Cross-border budget beer

With all this talk of Trump’s tweets about Canadians going to the US to smuggle cheap shoes (WHAT?) I figure now is a good time to discuss geography. I always used to laugh when people said they’d drive over the provincial bridge to Quebec for beer. “Surely,” I thought. “You can’t save enough to warrant the trip!”

Of course, I didn’t really think much of it until I realized how much entertaining we have been doing this summer. Despite the fact that most people bring their own alcohol we’ve been burning through a lot more beer than we typically do. Looking over our budget, a lot of our entertainment budget was spent on alcohol. So on a whim, I checked the Flipp app to see if there were any good beer sales going on.


Wait, WHAT?

Those of you who live in areas where booze is cheap may think that is an average price for beer. But let’s see how much three of those beers are in my province:


Corona (incl tax but not deposit)


Stella Artois (tax/no dep)


Heineken (tax/no dep)

So with taxes and no deposit (we are assuming we will return the cans) every case purchased in Quebec costs $33.99 after tax where the beer purchased here is $45.50-$49.50. So that means a savings of $11.51 to $15.51 a case. That is an incredible savings. So if you take the 25 minute trip over the border and stock up, every run can save you a pile of money. In our case (no pun intended) we ended up purchasing 10 cases today, which means we saved $138.61 (accounting for the variation in prices). That is a ridiculous amount of money for essentially a one-hour trip.


The haul

We also bought 4 different wines you cant get in our province for $76.95 including 3 litres of grapefruit wine cooler that was a mere $22.98. Comparable versions on this side of the border are about $100.

The biggest question though: it is legal? The answer to that is both yes and no. Although police have been known to crackdown occasionally, it really is really rare and often is relegated to underage drinking as the age of majority varies province-to-province.

All-in our little trip took about an hour and saved us approximately $162 making the trip absolutely worth it when beer goes on sale and if you can afford to buy in bulk.

While I won’t get into the reasons for such a disparity in pricing, this video, “Straight Up” does a great job of exploring the history of alcohol in the province of Ontario. It’s a fascinating look at how prohibition-era ideas about alcohol still dominate us today:

Straight Up: The Issue of Alcohol in Ontario from Peter Lenardon on Vimeo.

Finally, with Doug Ford campaigning on a-buck-a-beer platform – and winning the provincial legislature last week – it will be interesting to see what happens over the next little while. Given at how they were selling beer for $10 at the Ontario PC after party, I hope that isn’t a sign of what’s to come (beer is the least of the issues in this province, honestly). Still, for those of us who live near a border, it won’t matter as much unless prices rise in both places.

I’m probably talking sh*t about you


There is an XKCD for all occasions

I ended up in a personal finance conversation with a colleague earlier this year where he said, “Retire early? Why would I want to do that? What would I do with my time?” I walked away completely shocked: my colleague is 21 years old. If a 21-year-old can’t think of a million and one things to do with his time no wonder some people are scared of being bored in retirement.

Naturally, when I went home I recounted the tale to Mr. Tucker who also had a PFFFT reaction.

*clutches pearls* “Can you EVEN imagine?!”

* * *

We have tons of conversations with many different people every day. We speak with colleagues, friends, our partners, people on the internet. We are constantly interacting and constantly judging – even when we think we aren’t. We do this because we are wired to learn and part of that learning process is weighing other people’s thoughts and ideas and deciding whether to incorporate them into our own beliefs.

A friend may voice an opinion that I disagree with and I may retell that to anther friend, “I can’t believe that Bob thinks X, Y, Z when really it’s A, B, C; how can he not see that?” That friend may either agree with me, or they may agree with Bob, or they may counter with another perspective – or perhaps a mix of all three. As the conversation continues we may both either reject or incorporate this new information but either way we are exposing ourselves to new ideas.

Gossip and conversation are often looked at negatively. There is a great quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that goes, “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. We are constantly gossiping because that is how we’ve historically transmitted news and I would argue that most of the interesting tidbits from history are almost all gossip.

Not all gossip is bad, either. Telling someone a mutual friend had a baby is discussing people but it’s also relaying important social information. A friend may mention to me that another friend is going through a hard time and could really use support. By knowing that, I can reach out and offer help without even having to discuss why I am doing it. A friend may have had a bad experience with someone and needs an objective third party to help them sort out their feelings on the issue and decide a course of action. Every day we are commenting on the things we experience.

In the world of personal finance advice this is even more apparent. To be fair, a lot of personal finance bloggers also have tenets they feel are inviolable: THOU SHALT SAVE 10% OF ONE’S INCOME. THOU SHALT BROWN BAG IT. Advice that works most of the time but that isn’t for everyone and opens them up to a lot of harsh criticism. To the extreme, we have the trolls in comments sections jealously judging and whipping out cruel commentary to everything without even considering it. On the other end, we have reasoned arguments and discussions all across social media. Whenever you put yourself out there with ideas that counter the norm you are going to get the naysayers. Heck, just being on the internet and having an opinion opens you up to a whole slew of comments – both positive and negative.

It may sound weird but am grateful for this gossip. I know people are talking shit about me and I am fine with that. It means that they’re paying attention to what I say, do, and write. The world would be an incredibly boring place if we all had the same opinions and all did the same things. I am grateful for a world in which people’s different experiences can be relayed to me and I get to learn new things or solidify how I feel on certain issues. By keeping an open mind we all get to learn new things and better ourselves (or worsen, depending on your opinion).

As for my colleague, maybe he went home that night to his girlfriend and said, “you won’t believe what this middle-aged crazy colleague of mine said today!” However, maybe his girlfriend may think it’s not crazy at all, or maybe he’ll sleep on it and think, “Huh, maybe I could do that?”

Planning for the darkest timeline

Gail Vaz Oxlade has a saying, “You can have it all, you just can’t have it right now.” In general, that is great advice. It’s always good to stop and consider what the price of your decisions are – not just in the moment, but in the future as well. You CAN buy that 60k car on a long payment plan but 8 years at hundreds of dollars a month means you can’t do a lot of other things. It’s all about choices.

But standard advice goes out the window when you don’t know what the future holds.

Of course NONE of us know what the future holds. Anyone of us at any time could get an aggressive cancer or get hit by a bus. In the past five years I have known two people my age who have died from respiratory failure after contracting a flu. People who were on the young side of middle-age. But healthy people generally plan for the future by believing that they will be much like they are today. We know intellectually that we will be X years older but the brain has a hard time imagining its future self.

But people like me who have chronic, degenerative illnesses know that the future absolutely holds a best case/worst case scenario and both are pretty dire. However, like most of you I hold onto that best case scenario imagining that my mobility and speech won’t deteriorate much and that life will continue as is. It’s a textbook example of wishful thinking.

However, because I am a planner I like playing with various outcomes in my head and with my life decisions and one of those scenarios is always inevitably the worst case one, the darkest timeline.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope that a myriad of things occur: a plateau that stabilizes my condition, a drug that mitigates the worst symptoms, a cure. But planning on hope leads to disappointment. Planning for the darkest timeline may lead to a happy surprise. So all my planning assumes that within 10 years I will lose major functionality and all my decisions today rely on that assumption. So the next ten years where I had planned to save like crazy, pay off the mortgage, and then travel the world for a while with my family? GONE. I have to face down the reality that I may not be here in ten years, and that chances the order of things drastically.


Inaccurate representation of my life

Because most travel requires mobility and (being alive) I may not be mobile for long, it makes sense to throw caution to the wind and get on it. Sure, there are travel companies that specialize in disabled travel but like everything else there is a premium disabled people pay. Most budget-friendly travel is inexpensive because you are able to a> pick-up-and-go with only a small amount of gear you can carry yourself, b> stay in less-than-accessible lodging, and c> is designed so you cover a lot of things on foot. Many places that are interesting to see are also have cobblestones, stairs, and other challenges that make being mobile important (Incas, why you gotta build stuff SO HIGH?). Also, traveling as a group of four is already expensive enough so the more we can do it while I am mobile, the more we can see over time.

In the darkest timeline, priorities change. It is way less important to me to pay off our meager mortgage right now than it is to take that money and see as much as I can see of the world. I know that Mr. Tucker and I can manage our small mortgage, so it makes sense to funnel all of our extra dollars into travel. In the end, life is about living and living it as genuinely and as enthusiastically as you can, while you can. So if you see dark clouds on the horizon you may want to switch direction. Sure, the storm may pass but if it doesn’t you’ll be kicking yourself for seeing it coming and not altering your path. I see the storm coming. I am changing directions.

