I started coaching in a kind of unconventional way. A number of my friends knew I had an interest and a passion for personal finance and began to ask me for advice. Most of the advice they needed was extremely basic even though these were teachers, executives, and other well educated people.

When no one taught them about banking, saving, how much to save for retirement, how to live below their means, how much to spend on a house, etc, etc they just did what everyone else around them did. They used credit cards and lines of credit and got themselves in over their heads in debt.

When I would sit down with them to ‘do the math’ they would be shocked at how much they were spending on interest and misc bank fees and credit card fees. With a few tweaks (changing their cell phone plans, canceling extra cable packages, quitting the gym they never went to, switching to a no fee credit card, canceling credit card balance insurance and other miscellaneous useless fees) they were able to free up money to begin their emergency fund and begin investing once the emergency fund was full.

Then I found out about http://www.crown.org/ and while I don’t agree with some of their advice, they do provide certification and training for volunteer (non-professional) coaches. We never sell students anything or talk about specific investments. We can refer them to a professional for this type of help. Most of what we do is walk them through the steps, very similar to the steps outlines in Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover (an excellent beginner book if you haven’t read it!).

People like the accountability and find it motivating. They often need a bit of tweaking in their finances or just someone to talk to about something they’ve never shared with anyone. Most of the people I work with are either referred through friends or referred through the church who provided the training. I get everything from newlyweds wanting to start out right to executives (usually women or couples).

Many are heavily in debt and just need some advice on how to start paying the debt off. Some have more money than they know what to do with and just needed some advice on how much to spend on a mortgage and what percentage to put away for retirement.

Basically I encourage them and walk them through the steps.

  1. $1000 emergency fund.
  2. Have an up to date will.
  3. Have enough term life insurance.
  4. Pay off all debt except for the mortgage.
  5. 3-6 months fully funded emergency fund.
  6. 15% pre-tax income automatically going for retirement (either through TFSA or RRSPs depending on their income).
  7. RESPs for their kids if they have kids and hope to help with their education.
  8. Pay off the house.
  9. Live debt free! This frees them up to invest more, give more, buy real estate and live the life of their dreams however they see that carried out.

I give homework every time .. getting them to figure out their net worth, lists of debts and how much is owed plus interest rates for each debt as well as a list of all of their monthly expenses.

I also have them begin writing down EVERYTHING they spend for the whole time we meet. (I usually meet with them once a month for 6 months and then how often they like after that). Each month they need to show me their updated spread sheets. As they watch their net worth going up and their debts going down, they are often highly motivated to keep working at it.

I really try to encourage them along the way and make myself available through e-mail for any questions they have throughout the month. As they write it all down, we continue to tweak things that they can change.

I had one person who was spending $5 every day on diet coke and a chocolate bar the gas station across the street from her work. When I suggested she buy a case of diet coke and a pack of chocolate bars from the grocery store and keep them in the fridge at work, she had never thought of that and began saving nearly $4 a day .. and not changing her daily snack at all!

Almost everyone I’ve worked with pay huge amounts of bank fees. One person had 4 accounts with different banks all with monthly fees over $12.95 a month. She just thought this was normal. Once we got her switched to PC Financial and canceled all her other accounts, she had nearly $50 a month extra to pay off her debt with. She was pretty happy!

Editors Note:  As described in Kathryn’s profile below, she volunteers as a financial coach.  Question for personal finance beginners – Would you be willing to pay for basic financial coaching/education?

Kathryn works in public relations and training for a non profit. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Her passions include personal finance and adult education. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.

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Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.
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11 years ago

Here are some other ways to save money:

1. Switch to VOIP. I was paying over $30 a month with Bell for basic phone service with no features at all. I switched over to Freephoneline.ca and Voip.ms. I pay $0 (yes ZERO) for my phone line and use Voip.ms for long distance.

2. Ditch your cable service and move to OTA (Over the Air) antenna. You get free HD (legally) and don’t have to pay for cable.

