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My family lives in Ottawa, but we have lots of relatives and friends in Toronto. We haven’t travelled between the two cities much this year because of COVID-19, but we’ve made about a million such trips in the past few decades, and we usually try to find something interesting to listen to along the way.

I want to tell you about a podcast we listened to this summer for a couple of reasons. One, you’ll like it. Two, there’s an episode with a surprisingly powerful personal-finance lesson.

The podcast is Levar Burton Reads. Mr. Burton, an actor you may remember from Star Trek and Roots, picks short stories by well-known authors and reads them in a highly entertaining way. The story with the personal-finance message is The Foster Portfolio by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s about a man, Herbert Foster, who lives a life of moderation and frugality, even while he has a huge investment portfolio.

The investments have been kept from his wife, who makes her own clothes and those of their son with bargain cloth. You get the idea – the husband sees virtue in a financial choice he made without ever consulting his wife.

The moral of the story, from the author’s point of view, is that the husband was being true to himself through his unilateral decision about how to manage his money. There’s no acknowledgment of the husband’s deception.

The Foster Portfolio was written in 1951, and it comes across as dated - although the investing details are spot on. Still, there’s a lesson applicable to spouses in a relationship where one partner makes all the financial decisions. Get involved, ask questions, compromise and collaborate. There has to be a halfway point between Mr. Foster’s investment portfolio and Mrs. Foster’s cheap handmade clothes.


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Rob’s personal finance reading list

Parenting in the year 2020

All about the Nugget, a must-have foam couch for kids that will cost about $400 for Canadians to have it shipped from the United States – If you can find one. They’re sold out, according to Today’s Parent.

Is oil’s relevance to investors slipping?

A U.S. money manager and blogger asks whether the price of oil is an influential as it used to be in the investing world. Something for us to ponder here in Canada, where energy still accounts for 11 per cent of the stock market.

Poor advice from an insurance seller

A money manager writes about the young doctors he’s seen in the past couple of years who are financially weighed down by premiums on the insurance policies they’ve purchased. “When we take a closer look at their situation, we usually find that poor advice from an insurance adviser has left them paying an exorbitant amount of money for far more insurance coverage than they need.”

Pandemic pets on parade

A gallery of cute pix of pets adopted during the pandemic. Presented as a prelude to my column about the costs of pet ownership.


Guest Q&A

This week’s guest is Jane Eisbrenner, president and CEO of the central Ontario division of JA, or Junior Achievement. JA is a non-profit that helps teach students about financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. Here’s an edited version of our Q&A:

Q: What are the top one or two financial lessons JA seeks to teach young people?

A: Central to all of our programs is the concept of money-management. Our programs teach students from grades 3 to 12 how to manage personal and business finances. This includes a mixture of tools such as budgeting, using credit, saving, spending, investing and donating. Alongside these practical money-management skills, our programs also teach students the soft skills needed to thrive in an ever-changing economy. Key to this is an entrepreneurial mindset – developing creativity, adaptability and innovation from a young age. Our Company Program, for example, brings high school students together with business advisers to create and develop a business from scratch.

Q: How has the pandemic reshaped your message about the importance of financial literacy?

A: The full economic impact of COVID-19 may not be known for years to come, but the immediate repercussions have clearly shown the importance of budgeting, savvy saving and preparing for the unexpected. In addition, it is also increasingly clear that an entrepreneurial mindset – based on adaptability, creativity and innovation – will be key for helping the next generation navigate a shifting work force and growing gig economy.

Q: What are the most common questions about financial literacy that you get from kids involved with JA?

A: Students are very interested in the world of investing and making money. Our Investment Strategies Program – an online, real-world stock market simulation – attracts thousands of students who sign up to learn about how they can use the market to succeed. Building credit and understanding credit scores are also of interest to our younger students. We teach the basics of using credit, and students are often curious about building a credit score from a young age.

Q: What can parents do at home to reinforce lessons of FinLit, work readiness?

A: Taking time to explore online games and learning tools can be very helpful – JA Central Ontario’s online programs allow parents to walk through key concepts alongside their children. Using interactive games and real-life examples, these programs can help parents bring concepts to life and complement learning at home and in the classroom. Parents can put important financial-literacy skills into practice day-to-day. Using a regular allowance, parents can show how saving, spending and investing can directly affect kids and help them in the future.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can’t answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.


Today’s financial tool

A fun way to educate yourself on topics like debt, shopping for investments, scams and more – the Cranial Cash Clash from GetSmarterAboutMoney.ca, a website funded by the Ontario Securities Commission.


The money-free zone

Too late for Halloween, but worth your attention – Ill Will by Dan Chaon is the best-written scary book I’ve read.


Looking for financial help?

Has COVID derailed your financial plan? Are you worried about retirement? Get some free advice from The Globe and Mail about your unique financial situation by emailing finfacelift@gmail.com to be part of our Financial Facelift series.

You can share your story under a false name, and our photographers will obscure your identity in one of our trademark Financial Facelift photos. We’re especially keen to hear from the young, the struggling, the self-employed, the partially-employed, restaurant workers, freelancers, contract workers and small-business owners. Hopefully our advice can help you weather these stormy times and help make sure your financial future is secure.


What I’ve been writing about

  • Reasons to stop worrying the pandemic will be followed by a plague of tax increases
  • Finally, GIC investors get their own online broker to shop the market for top rates (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)
  • Have robo-advisers just been outflanked by a cheaper, better way to invest? (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)

More Rob Carrick and money coverage

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Even more coverage from Rob Carrick:

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