Thursday, December 13, 2012

I'm Auditioning for Dragons' Den

As some you fabulous people in finance and the financial literacy movement may know, I have almost given up on my mission of trying to get parents, teachers of K - 7 students, along with ministers of education, to buy into the idea that financial literacy should start in kindergarten. Before I give up entirely, I'm going to take one last stand by auditioning for Dragons' Den.

Auditions start in Vancouver and Toronto on January 19th, so I have just a few weeks to put a pitch together. If you have a moment, could you please read through my draft and let me know what you think about my story and my ask? The pitch is centered on my novel, The Adventures of Bob Warhop.

A draft of my pitch to the Dragons

My name is Laura Thomas. I’m a mom with an 8 and 9 year old from Delta, BC. I’m a full time writer who is seriously concerned that financial education is not a required component of the K-7 curriculum.

"Six is too young to learn about stocks."
There does not seem to be any political will to change this. Even some financial experts think it’s crazy to teach little kids the language of money. I’ll show you a clip from the Lang and O’Leary Exchange in a moment as an example of the attitude I’m concerned about…David you may remember this.

As a creative person, I have tried using my writing talent to help get teachers and parents with K-7 age kids to get engaged in financial education.
  • I’ve been studying financial literacy and blogging about it since 2010.
  • I've done interviews with some of the Dragons.
  • I’ve written and performed some Sesame Street like videos that teach financial terms.
  • I’ve written, produced and hosted two seasons of a family-friendly financial TV show.
  • I've done a few talk about financial education at teacher conferences.
  • I've done a few classroom visits.
All of these approaches have failed. The audience engagement level is either flat or freaked out. Money as a subject is either too boring or too overwhelming.

Out of curiosity, I looked at the stats for my blog since inception. I wondered what Google searches were leading visitors to me:
  • 6 of the top 10 key word searches had “Kevin O’Leary” in them
  • 2 of the top 10 key word searches were people Googling Arlene
By the way Arlene, more than 100 unique visitors Googled “Arlene Dickinson hot” and found one of the two articles based on my interview with you in 2011. Money is boring and celebrities are interesting. I get it.

What I don't get is this. Why don't we want kids to start becoming fluent in the language of money from a young age? David, let's watch this clip of your response to my Inbox question on what my then 6 year old daughter should use as an investment vehicle - funds or individual stocks.

Go to this link and jump to 57:54 where Chilton says, "Six years old is a bit too young to be learning about stocks and things. If she knows what an ETF is at this age, I'd get her into child counseling."

This way of thinking is what helps keep financial literacy out of the K-7 curriculum and I don’t think that this is going to change any time soon. But I can’t let this problem go. And I have one tiny piece of the solution.

[Show manuscript.] This is The Adventures of Bob Warhop. A kids' novel. Simply put, Bob is a young ferret—a somewhat special needs and doesn’t fit in ferret—who must raise $10,000 to keep his family from being sent to the taxidermist. But like all ferrets he has no idea what money is or how to speak that language. And, he has to raise the money by Christmas Eve which is just weeks away.

This is not another story book or kids’ novel that tries to shoehorn a financial lesson into a flat story. I’ve reviewed a ton of these. The Adventures of Bob Warhop is a fast-paced, exciting novel starring a quirky protagonist whose problem just happens to be that he needs to make a lot of money fast starting from ground zero with lives at stake. But the story really is about Bob and how the adventure changes him.

I'm not a financial expert, I'm an expert writer and storyteller, who just happens to know quite a bit about money from experience. I think money is a theme that artists and writers need to engage with. We need to user our talents to help "edu-tain" future generations so that our economies flourish.

I am asking for $20,000 cash to cover my time and expenses as I polish the manuscript, shop for a publisher, and turn the novel into a script for an animated feature. I would be willing to exchange 50% of my royalties for the $20,000, until that $20,000 is recouped by you. Then then your percentage of my publishing royalty would drop to 10% in perpetuity.

Thank you.

So what do you think? Will I get past the producers and get on the show?

