How I Taught Myself The Language Of Money

We all have felt the frustration of struggling to understand a message shared in a language we’re not fluent in. I remember endeavouring to learn Mandarin during the phase in my life when I was making frequent visits to China and not quite grasping it. The struggle is no different when it comes to learning the language of finance. It’s not uncommon to listen to a business or finance show on television or read the business section of a newspaper and feel confused by the language.

In fact, it’s more common than you think. An Ipsos survey conducted in 2017 concluded that while 78% of Canadian feels they are financially literature, 57% failed their basic test on the topic.

You might even wonder what the term “financial literacy” means in the first place. The common definition for financial literacy as outlined by Canada’s Financial Consumer Agency is as follows:

Financial literacy is having the knowledge, skills and confidence to make responsible financial decisions.

  • Knowledge refers to an understanding of personal and broader financial matters;

  • Skills refer to the ability to apply that financial knowledge in everyday life;

  • Confidence means having the self-assurance to make important decisions; and

  • Responsible financial decisions refers to the ability of individuals to use the knowledge, skills and confidence they have gained to make choices appropriate to their own circumstances.

Some call this “financial literacy,” I more commonly refer to it as “the language of money.” My own passion for learning languages originated from my father. He spoke five of them fluently; his native Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, French and English. My brother, mother and I would often tease him for broken English. It was a fun way for us to have a laugh with him as he was often serious and stressed after a long work day. As I grew up, I discovered that I was interested in learning a language too, but I made my language of choice the language of money. Equities, bonds, stocks, common and preferred shares. What the hell did all these words mean? What was “debt” and what was the difference between the “bad” and “good” kind? I sought to learn basic things from the ground up, like how a credit card functioned.


"FINANCIAL LITERACY IS HAVING THE KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND CONFIDENCE TO MAKE RESPONSIBLE FINANCIAL DECISIONS."


I fell into this rabbit hole around the age of 14. As I look back, my motivation to find these answers was three-fold:

  1. I was fortunate enough to be born into the finer things. My father was the General Manager of the Four Seasons Hotel here in Vancouver. At the time, the Four Seasons was arguably the most successful luxurious hotel chain in the world. My first home was the penthouse but not because we could afford it, because my father was offered it as an option with the job for our family’s relocation. Naturally, this early 5-star experience gave me a significant appreciation and desire to maintain a certain quality of life. I was curious and driven to understand how people could actually afford this lifestyle, how they worked hard to earn nice things, and who these penthouse people were.

  2. I learned how to make discretionary spending decisions at the ripe age of 12. In my latter years of elementary school, I learned about an allowance system that my friend Mike had. His parents gave him $20 a week and $500 every six months. His end of the bargain was to make smart, discretionary decisions on how to spend this income. For example, if his friends wanted to go play a round of golf, he would have to pay for it. Or, if he wanted a new pair of shoes when he really didn’t need them, he would pay for them. After learning about this system, I ran home and gave my mom the sales pitch on it. She was in! I quickly came to the unfortunate realization that this amount of money didn’t get me as far as I wanted to go. So, what did I do? I started to babysit, referee hockey games and work at Subway, the school cafeteria, McDonald’s and Starbucks before the age of 16. One summer I worked all three jobs. It’s funny to look on the profound impact this had on me in my business life now. It’s not unlike any other training which takes time. I was learning how to manage my own spending habits and make mistakes in my early teenage years instead of my early twenties.

  3. The reward system was fulfilling. It’s no surprise that I found making money rewarding. Having money to me at that age equalled empowerment. It was around the age of 15 that my father decided to return to Lisbon, Portugal to assume the position of the General Manager of the Four Seasons there. This decision devastated me. I came to understand this experience as traumatic and my feelings of abandonment around it through personal work. My “crazy ego story” around the departure left me feeling alone and scared. My parents both loved me very much, but it was simply the way a child feels when they’re missing their dad. I tried to fill this void by making money. It gave me the sense of pride and security I lacked. If I had money, I couldn’t get hurt. I learned later in life that this was not true, but through my teenage years this mantra helped get me through.

The meaning of money has since evolved for me. It has shifted from a foundation of fear and control to a foundation of pride and freedom. Recently, I’ve come to recognize the responsibility that comes with making money. Like the old saying, “To whom much is given, much is tested.” I now have deep responsibilities to my family, friends, employees, foundations, communities and more. It also means sacrifice. I do my best to learn from sacrifices, try not to regret them, and endeavour to do better in the next fifteen years. We all have our personal motivators to hone a new skill. I’ve shared why I was motivated to learn the language of money and how I’ll tell you how I did it and three simple practices you can do to begin your personal education:

  1. Get up, grab a coffee, and spend at least one- or two-hours reading articles on financial publication websites. My go-to publications were, and still are Bloomberg.com and the CNBC app. Now that I’m involved in businesses around the globe, it’s part of my practice to scan through local and national news in addition to these. When I literally knew NOTHING about money, I would take the time to Google every single word I didn’t know and build a digital vocabulary bank. Slowly but surely, I had built a powerful vocabulary list on what all these finance words meant. This didn’t take weeks, it took years. Here are some of my favourites that I’d recommend adding to your morning ritual. Whatever the may be for you, what I like to do is get as global of a perspective as i possibly can in the morning: a. The Vancouver Sun (Local BC) b. The Globe and Mail (National Canada) c. SCMP (National China) d. The Wall Street Journal (National USA) e. The Financial Times (UK/Europe Financial) f. Bloomberg (International Finance)

  2. Keep learning and never stop. I look at training my brain the same way I look at training my physical body. It’s the same as going to the gym or meditating to calm my soul, only the reward in this arena is money itself. People in finance, if they’re doing it well, make lots of it and are in constant pursuit of “financial innovation.” Why do I mention this? Because I have personally witnessed immense innovation since I got into investing 15 years ago and it’s a testament to how continued growth and education in this sector can make a difference. I continue to push myself beyond my comfort zone. Two years ago I overcame my insecurity around being a university dropout and was fortunate enough to attend Harvard Business School. At 30 years old I found myself being more academically challenged than ever.

  3. Talk to your friends and support group about it. If you don’t have an existing support group that talks about money, build one. This is key. I have learned so much from my support network. This network has evolved, but so much is gained through talking openly and vulnerably with friends that may know more than you.

The language of money was a dinner table topic when I was growing up with my mom. If I hadn’t become really focused on learning it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I hope that you take the valuable time out of your day to learn. Although the language of money may not be your passion, I fear that neglecting it may just be as bad neglecting your physical, spiritual, emotional or mental health, especially in the trying times we find ourselves in today. Financial health is a key pillar in life and like anything, it takes effort, time, commitment and discipline to create and maintain. If you go to the gym every day for an hour, why not take an hour to train your brain for financial health? Here are a few YouTube videos and books I have really enjoyed that have added to my education as well as attitude towards money:

  1. "How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio" – Principles by Ray Dalio (This video provides a great overview of how the economy works)

  2. "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill (This book helps improve mindset)

  3. “The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing” by Benjamin Graham (This is a bit of an advanced read)

I highly recommend building a healthy relationship with money. It has helped both me personally as well as given me the gift to talk and teach people about it which gives me immense fulfillment. I am excited to continue to share what I’ve learned with you.

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