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What’s the definition of a good life?

What’s the definition of a good life?

A thrift store haul from last year

My Dad loves to shop sales. He gets up at the crack of dawn on the days of the week the various grocery sales flyers come out. He is also generally the first person at the store when they open the doors. My Dad brings coffee for cashiers, knows about their lives and will remember if they need something picked up when he is on his weekly bargain-hunting trips.
He has done this all of my life. I remember being 7-years-old and him handing me cash to buy cases of sale pop because there was a per person limit. I hated that as a kid but I did love pop so I dutifully went through the cash knowing I wouldn’t even get pop if I didn’t help buy it on sale.

I suspect that he got it from his mother who was fastidious and organized but by all measures, she was a hoarder. She grew up super poor during the depression and was absolutely terrified that we would go through another one, so she had shelves full of soaps, canned food and other household goods. She also had multiple freezers full of butter, milk and meat that could probably have carried all of her 3 kids, their spouses and the 9 grandchildren through another depression. She wasn’t cheap though, the gifts flowed. One of my favourite times of year was when her and my grandfather would come back in the spring from their condo in Florida bearing gifts for all the grandkids. People express their relationship with money in the wildest of ways. For my grandmother it was to hoard the necessities of life and THEN spend lavishly on those she loved.

After my parents divorced, my father didn’t have a lot of stable places to live. He lived with my grandparents for a bit, a couple of girlfriends on-and-off, a trailer with another couple, a house full of bachelors at one point and then when I was 17 got remarried (and divorced, and remarried…and divorced*). He is now retired, in a stable relationship for over 17 years and just living his life meeting up with other retired colleagues for coffee, playing pool and grabbing beers with friends or visiting us. When he visits he ALWAYS brings food and treats for the kids because he is “just trying to help” us out. This is his idea of a good life.

It used to perplex me for a long time that a man who had a good pension and didn’t owe a dime was so obsessed with saving money via grocery sales. My Dad could probably eat out every night of the week and never ever run out of money. Instead, he rarely eats a meal out and he won’t pay full price for anything! It also makes no logical sense to drive to 8 different stores on 2-3 days of the week only to save the same amount in food dollars. It took me a long time to figure it out, but I did figure it out:

He enjoys it.

He enjoys shopping for sales.


Sure, when I was a kid it was probably a necessity but eventually he managed to build a career, get promoted and save a bunch of money. So even when he didn’t need to shop for sales, at that point it was so ingrained in his character and such a big part of his weekly routine (especially when he retired) that he kept at it. He brings the woman at Tim Hortons her favourite meats when they go on sale because he loves to share his finds. He brings us food because it makes him feel good to bring his grandkids cases of pop, some chips and cookies because he knows that we never buy it (although, in recent years I’ve pushed him into searching for avocadoes and peppers, too!). Every week, and I mean EVERY WEEK the day before the flyers come out he calls me and asks, “Is there anything you need?” (spoiler: there is never anything we need)

Figuring out my Dad’s motivation got me to thinking. Why have we associated a good life with spending money? There is this unspoken rule that you have to enjoy travel, eating out at fancy restaurants, the occasional luxury good – and god forbid you don’t think a $7 coffee is worth the money! Why, you are just depriving yourself! I would call it a problem if my Dad was so cheap that it was making himself and others miserable but it isn’t. My Dad is a very generous person. He just enjoys living his simple life and hanging out with friends and family and his hobby just happens to be shopping for sale food. Sure, it’s not an exotic life of adventure but he’s happy, and really isn’t that what it is all about? In telling people what is generally considered a “good life” are we inadvertently pushing our values on them?

I try to think of it like this: I love thrifting. The idea of sifting through shelves and shelves of housewares, reading the titles of books that are in no order whatsoever, and trying to find the diamond in the rough in a pile of florescent 80s stirrup pants fills me with absolute joy. I will happily spend a day hitting bunch of thrift stores (in my neighbourhood there are 3 within spitting distance) trying to find buried treasure, and to me, that is a banger of a day! Sure, I love the environmental and financial aspects of thrifting but the real pleasure is in the hunt. I pop a Claritin, charge my scooter, grab a bottle of water and off I go on the search for deals. Heck, I have friends who will also thrift with me** and The Americans*** and I often share our best thrift finds in the group chat to the OOOOHs and AHHHHs of the others. If there was competitive thrifting, my friends and I would all medal in the sport.

