Tag Archives: Til Debt Do Us Part

Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Achieve financial literacy on mymoneymychoices.com

By Sheryl Smolkin

 

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Click here to listen

Hi, today I’m kicking off the 2015 SavewithSPP.com expert podcast interview series. I’m delighted that Gail Vaz-Oxlade has made time in her busy schedule to talk us.

Gayle is truly Canada’s money maven. She has worked in the financial services arena for 25 years as a writer, reality-television host, public speaker and corporate spokesperson. Over the last several decades she has published 15 personal finance books, four of which were on the best-seller list at the same time in January 2012.

She has also filmed almost 200 episodes of her television programs, Til Debt Do Us Part, Princess and Money Moron. In addition, she regularly blogs and answers questions from readers on gailvazoxlade.com.

But, what I’d like to talk to her about today is mymoneymychoices.com, an online financial literacy program she founded just over a year ago.

Welcome Gayle.

Hi, thanks for having me.

Q: So Gayle, how do you define financial literacy? How big an issue is lack of financial literacy in this country? 
A: The issue itself is huge because most people already know most of what they need to know but aren’t doing it.

Q: You describe mymoneymychoices.com as Canada’s first comprehensive financial literacy program designed to raise the money IQ of Canadians by drawing on community support, a solid financial roadmap and gamification for reinforcement. How did you come up with the concept?
A: I was actually between television shows. I had a big whack of time off and I read about an organization in the U.S. that that used positive peer pressure in order to change behavior. So I laid out this roadmap of everything you need to do in the order I think you need to do it in, to build a rock solid financial foundation.

Q: What are your goals for the program?
A: Really what I want people to do is stop saying “I don’t know where to start.” If you go to mymoneymychoices.com and register – it’s absolutely free – and you just take the steps as they are given to you in the program, then you will work your way to being financially healthy. I want people to come together in communities and support each other, teach each other and work together in order to increase their community’s financial literacy. 

Q: You say the first level is the hardest. Why?
A: In the first level, which I say has all the heavy lifting; you have to do your six-month spending analysis. You also create a debt repayment plan to get your consumer debt paid off in 3 years or less. You have to build a budget and you do your first net worth statement.  And very often I find that people don’t understand why the pieces are necessary. I say to people all the time, if you do the net worth statement today and it looks really bleak, it’s irrelevant, because it’s not where you are today. It’s how different it will be when you do it in six months for the second time.

Q: Do you have any sponsors or partners? Or, are you solely responsible for the development and maintenance costs of the site?
A: I would love sponsors to support us, but the thing is that, whenever you affiliate with anyone, typically what happens is they then have some say in what you do. And so I bore the costs of the development of the site myself and I set up the My Money My Choices Foundation, where I’m taking donations. In late 2014 I ran an Indiegogo campaign and raised $3,785.

Q: Is My Money My Choices, aimed at any particular age or demographic?
A: No it’s not. The reality is it doesn’t matter if you are 23 or 43. If you’re not aware of where your money is going then that’s the first place you have to start. If you’ve done all those things already you can just pick through those on the program until you get to the level where you are implementing something new for yourself. For example, it might be the level in which you investigate disability insurance and life insurance

Q: Give me briefly how the program works. I see there is a leader board and different prizes and levels.
A: The prizes are really icons. They are what you can use to show the world where you are and how you are progressing through the steps.

Q: What is the community element? From what I read on the website, you can’t do this on your own. You’ve got to be part of a tribe or a team.
A: You can do it on your own because anyone can use the roadmap. However if you are working within a tribe then what happens is you benefit from the support that comes along with that. When you have a whole community cheering you on, or kicking your butt depending on what you need that day, you’re much more likely to get back on the horse if you get bucked off.  That’s part of the purpose of the community.

The other part is that some people within a community are very good at some things and other people are very good at something else. And, when you bring it all together you create cohesion, together with process, together with management skills. When you bring all those things together you make it much stronger than each individual trying to do all the pieces alone.

Q: What role does the watcher play?
A: The watcher is the first guy to do the teaching. Typically the watcher is someone who has some money expertise whether it is official or not. And that person’s job is to help the first few people go through level one, and then guide those same people through the various other levels and encourage them to bring more people into the tribe so that they can become teachers and mentors to their own protégés. Ultimately, the watcher will manage the whole process and say “okay, this is how we’re doing as a community.”

Q: If a group of people want to get together and participate in your game on your website, do they have to have a watcher or does someone become a watcher because they are the first one who gets through the levels?
A: I’ll give you an example. I was invited to speak to a church community in Thornhill a few weeks ago, and I agreed as long as they set up a My Money My Choices tribe as part of the process. A gentleman named Emilio who is well along the way because he’s been following me for years became the watcher for that church community. He set up a Facebook page so people could communicate with each other. He made sure that there were books in the library so that the resources were available if people needed help making a budget or doing a spending analysis. He did all the administrative and support stuff to make sure that as people started coming into the program they didn’t get sidelined by small issues.