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
Contact Laura at moneyme at telus dot net.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Fantasy Novel Teaches Kids About Money

Here's a fresh read from Craig Everett, father and finance professor at Pepperdine University in California. Toby Gold and the Secret Fortune is Everett's first book aimed at improving the financial literacy of kids ages 9 to 15. 

Toby is an orphan with super high math and money skills that have been noticed by the wrong people. Toby is sucked into a high-stakes, life and death financial conspiracy along with his two best friends.

“My whole purpose in writing this book is to introduce finance principles to people in an entertaining way using characters with which they can identify,” says Everette. “Financial literacy is a huge issue now, particularly due to the financial crisis. There is no silver bullet that instantly endows people with financial literacy, so the best approach is to expose kids to these concepts in as many ways and at as many times as possible…eventually, it will stick.”

Buy Toby Gold online now at

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Money or Arlene Dickinson? What are we really interested in?

"arlene dickinson hot"
In the summer of 2010, I started a blog called "Money and Me for Canadian Families." Today, I took a look at the all-time stats for my blog to see which article has been the most read to date. It turns out that that there are two posts which are by far the most popular: Hard Knocks and Spare Change, Arlene Dickinson on Financial Literacy and Kevin O'Leary's Tough-love Approach to Kids and Money.

By comparison, all the other nearly 100 posts on personal finance, teaching kids about money at home and at school, reporting on big doings in financial literacy circles, politics and money, etc. have generated shockingly little interest.

Google search stats don't lie. The top six sets of Google keywords that have been leading people to my blog since inception are:
  • "arlene dickinson" (this is by the far the highest by a thousand searches)
  • "kevin o'leary children"
  • "kevin o'leary family"
  • "kevin o'leary kids"
  • "arlene dickinson hot" (this search phrase was used 96 times!)
  • "does kevin o'leary have children"

So what does this leave me with? The realization that most of the people who find my blog are not looking for financial education or resources. They are very likely Dragons' Den fans who are hungry for personal details about Canadian celebrity entrepreneurs like Dickinson and O'Leary.

This also confirms my observations over the last two years as a financial literacy blogger, producer and speaker that financial education products and services are not interesting to most Canadians. Is this because Canadians are already financially literate? I don't think so. I think our financial literacy is still low, largely as a result of this valuable subject being left out of the school curriculum.

So, if there is a need for financial literacy, why don't we want it? Why are we more interested in Arlene Dickinson's sex appeal and Kevin O'Leary's family life than our own money? I'd really like to hear what you think!

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
Contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tax Incentives to Stop Helicopter Parents from Shortening the Life Expectancies of their Children

In a generation we have wiped out the practice of letting our children walk to school and of letting them play outside unsupervised. Sports are highly organized and competitive, forcing many children to quit by age 12 because they aren't destined to be superstars. Grade 8 PE teachers say they are seeing more and more kids who can't run,  jump or dribble a ball. This adds up to a booming health care industry, a stretched health care system, and a declining life expectancy for the average Canadian.

What's the cause? Helicopter parenting just might be the biggest culprit. Have you ever heard parents rationalize their child's lack of physical activity or justify forcing a child to specialize in one sport like this:
My kids will be abducted if they go outside without me!
There is too much traffic on the roads for bike riding!
I don't have time to walk my child to school!
I just want my kid to focus on one sport so he can make the rep team!

Fear-based parenting, a declining life expectancy and money

A few years ago the Federal Government introduced the Child Fitness Credit. You can get a tax credit up to $75 per child if you spend over $500 per calendar year on sports fees and memberships. This is a good idea, but where is the incentive to let your child try all kinds of sports every year and be active every day?

I think deeper tax incentives may help. How about additional tax credits for putting your kids in multiple sports in a single year, say 3 or more different sports per child? Or, what about tax credits for sport safety gear like bike helmets and knee pads?

As for helicopter parents driving kids to school and keeping their kids indoors to keep them safe, we may need to spend some money advertising in markets aimed at first-time parents. We need to let parents know that that the real world is really not scary...not as scary as unhappiness, low self-esteem, and a shorter, sicker life.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Monday, September 10, 2012

New Contest for Kids Under 18: Kids Teaching Kids About Money

Canadian kids can win an Ipad, Ipod or Ipod Touch plus big money for their RESPs by entering this contest by October 12th!

