How a Financial Counsellor (and ex-banker) Helps Turn Financial Problems into Hope
Our guest today is Chris deVries, who worked for over 13 years with a large Canadian bank. The morning after we recorded this show Chris quit his job at the bank, and accepted a job as a leadership trainer for another organization. That makes Chris our first ever guest to quit his job (and career) within 24 hours of recording our show!
Chris started the show by explaining his background, and telling us about the wide range of people he has counselled through his church. In his experience the concept of managing finances is not taught well, and as a result many people go through life learning some tough lessons the hard way about debt and money.
As Chris says on the show:
Managing finances is a life-long process. It starts by establishing behaviours to keep you on the right road.
Most of us believe that low interest rates are great. Chris believes that in fact, low interest rates are a big part of the problem. It's the reason we don't consider the true cost of that new car or big screen TV, and how it will impact our cash flow. Combine low interest rates with high house prices, and we sometimes believe we are wealthier than we are - and that causes problems.
Knowing where your money goes is very important. When Chris first sits down to counsel a couple about their finances, he asks if they know where their money is going. He finds that most people know how much they earn, and they know their big monthly expenses, like their rent or mortgage, but they don't truly know where they spend all of their money. It's often because of costs like cellphone charges and dining out that people don't realize how much they are actually spending each month.
Practical Advice on Money Management
As a financial counsellor, Chris gives the following practical advice, a process he follows with everyone he counsels:
- Write it down. You need to know where your money goes each month.
- Do more analysis - look for areas to cut expenses.
- What is important? What are the reasons you are spending money on each item in your budget?
- Take steps to save money. Examples would be to call your cell phone provider to reduce expenses, and looking for ways to save on food and other expenses.
- With reduced expenses, the cash flow savings can be used to reduce debt.
Chris gives homework after his first counselling session, and when they meet again he follows up to make sure that the person he is counselling has taken the practical steps suggested to ensure they are making progress. Often the second or third meeting is a celebration of the success they have had implementing these positive changes.
Chris's Advice for Reducing Debt
Chris advises people to use their cash flow savings to pay down their highest interest rate debt first. As each debt is paid off, they celebrate the achievement, which is motivation to stick with the plan. Some advisers believe that you should pay off your small debts first, so you see that you are making progress, but Chris believes that financially you are better off by reducing your high interest debts first.
Chris's final advice:
- Don't wait until it's too late. Take action now.
- There is hope. Financial problems are difficult, but there are always options, so have hope, get good advice, and take steps to become debt free.
Resources Mentioned in the Show
- New Covenant Church in Brantford, Ontario
FULL TRANSCRIPT show #12 with Chris deVries
Doug Hoyes: Welcome to Debt Free in 30. My name is Doug Hoyes This is the weekly show where we talk about money, debt and person finance. I’ve got a great guest with me here today so let’s get started. Tell me who are you, where do you work, what do you do?
Chris deVries: Well, Hi Doug. My name is Chris deVries. What I do, where I work, is a little complicated.
Doug Hoyes: Well and there’s a bit of a back story there so we’ll get to that.
Why don’t you give me a bit of your background then first? Tell me a bit about yourself and that we'll kind of flesh out the story as to why we’ve got you here today. What’s your family situation, married, single? Tell me about that.
Chris deVries: Well, I’ve been married for 28 years. Actually this last Friday we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. I have three children, adult children. One who’s graduated a few years ago, another is set to graduate in a few months from Laurier and another, my son, so I have two older daughters and my son is in his second year at Laurier. I’ve been a resident as I said of Brantford for a long time.
Doug Hoyes: And we’re here recording this in my Brantford office today so it makes perfect sense.
Your background, which we kind of skipped over at the start of the show, is you’ve been in the financial services industry for many years. You had a long career with a major Canadian bank. We’re not going to mention who it is, what you’re doing now, cause that’s not really relevant to what we’re going to talk about today. But tell me a bit more about your extracurricular activities here in Brantford. What do you do outside of work?
