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Money lessons with David Lester
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I heart money

Local financial coach loves cash so much, he wrote a book about how to handle it


David Lester hasn’t always loved money. The financial coach and author of the book I Heart Money says he changed his relationship with cash while he was in university, studying economics and political science at Western’s Huron University and working 35-hour weeks for Merrill Lynch on the side. “School is all macroeconomics, but at Merrill, I learned how rich people dealt with their money, and it was different than what I expected. Rather than giving their portfolio to some manager and having a hands-off approach, they were actively involved. They liked calling every morning to see how their portfolio was doing,” he says. He started thinking about his own financial goals. With strategies learned at Merrill Lynch, he started trading options — in fact, he got so good at it he was able to buy a condo in Toronto after returning from six months of post-graduation travel in 2000.  

His work at Merrill Lynch in London helped him nab a job at the Toronto office, where he worked until decamping for the advertising world at 25. When the market crashed in 2008, Lester heard senior partners in the firm bemoaning their financial woes, and he, drawing on his training and real-world experience, rattled off a list of what he thought they should do. “They were stunned. They told me I should write a book, and I thought, ‘Maybe they’re right.’” After close to a year of writing, he resigned in June 2009 with enough material to finish his book. 

Since self-help sections are already brimful of books about saving money, Lester knew his had to be different. He trained as a life coach in Vancouver, and he says that helped him make his book stand out. “Many books tell you what to do: save money, put 10 percent of your paycheque away, whatever. I wanted people to focus on what they wanted to do with their money. Make it about value rather than arbitrary savings goals.” The process worked. He has sold approximately 6,000 print copies and almost 4,000 e-books, he says. That success has turned into a pilot show called Knockout (it didn’t get picked up for television, but webisodes are available on YouTube), guest spots on CBC and BNN, and a writing gig with The Miami Herald. He says he will soon be the financial writer for eLuxe, an online shopping and lifestyle website. 

Lester’s craziest story involves a client who came to him with $80,000 in department store debt. “Who could have spent that much at The Bay before Topman?” He points out that “over 25 years, it’s like spending $160,000 at The Bay with all that interest. I’d rather an Aston Martin for that money!” 

Many of Lester’s thoughts on finances focus on the idea of respect. “People try to get respect by buying fancy clothes, renting a fancy apartment or leasing an expensive car, but those are all fleeting,” he says. Instead, take that money you would have spent and invest it in a future goal. If you meet that goal, splurge on the Prada boots, knowing that you are buying them with cash (instead of saddling yourself with credit card debt). Instead of buying drinks for your friends at the bar, save that cash until you are in a financial position to do so. 

What you do with your savings is the key, he says. Save that money for a goal that will earn you more money — say a down payment on a house. Or save up to start your own business, like Lester did. And look how things worked out for him.

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