Talking About Money
Someone recently said to me, “talking about money is harder than talking about death”.
CERA, in partnership with Canada Without Poverty (CWP), recently received a grant from TD’s Financial Literacy Program to do what a lot of folks have told us would be impossible: to talk about the taboo, uncomfortable subject of “money” with people from across the country who barely have any.
A few weeks ago we piloted our first session with a group of 18 people who are living on very limited incomes in the city of Ottawa. And contrary to all warnings – this group couldn’t stop talking. They were women and men, young and old, Aboriginal, Canadian born, newcomers, disabled and not, single mothers and two parent families. They had just one thing in common: they are all making ends meet, just barely.
So, why was this diverse group so willing to talk about money? I think it’s because we did things a little differently this time round. We turned the tables. We admitted that if this group of people have the lowest incomes in the country and are able to make ends meet, they must have a vast amount of expertise in money management. We asked them to share that expertise with us so that we could document it and then share it with other people, like those who get to make decisions about how money is spent in this country: Jim Flaherty – the Minister of Finance; bankers; and financial literacy trainers. And share they did. From rolling loose change, to never buying anything that isn’t 2nd hand, to using foodbanks and pay-as-you-go telephones, to developing sophisticated banking techniques, we learned how the poor endure a whole lot of indignities, to survive.
And we learned something even more important in this session. By recognizing the participants as experts in managing their money (rather than assuming we are the experts because we have money) we unwittingly provided them with an opportunity to feel some pride in their poverty, even if only for a few hours.