Chris deVries: Sure, well I’m a member of New Covenant Christian Fellowship. And over the years it’s evolved into – I guess you would call me a financial counsellor. And that is with people I work with in the congregation and now outside the congregation in the greater Brantford, Brant County area because they have heard of the work we do as a church and what I do individually.
So, I meet with people individually, often it’s around debt, often it’s around challenges they’re facing, situations they’re in. But it’s not always. It could just be about advice on how to consider future progress, what do they want to do? So, everyone is individual. It’s confidential. There’s no cost. I do it as a service and New Covenant promotes that because we recognize whether you’re in a Christian denomination or anything really, finances applies to every walk, age and gender really.
Doug Hoyes: And I want to talk a bit more about that as we get into it. So, obviously your qualifications as a financial counsellor, it makes sense if you work for a bank for many years you’ve obviously got some handle on money.
What about in your own person life? Are you a multi-millionaire? Have you gone through some challenges in your life? Like what have you learned not only from your work experience and your education experience but from your life experience?
Chris deVries: Well, multi-millionaire, no, sorry.
Doug Hoyes: Oh, that’s too bad. Neither am I so we’re in the same boat there.
Chris deVries: However having said that I come with a great deal of experience, both good and bad. I know certainly what it’s like to face job loss, redundancy or whatever those newest words they’re using. I know what it’s like to face separation and potential divorce and the cost associated with that. I know what it’s like to lose a house because you can’t afford it. So, when I look back over the last number of years I’ve had that experience. So, I can not only understand it, I can empathize with those that I’m working with as well.
Doug Hoyes: So, you’ve actually faced these things in your own life as well? And obviously you’ve come through at the other end.
Chris deVries: I have.
Doug Hoyes: Like you said at the beginning, you’ve got a family now, you’ve got a house and so that obviously makes it a lot easier to counsel people. Give me your kind of big picture theory on how finances fit into the overall picture? Is it something as you’re counselling people often is a big issue and is a cause of a lot of stress?
Chris deVries: Yeah, so when I look and my counselling involves any - the youngest has been about 18 and I counsel seniors right up to their mid 80’s. So, I’ve had a good broad spectrum of different feedback. And I would say that unlike any other key focuses in life, finance is not something that is taught well and it’s something that a lot of the people that I work with have no idea about. They kind of go through life learning some tough lessons when it comes to finances.
And I’m there to help teach them what it’s all about, give them a lot of signs to look out for and help steer them. And it’s not as if I’ve arrived. I just want to throw that in there. Financing and managing your finances is a lifelong thing. It’s really establishing behaviours to keep you on the right road.
Doug Hoyes: It’s establishing behaviours to keep you on the right road. So, what are you talking about? What do you mean by that? Give me an example of, well maybe some behaviors that get you into trouble and behaviours that tend to keep you out of trouble.
Chris deVries: Probably the behaviours that get you into trouble I think in today’s environment is a very low interest rate environment. So, money is as they say cheap. So, I think there’s less of a focus for individuals to consider what the true cost of that new car, new couch, big screen T.V, whatever it may be.
So, that’s something they need to really understand. What the actual cost of that finance thing really is and how that affects their cash flow in the end. So, the other behaviours are really knowing where your money’s going. Probably the key area is having some kind of – and you know there’s all different kinds of ways that you can do that. There’s many that have no idea where their money is going day to day.
Doug Hoyes: That’s fascinating that you say that low interest rates, and the low interest rate environment that we’re in, is actually a problem.
Chris deVries: Absolutely.
Doug Hoyes: If it costs me 18 percent interest to get a mortgage, which it actually did when I bought my first house many, many years ago; I guess we would think a lot more long and hard before jumping into some of those transactions.
Chris deVries: Exactly and we see over and over again people refinancing their homes for instance. We’ve got sort of a double whammy, we have the lowest interest rates we’ve seen in years, some historically low, but we also have house prices that have increased consistently over the last period of time. So, people are taking advantage of their increased equity, in other words the value of their homes have increased, and then borrowing it back again at a very historically low interest rate.
So, it just makes it easy to buy those things that typically, and your example was great that they would never think of normally at other interest rates.
