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Optomizer vs Satisfier

Optomizer vs Satisfier


Here I am satisfying my need to consume university-priced pitchers at a local brewery last night at book club. It was a $20 night out, which never happens!

I am not an Optimizer. Granted, I LOOOOOOVE reading blogs that get into the weeds with detailed tax, investment and savings strategies but I am not that person. I enjoy a rousing debate and when personal finance keeners bring out the calculators and start fighting, I make some popcorn and watch. But I am not that person.

I don’t budget down to every penny. I don’t know the asset allocation of every ETF available on the market. I just see which ones have the average allocations that represent the markets/indexes/regions I want (and the fees I don’t) and then I push the BUY button. I know that this makes some people deeply, deeply uncomfortable.

But here is the thing: I know SO MANY PEOPLE who just walk into a bank/sign up for a salesperson to take 1% of their money (whether they are good at making YOU money or not) and then they just wipe their hands and walk away. They feel confident that a “professional” is taking care of their money when they are truly getting scammed.

Conversely, I know people who are DOING NOTHING. Scared of the stock market, they let their cash accumulate in accounts where their cash is being slowly eroded by inflation. Even sticking that into a 5% GIC would be at least doing something that would at least be stemming the hemorrhage of your buying power to inflation.

Both of these kinds of people are doing the exact same thing: they don’t trust themselves enough to learn the basics and they are scared that they will lose everything. So they make the most inefficient decisions possible because it feels comfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I think money psychology is super important. You have to make decisions that help you sleep at night. But I feel like you can only make those decisions if you have all of the facts and oftentimes people don’t. They try and play it safe because they don’t know (or don’t want to learn) the basics of how to invest and in the process they allow themselves to fall victim to a predatory financial sales community or lose their money as it gets eroded by inflation over time. Sure, it may feel good to be stagnant and/or ignorant today but what this means is that you will lose your access to a secure or even bountiful retirement. The longer you wait, the more you lose.

People often get the impression that I know the ins-and-out of the stock market because I do enjoy discussing it, either in our Money Mondays group or with friends. But in reality I only really know how the basics work. And more controversially, I truly believe the following things:

1 – Most Financial Advisors don’t know more than you could learn on your own by reading a few books. Still scared? Get a fee-only FA. They are worth the money to help build you a plan without draining your nest egg.
2 – The average person doesn’t need to know much more than the basics of the stock market (although, I do recommend they learn as much as possible!).
3 – Inflation is like losing money every year. We tend to feel good psychologically if our $100000 stays at $100000 from one year to the next. But, realistically you can only buy $97000 worth of goods this year with that money when inflation is at 3%. That’s actually a $3000 loss that you don’t see.

Things that you do need to know:
1 – Invest regularly, preferably you can set it up to automatically fund your accounts and then forget it(ish).
2 – How ETFs/Index funds (and maybe even Robo-Advisors) work.
3 – Know what tax shelters are available to you in your country and learn how to use them (ie: retirement accounts)
4 – Only look at your accounts once a year.

Some people are on the cusp of having a coronary just reading that. But I am not an Optimizer, I am a Satisfier. I am satisfied to point myself in the right direction and then hobble down that road. I am not sprinting to some ridiculous goal of making my bajillions on stock tips, I am looking to make a decent decision (buying the index for an average return) while minimizing my losses (fees, inflation). The average return of the S&P is 11+% (1957-2021) and the average return of the TSX is 9+% between (1960-2020). So logic dictates what Jack Bogel introduced to the world: if you buy the entire thing as an index fund, your returns will follow the market.

Of course, I am simplifying things (and nothing works out 100% of the time) but that is the beauty of it: it’s that simple! You don’t need through reams of company reports and a deep knowledge of how every company you buy works. You just need to know that you are heading down a road that even when it gets winding and rocky (when the average return is down, like last year) will eventually take you to where you are going. As a satisfier, that is good enough for me. You give up huge gains for steady growth and the ability to sleep at night.

I do my budget the exact same way. I lay out all of the mandatory things (bills, savings) and set it up to come out of my account as much as I can. Whatever is leftover is mine to do with what I want. I don’t do a zero-budget where every single penny has to be allocated like an Optimizer would. Being a Satisfier, I just have to be concerned about my obligations and then the rest is mine to toss around. Of course, I am frugal in many ways (how does a green bean know that it is a generic vs name brand green bean?) and that allows me to save more in my day-to-day life on things I don’t care about. But that means I can just allocate more to my more expensive habits, like travel.

“BuT tUcKeR, aRe YoU sAyInG pEoPlE sHoUlD bUy InVeStMeNtS tHeY dOn’T uNdErStAnd?”

No. I am saying that they only need to know the basics, not become experts*. Historically, over time, the stock market always goes up**. If the bottom falls out of the entire economy, we won’t even have to worry about our investments because we will need to grab our leather thongs and fire guitars and wander out into the Mad Max desert.