The Credit Counseling Society, a Canadian non-profit society that helps families deal with debt and other financial issues, is ringing in National Financial Literacy month (November) with a money contest for kids called, "How would you teach kids about money?"

The contest deadline has been extended to October 12th

Students from BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan who are under 18 are being asked to send in an original idea for teaching kids about money. Each entry, which can be no more than 500 words, will be judged on three criteria: originality and creativity (40%), how effectively it can be implemented across Canada (40%), and presentation (20%).

The contest, according to Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy, Director of Education and Community Awareness at the Credit Counseling Society, is about finding out what kids think they need to know about money. "It's easy for us adults to say what we think kids should know about money, but we wanted to hear directly from young Canadians about how they would teach kids about money," said Yanchuk Oleksy.

When asked what will happen with the winning ideas, Yanchuk Oleksy said, "The Credit Counseling Society intends to implement the winning idea(s) contingent on stakeholder support, funding, and available resources as we are a non-profit, charitable organization that takes managing its income and expenses very seriously."

Entries are due October 12, 2012 and should be submitted by email. For complete contest rules, please visit the Credit Counseling Society website.

Please help spread the news by posting this article on your Facebook page or forwarding it to your child's teacher. The more kids we have thinking and talking about money the better.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

None the Richer: Why the Olympics Don’t Inspire Us to Have Better Bodies or More Money

Every two years when the Olympics dominate the media and influence water cooler chit chat, there are always a couple of sore points that can come up on a personal level—blowing budgets and being out of shape.  Not that Pierre de Coubertin (founder of the modern Olympics) ever planned it this way. His created the Olympics to promote goodwill among rival nations, and, more importantly perhaps, inspire the common folk to aspire for excellence in their daily lives.

Excellence in our daily lives includes being fit and healthy both physically and financially. On a national level that means a lower rate of obesity and a balanced national budget. On the home front, that means an active family life full of sports and recreation along with a balanced household budget.  

With North American obesity rates in children rising above 30 percent and an ever-increasing per capita rate of both public and private debt, the Olympics is an interesting phenomenon.  On the one hand, the Olympics are all about physical activity and money, but on the other hand they don’t seem to be doing a good job of inspiring excellence in either of those areas of life beyond the podium.

Think about it. One of the dominant narratives of the modern Olympics is budget overruns. Take this year’s London Olympics. Back in June, before the games even started, economists were predicting that this would be the most over-budget Games since Atlanta in 1996, which went over by 147 percent. A study of the previous 17 Olympics suggests that the average cost overrun for the Games is a staggering 179 percent. 

Ironically, critics grumble about Olympic budget overruns, but at the same time do not have a budget in place to monitor their personal household spending, which could easily be over 179 percent as well. And, how many of us make a family “activity” out of huddling around the TV eating junk food while watching super-fit athletes go for gold?

The Olympics have been coming and going every two years for a long time now.  Despite legacy programs that have put money back into host communities through a variety of literacy-based grants, it’s a wonder that our bodies and our bank accounts are not any richer for it. It could be that the lack of basic literacy around physical activity caused by severe cuts to physical education programs in schools coupled with the lack of financial education in the school curriculum is making it harder for us to be inspired by the Olympics.

I’ve heard it said that knowledge acquisition is like Velcro. Nothing sticks unless there is something for it to stick to. Bringing back physical education to elementary schools and introducing financial education to the curriculum could go a long way toward inspiring Olympic-level excellence and helping future generations have better bodies and more money.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Financial Thriller for Kids Seeks Support on

With just seven days to go to reach his project funding goal of $3,400, MBA professor turned novelist, Craig Everett is confident that his new book will be a hit with teens and parents alike.

