Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Rona Birenbaum, co-founder and financial planner with Caring for Clients. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Sign up for the Globe Advisor weekly newsletter for professional financial advisors on our sign-up page. Get exclusive investment industry news and insights, the week’s top headlines, and what you and your clients need to know. For more from Globe Advisor, visit our homepage.

In the Behind the Advice series, we ask advisors about their relationship with money from a young age, lessons learned over the years, and how their experiences influence the advice they give clients today.

Rona Birenbaum, a certified financial planner and founder of Toronto-based Caring for Clients, talks about money lessons from her parents, the mistake she made buying her first property and the performance element of being an advisor:

What was your experience with money growing up?

My earliest money lessons came from my mother, including the importance of saving and thinking about what I’m spending money on and why. She used to say things like, ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees.’ Or if I would mention that a friend had something I wanted, she would say, ‘If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?’ Her advice was based on her upbringing in a family that didn’t have much.

My father also didn’t have much growing up, but he became a professional engineer, which made our family middle class. As a kid, my needs were comfortably met, but it was the extras my dad wanted to give us that my mom stressed about. Her reticence to spend continued throughout her life, creating a good balance in our household.

I remember how the energy in the house would change when a credit card bill arrived in the mail. There were always questions like, ‘Why did we spend so much on this?’ Or, ‘We could have spent less on that.’ It reinforced the idea of spending as little as necessary.

How did this influence your spending and saving habits?

I discovered the feeling of power you can get by saving and being able to buy something that would normally be out of reach. I became comfortable with delayed gratification. I also learned early on that if you borrow money, you pay it back. If my father gave me $5 as a kid, he wouldn’t ask for it back. My mother, on the other hand, always asked for it back. I could have only borrowed from my father, but in my heart, I knew that didn’t seem right.

What was your biggest money mistake?

My ex-husband and I bought a pre-construction condo in Toronto in the late 1980s during a speculative real estate market. When the condo was ready for occupancy, the real estate market collapsed, and we couldn’t close on our mortgage. We had to get a loan from my dad. We learned to avoid following the herd. We moved into that condo and saved like fiends to build another down payment. We sold the condo at a $65,000 loss and bought a detached house. It was a significant loss for a young couple, especially then. The house we bought was similarly down in price, so it worked out. But money was tight for a long time.

What’s the best financial decision you’ve made?

It was my career decision to start and build a financial advisory practice. I got my first job as a teller at a credit union and eventually moved up to branch manager. I then wanted a job with more income potential, focused on making a difference for people versus meeting corporate objectives. I became an investment advisor at CIBC Wood Gundy, but the position was more sales-oriented and I wanted to include financial planning in my service offering. In 2000, I co-founded Caring for Clients to provide objective financial and lifestyle management advice free of product pitches. In hindsight, that was one of my best financial decisions because I’ve built a successful business for myself, my employees and our clients.

What did you want to be growing up?

I wanted to be a triple-threat stage performer. I took dance, acting and singing lessons as a kid. I was happiest on stage performing and connecting with an audience. Then, in my early 20s, I realized I was only an average talent. I didn’t have what it took to be one of the best. That realization was super painful at the time. However, in hindsight, being an advisor also has a performance element. I don’t just give clients information. I view it as a creative endeavour in which I strive to inspire feelings such as confidence, determination, gratitude and peace. Ultimately, I’m doing what I wanted to do, just differently. I don’t get a standing ovation at the end of a meeting, but seeing the results of my efforts is the best possible reward.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more from Globe Advisor, visit our homepage.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe