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Financial guru says happiness doesn’t come from a credit card

David Chilton says too many Canadians have “lost their minds” and are piling on debt in a never-ending shopping spree that will end in tears

It may have been the best-attended scolding in Brandon’s history.

And the standing-room-only audience at the Keystone Centre appeared to love every minute of financial guru David Chilton’s impassioned call for a return of everyday financial sanity.

“We have way too many people, beyond any common-sense measure, who have way too much debt,” said the author of the runaway bestseller The Wealthy Barber.

“There’s way too many Canadians living beyond their means.”

Chilton employed some oft-cited numbers — such as household debt levels that recently hit an all-time high of 164.4 per cent when debt is measured against disposable income.

“There’s no happy ending coming to this,” said the affable author, noting many will hit a financial wall when record-low interest rates inevitably begin to climb again.

But he also put financial matters into human terms for his Ag Days audience, which filled both Theatres 1 and 2 and spilled over into a curtained-off area at one end of the hockey arena.

Canadians have gotten themselves into this mess largely because they’ve “fallen in love with consumption,” said Chilton.

“We love stuff,” he said simply.

Too many people are trying to keep with “the Jones,” even though the Jones are in terrible financial shape themselves, he said.

Everyone seems to think they should have the best of the best. It’s incredible what sort of stuff people now consider themselves “losers” if they don’t have, he said.   

“I call it the granite-countertop phenomena,” he said.

The home renovation craze is a prime example of overspending to buy into a lifestyle with the best of everything.

“People truly lose their minds,” he said, adding that “while we’re at it” can be the four most expensive words you’ll ever utter.

Moreover, we give into temptation because we can, thanks to easily available credit. The term “save up” seems to have disappeared from most people’s vocabulary and they borrow without even giving thought to how they will pay off their debt.

“And you don’t get to pay interest forever,” he said. “You’ve got to pay the principal back.”

Chilton wasn’t quite 30 when he self-published his 1989’s The Wealthy Barber, which was based on his own experience with saving in order to grow rich slowly, while enjoying a low-key lifestyle.

The book sold more than two million copies and made him exceedingly well off. Yet, at 50 and now a member of the CBC hit “Dragon’s Den,” he still walks his talk, living a modest lifestyle in a 1,300-square-foot house in Ontario.

Consider the benefits that come from living without debt, he urged audience members.

“People who live within their means are happier,” he said. “Savers are not stressed and caught up in consumption.”

Chilton peppered his talk with financial advice, including favouring RRSPs over TFSAs (Tax Free Savings Accounts) because it’s harder to get money out of the former.

He saved his most compelling thoughts for last.

The root of our problem is that we’ve completely lost perspective on what we have, and what it really means to be comfortable and successful.

“Our national pastime in Canada isn’t hockey, it’s complaining,” he said, urging everyone to “cheer up.”

“Our biggest problem in this country is lack of perspective. A minor inconvenience is not a major problem.”

What we should be doing is reminding ourselves how truly well off we actually are, with lifestyles that were unheard of even a generation ago and beyond the reach of much of the rest of the world.

“We’re the lucky ones,” he said. “We live in ways kings and queens once only dreamed of.”

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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