Toby Gold and the Secret Fortune is Everett's first novel about a teenage boy who has "freakish" money skills and uses those skills to solve a crime, plus save his friends and school. When asked what he means by "freakish" money skills, Everett said that Toby is gifted in math and can, among other things, calculate compound interest in his head. Toby also has a Midas touch when it comes to making money with businesses like dog-walking and trading in fruit snacks. This is not surprising when you consider that the author has been very involved in the high-school entrepreneurship organization, Junior Achievement.

Everett, father of five, is a big supporter of the financial literacy movement. And, like many of us supporters, he is disappointed that financial education programs for kids have mixed results. His solution to this lack of stickiness with financial concepts is to hit kids from as many angles as possible to reinforce basic money lessons. Fiction, he believes, is one of the angles. The time value of money, reading financial statements, and return on investment are just a few key concepts that readers of Toby Gold books will be exposed to.

This book, said Everett, will be the first of several in a Toby Gold series aimed at the same 9 to 14 year old crowd that reads Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books. When asked what the biggest money lesson is that kids will take away from the book, Everett said, "Save half." That is Toby's catch phrase and it refers to saving half your income and investing the rest so that you become financially independent very quickly.

How can you help get this book into teenage hands? Please go to and choose from one of the many pledge levels.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Weird Things That Can Happen With Money

Money is such a weird thing. It reminds me of abstract art. From it's unknown intrinsic value to the joy of finding five dollars on the sidewalk, do we really know what money is or why it really affects us so much? Do we understand how it moves around behind the scenes? Do we really know who is profiting from a deal and who isn't? Can we really control it? Or is it a force beyond our reckoning?

Here are some weird, uncomfortable, and somewhat scary scenarios that have hit my radar lately. I've listed them in order from just plain weird to just plain awful, with #8 being the worst.

#1 The golden ticket.
When you go from being self-employed to employed, banks suddenly love you and will lend you lots of money. That employment letter is like a golden ticket to the weird world of borrowing. But, be careful...sometimes the ticket is written on toilet paper (see weird thing #8).

#2 Why cheques get held. 
I was at the bank yesterday with a large cheque. Because they knew me personally, they didn't put a 5 day hold on it. I didn't actually care either way, but what if I did need the money right away and they didn't know me?

#3 Wondering if your banker is really on your team?  
Who knows. I am never truly sure. Am I just a dollar sign or a am I a person? Am I really being given the best rates possible? Hard to say. It feels very nebulous.

#4 Asking to raise or lower your credit card limit.
This is an awkward, personal conversation in which you have to share the details of why you want to raise or lower your limit. Not fun.

#5 Being told, "It's your own fault that you're not rich."
I went to a seminar recently and was hammered pretty heavily with the message that I must be fundamentally flawed, lazy, financially illiterate and basically stupid if I'm not rich. It was a shame-people-into-buying approach to sales. Not good. I didn't stay for the last day.

#6 People taking money that is not theirs.
I've been hearing about non-profits who lose large chunks of money to the very people who volunteer to run them, and then have to take them to court to get some of it back. This kind of thing destroys morale.

#7 When a stock goes to zero.
I own a stock that has gone from $6 a share plus dividends to 5 cents a share and no dividends. Where did my money really go? What can I do about it, other than try not to make the same mistake again? Do I sell it now? Or just hang on and hope? I feel like such an idiot.

#8 Not getting paid.
I've watched a friend suffer because his employer has been unable to pay the staff for a while. It's like he is being held hostage and multiple areas of his life are being affected by the stress. Imagine being in this situation with three little kids and just one family breadwinner. You wouldn't wish this on your worst enemy.

If you have any weird money things going on in your life, I wish you all the best. And, please remember that your intrinsic value is known and measurable. You matter a whole lot more than money.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Guerrilla Messaging and Other Creative Ways to Talk to Teens About Money

If your little Ella is hitting the teen years and you’ve been mum on the topic of money since she bounced into the world, you’ve got a big problem. Your lovely, pubescent creature is mining nuggets of financial misinformation from her peers on Facebook and beyond. Why? Because she thinks it’s a taboo topic at home.

But don’t freak out. There is hope. You can start talking to your teen about money as soon as you finish reading this article. Here’s how.

