How the Journey Started

My interest in money and debt control began at a very early age. Growing up in Dominica my parents were very industrious and placed very high values on money management and debt control. I remember my parents were caring for an elderly woman and one day my mom said to me, “Tessa-Marie there is nothing worse in this world than being old and poor.”  That statement made a huge impact on my life. I have never forgotten those words. Because of my mother’s comment, I have always taken control of my finances and managed my money effectively.

There was a time when my family was going through some financial hardships. My husband’s company downsized in the 80’s and during that time I had to pull out all the stops to make ends meet. But, a key decision I made was to control our debt load and managing our money effectively, no matter what.  It took some innovative ways and very hard choices in what we did for vacations, children’s entertainment, grocery shopping. In those days I would shop at a discount grocer to get our groceries at a really great price.  For vacations we would pile the children into the car and visit my husband’s family in Montreal or go across the boarder to Buffalo.

During that time I knew exactly what was in the cupboard, fridge and freezer.   We never duplicated anything.   We made a grocery list based on what we would prepare for the week or weeks taking into consideration what we already had. I made low-cost wraps for lunches filled them with tuna or eggs and because it was not the regular, higher priced bread. The children loved the cheaper wraps and so did their friends. During these hard times we ate well but always looked for ways to save.

 Through all this we were still able to maintain a very small savings plan.   I remember our first Retirement Savings plan contribution was $5.00 weekly into a Daily Interest savings account. The same was done for our vacation, Christmas, and emergency accounts. It was not much but we kept going.  As our circumstances changed for the better we also changed our plans and increased all of our saving and we still have them to this day.  So, no matter where you are at the moment, financially you can always look at what you are doing and make some adjustments. Even a small amount will make a difference. Our $5.00 weekly contribution to our Christmas account ended up being $260.00 to spend for Christmas that was better than $0.  This also meant we did not have to use a credit card during Christmas.

I began my formal financial planning career in 1989 when I joined the TD Bank. During my twenty years with TD Bank I held various positions. When I became a Financial Advisor at the bank I began noticing the lack of money management and debt control of regular customers and friends. I started to educate and encourage everyone I met to manage their money more effectively. Eventually, this increased my client flow from one client telling friends and relatives to the point that one of my colleagues made a remark that I only had five clients and I kept recycling them.  What they failed to realize was that these five family members, through referrals, represented an additional fifty to sixty people. This was done through word-of-mouth recommendations by siblings, aunts, uncles and other relative family members.   I started helping them prepare for retirement savings, education savings, planning for weddings and first homes.

I made the decision to write controlling the Debt Monster with the idea that I could help more people manage their money more effectively. In my future blogs I’ll share some stories about the people I’ve helped and the financial planning skills I’ve taught them.

Tessa- Marie Shillingford is the author of Controlling the Debt Monster.  She is Personal Financial Planner, with a designation from the Institute of Canadian Bankers, and a Financial Counselor certified by the institute of Canadian Banker.  Tessa- Marie was employed by TD Canada Trust for twenty years in the retail section of the bank.  During her tenure at TD Canada Trust she held various positions interacting with customers of the bank.   As a Financial Advisor and Manager of Financial Services she led a group of Financial Advisors in helping customers of TD Canada Trust successfully manage their finances. Details of her book… Controlling the Debt Monster, can be found at

26 thoughts on “How the Journey Started

  1. My Dear Sister:
    I am so proud of you for writing this book. You have helped me with my finances and today I am doing very well by following the” Tessa Marie bi weekly budget.”
    I hope that all who read your book get some ideas on how to manage their finances.
    Thank you for the book; thank you for the absolutely wonderful sister that you are!

    You’re Sister Dawn Marie.

  2. Hi Tess!!!!!

    So glad that you’ve entered the blog world!!! You have truly made a huge difference for us. We are closing on our first home next week and the most stressful part of home ownership has been deciding on paint colours!! Due to the plan that we created with you, we were in a comfortable place going into the home purchase. As life has happened we’ve always was been able to make small changes to our plan but we also able to get back on track!!! Our wedding is only months away. After two years of saving for the big day, we will be able to wake up the morning after the wedding and be wedding-debt free!!

    Congrats on the Blog!!

    1. Hi Kathleen

      Words cannot express how proud I am of you. You listened and applied everything I taught you and today only two years after you started on your Financial Journey you own your own home and paying for your wedding in full with no bills outstanding. You and Sean have proven that with some careful planning and the willingness to try after falling off track certainly does pay off. Continue to stay forcus I can’t wait to hear what you are planning for financially next. Thanks for spreading the word about the book and your story.

  3. HI Tessa,
    Katleen told me to read your book and I found you to be very inspirational and am proud to say that I’m on my way to a healthier financial plan. I don’t have alot of money to save, but I now have a household management account and a tax free savings account. My credit cards (2) don’t keep me up at night and I still manage to treat myself.

    1. Hi Arlene
      Arlene you are a great example of someone who wants to control their finances. I am very grateful to Kathleen for introducing the book to you. I am glad to hear you are on your way to a wonderful financial future. I am very pleased to hear that you have take advantage of the Tax Free Savings account, and still be able to treat yourself. Every Financial Plan should have money for treating yourself. Great job and I am looking forward to hearing more amazing things from you.

