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Lazaridis School of Business & Economics
Newest Dragon David Chilton delights Laurier crowd
Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing
If David Chilton could give people just one piece of advice it would be this: Cheer up.
The personal-finance guru and bestselling author of The Wealthy Barber visited Wilfrid Laurier University Tuesday evening to promote his new book, The Wealthy Barber Returns, and to talk about his new role as a member of the popular CBC television show, Dragons' Den.
In a delightful address that was both amusing and insightful, Chilton talked a lot about personal finance. But he also spoke about the Canadian penchant for dwelling on the negative and his own passionate belief that people should focus more on the positive things in life.
“We’ve lost the ability to distinguish between a minor inconvenience and a major problem,” he said. “When I’m interviewed, people often say to me, ‘Dave, you’ve always said 'save 10 per cent.' But if I could say one thing to people, it would be: ‘Cheer up.’ "
“We’re so lucky and we don’t realize it,” he continued. “If you are living in Canada and you are healthy, you have nothing to complain about.”
A Laurier graduate, Chilton attracted a crowd of more than 300 people Tuesday for a talk and book-signing event in the Turret Nightclub that was organized by the university’s Alumni Relations Department and the Laurier Bookstore.
Chilton began studying economics at Laurier in 1979. He became a stockbroker in his early 20s after earning the highest mark on the Canadian Securities Course. However, he soon discovered a love for public speaking and teaching people about personal finance.
At 25, he got the idea for a book. The initial concept, he said, was a humorous book about all the things that Canadians do wrong with their money. That soon morphed into a different structure: a guide to personal finance told in the form of a story about a fictional barber named Roy in Sarnia, Ont., who dispenses simple but sound financial wisdom to three young adults.
The book was a real family affair, recalls Chilton. His wife supported the project right from the start, even though it consumed their savings and there was no guarantee of success. His sister helped with the writing and editing, his father helped with the proofreading, and his mother made many a meal to keep the gang going throughout the enterprise.
The Wealthy Barber was first published in 1989. Financial experts at the time didn’t think much of the book’s format, but Chilton’s buddies on his slow-pitch baseball team loved the plain language and engaging dialogue. After a sluggish start, sales took off and the rest, as they say, is history. The Wealthy Barber has sold more than 20 million copies and remains the all-time bestselling Canadian book.
As the book took off, Chilton became a much sought-after public speaker. He later partnered with authors Janet and Greta Podleski in publishing the bestselling cookbooks Looneyspoons, Crazy Plates, and Eat, Shrink & Be Merry!
His latest book, The Wealthy Barber Returns, diverges from the fictional format of its predecessor but uses the same plain language and common-sense approach to managing your finances.
That reflects Chilton’s own approach to life. Despite his quick wit and standup-comedy style, he is a self-described “low-key guy” who says he hesitated when first asked to join the Dragons' Den, a popular television show in which aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of hard-nosed multimillionaires.
But after taping his first five episodes this week in Toronto, Chilton said he is “thrilled” that he agreed to join the show. Despite the tough exterior of the panelists, they “are all very nice people.”
Chilton, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by Laurier in 2006 and was named to the university’s list of 100 Alumni of Achievement in 2011, said he managed to mention Laurier a couple of times during taping this week.
“Laurier has been very positive and influential in my life,” he said. “I had a lot of really good professors.”
As for his latest personal-finance advice, Chilton says he is concerned by the level of debt that many Canadians are taking on. People are driven too much by consumerism and the need to accumulate possessions.
“We define ourselves so much by our possessions,” he said. “I call it the ‘granite countertop phenomenon’ — people feel they’re a failure if they don’t have granite countertops in their homes.
“People are living beyond their means — it’s that simple.”
Chilton, who says he doesn’t “care about stuff” and lives in a modest 1,300-square-foot home, is particularly worried about young people who have been taught to overspend. “We all struggle with parenting but, man, we spoil kids these days.”
Chilton ended his talk on a positive note, urging people to live within their means and to focus on the many good things we all have in our lives.
“The average Canadian lives a better life today than kings and queens lived 50 to 100 years ago,” he said. “Our lives are so much better now. There are lots of good things to focus on.”