If you are still worried, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE read JL Collins’ book, The Simple Path to Wealth which will give you more info to change your life than any other book out there.

*I am not a Financial Planner nor do I play one on tv. Quite frankly, they’re probably acting too.
**It doesn’t mean it always will in the future but again: we’ll have bigger problems if it comes to that…

The shocking realization you’ve reached your goals

The shocking realization you’ve reached your goals

Tax season brought us a huge refund which we will use to payoff the mortgage

I realized this week that some personal finance adages are true. I suppose that I always knew this intellectually but I managed to say this out loud (and by “out loud” I really mean, “in a Signal chat”) this week and once I said it, the weight of what I had accomplished came into sharp focus.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Mr. Tucker’s work was recently acquired by another company. This required him to sign a whole new slew of legal documents, some of which were a bit unclear. Fortunately for me though, I have a friend who is an incredibly brilliant employment lawyer who is licensed to practice in Ontario AND in California. Those are two very challenging jurisdictions to get licensed in (and she has a ton of experience with tech companies) so clearly, the woman is a GD genius. Luckily for me, she is also a lovely friend who read all of Mr. Tucker’s new documents before he signed them.

When all was said and done, she asked me about how things were looking for him at work, personally…and that’s when I took stock and realized that … IT DOESN’T MATTER! We are finally at a point in our lives that while it would be shitty, a layoff wouldn’t decimate our finances.

Having her ask that question made me go through our accounts and made me realize the following:

– Our mortgage will be paid off by July (two months before schedule!). The house is currently worth high 6 figures.
– Mr. Tucker’s retirement accounts will meet our target by the end of 2023.
– Any layoff would result in a severance enough to carry us through to the end of the year.
– The kid’s RESPs are currently funded enough to get them a 4-year undergrad degree + books at a local university. We’re still funding it but even if we stopped putting money in it today, they’d still be fine!
– We are currently mostly living off my income, which is private disability insurance indexed to inflation until I am 65.
– I have a small pension + lifetime benefits (Mr. Tucker would get half of it should I die as well as half of my CPP and the kids would get an orphan’s benefit as well until they are out of school).
– On top of regular tax shelters, I also have an RDSP which gives me 100% return on investment via government grants until I am 49 (and can grow tax-free in investments until I am 59).
– Should either of us pass away, we have sufficient life insurance and investments to carry the surviving spouse and the children.
– We have a secondary property that is currently rented to a family member at-cost but that has a mortgage on it at around 1/3rd of its value.

When I wrote all of this in a message I realized quickly that even though I had spent some time worrying about the company acquisition, there really is nothing to worry about. While we wouldn’t be living high on the hog, the decisions we made have been good ones.


We do a monthly game night with friends but for Easter we decorated eggs

So, those true adages? Consistency does beat intensity AND time in the market beats market timing. Let’s look at one example, our kid’s education savings accounts:

Consistency beats intensity
I didn’t end up opening an RESP until my eldest was around 3 (12 years ago). Up until 2020 we could only afford to fund it to the tune of $80 a month ($40 each) because we had a pretty high child support payment and I stayed at home with the kids until the eldest was 4.

But what we did do when they were younger was that we asked family members to give us money for their RESPs instead of buying gifts for various holidays. So for about 5 or 6 years (until they wanted to spend their birthday & Christmas money), we were able to throw in an extra $150 twice a year for their education.

Time in the market beats timing the market
When I go back and look at what we put in vs what we actually have, we see an almost 40% increase over the last 12ish years (investments + grants – so 20% each) in the original accounts (we do still fund these with the same $80 monthly).

Conversely, we also started a new RESP in 2020 using a Robo-advisor because we wanted to play catchup on our contributions and get the grants for previous years. In those 40 months we have seen a 24.6% return in that account – 20% of which is grants, so really we have only made 4.62% on our money since 2020. Not bad (but not great) considering how awful it’s been.

So even though we have been putting more away every month the long game has paid off in spades when you look at the return. We also aren’t done yet, I will continue to put money into the account until we run out of grants available to each kid AND it will also compound for at least another 3 years.

No matter what the market does, we just continue to fund our registered accounts. Dip in the market? Fund it monthly. Market overvalued? Fund it monthly. I just cannot be bothered to think about these things and even through it may or may not be the most perfect way, dollar cost averaging has often been my long term strategy. I used this strategy because it was easier to set up our budget and make savings come out of our accounts every month like a bill rather than have to constantly think about it.


Spring chorin’ has begun

Hoisted by my own petard
I was saying to Mr. Tucker the other night that while we intellectually know that we make good money and have assets, we sometimes feel a bit like money is tight. The reality is though is that we have structured our budget to feed money into two kinds of goals. Regular goals such as putting money away to buy a car with cash every 10 years, education savings, emergency savings etc. Then we also have stretch goals, which is basically saving almost everything Mr. Tucker makes into vacations, retirement accounts and paying off our house early.

