September 28, 2013


cash register
(an idea arising from the Canadian Personal Finance Conference organized by Preet Banerjee and Krystal Yee)

Picture this. It’s a cold, dark and stormy night. Do you go to a personal finance event or stay home? Now picture a bright, warm sunny day. Do you go to a personal finance event or go out?

Personal finance is important but not much of a draw, regardless of the weather. We often know what to do … but don’t.

November is Financial Literacy Month. Money 50/50 is a proposal for a perfect live interactive event that can be replicated across the country.

The Attraction

What would get you to leave your cozy home?

How about “celebrity” speakers who aren’t selling financial services. Some personal finance bloggers and journalists are ideal. They are transparent and credible. They publish continually, answer questions and genuinely care. You might want to meet them.

There’s also an advantage for the organizer: these speakers already have audiences, which helps fill seats with less effort.

The Topics

While you may attend because of the speakers, the content also matters. There isn’t much new to say about personal finance but we all need reminding.

Would you like useful tips you can understand and apply? The agenda could several items from the following:
  • how to select an advisor (if you need one)
  • budgeting traps/tips/secrets
  • investing traps/tips/secrets
  • insurance traps/tips/secrets
  • Wills and fine print
  • how your brain works … against you
  • overlooked money advice
What else would you like to know?

The Format

Each speaker gets 30 minutes split 50/50:
  • 15 minutes to speak (like a TED Talk)
  • 15 minutes for your questions (unlike a TED Talk)
The discussion is the most valuable part. Unless there’s real interaction, the speakers could save their time and yours by posting videos on YouTube.

The short segments allow more speakers. If you’re not interested in one, that’s fine because they’ll be off stage soon. You may find you benefit most from who you didn’t want to see. You get time to network and ask questions before, during and after the program.

The Schedule

Money 50/50 could take place after work (say downtown at 5:30 PM) or after dinner (say at 7:00 PM).

Each speaker deserves a prime spot since they’re volunteering their time to speak for free. Since we remember who’s first and last, this structure eliminates the middle: Speaker 1, Speaker 2, Break, Speaker 3, Speaker 4.

The Followup

Change takes time. Financial bloggers and journalists are here to help. You can read their classic content anytime and get their latest thinking by subscribing to their blogs. You can follow them on Twitter. You can ask questions on Facebook and Google Plus (if they’re there).

The Support

You’re aren’t alone in your quest for financial literacy. There’s support from nonprofit or government groups such as:
These might be willing to endorse Money 50/50 or at least promote via social media.

The Sponsors

If there are suitable paying sponsors, Money 50/50 can have freebies like refreshments, pens, paper and prizes. It’s important that the sponsors have no influence over the selection of speakers or topics.

The Venue

The first step is finding a venue and locking in the date well in advance. For Money 50/50, that means finding a free place. If the room is free, the  event can be free (or cheaper).

When the venue has a price tag, there’s the added stress of filling seats. Charging admission may deter you from attending (though paying often increases the likelihood you’ll show up).

The ideal room has tables, a whiteboard, a screen and a projector. A lecture hall with theatre-style elevated seating could be ideal. Depending on the size, microphones might be useful.

The Next Steps

How would you make Money 50/50 better? What would cause you to attend and bring a friend? Please leave your comments below.

I’m willing to organize a Money 50/50 event in Toronto if I can find a free venue. Any suggestions?


Podcast 239

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS Financial literacy events can take place all year long and I’m willing to help.

September 21, 2013


introducing Krypton Community College“People now continue working well into their 60s and 70s, so you need to stay relevant in the job market by nurturing your existing skills while also learning new ones.” — US News & World Report (Sep 2013)

Whether employees or entrepreneurs, we face a huge financial risk: remaining relevant. We need to keep learning to keep earning — especially if delaying retirement. One of the big challenges is making education engaging, useful and accessible. Imagine the complications in less affluent countries.

