The personal finance writer is an open book on her money values, as she launches her own book, Money Myths.
Renée Sylvestre-Williams is a freelance journalist, so you may recognize her byline on MoneySense. She writes about personal finance with a lifestyle twist, making things like investing and taxes not just understandable, but relatable too. (Her Twitter bio reads: “Millionaires do not offer actual financial advice.”) If you like her answers to this installment of My MoneySense, you should check out her new book, Money Myths, and her biweekly newsletter, The Budgette.
Who are your finance heroes?
I don’t have any, to be honest. As much as I like to read about how people accomplished their goals, I try not to compare myself to them. I stick to my own journey. It’s like those articles that outline how much you should have saved by the time you reach a certain age—fun to read if you’re feeling good about your money, but the worst when you’re feeling bad.
How do you like to spend your free time?
Right now, it’s a lot of reading, working out, attempting to learn Spanish, hanging out with friends as carefully as I can and probably watching way too much TV.
If money were no object, what would you be doing right now?
Pretty much what I’m doing now—working as a freelance finance journalist and doing my own newsletter, The Budgette—except I would pick and choose what I want to write about. I would also be doing it in a different country each month. I would rent spaces in the Caribbean, Europe and Asia and work there.
What’s the first thing you remember buying with your own money?
Probably tickets to a movie or something. Maybe a book.
What was your first job?
My very first job was as a sales associate in a bookstore in a mall. It was a lot of fun because when I wasn’t helping people buy books, I was reading in the aisles. I told myself it was to make sure I knew exactly what the books were about so I could recommend them.
What was the biggest money lesson you learned as an adult?
I would have started investing earlier, in my 20s versus my 30s. That extra decade would have made some difference, even with just compound interest.
What’s the best money advice you’ve ever received?
Markets work in cycles, so if you’re confident in your portfolio, don’t pull money out of it. Between the financial crisis of 2008—when I started investing—the COVID crash in 2020 and the market volatility this year, it’s been a lot of gritting teeth and trying to resist the temptation to change things.
What’s the worst money advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t think I’ve received “bad” money advice, but all I got in my teens and 20s was “pay off your credit card every month” and “make a budget.” I didn’t get any investing advice, which would have been more useful.
Would you rather receive a large sum of money all at once or a smaller amount of money regularly for life?
A smaller amount every week or month for life. I feel it would be better for how I manage my cash flow. Granted, I do have a plan for what I’d do with the money if I ever won the lottery. I play every now and then with a group of friends.
What do you think is the most underrated financial advice, tip or strategy?
You don’t need a lot of money to start investing. Open a low- or no-fee account with a robo-advisor if you’re not confident in your financial knowledge and start there. Also, don’t look at your investments every day, especially during a bear market. That will just stress you out.
What is the biggest misconception people have about growing money?
That you have to be rich to start investing. Yeah, yeah, Warren Buffett—who, by the way, is not self-made—but you don’t need a lot of cash to get started. The investing platform Robinhood pretty much proved that point.
Can you share a money regret?
I wish I didn’t spend the money I brought back from Japan when I went there to teach English nearly 20 years ago, on silly things like going out, etc., and put some of it in investments. Hindsight is a pain, but if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done that. I would have spent some of it on stupid stuff, but not the majority of it.
What does the word “value” mean to you?
Value is something I can get a lot of wear out of. That could be paying full price for a phone, spending more on clothes, etc. I tend to wear the same things again and again, so I will spend more on a top and wear it for years versus buying a cheaper item. Caveat: I save for and can afford to do this. No shaming people’s budgets.
What’s the first major purchase you made as an adult?
My condo was my first major purchase. I started looking in March 2009, made a couple offers, closed the sale and moved in that June. The purchase that took the most amount of time to decide to buy was the floors in my place. I must have spent three months trying to decide what colour floor I wanted. I was worried that I’d pick the wrong colour and hate it, so I had four different samples on the carpet for months, just looking at them in different lighting. It worked out—I love my floor.
What’s your take on debt?
I don’t like being in debt, so I try to pay down “bad” debt, like credit cards, as quickly as I can. If it’s debt to finance your business, that’s different, and when done smartly, it can help—for example, investing in education, software, a new laptop, monitor or, these days, a ring light.
What was your most recent splurge?
A week-long trip to a cottage with some friends. There was no budgeting while I was there—saving beforehand for it.
What is the last money-related book you read?
I re-read Worry-Free Money by Shannon Lee Simmons. I like her tone and attitude toward money. Shannon and I work together, as she does my taxes and is my financial advisor, and this book is a nice reminder that you don’t have to beat yourself up about money.
What is something you always have in your wallet?
Some cash—just in case. The recent Rogers outage meant a lot of Interac machines weren’t working. I was able to buy a couple things I needed because I had cash on hand.
What is your favourite possession?
I don’t think I have a favourite. I like pretty much everything I own. But if I had to narrow it down, I’d have to say my condo. It’s my own space—OK, mine and the bank’s—but I can do what I want in it. It has limited my ability to travel, and I do have to make sure I make enough money to maintain it. But on the plus side, I am not subject to rent increases, just maintenance [costs].
What’s your next money goal?
I want to pay off my mortgage in the next few years and save a year’s worth of emergency funds.
My MoneySense quick questions
Rent or own?
Buy or lease?
Depends on what’s best for your financial situation.
Save or invest?
Budget or not?
Read more My MoneySense profiles:
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- From being wired to spend to the emotional attachment to money, Shaun Maslyk unpacks how psychology can affect finances
- Ambitious Adulting’s Liz Enriquez on growing up low-income, the worst financial advice she’s received and more
- What a mutual fund flop, part-time jobs and a box of Nerds taught Sandy Yong about managing her money