So we feel poor sometimes when I have to say, “No, sorry, we are out of pocket money this month so we can’t have take out.” Because really, we live off of a bit over what a median household income is in Canada. But we don’t actually ever have to make really hard decisions, so it’s all in our heads and is guided by our goals. The things we end up denying ourselves is junk food, more subscription services or weird baubles at the dollar store. We don’t deny ourselves the things we really enjoy, such as travel and going to concerts. The kids also have all sorts of cool lessons and activities. But this is self-restriction for a higher goal. We’re actively making choices to deny ourselves shit we don’t really need in order to reach…well, apparently we’ve pretty much reached it…OUR LONG TERM GOALS.

It’s just absolutely wild to me that we can see the finish line after years of just putting in the effort. Of course, Mr. Tucker still wants to work until the end of 2024 but it is nice to know that we have a backup plan should things go south.

It’s so funny that one little question from my friend would lead to such a heavy weight being lifted off of me. But here we are!


Another fine book club was had

A year of temperance

A year of temperance

You may have come across the Canadian study this week that no amount of alcohol is safe. It’s been heavily reported everywhere and, naturally, there has been a lot of pushback and a myriad of opinion pieces have been writing either denouncing the study or lauding the study. But in the end I think that all the chatter about alcohol consumption is good, people are starting to review their own habits and question them and I think that is important.

My own relationship with alcohol is a strange one. I drank a bit as a young teen and then I drank rarely until I was about 22. If I am honest, by the time I met Mr. Tucker when I was a month shy of 27, drinking had become a huge part of my life. All of our friends went out a few nights a week to bars and we always binge drank. By the time I was 30 I felt that I had a problem with alcohol and felt that it had become an unstoppable force in my life.

Making the decision to get pregnant is what completely halted all alcohol in our lives (Mr. Tucker mostly quit with me). I didn’t drink during my pregnancies but I did continue to drink afterwards. For a lot of my kid’s younger years we still were pretty social drinkers hanging out with neighbours a lot and cracking beers. But never did I again reach the worrisome levels of drinking that I had in my late 20s. I think because our environment and priorities changed so much that over time we just drank less and less overall but weekends we did engage in a lot of binge drinking. Wine Mom culture was strong during those years.

When we moved into this house and had our first summer with the pool, we found ourselves hosting quite a few parties. Over time though, our desire to do this waned and the party atmosphere went with it. As our kids got older as well, we found ourselves driving to activities and hosting sleepovers so naturally drinking fell by the wayside. We were still drinking a lot the odd evening and weekend but it was way less than our previous habits and we found ourselves drinking higher quality alcohol.

Then the pandemic hit and like many people we soothed our anxiety with alcohol. In fact, during the pandemic alcohol sales shot up & increased by 2 million dollars a day in our province. Like many people, we also saw our alcohol consumption skyrocket. By the time October rolled around Mr. Tucker and I realized that our consumption had become a habit, that we didn’t really enjoy it as much anymore and that we felt crappy and lethargic. So on October 31, 2020 we made the decision to quit drinking for one year.

In general, the first couple of days of drying out were just boring and flat but we got over it quickly. In fact, my skin got better, my spasticity got better, I slept better and we weren’t exhausted and cranky all of the time. We also found ourselves more productive and we ended up reading more books and doing more creative things. Sure, there were times where it was difficult, such as when we rented cottages with friends (we quarantined beforehand) and Christmas was a bit strange but overall it was a really good year and we saved a ton of money and I shed quite a few pounds.

Halloween 2021 saw us consuming alcohol again but we never really got back to our previous levels of consumption. We had a small Christmas in 2021 which was drinks and cards with family, more outdoor social events over 2022 with friends that were punctuated with drinking and so most of 2021 was phases of drinking followed by weeks of non-drinking. By the fall the shine had worn off on our consumption just around the time we ran the numbers and discovered that we had spent $5500 on booze that year, or about $105 a week.

$105 a week doesn’t sound like much and indeed for what we drink, it really isn’t. It’s about 2 cases of 24 beers, or 4-6 bottles of wine, depending on what kind we buy. Given that we have also hosted a bunch of pool parties and dinners with family, that doesn’t seem like a ton. We also tend to be pickier in our old age and don’t want to drink cheaper alcohol so that adds a premium to the bill. That amount includes the wine I got on my wine tour in Prince Edward County (including Christmas gifts) but not the drinks we had when we ate out (which were few, due to cost).

The truth of it all though is that alcohol just doesn’t work for us anymore. In middle age the hangovers are brutal and long – sometimes even multiday. We also find it gives us low-grade depression, lethargy and crankiness if we drink multiple times a week. In my case as well it causes my muscles to seize & gives me horrible spasticity. In the end, we can find a ton of other ways to get value out of $5500 than to buy alcohol with it.

