August 2, 2012
Hi, my name is Sheryl Smolkin. I’m a lawyer and a journalist. Today I’m pleased to be continuing the Saskatchewan Pension Plan’s series of financial expert interviews with Jonathan Chevreau.
Jonathan was the personal finance columnist for the Financial Post from 1996-1998 and then for the National Post since its launch in 1998 until this year. He has recently been named Editor of MoneySense magazine.
Although he has authored or co-authored seven non-fictional financial books, his most recent work is “a novel about one couple’s turbulent journey to financial independence” called “Findependence Day.” And that’s what we are going to talk about today.
Q. Is the expression “Findependence Day” a Chevreau original or has it been used before by others?
A. I would say it is a Chevreau original although at one point there was an unrelated film called Findependence Day. I just looked at the American Independence Day, played around with financial independence and came up with “Findependence Day.” The title came first, and then I thought I should write a book to go with it.
Q. You are known as a financial writer who writes serious articles and books about complex financial matters. What made you decide to write a novel?
A. I think like a lot of journalists there was always a secret closet novelist lurking because it seems like a more creative, long-term project than bashing out daily columns. Then there is always the example of David Chilton’s The Wealthy Barber.
Q. Although Findependence Day is clearly fiction, some of your characters and concepts seemed very familiar to me, so I have to ask you:
- Is Didi Quinlan of the television program Debt March based on Gail Vaz- Oxlade’s show ‘Til debt do us part?
Well like most fictional characters it’s a composite, I would say she’s was certainly one of three or four people, keeping in mind the book was also written for the US market. We have a lot of financial reality TV shows now. When I talk to American journalists they’re convinced I am talking about Suze Orman. But I would say that Gail is probably the single closest model.
- Were you thinking of Stewart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe when you created “The Vinyl Cave?”
Actually, that was based on Kate Dunn’s Vinyl Museum around the turn of the century. Then Peter Dunn had two Vinyl Museum stores in Toronto – one was close to where I lived on the Lakeshore.
- Did you draw on Finance Professor Moishe Milevsky’s characterization of people as either “stocks” or bonds” as discussed by the financial advisor Theo in the book?
I think I actually did credit Moshie’s book in the fine print or in “Theo’s library”at the end of the book.
Q. In the opening chapter, television host Didi Quinlan tells the young couple Jamie and Sheena Morelli that she is going to drill two words into their skulls: guerilla frugality. Is this phrase also a Chevreau original and what does it mean?
A. Yes it is original. I came up with that expression in a column long before I wrote the book. To me it’s like guerrilla warfare. In order to save and invest you have to first get out of debt, and then you have to continue to be frugal in order to build wealth. What I mean by the term is “guerrilla warfare on the economic consumption front.”
Q. Another thing Theo, the financial planner in the book advocates is developing different streams of income on the road to financial independence. Does that mean moonlighting or working at more than one job? Is that practical for hard-working, busy parents?
A. Ideally you can always give yourself a raise. You can get a raise from your boss or change jobs and earn a higher amount. You can aIso take on extra work to earn another $10,000 or more on nights and weekends but this may be stressful and perhaps not the optimum approach if you have a young family.
Ultimately as you know anybody who is a retiree probably does have multiple streams of income – two or three pensions, government benefits and private savings in a RRIF. But when we’re in the wealth accumulation phase, if both partners are employed we tend to be dependent on one or two different sources of income.
You have to go from one or two salaries to these multiple sources of income when you become financially independent and ultimately when you are in full stop retirement.
Q. If you could identify one or two key messages in the book for people striving to achieve financial independence, what would they be?
A. If your goal is financial independence or findependence, the means is guerilla frugality. The two go together. So be frugal first to get rid of your debt and second to build wealth. These are the key takeaways in order to achieve what I call Findependence day.
Q.Have you reached your Findependence day, and if not what is the magic number?
A. I used to put anywhere from 57-64 on my blog, the Wealthy Boomer. Right now I’ve joined MoneySense magazine at 59 years old. I guess my partner and I have achieved financial independence of sorts, but we want to achieve a higher level. I am at the stage of working now because I want to, not because I have to. And as you know everything gets better the longer you wait.
I enjoy what I do and I don’t find there’s a big distinction between what I do evenings and weekends and what I do during the day. I’m up reading all this stuff on twitter and social media and I might as well get paid for it as long as I enjoy it and I’m healthy. The thing is, at some point, I may not have a willing client, or a willing employer even if I want to work to 70 or 75. At some point we all must have financial independence because our body or our minds won’t permit us to earn the single employment stream that most people rely on.
Thanks Jonathan. It was a pleasure to talk to you today. I read your book cover to cover and learned a great deal. I actually joined the SPP to get “another stream of income” although I have an employer-sponsored pension plan. If they haven’t already done so, I’m sure many SPP members will be interested in ordering the book from your website.
It was a pleasure Sheryl. There’s actually a question and answer about the Saskatchewan Pension Plan in the June issue of MoneySense.