But I would be hard pressed to argue that thrifting actually saves me a ton money and it definitely doesn’t save time. But I enjoy it much more than popping into a store and buying whatever I need off the rack. Don’t get me wrong – there is a time and a place for shopping for new goods – but it’s not something I actually enjoy. I look forward to it like I look forward to blood work: sure, I recognize that it needs to get done but I won’t be happy about it. Don’t think that I also am rejecting branded goods, either: I have a fairly decent collection of Fluevogs that I love dearly. I just dread the concept of hitting the mall and trying on a bunch of clothes at stores all day long – the kind of day, I should add, that my kids find RIVETING.

But often thrifting and sale shopping for groceries gets categorized as something people associate with a poverty mindset. When we talk about saving money these are some of the more popular things that get thrown into the ring as examples of ways to save and it’s become du rigeur to tell people they don’t have to be shamed into doing those things (that they may not enjoy) just to save money. I get it – unlike the 90s and 00s, shame doesn’t sell as well as it used to. A kinder, gentler approach works better. So, it’s one of the things that “money experts” looooooove to shit all over. “I am not saying you have to use coupons and save $2 on a case of pop,” they sputter. But let’s discuss the elephant in the room: when I was a kid that $2 meant getting pop vs. not getting pop. If you don’t have to make those kinds of decisions and have never had to – congratulations! But there is a reason that most of these gurus focus on upper/middle-class individuals – those are the people who will buy books and courses on how to fix their money problems, which is how these money experts make their money. But even if people could probably benefit from some of these frugal skills they don’t want to, because it would challenge their identity as upper/middle-class individuals; it would make them feel poor. They want to buy a book or a course that tells them that they can have everything without deprivation. But for the most indebted, that is rarely the case. Conversely, truly poor people are too busy deciding whether or not to pay the electricity or the phone bill than to even consider taking a $300 course on how to live a “good life.” For them, every single dollar needs to be accounted for. In all fairness to these money experts as well, they probably feel unqualified to tackle the realities of the super poor – you can reduce your costs but you can’t eliminate them. You can’t budget if you have no money left to budget with.

As for me, I don’t like waste, and considering we have enough clothes to clothe the planet for the next 100 years, so every time I buy something from the thrift store I get giddy about how it’s one less thing going to the landfill. Is it making a HUGE difference? Probably not. But I enjoy it. I suspect my Dad gets the same excitement when he finds a 50% off roast to share with one of his friends – less food waste & people get to enjoy a hearty meal. While I will spend lavishly on the most incredible vacation imaginable (I never count my pennies when I travel – I do whatever the heck I want to!) I still can’t bring myself to pay full price for an LL Bean sweater knowing full well there will be piles of them filling the thrift stores once spring hits.

Entertainment, savings and saving things from the landfill? Sign me up for those hobbies. There are worse ones to have.

*His most expensive hobby, tbqh
**The best kind of friends
***These are my Americans, get your own

A few things I have been reading

A few things I have been reading

My neck has been hurting a lot because I type on my laptop on a 100-year-old desk so I am constantly looking down. I could switch to writing on my gaming computer which is more ergonomically inclined but I am trying to compartmentalize my activities so everything doesn’t just bleed into a giant category called “time I have wasted today.”

I haven’t done a link post in a hot minute and so here are some things I have enjoyed reading in the last little while. Please note that I post interesting things that I may not completely agree with and that you may not, either. But we shouldn’t just read things we always agree with – that’s what algorithms are for!

The economy

Kyla Scanlon mentioned this tweet* in a recent video and to paraphrase, “we’ve gotten accustomed to servants bringing us things all of the time.” But all good things come to an end, and gone is the era of VC cash propping up unprofitable businesses in an attempt to be the last business standing when the smoke cleared. Workers have gained in the last year and a bit whether it’s by unionizing or in court cases designating them as employees, not as contractors. That means prices are going to rise.

Also, it absolutely FLOORS me that this only cost this man $125. Most of the world hasn’t eaten a meal like that in their lifetimes let alone on a random weekday. ZOMG “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” already!

Americans are better off than you think. I know it’s difficult to parse but we got 10 years of inflation in a short period of time. I think people would have managed better if we had a small increase every year vs. what happened last year.