12 years ago

CF: You are absolutely right. The young adult / teen years are the most crucial when it comes to financial literacy and yet there aren’t a lot of good resources out there geared towards that age. I’d be happy to include articles that cover some of the issues young adults face.

I will continue to keep my eye out for other resources geared towards that demographic.

If personal finance becomes mandatory for high school, I’ll be the first in line to apply for teacher’s college!

12 years ago


Would you consider writing a series of articles that are aimed at the younger demographic just entering into the world of work, credit cards, bank accounts, etc.?

I’m just starting to have conversations with my teenage daughters but I’m doing it ad hoc and haphazardly. Materials I’ve seen before are geared for very small children or adults. And, I know that I have to do this face-to-face – pointing them towards websites and books won’t work.

If that is not possible, do you have any particular resources that would help me achieve my goal?

12 years ago


I don’t feel the need for a refresher. I read about personal finance constantly and keep up to date as much as possible. I have a small fear that one day on the verge of being offered a dream job of working as a financial coach for employees of a large corporation, having a more ‘official’ designation / certification may be required. At this point I can’t justify the expense of the official designation but I’m tempted by it.

12 years ago


Do you have to (or feel the need to) go back for ‘refresher’ training? Or, because you are dealing not at a very granular level, the fundamentals of what you are teaching don’t change thus allowing you to still be relevant years later?

12 years ago


I was away for a few days and missed your post. You didn’t leave an e-mail. I can always be reached at kathrynthecanadian@gmail.com I should probably include that as part of my biographical information.

I missed your post too. I liked how you explained the total cost of the credit card loan. I often try to find ways to simplify the math for people so the impact of their total purchase is crystal clear. I had someone else who was ‘renting’ a laptop with a 3 year contract at $100 a month. This was a cheap $600 laptop. She’d never done the math on it. When I showed her what the total amount was over 3 years she was shocked.

My costs for certification were covered because I was a volunteer. I’m finding Christine’s suggestion tempting but can’t justify the $1000 when there isn’t much of a market to make money off it. Ideally an employer who saw the value in such a certification might pick up the tab.

12 years ago

Blogging Banks: I would never bring the topic up if I thought a friend needed help. I like talking about personal finance so they sometimes as me questions. Now, friends know I coach and will often ask for help / suggestions. I’m very non-judgmental and encouraging so people generally feel comfortable talking about their finances with me.

I don’t coach family. I referred someone in my family to someone else when they asked.

It helps when I open up about my own struggles with weight loss and having to use a weight loss coach to reach my weight loss goal. I just stress that we each have our own strengths and I’m happy to help out in whatever way they’d like. People tend to open up more as the trust builds from session to session and I am open with them about my struggles an areas where I needed improvement / tweaking.

Tim Landry
12 years ago

A comment from the outside (BUT I have been in the financial services business for 40 years) – personal connections make it very difficult for a relative to admit to a problem and to accept advice from somene close. This is a HUGE part of my reason for supporting the “coach” concept. It is almost identical to a medical situation. Generally it is NOT a good idea for a doctor to treat a relative – and most certainly NOT him (or her) self

Blogging Banks
12 years ago


That’s a good article. I have found it tough however to offer financial advice to friends/relatives who are having financial difficulties. They simply get defensive and irritable. How would you approach such a situation where it seems to me that they don’t want to admit they have a problem.

12 years ago

Hi Kathryn,

I’ve been looking for a financial coach for a few months now and was wondering if I could work with you (for a fee, of course).

I’ve looked all over this blog for a contact email id for you but cannot find one.

Can you please send me an email, if this is something you’re willing to help me with?

If not, could you please recommend someone who can help us?

My partner and I make a good living together but need to start planning our retirement and a way to pay off our mortgage and her student loans quickly.

We also have no clue about how to invest and so most of our savings are languishing in pitiful low interest savings accounts.

Thanks in advance.