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RESP status – 2023

RESP status – 2023

The youngest’s school. The posters say UNLEARN.

It’s the start of the new year and I figure it’s a good time to take stock of some of our investments and savings (ok, the end of December is better but it’s chaos and I forgot to do it then). One of the things that is good to know is how much grant (and bond, if it applies to you) money you’ve received for each kid in your Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP).

If you don’t have an RESP you can find all the criteria for the program at the Government of Canada’s Canada Education Savings Program (CESP) website. Even if you are low-income you can get up to $2000 in bonds from the government. Otherwise, the government will give you 20% of your contribution in grants, up to $500 a year to a lifetime maximum per child of $7200. Also, if you can’t put the full $2500 a year in to get the $500 grant, you can always play catchup later for a maximum of $1000 worth of grants from the government, per year. The money grows tax free until you take it out to use for school. Of course, go to the link above and read all about it yourself as there is a lot more info than I can give here.

Of course, with most programs offered by the government, third party financial managers will try and convince you that it’s too difficult to manage on your own. They will try and tell you that it costs nothing to use their services and that they will manage the program for you. But there is no such thing as a free lunch and usually they get kickbacks by managing high-fee investments for you, limiting your overall returns and eating away at your savings. In fact, there is no reason why you can’t manage your own with a discount broker (such as Wealthsimple or Questrade) or through your own bank.

There are three types of plans single, family or group. If you have one kid, single (or group) are your options. If you have multiple children, a family plan is best because if one child decides not to pursue post-secondary, the other child(ren) may use the money. Group plans are usually sold via third party financial managers and are usually considered a poor product (read more on this post by Moningstar).

Having said that, I mentioned in a previous post that when my kids were young and unaware, we used to ask family for money for their RESPs instead of gifts for their birthdays. This worked out well. We also had very limited income when my children were younger so we only contributed $80 a month ($40 each) to their RESPs. Since 2020 however, we have been maxing their yearly contribution and maxing their catchup amounts.

Today I called the CESP to see where we were in terms of maxing out that money. For the eldest I can contribute $5000 a year in 2023 and 2024 and then another $635 in 2025 to hit the maximum grant. For the youngest, I have the $5000 max for the next 3 years and then in 2026 I can contribute $2000 to get the maximum grant.

Unlike plans like the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) which sends me a letter telling me how much I can contribute to get the maximum grant for that program, the CESP does not. So you will have to call. Before you call, have with you:
1 – The plan owner’s Social Insurance Number (SIN). I am the plan owner for my kids.
2 – Your child(ren’s) SINs/dates of birth/address on file
3 – To get this information, the plan owner will need to call the Canada Education Savings Program (CESP) toll-free line at 1-888-276-3624, between the hours of 8am and 5pm (ET), Monday to Friday

Make sure you ask how much grant money each individual child has received. You can also ask how much contribution room you have left for each child as well. The maximum contribution room per child is $50000 but you are only eligible for grant money for $36000 of that. We aim to save the $36000 per kid to get the grant money but after that we don’t plan on contributing.

Mr. Tucker and I didn’t have family money to see us through school so we both had to take out student loans. While I don’t regret my decision as it led to a great career, I really felt the weight of the student loan payments when I was just starting out in the working world. We’ve been lucky to be able to have the extra money to save for our children’s education but we have told our children that we expect them to also contribute either via work or scholarships. As I mentioned previously, we also have enough money, currently, for each of them to do a 4-year university or college degree if they live at home. We’ve also discussed that if they want to go away for university they will need to fill in the gaps with scholarships and/or work. Either way, they will hopefully graduate with an undergrad with a lot less debt than I had.

Pandemic Positives: lunch at home

Pandemic Positives: lunch at home

Mr. Tucker has worked from home since the kids were little and back then I was a stay-at-home-parent. It used to be that I would take the kids to the YMCA when they were young, stick them in daycare for a couple of hours & then I would be able to work out and shower. Afterwards, I would take them to a drop in for pre-kindergarten kids that was run by the school board. All of this excitement and then we’d be home by noon where I would make lunch for everyone and then put the kids down for naptime.

Of course, when Sprout was around two I went back to work during the winter months. Bean was in kindergarten and Sprout went to a combo of nursery school/daycare until she hit kindergarten. So lunches together at home went to packed lunches* for the three of us while Mr. Tucker now made his own lunch. By the time they were 6 & 8 I was back at work all year round and that meant that brown back lunch was pretty much an every day thing.

One of the things that has been really great during the pandemic is home cooked lunches together every day. Sure, more often than not it is leftovers or soup & grilled cheese but it’s a nice change from what we used to do. I make the kids head out for a walk every day at lunch (rain or shine – and cold or snow) and while they are out, I whip up their lunch. Of course, at 10 & 12 they are more than capable of making their own food but I find it’s something I enjoy. When they come in we all sit at the table and chat while we eat.

Honestly, it’s just nice to break up the day this way. I want them to get a change of scenery (as small as it is) and have some structure instead of just sitting at their desks or staying inside all of the time. It’s also nice to have a mid-day chat to gauge how things are going at school. It reminds me of those busy days when I was mobile and the kids were young and how much time we used to spend together. It’s pretty nice.

