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  From the
  'You don't know what it's like to lose money'
I need David Bach's financial advice and I need it now
  Sharon Dunn,
National Post

[Photo: Chris Bolin, National Post]
DAVID BACH: "When you find your wealth, you find your freedom, and when you find your freedom, you find your life."

My reasons for wanting to interview David Bach, author of Smart Women Finish Rich and Smart Couples Finish Rich, are purely selfish. I need help. In a financial climate in which bank account interest rates are under 1%, and the stock market is you know where, what's a girl to do? What's anyone to do?

"The truth is," says Bach, "that becoming wealthy is actually easy." God, I hate it when a financial advisor says that. "I'm going to give you the formula in a few minutes."

"Give it to me now," I plead.

He ignores me. "The first person to take your money is the government, which means, in Canada, you're working with a 47 dollar. The rest of it goes to pay mortgage or rent, credit cards and clothes and, before you know it, you think, 'If I could only make more money' -- so you make more money and then you spend more money -- like a hamster on a treadmill."

The next thing he says surprises me. "There is no correlation between income and wealth. Just because you're making more money does not mean you're saving more. All it means is that you're in a nicer hamster cage, but you're running harder and faster and you're still not making any progress."

Bach says people are going backwards these days instead of forward, because of easy access to credit. "They're even handing out credit cards in universities [in the U.S.]," he tells me.

"I want the formula to wealth," I remind him.

"So, to get out of the hamster cage ..." he says dramatically, "you have to pay yourself first."

"I've heard that before," I blurt out, disappointed. "And how do we tell people who are having trouble paying their bills to pay themselves first?"

Undaunted, he says, "The moment you get a job, take a percentage and put it in RSPs."

"RSPs are too boring to talk about," I inform him.

"Sharon, you can't think your way to wealth. You have to act your way to wealth," he tells me, insisting that the RSP thing works.

"Do you think I should get into third mortgages?" I ask, trying to make the conversation more exotic. "I've been offered 10%."

"NO," he says vehemently. "People have lost everything doing that."

Before long, I'm spilling out my tragic tale of woe -- how, after years of ultra-conservative investing, I jumped on the tech bandwagon at the beginning of 2000, with dreams of glory and wealth. Of course, we all know what happened next.

"So you're a turtle," he says. "You popped your head out, and someone snapped at it, and you've gone back in your shell. When you start hearing it's a boom time again, you'll pop your head back out again, get snapped at again, and go back in your shell." I nod in agreement, willing to accept the inevitable.

"You don't know what it's like to lose money," I complain, crying into my latte.

"Oh yes, I do," he confides. "I lost too." Ah, the truth. "Not for my clients, just for myself," he insists, "because I didn't follow my own rule: Don't invest in something that doesn't make money."

Bach says he lost his money by investing in an online grocery (Webvan). I look at his sad face and feel consoled.

"It hurts, doesn't it?" I say compassionately, enjoying the old misery loves company thing, especially with a world-famous financial advisor, brave enough to admit he's been there. "So after we buy the RSPs, then what?" I ask.

"Maybe it's a latte, or a cocktail, that you have to give up," he says. "But if you take even five dollars a day and save it, you start to build wealth and, more importantly, build your financial confidence, so you can take more action."

"Sure, take away whatever joy people have," I complain, hanging on to my latte for dear life.

Bach insists you have to start somewhere. He also thinks it's a good time to take advantage of low interest rates. "I've just borrowed $1.5-million at 5 1/2% and locked in for ten years," he tells me, conspiratorially.

"And get a good financial advisor," he says. His advice, in a nutshell, will be, "25% GICs, 25% bonds, 50% mutuals (global, growth, value)."

"Everyone knows that," I tell him.

"Not everyone," he says. "I met a couple who were in their 60s. They told me, 'We've got nothing -- no money, no home, no savings, but we want to retire.' People put it off, and put it off, then when they're in their 50s and 60s, they come to me, and they're looking for miracles."

Bach says it's not the fault of the economy. "When earnings are off, you should work your ass off in your job," he says. "You should do more than is expected of you to protect your job, because most people aren't bothering."

Bach says the first common trait of people who are rich is: "They work harder than other people." In other words, "Sometimes you have to do what you don't want to do, when you don't want to do it, to get what you want."

The second trait of the rich, he says, is this: "Financially secure people save 10% of their income, wealthy people save 15% of their income, and the 'super rich' save 20% or more." He tells me that most "super rich" start at an early age and are done working by the time they are in their 50s.

"It takes a lot less to retire than you think," he says. But then he adds, "Retirement is not the Holy Grail. It's an overrated concept. Most people I know go back to work after retirement because you can only golf so much, you can only go to the gym so much ..."

As I'm thinking about that, still nursing my coffee, Bach says, "When you find your latte factor [where your money is going], you find your wealth. And when you find your wealth, you find your freedom, and when you find your freedom, you find your life.

"People think that they want money, but what they really want is their life. Most people are not living the life they want," says Bach, insisting on what we've all heard before, that money is not the key to happiness.

"But at least with money you can be unhappy wherever you want," I say. "Like in Paris, Hawaii ... "

"It's very easy to be caught up in the rush of life," he tells me, "but make a promise to yourself that in five years, you'll be ahead of where you are today -- in better shape, better health, and closer to your dreams. It's all up to you. You're going to live a life anyway; you might as well live a great one."

We end up talking about hot rock stars. "The ones you see today, most will be broke in a year," Bach predicts, pointing out that Ozzy Osbourne is an exception, "because his wife is a brilliant marketer. She capitalized quickly.

"No one's star burns bright for too long," he says ominously.

He also refers to mighty mortals like Larry King who have fallen into bankruptcy. Our talk makes me feel better about my own losses, but I see the look of concern on Bach's face, so I tell him not to worry about me because I'm not heading for financial ruin yet -- although I might add that it hasn't been for lack of trying.

  Last update: May 6, 2009
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