So are we planning to be teetotalers forever? No. While I don’t see us drinking regularly again I do plan to travel in the future and that travel will probably include some alcohol. It’s also nice to have a drink on holidays, birthdays and other celebrations. What I do realize every time we have chunks of time where we don’t drink alcohol is that I find myself less enamoured with it overall. I prefer feeling clear minded and doing other stuff with my time. Of course, the fact that it can cause even more health problems than the immediate ones should encourage everyone to drink as rarely as possible.

I am not the boss of anyone by all means but like everything else in your life such as consumption, budgeting and investment strategies it’s worth doing a periodic review of things to make sure that they are still serving you instead of just doing things out of habit.

When you’re a saver, it’s hard to be a spender

When you’re a saver, it’s hard to be a spender

We have a lovely older couple who live across the street from us and who have lived in this neighbourhood since the 1970s. Our neighbour, let’s call him Bill, is almost 80 and is the caretaker of his developmentally disabled daughter and his wife, who has dementia. Bill is an absolute treasure and unlike so many people his age, he has a positive outlook on life. One of the things he always says is, “I see every day I am here as a gift!” His life isn’t easy but he is grateful for everything he has and he’s a real inspiration to us youngins’.

Bill doesn’t have a cell phone and will often just pop in for a coffee. Today he dropped in and the conversation turned to how expensive everything is with inflation. He laughed because his last pair of “good” shoes were 30 years old and they had fallen apart. He said that the last time he went to buy shoes they had cost him $29.99 and looking at a recent flyer that came in the mail, it looks like now he’ll have to pay $80 for a similar pair.

He then went on to tell us that he had spent his entire life saving money for a good retirement only to discover he couldn’t spend it. “I have enough for all of us to spend and live comfortably for a long time but there is nothing I want to buy,” he said. Bill lives a really good life, too. He doesn’t deny himself, he takes the odd trip with the family, and spends money to maintain his house and yard (with pool). “My wife used to buy all of my clothes but honestly, I haven’t needed to shop much for clothes for years because they have lasted.” Bill isn’t a miser, either. He often buys my children little gifts like backpacks for school, and flower kits you can grow indoors. He’s just discovered that he doesn’t need – or want – to spend money.

The New York Times recently wrote that research suggests that this is common.“As people age, they report less satisfaction from travel, as well as from new cars, clothes and appliances. The decline is strongest in people who say their health is poor. People who say they’re in excellent health say their enjoyment from travel and leisure is actually greater than it was six years earlier. People in excellent health also report more satisfaction from giving financial support, which goes against the notion that those who expect to live a lot longer are worried about running out of money.” I would also say that after years of saving and learning how to get the things you want on a reduced budget that you just continue this even when you retire. Bill is a retired teacher with a pension, his house is paid off, his car is paid off and he has enough for a really good life for the three of them. So his savings keeps growing while his lifestyle stays similar to what it has always been.

This got me thinking about our own budget. We currently save a huge chunk of our income for our house prepayment, retirement, and our children’s education – not including “planned spending” items like buying a new car every 10 years, which is more “saving to spend.” Our life is a really solid middle class life: roof over our heads, food on the table, bills are paid and there is money for extras. We also have a category for leisure and travel that is well-funded. But I do know from my calculations that once our mortgage is paid off next year, we will be able to easily live off of just the money I bring in.

According to research, we’re also in our peak budget years as the kids are t(w)eens. They will also be here for at least 5-7 years (more if they go to post-secondary in the city). That means our expenses are relatively high. We pay for very pricey activities and save a huge amount towards their RESPs – not to mention the basic costs of feeding and clothing them. We are so used to having this money go to them that when (and if!) they leave home, I wonder if we will feel like Bill. Having everything for a good life already, will we want to spend more?

Despite our current moratorium on air travel, we probably would like to travel a bit more in the future (PLS willing!). I suspect that over time we will find ourselves like the people in the above NYT article: unwilling to travel due to disability. We will also find room in our budget to help the kids as they try and build an adult life for themselves. Still, our coffee with Bill reminded me that having spent a long time saving for the future, we probably will find ourselves in the same position: having enough.

Milestones – Registered Education Savings Program

Milestones – Registered Education Savings Program

I really try and not look at our investments in this bear market because it doesn’t change any of our savings behaviours and it won’t make a lick of difference to stress myself out like that. HOWEVER, I got to thinking about the things we save for and I wondered, “what does tuition at a local university look like now?” Some quick googling later and I realized that we have enough education savings for both kids to each do a four year degree at a local university (even with our market losses).