Doug Hoyes: Yeah, my house is kind of my cash machine.
Chris deVries: That’s right
Doug Hoyes: So, historically if I’ve owned the house for 20 years well it’s worth more than when I bought it and when I paid down the mortgage, great with low interest rates. I can go to the bank and borrow money and everything is great. And what you’re saying is, yeah, no not so much, everything isn’t great.
So, let’s get back to something else you said which is knowing where your money goes, I think is how you put it, is critically important.
So, what are you talking about there? So, I’m someone sitting in front of you and you’re counselling me and I say, I’ve got no idea where my money goes. Why is that important and what should I be doing about it?
Chris deVries: Well, I’ll give you an example. One of the first things I do when I’m counselling individuals or families, and again this is very confidential, is I will ask them a series of questions. What money is going out and what money is coming in. And frequently they can tell you what their pay cheque amount is but what they can’t tell you is where the money was going. They’ll remember the larger purchases more often than not.
And typically my first counselling sessions with them last an hour or two sometimes three and it really is sort of getting a state of where they are today. And when I begin to ask the questions often they’ll, “oh yeah I forgot about that expense” or when we’re finished tallying, they realize they spent $400 a month on certain things, whether it’s fast food or cable bills or whatever that might be. And it’s a real reality check for them to put it down on paper. So, I recommend that they write it all down. That’s the first step.
Doug Hoyes: So, if we’re giving practical advice here and that’s kind of what this show is all about. Step number one, write it down.
Chris deVries: Absolutely.
Doug Hoyes: And, okay so what am I carrying a piece of paper with me wherever I go? Like how practically am I going to be doing that?
Chris deVries: Well, that’s only stage one. And as soon as you write it down you will recognize the areas that are of concern. I frequently don’t have to point it out to them, they know. And it’s interesting to watch because if it’s a couple I’m counselling they’ll say to each other, really? Do we really spend that every month? So, that process is hugely impactful.
Doug Hoyes: And what are some of the areas where people spend more than they think?
Chris deVries: Well, their higher costs, you know their standard mortgage you can’t do much about those things. Although I do in depth counselling when it comes to perhaps having to sell their home or refinance. But more often than not we don’t deal with those things we do deal with practical things. What are you paying for your cell phone charges, your telephone charges? You’d be amazed Doug at how much money people are putting, a couple of hundred dollars a month. You know and these are very – they have tight, tight budgets.
The other area is restaurants, dining out. It’s incredible how much money is going to those things and I’m not an advocate to stop doing those things, we need a robust economy, but it’s within balance.
Doug Hoyes: And yeah, you’re right. Writing it down is the first step. 20 years ago we didn’t have cell phones, 30 years ago we didn’t have cell phones and now we have to have a cell phone that’s web enabled and I can get on the internet and check my Twitter all the time. So, it’s gone from being something that didn’t exist to becoming a necessity. And therefore we have to have the best and the brightest.
So, well that’s very cool. We’re going to take a quick break and then we’re going to come back and talk about some more practical tips here. This is Debt Free in 30. We’ll be right back.
We’re back on Debt Free in 30. My name’s Doug Hoyes and I’m joined by Chris deVries who has been walking me through the step by step approach he takes when he’s counselling people in financial difficulty.
So, before the break Chris you said step number one is know where your money’s going. Know where it’s at, write it down; let’s see where you’re at. And then step number two would be to do a bit more analysis on that.
Where can I cut, what do I do? And you gave us a couple of examples things like cell phone charges and things like that where you kind of don’t realize that if you’ve got a family plan and there’s four of you in your family, then that can add up to some serious bucks.
So, what would be the next step then in that process?
Chris deVries: So, once we’ve analyzed, we have an in-depth discussion about what really is important, relative. So, we start to separate the areas that we don’t really want to focus on immediately. The mortgage, the car payment, if it’s already there is little we can do. Again, we will address those if we need to, depending on the severity if the situation.