I’m an active learner with little interest is getting formal course credits or additional designations. I’ve tried:
  • self-study (e.g., reading and videos): easy and free (or low cost) but allows no interaction
  • workshops: one-time events, typically 1/2 to 3 days in length; limited lasting benefits; varying quality; can be pricey and may require travel
  • in-person courses: varying quality; assignments and exams; unknown quality of fellow students; can be costly, out-dated and include irrelevant segments
  • Dan Arielyonline courses: a MOOC (Wikipedia) is free but impersonal and without supportive peer pressure (e.g., most recently, I took Dan Ariely’s excellent A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior … and failed because I skipped the essay and final exam)
What’s your preference? I most rely on self-study.

The Ideal

Real learning and change comes from talking to supportive classmates over a period of time with gaps between classes to absorb and think. This structure looks ideal:
  • meet in-person: allows the magic of live discussions and positive peer pressure
  • once a week for 90 minutes: manageable and schedulable (especially if after work)
  • four weeks: not too short, not too long
  • formal syllabus: well-thought out but designed for interaction
  • limited homework: perhaps 1-2 hours (but you’ll also be thinking between classes)
  • no tests: the measure is how well you apply what you learn in your life
  • all welcome: no prerequisites to create false scarcity
  • choice: lots of campuses, different times of day
  • flexible: no rigid format (though working from solid syllabus)
  • free: might have small costs for printing and paying for the space (buying coffee or renting a room)

Holy Narwhal, Superman!

imageKrypton Community College offers all the above.

This new initiative from Seth Godin’s Krypton team launches on October 1st (#KryptonTuesday). The first course is Go: How to Overcome Fear, Pick Yourself and Start a Project that Matters. It’s based on Seth’s work. All the course material is already online in PDF format.

Summer 2013: The Krypton team from Seth Godin on Vimeo.

There are campuses around the world. Here are the locations on Meetup (though not all classes are shown here).

The Catch

Here’s the complication: each class is organized independently by whoever volunteers. That’s like a TEDx event without scrutiny from TED. Call that scary or empowering.

I’m organizing the first class in Toronto (details). That means I set the standards for this campus. The biggest issue was finding a proper location because  coffee shops don’t offer privacy, quiet or whiteboards. We’re renting a real classroom at the University of Toronto (details). The cost is under $10/week each based on 10 students. The location is easily accessible by subway (East/West or North/South lines) and there’s lots of “cheap” parking.
Step Up
If there isn’t a campus near you, become an organizer and invite people you know. You aren’t the teacher. You don’t need to be an expert on the subject. You mainly need to organize and guide the class. There’s only one rule: don’t meet online.

Tip: If you’re not comfortable organizing, consider joining a Toastmasters club. Besides learning to speak, you learn to lead. For example, you’ll organize and chairs meetings.

Dive In

imageHave you experienced anything like a Krypton course before?  You can’t lose by improving your skills. Explore the vast oceans of opportunity.

Ready to dive in?


Podcast 238

direct download | Internet Archive Page | iTunes

PS If the University of Toronto is a location you like, you’re welcome to pre-register while space remains.

September 14, 2013


We’re easy to influence. The new iPhone 5C and 5S look like modest improvements rather than ground-breakers like the original iPhone or iPad. Yet people started waiting in line before they even knew what Apple was launching.

This humorous video takes a look at how Apple is focusing on marketing rather than innovating.

A Prank

Would you confuse an iPhone (4” screen) with an iPad Mini (7” screen)? The screen sizes are very different. Not even Samsung makes a 7” phone (their largest is the Mega at 6.3”; review in MobileSyrup). This video shows that people can be fooled into thinking old is new and into saying what they think the interviewer wants to hear.


Can you tell
  • Pepsi from Coke
  • coffee from tea
  • cheap wine from pricey wine
We’re not as good as we think. Pour Pepsi from a Coke can and we’re fooled. When we take a placebo (Wired) we think we’re getting medicine and recover.