If we are FI, why do we continue to save?

Traveling while gimpy

(This is the fourth post in a series about being diagnosed with Primary Lateral Sclerosis. See “I’m sorry, you have motor neurone disease…”,The financial burden of disability, and Forced FI vs. Choosing FI)

One of the most basic realities of my condition is that we don’t know what the future holds. Some people see very little – or even no – change over the years. Some decline quickly and hit a plateau, and some switch over to being full ALS patients. Given all the advances in medical science over the last 100+ years, we often forget how limited all our knowledge is, especially when it comes to the brain. While medical science is advancing daily, I feel people have higher expectations from medicine than is currently possible. Given these parameters, how do we plan?

As I mentioned, having private disability insurance gives me 70% of my salary for as long as I am disabled (or until I turn 65), if I die that source of income disappears (plot twist: it’s only FI if I stay alive – much like a salary). While I cling to the hope that something can halt or improve my condition, financially 70% of my salary is a lot more than our post-FI projection was (is!) so our family is ok financially. However, we don’t know what the future holds in terms of what I will require, and we have already discussed how expensive disability can be.

The best way to plan for an uncertain future is to always hedge your bets.

So while one would think that we can relax a little because we have income that meet our needs for the foreseeable future, that is the last thing we want to do. In fact, we are even more dedicated to saving money now that I have been diagnosed. We want Mr. Tucker to retire sooner rather than later – so much so that we are looking at ways to decrease our daily spending even more. So why are we doubling-down given that we could potentially relax?

1 – While I am still mostly able-bodied (with assistance) the chances of this being true long-term are slim-to-none. Mr. Tucker will have to assist me more as the years go on and holding down a full time job, caring for two kids, and taking care of a disabled spouse is a big ask of anyone. Eliminating the need for paid work is a huge burden lifted off his shoulders.

2 – As I mentioned before, disability is incredibly expensive and as my ability to walk and manage daily tasks decreases, the need for more assistive devices increases. More money saved means not having to worry if I can afford these things in the future.

3 – While I am still able to walk and talk, I want to travel as much as possible. We have always wanted to retire early and travel the world but now we need to consider traveling pre-retirement. Given that Mr. Tucker works a remote job, this is feasible for us but we have to work in travel vs. our budget. Budget travel is also usually meant to people who are more able-bodied, so in order to see the things we want to see, I may have to chose a more expensive – but also more accessible – method.

4 – I may die sooner. No one wants to think about their own death but I need to be realistic that I may die sooner than my husband, and maybe even when my family is still young. My death would effectively stop the disability payments and could leave my family in the lurch. Ensuring Mr. Tucker has the means to support the family in the event of my death is paramount (yes, we also have life insurance).

First day at our new home

We originally wanted to pay off the house before the mortgage came due (in Dec 2020) but we may end up still having a small mortgage if it means we can travel more. Right now, Mr. Tucker’s salary goes 50% to the mortgage payoff account, and 50% towards his retirement account but we continue to play with these numbers.

This is a good example of how budgets need to be fluid and changing when new information is introduced. No one could have predicted this devastating news would land on our laps this winter – but it did – and our budget needs to reflect our new reality. So we are ramping up our goal timelines and slashing our discretionary spending in order to do the things we want to do while we still can. We will continue to optimize our plans whenever new information (read: life’s curveballs) comes our way. After all, there is never a bad time to save money for a rainy day.

Forced FI vs. choosing FI


I’m a swear-y unicorn so my coworker made me this for my desk

(This is the third post in a series about being diagnosed with Primary Lateral Sclerosis. See “I’m sorry, you have motor neurone disease…” and The financial burden of disability)

Ever since reading Your Money or Your Life in my early 20s, I knew I didn’t want to work until I was 65. Although my goals and career changed a few times over the past 22 or so years, early retirement was always on the back of my mind.

Of course, last fall we got the news that we wouldn’t be able to buy the home we lived in, as promised, but we still did manage to buy a house with a low mortgage. In fact, our new home was probably the best move we could have made as we aren’t settling at all for a subpar property that needed expensive renovations. Still, this blow set back our early retirement plans. I re-finagled the budget and still managed to have Mr. Tucker seeing early retirement in about 5 years, and me shortly after.

Why shortly after?

Here is the deal: despite wanting to not be tied to paid employment, I love my job. I love that it is creative but analytic at the same time, I love interacting with people, I love being able to help Canadians access government services. I love everything about working in social media. I also had an incredibly bright, innovative team full of amazing people who I looked forward to seeing every day. My bosses were supportive and kind and were really invested in their employee’s success. I got paid well, had amazing benefits and so I had really won the job lottery. It was still work, and of course there were days where I hated getting out of bed but for the most part if I had to work for money, working at this job was the best option out there.


You’re my new boss now, MRI

So needless to say that when my neurologist told me to go on leave all these feelings rushed to the surface. You don’t realize how much you identify with your career until it is taken away from you. I certainly didn’t. Despite realizing how exhausted and how difficult it was for me to work full time, not being able to work left a huge hole in my identity – a hole I didn’t even know was filled by my career.

Realistically, my disability insurance covers 70% of my salary so really, a lot more money than we had planned to live on post-FI, so theoretically I should have been happy that I had this safety net that would cover my family. YOU’VE REACHED FI, HUZZAH! But despite being grateful for that contingency, I was still angry and resentful.


I don’t know what kind of rehab they do here but I am in

It was only after I had been able to catch up on sleep and heal from exhaustion that I realized the reason I felt so lost was because the choice had been taken from me. When working towards FI it was always a goal that I acted on. I made the choice to plan for early retirement just like I made the choice on how to spend money in order to reach our goals. Having that agency taken from me was like someone had pulled the rug out from under me. I was no longer free to choose my future, my illness now dictated it.

Of course, 5 months have now passed since the initial shock and I have had time and space to work my head around our new reality. The first couple of months were full off fear about whether or not my disability claim would be approved, what the trajectory of my illness would be, and what the future held for my young family. It didn’t help that everything happened right after a stressful period in our lives and during the darkest days of winter. I spent my days googling frantically trying to find whatever information I could about my diagnosis. I started various therapies and changed my diet up. I’ve joined online communities of people like me and have discovered that while we all have different trajectories, some people are statistical outliers and that there is some hope that I may have little change over the years. I’ve gone from feeling like I was spiraling out of control to taking control of the aspects of my life I could control.


A smarter woman just would have used an iPad but I was 1/2 through a movie and didn’t want to find it again and FF to the right place

In the end, our lives will be full of curveballs. We will suffer job losses, relationship challenges, basement floods, stalled cars, and a myriad of big and small obstacles we can’t control. Right before my diagnosis a friend of mine went to sleep and didn’t wake up. She left behind a 9-year-old child. No one could have predicted that would happen. Things will not always be in our hands but the sooner we take control of the things we can control, the better our lives will be.

I miss my job and I am still hopeful that I can go back to work someday soon. Until then, I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to work on physical therapy, stress reduction, and other healthy habits without having to worry where the money is coming from. Taking control of my life may not mean having control over my career right now but it’s allowed me to take better control of my health, an area where I didn’t have much control before due to work stress. It did take me a couple of months to switch gears but now I see what a gift it is to not have to worry about money.

My next post will discuss how we are (still!) pursuing FYI, and why….

The financial burden of disability


Conundrum

So following yesterday’s post about my diagnosis, is how this played out financially.

After the initial shock of the diagnosis, the reality set in: we had just bought a house, we were renovating a rental condo, and how were we going to pay for it all? I did know I could cash out all my paid leave, and then I could apply for unemployment but that wouldn’t even cover ¼ of my salary. I got down to business: my financial spreadsheet.

Being a nerd, I knew I had emergency savings and that I could thin our budget down to the bone but long term that wasn’t going to work out. My father had generously offered to loan us some money for the next couple of months and we gratefully took him up on the offer so we could finish out the renovations and get a tenant into the condo. We had so many moving pieces in our lives as we struggled to manage all my doctor’s appointments, the renos, the administrative burden that comes with taking leave, and still try and make our lives as normal for the kids as possible. It was an incredibly trying and exhausting time.