But we take those other costs and I talk to them very frankly. What’s the underlying reason? What’s the behaviour behind it? In some cases it’s simply a matter of not understanding or not having the knowledge about whether it’s cell phone or cooking or whatever it might be believe it or not. And then I can steer them in the right direction to certain other professionals around those different areas. But more often than not I give them homework. And they are to call their cell phone carrier, they’re to call their insurance carrier and in doing so within a few weeks they save themselves a few hundred a month. And often a few hundred it just starts the ball rolling. They get very excited.
Doug Hoyes: Well, I guess cable, satellite, that’s another obvious one too. Do I really need 9,000 channels and all I do is watch that one show? And I guess everyone now has cut their cable and they have an antenna and Netflix and the internet and that’s all we got.
So, your initial meeting with people could be as long as an hour or two or three hours and then you give them their homework and then they often come back and sit down with you a second time? Is that quite typical?
Chris deVries: Right, so I have a rule I will say. So, I meet with them typically two to three hours sometimes to the wee hours of the morning. They’ve been known to come home at 1:30 in the morning sometimes, again depending on the severity of the situation.
But it’s up to them at that point. I give them some homework and they are to call me. I don’t own this relationship. If they’re serious about it and I found there are those that are not really serious. They want to have a conversation but it ends there. The ones that are serious will follow up with me usually within the next few weeks and we will make the next appointment. So, the ownership is always with then. Because what I’m looking for is a changed behaviour. If they don’t change we’re going to fall in that same position again.
Doug Hoyes: Well and you and I kind of think the same way because I personally believe that the person who is most in charge of me is me.
Christ D: Absolutely.
Doug Hoyes: And unless I’m willing to make whatever changes I need to make, it’s not just going to happen. But it’s also good to be able to lean on other people who can point you in the right direction because hey it never occurred to me to think of some of the things that you’re talking about and that kind of walks you through it.
So, when the people come back to see you perhaps for a second or a third time, what are those discussions typically like? What are you talking about there?
Chris deVries: Well, we’re talking about what they did relative to their homework. And often the homework is – the first set of homework is capturing what they’re spending. So, I can steer them to a number of different electronic means, you know there is so much technology out there. Or some simply have a spreadsheet that they use to track, so we’ll analyze that again.
But more importantly the homework will be around did you call the various companies? And I coach them even during those first sessions, what those conversations need to look like. You know it’s not an aggressive, yelling sort of idea. But it really is being transparent with these different companies and saying hey this is where I’m at, this what I want to do. And more often than not when I get back with them the second or third time we’re celebrating the success, the savings they’ve had and typically they will say this is so exciting I want to go to the next step.
And the next step is around what are the behaviours that are inherent in how they run their family and what changes need to be made? And I can draw on years of experience both myself but also all those that I work with. I run a lot of seminars at my church so people are sharing their stories. So, I’m just drawing on all kinds of information and sharing with them and saying you know there was this situation and it just starts to sort of change their whole behaviour and how they operate.
Doug Hoyes: Which is the whole key. So, this show is called Debt Free in 30. We talk about how we take 30 minutes and help people be debt free. So, the people that you deal with, I’m guessing that a significant number of them have debt.
Chris deVries: Almost all of them.
Doug Hoyes: Almost all of them.
Chris deVries: Absolutely.
Doug Hoyes: And so by taking a close look at my expenses, cutting down my expenses I assume that then gives them money to free up that they can then be plowing against their debt.
Chris deVries: Right. And so the next step and the sort of big step to this is reducing their debt.
So, we then look at all of their debt, we prioritize the debt, again looking at the highest interest rate that they’re being charged on the debt. We will use the extra funds that we developed through the budgeting and analyzing to pay down the highest interest rate debt first. We develop a table with very specific goals and how long each of those will be paid off and we set milestones of celebration. When they’ve paid, the $5,000 credit card that was paying 29 percent, when that happens, we celebrate and then we go to the next step. And it’s a very defined two, three year plan.
Doug Hoyes: Do we have a really expensive party to celebrate?
Chris deVries: [laughter]
Doug Hoyes: That would probably defeat the purpose.
