A Vancouver financial counsellor gives 3 tips to get you thinking outside the bank

Max Mitchell shares his two cents on personal money matters.

Credit: Max Mitchell Money

Max Mitchell shares his two cents on personal money matters

Max Mitchell remembers feeling nervous to buy his first condo in Vancouver. With mortgage payments, strata fees and insurance costs, he was sure he’d no longer have any additional savings. But much to his and his wife’s surprise, by buying instead of renting they ended up with hundreds of dollars that were previously “disappearing into the ether” just because they weren’t meticulously planning around those big expenses.

“I think that was a big revelation for me around how important it is to be intentional with your spending,” he maintains.  

Even though most people know what they should do, they struggle to act on it. Mitchell saw it first hand during the six years he spent in UBC’s student finances department, where he was exposed to an incredibly diverse group of people with future earning potential (like refugees and scholarship students), who had a hard time trusting themselves to handle their own money.  

Now he runs his own financial counselling business, Max Mitchell Money, to help more people (not just students) feel confident in the world of numbers. “Finances are not nearly as complicated as people think, but it does take about five hours of real thought and research,” he says. 

To help you get started, here are some hot tips that Mitchell guarantees you won’t get from most financial institutions in Canada. 

1. Break up with your big bank 

Canada’s top five banks offer the “worst of everything,” according to Mitchell. High fees, low interest rates and restrictions around a user’s ability to manage money make people feel like they have to fit their behaviour into what their bank will allow, and it doesn’t have to be that way. 

“There are, like, 100 banks in Canada,” he says. “Many of them are ‘zero-fee,’ many of them are online only, and because there are zero fees, you can open up 10 savings accounts, 10 chequing accounts, and start to move your money around quickly and seamlessly in a way that breeds personalization.” 

2. Forget traditional budgeting 

Traditional budgeting only works for a tiny portion of the population—”tinkerers,” as Mitchell calls them. These are people who enjoy coming home from the grocery store, opening up a spreadsheet, and entering each item that they purchased into categories.

Instead, Mitchell recommends a simpler process that involves subtracting pre-committed bills (like rent) from your income, separating how much you want to save, and then, from what’s left over, giving yourself an “allowance” to spend throughout the month. That way your bills are paid, your savings goals are met and you can buy deodorant even if you didn’t plan on it. 

3. Invest, don’t gamble 

The two are quite opposite: investing involves spending money in the short term to make money in the long term, whereas gambling, according to Mitchell, is designed to win now but lose later. 

When it comes to making investments, Mitchell recommends diversification (which means investing in thousands of stocks, not just 10 different ones) using financial products like mutual funds, robo advisors and asset allocation ETFs. “Then you can feel confident that if you are continuously making contributions, that is money being invested and not money that is being gambled,” he says.