You don’t need everything you want: our expectations around money are all out of whack “Just because something doesn’t feel great doesn’t mean it’s fundamentally unfair. (Sometimes, the most unfair things are the ones that feel really great — as long as you’re on the right side of the trade.)” This is one of the better pieces out there discussing the vibesession.

I think it is important to remember that anyone under the median income is going to feel the squeeze of inflation more than those above it. For those who were struggling before, they’re absolutely tanked now. But people who have money and who saved money during the pandemic are spending like wildfire (although it’s slowing) and that’s why we are seeing a supply (low) and demand (high) scenario moving prices upwards.

Personal Finance

It’s funny because I have never not had a roommate. When I was a teenager I lived with 2 or more roommates and when I was in my twenties, 1 or more. Now I have a family and our useable living space is about 1500 square feet for four people and two dogs. In our old house, we had 1200sq ft, the kids shared a room and it was fine. We didn’t even use the backyard at the old place much: we went to the park every day instead and met up with other families in the neighbourhood.

I find most people I know who are younger than me and who don’t live with their parents do have 1 or 2 bedroom apartments just for themselves. Is it expectation or culture? Both? I feel like pre-WWII most people lived in small spaces with many family members and in the post-war era we have increasingly become accustomed to larger square footage per person. This has led to an increase in cars and urban sprawl (and 4000sq ft McMansions an hour away from where people work). I don’t have to answer to what can be done here but better public transit, more community stores vs big box stores, getting used to smaller spaces and more working from home are ideas off the top of my head.

My mortgage payments are going up $2000 a month, “We feel helpless and angry. If we lived way beyond our means, that would be one thing. But it’s not like we did something radical. We wanted a family home, we made some sacrifices and we got a decent-sized place in a decent neighbourhood. Hard-working, middle-class people should be able to buy homes in their own country without cutting back their lifestyles to the bone.

Recently, the Bank of Canada announced that interest rates would stay at 4.5 per cent, the first time it has held steady in more than a year…which makes me wonder how long it will be before Canada does the same. That’s always in the back of my mind.”

This article was written in the spring of last year and then after that, The Bank of Canada raised the rates and they now sit at 5%.

OOF it would be so easy to tear apart every single decision this family made because there are some horrible ones. BUT I will not. Why? Because it’s easy to point fingers and point out all the issues but his problems are super common with many families. I put this squarely on the heads of the people who convinced this man to give up his reasonable apartment close to work in exchange for an hour-long commute and a $790000 mortgage on an $150000 income.

– I actually only follow one of these YouTubers and he is one of my least favourite of all the people I follow on this list of Canadian Personal Finance YouTubers. I actually follow a lot of people whose advice I find laughable but that’s because I don’t want to just follow people I agree with.

– I grew up with a similar quote in my house, which is “you have champagne tastes on a beer budget.” But I think everyone should read this piece Learning to like beer in a world full of champagne propaganda. “When you disconnect someone’s means from their lifestyle preferences, otherwise-befuddling choices begin to make sense. The rich person who drives the Accord? Well, their ability to make money is unrelated to their taste in automobiles. The person spending their meager paychecks on luxury travel and racking up credit card debt? Well, their choice of education and professional earning ability (or lack thereof) doesn’t really have anything to do with their preferences for First Class, does it? Credit cards are a little like steroids, in that way: They allow you entry to a world that you otherwise would be incapable of accessing on your own, which is why both are frowned upon but prevalent nonetheless.”


I quit therapy: As it turns out, you don’t have to always work on yourself.

– Truth be told: I have a natural light lamp AND I take vitamin D. I find it helps me exponentially in the winter but what if nobody has seasonal affective disorder? (if you’re anything like me, that got your back up but it is a good read)

Family and community

– I loved this piece: community and you can do your art? Yes, please! I quit a corporate job to become a crossing guard.

– “It feels like this capitalist trope. The idea that it’s better and more worthwhile to strip away any social or familial support and do it all on your own is a scam.” Why people struggle so much in the world’s richest country

– “From the outside, we are enacting the best practices of urban family resource management. With rising housing costs and changing demographics, multigenerational living has finally gained social acceptance. Advocates trumpet its economic and emotional benefits. Despite being so on trend, I don’t feel especially cool living with my mom. And even an hour from sunrise, I’m already exhausted.” Multigenerational living often makes sense but that doesn’t make it easy.