Guerrilla Messaging

The next time you and your spouse are driving the family somewhere, plan in advance to make the conversation go something like this:

“Honey, who’s paying for Evan’s university?”
“I dunno.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? Don’t you have money saved up?”
“I don’t think so. He’s got to get himself through school like I did. McDonalds, maybe?”
“Okay. Maybe he can mow 10,000 lawns between now and then.”

Keep the banter going until your “Evan” chimes in with some worried questions about who exactly is going to pay for his education.

Loan Sharking

The next time your teen asks for twenty dollars to go out with her friends say “sure, sweetie,” but then produce a typed-up loan document with the following terms:
  • The full amount must be paid back in seven days. 
  • Any amount outstanding will result in an additional dollar per day loan fee.
  • The document must be signed by your teen and yourself, plus a witness. 
Put the document up on the fridge, and be tough but open-minded to any suggestions your teen might have for working off the debt.

Price that Gruel

Okay,so maybe you’re not serving gruel for dinner tonight, but I can guarantee you are serving a meal that you can attach a dollar sign to. Come up with a rough estimate of what the cost is of getting that meal from the store to your table. Write that number on a piece of paper.

Then, at the beginning of the meal, announce that you will give twenty dollars to the person who comes closest to the actual cost of the meal. After the dishes are done, bring the family back to the kitchen table and see who is the closest.

Now,that’s enough reading. It’s time to set up your teen to talk to you about money. Be creative, have fun and make them sweat a little.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved. 
This article will be appearing in Your Teen's Money later this week. 
For reprint permission, please contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Get Paid More on Payday

One of the secrets of wealthy individuals is this: don't give Revenue Canada more of your money than you need to at any given time. There are ways (legal ways) to reduce the amount of money that is "withheld" for the government on every pay cheque. And it doesn't matter what tax bracket you are in, you will benefit in the long run by keeping more of your money and putting it to work for your family sooner.

Here are two ways you can do this. But, before I go on, I should probably mention that the first step in paying less tax and reaping more tax benefits in the course of your life is to file your tax return every year. Not filing does not make it all go away and it will cost you a bigger pound of flesh in the end.

Now back to the two ways you can reduce your withholding tax right away.

Tip 1: Fill Out a TD1 Personal Tax Credit Return

You may have filled this out when you were employed but, even so, you should make sure that it truly reflects your family situation as it is today. Your employer can give you a copy, or you can download it from the CRA website and give it to your payroll person. And don't be shy about redoing this form every tax year or as soon as your situation changes.

Some of these tax-changing situations include: having a child, turning 65, having a change in pension amounts, going back to school, becoming disabled, changing your marital status, starting to support a common law partner or spouse, or starting to look after your parents or grandparents.

Here is a snippet from the form. Note that unlike the T1213 (below) which goes directly to CRA, this form goes to your employer.

Tip 2: Check Out Form T1213 Request to Reduce Tax Deductions at Source

As I mentioned above, the T1212 form to reduce taxes withheld on your pay cheques (or on a lump sum) is  between you and CRA. You have to submit this form every year and can use it if you are contributing to your RRSP, have childcare expenses, are making support payments, have employment expenses, and other expenses not covered on the TD1.

Once you complete the form, you have to send it to CRA. CRA gets back to you in about 6 - 8 weeks with a decision letter which you can then give to your employer to have withholding taxes reduced. This is a good thing and fairly easy to take advantage of.

What should you do with your extra money every month? Follow another secret of the wealthy: use the time value of money to either pay down high-cost debts or invest and earn interest or dividends of some kind.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Assets Are Not What You Think They Are

The boring old dictionary definition of an asset reads something like this--an asset is anything that is valuable or useful.

Does that mean toilet paper is an asset? An argument could be made that those little squares of white paper are both valuable and useful. The same could be said about a computer or a stove or a pick up truck. But are these really assets?

According to Rich Dad, Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki in his book, Unfair Advantage (c.2011), an asset is something that brings you positive cash flow...that's it. Your house you live in, by that definition, isn't even an asset. It's an expense.

