Money & Career

10 Pieces Of Personal Finance Wisdom We Owe To Gail Vaz-Oxlade

A look back at some very practical, very blunt advice from Canada's most outspoken money expert.
Photo, Nathan Denette/Canadian Press. (Photo, Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Canada's no-nonsense money expert, retired last year (comfortably, we presume). And seeing as she made her exit while the debt-to-income ratio of Canadians crept towards a record high, Vaz-Oxlade's trademark real-talk on saving, spending and expensive lattes is sadly missed. Here are some of Vaz-Oxlade's wisest, timeless nuggets of personal finance wisdom.

Create spending priorities:

"Figure out what’s important to you. So what is it you really want? Is it eating out and spending time with your friends? Or do you want to own a home of your own? Decide, because you may not in fact want to own [a] — you may simply be bowing to the pressures around you to own.”

Tax your fast-food:

"Keep a container in your car and every time you pick up a coffee, grab a sub or munch on a muffin, drop a buck in your bag. This will be your Fast Food Tax. Hey, if you can find the money for the coffee, you can find the money to save for your wedding too!"

Don't leave the finances to one partner:


"It’s not unusual for one person to assume the nitty-gritty of daily finances.... The problem is that when one person is excluded, or totally abdicates responsibility, it means the other can mess things up with no monitoring or grow resentful at always having to do the detail.... Taking turns managing the chequebook, and having regular conversations so that both of you are clear about what’s going on, means you’re both in the know and working to the same ends. It also means that one person doesn’t have to deal with all the crap, while the other merrily laughs off the stress and frustration with, 'You’re managing the money, so this is your problem to deal with.' (Yes, there are dopes who say this.)"

Forget the fancy wine:

"$20 is about as much as you need to spend to get a great bottle of wine. And there are $10 bottles that taste great too! And if you’re going to be drinking all night, start with a more expensive $20 bottle, and then switch to the cheaper stuff later in the evening. Most people won’t notice."

Don't buy into retail therapy:

"Plastic is anesthetic — it dulls the pain, and then what happens is you just keep waiting for the next fake high."

Cut the coffee:


"If you’re saving $20 a week by drinking less coffee (or taking it from home) and you’re 30 years old, eliminating that one bad habit will mean $84,000 in your pocket. Yup, $84,000! That's some pretty expensive coffee."

Be open with your partner about spending

"I’m truly amazed at the number of people who hide stuff from their partners. They go shopping, bring home a bag of stuff, and rip off the tags — because, of course, their partners are morons and won’t recognize a new outfit when they see it.... If you can’t be open about what you’re buying, that should tell you something. If you think your partner is going to object to your spending, hey, listen up! And if you’re planning to mate and you haven’t sat down to talk about your money, you’re a fool, plain and simple."

Don't plan on early retirement:

"Life is for living. Saving is for the future. Doing either to the extreme, or neither for the sake of the other, is dumb. And so is the idea of spending the last 35 years of life doing nothing productive. Add 10 years back into the working equation and you not only put more money in your retirement savings pool, but you spend less years living on that pool of cash."

Don't use credit like as a back-up plan:


"If you bought that sales pitch that a line of credit (or any credit) is an emergency fund, you was fooled! Credit is debt waiting to happen and debt can be an emergency of its own. Sure, that line may see you through until you get another job. But then you’ll have to deal with getting that sucker paid off."

Slow and steady is how you repay debt:

"One step at a time. You are on your way. Expect challenges. Keep your goal where you can see it."

This piece was originally published in 2016 and updated in 2017.


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