What is really interesting is how the savings is divided. Half of that half of that savings happened in the past 3 years when we had more money to put away. The other half of it was mostly all done in the 9 years previous to that! When the Sprout was born we opened an RESP at a bank and started saving $80 a month – $40 for each child. It wasn’t a lot but it was all we had. On top of that, we asked family to contribute to the RESP for birthdays and Christmas. The kids were young, probably wouldn’t remember anything that they bought them but we figured that they would appreciate being able to go to post-secondary without debt. So for years we added all the cash they got to their savings – until they were older and wanted to use the money for other things, of course.

We still aren’t finished saving for them as they are only 12 and 14 now. It is nice to know that tiny amounts saved over long periods have got us to the point where they won’t have to worry about student loans for at least an undergraduate degree.

So if you are a young family and thinking of saving in an RESP but are worried that you don’t have a lot to contribute, remember that $40 a month + gifts from family essentially added up to half of a degree for her by the time my eldest was 14. Of course, as soon as we made more we invested more and that covered the other two years. The takeaway here is that small amounts invested over long periods add up to big gains. The difference between taking a student loan for two years vs. four years is also huge in terms of time it will take to pay it back. If they get scholarships, great – you have enough to help with grad school! If they decide to not go to post-secondary, great – it can be rolled into an RRSP (contribution room willing).

To learn more about the RESP, check out the Government of Canada website.

It’s been a hot minute – what I am up to

It’s been a hot minute – what I am up to

WELP. The idea of writing consistently here this year as a New Year’s resolution didn’t happen. Still, I’ve not really spent a lot of time on social media this year and I have definitely kicked my facebook habit (and replaced about 50% of it with an Instagram habit – oops!). Of course, the pandemic is still out there pandemicking but the kids are back in school so that is nice. We had a great summer of outdoor socially distanced hangouts, and now we are settling in to have a lovely autumn full of fun fall activities. But first, maybe a roundup of what has happened in the past 6 months since I last wrote:

Cottaging on Manitoulin island: we have probably shut the door on camping/cottaging with the two other families. Since Sprout was 2, we’ve either Glamped in Quebec parks or we’ve rented cottages. This year we had a lovely week in Dominion Bay where the kids could run around, play games and go for long walks. My friend S did her yearly craft camp for the kids & there was woodburning, leaf painting & other projects completed. I mostly read, and we even headed out to an outdoor farmer’s market (a pandemic first for me!) where I bought cozy wool socks for me, rings made out of antique spoons for the kids, and a pepper grinder from a woodworker for Mr. Tucker.

Unfortunately, during the pandemic there was a run on cottage rentals and even though we tried to book for next year early this summer, there was really nothing to be had that wasn’t $3000 a week – a bit steep. Also, our kids are much older now: Sprout is going to be 12 next year and the oldest kids will be 16 and will probably have jobs. It’s been a good run but it’s time to move on. Not all is lost though! More below!

Gardening: this was our garden’s second year & like the first year we kind of took the “set it and forget it” approach. Still, we got a lot out of it despite the chaos and have learned that we can probably sow an early spring garden, a summer garden & a fall garden. We did end up sowing a fall garden but a little later than I would have liked so who knows what will happen? Despite the cold, the tomatoes are still producing and the basil is going strong. Heck, some of our herbs – like lavender, coriander & dill – have re-seeded and are producing again. Since our goal is to bring those herbs inside for wintering under grow lights, I am happy to see it!

Hopefully we will get some cool weather crops before the snow flies! Then we will pull the dying plants, lay on our home made compost and let the beds winter. Otherwise, we have garlic to plant for next year before the winter sets in.

    Canning, preserving & gleaning: we did most of the things we had done last year that we had enjoyed,

– Horseradish dill pickles
– Tomato sauce
– Spicy dilly beans
– Strawberry and raspberry jam
– Sundried tomatoes

    Some new things,

– Both dill and sweet mustard relish (made when our cucumbers turned yellow)
– Red onion and beetroot chutney
– Marinated eggplant

    Some boozy things,

– We made Nocino from friend’s black walnuts
– We made a bachelor’s jam for Winter Solstice/Yule
– We are now trying our hand at plum wine from our friend’s plums

I am going to do an entire post on all of the things we did & some recipes sometime soon. What’s notable though is what we didn’t do: salsa or tomatillo salsa. We really weren’t going through it as quickly as I thought we would, so we focused on tomato sauce instead.

Money Mondays: this is still going strong! We’ve done sessions on a bunch of things such as the Disability Tax Credit, had a guest speaker to do a presentation on wills, and next week I am doing one on budgets.

Health: the good news is that the ALS clinic told me that I am doing well enough that I only have to come in once every two years! The nurse told me that this was the first time she’s heard the doctor tell someone that so I am pretty proud. Still, I could be doing more work on my health to be quite honest.