Unlike many people who suffer through a disabling diagnosis, I lucked out: not only were my bosses incredibly supportive and helpful, they had also navigated disabilities of their own and provided me with indispensible advice. Also, like many people who suffer through a disability, my employer had disability insurance that – after a 13-week waiting period – would provide me with 70% of my salary until my disability resolved or I turned 65, whichever came first. I applied right away not knowing what the future held.

Your emergency fund can only take you so far but if you are financially savvy, chances are you have some savings or know that you can reduce your spending down to the bare minimum. You may even look at social security disability (CPP in Canada, or one of the provincial programs) and think you can live off the amount they allocate to people every month. I guarantee you though, you aren’t thinking about the reality of being disabled. So many things that we take for granted as able-bodied people end up being very expensive when you can’t do them anymore. Think of some of the most basic financial advice out there:

Bike to work! Nope, you have to drive, use public transportation, or buy an expensive mobility device.

Buy in bulk! Chances are you can’t carry a 25lb bag of flour from a warehouse store.

Cook your own food from scratch! When you can’t cut food or stand for long periods, you tend to buy more expensive, pre-packaged foods.

Clean your own house/do your own maintenance! Again, if you are disabled chances are you need help with these basic tasks.

That is not even considering how expensive basic mobility equipment is. An electric wheelchair is about $4000. Complementary care professionals such as physiotherapists are expensive. You may need to modify your home, you may need special equipment for day-to-day living. All this, and even going to a simple medical appointment takes way more time than it does for an able-bodied person. For example, in my city ParaTranspo has to be booked well in advance and usually means you are only given a window where you have to wait so it could be up to an hour or more before your ride arrives & then they pick up/drop off other passengers. So an appointment that should have been about one hour can be up to four when you have to use disabled public transport. Being disabled is like a financial and time death by 1000 small cuts. When you calculate all that in, could you still live off social security and still maintain some semblance of a life? It’s do-able but not comfortable, and it certainly isn’t cheap.


Beep, beep, mofos!

Unlike many other people, I was able to apply for private disability insurance, and I was approved as well. Many people find themselves in long battles with their insurer where they are forced to work while the case makes it through the system, which gives the insurance company even more ammunition. A friend of mine who works for the same organization as I do didn’t even realize that we had private disability insurance.

Having said that, there are some other ways to mitigate the costs:

– Provincial/State assistance programs
– Subsidized housing and assisted living
– Subsidized personal support workers
– Federal tax credits (such as the DTC in Canada)
– Provincial/State tax credits
– CPP for dependent children
– Etc.

However, the administrative work that goes into proving your disability costs you both time and money. All the above-mentioned programs also have their own administrative burden and wait times. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have challenges that would make these applications impossible to do without assistance. I find them burdensome for someone who rather enjoys filling out forms. A friend of mine who is a lawyer who is licensed to practice in two countries has told me that she finds them exhausting. Imagine what it is like for the average person.

For my disability insurance I spent hours upon hours filling out forms, cross-checking dates, getting my employer to fill out forms, paying for doctors to fill out forms, faxing and mailing forms, and clarifying my information on the phone. It’s incredibly labour-intensive and draining and you don’t even know that after all that work and all the money you spend if you will be approved. In my case, I was approved but the work is the same either way.

I have mentioned before that no one thinks they are ever going to suffer a disability. But research shows that in the US 1 in 4 20-year-olds will suffer a disability of a year or more in their lifetimes. For me, I have always been super strong and active, so I never thought it could happen to me. It happened to me. It can happen to you. I was 38 when I started exhibiting symptoms and I am 42 now. It doesn’t even necessarily happen when you are old, and in my case there was absolutely nothing I could do to prevent it, so all the lifestyle advice in the world wouldn’t have changed a thing.

If you aren’t disabled and enjoy running numbers, play with the various calculators and costs associated with being disabled. If you are financially independent run the numbers and see how you would fare if you had to spring for a wheelchair and various mobility devices. Sure, you can probably access many credits and supports but if you have to wait for next year’s tax return or go on a waiting list could you weather the financial burden?

No one wants to think of these things just like none of us want to believe we will die some day. However, many of our emergency plans are based on short setbacks that we plan to recover from in less than a few months. If you don’t know what you’d do if you suffered through a long-term, debilitating disease it may be worth the thought exercise to figure out how you will manage.

Next post: forced early retirement vs. choosing early retirement.

“I’m sorry, you have motor neuron disease…”

“…type: Primary Lateral Sclerosis.” My neurologist looked at me sympathetically and I just stared back stunned. I had heard of ALS but PLS didn’t even register as a thing that existed. After I composed myself I asked the question every person dreads asking, “So how much time do I have?”
“Maybe 10 years,” he said. “Many patients become ALS patients over time.”

I don’t remember much else about that visit. I had some blood work done and I made another appointment. My neurologist was kind and supportive, he offered to fill out any documents I needed, “because you shouldn’t be working right now. You should be proud that you worked this long. I’m actually surprised you did.” He gave me a note for work.

Mr. Tucker had always come to my medical appointments but this one he had to miss due to an important work meeting. I had ubered over from my job with the full intent of heading back to work right after. I had left my work cellphone and some food scattered around and had to jot off a quick email to my bosses and a colleague telling them I wouldn’t be coming back and asking them to clean up my desk. I called Mr. Tucker in a panic, “Come get me. I have bad news.”

***

In 2013 I started falling. Nothing too worrisome at first but over time my legs were constantly twitching and my balance got worse. My GP at the time was dismissive and it took two years of mentioning it over and over to her – and finally just weeping hysterically – before she ordered a peripheral nerve test (all clear) and then referred me to a rehab doctor. He checked my reflexes and said, “You definitely need an MRI…” When the results came in it seemed pretty clear to the neurologist that I had a spinal compression, I was booked in with neurosurgery in April 2016 for a decompression and a fusion. I also got myself a new GP.

In some ways my life is so incredibly lucky: I have a great husband, great kids, a great job, and a wonderful home. In all things medical however, I am a complete lemon. Four days before my neurosurgery date I slipped on a scarf and broke my ankle. I had orthopedic surgery the next morning followed by my neurosurgery three days later. I was a bundle of sexy complete with collar and cast and everything I did required assistance for a couple of months. It was a super low period of my life but I was determined to keep things as normal as possible: two weeks later I started working remotely and a month later I was off to Italy for our 10 year wedding anniversary. Medical science had done its part and it was just a matter of time before I healed and could get back to running, biking, dragon boat, and skiing. Right?

(SPOILER ALERT: WRONG)

By August we had realized that the ankle wasn’t healing correctly. By September I had a second orthopedic surgery. By December it was clear that it wasn’t taking and I had to be referred to a surgeon who specialized in reconstructive surgery. In July 2017 I had my final surgery and finally, FINALLY, the ankle seemed to be healing.

Of course during this time my muscles seemed weak and the healing I thought would happen after the neurosurgery just wasn’t coming as quickly. I dismissed it mostly because I had been off my feet for so long due to the ankle, and I was convinced as soon as that healed up I could get back into physio and start working on the neurological challenges. Besides, work was slammed and there were tons of changes happening there, we had just learned we had to move and were searching for houses in earnest, and all the stress was causing me to lose sleep and have terribly unhealthy habits. I was exhausted all the time so I just chalked everything up to stress and exhaustion.

I started physio for the ankle in the fall of last year but around that time I started to see new, stranger symptoms: my speech seemed slurred, and my arms were beginning to twitch and ache. “Just stress,” I thought. Still, I was concerned, I headed back to my neurosurgeon. He ordered an MRI and confirmed that my neck was fine. “It wouldn’t be your neck that was causing speech issues anyway, I think you should go back to see your neurologist.”

***

…and that’s where this story began.

Here is the thing about PLS: it’s super rare. Only about 50 people in Canada have it, and about 500 in the US. It’s also a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that you have to eliminate all the other options before landing on the conclusion that it is PLS. It’s also a diagnosis that takes time: before 5 years, it may be just upper motor neuron dominant ALS (and still could be, time is the determinant). I had an EMG to rule out ALS (for now) and remain hopeful that I may be a statistical outlier given my slow progression.

