A money seminar at McMaster University was equal parts pep talk and wake-up call.
The school invited Bruce Croxon, a panellist on the hit CBC show Dragon’s Den, and a founder of online dating giant Lavalife; and Kevin Cochran, founder of the Enriched Academy, to talk to students about money management, debt, investing and entrepreneurialism.
More than 200 people showed up at the “Marauder’s Den” event Tuesday night.
Gina Robinson, director of the university’s Student Success Centre and assistant dean of student affairs, says a week-long series of money management events — Mac’s Money Centre initiative — is the first time the school has tackled student finances.
“Students are stressed out over money. We know it’s one of their top three stressors,” said Robinson, who is a professional accountant.
She says money knowledge and skills are crucial given the high cost of education, record levels of student debt and the prospect that today’s students will have to fund more of their own retirement than previous generations.
“I think it’s a university obligation for us to do this.”
Cochran was $20,000 in debt at the age of 20. He wasn’t in school and was working at a series of retail jobs when he decided to buy his first car with a credit card.
“They teach us Shakespeare in high school and that’s great. But just five per cent of us will use Shakespeare outside of school. Everyone has a credit card. … You’re allowed to get a credit card without knowing anything about it.”
Cochran decided to learn about investing and saving, and sought out a mentor in real estate. Within a few years, he was making $250,000. He and three partners built Dominion Lending Centres into the largest mortgage brokerage by market share in Canada.
After spending a lot of time delivering talks to high school students, Cochran and a partner launched Enriched Academy, which compiles a series of videos and tools designed to teach those between the ages of 10 and 23 the keys to financial health.
Enriched Academy appeared on Dragon’s Den last year and secured a deal with Jim Treviling, who founded Boston Pizza.
Starting next month, McMaster will launch a website featuring Enriched Academy resources.
Croxon told the students the entrepreneurial life can bring power and riches, but it’s fraught with mistakes, disappointment and constant hard work, he said.
“When people ask me about work-life balance, I just laugh. Work-life balance for an entrepreneur is working 24-7 for 10 years, then selling their business and taking a year off.”
A large contingent in the audience Tuesday is nurturing entrepreneurial dreams.
Spectrum, a new extracurricular program at McMaster, is aimed at developing and supporting entrepreneurial students. The initiative will hold events throughout the school year, culminating in a startup competition in March in which $50,000 and in-kind services will be awarded.
Though he knew it might get him in trouble, when he was asked about the value of a university degree today, Croxon said post-secondary education isn’t for everyone.
“You can go out to the oil patch and work for three years and come home with $400,000 to $500,000 in your pocket, instead of $80,000 in debt.”
But Cochran said success stories among those with little formal education are celebrated, but there are millions more cases where it didn’t work out as well.
“The stats show you will make more with a university degree and that’s a fact. I’ve got three kids. … I’m putting RESPs (registered education savings plans) away for them.”
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