Chris deVries: That’s right.
Doug Hoyes: And so you hit on a key point there and that is that you want to whack away at the high interest rate debts first because that is the most bang for your buck, right?
If I’ve got a dollar and I can pay off that credit card where the interest rate is 29 percent, I’m going to save myself 29 percent over the next year as opposed to my lesser line of credit or something, lesser interest rate.
Chris deVries: Right it’s about attacking the highest debt first. But it’s also about maintain your minimum payments on the rest because we’re trying to maintain, and in some cases build, their credit. So, it is a combination of things going on here.
Doug Hoyes: Right and that’s an interesting perspective cause some people have the view, well what you can do is pay off the smallest ones first cause you will feel way better if you’ve got a credit card with 500 bucks owing on it, get that one out of the way and then go after the big one. Obviously you don’t subscribe to that theory.
Chris deVries: Not at all. It needs to be the highest interest rate loan or credit card or whatever that is. And we show, we show what the cost and how many years it would take to pay off the way that they are doing things versus how it should be done.
Doug Hoyes: Well, I’m not supposed to give my opinion on this show but I agree with you. I think you go after the highest one, that’s the biggest bang for the buck.
We’re almost out of time, I would like you to, and I think what we’re going to do for our podcast listeners is throw in a bonus segment where maybe you can tell some of these stories about some of these people that you’ve helped.
But for our radio listeners, I’d like you tell me how should we end this? What is the message that you like to leave people with either when they come in to see you for the first time or in your ongoing work with them? What’s the message?
Chris deVries: First of all don’t wait till it’s too late. And it really is never too late. But don’t wait till there’s no other option. Often I am brought in when we have to make some tough choices, whether that’s having to sell your home or sell some other assets.
I’m going to say if you can find out early, identify, be somewhat self aware and come and have the discussion, come to a seminar at New Covenant Christian Fellowship. Because it’s a general seminar, it’s not a one on one. Learn some tips and then start being transparent and probably the most important message is that there’s hope. There’s hope in no matter what situation you’re in. And I can tell you many stories of the hope that I’ve seen as a result of just working with this. So, finance is a tough thing, people want to keep it hidden. I’m saying be more transparent with it and there is hope.
Doug Hoyes: I think hope, that’s a great way to end it. Chris thanks very much for being here today. I really appreciate it. We’ll be right back to wrap it up. This is Debt Free in 30.
Doug Hoyes: Welcome back to Debt Free in 30. I’m Doug Hoyes and it’s time for the 30 second recap of what we discussed today. My guest today was Chris deVries, a financial professional who provides financial counselling through his church.
Chris said on the show that managing finances is a lifelong process. And he believes it’s very important to identify behaviours that cause financial problems and then take steps to change those behaviours. He gave many practical tips on how to do this but he believes that ultimately it’s up to each of us to take control of our financial life. No one can do it for you. That’s the 30 second recap of what we discussed today.
So, what’s my take on this? Well, I agree with Chris’ take charge approach. As I said on the show, the person who is most in charge of me is me. Now that may not be the most grammatically correct sentence ever but ultimately the only person who can change my behaviour is me. Of course that doesn’t mean you should try and do everything on your own. It’s great to have a counsellor like Chris to lean on and get advice to help you make the practical changes you want to make in your life.
I like Chris’ example of cell phone costs. He coaches people on how to get on the phone with their cell phone provider and negotiate to eliminate unnecessary phones and services to reduce costs. The same strategy works with your cable or satellite provider and many other expenses. It takes some work but it’s a great strategy for saving money. When it comes to paying off debts Chris advises people to attack the highest interest rate debt first while maintaining minimum payments on other debts.
This is the opposite of what some advisors suggest. They say it’s best to pay off your small debts first so you have a feeling of accomplishment as you reduce the number of debts that you have. I agree that if you own 20 bucks on an old cell phone bill then it make sense to get rid of it, but other than that I agree with Chris. Pay off your high interest rate debt first. That’s the maximum bang for the buck.
