A Money Coach in Canada

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1790592784_5a460fd1ff.jpgOver my years as a money coach I’ve worked with a handful of people with depression, both unipolar and bipolar. It was a real eye-opener for me, and to be honest, I felt somewhat at a loss as to how best to walk alongside these remarkable individuals regarding their finances.

Here are a few stories. They are true stories, and per usual the names have been changed to protect their identities.

Matt was only 10 years from retirement when bi-polar took him down for the first time. He had a power-career, a salary of over $250K annually, a gorgeous home, and family. The first time the illness struck, he was out of commission for 2 years. He had insurance that took the edge off the financial aspects, but it was still a heavy financial blow. After finding the right mix of meds, and a lot of talk-therapy, he went back to his career – a real victory for him as you can imagine. He did well for a few years, then it struck again. Back to disability insurance. This time, he lost his home and his family disintegrated. He fought his way back, and returned to his career yet again. He only lasted about a year this time, and H.R. had to tell him the painful news that he would not be returning a third time. That blow contributed to a long, long, long time in darkness . No house, no family, no career and an illness that he felt powerless to control.

Now, he makes do on disability totaling about $2500/month. He’s now past retirement age, and that’s it for his income, for the rest of his life. (I don’t know what happened to his RRSPs, and didn’t want to ask).

Sarah knows what it is to feel like you’ve literally lost your mind. She had her own business in her late 20s. It wasn’t a wild success, but it was solid, and she had a middle-class lifestyle. She’d grappled with depression most of her life, and was managing it reasonably successfully with the right “cocktail”. Then the meds inexplicably stopped working and she ended up in the psychiatric ward of St. Paul’s hospital. She can’t remember much about this period. By the time she found her way back, her clients had long gone. She’s doing much better now has a steady job with a $36K salary, but a lot of the time it takes everything she’s got to get out of bed and get to work. Thinking about money at all is more than she can handle. She feels that’s OK, because the depression also means she simply doesn’t spend: She doesn’t care what her home looks like. She doesn’t really care about going on holidays. She lives a very, very simple lifestyle. Whatever’s left of her pay cheque (and it’s a surprising amount), she gives away to people in need – it helps her feel good and she’d rather not have to worry about it anyway. She has no savings, and her employer does not offer a pension plan or RRSPs. She doesn’t care.

Frank, also in his late 20s, very much wants to work, and probably could, if he could find work that didn’t push him too hard. He’s looking for something basic – maybe not dishwashing basic, but certainly not sales, either! He needs work that is routine, steady and that he can “leave” at the end of the day. Here’s where “dependency on the system” comes into play. His income will get deducted dollar for dollar from his disability he receives from the gov’t. That would be OK in itself… but at a certain point he will also no longer be eligible for his subsidized housing. So he may earn $500 more per month than his disability pays him, but his basic expenses may jump by as much as $800 (and remember he’ll also need transportation plus clothing plus all those other hidden work-related expenses.) Net effect: returning to work is simply no do-able.

Here are some basic money management techniques that I suggested and hope they contribute in at least a small way to reducing some of the stress.

1. Ensure that the disability payments get direct deposited. The last thing anyone needs when life is really dark is to remember to get the cheques to the bank.

2. Set up automatic bill payments. Bills don’t stop for anyone, and having creditors calling is horrible at the best of times.

3. For people with bi-polar consider setting a low daily withdrawal limit on accounts to prevent overspending.

4. For someone like Sarah, an automatic savings into a high interest account will be useful. She doesn’t have to think about the fact that money is pooling up (in fact, getting it sent to another financial institution altogether may help), but it will probably be really, really useful to have it there at some point down the road.

5. I think Canada needs more structural support for people with mental illness regarding their money, but I don’t see it coming from our governments any time soon. I encouraged these individuals to meet with others dealing with the same issues, and collectively see if there aren’t creative strategies that could help.

I was somewhat reluctant to post about this, recognizing it’s so sensitive and often very painful. When Matt and Frank met with me, together, I went home and wept – both at the raw deal they’d been given, at their determination, and when I realized that as fortunate as I think we all are to live in Canada, we sometimes still leave people almost stranded.

Readers: Have you or anyone close to you had depression or another mental health issue as an ongoing part of life? If you have any suggestions on money management that helps, please (!) share them.

Photo Credit: Cocomariposa

About the Author

Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com


  1. We *do* leave people stranded. I can’t believe that the government will not give money to people who are *this* close from being evicted because of mental health and bipolar. It is happening right now to someone who lives on the same block of houses as I do, in East Van.


    May 19, 2008
  2. Luc

    Someone in this condition needs the support of his family, above all


    May 19, 2008
  3. what a fascinating post!

    i wonder whether the challenge is mostly about mental health problems or more about disabilities in general. interestingly, as someone who has seen a lot of people with mental health challenges, both professionally and personally, the first examples that come to mind are actually people who, while struck with sometimes extreme poverty, are very good money managers. (indeed, none of them make over $1,500 a month).

    the economic pain and injustice that people with disabilities have to endure is staggering. many people in the downtown eastside are people who have experienced car accidents or are living with a chronic illness (often related to work).

    coincidentally, my “frozen pea” post on friday about cancer will be about a related topic.

    i will forward this post to my friends at the canadian mental health association; it would be interesting to see their reaction to it.


    May 21, 2008
  4. Tx, as always, Isabella. I’d very much welcome a guest post if they were interested.
    @luc yes, that I’m sure is one of the top make-or-break factors.


    May 22, 2008

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