Yes, we live by stories. They set examples for our behaviour. They inform us. They inspire us. They are the very foundation for the culture and the society in which we live. And this year especially, they were something to celebrate at Credit Education Week Canada (CEWC), an event that is the highlight and forerunner of what is now known as Financial Literacy Month.
A wonderfully diverse group of storytellers came together last week to join in the Canada-wide festivities and programs surrounding CEWC, another great success in its seventh year thanks to the support of a number of generous sponsors. With this year’s theme of “Every Dollar Counts”, event goers and observers were treated to interesting, poignant, and sometimes hilarious tales of woe and triumph regarding their personal finances where credit counselling could have been a great asset.
Take retired athlete Doug Gilmour (a.k.a. "Killer"), who appeared as keynote speaker at CEWC’s gala dinner at downtown Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel. Still looking as trim and tough as ever, the 50-year-old hockey legend charmed an audience of 200 attendees as he spoke about his fortunes within a professional league of gentlemen, mischief makers, and amazing players.
Lots of laughs followed Doug’s anecdotes about the behind-the-scenes antics he and his team mates got up to sometimes (think about preparing for an NHL game with a soaking wet uniform waiting for you in the dressing room). But Doug’s poignant and frank description of his rise to fame – and his entry into the world of highly paid athletes – is what really captured the imagination. He took important lessons away from his experience as a star of the Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Montreal Canadiens.
Not least among his money lessons was the realization that when you start making in excess of a million dollars a year as a celebrity athlete, it’s not enough just to have an agent to negotiate deals. You’d best budget and manage your finances with the aid of a qualified financial coach or advisor, he told the audience. That wisdom brought a hearty but muted “hear, hear” from me, and I was thinking too that his advice could apply to just about anybody at any salary level. He sagely noted that when you start making the big bucks, you soon discover who your true allies are among relatives, friends, and business associates.
Prior to Doug’s presentation, which rounded out the week, CEWC launched days earlier with an equally compelling keynote address by Jane Blaufus, a renowned financial expert and author of “With The Stroke of a Pen.” Jane’s erudite, touching description about the personal money management lessons she learned some time ago when her husband died unexpectedly moved all in attendance in downtown Toronto’s YMCA.
Jane got to the grief, stress, and chaos that surrounds those who suddenly lose a loved one. She vividly described how she felt lost at sea, and how she had to gather every bit of spiritual, mental, and physical strength to deal with not only her despair, but with all the personal and financial responsibilities – both small and large – that are suddenly thrust upon a spouse in such circumstances.
With a touch of irony, she confessed that even though she was at the time seen as an expert in fields of personal finance and life insurance, she realized that she could have done more to plan for the financial outcomes surrounding her husband’s passing. So impassioned was her plea to others to face death – and to plan fully for the financial realities that come with it – that I think everyone in the room later rushed out to contact an insurance agent.
As I say, Jane’s presentation got the week off to a compelling start. Other interesting speakers followed throughout launch-day events, forming only part of more than 150 presentations and activities planned for CEWC’s Toronto hub alone throughout the week. Scores of other activities devoted to improving financial literacy – and involving Canadians of all ages and stripes – proceeded apace across Canada in the form of presentations, open houses, school and community events, kids’ contests, displays, discussion groups, and more.
In Toronto, the gracious Alison Griffiths once again served as CEWC’s time-honoured master of ceremonies for launch-day presentations. She’s a great storyteller in her own right as the award winning co-author of 10 books. In addition, she writes syndicated columns for MSN Money and Metro Newspapers in Canada, and blogs for getsmarteraboutmoney.ca. I hardly need to mention that she also hosted W Network’s popular and critically acclaimed financial show Maxed Out.
After inviting Jane Blaufus to the podium, Alison introduced a line up of experts who addressed the role that financial literacy is playing at street level within communities. Somewhere in the mix, I got my two nickel’s worth in through my usual call to arms regarding financial literacy as the core mission of CEWC, and the need for more of us in Canada to examine the psychological issues that so often form the basis for problems involving money, credit counselling, and debt. Ontario’s Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa also stepped up to offer his public sector perspective on financial literacy.