We get fooled by signs of authority which imply trustworthiness such as a uniform, designations and experience. The Stanley Milgram obedience experiments in the early 1960s are extreme examples in which the subject thinks they are giving an unseen person increasingly strong electric shocks for making mistakes.


The Stanford prison experiment (Wikipedia) split subjects randomly into guards or prisoners. The participants started adopted their roles very quickly with dire results.even 

How Familiar?

When you’re not familiar, you can get fooled … even by yourself. Perhaps calling someone a “financial advisor” makes them (and you) think they really are?

We were in a health food store looking for supplements. Since the choices were confusing, we asked for help. We bought what was recommended … and the priciest (41% more than our usual). Did we make the right decision? We think so. Maybe that’s what really matters.

There are lots of things we don’t know. That makes us vulnerable … and profitable.


Podcast 237

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS Do you think the new iPhones are really new?

September 7, 2013


JBL ChargeThat's just what I need (though I didn’t know a moment ago).

I've been looking for a portable battery to recharge my smartphone and tablet. Usually power lasts all day but not always. I'm concerned about the exceptions. In Costco, I saw the JBL Charge (official website). It's a portable Bluetooth speaker which is no big deal because I already have one. It's also a 6000 mA battery you can use to recharge your devices. Isn't that brilliant? By using a larger battery, JBL has a device which lasts much longer as a speaker and also has an additional use. The price looks reasonable at $130.

But …

Is the JBL Charge any good? Since Costco has a friendly return policy, I could have bought without risk. I could have done research right then using my Galaxy Note but decided to wait. I found the reviews are generally positive (AmazonAndroid Police, Best BuyDigital Trends). I can now decide. The seller bears the risks.

Seller Beware

As buyers, we know that we can usually search online to see if we're making a good decision. For instance,
  • is the extra price of a diesel engine offset the fuel savings? (e.g., Forbes)
  • which hotel is the ideal choice for next Wednesday? (e.g., TripAdvisor)
  • are the mobile phone contracts a better value now that the terms have been reduced from three years to two years? And which company has the best plans? (e.g., Mobile Syrup)
In To Sell Is Human (my review), Dan Pink points out that we've gone from buyer beware to seller beware thanks to the transparency the Internet brings us.

Buyer Beware

There are exceptions. We're at a disadvantage when we don't know the prices others pay. When you get a car, you know the list price but not the selling price, which is still negotiated.

When you buy a financial product like a mortgage, you don't know if you're getting the best rate. What you're offered depends on what else you've bought, how well you negotiate and the incentives to the advisor.

When you buy investments, you may know your investment expenses, but other clients could be paying less. Even if you all pay the same price, you might get less service (e.g., based on the size of your portfolio) or worse recommendations (e.g., based on the skills and biases of your advisor).


Life insurance is even more complicated if you're buying more than a simple term product. When I designed products, we typically launched two versions of our flagship universal life plan each year — 18 versions in total.

As a buyer, you won't know what version you got. Or the consequences.


You won't find fair comparisons online. The insurers and some distributors have this kind of information but it's proprietary. There's no obligation to tell you. There's also skill involved in noticing and quantifying the differences in product design.

Because insurance is very customizable and the products keep changing, you'll have trouble finding useful, current comparisons. You do need to rely on advice. Picking an advisor you trust is key since your advisor is your gateway to the products. Your advisor configures them. Your advisor may not have access to all products from all companies. Even if your advisor could sell everything, imagine the complexity in understanding the nuances of multiple changing products from multiple insurers. That’s tough even when working inside the insurer.

It's easier for advisors to get comfortable with particular companies or products than to keep up-to-date with what's available in the marketplace. How would you know? How can you see the choices which aren't shown to you?

It’s easy to buy many products with online help. It’s dangerous to assume that financial products make the list.


Podcast 236

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS I haven't decided on the JBL Charge speakers