Next year (vaccine willing) the Bean will be heading into a new school for her second year of junior high and will probably want more control over her lunches. The Sprout will also be heading into her last year of elementary school and it will be her last year as one of the oldest kids in the school. Teenagehood is approaching fast here and so even if everything has gone to hell in a handbasket in 2020 (and 2021 doesn’t look that great either) at least we do have a year of homecooked lunches together to look back on.

Honestly, we are heading into a year now and we are all cracking a bit at the seams. So looking at the little things that have positively come out of the pandemic keeps us all a little bit saner.

*Where I am there are no school lunch programs so everyone brown bags it. There is however, a breakfast program for kids who don’t get a nutritious breakfast at home. Bean came home one day and said, “I sure do love the free breakfast at school!” As it turns out she was eating Second Breakfast at school. I had to explain to her that she shouldn’t be taking that food and why they provide it.

The routine that saved us

The routine that saved us

Since March break 2020 I think I have been outside of the house less than 15 times (full disclosure: twice was to go to a rental cottage). We made the decision to keep the kids home in remote school because a> I am compromised, so getting covid would be potentially devastating or me; b> I figured in-person school would shut down & that it would be worse to have to transition the kids a back-and-forth. Sure enough, that happened.

In the spring online schooling was a mishmash of trials and errors to figure things out. The day flowed in the same way that a regular school day would and it was a super long day for the kids. In the fall they re-did their online learning and it turned out to be amazing:
– first synchronous session 9-11:00
– 40 minute break – 11:45 – 1:30
– second synchronous session until 1:30
– asynchronous learning with the teachers available to help kids with their work until 2:30+
– In the Bean’s class they even have an art program at 2pm on Tuesdays

This allowed the kids to have the same lunch at 11-11:45 so I send them out for a 20 minute walk while I prep lunch. It’s a pretty good system, really! The kids miss their friends & have had to make due with socially distanced walks (pre- stay-at-home order) and online chats where they play games or just hangout but overall, it is working well. We play a lot of games in the evening to sort of fill in around the edges for social time & we do mandate offline time where they engage in analog activities.

Unfortunately, when the in-school kids were sent home at Christmas they stuck to the same full school day they had when it was in-person. YIKES. That is a really long day staring at a screen as the school day typically runs 6 hours or so. No wonder kids and parents alike have been struggling. Today we learned that those kids will return to school on Monday.

Overall though, what I think has saved us is our routine. Sure, the school day builds in some routines naturally but we’ve also had to carve out routines for the whole family. We all roll out of bed between 7:30 and 8, eat breakfast, get dressed & brushed. While the girls eat breakfast and get ready, Mr. Tucker and I sip our coffees and chat before he gets ready for work. So while the girls eat breakfast and get ready, Mr. Tucker and I sip our coffees and chat.

In the fall, I bought the girls Big Life Journals so that they would have a prompt for their feelings and a place to write them. So they start and also end the day with journaling to write down any challenges they face. I mean sure, we do discuss their lives but sometimes you need a private place to put your thoughts (and full disclosure: I am an avid diarist & find it super helpful). If they get all of that done they are allowed to have access to their phones to chat with friends until school starts (they are pretty good at getting things done because of this!).

After school they have what we refer to as CHAMP: chores, homework and music practice. They are each supposed to practice their respective instruments for 20 minutes a day and chores can be anything from doing the dishes (they alternate) to checking the mail. Since we get weekly updates from the teachers on what assignments are due, we always know what is happening. Although, they’re pretty great at getting their projects done. After their CHAMP is all done, they have free reign until dinner with their phones to chat with their friends although the Sprout is more likely to be found listening to music and rollerskating in the basement.

Mr. Tucker and I make dinner after he gets off of work & we always eat dinner together (no devices). After dinner cleanup we usually sit down and play games together until bedtime or the odd occasion we will watch movies or shows.

That pretty much sums up our weekdays! Our weekends are more of a free-for-all as the kids have access to devices and generally spend it playing video games and on calls with their friends. We do almost always eat dinner together & we try and do a movie night.

Before the pandemic our schedule was similar but more lackadaisical. It was easier when we could visit friends, go out to restaurants and shop whenever we wanted. But since we are doing all our cooking at home but are minimizing grocery trips we’ve become better at planning. If we run out of eggs, we just eat something else until the next planned trip. We also had a no-devices-on-weekdays rule but since they don’t see their friends as often, we had to bend the rules but still maintain some offline time. But having a schedule that was more rigid in some ways but looser in others demarcates the week so we don’t all lost the plot and spend all of out time watching Netflix.

I think in terms of how we are faring mental health-wise, the routine has helped because at least we know what to expect, and when. We are also talking a lot more and discussing more mature topics than we would have had we not been stuck together more often than not. Of course, we’re still facing challenges and the picture isn’t always rosy but given the current state of the world, we’re pretty ok. Hopefully when the world gets back to normal (or a new normal) we can keep some of the positives we’ve learned such as the importance of building a good routine.