June 23, 2012


Understanding the financial basics is important but boring. There’s also the risk of getting biased advice.

As a result, we may not know our 1-2-3s as well as our A-B-Cs (see the key to numeracy). Even if you think you do, a refresher can't hurt.

Where can we go for information we can trust? Bloggers and journalists are excellent sources. Reading isn’t always enough. There’s room for live events too.

Have you heard of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC)? This independent agency of the federal government was established in 2001 to educate and protect us. The FCAC developed the Financial Basics Workshop with the nonprofit Investor Education  Fund. Ryerson University hosted a session this week. We got refreshments and a helpful 50-page workbook with the unfriendly title "Participants' Handbook" (online version).

A boring topic requires an excellent speaker. We were lucky. We got Ellen Roseman.

Ellen Roseman

Ellen is an ideal choice. She's a consumer advocate backed by the clout of  The Toronto Star. I've read her articles and blog posts for years. This was the first time we met in person.

I was surprised that Ellen had so much energy. We needed that. The four hour seminar started at 5:30 PM --- my fourth and final event of a long day. Ellen had plenty of real world examples to supplement the workbook. She also encouraged and got lots of audience participation. We needed that too.


Lots of content got covered. Here are three highlights.
Barriers To Financial Goals
Longevity is an easy-to-overlook hurdle on the path to our financial goals: There are challenges with
We can't count on stable, secure, well-paying jobs with generous defined benefit plans for our retirement income. We're not helpless but do face big challenges.
Be Proactive
Companies make mistakes but the onus is on us to get corrections made. For example, you might get billed for an extra service you didn't want or thought you'd cancelled. If months or years pass, the vendor is less likely to correct their mistake.
Companies may introduce better deals but don’t wait for them to tell you how to save. The onus is on us to ask.
Loyalty/Retention Incentives
You may have supported some brands for years. You're making them profitable and they want to keep you. Yet special offers tend to target new customers. How do you monetize your loyalty? By negotiating a better deal. When calling, be firm, be polite and have copies of competitors’ offers. Ask for compensation for your time on hold (e.g., for the horror of Rogers “Ultimate” Internet).

Ellen noted that bankers are now like used car dealers: willing to negotiate.

Who Attended?

The room was full. There seemed to be 100-150 attendees. That's excellent, especially on a hot, humid evening. Hooray for air conditioning.

The audience was diverse, ranging from university students and older. Knowledge levels would have varied. They seemed to know of Ellen primarily from her Toronto Star column.

Measures Of Success

Does the workshop make a difference in the lives of attendees? I asked an FCAC representative. There isn't a good way of telling. There's a plan to ask attendees in the future.

Good intentions are easy to forget. Ongoing motivation takes effort. Perhaps attendees can get a newsletter with ongoing tips and reminders. There may be apps that help too. Peer support is probably the best. A 12-week program like Pick Four may be ideal if you have weekly check-ins.

Ultimately, what you get depends on your commitment and discipline.


The summer is a great time to build good habits. You can save money and improve your life by
  • walking or biking more
  • eating healthy, locally-grown fresh food (perhaps from your own garden)
  • finding ways to reduce or larger expenditures
You might want to attend a financial basics workshop the next time one’s offered near you.


Podcast 174

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS Here’s a surprise: the FCAC YouTube channel has 3,116 views while mine has 3,790 views.


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