Notable People: Melissa Leong, Your Money Savvy Bestie

Melissa Leong stands as a paragon of financial wisdom and media savvy. A best-selling author, acclaimed speaker, and national media personality, she has made a significant mark with her unique approach to personal finance. Her book, “Happy Go Money,” and her role as a resident money expert on CTV’s “The Social” showcase her talent for making complex financial concepts accessible and engaging. Beyond her professional prowess, Leong is deeply committed to mentorship and promoting diversity, using her platform to empower and inspire. In this interview, she delves into her journey, sharing insights that intertwine personal growth with financial acumen and revealing the philosophies that have guided her remarkable career.

You’ve had a remarkable career as a speaker, media personality, best-selling author, and podcast host. Can you share a pivotal moment that inspired you to pursue this multifaceted path?

I spent my twenties sprinting in pursuit of a fulfilling and meaningful career. During that time, I said “yes” to every opportunity and wrote for every section of the newspaper, covering everything from terrorism to travel. This all changed when I had my first kid. I stopped running and realized that I needed to build a fulfilling and meaningful life. That meant becoming more tactical and deliberate with my work.

“Happy Go Money” is not just a book title; it’s a philosophy you’ve embraced. Can you explain how this philosophy has shaped your approach to personal finance and life?

Money is just a tool. But we often use it to try to buy happiness. We accept the higher-paying job that requires more hours and more stress. We tap our credit credit without a plan to pay it back. We stretch to buy the dream home. For me, it’s not about accumulating wealth for the sake of it but aligning my financial decisions with my values. I spend more on experiences, treats, on anticipation, and I try to buy time and opportunities for myself and for my family today and in the future.

Can you share a valuable financial tip from your role as a resident money expert on “The Social?”

Turn on the lights. Sometimes, we’re afraid to look at what’s happening in our financial house, what’s lurking in the dark corners, what is waiting behind the doors. But I promise if you look and get clarity on your money situation — the flow of your money, how much comes in, how much goes out and to where, your net worth, the fees that you’re paying on investments, etc. — you will be better for it. Your money will be better for it.

What motivated you to start the award-winning podcast “Money Moves?”

Money Moves, a production by The Globe and Mail’s Content Studio is a limited-series podcast about investing. I think investing is an intimidating topic. It feels like a secret language or reserved for an exclusive club. I was so happy to work on a project that could make the idea of investing more accessible to anyone and everyone.

What common financial misconceptions have you encountered in your writing and media work?

There’s this idea that there’s some sort of trick or secret to building wealth. (There’s a difference between building wealth and getting rich, the latter being associated more with acquiring things.) But anyone can build wealth. Just make more than you spend, pay off your debts and invest for your long-term goals.

Beyond your professional accomplishments, you’re also passionate about mentoring youth and promoting women’s advancement. Can you tell us more about your involvement in these causes and why they matter to you?

When I was young, my father would point out every Asian name in the newspaper and call me to watch every Chinese face on television. There were few in the media: Connie Chung and Adrienne Clarkson. When I became a reporter, mentors changed the trajectory of my life, but all of them were male. I’m passionate about mentorship because I’ve seen the transformative power of seeing someone who looks like you succeeding in fields traditionally lacking in diversity. Representation matters. And financial literacy can be a tool for power and independence. When it comes to achieving financial goals, women still face unique challenges in society. Anything I can do to move the needle toward gender equity, I’m game.

On a lighter note, you mention being fully prepared for a zombie invasion. What’s your zombie apocalypse survival kit’s most unexpected or unconventional item?

While everyone’s searching for weapons, I’m packing shoes. That’s the key. Good footwear. Good for hiking, running, cold weather (we’re in Canada, after all) and kicking if the need arises.

What financial advice can you offer for balancing long-term goals like retirement and education savings?

We make many decisions in the moment. But you cannot reach long-term goals without intention and forethought. I have tried to reverse engineer all of my goals — I think backward and break everything down into micro and then nano goals. Look at your money and give every dollar a job. Automate contributions to long-term and mid-term goals. I also automate contributions to a separate account for spending and other plans such as travel, family events, etc.

Do you have any tips for aspiring individuals aiming to excel in multiple fields and build a strong personal brand?

Sometimes, I feel like I’m conducting a symphony. I imagine various Melissa Leongs with different instruments playing different notes. But all of the parts come together to play a single song. You have to be clear about what that song is. You can call it your mission statement. You can call it your purpose or your vision. It can evolve and change. But I find that it keeps you focused, motivated and inspired.

What exciting projects do you have coming up, and how do you plan to continue impacting the world of finance and beyond?

The world needs more finance books for kids. With most things in life, to have a healthy relationship with money, we should start young.

For more money-savvy tips, follow Melissa on Instagram @lisleong and get a copy of her book “Happy Go Money.”