Erin Bury on quitting a stable job for a risky paycheque, investing in her 20s and more
As the co-founder and CEO of a will company, Erin Bury is no stranger to planning ahead.
As the co-founder and CEO of a will company, Erin Bury is no stranger to planning ahead.
Value and planning ahead are important for Erin Bury—as you will read in the interview below. It is what drives her as an entrepreneur (a former PR pro, she is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Willful, an online will platform making estate planning accessible to Canadians). Read on to learn about her financial heroes and what’s in her wallet—or if she even needs a wallet.
I grew up watching Til Debt Do Us Part, so I always loved Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s no-nonsense advice. I read most of her books when I was in my 20s, and I still use her budgeting spreadsheet.
In terms of my finance heroes, I would say Sara Blakely from Spanx. She was the first self-made female billionaire in the U.S., and she’s extremely philanthropic. She has committed to The Giving Pledge, which means she pledges to give away most of her fortune to charity either during her lifetime or when she passes away.
I have a six-month-old daughter, so most of my free time is spent hanging out with her. When I’m not working on Willful or spending time with my family, I’m reading, listening to podcasts, doing a Peloton class or watching Netflix.
I absolutely love what I do, so I would still be an entrepreneur. But I would self-fund my business instead of raising external capital, so I could grow at my own pace.
My first money memory was when my mom tried to explain credit to me when I was five or six years old. I wanted to buy something at a store on vacation, and my mom asked me to give her my birthday money, since she would just put the purchase on credit. I started crying outside the store, saying “mommy stole my money!” I couldn’t understand the concept of my mom paying for the item on credit. I’m sure my mom felt pretty embarrassed.
Sweet Valley Twins books. I was—and still am—a huge reader, so I would often spend my allowance on new books. The first major purchase I remember making was a CD player in 1995. I played my Dance Mix ’95 CD a thousand times.
When I was 15, I was a Loblaws cashier, making $7.10 an hour, which was above the $6.85 minimum wage at the time. I absolutely loved that job. I’m sure I spent my first paycheque on clothes since, by that time, I had moved on from Sweet Valley Twins books to shopping.
The value of a good credit score. I got my first credit card in the first week of university—a $500 limit card. I obviously didn’t learn about credit scores and the importance of making minimum payments, so I maxed out the card and kind of forgot about it. The account went to collections, and I didn’t understand the significance of that until I was trying to get another credit card after graduation. It took me years to rebuild my credit score, and now I’m very on top of it because I know how powerful it can be when applying for loans, mortgages or even business financing products. Every student should be required to complete a course about credit scores before anyone hands them their first credit card.
To pay yourself first. One of the first money books I ever read was The Automatic Millionaire, and it really stressed the importance of setting up automated bill payments and savings so you’re always prioritizing your long-term financial health. That really helped me in my 20s; I wasn’t making much money, but even setting aside $25 from each paycheque into an RRSP allowed me to build savings, which in turn helped me buy my first property at age 29.
To stay at a stable job because of the salary. When I was 23, I was working at a PR agency, my first job out of university. I was approached to work for a startup, and several people in my life told me to keep the stable job, especially since it was the height of the 2008 recession. Thankfully my mom gave me the best advice: “You’re young, take the risk. What’s the worst that could happen?” That decision put me on an entrepreneurial path, and 15 years later my life is fundamentally different—and better!—because I didn’t [focus solely on] that stable paycheque.
Prioritize emergency planning. Now that I run an online will platform, I’m very passionate about getting solid emergency plans in place. I have life insurance, a will, power of attorney documents, a password management app and written instructions that my family or executor would be able to put into action if anything happened. Most Canadians don’t think about this, but they should.
That the stock market is the only way to grow your net worth. I’m not a stock market person—it’s just not my area of expertise. Instead, I’ve focused on growing my net worth via real estate and entrepreneurship. There’s not just one path to success.
I didn’t start saving until I was in my early 20s, despite having a job since the age of 14. If I could go back in time I would save even 10% of every paycheque, and I would have bought a condo in Toronto in 2007 when I graduated university and moved downtown. I rented a condo from 2007 until 2015, and when I think about how all of that rent could have been paying down a mortgage it makes me a bit sick to my stomach!
It was a pre-construction condo in Toronto in 2014. I was running a marketing agency that worked with condo builders, and while working at a launch event I decided to purchase one of the units with my savings. Luckily they were flexible on the payment deadlines. That unit wasn’t ready until 2020, and we lived in it briefly before deciding to sell it this spring. The condo appreciated significantly over that time, and I’m still proud that I was able to buy that on my own and really jumpstart my real estate portfolio.
Debt can be used as a strategic instrument, both personally and in business. For example, we have raised convertible debt at Willful, and it’s a strategic way to raise external financing without having to put a set value on the company.
Personally, I feel there are good types of debt—like home equity lines of credit that help you improve the resale value of your home or invest in new properties—and bad debt like high-interest credit cards. As an entrepreneur who has gone through periods of paying myself nothing, there have been times when I’ve lived off credit cards. Bad debt is often unavoidable, but it should always be a means to an end.
To celebrate selling our condo, I threw my husband a surprise birthday dinner at his favourite steakhouse. I’m a big fan of spending money on experiences, not things, so this was in line with that. It was worth every penny.
The last book I read was Worry Free Money by Shannon Lee Simmons. I love Shannon’s take on millennial-friendly finance. It’s so approachable and it makes complex topics feel—dare I say?—fun. I definitely recommend it to anyone just starting their money journey.
To be honest, I don’t carry a wallet anymore because I’m always leaving the house with a diaper bag. I just stick a few cards in a pocket of that bag. Now my iPhone acts as my wallet. I use the following apps all the time: Wealthsimple for investing, Moka for saving, RBC for personal banking, Desjardins for business banking, Coinsquare for crypto investing, and Borrowell for checking my credit score.
My book collection. I have books littered all around my home. I have an e-reader and I often bring it on trips, but nothing beats reading a physical book. My dream is to have a library in my house where I can display a lifetime of my favourite books.
My next money goal is to become an angel investor in startup companies. I really admire Arati Sharma, who is one of our investors at Willful. After leaving Shopify, she started a family office and she invests in diverse founders. I’d love to be able to support early-stage entrepreneurs in building their companies.
Own: real estate. I’m also a big fan of renting things, like fancy dresses for special occasions.
If it’s for a car, lease.
Definitely budget. I have a pretty intense spreadsheet I make my husband go through every month. If you don’t know where you’re spending, you don’t know how to optimize your spending and grow your wealth.
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