– Mr. Tucker and I are taking long walks (I bought a yellow tricycle, which is what I usually take) weekdays. We grab the dogs in the morning, walk Sprout to the end of the street, then we walk the Bean to her bus stop & then we head down to the river for a longer walk (or just through the neighbourhood on busy mornings). It’s been really good for us both to be forced to get up, washed, dressed and out the door. Otherwise we just lounge around the house in our jammies.
– I plan to do #folktober next month to work on my fine motor skills with painting. I bought some nice watercolour paints and I need to encourage myself to use them. Wish me luck!
– I need to clean out my knitting basket to make it more user-friendly. The Sprout reminded me that I said I would teach them to knit and I still haven’t. So again, in the interest of my fine motor neuron skills (and keeping my promise) I should pull that out again.
– My vitamin regimen has made my cycle much better and that in turn has also helped my spasticity.
– I haven’t had alcohol since October 28th, 2020.
– My skin has been just awful so yesterday I was tested for a bunch of things (celiac, thyroid) and my GP is making me appointments with two dermatologists, so we will see how that will play out. I figure this may be an ongoing saga for awhile as appointments are sparse due to the pandemic.

Finances: shockingly, Mr. Tucker has made the decision to work longer in order to put more money into some house-related projects. This means we’ve eased up on our intense budget and instead we are buying more things that bring us joy. For example, we are trying to rehire our old housecleaner again as we’ve decided that our weekends are probably not best spent arguing with the kids over chores. They both know how to clean an entire house so we’ve done our job here. They’ll still have chores, just less of them.

I have also increased our a> grocery budget; and b> our pocket money. We are still saving at an amazing rate but we aren’t as intense as we were for most of this year. We hit our prepayment amount for our mortgage & will contribute to Mr. Tucker’s retirement accounts (but to a lesser degree).

Instead we are also going to…

Travel: both near and far. When we were on Manitoulin Island this summer we made the decision that if cottages were going to be $3000 a week that we would be better off booking a trip down south instead. So that is what we have done. We have tentatively booked a vacation to Jamaica next winter (covid willing!). We booked our flights & house rentals but we did manage to get good cancellation policies so we will see where the world is at come winter.

We also have decided to treat the kids & take them to Canada’s Wonderland for the Halloween Haunt. We ended up buying season passes with another family in the hopes of going back for a couple of days next summer as well.

I would like to also do more things close to home such as heading to various Halloween-themed (outdoor) events in our area. After a year and a half of being stuck at home, I am eager to spread my social wings!

So that is about it for changes around here. Mostly my days are spent reading and parenting & watching shows or playing games as a family. I think we’ve turned a corner on covid – at least in our area of the world – so I hope that stays steady. Overall, life is pretty good.

The best laid dental plans

The best laid dental plans

When you set a goal – especially a financial goal – you need to leave some room for the unseen. In November when we had planned to save enough money so Mr. Tucker could retire in 2023 there is no way that we could foresee every disaster. Furnaces fail, cars die, and sometimes dental surgery must be had.

We discovered earlier this month that Mr. Tucker needs $8500 worth of dental surgery which will happen in two appointments next month. Since we both have benefits we submitted a preapproval and it looks like the maximum we will get back is $3000 from both plans. This leaves us on the hook for $5500. The surgery isn’t really optional if he wants to keep his teeth so we are definitely rolling with it. While it’s a (literal?) kick in the teeth, I am grateful that we can at least afford to have the procedure done.

Sunday morning is all about coffee and chats here at The Mullet so we ended up discussing our financial goals this morning (spoiler: we discuss goals a lot – financial and otherwise). In the end, we always have pretty tight goals but we are also flexible enough to change them when the need arises. Some people will encounter a blip in their plans and just throw their hands up and give in but that doesn’t solve the problem. The correct way to look at it is to see goalsetting and your budget as flexible and to adjust when necessary. Even the best saver can’t account for every financial blindside that they will experience but they can just shrug their shoulders, adjust their course, take the detour and then continue on their way.

This surgery will probably set us back from reaching our goals by a month given our current trajectory. Of course, more things will happen as well – both positive and negative: we will get a tax credit from the surgery but we also may have our furnace die (it’s from 2003 so I’d be stupid if I said we didn’t see it coming). Given our timeline of 3 years, a lot can happen between now and then.

So after our chat this morning I took another look at our budget and adjusted our activities and hobbies spending. As depressing as it is to think about, there probably won’t be summer camps, dragon boat paddling, or roller derby next year so I can remove these items temporarily and funnel the money into the dental surgery fund. My hope is that people will be vaccinated by autumn and life may return to some semblance of normal (or new normal – life has changed, that is for sure). But I also have a sneaking suspicion that this is an overly-optimistic view. Still, we can use the money we are saving now on the surgery instead of hoping that activities will happen again soon. Of course, if things do go better than the current outlook, I can be flexible to adjust for that, too.

