5 questions for…Amanda Lang

By David FieldingIllustration of Amanda Lang

1. Remember your first real paycheque? What did you do with it?

I’m not sure how to define “real.” My first job was at Dairy Queen when I was 14 years old, but it was really about spending not saving. I’d say my first “real” paycheque came post-university, and it was an experience right out of an episode of Friends. Remember when Rachel said, “Who’s FICA and why is he getting all my money?” What I remember is how small my paycheque was. It went toward rent and living expenses. But because I also had a roommate at the time, I also used some of those first paycheques to start an RRSP.

2. What’s something cool that you set a financial goal for and achieved?

I’m not sure how cool this is, but I amassed an impressive amount of credit card debt in my 20s. I was living in New York on a print reporter’s salary, so you can see the built-in justification there. I made it my goal to pay off my debt as quickly as possible before I moved home, and then with real intensity once I was back in Toronto.

3. Who’s your money mentor? What was their best piece of advice?

She never talked about money, but my grandmother was a great guide about how to live happily within your means. Later I would meet a whole bunch of experts in my job as a journalist, and the one who made the most lasting impression — with wisdom I try to pass on — was Gail Vaz Oxlade. She had a simple reminder that your future non-working self needs to share in your current working self’s income. Saving isn’t cheating yourself, it’s sharing with yourself. I think we tend to forget that of the 85 to 90 years we may be alive, we really only have about 20 years of peak earnings. That’s a sobering but empowering thought.

4. Best investment to date? Serious/joke answers only please.

OK, this is unorthodox. But remember that credit card debt I racked up in New York? That was my best investment. I was travelling and meeting people, and buying clothes to wear on television that were nicer than I could afford. This may not be the advice I would give my kid, but even as I was doing it I had an assumption that it would pay off one day in a higher-paying job that would allow me to settle the debt. Which is exactly what happened. It’s not exactly like going into debt to get a PhD, but it was definitely an investment in myself and my future.

5. Last question: What would you do if $1,000 appeared in your wallet right now? What if it was $100,000?

If $1,000 appeared out of nowhere, I think I would use it frivolously—maybe a big party for friends. Same goes for $100,000. I’d spend $1,000 of it on a party for friends and invest the rest. After tax, of course.

Amanda Lang’s latest book, The Beauty of Discomfort: How What We Avoid Is What We Needis in stores now.

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