A Money Coach in Canada

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We all know how many messages – explicit and implicit – we receive urging us to Buy.Buy.Buy.

Only active questioning and resistance can prevent us from being mindlessly sucked in.

Here are 3 vital questions worth asking before buying.

1. Am I buying this because I think it will improve my life?

If yes, unpack this belief at least briefly, before walking up to the till.

  • How will it improve my life?
  • How much will it improve my life – enough to justify the cost?
  • How long will it improve my life?

2. Am I buying this because I think I may need it “someday”?

In this instance, it might be worth a quick review:  Do I often buy things thinking I may need it?  If so, have most of those purchases indeed proven to be useful, or are they collecting dust?  When do I think that “someday” will occur, and until then, will I feel good about this purchase?  In light of your answer (either way), do you still wish to make this purchase?

3. Am I buying this primarily because it’s on sale?

If yes, think of at least 5 other uses for that same amount of money.   Now, would you still prefer to make the purchase (in which case, go for it), or would you prefer to use the funds for other things?

Opening my first (and so far only) macbook is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. (David, remember me asking you if buying future macbooks was as thrilling? or if it was only the first purchase that was so amazing?). I got home at about 4pm and I stayed up til nearly 3am – unheard of for me – enthralled.

That was in 2005, when iPods were starting to take off, but Mac users were still the outsiders — the cool, truly geeky outsiders who inhabited design firms making beautiful things. I wasn’t one of them, but dammit, I now had the same computer! And a money coach with a mac was cooler than a money coach with a pc, non?

Yes, it’s been a love affair, undiminished by my iPod touch, then my iPhone and most recently my iPad. My macbook is my first and true one.

But it’s been hard used: across the country and back, hauled through -40C regularly, dropped a few times, and rarely turned off over the past 5 years.

And now, routinely, this:

Spinning Beach Ball Of Death

My macbook’s had its day and it’s time to buy a new one.

For the past month, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the Apple Rumour site which advises:

Product MacBook
Recommendation: Don’t Buy – Updates soon
Last Release May 18, 2010
Days Since Update 212 (Avg = 195)

But I need one sooner rather than later. I can’t imagine that Apple will release anything new in January – who would buy that soon after Christmas? – and February seems unlikely as well. All I know is that they will release OS X Lion in the summer.

If I buy a macbook now, I can still upgrade to Lion from Snow Leopard when it’s released, right? And it’s a fairly easy process?

ps – and have you bought more than one mac? Was it as thrilling after the initial purchase?

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Photo Credit: mysza

One of my girlfriends dreads gift shopping events – birthdays, weddings, and above all else, Christmas. She feels like whatever she purchases just won’t cut it with the recipient. Similarly, a former client of mine deliberately traveled out of town on any occasions involving gifts, holding the firm view that she’d rather choose what she wanted for herself rather than accept whatever someone chose. Fair enough. (No, they weren’t sisters!).

Me? I enjoy the process of selecting gifts, for the most part. Most of the time, I’m reasonably confident that the recipient will enjoy what I’ve purchased, at least enough to have made the effort. And usually once per season, I find That Perfect Gift which goes over particularly well. For instance, when cds were just coming out (yes, I’m That Old), I found a christmas album (The Hollywood Bowl Christmas Album, recorded in 1957) which had been a christmas staple in our family, but the vinyl version had long since been all scratched up. It wasn’t spendy, but it was quite a hit. And usually once per season something I was less confident about ends up being a surprise hit. Perhaps I have particularly polite friends and family, but on the whole, selecting gifts is pleasurable.

I’m curious: do you enjoy selecting gifts, or hate it? Do you have any awesome “find” stories to share? Or any disasters?

Well now, this is an interesting development.  Visa Canada is partnering with a very savvy company in the States called Borderlinx. It provides Canadians with a US shipping address, so that we can order at any online store in the States and ship it to the Borderlinx address.  Borderlinx will then ship it up to us in Canada.