Q: That’s really cool. So it’s 23 levels. Can you give me some examples of what participants learn as they progress through the various levels?
A: Sure. The very first level, as I said is the hard one because what’s it’s laying the ground work for everything else. Once you’ve done level one you move on up to the point where you are putting process in place. You’re using a spending journal. You’re posting to your budget every single month. You know where your money is going. As you move up you also start allocating money to savings. You get your debt paid off. Ultimately, the reason there are 23 steps is because I don’t expect people to go from 0 to 100 in 12.2 seconds. It takes time.

Q: So you say you’ve had 8,000 people register on the website. How many of them have progressed through all the levels?
A: Nobody yet.  Because at the last level you are maximizing your RRSP, you have paid off your mortgage, you are maximizing your tax-free savings account, and you’ve got all your consumer debt paid off. This is a process. You are incrementally improving your financial position all the way along in very, very small steps.

Q: There are ways to earn extra points. What do you do with those points? What do they do for you? 
A: This is a very interesting phenomenon. One of the pieces of research shows that the points in and of themselves are what people want. They don’t care what the points translate into. It’s human nature. We like to gather things. We like to accumulate things. We measure our success in points. We like the point system.

Q: What kinds of things do people do to earn extra points?
A: It’s the idea that every time you post to your spending journal or push your spending journal to your cash flow budget you acquire more points. The reward system is based on action. If you are actively participating, you keep accruing points.

Q: Do you have any plans to changing or enhancing the program,?
A: I’m not going to touch the My Money My Choices program as it currently exists. I worked on it for about two years before I actually put it up. I think it covers all the bases. If people send me good resources to supplement it, I will add those resources over time once I have vetted them. But really, I don’t have to reinvent stuff if it’s okay and it’s working. What I want to do is use some of the Indiegogo money to create more of a presence on the internet that helps people find the program.

Q: You always seem to have dozens of projects on the go. Is there anything new and exciting still in the developmental stage you can tell us about?
A: I have a new book coming out in January 2016 called “Money Talks, When to Say Yes and How to Say No.” And that will deal with all the relationship side of money. How do you have those really difficult conversations that people just seem to be avoiding? Whether it is the conversation you have before you get married or the conversation you have with your parents because they keep hitting you up for money and you are dead sure they don’t have a retirement plan. So it’s all about having these difficult conversations and how best to position them.

Q: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today Gayle.
A: Oh, my pleasure.

13Jan-GVO2

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find out more about mymoneymychoices.com and how to play the game here. All of Gayle’s books are listed here and can be ordered from Indigo or Amazon.

The Dreaded B word: Budgeting

By Sheryl Smolkin

Everyone has their own system for handling the family finances, but if you are carrying expensive debt and always borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, you definitely need to do some serious budgeting. If you think you can’t afford to save for your children’s education or your own retirement, closely scrutinizing how you spend your money will help you to uncover ways to free up the funds you need to plan for the future.

Budgeting isn’t rocket science but it requires time and commitment. On her television show Til Debt Do Us Part personal finance maven Gail Vaz-Oxlade helps floundering families by putting them on a cash-only budget and dividing up into jars the amounts they can spend each week for each category, including debt-repayment and savings.

All nine seasons are available to watch online and there is more information and there are budgeting tools on her website.

Almost every personal finance blogger has done a series on budgeting and created budgeting spreadsheets you can download. For example, take a look at the Squawkfox budget series and tools. Retire Happy’s Jim Yih has also posted templates from his Take Control of Your Money workshop.

When my husband and I were first married, money was scarce and we budgeted quite carefully. Although we kept separate bank accounts, we did have a joint account for paying house expenses.

Once we had children our expenses increased but we also earned more. We still kept separate bank accounts, but each of us was responsible for specific expenses.

This ad hoc arrangement has worked well for us and for many years we have not had a formal budget. However, as we get closer to retirement, I realize that we will have only about 50% of our pre-retirement income. Therefore, it’s time to take a serious look at how we are spending our money now and how we will spend it once we are on a fixed income.

I can write off a portion of our house costs because I work from home, so I have a pretty good handle on these expenses. Most other expenditures like food, clothing, gas, car repairs, insurance, entertainment, travel, pet care, gifts etc. are charged to credit cards so we can accumulate airline points. It will take some time but it shouldn’t be too difficult categorize and analyze these expenses.

Finally, both of us withdraw cash at irregular intervals to pay for personal grooming plus lunches out and other miscellaneous expenses. These amounts are more difficult to track and we will have to make lists in our smartphones or find the right smartphone app to organize the information.

Once I get a handle on what we are spending now as compared to what we will have available to live on in future, I will track our monthly expenses as against income and projected income on a spreadsheet.