The feeling among many who spoke was that while Toronto and Canada are making headway with financial literacy programs, a lot more work needs to be done at school and community levels. And we as individuals must take more fiscal responsibility. In addition to the need for more resources to improve community services relating to financial literacy, more citizens need to set financial goals, track spending, and put a monthly budget together in writing. Also, more people should educate themselves about the financial advice and literacy tools available to them through institutions such as Capital One and my organization Credit Canada Debt Solutions.
Speaking at launch-day events were Maureen Fair, executive director of the multi-service Toronto neighbourhood centre St. Christopher House, Jeannette Campbell, a senior manager specializing in developmental and vocational services with the United Way, and Vince Pietropaolo, general manager of COSTI, which extends help to families and communities in many areas, including but not limited to mental health, domestic violence, and problem gambling.
Launch day events at the YMCA concluded with an interesting presentation by Tim Ashby, vice-president of strategic marketing for Equifax Canada (that’s one of the credit bureaus that issues the credit reports and credit scores Credit Canada can help with). Newly focused on the recent increase in identity fraud experienced by Canadians, Tim reported about how Equifax product teams are working to develop more effective and accessible solutions to help Canadians protect their financial identities. Equifax’s intent in a nutshell: in a world that’s clamouring to communicate and do business online, it’s best to stay on top of things.
Now, I’d like to devote a few fond words to a special CEWC undertaking this year. For the first time ever, we held what we called a “Money Talks” luncheon in lovely surroundings of the Simpson Tower near Toronto City Hall. This was an intimate gathering of mostly professional women recorded for media airing and posterity, and it was quite a lively session, premised as it was on some storytelling from my organization Credit Canada and CEWC’s other lead sponsor Capital One Canada.
The storytelling, in this case, followed from a jointly sponsored survey our two organizations conducted for this year’s CEWC, which showed that free-spending spouses and pushy friends appear to be troubling influences in matters of personal money management these days. As I pointed out in a blog a couple of weeks ago when a news release about the survey was distributed, we found that although 82 per cent of Canadians in relationships claim to be honest with partners about money and personal debt, fully one-third revealed they’ve had trouble meeting financial goals thanks to their spouse’s spending habits.
Meanwhile, friends are playing havoc with personal monthly budgeting activities. The survey revealed that 44 per cent of Canadians note that peers press them to overspend when going out for say a restaurant meal or drinks at the bar. Twenty-two per cent say that when the bill arrives, they end up paying the lion’s share, and six per cent confess to regularly not shouldering their full share of the tab. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the study is the finding that although 68 per cent of Canadians are guided by a personal budget, half believe they've lost control of their finances.
As you can imagine, all the news was fodder for a lively discussion at the luncheon, particularly in relation to the bits about spouses going off on their own to spend, spend, spend. Speaking to the issues were four panellists at the head table, including Pattie Lovett-Reid, author and chief financial commentator at CTV News Network; Nancy Icely, vice-president Capital One Canada; Caroline Cakebread, writer and editor at Chatelaine and Canadian Investment Review; and myself as CEO of Credit Canada Debt Solutions. I have to say, the luncheon created a lot of food for thought.
Of course, the storytelling just kept on during the week right through to Doug Gilmour’s appearance at the CEWC gala, where others of importance had additional words to impart about personal finance and making “Every Dollar Count.”
Introduced by our other time-honoured CEWC master of ceremonies - Pat Foran of CTV News Network - Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Consumer Services, Giles Gherson came to the gala dinner podium to offer insight into what government is doing these days to promote financial literacy. Also, Brent Reynolds of Capital One stepped on stage to impart encouraging words, as did Credit Canada’s President and Chair, James Lumsden.
During the gala, we also awarded scholarships to some of the winners who participated in CEWC’s Grade 12 Student Essay Writing Contest, which posed the question: “What is the dumbest thing I ever did with my money and what did I learn from it.” Scholarships of $1,000, $2,500, $3,000 and $5,000 were awarded to 29 students from across Canada, including grand prize winner Samantha King of Toronto.