Living in Yellowknife, this holds very promising possibilities!  In fact, it holds possibilities for anyone without easy access to the likes of Banana Republic (my clothing store of choice),  Restoration Hardware, Zappos shoes and a whole lot of other shops.  These are just two of the stores which only ship to US addresses via online shopping.

If it wasn’t for Visa’s involvement I would have assumed this was a fly-by-night operation – I pay for the goods, they collect them, and resell them or something.  So I contacted Visa’s eCommerce rep and got the following responses from Stephanie Wallat:

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Q:  Does VISA have any estimate of how many Canadian online shoppers want to purchase from US online vendors, but can’t because the vendor doesn’t ship to Canada?  (ie. how big of a problem is borderlinx solving for us)?

According to research by Burak Jacobs on on behalf of Visa in October 2008, the main barrier to shopping at US sites is “Sites that do not ship to Canada” -(38%) . The next reason was shipping costs at 25%.

The same research showed that 62% of respondents indicated they are shopping at US sites – what we don’t know, however, is how many more would, if the sites they targeted would ship to Canada.

With that many shoppers facing the barrier of shipping, this gap presented an opportunity for Visa to provide more value to its cardholders by offering a solution like Borderlinx .

Q: If I had discovered Borderlinx on my own, my guard would be up.  I’ve always assumed there was Some Reason the US Vendor didn’t ship, other than their inconvenience, such as international trade agreements/tariffs etc.   The fact that VISA is partnering gives Borderlinx credibility to me – enough so that I’ll personally try using it if the price/exchange rate is favourable enough to compensate for the shipping/taxes etc.  Can VISA confirm that US online vendors don’t ship to Canada purely for their own logistical reasons, rather than because doing so violates anything per above?

We can’t speak on behalf of retailers, but from what we understand in talking to US retailers, it is more a case of logistics than compliance (although in some cases,  it may be that the merchant’s goods are not accepted in Canada   – the Borderlinx website provides some examples of prohibited goods).

Shipping outside of the US can involve considerable effort, especially for the smaller retailers. To be successful, retailers need to understand the new market, have the internal resources and organizational structure to support cross border, be able to handle the fulfillment/logistics, know the government/regulatory/legal requirements of each market, etc.

Visa is working with third parties like Borderlinx to fill the cross border gap and enable its cardholders to shop anywhere in the world.

Q: Do Visa guarantees about damages of goods purchased apply to items that go through Borderlinx?  (I’m actually unclear about those guarantees, but I think VISA replaces items that break or get damaged, if purchased by visa?)

In general, if a Visa cardholder makes an online purchase that arrives damaged, the first step is to contact the merchant.  The Visa E-promise acts as another avenue for dispute resolution should attempts to deal directly with the merchant fail.

Borderlinx inspects packages and will alert a customer if the package is damaged (details below).
Carriers selected by Borderlinx insure deliveries  against damage up to $100. Borderlinx is working to provide its customers with additional coverage, and will be able to provide more information about that soon.

From the Borderlinx site:
If your goods are damaged when they are received by Borderlinx, the email advising you of a new delivery to your Borderlinx address will explain that goods were received damaged and – as far as possible – describe the damage. You should then contact the retailer directly to arrange an exchange/refund and let us know what you wish to do through the Customer Service page.

If you see a ‘Damaged’ icon against your delivery, you will not be able to have it shipped (ensuring that you don’t choose to receive damaged goods inadvertently). If you still want to receive your goods, please contact Borderlinx Customer Service so that we can arrange shipment.”

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This money coach plans to test this out in the fall, and I’ll let you know how it goes.  It will take some careful calculations, factoring in the exchange rate, the tarrifs, and the shop prices but I’m really pleased to have at least the option available to me.

If I took my conscience shopping everywhere, I suspect I’d stop shopping.