Now, I confess that I'm not actually reading Unfair Advantage right now but someone very close to me is, someone who has not stopped talking to me about the content since he "borrowed" it from my desk a week ago. I was planning to read and review it, which is why it was on my desk available to be borrowed.

From what I can see, this book could be a game changer for readers who are looking for ways to maximize their personal and financial potential, even if they did not know they were intentionally seeking to maximize either of those things. According to my reader-friend, Kiyosaki's Monopoly-game approach to wealth-building and his straight forward prose loaded with personal stories is powerful.

I've been told that Kiyosaki is brutally honest and in your face about the stupidity of following conventional financial wisdom that says we all have to live within our means, save money and invest in a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds and mutual funds. He says that all of those those ideas are lies that leave you poor and broke. Those are powerful thoughts indeed.

So if toilet paper and the houses we live in aren't assets, what are? Like a fresh-faced convert my reader-friend can answer this off the top of his head--businesses, real estate that earns income, commodities and income earning investments are assets, and anything else you buy is an expense, even those things in which your are hoping for capital gains.

In short, positive cash flow = asset. Is this life-changing financial knowledge? I'll let you know.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission please contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Wealthy Barber Returns - Review

Let me say two things right off the bat.

First, I was sorry to see that David Chilton abandoned the "fictional" approach he used in his millions-of-copies-sold book, The Wealthy Barber. I am not sure why he chose to communicate with us in a an almost Tweet-like style of prose in his second personal finance book, The Wealthy Barber Returns. It's a terribly annoying style, but that's just the writer in me talking.

Second, it has taken me a long time to get around to blogging about Dave's new book (which was published last year) and the only excuse I have is that it's been like sucking on a jawbreaker. I just can't rush it. And, I confess, if I have a second excuse for putting off writing this review, it may have something to do with the fact that though he's the only person I know who responds to emails almost instantaneously, he also keeps putting off my requests for an interview.

Anyway, I've read and reread, skimmed and perused, trying to think how best to review it, which for me typically means rooting out the essential nuggets of wisdom and sharing them with my readers. This time though, every page has a wealth of nuggets so I don't know where to start with what is, essentially, one man's philosophy of money.
Some of the most interesting nuggets for me are:
  • The idea that we shouldn't hang out with people who can afford a richer lifestyle than we can because it is too tempting to go into debt trying to keep up.
  • Paraphrasing Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dave writes, "When we covet things we can't afford, we grow poorer regardless of our incomes." He talks about maxing out on your mortgage as a big mistake which is entangled with this concept and with happiness in general.
  • This simple concept: save first, spend second.
On the homepage of his website, Dave has a note about the new book. At the end of this note he writes, "In a way, I’ve been writing this book for more than 20 years. I really hope you enjoy and benefit from its ideas. Even if you don’t, though, please tell others that you did."
Okay, Dave, I've told my readers that I love the about that interview?

Within about half an hour of posting this review, Dave called me. He's promised me an interview, so I have asked him to be a guest on series three of Money Moment, which, by the way, is going to half-hour episodes.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rewrite Your Money Story

I'm up early and it hurts. But, it's the best way to guarantee that I have a few hours a week to work on my book, The Naked Storyteller.

Like most artist-driven projects, I'm doing it on spec. It's not like my other writing work in which I know that I will be paid before I even sit down at the computer. This is why my spec work is relegated to the more painful hours of the day. And, since there is no guarantee I'm going to get any money for my book, it's almost impossible to get out of bed and work on it some days.

But this morning, as I've been sitting here gearing up to write, I noticed something. Some very successful people who are my Skype contacts are up too. That instantly changes the story I can tell myself. I'm no longer up at this hour because I'm struggling to find time to work on my spec project. I'm up because successful people get up early and work hard. Getting ahead of the day isn't project specific, it's a powerful self-narrative.

Here's another example of the power of personal narratives. Harry Tyke, the main character in my book, gave up his dream of becoming a journalist because his parents wanted him to buy their house (a house completely out of his league without his parents' financial support) on the condition that he get a job with a government pension. At the age of twenty, Harry dropped out of journalism and went into teaching.

