A Money Coach in Canada

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At What Price Love

Does this story sound familiar?

Amanda was determined to spend more responsibly, and especially to stop using her credit card so much. Time and again, she set a firm plan, and over the coming weeks, sometimes even managing for months, she would seriously curb her spending. But inevitably, one day she would succumb to an irresistible temptation and feel like she had ended up right back where she started. Most often things went something like this: Amanda would turn down invitations out for lunch, she would walk on past John Fleuvog’s on Queen Street, and she would content herself with dvd’s at home (after all, hadn’t she bought the Blu-Ray in order to do precisely that?). Then one day when she was perhaps a little tired, or maybe lonely, she would finally say Yes, and out would come the credit card. And having finally broken the strict regimen, she would then go the distance – go out for lunch with friends, then pop into the nearby shop and top it off with late afternoon drinks. $300 gone.

There was always an immediate rush of gratification, but pretty quickly discouragement would set in.
“I’m in debt. Again”. And then she would blame herself. “I have no self-discipline!”.

Chip and Dan Heath, in their latest book “Switch: How to change things when change is hard” have a useful lens through which to understand what just happened.

We are not a sane species! In fact, we are downright schizophrenic. Our minds have two systems at work at the same time, all the time.
One part of our brain is rational. This is the part of us capable of long-term planning, analysis and delayed gratification for the greater good.
The other part of our brain is instinctive. It is, every moment, acutely aware of whether we are experiencing pain or pleasure.
Our rational side provides us with direction. Our instinctive side provides us the energy to get things done. When these two parts of our brain work together, change happens. But when our rational mind is at odds with our instinctive mind, the rational mind will lose. Every time.

When Amanda was faced with a strong enough temptation that put her instinctive, short-term mind into conflict with her rational mind she pulled out her credit card.

This does not mean she is un-self-disciplined.
It does not mean she has an unconscious desire to sabotage herself.
It does not mean she is lousy with money.

She simply found herself in a situation that put her two systems in conflict.

This is the first thing you need to know about changing your money habits. Long-term success requires an awareness of these two parts of your brain, and finding ways to work with both the rational and the instinctive parts. Over the coming mid-week and weekends, I’ll be posting on how to do precisely this.

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. Fransen

    I have two thoughts on this. One is that when we are bored, lonely, depressed, or sometimes even lovelorn, we think the quick fix is some new STUFF. We know that we will immediately feel good at some level, much like we of when we eat a chocolate bar or so a good movie. But of course, just like with chocolate we are apt to binge.

    I have a title test I ask/give myself. is this purchase on my list? Unless it is groceries. or replacing something broken I pass. Or, it is something I have been actively researching and/or looking to buy.

    My other thought is that although we know housing should not exceed 1/3 of our income (40% including utilities) I have never seen a guide to what is acceptable other debt. My rule of thumb was 35, 35 and 30 %. That is shelter, food, transportation and clothing and the balance savings and debt. Since savings should be not less than 15% that only leaves 15 for debt. This worked will for me and I enjoyed a debt free life except a few large purchases like car and house.

    Interested in hearing if you have other little helper rules.


    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    @Fransen You are so right about how we think a quick fix is Stuff. And for me, being lovelorn was when I was most susceptible.
    I’ll be rolling out a formal coaching program via my business Your Money by Design (currently undergoing an overhaul) and learning how to develop targeted strategies for those vulnerable times is a key part.


    Jan 09, 2011
  2. brad

    I find these kinds of approaches (based on a growing understanding of how our mind actually works instead of how we wish it would work) very promising. For the past few months I’ve been using software called Vitamin-R that helps overcome procrastination by breaking large and onerous tasks into many small achievable ones, using time periods designed to overcome our instinctive “fight or flight” response. Whenever I find myself faced with a seemingly insurmountable task at work, I fire up Vitamin-R; it’s amazing how more productive it’s helped me become.


    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    @Brad I’m intrigued and will check out Vitamin-R. So many folks keep their heads in the sand regarding their money which is half the battle, and I suspect it’s really a form of procrastination. Thanks for the recommendation.


    Jan 10, 2011


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