So what does this mean to my life now? I head to the ALS clinic every six months so they can monitor my progression and offer support with around six different specialists, as needed. They tell me that since the inception of the clinic eight people have had PLS: one has seen no progression in sixteen years, two have become ALS patients, and the rest have had varying degrees of degeneration. I’ve also joined up with online groups for people like me, and have met the one local woman who hasn’t seen changes in years, her advice was to continue with movement, stretching, and physio as much as possible. So there is hope!

If you google PLS it will tell you that people have normal lifespans but what they don’t tell you is that quality of life can vary exponentially. There are people who have many interventions daily, and some who have very little. There is such a range of abilities within the same diagnosis even over time that it is hard to determine what the trajectory will be for me. All I know is that seeing you brain on a screen with dark squiggly lines where your motor neurons should be was one of the most difficult moments of this entire process.

I will end by saying though that the nurse at the ALS clinic told me that, “only nice people get ALS,” which is my saving grace because it means I will never get it. So I remain hopeful that I will become one of these outliers and continue to live my life as best as I can for as long as I can.

Tomorrow I will have some words on the financial implications of this diagnosis – or any disability diagnosis, really. If you aren’t prepared, you should stat thinking about becoming prepared. I wish I had been more prepared.

Personal update: changing directions

So this is the entry where I lay out all the ridiculous stuff that has happened this fall. As you know, we were merrily swimming along saving for our goals to buy the house we live in and to buyback 3.5 years of my pension. We had started to work on a new video project together and life was pretty good overall.

Home

Of course, “the best laid plans of mice and men go awry” as Burns pointedly stated all those years ago. At the beginning of September the owner of our house decided to renege on our agreement and – probably thinking they could get more for the home – hired an assessor to look at the house. So partially because we don’t want to live in the chaos of someone else’s whims and partially out of anger, we started looking at houses. It was then that we discovered that we could get much nicer homes in our price range that were turnkey, unlike this house that requires about 100k of work.

In the end, after weeks of looking, we found a home that ticked off almost all the “want” boxes for us: turnkey bungalow, in our price range, backing on city park (with a small community centre with activities for the kids), a finished basement with an office for Mr. Tucker, a wood burning fireplace, hardwood floors, a modern kitchen with a gas stove, and the pièce de resistance – a completely landscaped backyard with a fire pit, a gas BBQ, and (my dream house goal) a pool. The only con: it’s in a different neighbourhood than the one we currently live in, which is sad for me because I have a fairly established life here. Still, we can’t have everything we want and our new home will be right next to the new lightrail project so it will soon be easier to get to work.

Unfortunately, this little piece of heaven comes at the price of a small mortgage and we will have to scrounge up some new furniture as most of the stuff we currently use came with the house we live in (and we moved from 510 square feet, so we didn’t – and still don’t – have a lot). Luckily, our mortgage is only 1/3 of the cost of the home and we estimate we can pay it off within three years.

In the end, right after we decided to buy our house, the owner of our current house came back and told us that they had received the assessment. The verdict? $17000 over what we were willing to pay. Interestingly enough, about the same amount we have put into this house (new plumbing, new doors, a complete HVAC system with HWT and AC, new garage door, full backyard landscaping). I think they were expecting a lot more and so it looks like they will end up moving back into this house and we will get the keys to our new home on December 8th.

TL;DR: we bought a house, never make deals with flaky relatives.

Health

My orthopedic surgeon broke up with me last week, which is typically a good thing. After a full ankle reconstruction it’s good to have a much stronger base now. I will miss the doctor though, he was truly a great doctor and great human being. If you need a dude who specializes in orthopedic trauma of the foot and ankle, hit me up: I know a guy.

Unfortunately, I had to call my neurosurgeon and I have an appointment to discuss the increased tingling and pain in my arms. I hope I am just under a lot of stress but I had a fall in the summer where I hit my head and I wonder if that is causing the issue. The day after I made the appointment I fell again on my way to work and I lacked the strength to push myself up to standing.

So I continue to work on it, do physio, and hope for the best. I know intellectually that the best case may be the ability to stop further progression and I may never walk properly again. I am trying to make peace with that but I still want to push physio as much as possible and see what I can get back. With the broken ankle I haven’t been able to do as much as I want, so I hope going forward that will change.

Oh, and I got a new GP who is great and who is following me for a bunch of issues.

TL;DR: I don’t watch medical dramas because I am my own medical drama.

Work

Things at work are decent and I recently got a new director and deputy director who are both amazing. I have learned so much from them and they truly are incredible leaders. Still, the work means long hours and high-level issues and I find a highly politicized environment exhausting. It’s much better than it has been though now that our team is larger.

Still, I need to move towards a permanent position, which became apparent when I was trying to get a mortgage. I continue to try and work on my French and I apply for as many competitions as I can. Since our new house is a bit further out from the core, I am also specifically looking for jobs closer to home.

TL;DR: I like my work team; I am working towards getting something permanent.

Finances

I met my goal of buying back my pension! So as of today I now have 5 ½ years of pensionable service paid up. When I calculated it, it is equivalent to having $500 a month (in today’s dollars) from age 60 on, and is transferable to Mr. Tucker should I pass away. So the $18300 was well worth it should either of us live 5 years after age 60 (let’s hope!).

We also met our goal to save for the house but as you know, things have changed. I have made peace with not being 100% debt free and have a plan to pay our small mortgage off quickly, so that works.

When we went to go for our mortgage we discovered that due to Mr. Tucker’s job at a US company, they couldn’t include his salary in our calculation. What this means is that the entire mortgage is resting on my salary & they had to stress test me for the condo I jointly own as well (if the other owner should die, they need to make sure I can pay the bills). Thank goodness for having no debt and lots of savings! Otherwise we would have never been able to make this all work.

Even after all that, we continue to mostly live off of my salary and save Mr. Tucker’s to mitigate his tax burden and to pay off our mortgage. We may have to dip into his salary occasionally as we figure out how things are going to go over the next six months or so but overall we are still doing well. We have also taken the opportunity to do up our wills and organize all our legal and financial holdings.

The issue of the condo will also need to be worked out in the new year. I am not sure if I will rent it or sell it but until we move and the holiday season is over I don’t want to make any decisions.

TL;DR: having our finances pretty much in order has helped us weather the awful events over the past 3 months.

Conclusion:

When everything fell apart this fall, Mr. Tucker was my rock. He took care of me when I was unable to take care of myself, he took care of the kids, and he was a steadfast partner while we navigated the stress of my relative’s change of heart. One of the reasons we bought where we did is because Mr. Tucker fell madly in love with this house and it would be a wonderful spot for him (as he works from home) and the kids (who can now walk to school). Commute-wise, it isn’t great for me until the lightrail comes in a few years from now but I have planned my commute and it adds only 10 more minutes a day. Considering I also periodically work from home, it is still manageable.

This holiday season will be incredibly busy between the move, job applications, light renos in our new place (mainly paint and refinishing the hardwood in two rooms), and the fact that we are hosting both a Solstice celebration with our friends and our family’s Christmas dinner. I am not going to lie – it will be a lot. I just keep looking forward to our new home and hopefully by January we will be settled in, our finances and legal stuff will be in order, and I will know more about where my job is heading. I took a week off at Christmas to spend with the kids & get our house in order and I am generally positive despite the fact our life is a whirlwind of appointments, meetings, and chaos.


(shamelessly stolen from DR)

Winter Solstice has typically been an evening of rebirth for my friends and I and while we have had a hiatus for the past few years, it will be nice all of us will be getting together. Friends from as far as England and California will be joining us (and Buffalo! And Windsor! And Montreal! And Toronto! And Philadelphia!) and I feel like this year I really need my chosen family more than ever.

Hopefully over the next little while I will be able to update here more often with more relevant stuff other than these personal life updates. I have a lot to say about how expensive it is to be disabled and how expensive moving is, for example. So thanks for tuning in to this personal update and I hope to soon return you to your regularly scheduled programming…

Managing life’s roadblocks

We’ve all been there: roadblocks in life, roadblocks in work, roadblocks in love. These often-sudden changes are those that completely knocks you off course, knocks the wind out of your sails, and then leaves you picking up the pieces trying to find another way to reach your goals*.