Fast forward to middle age and he's been a grade six teacher for over twenty years. He's miserable but feels that he has set his course and is powerless to change it. As master narrator of Harry Tyke's life, I'm going to rewrite the way Harry thinks about himself. By the end of the book... You'll have to buy it if you want to know what happens to Harry, but you know what I mean. What we think about ourselves, the story we tell about our lives, the framing, matters.

This works for money too. How we spend, save, invest and share is dictated by the stories we tell ourselves like: Living in a big house makes me happy. Everybody owes me.  I'm sure I'll be able to pay off my credit card some day. I really need that new toy. I'm worth $45,000 a year. The money won't get to where it's really needed, so why bother donating? No one really understands the market, so why should I invest?
This is great. Be empowered. Every story you tell yourself about money can be changed, any time, even on the fly. Look at my story about getting up early. I get up early and write because I am a successful writer. Early is where I belong.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Alison Griffiths Says "Count on Yourself"

If there is one word that came through loud and clear for me in Alison Griffiths new book, Count on Yourself, it's the word "discipline." The subtext being: decide what kind of investor you are, choose a mix of reasonably-priced investments that works for you and stick with it just like you would with a diet and exercise program, only this program is much easier and takes less than an hour per month, once you get started.

I am getting started. This week, I've used Alison's step-by-step advice to do an inventory of my investments and figure out a few things like: What is my true risk tolerance? Am I really a risk-taker? Will taking big risks really pay off? What is my ideal asset allocation? How far away am I from that ideal? How much am I paying in mutual fund management fees? Can I switch products to reduce those fees?

I have a TFSA, RESP, RRSP, and non-registered investment account. That's a lot of decision-making and too much math for me, but you know what? I had a look at my self-directed investment profile with the bank I use and found that they have an online tool that does all this stuff for me once I set a few parametres such as a goal, timeline and asset mix. I started with my RRSP because my goal is simple: save for retirement.

Saving Money While Saving Money in my RRSP
After a good hard look at the major differences between the pie chart that should be and the pie chart that is, I did two things. First, I needed to add some US equities to my holdings (I had none before) but what to buy? In the interest of following Alison's advice to keep management fees to a minimum (because every dollar matters when you are talking about compounding growth), I used the mutual fund screener on my investing site to find a US equities mutual fund that charges less than a percent in annual fees and has no load (no fee for buying or selling). I found an index fund that charges a reasonable 0.7% management expense ratio. But that's not all.

What was really interesting for me about Alison's insistence that we pay as little as possible for our investment vehicles (she's a huge fan of ETF's and index mutual funds), I looked at the management fee for one of my bond funds. The fee is 1.76%. That means that if the fund earned 5% in 2011, then my money actually only earned 3.24% because the fee comes off the top. That's really bad if the fund has negative growth. I still have to pay the fee!

I looked for a lower cost option and found that the company offers the same fund with a more reasonable fee of 0.9%. What's the difference? To get the lower fee you have to have a much higher initial investment. Thanks to my years of savings, those savings were enough to buy into the new fund. I did a switch (no charge incurred to move my money) and now my money is making an extra 0.86% every year. Very nice! Thank you Alison!

Discipline = More Money
Now that I'm on my way to getting the right asset mix for my goals and making more money by reducing management fees, I have to be disciplined about it. Alison makes it very clear that the key to making long-term financial gains with your investments is to stick with your asset allocation and rebalance your portfolio a couple of times a year or maybe once per month. That means if one of your investments is doing really well and starts to take up a bigger slice of the pie chart, you need to do the tough job of selling it back down to the percentage you are trying to maintain. That's not easy but a quote from the book makes the case for being a disciplined investor. She writes,

"Wealth managers tell me privately that 60 percent or more of the money they make for clients comes from the discipline of selecting an asset allocation, maintaining it through the ups and downs of stock markets and interest rates..."

Some of the other nuggets from the book for me were the charts at the end that show returns based on different risk profiles over the long term. It turns out that conservative investors tend to do better in the long run. I also appreciated her discussion of the power of dividends and her insights into the blossoming ETF market.