Chris ended the show by giving two very good bits of advice. First he said don’t wait until it’s too late. If you have debt or any other financial problem take action now. Speak to someone, do what you need to do to solve that problem.
Second, he said there is always hope. No matter how hopeless your situation may appear there are ways to deal with financial problems. Talk to a counsellor like Chris, do your research and take action.
That’s our show for today. I want to thank Chris DeVries for being my guest today.
For more information on today’s show, or any of our shows, you can go to hoyes.com and read our show notes, get links to everything we discussed and even download an audio copy of the show.
I’ve put a link to Chris’ church in the show notes as well. You can also subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or any other podcast streaming software. I encourage you to do that.
Again just go to hoyes.com and search for the word podcast to get full notes on everything we discussed today. Until next week I’m Doug Hoyes. Thanks for listening. That was Debt Free in 30.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to the radio broadcast segment of Debt Free in 30, where every week your host Doug Hoyes talks to experts about debt, money and personal finance. Please stay tuned for the podcast only bonus content starting now on Debt Free in 30.
Doug Hoyes: This is the podcast only segment of Debt Free in 30. I’m Doug Hoyes and Chris deVries has agreed to stick around and chat a little bit more.
What we’d like to do is – what I’d like to do is hear some stories. So, you’ve been counselling people one on one for many, many years and, obviously I don’t want you to tell me specific stories about what that guy told you yesterday, and we don’t want any identifying information. So, you can kind of change the stories a bit.
At the start of the show you said you worked with people as young as 18, you’ve worked with people who are retired, senior citizens. So, why don’t we start at the young end of the scale? Tell me the kind of challenges you see for someone who is 18, 20, 22, 24 years old, a younger member of society. What kind of trouble do they get into? What kind of troubles, challenges do they have and what have you been able to do for them?
Chris deVries: Sure. Well, I’ve had the opportunity to work in the local high schools and teach for a class or two in the various business programs. So, I had an opportunity to meet and talk with a lot of youth, anywhere from 17 to 20 we’ll say.
And there’s many that I can talk about, but I think the most important area that I’ve seen in young people is how quickly they’ve acquired debt after high school and some cases in high school, whether that’s cell phone debt or maybe it’s a credit card from a local stereo store, whatever that might be. They want the latest gadgets, they want the iPhone. So again it comes down to the behaviour and what they’ve been taught and I’m going to say often it’s very little.
So, in the cases I’ve seen and one particular. This girl, she was very naïve and it seemed so easy to get the credit card after high school. She was working a couple of part time jobs and it ended up being three different credit cards and you know before long and I would say it was within 5 months she had maxed every single credit card, she had lost her job and she was desperate. She didn’t know what to do. And in this case she didn’t live with mom and dad, everyone has their challenges. She was living on her own. There was no money for anything. And so it was a sad case in that matter. But I was able to put her in touch with some local agencies as well. So, I’m familiar with a number of different agencies and some cases she wasn’t eating. So, to connect her with the local food bank is something I did.
We spoke, well she did, I never take the initiative, to call her creditors. But she called her various credit card companies, she explained the situation and in two cases they waved all the interest. And they agreed to do a payback over the course of – I don’t remember if it was a year or two and she is almost finished that process. So, it can be done and the creditors are - the understand that there are situations out there
Doug Hoyes: But you have to talk to them. They aren’t mind readers; they can’t just do it on their own. Yeah, I mean young people very rarely have massive debt because they haven’t had 20 years to accumulate it. They’re only 20 years old, but they also tend not to have the huge income either. So, even what may look like a small amount of debt can be an insurmountable challenge when you’re income is moderate as well.
Chris deVries: Well, consider at 19 – or I believe she is 18 or 19 – three credit card with over 7,500 each. To have $22,000 in debt with no assets, that’s the important thing. There isn’t a car that secures that debt, there’s nothing. And it’s overwhelming for someone making, whatever minimum wage is. And it was 22 hours a week she was working. So, there is just no way of paying that back.