A month ago, Mr. Tucker and I encountered one of those roadblocks that affected our living situation. We have just spent a couple of weeks frustrated and scrambling and only recently have I been able to step back and see things clearly. Without going into detail, having your goal wrenched away from you by something out of your control is enraging. Still, I noticed that the more we hyper-focused on the negative part, the worse we felt. Nothing was being accomplished and our anger and sadness was only fueling more anger and sadness.

Sometimes you have to actually say to yourself out loud, “STOP.”
Stop this right now.” You need to force your brain to do a 180 and start focusing on all the positive things or else you will stay in the feedback loop where everything is miserable. I know some people who are constantly hyper-focused on the worst things, and let me tell you: they aren’t fun at parties.

So how did I drag myself out of my funk?

I concentrated on things I could control: I don’t get angry at the weather for doing weather things just like I can’t control other people or situations. However, I am in charge of managing my life in a million and one little ways. Every aspect in our lives is running smoothly, so concentrating on this one thing is giving more energy to this change and since it won’t have any effect on the outcome, it’s a poor return on investment.

Here are a few things you can control:
– What you eat every day
– How much water you drink
– How much excessive you get
– How much sleep you get
– How much time you spend with people you love

I know that self-care sometimes seems like a tired old trope but when you are low on energy or desire to do things, sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other is a huge accomplishment.

I rounded up my wins: Sure, thing X probably isn’t going to happen and I am hugely disappointed about that. Still, we have managed to save over $50k already this year and are close to meeting our goal! I was recently nominated for an award a work, and I find my work fulfilling and I enjoy my colleagues. I am married to the most amazing human being who is a wonderful husband and father (and who makes my heart skip beats even after 15 years), and my children – while often frustrating in their own right – are smart, funny, inquisitive, talented and happy human beings I love spending time with.

I found journaling those wins also helps. There is something about putting the pen to paper and seeing those good things in writing. Writing it down makes it feel more concrete.

I found a workaround In many situations one path is closed off so you are forced to turn around and go in another direction. Lamenting that loss is normal but eventually it becomes wallowing. Finding another path to focus on will help ease the pain of the one you lost. Mr. Tucker and I decided that we’d put all our energy in finding a solution rather than cry over how the universe threw us a curveball

So despite how horrible the past month has been, Mr. Tucker and I are a rock-solid team and have actually found an even better solution than we’d originally thought. It’s sad that it took a lot of unnecessary pain and energy to get to this point but in the end we will be in a better place moving forward.

Of course, having said all that you will have to watch this space for what the future holds. Major change is afoot in our lives and I am excited to share all the details with you, shortly.

*Metaphor level: EXPERT.

August savings update – End of summer edition!

Note: Our financial goals for 2017 include saving $18300 to buy back my pensionable years for my defined benefit pension as well as save $50000 which will make us mortgage-free at the beginning of 2018.

It’s time once again for our goal-reaching roundup! If you remember, last month we had saved $38 477 – more than half way to our goal! This month we’ve climbed again and I am super excited.

In August, Mr. Tucker and I really hunkered down with our spending – and we aren’t done yet – we’ve been relentless in our desire to cut our budget down. I think we still have a bit to go because I feel like we still live a pretty great lifestyle but we see places to save in a lot of our spending categories. I think overall I would say that we have been less wasteful in August, partially owing to the fact that being wheelchair-bound has made going out and spending money difficult!

I am back at work now – in a wheelchair until Tuesday when I will finally brave crutches at work. To be honest, has been challenging as I try and settle back into a routine both in terms of my job and in terms of home. With the kids starting school on Tuesday (and all their activities) I hope that we all get into a flow that works. My goal is to be back taking public transportation as soon as possible, which will save us a lot of money on gas and wear and tear on the car. Since Mr. Tucker also drives me back-and-forth, it will also save him loads of time in the morning and evening. Let me tell you, friends: you do not appreciate the value of having a normal life until everything is upside down and nothing is normal.

Still, perseverance is key to any good plan and there are plus sides as well to having been off most of July and half of August: when you don’t go out, you don’t spend. My grandmother used to always say, “If you want to save money, stay out of the stores!” Even window-shopping leads to higher rates of spending as you see all the things you can’t or won’t buy.

So August was a good month. Without further ado, I present to you our savings thermometer:

That’s 70% of the way there! Only two more good months like this and we will have all the money we need to accomplish our goals. Of course, I only have until November to buy back those 3.5 pensionable years so we’ve definitely cleared that. I just need to get my physical to prove that I will live at leave five more years (as per the buyback rules) so let’s hope that is good news or I have bigger problems than buying back a pension!

So that is where we are as of August 2017. Hopefully fall sees us hunkering down even more and ramping up the savings. The strong Canadian dollar will reduce the rate at which Mr. Tucker gets paid – which stinks – but that also reduces our tax burden next April so there is that (ok, I’d rather have the money, now hah!). That will continue to be an issue for us moving forward as Canada’s economy continues to be strong in relation to the US economy. While sometimes you can win in the exchange game, there is a lot of fluctuation as well. You have to be willing to ride it out and roll with the punches, which we do by not relying on that money to pay our monthly expenses.

Back to life, back to reality

Life update: So five weeks into my convalescence and I can finally go back to work and on with my life. My regular doctor wasn’t there but the fellow was and she thinks I can start walking assisted with crutches and the walking cast. This is a huge jump for me and I am excited but also apprehensive.

What was interesting was the fellow saying, “You know this surgery is very rare.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well usually it doesn’t get to this point.”

It figures that my only superpower is screwing myself up really badly.

However, I will be back at work Monday morning, which means I won’t be burning through more leave. I am also looking forward to having a sense of normalcy to my life. When you are wheelchair-bound and stuck at home life can be pretty depressing. I’ve read a lot of books and done a lot of writing (and played way too much on social media) but the days bleed into one. With a swollen foot, there is a lot of lying down. It’s not as fun as if I was mobile and could work on a bunch of things or go a bunch of places.

Mr. Tucker and I have done two major things this month. The first one is that we have completely cut out alcohol. Anyone who knows us knows that no one enjoys a good libation more than we do but we found our productiveness has been low. I also really wanted to hyper-focus on healing, and let’s face it: alcohol is a toxin; a delicious toxin but a toxin nonetheless. So at the beginning of August we completely removed booze from our lives.

A post shared by Tucker (@workingundertime) on

To be quite honest, I don’t miss it. Frankly, I was a little worried that I would miss it a little too much but nope! I have friends who do a “Sober October” every year as a safety measure to see how difficult quitting booze is, then on Halloween they have a huge party with drinks. The litmus test is whether or not they miss it a little too much. Having never done a Sober October, I was wondering as well. Looks like alcohol can play a reduced part in my life and I won’t miss it. Who knew?

As it turns out, not having my evening glass of wine has made me a lot more productive, I sleep better, I wake up easier, and my bank account is a lot fatter. Alcohol is incredibly expensive – especially in Canada where there is no Two Buck Chuck to be found. Of course, I’ve funneled a lot of that coin into more tea but even a lot more tea is cheaper than a little alcohol. Mr. Tucker has just taken his love of seltzer to new heights.

The second major thing is that we have started working on a side project that I think may end up falling firmly into the category of “side hustle.” I mention this because last year I wrote that I don’t side hustle. It’s a bit of an art project but it could potentially make a bit of coin if we put our backs into it. We are playing it by ear to see if it’s something we will enjoy working on even when I am back at work but time will tell. We both aren’t willing to sacrifice family time for it but if we can get it done during the fringe hours it will be a fun adventure. Of course everything is on the down-low until we figure out the logistics but stay tuned!

A post shared by Tucker (@workingundertime) on

So this weekend will all be about getting organized. Mr. Tucker will still have to drive me to work on an adjusted schedule, which not only sucks but is also expensive. However, I am investigating alternative transportation and I hope that soon I can take the bus again. Work clothes need to be organized, food needs to be prepped to account for me being back at work, and the house needs to be tidied. Oh, and of course we’ll be working pretty hard on our new project.

So that is where we are at personally! My biggest “what if” is the ongoing healing process. I have months of physiotherapy ahead of me to get back as much movement and strength as possible but we continue to forge ahead. Our finances are on track, the kids are healthy and happy, and Mr. Tucker and I are busting our butts to make the best life that we can for all of us.

Are credits and benefits on your FIRE radar?

If you are Canadian and have small children, you probably receive one or more benefits from the government. If you are a family who makes under $220000 a year chances are you are getting some form of the Canada Child Benefit.