It was a pleasure to hear Samatha tell her story in 1,000 words of how she got caught up in a department store sale. The story appears in full at the end of this blog, along with a full list of this year’s student essay award winners.
I wish to extend a very special thank you to Capital One Canada - which stands with Credit Canada as CEWC Platinum Co-Sponsor - for its generous support of this event. Deep gratitude also goes to Silver Sponsors RBC Royal Bank, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, Toronto Dominion Bank, and StudentAwards.com. Bronze sponsors Harris & Partners, VISA Canada, BMO Financial Group, MNP Ltd, The Oakman Group Inc., and Equifax receive high praise, too.
Top Award Winning Essay:
By: Samantha King
An Empty Glue Bottle, Dora the Explorer Stickers, and a Single Cork Sandal
Clearance sales are attractive. They’re colourful and shiny, and they promise wonderful things at a low cost. So during the time that Zellers stores were turning into bright red Targets, I was excited to see that the Zellers by my house was having its own clearance sale. “Store is closing! Extremely low prices!” it bragged on posters that spanned the outside walls. Fully prepared to score solid deals, I made my way inside the department store that was buzzing with other hopeful shoppers.
There was very little order in the chaos – a huge banner informed us that, “You pay $5 for a full bag! Fill it with anything you want!” Eagerly accepting a plastic bag from a sales clerk, I made my way around, reducing my selections to what was pretty, shiny, and perhaps useful... in one way or another. I competed bravely with other shoppers in sight (how fast can you spot an item?), speed (how fast can you reach the item?), and agility (how fast can you snag the item, and put it in your basket?). The air was charged with the tense and thick scent of competition as shoppers dashed about, even arguing and raising their voices when two had seen something at the same time, but one had lacked speed in reaching it. I saw two women resort to a traditional game of tug-of-war when they both fancied a box of china, and an old man who seemed to be collecting a copious amount of hangers, and only hangers.
Clothing racks were stripped clean, and fallen products littered the floor. Three siblings had opened a box of Lego blocks, and were building an expansive city in one of the aisles, with the youngest prancing about in a princess costume from the toy section. Her piercing shrieks of, “I’m the queen of this castle!” could be heard in what was left of the shoe department. Refusing these obstacles the chance to slow me down, I frantically searched for salvageable items that weren’t poured out onto the floor, attached to the body of a child, or trampled by my fellow shoppers. Considering myself successful, I proudly purchased seven bags of unknown or questionable items – including a pair of mismatched shoes – at the checkout.
When I got home, I spilled the contents onto my living room floor, and found myself questioning the $35 I spent. I had an extensive collection of crumpled glitter paper, Dora the Explorer stickers, one red ballet flat and a cork sandal, coloured paperclips, eight rubber chew toys, a dirty scarf, and an empty bottle of glue, amongst other things. I didn’t have a dog, a cat, or a baby – and I was at a complete loss as to what I was supposed to do with chew toys. Glitter paper was useless when it wasn’t clean and smooth. Also, how does one wear a single cork sandal anyway?
The experience is something I look back on and laugh about, because the money I had spent wasn’t a fortune. However, it has definitely taught me a lot about my personality and spending habits. Until then, I had always considered myself good at managing money and saving up. I set aside money from each paycheck that I earned, and kept a passbook to track my spending. Yet purchasing seven bags of unnecessary things, simply because they were on sale, alerted me to my weakness for impulsive buying. I was automatically inclined to buy into the idea that clearance sales saved you money – and perhaps most of the people there were under the same impression. We had all made the assumption that a sale would keep a few extra dollars in our pocket, even if our own zeal had trampled the products into destruction.
