Friday, November 19, 2010

Teaching Kids the How & Why of Advertising

I'm just about finished shooting the footage for episode seven of Money&Me with Agent Story and I have to say that it's been the most difficult video to make so far. Writing catchy poems and silly stories about money words like job, stock, sales tax, donation, credit card, and entrepreneur has been easy. Writing about the word "advertisement" has been more of a challenge.

How do you make a compelling ad? What are the components of an effective commercial? What is some of the important marketing lingo that goes along with the word "advertisement"? How do companies make sure that advertisements are worthwhile? Unlike the other concepts I've tackled so far in my show, I didn't know much about advertising when I sat down to write the script.

But, after more than a little online research, I can now answer all of those questions and more. And, to put it all together for the kids who watch Money&Me, I not only wrote a poem explaining the how and why of advertising, I also made my very first commercial. It's for my CD, Agent Story: Tales from the Briefcase. And, it's going to be part of the episode.

You know, I made my CD way back in 2009. It's a collection of the most popular stories and poems from my live shows. Funny how I never thought to make a commercial for it until I started telling stories about money. Isn't financial literacy a powerful thing?

And, by the way, this is a real commercial. I do have a two-for-one sale on now until Christmas day. Click here to get yours.

Copyright 2010. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fearless! Robert Herjavec on Talking to Kids About Money

Meet a Fearless Dragon
He's a self-made millionaire. He's a reality TV star north and south of the border. He's a best-selling author and marathon runner. He has more than one mansion and has chatted with Oprah about fiscal responsibility while giving her a ride in his golf cart. But what really impressed me during our brief phone call last week is that he is absolutely fearless when it comes to financial literacy, both his own and that of his three kids.

Do you come from a family in which talking about money can get you expelled from the dinner table? Robert does. Add that to the fact that he didn't take business courses in high school and that eight months into university he dropped out of Commerce to take English and Political Science and you have to wonder how he has become so fluent in the language of money. As Robert told me, it comes down to this: 

There is no such thing as a dumb question. But once you have asked the question, you have to listen and learn.

Robert has taught himself just about everything he knows about money and, apparently, it's a never-ending journey. Just before we spoke he was having lunch with an important investor who mentioned a financial term that Robert was unfamiliar with. Instead of skipping over it and muddling through (like I have done way too many times at the bank), he stopped the conversation and unabashedly asked that scary and often avoided question: what does that mean?

I was actually quite surprised that he told me this story knowing that I would probably put it in my article. Clearly his pursuit of financial knowledge trumps any sense of embarrassment he may have at exposing the limits of his understanding. It's about learning the facts, not about protecting your ego which, as we all know, can really get in the way when it comes to talking about what we know (and don't know) about money. After all, money is not a taboo subject anymore. Or is it?

"Money Just Is"
Growing up, Robert learned that it's rude to talk about money. But he doesn't buy that line of thinking anymore. "Money is not a bad word," he said. "It's a resource. Money just is." And so when his teenage son said that he would like to study whales for a living and wanted to know how much marine biologists make, Robert did some research and found out that they make about forty thousand dollars a year.

Armed with this information, Robert told his son the facts: you can study whales or you can live in a mansion, but you probably can't do both. "The choices we make in life have a price." What a great three-part lesson:
  1. When you don't know something about money ask.
  2. Sometimes the truth about money is not always what you want to hear but you still need to hear it.
  3. Our choices come with a price tag.
Now that's what I call giving your kids a healthy appreciation for the undeniably important role that money plays in our lives. And speaking of kids (and not just Robert's but all Canadian kids) I could not let him get away without asking what he thinks about the role of schools and government in financial literacy.

A Helping Hand for Capitalism
These are exciting times. Flaherty's Task Force on Financial Literacy is due to release its recommendations next month. In Manitoba and Ontario, curriculum writers are hunched over their computers furiously writing brand new financial literacy lesson plans that will be introduced in September 2011. When I asked Robert what he thinks about all this he brought up an interesting point: capitalism sometimes needs a helping hand.