The fun thing about the CCB is that unlike the GST, it’s based on net – not gross income. So you can theoretically get your net income down enough even if you make a substantial amount of money. For example, if you have accumulated contribution room in your RRSPs, or if you have deductions from a small business.

When I first started thinking about Financial Independence (seriously thinking about it, not reading Your Money or Your Life at 20 and then forgetting about it) I based our numbers on our spending. So – as most people know – the 4% rule would mean that a family who needs $40000 a year to live on will need $1,000,000 saved to be able to live off of. Or, more simply $40000 x 25. I am not going to get into all the assumptions here about the 4% rule but I encourage you to read more at Investopedia.

However, this is an incredibly simplistic model. So while I don’t want to go deep into the various situations (because wow, there are so many) I found myself playing around with the CRA’s Child and Family Benefits Calculator for fun and I thought I would share some numbers with you.

A fun thought exercise for families

Let’s pretend that you think you need $40000 a year of income to support your family and achieve financial independence/early retirement. Do you really need ONE MILLION dollars? Maybe not.

If we plug the numbers into the calculator & assume that each parent withdraws $15000 a year, the numbers look like this*:

Scenario 1:

Income: $30000 ($15k each adult)
Benefits: $15516.80
Total: $45516.80

So that extra $5000 can cover the tax you would owe on anything above the $11474 Basic Personal Amount (untaxed amount). Someone smarter than me will also point out that with kids as dependents, this will probably be a wash. So take a vacation if you’d like!

So what would you need to save to bring in that $30000 a year? $750000. That is $250000 less than the one million you thought you needed.

Scenario 2:

Income: $24000 ($12000 each)
Benefits: 16090.76
Total: $40090.76

Given the parameters of the basic personal amount above, hitting $40000 on the nose with a combination of investments and benefits is possible on a lower amount. What would you need to save in this instance? $600000.

But what if you don’t have children?

Assuming the same two scenarios above, you’d be eligible for all the other credits except for the ones aimed at families with children. Here we will do the math for people who are childfree, and those whose kids will leave sometime after they’ve FIREd (uh, new verb!) Let’s see:

Scenario 1:

Income: $30000 ($15k each adult)
Benefits: $1791.92
Total: $31791.92

Assuming that you think your children cost about $8000 a year to raise, this amount may be good enough for you when they fly the coop at 18.

Scenario 2:

Income: $24000
Benefits: $1885.88
Total: $25885.88

Yikes! At least in our case, $25885.88 would not cut it. I don’t think we could get our expenses that low. Maybe other people can? I can’t say. But I am 100% sure that my kids don’t cost me $14k a year in expenses.

Caveats abound!

Of course, a myriad of things can happen between now and when your kids are 18: the primary one being a change in government. The Liberals brought in the tax-free CCB to replace the taxable UCCB when they took power so who knows what the future holds? Governments change and the tax code and other policies change along with them. Currently you aren’t taxed on dividend income $35000 and under but given the shake up that Finance Canada is discussing in relation to businesses, that could change at any minute.

One of the interesting things to keep in mind is that when you reduce your spending by $10000, you have to save $250000 less to reach financial independence (in this scenario, it scales down as you scale down the amount). So maybe spending less is easier than saving more.

Obviously, relying on that money would be a gambit for sure. However, if you lost a salary and you only have $600000 saved, knowing you can rely on those benefits rolling in can mean the difference between scrambling to find work, or knowing you will be ok. Obviously, the challenge is that these benefits are calculated in July based on the previous year’s income. But you have an emergency fund, right?

In the end, this is a fun thought exercise to look at your financial situation from another angle. For myself, I had never included these benefits in any of my calculations, nor have I done the math for when the kids leave home, or for things I know we will inherit. Part of that is because I firmly believe on relying solely on my own, personal savings and investment strategy. On the flip side however, it means I am ignoring some situations that are really likely. This is why it is important to play around with math and see what the possibilities are.

*In all cases I assumed $4500 in property taxes, and nil to all other questions except my children’s real ages: 7 & 9.

It’s only $20

I have a family member (who shall remain nameless) who I used to go shopping with at Costco. It was a social event combined with a grocery run and we had a monthly standing date to head out together. The problem with shopping with other people however is that they often influence your purchases. So while I may not pick up some widget when shopping on my own, when shopping with a friend I may be more likely to pick it up.

This person was particularly bad for my wallet because every time I picked something up she would say, “It’s only $20!” If I protested she would make a lengthier plea for her case, “You should treat yourself! You rarely buy anything for yourself!” So I would buy the widget and be down another $20.

Does anyone want to guess how many widgets I remember today? Yep: 0.

This is not an argument against treating yourself. While some people enjoy an incredibly lean existence by not spending except for in extreme circumstances, I am not that person. However, I want to be conscious about my spending and I want to make sure I get value out of the dollars I am shelling out. It’s about maximizing the pleasure you get from your purchases instead of just blindly buying something because you saw it and decided you needed it THAT SECOND. After all, you are an adult, not a kid at the impulse buy section at the checkout.

People who know me may laugh right now because if I have one motto, it is “throw money at the problem.” But throwing money at a problem requires you to actually HAVE money, and having money means not spending it on stupid crap because you are an impulse shopper with a monkey brain.

$20 is not $20

We often think of money as its face value but while we think we make, say, $50 000 a year, after taxes and calculating commute, overtime, wasted lunch hours & the clothes/makeup/work expenses we make way, way less. That larger discussion I will delve into another time but let’s calculate basic wages after taxes and deductions, assuming my current province of residence. It obviously doesn’t reflect all the possibilities in our progressive tax system but it will give you an idea of why $20 is not $20.

Assuming a regular 40-hour workweek, your gross hourly wage is $24.04 an hour but after deductions it’s only $18.80 an hour. You are essentially paying $5 an hour for deductions. So while you may mentally believe that you make “almost $25 an hour,” the reality is that you make less than $19. To spend $20 you have to work more than one hour to buy the widget. Tack on the sales tax and you are looking at $22.60 – a little less than 1 ¼ hours of work time.

The nickel and dime of it all

This post is really a think piece and not a discussion about what we value as individuals. I know some of you are saying to yourselves, “Cripes Tucker, just suck the joy out of everything why-don’t-you!?” but you aren’t seeing the bigger picture. The idea behind this exercise is to get you to really think when you are making purchasing choices.

Let’s face it as well: $20 is not just a one-time thing. In fact, chances are you are spending this a few times a week on impulse things that don’t really add anything to your life. If you do this three times a week in a year you are spending $3120 or $3526 after sales tax. That is 187.55 hours of after-tax work, or 4.68 weeks – more than A MONTH. You are spending a month of your life, per year, on crap you probably don’t remember at all.

Conversely, I bet some people reading this have little-or-no long term savings, either for emergencies or for retirement. Imagine if we put that $60 a week ($240 a month) away in long-term savings at a meager 4% interest rate:

Any guesses how much that will be over time? Let’s look:

You read that right: in 20 years you will have almost NINETY-THOUSAND dollars for the low, low, price of paying attention to what you really want.

I am not advocating you suck the joy out of life by never, ever spending money. If we are all honest with ourselves we can all think of a time where we made a purchase that we regretted or that was subpar in some way or another. By being conscious so that we enjoy our purchases can turn out to be big wins long-term. So the next time someone tries to get you to buy something you are indifferent about, “Go ahead! It’s only $20! Treat yourself!” you can smile and think to yourself, “Well actually, that may be $90000.”

The psychology of getting on track with groceries

When I was young and poor I got my first copy of the Tightwad Gazette (number II, if I am honest). Hilariously, I had received as part of one of those mail order clubs that were so prevalent in the 80’s and 90s. There were book clubs just like we had Columbia House, for cds. Ahh, memories.

The irony of choosing this as one of my “free” books is not lost on me, however I think in the end I came out ahead. That book spurred a life-long love affair with personal finance. I haven’t always made great financial choices but I always knew I had a secret weapon in my back pocket if I never needed it – black belt tightwad-ery.

