A Money Coach in Canada

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Most of my money coaching work is with middle/upper-middle income earning canadians. Lawyers. Tech industry. Teachers. You get the idea.

I got a contract though, paid for by VanCity and operated by Family Services of Greater Vancouver, to facilitate some basic money skills seminars to populations outside of my norm:

Recent immigrant women (one of whom co-signed for a loan against the family home, which her husband promptly used to buy another house in his name only. hmmm. She was there to learn the basics about money, because she obviously sees the writing on the wall).

People on disability due to mental health issues – one of whom had been a $200K/annual salary, and in his mid 50s, bi-polar struck. Lost the home. Lost the family. Lost all his money. Now, he’s figuring out how to make it for the rest of his life on $1500 month.

And people in recovery. Each group moved me in its own way, but something about this last group took my breath away. I live on the edge of Vancouver’s downtown eastside, Canada’s poorest postal code (thanks for caring, City Council. Not. May your tombstones read: cared passionately about the 2010 olympic games bauble. Didn’t do one serious thing to provide housing for the mentally ill and addicted on the street down the road. Yes, I’m disgusted.) Anyways:

I walk past scrawny, unattractive drug dealers on too-small-stolen-bikes every day, peddling their pathetic wares to equally scrawny, unattractive brain-wasted humans on the street every single day. It’s easy to assume that’s the end of their stories. Not always.

Fifteen men, some of whom had been on the street selling drugs just a couple months ago, others who had middle-class jobs and lifestyles and lost it all at the feet of their addictions, all of them congregated in my little money skills workshop as part of their just-completed-rehab recovery. They were so open about the horror of the addiction, and the damage it had caused them. Some of them were even able to go to the next step and acknowledge the damage their addiction had caused others (can you imagine the pain of that — acknowledging that your addiction caused the woman you married her life savings, as well as your own? –acknowledging that you actively contributed to others becoming addicted? –acknowledging that your own family will never help you out financially again, because they’re so fed up with you?)

255723_6162.jpgAnd there they were, having completed tougher work than pretty much any CEO in Canada – the grit to live through withdrawal, followed by the start of the process of staring down whatever demons drove them to addiction in the first place, and facing the fact that they don’t have a lot to work with: no money. no prospects of immediate employment (would you hire someone with a year or more gap in their resume?) . and knowing they many people will treat them as the outcasts. And still, they are courageously giving it their best shot.

So we talked about very primal, real stuff:

how to get the cheapest cigarettes (don’t be judgmental. They’ve just dealt with something much worse; the smokes will get dealt with in its own time.)

how to pay rent and buy a safeway card or army&navy card whenever money comes, right away, to ensure the basic life needs are met before the money disappears on stuff (the difference between low income and the rest of us is that we don’t end up being kicked out of our homes when we are impulsive or unwise with our money).

how to rebuild credit (one guy was blown away when he realized he had a fresh start, since he’d never had credit in his life). (a couple of them, it wasn’t the legal creditors who they were nervous about!).

how to be discreet about money so every one of their buddies didn’t come with their hands out.

and believe it or not, their greatest interest was the legit investment world. One guy, in the fourth session, came to me with a realistic plan for putting away $50/month into a high interest savings, and within 18 months buying his first stock. For him, it was absolutely revolutionary – an alternative way, a hopeful way, of getting ahead legitimately. (note: the investment part is not a formal part of the program. The conversation just went there and I simply described what has worked for me).

I am privileged – and feel it – to work with any person about their money.

But I want to give a particular tip of the hat to this latter group: you are some of the gutsiest people I’ve met in my life. If you got through the addiction and came out the other side, you can do freakin’ anything you set your mind to. I salute you.

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. Wow, very interesting. It’s nice to hear about finances from a different perspective.



    Dec 15, 2007
  2. Ok, “nice” probably wasn’t the word I wanted to use. But regardless it was a very interesting post.


    Dec 15, 2007
  3. That’s a great post, Nancy. We sometimes disagree but I do appreciate you bringing these issues to the forefront to enlighten the rest of us!


    Dec 16, 2007
  4. Patti

    I came across this article because I googled “where are the cheapest cigarettes in vancouver”. It is of interest to me, was your comment “thanks for caring, City Council. Not. May your tombstones read: cared passionately about the 2010 olympic games bauble. Didn’t do one serious thing to provide housing for the mentally ill and addicted on the street down the road. Yes, I’m disgusted” this rang a serious bell to me. As the mother of a 31 yr old son with schizophrenia (13 years now) I totally agree and understand. I recently wrote a “Letter to the Editor” but apparently it never got published. Yep, where was everyone all these years before??? Hmmm? I figure that now it is 2 years before the Olympics, they want to start “cleaning up”. I have personally watched and seen far too many persons with mental illnesses. Next time you walk by them, say to yourself, that somewhere they probably have a regular hardworking Mother – just like me. Mental illness knows no financial or geographical boundaries. By the way, the cigarettes were for my son, as he is still in hospital and I must supply his cigarettes. Costly, but I would have him smoke than be living in the bush.


    Mar 31, 2008
  5. Hey Patti, thanks for commenting. And know that someone who lives in gastown/dtes very much does think that they may have a mom, or a dad, or kids ….and that from time to time I offer them a latte or take them into the little corner store to buy some groceries (or smokes!)


    Apr 01, 2008


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