Doug Hoyes: And she had to chip away at it. Now in her case she was able to chip away at it on her own. What do you do in the case of someone who, okay they’re making $1,000 a month and they’ve got $30,000 worth of debts and they’ve to pay rent and live? It’s just not possible. What kind of advice do you give those people?
Chris deVries: Well, much like the advice I gave her too. It goes much beyond even financial advice and in some cases they’ve asked me to look at their resume and could I provide advice about – I know in one family I set them up and helped them find a - I didn’t do it, they found the second job. I said you really need to consider – you know it’s very practical, you either increase your revenue or reduce your expenses. We can only reduce so much. So, one of the two decided to take a second job at night, it worked well with their situation and in that plan they were able to chip away at their debt.
And in the younger person’s case, she took another job as well. She was only getting 22 hours. That’s the only way she was able to do this, but she had the capability of doing that.
So, to answer your question somebody with that kind of a debt load, as I said, you have to find out other sources of revenue or you make the tough choices and say do you really need to be paying $1,500 in rent? I ask those questions and then I help them determine other areas of the city. I’ve lived here a long time. I know real estate, a number of different professionals in the business. So, you know I have a lot of different sort of people I bring into the equation to help.
Doug Hoyes: Yeah and that’s important, to pull in the outside professionals. So, if you can work it out on your own then that’s what you got to do. And if you can’t then you’re right, you got to call in the other professionals to assist.
So, we talked about a younger person so let’s move to the middle of the scale then. Somebody who is – I don’t know what middle aged is, I guess if you’re going to live to be 100 then 50 is middle aged. But let’s talk about some who is sort of 30, 40, 50 years old. Perhaps they’ve got a young family, perhaps they’ve also got parents that they’re having to help out and support so they’re kind of sandwiched in the middle. What kind of challenges do you see in those cases?
Chris deVries: Well, more often than not, and unfortunately with a lot of who I see, they’re dealing with separation or divorce or that sort of thing. And that adds just even more complexity to their financial situation. They’ve got their lawyers and legal fees that they’re trying to pay off amongst it. They’re paying child support and a number of other things.
So, I think of this one family at one point the lady was unable to feed her children adequately. It was very clear to me. So, again I was able to connect her with a local feed bank. She had no idea it even existed. You would think in todays – you know there are so many services out there so we made the connection. She is so grateful for that today to know those people and they’ve been terrific. But having said that, we also did a very deep in-depth analysis of her bills, she had again credit card debt. She was using credit card to buy groceries. She maxed her credit card so therefore the groceries weren’t coming in.
We did a very similar process. She called the credit card companies and in her case, she moved. I quoted $1,500 I think that was what her rent was and yes it was a nice – and there are other ways that she can reduce and I believe she reduced her rent to $900. Well, $600 on a limited income was huge. And still a very nice area. It was hard for her. She had lived there a long time, difficult for the kids. But those are some of the tough choices that have to be made. She’s on her way.
Now some of these people I lose track of. They – and I’m okay with that – you see them over the years and they’ll wave at you or they’ll call me the financial guy, you know when you’re in the grocery store. But – so I don’t sort of track them beyond that – but I know I can tell – and even in the course of the year I worked with her that she was well on her way.
Ultimately the behaviour change that we take has to be our own. So, when I see them I might remind them and they say, oh I’ve got a new car. I said, okay how did you do that? So, and it’s gratifying for me to see that.
Doug Hoyes: Excellent and so it sounds like whether you’re young or middle aged, well it starts with the basics. You got to kind of document where the money’s going.
Chris deVries: You do.
Doug Hoyes: You’ve got to cut the expenses and then you’ve got to move on.
So, what are the challenges then for somebody who is at the other end of the spectrum? Perhaps somebody who’s a senior, maybe they’re retired, maybe they’re I guess living on a fixed income at this point. What are the challenges that they face?
Chris deVries: Well, where I can recommend on a younger or middle aged person to consider another position or another revenue stream, I don’t have that option for senior citizens.
Doug Hoyes: They’re on a fixed income. It is what it is.
Chris deVries: It is what it is.