When I first got the book I was fascinated – especially with the part on how to save on groceries. At the time I lived in a house with 4 other roommates and we were hella, hella poor (but always had money for cigarettes back then, how?). I figured if I could eat for a lot less money, I would be laughing! So eager to save, I tried to incorporate more vegetarian meals into my diet a la TWG, and bought a bunch of food I hadn’t really eaten before: brown rice, lentils, beans, etc.. I whipped up batches of food, stored them nicely in the freezer…aaaaaaaaaand then let them sit there until I moved out and had to chuck all my hard work and money.

So what went wrong?

Looking back, I moved too fast, too soon. I had grown up on heavy meat and potatoes dishes with a bunch of white, processed food so that is what I was used to. So when I suddenly stocked my pantry with things I hadn’t really eaten before and didn’t really know what to do with it’s no wonder I didn’t want to eat them. I made a bunch of food not knowing how to cook it properly for the best outcome, was disappointed, and then threw in the towel. The thing is, changing habits takes time and while some people like the band-aid approach and it works for them, but other people – like myself – need a more staggered approach.

Today my diet looks a million times different than the diet I had at that time. I eat a lot more fresh fruits/veggies, whole grains, tofu, beans, and rarely eat things from a box, but it took a lot of time and energy to get to this point. It required learning skills over the years and working on one food or skill over again until it became the default. I mean sure, you can do a few at a time but a complete overhaul was too challenging to me because I didn’t understand how to cook the new foods properly so I never truly enjoyed them. Seasoning, cooking methods, and pairing all have to come into play when you are learning.


A loaded baked potato is a family favourite & can be a meal on its own

Everything is an acquired taste

I am not here to argue picky eating, or argue what the best diet for humans is. I know everyone has an opinion on optimal feeding. What I do believe though is that humans are omnivores and omnivores are one step up from scavengers in terms of the ability to consume a huge variety of food & survive. We see this in the fact that humans can actually have terribly unhealthy lifestyles and still live a fairly long time. If you think about it, it’s super impressive. It also explains why we are on top & why animals like the koala – who mostly eat one freaking thing – are at a disadvantage.

Still, looking around the world humans survive on different foods that are available in their particular regions. While we may never acquire a taste for cows blood mixed with milk, people who are raised on it believe it to be delicious. You are what you meet, I suppose. Humans can adjust their tastes based on exposure and most of us have done it to varying degrees our entire lives. This doesn’t mean necessarily that we will get over our life-long hatred of mushrooms but it doesn’t mean we can’t or can’t try. Mr. Tucker and the kids love mushrooms and I have always disliked them. After enough time cooking with them I now like them just fine (although I don’t see them topping my favourite food list anytime soon).

Having said that, I don’t think shoving mushrooms down my throat would have worked. I had to slowly incorporate them into my diet. I started putting them in things like spaghetti sauces and slowly worked my way up to dishes where they were the main event, such as portabella mushroom fajitas. I learned how to cook and season them properly and that was the key. This is also why oysters will never be my thing: generally, they are eaten on their own. I don’t think I have enjoyed an oyster yet and I can’t see that changing much unless I am starving and oysters are the only available food (starvation makes everything palatable).

The point is, don’t just disregard something new if you don’t like it on the first try. If you have a visceral, sick reaction to it – of course throw in the towel. But if it is just something that doesn’t feel familiar, keep trying. There was a point in your life where you hadn’t yet eaten Sushi or Thai food or probably even Cheetos and my guess is that now you enjoy one or more of these things today.

Our problematic food choices

I am not going to go too far down the yellow brick road of discussing the challenges in the typical western diet. Companies know we are biologically pre-programmed to enjoy sugar, salt, and fat-laden foods and they create products that we will love to maximize their bottom line. Certain foods are subsidized, and broccoli isn’t one of them. For the poorer segments of the population, time, access to cooking spaces, and food deserts are huge challenges to accessing a better diet. I know there are problems and they are too large for this small blog post.


Broccoli sale? My friend Justin loads up

Having said that, my readership is such that you are probably middle class and have access to a wide selection of foods – and the ability to purchase them. Most of us have been raised on what they call the SAD diet – standard American diet. As I mentioned above, this is the meat, cheese, and white-bread laden foods of my youth where most things came from boxes or tins and where most recipes started with “open a can of cream of chicken soup.” But most of us were also raised where more and more health research was happening and we know that certain foods (such as fruits and vegetables) contribute to health more so than other foods. Of course, the jury isn’t out on anything yet and people squabble between ketogenic diets, veganism, and everything in between. All that may be up for debate but what isn’t is that we are all looking to get the most nutrition – including satisfaction – from our grocery budgets and sometimes that requires thinking differently.

Building on success

I can 100% say without a doubt that my one bowl of msg-laden hamburger and cheese soaked white pasta a day at 18-years-old was not an ideal way to eat. But running out, buying every “health” food I read about didn’t work, either. We get used to a certain level of sugar, fat, and salt in our diets and when we make a drastic change we often leave the table feeling dissatisfied which – in my case – just led to overeating later. But when I just started substituting certain foods I found as soon as I got used to one change, I could incorporate another, then another, etc. When I decided to reduce the sugar in my coffee, for example, I didn’t just cut it out completely. I went down from 2 teaspoons to 1 1/2 teaspoons, to 1, to ½, to nothing. It took a month but now I no longer need sugar in my coffee. As humans we have an incredible ability to adapt.

Conversely, I did the same thing to incorporate healthier foods into my diet. I switched out brown rice or quinoa for white rice fairly easily because they had similar tastes and textures. Choosing a bean chili over a meat chili was also easy because the flavours are so rich that the mouth feel was similar. Choosing fruit over cookies however was impossible because cookies are sweet & delicious little fat bombs. It made more sense to eat the fruit and then follow-up with one cookie instead of just reaching for 3 cookies. Fruit isn’t the substitute, it’s the building block to fullness: with a stomach full of fruit, I need fewer cookies to feel full.


Loaded black bean vegan nachos

Nutrition vs. cost vs. research

Here is something kind of depressing: new research is coming out all the time so what we think of as an optimal diet today may not be an optimal diet tomorrow. However, let us all be grateful for this: if you are reading this blog the chances are that you have access to healthy food for you and your family. This is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of humanity and one that many people in the world don’t share. So whatever your particular nutritional goal is, or your choice of diet, or your view of food in general let’s all take a minute so ignore the splitting hairs and have some gratitude that we even have choice.

Also, if you are reading this blog you are probably looking for ways to reduce your food bill and still have a varied, healthful diet. No matter what your particular food philosophy there are some very real ways we can all reduce our food costs by changing the way we eat. Here are a few things that have worked for me.

I didn’t cut food out of my diet, I added better food: the main key for me to cutting out junk food was to crowd it out of my diet, not cut it out. By filling up on high quality foods, I found myself craving junk less because I was full. When I moved to a mostly-vegan diet for example, I just ate so many beans, nuts, fruits, and veggies that I didn’t have room to eat meat and I didn’t miss it.

I work for my junk: I don’t care how good of a deal sale potato chips are, I don’t keep them in the house. Why? Because it’s easier to grab low-quality, high-satisfaction food than it is to make something healthier and more satisfying. I make myself either walk to the store if I want an ice cream, or I force myself to make it at home – which I do with fries. The PITA factor alone helps me avoid these foods a lot of the time. In the end, it doesn’t matter how cheap junk food is, it’s still junk and junk is never a deal nutritionally.

Expensive foods drowned out by cheap food: if you are having steak for dinner and find yourself still hungry, the key is not to eat another steak, it is to have seconds of vegetables, potatoes, or whatever else you are serving. I often make two kinds of vegetables and then have one small “main.” It ensures we are getting the nutrition we need but still walk away from the table feeling satisfied.

Serve vegetables first: I started having a salad course with the kids because when they are hungry and you put mashed potatoes, sausage, and a salad in front of them they will completely ignore the salad. But if you serve the salad first, they will eat that because they are hungry and it’s in front of them. So if you are having a hard time convincing your family to eat their veggies, try serving veggies first and then serving the more calorie-dense stuff after.

I learned how to cook different styles: the internet is a treasure trove of great recipes all vetted by communities of people. Again, when I moved to a mostly-vegan diet I read a lot of recipe blogs by people who cook different regional foods. Exploring how a good curry is built and how to flavour beans properly ensured that the resulting dish was delicious and satisfying. Just replacing ground beef with lentils didn’t make a satisfying pasta sauce until I learned to up my spice game. You are not just looking to replace one ingredient but instead learn a new way of cooking.

