The best financial advice isn't about money

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: ISTOCK (ERHUI1979)
Opinion: Building your character can bring financial well-being to your life.

“Get a flight rewards credit card, like VISA/Aeroplan.” That’s a piece of financial advice a supervisor gave me some years ago. That advice turned out to be good.

Over the years, I’ve received some other sound financial advice. Some of it was spoken, and some of it was given to me by osmosis. I absorbed it from the people around me. Here are a few of the basics.

As soon as possible, get out of renting and get into owning a place to live. Any work is better than no work.

Wilma. Women Driving Women. Save up to $4.75 per ride! Image of a women in the backseat of a vehicle.

If at all possible, stay away from government provided assistance.

Try to pay in to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). Your employer will make a contribution too. If you live beyond your 60’s and you have a home (of whatever value) paid for, you should be able to live on your CPP benefits plus the benefits from the government-provided Old Age Security.

If you have to purchase a car, try to buy one based on the cash you can scrape together. If you need to get a car loan, make sure it is one you can pay off very quickly, say a year or two max.

Avoid luxuries and focus on the basics, especially when you are getting started.

And, there are many other bits and pieces of financial advice out there about saving, registered retirement savings plans, investments, and so on.

One thing I notice, however, is that the most impressive financial advice on the planet won’t do much good unless the person receiving it has the kind of character that can put it to good use. As it turns out, the best financial counsel isn’t about money. It’s about character.

Which brings me to a document called Proverbs. In the ancient Jewish and Middle Eastern world, well-to-do leaders and estate owners would sometimes make a habit of collecting wise sayings, called proverbs. A merchant might return to Jerusalem after a journey into Persia.

He (most likely a he) would rest up a little, take care of business, and then spend a few hours exchanging what he discovered on his journey with the leading people of the city. “What proverbs did you discover in your travels?” would be asked. Some scholars who investigate the origins of the material in Proverbs believe that the process of collecting the material in it would have been something like that. It makes sense.

Proverbs that were considered worthy of passing along were preserved in writing. And some of that writing survives to this day in Proverbs, one of the several dozen documents that make up the Bible.

The main idea in that collection is simple, but, I think, very important to dwell on. It is this. The way God has created the world socially and economically has brought about this result: If you do bad, almost certainly more bad will happen. If you do good, almost certainly more good will happen. In God’s world, bad brings more bad, and good more good.

This is a freeing and powerful insight. It means that you and I are the greatest agents in our quest for financial success and a welllived life. But, in order to attain some financial success (and other kinds of success), we must be of good character.

How does one attain good character? Proverbs helps answer that question. A person of good character does not take their cues for life from people who think it is normal to lie, avoid work, commit acts of violence, pay for sex, gossip, flee from challenge, run from responsibility, or entice people to betray their life-long partners.

A person of good character takes their cues from a different set of people —people who think that it is normal to tell the truth, work hard, commit acts of justice, take care with their sexuality, speak graciously about others, act courageously, take responsibility, and respect the relationships of other people.

It’s really a kind of feedback loop. Hang with a crowd that behaves stupidly and with evil intentions, and your own character will definitely be impacted for the worse. Connect with people of integrity, and you will become one of them.

Back to our main question then: How does building your character bring financial well-being? For one thing, more people will give you good financial advice. Most people avoid giving good counsel to us if we’re going to just waste it. Most people give good stuff to those who know what do with it.

For another thing, when you hear sound financial advice, you will recognize it for what it is.

Furthermore, you will be well situated to put that advice to its proper use. Getting a flight rewards credit card is a good thing provided that you always pay your credit card bill on time. For that, you need to have the kind of character that allows you to work hard, avoid debt, and pay attention to your monthly statements. You will have to be influenced by friends who do the same.

If you don’t live that way, the interest will kill you. But if you do, the points you collect will allow you to travel. (Be sure to never get such a card until you have demonstrated to yourself — not just promised yourself — that you can pay bills on time.

So, yes, get all the good financial advice you can. But even more importantly, pay attention to your character and how it develops in relation to the friends you choose. Good advice of any kind is great. But building good character is greater still.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.