– I love thrifting and am a big proponent of Buy Nothing groups on facebook. It’s sad though that people still toss out fully functional things. I worked at a dump

*LOL what are they called now? Xposts? NAH. Xs? UGH.

People like good news about their bad decisions

People like good news about their bad decisions

• I absolutely adore Katherine May’s books and have bought myself a copy of Wintering to re-read during the dark days ahead. Her newsletter is a lovely read about how to feel grounded in turbulent times.

• I’ve long been a big fan of alternative housing which is funny for someone for whom accessibility is a top concern. Still, this is a good piece about living on a boat. I wish it was more of a choice for many people

Which cities have bubble risk in their property markets?

A dollar is a medium of exchange, not a store of value. Some great points here!

• A great non-fiction-ish short story on the real costs of inflation in business and life.

People love good news about their bad decisions
This is why things like Girl Math and Little Treat culture gain traction on TikTok and other social media sites. It feels good to get confirmation that your decisions are in line with the decisions of others. We are, after all, a tribal species.

Unfortunately though, all of these videos and commentary from influencers has very little application to your own personal situation. As the adage goes in personal finance: the only person who cares about your money is you. It doesn’t matter how many videos you watch extoling the virtues of getting a “little treat” in the form of an $8 latte a day if you are miserable because you are sinking in debt – and you don’t even enjoy the latte that much. You need to take a look at your own situation and decide whether or not certain things have value and make you happy. Ignore the noise from the internet telling you that you can ignore any purchase under $5. It’s just “girl math!” What they aren’t telling you is that $5 once a day is $150 a month.

I think the challenge is when a treat becomes, over time, a habit. No one can decide that line for you but if you truly enjoy eating lunch out every day to the tune of $15 a day, then that is probably something you can decide to keep. But if it means you’re upset that can’t afford to go to a fancy dinner with friends because you’ve blown all of your spending money, then maybe review that habit. It’s on you to make those choices and no one else can make them for you.

Yes, there are systemic challenges that are happening and we should all be pushing for change. There is a housing crisis, a recession looming, pensions have gone the way of the Dodo and it can be easy to throw up your hands and say, “screw it, I am going to make myself happy today.” If you choose to do that, who am I to stop you? It’s your life. I am not going to judge. In fact, I don’t care at all. The only person who cares about your money is you.

I see so many people bemoaning standard personal finance advice,

“That wouldn’t work for me!”
“I don’t want to give up my lifestyle!”
“I need X!”
“That sounds like deprivation to me!”
“We need two cars!”
“I can’t eat leftovers!”
“I deserve this for working so hard!”
“Why bother saving, I’ll never be able to afford to buy a house/go on vacation/retire.”

You know what? You are absolutely right. Please carry on.

Do you think Dave Bach or Suze Orman give two shits about what you do with your money? No. They’re busy rolling around in the piles of cash because they’ve been on the personal finance scene for forever and a day spitting out books, getting speaking gigs, plying their trade. All your criticism of typical advice to get your financial affairs in order doesn’t matter one bit. The truth is, it’s very basic and it works. The info they’re peddling isn’t even new or revelational: they are saying the same stuff that you can read on the internet for free any day of the week.

Pay off your debt.
Live below your means.
Save the rest.
Have money in the bank for emergencies.
Save money and invest it long term.

You can bitch and moan all you want that it’s hard, or that you feel judged or that it doesn’t leave you much room for fun things but all it is, is information. You can ignore this information, or you can use it as a springboard to change your life. No one else cares.

Money lessons, learned?

Money lessons, learned?

As a parent, as you raise your kids you just have to cross your fingers and hope that they got the lessons and will apply the teachings to their lives. You know that not everything will stick and you also know that some things have to be experienced, not just told to you. It’s a lot of work for not knowing the outcome.

Since the eldest has started her first job, we’ve done our best to give her financial advice in a way that isn’t too finger-wagging but that still encourages her to plan for saving and future spending. She luckily was given three permanent guaranteed shifts, three days a week, or 25 hours. It’s a perfect way to start your first job, in my opinion. Since she’s started though, she’s realized that she can also pick up MORE shifts and that MORE shifts means MORE money. So she got out a calculator to figure out how many shifts a week she could reasonably work. Bless her heart!