You can only control so many parameters in your life so you do have to be flexible in order to reach your goals. Sure, it may take longer and cost more than you anticipated. It’s important to realize that we are lucky to be in a position to be able to take a hit like this, and that comes from having good financial planning skills previously. I just keep telling myself that it is a marathon and not a sprint. Even though it may not go 100% as planned, it will eventually happen as long as we stay on the path.

My RRSP, Mr. Tucker’s RRSP or house payoff?

My RRSP, Mr. Tucker’s RRSP or house payoff?

This is my question of the day: which one of the above should I prioritize, in which order, over the next three years?

Basically we both have contribution room in our RRSPs, and Mr. Tucker is in a tax bracket that is higher than mine, so on the surface it makes sense to prioritize his RRSP for the tax savings. However, I don’t want to use all of his contribution room up in year one and year two and then have him left with not enough to go down a tax bracket in year three.

I think the sensical approach is to a> make the 20% prepayment on the mortgage; b> put enough money into Mr. Tucker’s RRSP to bring him down a tax bracket; and then c> siphon the rest into my RRSP. We can use the tax refund to add to the savings to pay off the house.

I need to make sure I use up all his contribution room over the next 3 years so that he maximizes tax savings. After year 3 he won’t have an income so any savings we can continue to put any savings in our TFSAs and/or my RRSP.

It also means that we will get a larger Canada Child Benefit (CCB) as our gross income will be reduced. I need to make sure that year three his income is really low so that we get a larger CCB in the following year as his income will be zero.

Of course, since we are already living off my income and putting his away, we will already be used to it so it won’t feel any differently (except we won’t be putting a ton of money into savings!).

Anyway – happy Friday! The kids have a PD day so they are off cramming in more device use as they have an extra day in which to do it!

The Three Year Plan

The Three Year Plan

When I was diagnosed everything became about LIVING FOR THE MOMENT. We wanted to do as much as possible while I was still mobile. Since we had not traveled as much as we would have liked we started there. Two years in a row we took whirlwind trips with the kids making sure they had these memories to fall back on should my decline be rapid. I don’t regret the decisions we made & we had the money to cover it so it was a net positive for our family. Two years later and my mobility has only slightly decreased, we are less panicked, and in the midst of the pandemic the smoke has cleared on a lot of our previous behaviours.

Like a lot of people though, we’ve really been able to reflect on things during the pandemic. If there is one thing we’ve become good at seeing, it’s our own patterns of behaviour. Because things have slowed down so significantly we’ve been able to finally see what needs to be changed. One of the things that has really stood out is our feast-or-famine spending style.

When things are going really well at Mr. Tucker’s work his attitude is, “Jeez, I could work here forever!” We tend to let the good times roll & spend a lot more money on extras. Then when he goes through a particularly difficult time at work we remember that if we saved more, he wouldn’t have to work forever. It’s our pattern and it’s been like that for a long time. This feast-or-famine way of managing money has worked because we never overspend but it still has left us spinning our wheels with long-term goals.

So in November we decided to sit down and plan out what we’d like to do & then we came up with a 3-year plan to achieve our goals. Here is what our list looked like:

– Finally do a will and get our estate affairs in order
– Fully fund the kid’s RESPs (Registered Education Savings Program) & buy back the missing years in order to receive the $1000 grant
– Start & catch up with the RDSP (Registered Disability Savings Plan) so to get the full $1000 grant

…and the biggest one of all:

– Live off of my income for everything and put all of Mr. Tucker’s income into his RRSPs (Registered Retirement Savings Plan)

That really is the biggest goal of them all: living on one salary for everything is a huge undertaking for us. It means we are budgeted really tightly down to the dollar with very little wiggle room. It still covers all of our needs (food, shelter, bills), many of our wants (camps, music lessons, entertainment), and all the other savings I mentioned above (and some I didn’t, such as emergency savings). We will still go to the cottage every year on vacation and still keep our hobbies but we will actually have to stop and think of spending now instead of living on autopilot. Spending in one area means that it will have to come from another place so it forces us to make decisions as to what we really want.

So why would we choose to do this? Because if things go well we can pay off our house & Mr. Tucker can retire from paid work if he wants in 3-3.5 years. That’s huge. It doesn’t mean he will retire from paid work, it just gives him the option.

One of the things about being disabled that is always on the forefront of your mind is what your trajectory will be 1, 3, 5 etc…years from now. I don’t know the future but the reality is that every day I have will probably the best day I ever will have. The other reality is that our parents aren’t getting any younger and will probably need more assistance as the years go on. Sure, we have siblings who can help as well but we really didn’t want Mr. Tucker working a high-stress job with long hours, parenting two teenagers, caring for a disabled wife, AND having to go check in on our elderly parents. We wanted to set ourselves up so that if he had to take a leave of absence, he could without having to worry about our finances.