    2. Hi Arlene
      Arlene you are a great example of someone who wants to control their finances. I am very grateful to Kathleen for introducing the book to you. I am glad to hear you are on your way to a wonderful financial future. I am very pleased to hear that you have take advantage of the Tax Free Savings account, and still be able to treat yourself. Every Financial Plan should have money for treating yourself. Great job and I am looking forward to hearing more amazing things from you.

  4. Hi Tessa,

    The contribution that you made to my life cannot be summarised in a few lines. I will not even attempt to thank you because that is so insufficient. All I want to say is that when I left India to seek my future in Canada, little did I realize that God had better plans for me — he kept a mother waiting in the wings for me. You are my MOTHER here. I can safely say that whoever comes in contact with you, personally or through your book, will end up being so much more enriched.

  5. Hi Aunty Tess,

    I am very proud of you! God Bless you! Hope you get the time to write another book…(smile)

    Love always

  6. Hey TM!!
    I do believe that reading between the lines one can see a sheer ‘supernatural strength’ that you have relied on, and not merely on your own human strength. This life experience reflects tremendous Divine Wisdom manifested in and through your every action.
    Lalit Lobo.

  7. It’s because of you Tessa-Marie they succeed. You’re like a financial Godmother. You held their hands and disciplined Andrea by taking away her access to her family chequing account. That was funny. No one can handle there money being taken away from them. I could imagine how angry she was. But in the end she realized that it actually help her family to succeed. They are very lucky to have you around to help them.

    Are their any financial advisor’s out there that has your determination, and your motivation to help see us succeed? Most of all you are compassionate and patient when dealing with client. Which I believe is the most important aspect of financial planning.

    1. Hi Sandy
      Thanks for your note. Yes there are other Fianancial Advisor’s who will help you. The most important thing is to connect with that person, like I said in my book Conttolling the debt Monster, when you go to your financial institution you need to be observant of how you are treated by the very first person you meet it is usually the Greeter if that person is not pleasant you can imagine what the others in the back offices are like. That person you meet at the greeter station is the person that is the first line of contact or like sailors on ship the one who lets the grew know that a storm is approaching they hold the key to that institution and if they are not functioning at their very best or giving their best performance you know the people in the offices could even be worse. So you need to pay attention and if it does not fit what you are looking for I recommend that you go to another insitution until you find the person with the attitude you are looking for,remember you have controll and you are the one who makes the choices it is your money and it does not matter whether you are talking about $10.00 or $100,000.00 look for the very best service you possible can. I beleive that consumers should shop for service instead of what is call GOOD RATES, eveyone can give you GOOD RATES but not eveeryone can give you OUTSTANDING service and with that you can get the help and information you need to meet all your financial goals.

  8. Tessa-Marie,
    In all my memories of you, you are brimming with energy and positivity. It is quite apparent that your occupation is also your passion and interest.

    Thank you for always being ready and willing to share your knowledge of the financial world, a world so many of us are lost in and so many of us are looking for a life-line. You are a life-line to many of us.


    1. Hi Richard
      It is wonderful to know that you think so highly of me. I am really motivated to help each and every person I meet to successfully manager their finances. I am always ready to take the time to enlighten, educate and encourage everyone I meet to manage their finances to the highest level and to attain all of their financial goals.

  9. Hi Ms. Shillingford,

    You are a very inspiring woman and I appreciate all of the advice that you are providing. Your story has urged me to take better control of my finances, and I plan to get your book. God has blessed me by putting you in my life and Mycah’s life and I look forward to sharing memorable experiences with you!!

    1. Hi Psachal:

      Thanks for taking the time to repond to the blog knowing how busy you are with Mycah. I am glad to see that you have taken better control of your finances, when you get the book please discuss what you have learnt with me. I would love to help you take your financial life to a higher level.

  10. Mama Tessa,
    I thank God that he brought you into my life. I truly understand that debt is both preventable and manageable. Although my financial plan is new, I know I am working in the right direction. I see the light (meaning the headlights of my BMW X6…lol)at the end of the tunnel and it is solely because of you. Thank you for taking the time to impart your financial wisdom into my life. Please know you have inherited an honorary daughter, minus the turbulent teenage hormones and the constant asking for money…lol. Love you now and always,


    1. Zola

      I am glad you have changed your tune to thanking God, that was not the tune you were singing when I first encouraged you to save more and spend less. See you on Friday for our usual meeting.

  11. Hi Tessa
    Your story gave me hope. I am not working at this time and so I thought I did not have any money to manage except getting the mere necessities. Having read your Bio. and attended your workshop I feel I can now start by clearing up and managing the stuff in my house and creating a budget for managing the little that we do have. I also feel I now have a better mindset to saving. It’s not about getting the job and then saving. I really do feel I have met you at the right time in my life. I thank God for your wisdom. I will certainly be calling on you in the future to direct my husband and I in our financial planning. I will definitely recommend you to many others. Continue to be blessed.

  12. Thanks for all the knowledge God has given you to share to people like me, to save people’s life and their generation to come. Keep on the good work .

    1. I am sorry I was not able to reply to you sooner but I had a family health crises and had not been writing, today is the first day I am doing any writing. I hope you were able to get the help you needed if not please let me know and we can work on that together. I would love to help.

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