Also, because the city has had such a hard time hiring and retaining staff, they’ve also changed their NO OVERTIME policy and are allowing the wading pool attendants to get time and a half for every hour worked over 44 hours. So the eldest got her calculator out again and figured out how much she could make in a week.

Off to her first day of work

Of course, I don’t want my 15-year-old to work over 44 hours a week but I think the process is valuable. It makes her calculate – and evaluate – how much time she wants to trade for money. I think she also thought that her friends would be around much more than they have been this summer. Many of them have cottages or have gone on trips so her off time is generally spent playing video games & staying home. I think that is what has prompted her to pick up as many shifts as she can: she really wants to save enough to spend during the school year, when her friends are around and they want to go out and do things.

I would be lying if it didn’t warm my cold, goth heart when she called me into her room to tell me about the financial plan she had worked out based on a theoretical amount of shifts she can pick up over the next 5 weeks. She had stuck to my 50% long term savings, 25% short term savings for the school year and the 25% spend now plan! I was super proud of her even though I only said she had to put X amount into long term savings – she decided on her own to save more!

Of course, I did tell her that she should take her first pay and spend it all, as a treat for getting her first job. She ended up getting paid and taking her sister to the mall with her so she could pick up a few things. Sure, she spent money on things that I thought were useless but we all spend in ways that other people wouldn’t! She also kindly bought her sister a cute sweater.

What I found telling though is that the eldest also decided to buy them both lunch at the food court while they were there. When she got home with her spoils she confided in her dad and I, “I wish I hadn’t bought the fast food. It was $30 – two hours of work – and it wasn’t even that good! Oh well.”

Lesson learned, indeed.

Check out the crabs in the bucket

Check out the crabs in the bucket

A couple of years ago a man in Toronto with a professional job bought a house. Of course, this story plays out across the country every day: many people buy and sell houses all of the time. But Sean Cooper not only bought a house but he also had the nerve to rent out his top floor and live in the basement, work three jobs and ride a bicycle everywhere in order to pay off his mortgage in three years. Naturally, the internet’s reaction was swift: how dare he.

I subsequently read Sean Cooper’s book about his experience …and discovered nothing of note. Basically his plan was simple: be young, single, child free, able-bodied, know how to live frugally, have a high paying career, be able to give up what makes life worth living and have enough energy to work multiple jobs. It’s hardly rocket surgery. Obviously, not everyone is able to tick off all of these boxes on the “pay off house quickly” list. Few of us – if we’re honest – are able to do more than a couple of things that he did, let alone all of them. But outliers make for great copy so he soon found himself clenching onto his 15 minutes of fame in his paid-off house.

An (ex) friend of mine wrote a particularly scathing commentary about the article denouncing him. In fact, many people did including this particularly vitriolic piece in Slate. When I asked my friend why he cared what other people did, his response was that if everyone did this than capitalism would expect us all to do this! I didn’t think that was true but I let it go. What I find hilarious is that in retrospect, when all this was going down we were in one of the largest Bull Markets in history. For most people, life had never been better: interest rates were low, equities high and compared to today real estate was way more affordable. In fact, reading that Slate article as we claw our way out of a global pandemic feels almost quaint.

Here is the rub though: I think that Slate article is bang on. Individual actions not structural inequalities drive our morality when it comes to money and it shouldn’t. Yes, absolutely I would love to see some real change, some real support for people who are struggling. But let’s also be realistic: only people who are like Sean Cooper in every way have the ability to do what Sean Cooper did. But only them. Being angry at Sean Cooper for his accomplishments is like being angry at David Beckham for being better than you at football.

The real issue is that we are extrapolating his very constricted set of circumstances and trying to apply them widely. Clearly, a single parent of two children in an expensive city with a minimum wage job is not going to be able to pull this off and no one is saying that this is what they should aspire to. Similarly, I – as a middle-aged disabled woman – will never be a famous footballer. That’s why it got any press at all: he accomplished something only available to a select few people. Cooper was featured because he deviated from the norm and deviation from the norm gets eyeballs on your news pieces which in turn generates advert dollars. That’s all. But even if we can’t apply every single idea into our lives there is still a lot of value to see people doing things differently. We can extrapolate a few ideas instead. Maybe someone reading that article will realize that they rarely use their car and that they can give it up and instead buy themselves the model railroad they’ve always wanted. Who knows?

