listed out all our shared property down to tea towels and DVDs.
• Used everything I found to draft up an Agreement and gave it to JerkFace. Was he mad? Yeah, he was really mad. And it was a really hard thing to do. I had to get over this stigma in my mind of a woman “going after” her ex-husband for everything he’s worth as some sort of revenge and realize that I am entitled to be able to go on living my life, even if my marriage is over. He accused me of trying to “financially cripple” him, even though it was right there on paper that even with paying me support and fairly dividing our debt, his expendable income was more than three times what mine would be. I realized that to him, “fair” would be him getting everything and being able to walk away without losing anything or even inconveniencing himself.
• Fought the urge to just give in and give up. Breaking up is exhausting and emotionally draining. At the end of a day where you are working hard just to feel like a normal person in public, the last thing you want to do is fight over money and furniture. There were times when I wanted to say, “Fine, just take whatever you want and get out of my life.” Because it was too much to take on. I had to just keep remembering how mad I would be at myself three months from now, when I have no furniture or can’t pay my bills on time. Just keep pushing through it, and it will be worth it in the long run.
• Leaned on my support system. Taking on a battle that you know could end up in court or worse and go on for years is a really scary thing. I don’t think I have ever been through something that so clearly showed me who my real support system is. The people that sat up with me until the early hours of the morning or let me sleep on their couch when being alone was too hard or brought me care packages wouldn’t let me just lie down and die, even when that’s all I wanted to do. They also wouldn’t let me end up homeless or bankrupt or all the other “worse case scenarios” that were running through my mind. I was lucky enough to have an aunt who offered to help with me legal fees, if it came to that, and friends and a sister who would have let me live with them indefinitely if I needed a place to stay.
• Tried to look at it like it was business and not personal. Stepping back from the hurt and rollercoaster of emotions I was going through and just looking at the numbers, the facts and the figures really helped me feel like I could get through it. The laws are there to protect our rights, even when we feel like we can’t protect ourselves.
Going through this Separation has by far been the most difficult thing I have ever faced. Aside from the emotional beating you take, fear of an unknown future and figuring out how to make it on your own seem unconquerable.

But if I could give advice to anyone out there in a similar situation: Stand up for yourself, even when it’s the hardest thing to do. Don’t let someone else control your future because they think you won’t fight for what’s yours. Get support, get advice and make yourself an expert in all things divorce. This is the first step you are taking in a new life, make it a stride forward towards being a confident and “no nonsense” woman.

I hate to be the type of person who looks back on things with regret, so I try be forgiving with myself about the choices I made through my relationship. I made them with the best of intentions and because I really loved and trusted someone and those are all good things. So, if I could go back and do it over again differently, would I? No. Will I ever make those same mistakes again? Absolutely not.

#4 Bus Stop Ad ~ W. Hollywood

A prospective tenant, in her 20s I’m guessing, could not give me a series of post-dated cheques because she did not have any. Full stop. No cheques. Never had had, either. And why would she? Our debit and credit cards, paypal, and ability to e-mail money or electronically transfer funds don’t leave much need for cheques anymore.

Cheques are a nuisance in my books. Receiving them necessitates a trip to a bank machine. (This is a compounded difficulty for me since there are no credit unions up here, so I have to save them up til my next trip down south.) Writing them means I need to ensure a supply on hand, plus keep tabs on which one has or has not cleared my account. Please, just let me click a button.

Having said all that, I hired a tradesperson today and have to admit I was rather touched. The company accepted my cheque on good faith, as opposed to many other places in my Vancouver years which required a certified cheque or scrutinizing all manner of ID before accepting one. Yellowknife is kinda nice that way – extending good faith on things (Once, a woman let me walk out of her shop with $20 worth of goods because I’d forgotten my wallet at home. Another time, a cashier personally paid for my $2 chocolate bar because I didn’t have cash on me and I hadn’t realized it was a cash-only shop. I guess she saw my desperate need for a chocolate fix! Yes, Yellowknife is awesome like that).

Do you ever use cheques any more? Does it drive you nuts, or is it just a part of life for you?
(A lite question on a Friday night. But your answers determine whether I’d ever purchase stock in Davis and Henderson. Just kidding.)

Truth be told I feel pretty self-conscious every time my personal story of my 20-something misadventures with money get splashed in mainstream media, like it did today in the Toronto Star. The reason I drop my guard is simply this: If I could turn things around, anyone can, and that’s a message I believe a lot of Canadians need to hear. There is hope. And if you are in a bit of a money muddle – or in financial hell – you are not alone.

We live in such a pressured culture, don’t we. I think I’ve generally hit my stride in terms of being unapologetic for myself – my values, my beliefs, and my finances – but I sure know what it is to have felt I had to present a particular image, or spend what I didn’t have in order to fit in, or (and this is kinda sweet) to help someone else out ’cause I cared yet didn’t want to admit to them or myself that I, too, was in a bad way.

So yes, I’ve known the acute discomfort of more than one “pay up” phone call (and will *never* give American Express any business again! #wayunnecessarilyrude) and sleepless nights wondering how I’d manage the coming month. And yes, the worst ever was having my credit card cut up by some high-school kid behind the till of the Shopper’s Drugmart on Broadway Ave in Vancouver.

But I’ve also known the quiet inner confidence of choosing to take charge of the mess. Of putting one step in front of the other, and after withstanding setbacks, discovering I really did “arrive” at a much better place.

If you are in need of a safe place to take a look at your own finances, and if you would like to put some building blocks in place to help you move forward, I can help — but not quite yet! I’m on a sabbatical from money coaching until January 2011. At that point, my business Your Money by Design will be live and kicking again, and ready to help (at entirely affordable pricing). If you would like to be on the wait list, feel free to e-mail me personally at money coach canada (all one word) at gmail dot com. Helping folks who are going through what I went through is one of my greatest joys. And I promise you, with time and a bit of effort, you can have your own turnaround story.

With care and high hopes for us all,


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