Robert believes that our governments do a good job supporting capitalism by funding initiatives that build our economy. He mentioned the new Business Plan Competition that is on right now at Queen's University. The federal government will provide three $150,000 interest free loans to students, or faculty, who start a business. "This is a great use of public resources," he said.

Robert also thinks that including financial education in schools is another good use of public resources and he has a wish-list for the new curriculum that includes teaching kids about spending wisely and about entrepreneurship. He hopes that kids will learn that "when you spend a dollar on this, you can't spend it on that." He also hopes that kids will be introduced to the possibility of earning a living as an entrepreneur because, as he's read, eighty percent of entrepreneurs have a family member that is already an entrepreneur.

Robert's father was a factory worker. His mother was a secretary. "It's tough to take a chance when you don't see others doing it." Wow. Imagine an education system that teaches kids (every kid, not just the ones who take high school business courses) the difference between being an employee and an entrepreneur? That would be a great use of public funds. But enough wishful thinking...back to Robert.

A Fearless Learner
Robert is immensely successful in business and in life but what struck me the most during our short conversation is how much he cares about financial literacy. He is completely open and honest about money with his kids. He doesn't shut down or "fake it" when the limits of his financial knowledge are reached. He is fearless when it comes to learning the language of money. Isn't that just as impressive as owning mansions and knowing Oprah? I think so.

Not only am I going to keep talking to my daughter about money, I am going to talk to her about all the stuff I don't know about money. That way we can explore and acquire the language together. And, the next time I'm at the bank, I'm going to speak up when I don't know what a word means. I mean, seriously, if Robert Herjavec can admit when he doesn't know something about money, so can I.

Copyright 2010. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission please contact Laura at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wants, Needs & Parenting for Fulfillment

Wants & Needs
How often do you find yourself buying stuff that your kids want but don't need? I was doing it all the time, quite unconsicously, I confess. But ever since my lively discussion with investment counselor and father of two, Al Tynan, I have found myself saying "no" to my daughter's wants more often. This has not only been good for my family's bottom line, it's been great for my daughter's self-esteem and sense of fulfillment. But let me introduce you to Al first.

A former national-level rugby player and UBC Human Kinetics major and Commerce minor, Al joked about the fact the he was the only person in HK with a subscription to the National Post. Currently, Al holds a Chartered Financial Analyst designation and is an investment counselor at RBC Phillips, Hager & North. His clients have to have at least a million free and clear to invest before they can sit down and pick his brain. Not to mention his office is on the twentieth floor of a stunning waterfront building in downtown Vancouver. From the conference room window, I could just about touch Grouse Mountain's snow-bare ski runs.

So what was I doing in that multimillion-dollar setting talking to a rugby player turned financial advisor who deals in the millions of dollars? Well, I wasn't there on investment business. No, I dropped by to find out what a guy like Al teaches his kids about money. A lot of useful things, it turns out, and it all hinges on this idea:
Our job as parents is to take care of all of our kids' needs but not all of their wants.
Al learned this lesson early. His father, a lawyer, retired when he was just 40 years old. As it turns out, he had saved a portion of his employment earnings and had invested in stocks. Essentially, the family of five lived on the dividend income generated by those stocks. In his early years, there were months where Al and his brothers had their needs taken care of but not all of their wants. Al was okay with that because he saw that while finances weren't always easy for his parents, they truly enjoyed family life.

The other powerful lesson that came out of his family's unique financial situation was what Al calls the "get rich slowly scheme" or the power of owning stocks that pay dividends. As early as he can remember, Al got a nine-dollar dividend cheque in the mail every three months from Imperial Oil. This is something his father set up for him and something that Al would like to set up for his kids too but, these days, companies don't send dividend cheques in the mail. For a kid, looking at numbers on a computer screen just isn't the same thing as getting a cheque with your name on it in the mail.

Fulfillment 101
As much as getting a dividend cheque in the mail is a thing of the past, Al worries that the concept of working hard for what you get is going that way too. He brought up the point that when parents constantly buy full-priced "stuff" for their kids, such as pricey electronics and other luxury consumer goods, they run the risk of hurting their kids' satisfaction down the road. That made me think.