Despite goods being sold at a low price, sales don’t always save you money, as in my case. Sometimes you purchase things you don’t need or want, and have no use for, simply because they’re on sale – and that is when an advertised sale becomes an excellent tactic for companies eager for you to buy – whether it is a singing fork, or a good pair of sweatpants. Looking back, I certainly did not maximize my money’s value through the seven bags I bought. Instead, I wasted that money on things that were not worth it. I never figured out what to do with the crumpled glitter paper, chew toys, and empty bottle of glue. Although I must admit that a single cork sandal looks trendy as a bookend on my shelf.
I learned a great lesson from walking by Zellers that day, eager to get a deal. Buying thirty-five dollars of, in all honesty, garbage, was very eye-opening. I now know to think about a product’s value before purchasing it, even if it is on sale at a low price. I’ve also learned to fight the impulsive urge to buy at clearance sales, and to avoid purchasing completely unnecessary items. Last, but not least, it has also opened my eyes to looking at things beyond face value. While the term “sale” and “clearance” paired together sound like a money-saving event, analyzing the situation and balancing the equation of value and product worth don’t always equate to dollars saved. Next time I see another store-closing bargain offer, I’ll definitely stop by. But I’ll be sure to steer clear of paying money for nothing, and stick to realizing value, walking out, and paying nothing if I’m purchasing nothing.
List of student essay award winners:
Samantha King - $5,000 sponsored by Capital One Toronto, Ontario
Tess Lamer - $3,000 sponsored by Capital One Edmonton, Alberta
Hannah Gardiner - $2,500 sponsored by Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation Kitchener, Ontario
Kyle Fisher - $2,500 sponsored by RBC Royal Bank Whitby, Ontario
Gregory Sideris - $2,500 sponsored by TD Bank Pickering, Ontario
Jane Last - $1,500 sponsored by Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation Foam Lake, Saskatchewan
Morgan MacDonald - $1,500 sponsored by RBC Royal Bank Hubley, Nova Scotia
Aisha Iqbal - $1,500 sponsored by TD Bank Edmonton, Alberta
Kristen Hawkes - $1,000 sponsored by Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation New Maryland, New Brunswick
Diana Bishara - $1,000 sponsored by RBC Royal Bank Ottawa, Ontario
Sabrina Echegaray - $1,000 sponsored by TD Bank Burnaby, British Columbia
Mavra Choudhry - $1,000 sponsored by BMO Mississauga, Ontario
Teffran Chan - $1,000 sponsored by MNP Ltd. Richmond Hill, Ontario
Madeleine Tooke - $1,000 sponsored by The Oakman Group Toronto, Ontario
Mithushan Kirubananthan - $1,000 sponsored by Harris & Partners Markham, Ontario
Riley Ormond - $1,000 sponsored by Visa Canada Ancaster, Ontario
Laurel Liang - $1,000 sponsored by Equifax Toronto, Ontario
Catherine Gagnon - $1,000 sponsored by De Billy-Tremblay & Associés Inc. Sherwood Park, Alberta
Abirami Sivanathan - $1,000 sponsored by Canadian Bankers Association Toronto, Ontario
Marko Chaboryk - $1,000 sponsored by Deloitte Toronto, Ontario
Sydney Leguard -$1,000 sponsored by Financial Planning Standards Council Cobourg, Ontario
Adam Khimji - $1,000 sponsored by TransUnion Richmond Hill, Ontario
Sheyenne Chappell - $1,000 sponsored by TransUnion Owen Sound, Ontario
Tuuli-Ann Culley - $1,000 sponsored by CAAMP Barrie, Ontario
Michael Stevantoni - $1,000 sponsored by CAAMP Campbell River, British Columbia
Lois Chui - $1,000 sponsored by Citi Canada Hamilton, Ontario
Justin Paulin - $1,000 sponsored by Albert Gilman Inc. Thornhill, Ontario
Aniqa Aniqa - $500 sponsored by Credit Association of Greater Toronto Newmarket, Ontario
Arshaan Bhimani - $500 sponsored by Credit Education Week Canada Markham, Ontario
Tiana Luck - $500 sponsored by Credit Education Week Canada St. Albert, Alberta