Pursuits | Books

How to achieve financial freedom

‘Making the right choice often takes just a few seconds,’ says author and accountant Pierre-Yves McSween in his book, Do You Really Need It?

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Do You Really Need It? Pierre-Yves McSweenDo You Really Need It? Pierre-Yves McSweenDo You Really Need It? Pierre-Yves McSweenDo You Really Need It? Pierre-Yves McSweenThe author’s fundamental question serves as a springboard to deconstruct a wide range of financial and other consumer products

“My book doesn’t tell you how to get rich, but how not to be poor,” writes Pierre-Yves McSween is his book Do You Really Need It?. “Some thought I would focus on the virtues of minimalism, but that’s not the case. I want to help people make better, more informed choices, to buy less but better quality, to achieve financial freedom.”

In his book, which puts the spotlight on financial literacy, McSween, FCPA, FCA, urges readers to reassess their needs by asking themselves a simple question: Do I really need this in my life? 

“As an accountant, I have the necessary skills and credibility to talk earnestly with people about money,” said McSween in an interview. “Because it’s light-hearted and there’s no technical jargon to decode, the book speaks to people, especially parents of teens and young adults, who have found it to be a good conversation starter on the role of money in our lives.”

The book covers all the personal finance basics—from budgeting, RRSPs and RESPs to credit cards and credit scores. But the author’s fundamental question serves as a springboard to deconstruct a wide range of financial and other consumer products, without assuming readers’ prior knowledge (in fact, new Canadians have much to gain from this book). 

Take, for instance, insurance products. Should we get life insurance, and if so, what kind? How about auto? Property? Is credit card insurance coverage worth it? And so on. He also challenges the financial choices people make—some more unexpected than others. Do you really need to get married? To give presents? To travel? To own a home? Do you really need a new car, or a car at all? Not surprisingly, he views everything through the lens of money.

McSween doesn’t mince words as he tackles what he considers to be irrational expenses: Is it normal that we save our most lavish party (i.e. our funeral) for when we can’t move anymore? Does it make sense to throw a wedding “that could have paid for 200 or 300 dinners with friends at home, or two or three trips!” With these observations and others, he opens up a hard-hitting discussion on overconsumption, the void it fills within us and our actual purchasing power.

His conclusion is clear: “We have little economic power,” said McSween. “And increasing our income by any substantial amount is hard. That’s why we need to cut back on expenses and forgo certain purchases. Making the right choice often takes just a few seconds.”

The main problem, the author reminds us, is the siren call of marketing—the lure of 0 per cent financing and rewards cards, the advertising onslaught for all the latest television models, appliances, clothes, and so on—which leads us to confuse needs with wants.

The idea is not to convince readers to “buy” his solutions, but to get them thinking critically: “Am I really going to work one month out of the year just to buy this gadget?…How much does not saving actually cost me?…Does not caring about money mean being a slave to monthly payments?”

Some readers have found the book to be demoralizing, others have called it “basic common sense” and some even joked about the author’s apparent stinginess. But the fact is, many Canadians are concerned about their financial future. Their debt level (excluding a mortgage) is constantly on the rise, and many lack the information they need to make informed decisions. 

“There are key budget items to consider,” writes McSween, “and important financial habits you need to adopt when you become an adult...Money doesn’t make you happy. Far from it. But neither does poverty.” 

GET FINANCIALLY SAVVY

CPA Canada has a wealth of financial literacy resources to help you handle your money better. You can also request a financial literacy session for your community.