Of course, we don’t expect that our plan won’t be without its hiccoughs but these hiccoughs will happen whether or not we are saving towards our goal. We also fully suspect that we may need to make changes down the line, which is also fine. We are totally flexible and can review how things are going a few months down the road & adjust where necessary. Still, we are both happy to have sorted a lot of our financial life out and are looking forward to seeing how well we can do on our current plan. I will keep you updated!

Take-out

Take-out

One of the things that’s been great about meal planning is that we haven’t purchased takeout since November 27th. I hadn’t even realized that it has been over a month since we had stopped. If you remember, one of our NY resolutions was to not eat out and we did well until the summer where we fell back into the habit of ordering take-out again.

We’ve made the “decision” to not eat out in the past but we’ve never had a plan to deal with what was making us eat out in the first place. For us, it was a lack of planning and tiredness. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t grocery shop on an empty stomach but I think you should also not plan a meal at the end of a long, tiring day. For us, it was this that made us just throw our hands up in the air and say, “let’s just order in!” Undone by our own lack of foresight, again.

I can even remember what we ordered last – KFC. The eldest loves KFC and so it was her turn to choose. So we ordered delivery without realizing that our meal was to go through a 3rd party food delivery app until after it was processed. I had already had issues with Skip the Dishes – in the Bay area of all places! Ground zero for delivery apps! – where it wouldn’t accept the address I put in and instead just assumed an address based on the postal code. No matter how many times you change it, it just reverts back to the address the computer serves up. I swore right there and then not to use delivery apps anymore. So here I was again at the mercy of two platforms that don’t speak to each other (both KFC nor STD knew how to fix an order from their end) and I had the exact same problem as before: the system served up an address and didn’t take the address I put in. In the end, we had to get our cold chicken order from our neighbour’s front step. The delivery driver didn’t even check to see if someone was home. Never again.

On top of all of this we never even finished the leftovers, wasting a bunch of food after a terrible customer service experience. It left me questioning why we even bother. It takes just as long as cooking something, it’s way more expensive, it’s super unhealthy, and then we wasted a bunch of it.

This wasn’t anything new to me, though. I had often lamented that we were wasting money/health/food in the fridge on eating out but knowledge isn’t power without action. We had never done anything about it.

It was around this time that we had become serious about our 3-year plan (more on this coming soon). I knew that one of the easiest ways to save money was on those last-minute decisions to get takeout (and not drinking alcohol). So in order to change our current paradigm I needed to tackle the issue from a few angles in order to come up with a plan.

1- We inventoried our food: Mr. Tucker wrote down all we had stored in our freezers so that we could work from what we had. Since we buy our meat from local farmers having a list helps us get through to the next ordering period.
2- I made a list of all the meals we enjoy: having a document to refer to when I can’t remember what we can make with X, or when I am feeling uninspired helps so that we cycle through meals and not get bored.
3- I meal plan two weeks at a time: like the post I linked above says, we only shop every two weeks for fresh produce and I base our meals around what will go bad first. Using the inventory of things we already have on-hand allows me to buy only the produce we need. We also have stopped running out for ingredients we forgot to pick up.
4- I build easy meals into the plan: I usually plan a day or two of junkier food: those pizza and chicken nugget nights that are just heat-and-serve. I find by keeping these things in the freezer, it helps us on nights we can’t quite get it together.

Of course, it took some trial-and-error to get to where we are right now and I still anticipate the odd snag when I will cave and get Thai food. Still, here are a few other tips:

Pizza is cheaper than steak: if you find yourself exhausted at the end of a crazy week, try and order the cheapest take-out you can. Save the fancy food for when you have time to cook it at home. The more expensive the food, the quicker it will go soggy in the bag or overcook.

Frozen foods are your friends: there is a plethora of different take-out style options available in the frozen section of most grocery stores. A $3 frozen pizza is cheaper than a $10 takeout one.

Embrace the taco kit: honestly, the easiest meal in the world is a pound of ground meat (or ground round) and a taco kit. If you are feeling fancy, buy guac.

There are a million uses for rotisserie chicken: every grocery store sells them for under $10 and you can usually get 2 meals + out of them. You can use leftovers in wraps, casseroles, soups, chicken salad, pasta, in Caesar salads…it’s hard to find a better deal at the supermarket.

Don’t get me wrong – I love eating out – and there is nothing I love more than dropping mad cash on a really great meal experience (with wine pairing, natch. Man, I am going to miss that…). What I don’t want to do though is just order mediocre takeout (because let’s face it, a lot of it is mediocre) because I am being lazy. It’s been easier during the pandemic when we are all stuck at home anyway. I won’t lie: a lot of the changes we’ve made in the past little while we have made because the pandemic has given us a little boost. So in the same way that not traveling is easier when you can’t actually travel, not eating out is also easy when restaurants aren’t open. Still, even when the pandemic is over I hope that these habits will stick.