Q: You are Russian by birth; can you tell us about the attitude of
Russians toward money? What can Canadians learn from Russians about
Ms. Quinn: I
think talking about money is a big taboo in Canada. And I believe it is
very much cultural. As Canadians, we will absolutely never discuss,
even with those closest to us, how much money we earn or what kind of
debt load we carry.
Imagine sitting at a dinner party and one of your guests announces that
she just received a credit card offer in the mail and she’s moving her
$23,487 worth of consumer debt to reap the rewards of the 2%
introductory rate, followed by a frank pow-wow around the details of the
fees for using those lump sum transfer cheques.
Or the couple across from her talking about a fantastic break they
received from their bank manager on a $225,690 variable rate mortgage
that would save them almost $4,500 in interest payments this year to use
for their RRSPs, so that if they continued earning their $83,000
collective household income, it would be enough to retire at 57 instead
Crazy talk, right?
The Russian discussion is
Of course, this is
a bit of a generalization, but I will say that when a Russian
comes into your home, the first thing s/he’ll ask is how much
you paid for it, how big a mortgage you got, and then move right
on to the price of your dining table without skipping a beat.
It’s just not seen
as rude or taboo.
Russians for the
most part do not attach these numbers to our value as human
beings. They’re just numbers, information, data. It may be
because under communist rule, everyone basically earned the same
It didn’t matter if you were a doctor, a teacher, a plumber, or a
janitor. You were basically entitled to the same living quarters and
everyone’s standard of living was basically the same. If you knew how to
sew, you looked better than most because you could get clothes to
actually fit or piece rags together to make a unique outfit; but
salary, costs, and prices for things were completely irrelevant to who
Canadians believe their salary and to a great extent, their debt,
defines who they are. No one wants to come clean about their specific
financial affairs. We need to get over these stigmas. We need to get
over labels and fear in general.
Sharing this kind of information could liberate so many people unaware
of opportunities available to them. I believe that the stigma attached
to real money talk keeps us from developing the vocabulary and skills we
need to do the right research, make the right decisions and negotiate
with the banks and our creditors to get the best answers, products and
services for our specific situation.
The only way to achieve our financial goals is to get real, and to get
real numbers out into the open. We need the specifics, we need to get
them down on paper so that we can make real fact-based decisions about
how we’re going to move forward and reach our goals.