By Stefania Bartucci
If there’s anyone who understands what it means to be a woman in corporate North America today, it’s Kelley Keehn. She’s billed as an expert on money and the psychology behind it. Over her career, she has managed millions of dollars for one of Canada’s international banks, and she has lived through the trials and tribulations of opening and running her own business. She has grown into a sought-after speaker and educator for many successful corporations. She’s written six books, including She Inc., a woman’s guide to maximizing her career potential, and The Woman’s Guide to Money. “You go about your life day-by-day,” she says. “Certainly for me, money has always been the driving force.”
Now most likely you will see her more on television, as a regular contributor to CBC and CNBC (She and CNBC host Carmen Wong Ulrich recently did a segment on “money infidelity,” cheating on your spouse financially and how it ruins relationships). This fall she will be co-hosting Burn My Mortgage, premiering on Canada’s W Network, described as “home finance” meets “Amazing Race.” Keehn has built her own personal empire on the mantra, “Think of yourself as a corporation.” She offers money tips to her audience via an upbeat, passionate style.
Keehn will boil down that advice to the most simplistic levels. Personal financial management doesn’t have to be daunting or intimidating. It’s a message she regularly imparts to women, whether they are starting a career, or perhaps balancing that career with family life. Keehn herself says her own life has benefited greatly by practicing the principles of personal financial responsibility detailed in books like She Inc.
On a cool February day in Toronto, after she had spoken to a Young Women of Influence audience, the focus was less about financial principles, and more on marketing and image. She took part in a Women of Influence Magazine photo shoot in the boardroom on the 22nd floor of a downtown Toronto hotel. In between the photo shoot, and in the limo on the way back to the airport, to fly her back to Edmonton, she talked about the Young Women of Influence Evening Series event, and what she spoke about to an audience of ambitious young leaders, covering everything from variable rate mortgages to the best time to have children when considering one’s financial road map.
Keehn has been a financial professional for 12 years. Married for 10 years, she says she believes men are in women’s lives for support and encouragement. It’s part of the “corporation” theme. Home life is a partnership, where both sides set financial priorities, take inventory, negotiate, manage the finances. “It’s all about making you feel good about money,” she says. Her books and speeches are mediums to try to give the best advice to those who are having trouble saving money. The vast majority of her work consists of getting women to recognize their potential. It’s about getting women to focus on their spending habits and their ability to have what they want and spend what they want without feeling guilty about it. “What I recommend to people is for 30 days write down in a notebook every single penny they’ve spent, see where it’s going and see where they can have fun trimming the spending fat,” she says.
Again, her focus is making the seemingly arduous process of personal finance, fun. It’s never too late to start saving, she adds. Her ability to come out and admit that she has made all the mistakes detailed in the book has given women across the country a chance to relate to her. “What I think you have to do daily is not compare yourself,” she says. “If I compare myself to Oprah, I feel like a failure every day. [But] there are few billion people on this planet who would take my worst day. I complain about my late flight and they’d say, ‘Are you kidding me? You are so privileged.’ Everybody has to give their head a shake and say, ‘Compared to whom?’”
As she builds on her career, Keehn is now looking forward to co-hosting Burn My Mortgage, described as a high energy series that challenges families and proves that the only obstacle between them and paying down their biggest debt – their mortgage – is a little sacrifice. Through a series of elaborate challenges, Keehn and her co-host show families that lifestyle and bad habits stand in the way of their dreams of mortgage freedom. A family that follows the rules and successfully completes the challenges receives a head start savings reward of $5,000. Keehn says she is very excited that it will give her viewers a chance to recognize their own money faults and make appropriate changes. “What I love about it is that everybody can follow the stunts and look at their own life and think, ‘I can do that,’” she says. “We want the viewer to start talking about money and learn how to be wiser with it.”
1. Negotiate. The posted rates are rarely the actual rates you can get by simply asking. Consider that on a $250,000 mortgage, a 1% difference could save you $43,841.29 during the life of your mortgage*.
2. Google the basics. Learn terms such as an amortization, fixed and variable terms. Be sure to check out your bank’s website before your meeting. They likely have a list of definitions, useful articles and calculators.
3. Buy now or later? Remember all the costs involved in home ownership. You shouldn’t spend more than 32% of your gross income and don’t forget property taxes, insurance, closing costs, condo fees and more!
4. Hold the rate! If you’re not quite ready to buy, call your banker. They’ll often hold the current interest rate for up to 180 days.
5. Fixed vs. variable – who has a crystal ball? Experts say that over the life of a mortgage, a variable rate will generally win. However, with rates at an all-time low and ready to climb as early as this summer, you need to know your interest rate risk factor. If rates climbed even a couple of percentage points, your mortgage payment could nearly double. Could you handle an increase?
6. The best of both worlds. Many banks today offer a combination of a fixed rate mortgage with a portion set up as a line of credit that floats with prime.
7. RRSP vs. paying down the mortgage – what’s the best bet? What about doing both! If you’re a high income earner, an RRSP is hard to beat. But ensure you take the tax refund and apply it directly to your mortgage principal. Not only will you be saving for your retirement, taking advantage of a great tax break, but you could save thousands of dollars on your mortgage and shave years off the length of it.
8. Buy now or wait? If you don’t have at least 20% for a down payment, you will have to purchase CMHC insurance. Depending on the size of your mortgage, this could cost you thousands of dollars. Do some calculations and ask your banker if it’s best to save up a little longer.
9. Do it more often. Paying bi-weekly or better yet, weekly, makes an extra payment a year that can add up to big bucks!
10. To insure or not to insure. Mortgage insurance is generally a pretty good idea and your bank may require it. The question is, should you purchase the insurance they offer or shop around for a private policy? The latter could be less costly and you have absolute control of who gets the amount at death. * Based on a 5-year fixed, paid bi-weekly, a 25-year amortization and the difference between a steady 5% vs. 4% interest rate.