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Marie Kondo get raked against the coals for daring to say that she isn’t as tidy anymore now that she has three kids. No duh. Of course, the internet jumped all over this. The same thing happened when her book (and subsequent Netflix show) came out. My facebook lit up like a Christmas tree at the fact that she only had fifteen books. “JUST FIFTEEN!” people lamented, “That’s bullshit! I could never live like that!” But she never claimed that everyone needed to have a maximum of fifteen books. She stated that fifteen books was the right amount of books FOR HER. If rooms full of books “spark joy” for you, then her perspective was: you do you. The catch was that you needed to actually watch the shows and/or read the book to know that she wasn’t insistent on just 15 books. Instead people succumbed to internet outrage and social media soundbites. But her recent decision that tidying was a lower priority for her now that she had three children set the trolls ablaze. “AHA! was the collective response to the news, “clearly it was all bullshit!”. Really though, her choice not to prioritize tidying over time with her small children in no way means her system doesn’t work. It just means that right now spending time with her kids “sparks joy” more than a tidy house does.

Finally, this week I was unsurprised to watch the trolls come out in full force when I read the comments about this Vancouver couple. While some of the comments are cruel, some of them are just nonsense. “Well she isn’t retired now, is she?” Well maybe she doesn’t want to retire yet. “There is no way they can retire on 800k.” Had they used the BTSX strategy, a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation pegs the dividends at over $40000/pa. “They won’t be able to travel on that kind of income.” Geographic Arbitrage is cheaper than living in Vancouver full time, for sure.

Unfortunately, a lot of online interaction leads itself to Crab Bucket mentality: because I can’t have it, I’m going to drag you down. Like the metaphorical crab who sees another crab escaping & stops them, people in similar circumstances who won’t do the work end up in comment sections dragging the people in the article down. Their goal is to shame people who do things differently and hope that other people agree with them. Groupthink is incredibly powerful and the message is, “if I can’t have it, you shouldn’t either!” We love watching successful people get dragged in what the Australians/New Zealanders call Tall Poppy Syndrome.

People are completely missing the point of all three of these examples. They’re just ideas, tools and goals that these individuals used to give themselves options. Maybe their lifestyle isn’t for everyone but SURELY they have to have some insight that we can potentially apply to our own lives? Also, we make the assumption that we are the audience for every article when clearly we are not. These articles have value because there are people out there who don’t know that they can pay off the mortgage early, or that there are better ways of folding t-shirts or that a high savings rate is achievable for mid-income folks with a few short cuts. But smart people realize that there are nuggets of wisdom everywhere so they take what they can from a resource and leave the rest. I see this a lot in popular personal books (PF) that are written for an audience outside of the author’s country. Inevitably there is always a review that says, “ONE STAR: this doesn’t apply to me because I don’t live in that country. You need to write one about my country.” But I’ve read personal finance books from all over the world and inevitably I take some gems out of all them. Most PF books are US-based but I just swap the terms for Canadian versions, IRA to RRSP for example. I don’t need to be spoon fed every single detail about my particular situation, I can just apply the larger idea to my own life by adjusting it.

The reality is that no matter how often you get angry that your house isn’t tidy enough, or it’s not getting paid off as quickly as you’d like, or you feel stuck in your life with your finances awry, no number of negative comments you post will change that. Sure, you may get a little shot of dopamine when someone agrees with you or you can get jacked up on the arguments with the people who don’t agree with you but it adds zero value to your life. You would be better off taking notes or figuring out who else is achieving the goals you’d like to achieve and reading their books or blogs.

I didn’t pay off my house in 3 years, it’s an absolute tidiness disaster with two kids and two dogs and I certainly don’t have close to $700000 in investments. I am still grateful for these people who’ve given us a window into their lives. The value in reading these stories is not making a carbon copy and applying it to your life, its value comes from seeing that maybe you could try and do things differently and that it could be life-changing. When you have applied some of these tips and tricks the value becomes one of seeing that you aren’t alone – other people are doing it to!

So I encourage everyone to get out of the metaphorical crab bucket. Glean the wisdom that may be helpful to your life and focus on how you can make your situation better. It’s much better time spent.

