Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Too much debt in the developed world': Chilton

Says Canadians must tighten belts before interest rates rise

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ONE of the country's best-known financial planners has some advice for debt-laden Canadians: Tighten your belts because it's going to get ugly.

"We have too much debt in the developed world and that hasn't changed in five or six years," David Chilton, best-selling author of The Wealthy Barber and one of the venture capitalists featured on the Dragons' Den television series, told a Winnipeg audience Wednesday.

"And this is not going to have a happy ending," he added. "We are not going to come out of this unscathed."

Chilton said he's also concerned about the "remarkably high" levels of consumer debt in Canada.

"People have too much debt by any common-sense measure," he told about 175 housing-industry representatives attending the Manitoba Home Builders Association's 2013 Housing Forum and Trade Show.

And the only reason debt-default rates aren't much higher is because interest rates remain so low, Chilton added.

"If rates go up three, four or five per cent, we're going to be in big trouble."

Asked in a later interview what advice he had for debt-laden Canadians, Chilton said, "There's no such thing as generic financial advice any more. Everybody's situation is so different now," depending on things such as their age, how much they owe, whether it's high- or low-cost debt, what kinds of investments or savings they have, and their tolerance for risk.

"But I believe living within your means is still crucial," he said, adding not enough Canadians are doing that these days.

Chilton told the forum he's amazed at how materialistic many Canadians have become, and how willing they are to go into debt -- deep debt -- to get what they want.

"We've gone crazy in the last 20 to 30 years with (acquiring) stuff -- possessions. It's like this grand competition... where everyone wants to have the biggest and best of everything," he said. "I call it the granite-countertops phenomenon. People think if they don't have granite countertops they're losers. It's crazy how far we've gone with all of this."

Chilton, who is reported to have a net worth in the tens of millions, said he still lives in a 1,300-square-foot home near Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., and drives a banged-up Infiniti.

Although his comments about debt loads and runaway consumerism were sobering, he also had the crowd laughing out loud through much of his 75-minute address with witty one-liners about his adventures as a member of the Dragons' Den and as publisher of a series of best-selling low-fat cookbooks that morphed into a successful line of frozen dinners and a TV show.

He said one of the questions he's frequently asked is whether he and his fellow dragons are well-paid, to which he replies, "It's the CBC! They have no money!"

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2013 B3

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