5 questions for...Nina Mazar

By David FieldingPhoto of Nina Mazar speaking on stage in a light-coloured dress

1. Tell us about your first real paycheque. What did you do with it?

When I was in high school I worked on an assembly line in a factory for frozen cakes. I wore white rain boots that were covered in glaze and had the stressful job of stacking the cakes nicely into carts at the end of the line. Yes, some cakes fell when we didn’t work fast enough. The job paid quite well but doing the same repeated behaviour over and over again was tough. I remember I used part of my first paycheque to buy myself some very fancy leather boots. They cost around 350 Deutsche Marks, which was a fortune at that time! The remainder I saved up to use on weekends when going out with friends.

2. What’s something cool that you can remember setting a financial goal for that you achieved?

I once bought myself a fancy designer dress that was fitted to me. It was by a local designer in Boston, a sheer black ball gown that I finally wore for the first time to a World Wildlife Fund event several years back at the Four Seasons in Toronto. I think it cost around $800. But it felt so special and I was so excited.

3. Who would you say was your money mentor? What was their best piece of advice?

My mum and my German “grandparents,” who were actually an older couple who was very kind and cared for me while my mum was working full time. They taught me to be prudent—to live within my means even if it sometimes meant cutting back on some things. They taught me to not get into debt unnecessarily and, if I did incur debt, to pay it off A.S.A.P.

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

My baby! But seriously, I would say the apartment that I helped my parents to buy and pay off. Now that they are retired and have less income coming in than during their prime working years, covering their rent is something they do not need to be concerned about. They can simply enjoy their retirement.

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

If I found $1,000, I’d spend it on a weekend trip to New York City. If I got $100,000 I would want to invest it — preferably in ETFs (exchange-traded funds). But I would worry about figuring out what my investment schedule should look like: Invest it as a lump sum or invest over six months to get the dollar-cost average. And then I know I would probably make the mistake of checking the price of those ETFs all the time to see how well I timed the purchases. Hopefully I would be smart enough to just invest it and not wait and wait and wait to time the market.

Nina Mazar is a well-regarded behavioural scientist and entrepreneur. She’s currently an associate professor of marketing (behavioural science) and co-director of BEAR at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Wired, NPRBBC, and Harvard Business Review. You can watch her TEDx Talk, "Are all our good intentions just cheap talk?" right here.

Make saving as easy as spending

Set a goal and make it happen.