Valerie Pringle, Scotiabank’s savings ambassador, on financial health

Cassandra Kyle, The Star Phoenix

You may know her from such television programs as Canada AM and the Antiques Roadshow, but now Valerie Pringle is crossing the country as savings ambassador for Scotiabank.

This is the second time Pringle has travelled the nation since taking on the role with the bank in spring 2010. For nearly three weeks, going from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, the member of the Order of Canada is holding frank discussions about saving as part of Scotiabank's Let the Savings Begin initiative.

StarPhoenix business reporter Cassandra Kyle met with Pringle during her stop in Saskatoon this week and asked her five questions about saving.

SP: Why did you agree to become a savings ambassador?

VP: When I looked at it, I thought the message was really important about talking to Canadians about financial health, which is the overarching message of this whole Let the Savings Begin campaign.

I don't have a commercial role, I'm not trying to sell anything. What the bank asked me to do was to go out and talk to and listen to Canadians about their feelings about saving, about investing and about debt.

What I'm doing now with my life is really a lot of not-for-profit work. I'm at a stage in my life career that it just seems worth doing things that have some value. I spend a lot of time talking about mental health, that's essentially my big issue -fundraising, awareness raising, fighting stigma, making speeches -and physical health to a degree as I chair the Trans-Canada Trail foundation.

Financial health, as I thought about it and talked about it with my husband before accepting, I thought, “This is a good message.” And right now Canadians really need to talk about this because we're not in great shape, we need to focus attention on it and I thought, “Good for Scotiabank for doing that.”

SP: Have you always been good at saving?

VP: No. I'm a very average, mediocre kind of money person. I've worked essentially, like everybody, from babysitting jobs in my early teens, waitress at a camp, bank teller -disaster -and my broadcast career started when I was 19. So I've always worked and I've always had a bank account to think about.

I'm very lucky to be married to someone who is in the financial business and is very good at it. My view is at least somebody in the family has to be good about it. In fact, I will say he laughed out loud when he heard I had been asked to be a saving ambassador, and I said, “It's very clear I'm not out here as an example.”

But I'm not a disaster. I'm not, “911 burn her credit cards.” But maybe don't call my husband tomorrow because I think the Christmas bills are coming in.

SP: Should people be saving for different things at different times in their lives or is retirement saving always the No. 1 priority?

VP: Logic would tell you the sooner, the better, and do it automatically and develop a discipline about it. Every individual should take responsibility to a degree for their financial health and not ignore it and not fear it. But what they're saving for can vary.

It's not all about deprivation. We have to live our lives and enjoy our lives. We're hearing very clearly that about 100 per cent of people save to travel, that that's their big goal.

Individual responsibility is key. It doesn't have to be miserable, it just requires a plan, it requires some attention, a little bit of discipline. It's not onerous and the smaller steps make it easier.

SP: So, why is it so hard to save money?

VP: Some people will say, “I literally do not have another penny at the end of the paycheque between family and bills,” and I'm not here to judge. I know it's very tough for many people. You also hear stories from people in their 80s who say that they managed during the Depression on one income to put always aside a little bit of money.

I've come to see it very much as a mindset, as a form of self-discipline, really. Everyone quotes The Wealthy Barber—pay yourself first, set aside 10 per cent or any amount.

SP: Have you ever gone out and splurged on anything and later regretted it?

VP: No, I've felt quite nervous sometimes -I'm quite happy when the Visa bill is done.

Probably clothes, shoes and fabulous coats, and cocktail dresses. Any kind of crazy clothes. So yeah, occasionally I've gone, “I have to have that, it's so great,” and then I've gone outside my comfort zone in spending a bit too much money. Then you go, “OK, it's paid for. I've paid the Visa bill off” and then I'm calm again. But for those few couple of weeks until it's handled I'm thinking, “Uh-oh, I've spent too much money.”

But not jewellery, not houses, not an insane amount, but I've definitely . . . the Holt Renfrew bills can get scary sometimes. I've been called by Visa a few times and I said, “Really? You don't see a pattern here?”