A short history of my personal FI success

A short history of my personal FI success

My foray into personal finance started when I was 18 and dirt poor & living on my own. In the 90s buying clubs like Columbia House (hah! Remember them?) and Book of the Month Club were all the rage and like a fool, I was a member of both of them. But as fate would have it, one of the books that I received was The Tightwad Gazette (TWG) II. When I got it I read it cover-to-cover and then I read it again. Despite the fact that these mail order clubs were pretty awful, I probably have benefited more financially from stumbling across that book than from anything else that has happened. It lead me down a road of seeing that there was a different way of living and it gave me the power to understand that I had control over my money. Eventually I bought both TWG I & III as well as Your Money or Your Life (YMOYL), which is the book that had the most impact on me during my 20s and 30s.

Before the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) movement with its stoicism and side hustles by tech-based workers & other high-income adherents, there was Joe and Vicky. Their vision of the for financial independence (FI) movement was one of simple living and community. Their ideas were about resource management not just for the accumulation of cash but also concerned the environment & leaving the planet a better place. It was a vision for a better world and it spoke to me. Although I have enjoyed some of the FIRE blogs over the past 10 years, I have been embedded into the YMOYL vision of FI and have found that the bootstrapping, solitary goal of accumulating money of most FIRE bloggers has struck me as mostly empty. Of course, there are those who have a larger vision but they don’t seem to be the ones screaming the loudest.

Of course, you may be thinking, “Well Tucker, learning about all of this by 20 certainly didn’t help you to retire early! You worked until 3 years ago!” While that is true, it is also missing the larger picture, which is the one of independence, or having the freedom to make different choices. By learning to be good with my money it has given me the option to make decisions that I may not have been able to make had a lot of debt or lived a large lifestyle. Here are some things that FI knowledge has given me:

– After being laid off from my well-paying corporate job I was able to join a government-sponsored small business training program that lead me to owning an eco-friendly cleaning business in my early 30s.
– After listening to my mother, I bought a condo downtown for $115k when I was 24 years old with a $5000 inheritance I received (full disclosure she co-signed the mortgage). After a couple of years I was able to remortgage & used the money to pay off my student loans (the difference was 6.5% a year!).
– After I became a parent, being frugal allowed me to stay home with my kids until they were 2 & 4 years old.
– I went back to work when it looked like Mr. Tucker’s job situation looked tenuous. But we were still able to live off of one salary.
– When I went back to work I was able to take contracts from September – May and stay home with my kids over the summer (I would have worked but student programs generally filled those jobs during those months).
– Going back to work allowed us to spend a month in Puerto Rico in 2014 & not have debt long-term.
– Saving up a huge down payment for our house allowed us to take on a smaller mortgage than we would have. We are now looking to pay this off by 2023.
– When I was diagnosed with Primary Lateral Sclerosis the waiting period for sickness benefits with Employment Insurance was a month & only lasted 12 weeks. The waiting period for my Disability Insurance to kick in was 13 weeks! Having savings & having an emergency budget for when money got tight helped us not use credit to see us through.
– Being disabled can be expensive: having a doctor fill out my forms just to apply for my benefits was $45 each time. I have great medical insurance but it only pays a portion of my mobility device costs.
– Because we wanted to travel when the kids could be pulled out of school and my mobility was still good, we are frugal in our daily lives but have visited many countries, were able to go to Disney (twice!) and Universal and are able to rent cottages with friends in the summer.

All in all, my FI knowledge, ability to switch into a tight budget, and our savings rate have all contributed to our lifestyle. Between graduating from university & my diagnosis I have worked full-time only about 10 years & the rest were part-time or were the years I was a stay-at-home-parent. We don’t have a basement full of stuff (but if you enjoy that kind of thing, more power to you), we only got a car when the eldest was around 1, we cloth diapered, we reused everything, ate a lot of beans, and didn’t buy a lot of things we didn’t need. But we did want to travel, our kid’s university savings accounts are well-funded and our retirement accounts are doing well. We also have a ton of friends in our community and the kids and the adults all have hobbies that they enjoy doing.

Overall, this is the definition of FI success to me. We don’t live life on autopilot but instead make concentrated decisions of how we want to spend our time & money to live the life we want. It’s part luck, part good choices but also making great friends, having the support of our families, and having fun hobbies to sustain us. We have even loftier goals for the next three years but more on that later!

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!