If you are not an investor yet, don't worry. The first two sections of the book are tailor-made for novices and will get you going. Alison makes it easy to start investing and simple to keep up. And, as you can see from my RRSP example, counting on yourself Alison-style can make you a little bit richer. Click here to buy a copy of Alison's book or visit her financial education website at

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Second Series of Money Moment Wraps Shooting

With the first series of my TV show airing on Delta TV 4 since October, I am really pleased to say that we are almost done shooting the second series. And what a whirlwind it's been!

Dr. Robert Ironside, Author & Money Moment Guest
Last week, from Wednesday through Friday, Scott Lunn and I shot nine of the ten episodes. We'll do the final one this week on location with Som Seif, President of Claymore Investments, at the Hyatt in Vancouver. The guests were great and I think that by the time we shot the last four episodes on Friday, I had finally relaxed and was able to be more my chatty self on camera, rather than the stiff talking-head I've felt like until now.

One of the highlights of the shoot was my amazing make up artist (Jana Wachowski) who not only made me look great under the studio lights, she also used her mom-connections to outfit me for the show at the eleventh hour. I am so pleased with my wardrobe. Who knew that Mark's Work Wearhouse has such pretty business clothes for women? Another highlight was taping an episode at the BC Securities Commission. It's just nice to have an excuse to go downtown and the folks there were great.

How to See the Show
Maurice Freer, CGA & Money Moment Guest
Scott is busy in post-production—cutting and adding captions. Series Two will start airing on Delta Community TV 4 (Eastlink) in a few weeks. They will reach about 22,000 customers and will air 3 times every day. After they start airing on Delta TV 4, the episodes will be sent to Halifax where  they will be made available on-demand to Eastlink customers across Canada. Finally, they will make their way to Eastlink’s You Tube channel.

In the meantime, anyone can buy the complete first series on a DVD. The cost including taxes is $28.75 ($33.75 will get it shipped to you). Please email Scott to order at Series Two will also be available on DVD soon.
Also, for those who are looking to reach a family audience with messages about their financial services or products, we do have sponsorship opportunities. Each Money Moment will air about 82 times as a filler between many of Delta TV’s most popular programs. Sponsorship tags or graphics can be purchased at reasonable rates. Please note that Delta TV is a community, not-for-profit station so the revenue from advertising goes back into the operating costs of the program. 

Hopefully this show will evolve into something bigger that will help improve our economy and the personal finances of many, many viewers.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Future of Financial Education Report Released

Quote from Julie Hauser of the FCAC
If you recall, back in May of 2011 I attended a conference called Partnering to Turn Financial Literacy Into Action in Toronto. Sponsored by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the conference brought together hundreds of experts from around the world who are involved in financial education through government, business and non-profits.

During our two learning-packed days, I had the chance to meet researchers like Jonah Lehrer and financial celebrities and authors like Alison Griffiths (who is going to appear on my TV show Money Moment this season and whom I will meet for coffee when she rolls into town on January 28th for a book signing at Chapters - her new book is called Count on Your$elf). Yes, it was a great conference that boosted my faith in the financial literacy movement. Things are moving and the hard work of creating financially savvy citizens continues. In fact, just this morning, the FCAC and the OECD jointly released a report from that conference called The Future of Financial Education.

According to a FCAC news release which I received this morning, the report "highlights the growing recognition, in Canada and internationally, of the importance of financial literacy." The report does a good job distilling the main themes of the conference keynotes and seminars. Some of these include: leadership and national strategies, financial literacy studies that are going on worldwide, the use of technology in financial education and in marketing financial products, the rise of government-sanctioned choice architecture, and information on the long term effects of financial illiteracy.

Like I said, things are moving. Let's keep it that way by having a glance at this report and sharing its contents with our social networks.Click here to read it online. But if you don't have time to read or share it because you are too busy working to pay off those holiday bills, just keep in mind the overarching theme: the world would be a happier place if we all had a little more control over our finances.

Copyright 2012. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.