At 26, Lesley Scorgie already feels like she is rich. The 26-year-old author seems to be wise beyond her years when it comes to spending and saving. She has been writing and speaking to audiences about personal finance for nine years and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to talk about the importance of financial literacy. She also works as an analyst for a natural gas company developing cleaner energy strategies and runs Rich By Inc., the Calgary-based company under which she writes and speaks about financial literacy. Ms. Scorgie spoke to The Globe and Mail ahead of Monday's launch in Toronto of her latest book, Rich By 40. You can read an excerpt from the book here.
Most people your age are spending their money on shoes and iPhones, but you're not. How did you become so money conscious?
I do have a lot of the same things that my peers do: I've got my BlackBerry, I've got my nice shoes and bags and things like that. But I choose to be smart about how I go about acquiring those things. I believe in smart spending and I believe that you should not pay for things at full price. I think shopping with a discount in mind is really what I do. I am a really smart shopper and I have found creative ways to acquire similar things but I don't spend full price. I always ask for a discount no matter where I am. And if it isn't on sale, I find out when it will be on sale and I wait.
I define rich by being able to have the freedom to choose to do what you feel you want to do with your life. And that's a very personal thing for everybody.
I'll go on eBay, or I'll go on craigslist. If I find that there's a really great deal online, I'll buy it online vs. going to the store. I like to think outside the box. When you're buying a car, you can go about buying it in a traditional method by going to the car dealership, or you can hunt around and you can see the other side of the market - who are the private sellers. I have no problems doing a little extra research and due diligence to find a good deal that may not be in the same store setup.
The main point is that I'm just a really smart shopper, I had to be. And I've just come up with creative ways to go about doing it and I have a lot of fun. And I have no issue, if I'm at a store, just finding out when something will be on sale, and if it's not on sale, I'll see if I can get it somewhere else.
You just go into a store and you ask for a deal? Does that work?
Yeah. You bet. And oftentimes they will give it to you. Nine times out of 10, they will say, 'Sure!'
The advice in your book is fairly common sense and yet so many people just don't seem to understand that. Why do you think that is and what do you think we can do about it?
I think one of the main issues is that we don't teach financial literacy in our school system, so people aren't really exposed to it until they hit the ground running and they're out there and they're on their own and they have to learn the hard way. I don't like that. I really think we should be, as a country, very much focused on getting ahead of the curve and getting in the school system and starting to talk about some financial fundamentals. There's nothing hard about them. They're actually very simple concepts, but people, for a variety of reasons, don't get exposed to them. It's not like their parents talk about it. They don't. It's like a taboo topic.
What do I think we could do about it? Well, I think we should have a focus on it. I know that the federal government is becoming more focused on financial literacy - I think that's very positive - and they've just started a committee to drive an initiative [on financial literacy]
I also think that a lot of people get scared [away]from becoming financially literate. They think money is more difficult than it actually is - it's not - but I think there's that perception. So I think people, if they take the time, they'll find that it's really easy and it's worthwhile and it's actually kind of fun. I like having money and I think, actually, most people do like having money, and therefore they will warm to that.
You offer many tips for frugal living in your book. Can you explain how you apply them to your own life?
I definitely have a focus on the bottom line. I think you should be focusing on the biggest, heaviest-hitting opportunities to build your bottom line. What that means is that you are building your asset base and you're reducing your debt in ways that actually work.
By focusing on the asset side, for example, everybody who is working needs an RRSP, and everybody, period, who is over 18 needs a TFSA, and they need to be contributing to these because they have tax advantages. That's one of your biggest, heaviest-hitting opportunities on the asset side. …
On the debt side, everybody needs to be reviewing their interest rates right now, making sure that they're negotiating them. They also need to be controlling their spending and not going into additional debt. It's about keeping what you earn. The name of the game is how much can you keep. I think people have to start focusing on that.
Are you always frugal or do you sometimes slip up?
I took a stock tip from my hairdresser once and that was really dumb. If I could have made my car last longer, I would have, but it died. And yeah, I still go on vacations and I enjoy myself and I do normal things that everybody else does. But if I'm going to go on vacation, I'm going to have the ability to pay for it and I'm going to get a deal on it. And if I'm going to buy a car, I'm going to negotiate really hard on the price. If I'm going to have a credit card, I'm going to call my bank and haggle them for a better interest rate and I'm not going to take out debt for things that don't grow in value, which is another key.
Do you consider yourself rich? How do you define it?
I define rich by being able to have the freedom to choose to do what you feel you want to do with your life. And that's a very personal thing for everybody. My view is going to be different from the next person's view and, therefore, I'd encourage everybody to come up with your own definition, but be aware that in Canada, experts are saying that the average person will need about $2-million, in our age category right now, to retire and maintain an average standard of living. So with that in mind, I think it's totally cool to go on doing what they feel they need to do in order to have the financial freedom and flexibility. And my definition is going to be different from your definition, which is going to be different from the next person's definition.
To really answer your question, I would never have written either of my books if I wasn't walking the talk, and I would never write about something that I didn't think would work. I think all of the strategies work. I feel passionate about it and I think everybody deserves to know how to improve their financial situation.
Do you feel you've achieved richness in your life or are you still working on that?
I do. I've got balance. I've got fulfilment. I'll always be focused on my bottom line and I've still got a ways to go, but can I afford to do some of the things that I want to do right now? Absolutely.
What are your priorities right now? Are you saving for anything special?
I'd like to take a trip in the fall, probably to Europe or something like that. But my priorities right now are my house - I'd like to get a new house - and max out my RRSPs. And if i see a really good investment opportunity, I want to have the freedom to invest in it.
Where do you want to be, financially, when you're 40?
I envision no mortgage. I envision maybe a second property with another revenue stream. I envision having a very healthy investment portfolio and, potentially, not that I would retire, but flexibility, where I could if i had to.
What's the most important lesson that you want people to learn from your book?
I think the most important lesson is that no matter where you are or where you've come from, you can improve your financial situation, and your relationship with money can be healthy and it can be enjoyable, but it means that you've got to put in the effort and get comfortable with it.
Can we expect a Rich by 50 book to come out?
(Laughs) Who knows? I will probably write more, but I'm going to cross that bridge when it comes. We'll see how this one does first. It's a lot of work.