What if my daughter decides to pursue a noble job that only pays a modest income? What if she wants to be a pre-school teacher...or even a children's storyteller? If I buy her every expensive gadget that she asks for while she's living at home, this could lead to a decreased sense of satisfaction when she leaves the nest and starts living on a pre-school teacher's (or storyteller's) salary. I was impressed by Al's insight and asked him how he teaches his girls (ages six and eight) about the difference between needs and wants.

When Al's eight-year-old wants a new luxury gadget, he explains to her that it's not a "need" and therefore that it's not his job to buy it for her. He then encourages her to earn money to cover half the cost (he will pay the other half). When she has saved up the money, Al suggests that they shop around for the best sale price or even check Craig's List for a used one. That way she can save and grow some of the money that she has worked so hard to earn.

This is a practical idea that holds three great life and money lessons for our kids:
  1. Wants and needs are not the same thing.
  2. Needs are more important than wants.
  3. Getting everything you want won't necessarily make you happy.
After all, when it comes to money, isn't happiness and fulfillment what we want for our kids? What I learned through  my chat with Al is that helping our kids make the effort to earn money to take care of their own wants while they are living at home will go a long way toward helping them become financially independent and satisfied with their lives regardless of how much money they make.

Fulfillment. That's the word that I'm going to stand on the next time I say, "Sorry, sweet-pea, I'm not buying you that pink Nintendo DS-I. If you want it, you'll have to pay for it yourself. Let me show you how."

Copyright 2010. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission please contact Laura at

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dragons' Den & Our Unofficial National Financial Literacy Grade

Ever since I started pouring my writing and storytelling skills into the world of financial literacy I have been wondering how I might find out how financially literate we are as a country. I haven't found an official statistic on this yet, but I may have an unofficial one.

I had the opportunity last week to chat by email with Sean Wise, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Ryerson's School of Management and industry consultant to Dragons' Den. I couldn't resist asking Professor Wise what grade he would give Dragons' Den pitchers when it comes to their ability to talk money.

Professor Wise said, "I would give a C to most going into the Den, while they often know basic financial matters, that isn't enough when it comes to investment." 

His comment inspired me to do a little research so as I watched last night's episode I made a list of all the financial and/or business vocabulary used in the Den. I noted who used that vocabulary and what the outcome was for the pitcher. And then, just for fun, I gave each of the pitchers a financial literacy letter grade.

Elite Living International
Ask: $100,000 for 10% of their business
Number of financial/business words used by pitchers: 7
Number of financial/business words used by Dragons: 11
Outcome: No deal
Financial Literacy grade: C+

Innovative Solutions Handy Tray
Ask: $100,000 for 1.5% royalty on tray sales
Pitcher: 17 words
Dragons: 17 words
Outcome: $100,000 deal with Brett for 50% of his business
Financial Literacy grade: A+

AgriConnect Farm-sitting Web Site
Ask: $72,000 for 40% of their business
Pitchers: 8 words
Dragons: 12 words
Outcome: No deal
Financial Literacy grade: C

Professional Weight Loss Services
Ask: $250,000 for 25% of their business
Pitchers: 3 words
Dragons: 9 words
Outcome: No deal
Financial Literacy grade: F

Beba Bean Designs Baby Clothes
$315,000 for 15% of their business
Pitchers: 10 words
Dragons: 11 words
Outcome: $315,000 deal with Arlene and Robert for 40% of their business
Financial Literacy grade: A

What this says about us...
My sofa-side research pretty much confirms Professor Wise's C grade for the pitchers. So what does this mean for my quest to find out our national literacy score?

Think about the fact that Dragons' Den is one of the most-watched TV shows in the country. According to the show's marketing fact sheet: Dragons' Den is the number one reality show in Canada; the show's website had over three million hits in 2009; and it's the most popular show in its time slot. Match these stats with the fact that as of this moment the show's Facebook page has 35,455 fans. These are big numbers in our small country. Do you see where I'm going with this?
Canada's "Unofficial" Financial Literacy grade: C

You can find out more about these pitchers and watch the show by visiting the Dragons' Den CBC website.

Copyright 2010. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission please email Laura at