So, again some of the fundamentals are the same. Look at what their expenses are, have some very upfront discussions. Often we look at prescriptions for instance and we see how we might be able to reduce where they’re going to get their prescriptions filled. It sounds very simple but seniors are often on a number of prescriptions and if we’re saving $50 to $100 a month, that’s huge for them.
Doug Hoyes: What can be done there?
Chris deVries: Dispensing fees, just shopping around, going to other places to fill your prescription. And they will often say, “oh but I’ve always gone there” and I understand that but we need to help them. And often with seniors it’s about staying where they are. So, they may be living – they don’t want to take that step to either move to an apartment or somewhere else so it is how do you help them live where they are.
And often they’re alone. If we’re talking older, it’s the man on his own or a woman on her own. So, they don’t have the luxury of having two pensions or anything like that.
And in some cases we have to say, let’s make a shorter term plan so we’re not talking about a 20 year plan with someone I’m working with that’s 75 or 80 years old. But it’s like five years; tell me what you want to do in five years. Do you want to stay here? Yes I do. Okay. Or have you considered moving over the next two years. So, we will restructure their finances to accommodate – and I think that’s the right thing to do. They want to have a quality of life for a period of time before they might have to go to that next stage.
Doug Hoyes: And I think that’s a very good point. You’ve got to be looking ahead all the time. And whether you’re 50 or 80 having a five year plan isn’t a bad thing. The 50 year old it might be, well I’ve got to get my kids into college. The 80 year old it might be well the time is going to come where I’m not going to be able to live on my own. I’m going to have to move into a retirement home or I’m going to have to do something different. Well, start planning that transition now.
Chris deVries: Exactly.
Doug Hoyes: Maybe it’s not necessarily downsizing but if I’m going to be moving into a smaller place eventually. Well, maybe I should start thinking about some of the things that I don’t need, that I can be selling off and that’s going to put a couple of bucks in the kitty and that will make that process easier too.
Chris deVries: Well, and often it’s only one of the two that looked after the finances over the course of their time together, so some of it is just basic education as well.
Doug Hoyes: Yeah, I didn’t have to deal with it so I didn’t know how to do it.
So, final question for you then, regardless of your age, the sequence of events is the same. Start by documenting where the money goes, look for areas to cut and hopefully by – and increasing your revenue, getting a second job for example if you’re only working part-time now and you can pick up another part-time that will equal a full time job and hopefully that’s enough to get you over the hump.
What do you do in those cases where all of that doesn’t work? I’m already working full-time, I got 50 or 60 thousand dollars worth of debt and even if I stop eating and don’t pay rent, I’m still not going to be able to generate the $3,000 a month I’m going to need to cover all those debts. Are there any cases where you would say to people, you know what? Maybe you do have to look at more serious solutions?
Chris deVries: I have and we hope there’s not too many of those. But inevitably over the course of the last number of years I’ve faced – and no matter what we’ve done in all those things that you indicated – additional jobs, their debt load is such, their life situation is such that we have no choice but to sort of take that next step to say I need to put you in front of other professionals who can take it at that level and the various options that are available there.
And I say it’s a last sort of ditch effort but again there is still hope in that. That’s why those sorts of things are available.
So, I don’t jump to that right away if we can do this another way I think it’s always better. But yes, absolutely and I’ll say that professionals are part of this team all the way along from the start to the end that, like I said earlier, give them the hope that they need.
Doug Hoyes: Well, I think that’s a great way to end it. And it’s like when you have a medical condition you have to go to the doctor and the doctor says well you’re going to need surgery. Okay, I don’t want surgery but if I have the surgery I’ll get better. I guess that’s hope.
So, maybe there’s some not fun stuff I’ve got to go through but there is hope at the other end. And that’s really what we’re talking about.
Chris deVries: Absolutely.
Doug Hoyes: Fantastic. Those are some great stories Chris. I really appreciate you for being here.
People can go to our website at hoyes.com and look at the notes. We put a link to some of the things you talked about today, to your church website for example, and people can get some more information there. Thanks very much for being here.
Chris deVries: Thank you.
Doug Hoyes: Thanks Chris.
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