Some of our expenses will go down after retirement because we won’t have to pay professional fees and my husband won’t be commuting to work. We will also pay lower taxes and no longer have to save for retirement. Going down to one car or moving to a less expensive home are longer-term possibilities. But there is no doubt we will have to make compromises.

Whether you are just starting out or close to retirement, you may need help to create and stick to a budget. On the Canadian Finance Blog, Tom Drake discusses How to Choose a Fee-Only Financial Planner. If you are deeply in debt, the Saskatchewan Credit Counselling Society can help you consolidate your debts, develop a budget and get back on track.

If we had budgeted more carefully over the last 15-20 years we would have more to spend in retirement. But you can start right now. If you have used budgeting tools or resources that you recommend to others, let us know and we will share them in a future post.

Make budgeting a family project

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Think of a realistic budget as the GPS that will help you reach your financial objectives. Unless you know how much money you have available and make a plan to spend less than you earn, paying off debt, saving for a down payment on a house or getting ready for retirement may seem like insurmountable goals.

Budgeting is not rocket science, but it requires discipline. Where you have a partner, both of you should participate in the process. Any children should also be involved to a more limited extent, depending on their ages. If the whole family understands and agrees to budget priorities established by the group, it is more likely that they will follow the roadmap. 

Keys to successful budgeting: 

Some keys to successfully budgeting are:

  1. Understand how much net income your family has every month.
  2. Identify your fixed and variable expenses.
  3. Build debt repayment and savings into your budget.
  4. Establish family priorities.
  5. Develop a plan to control costs as required.
  6. Record all expenditures to help you stay on plan.

Two techniques for staying on plan that money maven Gail Vax Oxlade uses successfully with couples on her television program “Til Debt Do Us Part” are:

  • Cut up debit and credit cards and spend only cash.
  • Allocate the amounts you have available to spend for each category like food, clothes, rent etc. into a series of “jars” for every pay period. 

Getting started

First of all, gather up all your payslips, bills and credit card statements so you have the information you need all in one place. There are lots of online tools that will allow you to enter your data and play around with the numbers until they add up to something that will work for your family.

For example, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada offers an online budget calculator.  Vaz Oxlade has a no-cost guide to building a budget and an interactive online spread sheet available on her website.

There are many other calculators and specialized spreadsheets available online, but I’m a big fan of googledrive. This free application allows you to create an online spreadsheet and give other family members access from different devices.

While you may choose to have only one person enter or delete data, if each person can record money spent on an ongoing basis, anytime someone is contemplating an expenditure, he/she can get a clear picture of the state of the family’s finances. 

Fixed expenses

There are certain unavoidable family expenses that recur on a regular basis. These may include rent or mortgage payments, house insurance, property taxes, utilities, car payments, gas, car insurance, other transportation life insurance etc. You get the picture.

While you could move to less expensive accommodations or take the bus instead of driving if you have to, these expenses cannot be easily reduced in the short term. Therefore, make sure you account for them carefully up front when you are developing your budget.

Food, clothing

Food and clothing are important components of your budget. If you use a credit or debit card for most purchases, it should be fairly easy to track these expenditures over the course of several months. If you use cash, you may have to make a conscious effort to record how much the family spends over a specific period to gain a good understanding of the family’s spending patterns.

Perhaps you eat out frequently and bring home fast food several times a week. This is an area where you may be able to control your costs and at the same time provide more nutritious meals for your family.

Adults can often declare a moratorium on buying clothes for a considerable period. Where growing children need bigger sizes in clothing and shoes, consider clothing swaps of gently used items with family and friends. They are very easy to arrange online. 

Technology 

Land lines, smartphones, internet, cable TV, electronic games, tablets and laptops. You may be shocked to discover how much you spend on technology and connectivity. Contact your service provider and ask for a better deal or a better bundle. Consider getting rid of cable TV and subscribing to Netflix for $7.99/month. Resolve to keep your current technology for longer. And resist the temptation to buy the latest new gadget on the market.

Entertainment/Travel 

Add up how much you spent on entertainment last year. By attending community events instead of buying more expensive tickets to professional theatre or big name sports teams, you can save a bundle and still have a lot of fun.

Rather than spending thousands of dollars on international travel, plan a “staycation” or a long weekend at a local tourist attraction you have been meaning to check out but never got around to visiting. 

Savings 

The money you save for your children’s education or your retirement should not be left to chance if you happen to have enough money around at the end of the month. Build RESP, Saskatchewan Pension Plan, RRSP and TFSA contributions into your budget and “pay yourself” first every time your paycheque is deposited.

Are there free or low cost budget tools that work for you? Have you recently turned your finances around? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

30-May Wedding How much should you spend on a wedding gift?
6-June Bringing home baby How to prepare financially for a new baby
13-Jun Fathers Day Frugal gifts your father will love