I had two facebook interchanges on the topic this week, one of which also reminded me of a Lululemon issue.
Here are the discussions. What do you think?
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1. To Foie Gras, or not to Foie Gras
Facebook: 28 June 12:47.
Christopher Flett is a business coach extraordinaire, for women. Working with him gave me tremendous lift-off when I started my money coaching business.
Here goes:

Christopher Flett: Kits Farmer’s Market:Just told to “F&CK OFF” by animal rights activist because I like Foie Gras. Full story here: http://tinyurl.com/l5trs8
28 June at 12:47 · via Twitter · Comment · Like

Nancy Zimmerman at 12:52 on 28 June
I’ve been confronted to do a lot of thinking about this kind of issue because of the whole seal hunt thing up here. One question to myself, to which I don’t know the answer but it’s a good question, is: To what extent do I accept responsibility for the humane treatment of the animal that ultimately I eat?

Rikia Saddy at 21:37 on 28 June
I too believe in the circle of life, but I can’t see the point of torturing animals before we eat them. There are many delicious foods that don’t require shoving a hose down the throat of a goose and forcing in 3 pounds of grains and fat, several times a day.
Isn’t a normal-sized goose liver sufficient?

Christopher Flett at 19:51 on 29 June
No it isn’t. If it was, we wouldn’t have to feed them extra helpings.
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2. Made in China
This is an on-the-ground perspective from a former client of mine who sources materials for her company overseas.
(She wrote from Thailand, btw!)

Saw your status and wanted to comment (since I’ve just spent the past week and a half visiting factories in Asia!) Definitely in China health hazards are a plenty. As you can imagine, clothing is ridiculously dusty (especially anything cotton related such as cotton spinning) Every time we do a visit we look for such hazards and the factory owners always tell us the same things… they educate the workers on dust hazards and provide masks but the employees don’t comply.

I’ve been to cotton spinning mills in India and after a 2 hour tour, my nose tickles for days! The factories are usually in hot places so the workers refuse to wear the masks since it’s already so hot without masks on. Don’t get me wrong, I totally don’t agree with it, but I have seen some factories genuinely try to enforce rules to no avail (and for the past few years if an employer got really strict, employees would just move to a more lax factory: I suspect that’ll change a bit now with the slowdown)

Anyway, my two cents after having seen the manufacturing side of things! Manufacturing is certainly a crazy world, don’t even get me going on the labour end of things! A lot of people’s perceptions is that people like Nike produce in sweatshop environments. In actuality, large brands (Nike, Patagonia, mec) are leaders in making improvements in health/safety/pay by ensuring that work hazards are minimized, overtime is paid etc… it’s hardly a perfect world and factories don’t always comply but with more and more brands coming on board it’s getting better. It’s the “no name” brands or knockoff brands (where price is the number one concern) that have little/no standards. Anyway… I digress!

I think the whole manufacturing/3rd world thing is very catch 22.

I’m still torn everyday on what I feel is right or not. The sewers (the workers, not the plumbing system!) make a base wage of less than $5 day (there’s a lot more money to be made in incentives though) and by Western standards, that’s hardly a lot of money. Then again, most of the workers are under 25, without an education and live in factory dormatories (hardly luxurious) accommodations. Then again, they are able to send home at least 50% of their income to their families (typically dirt poor farmers) which is not something that I’d be able to do in Canada! So, because of our Western greediness, the farmers kids move to the factory towns to be able to send money home to support the rest of the family. So does that mean that by buying things we’re exploiting the workers? Or would they be worse off if we didn’t buy anything? The issue I have is if companies (such as lululemon) keep shifting where goods are made because labour costs get too expensive (labour costs in China have been increasing at more than 10% a year for the past few years) and start giving up the Chinese factories in favor or vietnam, bangladesh, etc… that’s where I think the “west” gets exploitative.

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3. Lululemon and child labour
Before Lululemon became a public company, but well into its meteoric rise, I attended a grass-rootsy talk about fashion in Vancouver. Chris Chip was a guest speaker, and discussed sourcing his materials. Apparently he had hired a few young girls in his factories overseas. He openly discussed his dilemma: Odds are that if he didn’t hire the young girls they’d be in the sex trade instead. So what, he asked the audience, would we do in his position? Turn them away knowing the alternatives? Hire them and feel good about providing a safer situation? Hire them and feel lousy about child labour?