When at first you don’t succeed: if you have made up your mind that you hate beans then you will always hate beans. However, maybe you just need to up your exposure. Add small portions of foods to extend the foods you do like and then just keep adding more and more every time you make it. I once read that it can take 15-20 times for a child to enjoy a new food. I don’t see what that is different for adults but in my experience it takes less time for us. So do what parents do: incorporate new foods into foods you already enjoy.

Water is our main beverage: aside from coffee, I mostly drink water. I do also enjoy beer and wine but my kids have the option of water or milk – never juice. Although juice is packaged like a health food it really is straight sugar with a few meager vitamins. You are much better to eat a piece of fruit and drink water than to aim for the same nutritional goal with a cup of juice. It goes without saying that we only drink pop in extremely rare circumstances. If you are having a hard time cutting down your pop consumption, a Sodastream machine may help give you the fuzziness you need & you can wean yourself off the syrups that way.

Eat your food as close to its natural state as possible: not everything needs to be processed. Eat an apple, not fruit leather. The more processed the food, the lesser the quality and the cost for fruit leather is sky high compared to fruit in its natural state.

Frozen food is your friend: In the summer months we have a local CSA that we are a part of but in the winter there is just no way I am going to eat fresh cauliflower when it climbs to $5 a head. Frozen food is often nutritionally superior to fresh if your fresh food has to travel long distances.

Stop food waste: when I first caught the frugal bug I would stock up on sale-priced foods cheaply but then a lot of stuff would either go bad or expire. It takes awhile to get a sense of what your family consumes regularly & how much you should buy but with fresh stuff I aim for what we can eat in a week unless it’s something that keeps, like carrots or potatoes. If I get 10 packages of strawberries at rock-bottom prices but end up having to throw half out because we didn’t eat them in time, I am no further ahead. So don’t buy more than you reasonable need. You won’t hit the mark 100% of the time but you will reduce waste significantly.

Don’t cover good food with junk: the prevalence of horrific food masking itself as healthy is one of these trends that makes me roll my eyes. If a vegetable dish is one part vegetables but the rest is cheese, bacon, and white bread of some sort, it is not a health food. A good rule of thumb when trying to eat healthier is avoid recipes that rely on cheese and bacon for flavouring. Choose spices, herbs, citrus, hot sauces and vinegars for flavour instead. We have cut back completely over time and now eat vegetables without flavouring. I know it sounds strange but you can train your palate to enjoy vegetables on their own.

Hara hachi bun me (please don’t ask me to pronounce this!): this is a Confucian teaching that means eating until you are 80% full. As someone who was raised on huge portions (and restaurants are notorious for this) and who confuses satiated with overly full and uncomfortable, this is a huge challenge for me. I suspect it is for many people. But try and get to the point where your hunger is satisfied but that you don’t feel bloated or tired after your meals.


Our weekly CSA basket in the summer

Finally…

Buy food you enjoy. This is especially true if you are moving from a diet heavy in restaurant or pre-packaged foods. It’s ok to take baby steps towards eating better so just don’t announce one day that you are moving from McDonalds for dinner to a vegan raw-food diet because that isn’t sustainable. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and while I think you can adapt to enjoying a variety of foods over time (yes, even a vegan raw-food meal) it won’t happen overnight. Don’t buy 20 lbs of beets when you know you eat maybe three beets a year. Humans are creatures of habit and find habit comforting. If you slowly create new tastes and habits towards cheaper, healthier foods your body will thank you and your wallet will thank you.

I am sure many tomes could be written on a variety of other strategies to help you with your food budget but as with most things I find the psychological aspect of change always the most difficult. Since groceries are often one of the largest parts of a household budget, it’s worth the time it takes to move towards eating less expensive and more nutritious meals. Hopefully this post will get you thinking about the little ways you can enact change to meet your health and financial goals.


One of my favourite – and filling – vegan sandwiches

Want to save money? Be more like children

Alright, you’ve probably already tuned out because it’s that kind of inspirational porn that is rampant over social media: all talk, no action. OF COURSE little children are carefree; what’s your point, Tucker? Ok, hear me out, people!


Check out Inspirobot for all your meme needs

Watching our brood of children (all seven) play for a week non-stop at the cottage inspired this post. They swam, read books, caught turtles and frogs, went canoeing and fishing, played games of telephone around the campfire, and did crafts (one of the Moms ran a craft class – you know who you are, keener!). For the most part, they didn’t even beg for devices except for a few Pokemon adventures into town and – get this – they got together and made a movie. They determined the plot, the actors, gathered up some props and filmed it on the iPad. We used to act out plays, our kids film movies. Same thing.

Notice how I didn’t say, “childlike.” The reason for that is that child like denotes an immaturity and I don’t think you need to be immature to take advantage of the qualities children have.

I never want to be one of those people who wishes for “the good old days” or who make disparaging comments about “kids these days” because in all honesty, a> today is great, and b> the kids are alright. But I do want to highlight that Mr. Tucker and I often talk about our lives from back when we were young and poor. We aren’t trying to romanticize it (being poor stinks) but when you can’t use money to fill your boredom, you get creative. We reminisce about evenings spent drinking crappy coffee and either painting or playing guitar in our respective crappy apartments. You had no options so you had to find ways to do things without money.

As you get better paying jobs and start slowly make more money, you get lifestyle creep. The definition of lifestyle creep is simple: when you have more money, you spend more money. At first it’s all about treating yourself, then those treats become a normal expense so then you add another treat, and so on. It happens so slowly: one day you are having pasta and red sauce with the dry, crappy Kraft “Parmesan” sawdust (if you are lucky to afford that), and the next thing you know it you are making a Puttanesca sauce with fresh pasta and 10-year-old real parmesan shavings on top. It happens in all areas of your life as well: from the alcohol you consume, to where you live, to your transportation choices. Our lifestyles inflate as our paychecks do, and with easily available credit our lifestyles can even surpass our income.

One day you wake up and you wonder when life got so complicated!? But it doesn’t have to be, you can slowly – or quickly – reduce your spending by being more like children.

Kids – when left to their own devices – will turn anything into an experience. Haggard parents of toddlers know that as soon as they start walking, kids are into EVERYTHING. As they get older and their attention spans lengthen they start being more creative and involved in their projects. Now that my kids are 7 & 9 they are at that age we like to romanticize from our own childhoods: the go-outside-and-come-back-when-the-streetlights-come-on years. Armed with only a water bottle, they will meet their friends at the park after school. On inclement weather days they stay in and play games, do art, or read a book. We only allow our kids tablets and tv on the weekends (and special occasions) so we’ve cultivated this habit.

Parent thyself, parent!

We are hypocrites. We tell our kids it’s a nice day, so they should go outside and play with their friends meanwhile we are pasty indoor-dwellers. We moderate their electronics use but we use our phones almost constantly. We tell them if they are bored to find something productive to do, but we spend evenings glued to our favourite shows. We tell them to eat properly, but we buy junky work lunches from fast food places. We definitely have a case of “do as I say, not as I do” going on.

Let’s face it – as adults we have a hard time saying no to ourselves. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be a culture smothered in debt with our three-car garages filled to the brim like graveyards of hobbies past.

Adults throw money at all their problems even when the problem could be solved by creativity, not by money. When I am out of chicken the solution isn’t to run out and buy chicken at full price for dinner, the solution is to figure out what I do have in the fridge and make that for dinner instead. When I need more exercise maybe the solution is biking to work instead of getting a gym membership.

When you are a kid you spend all day inventing things, running, playing, using creativity to fill the void. You come home to eat and dinner is what is put in front of you, so you don’t question it. You don’t decide it was a rough day at the schoolyard and so you treat yourself to a steak dinner because you are a kid who has no money. You may beg for candy at the checkout but chances are you know you aren’t going to get it. Your expectations are such that when you DO get a treat, you truly relish it.

“I’m booooored,”

I don’t allow my kids to say this. I mean, they can say it but then I make them sit in a chair and stare at the wall for a few minutes. (How is that for boredom?) But I get anxious riding an elevator and whip out my phone to alleviate the boredom. As adults we surround ourselves with constant stimuli because our lifestyle creep allows us to buy all the things we need to not get bored.

But boredom is the solution, not the problem.

As adults we never let ourselves get bored anymore and creativity springs from boredom. What’s worse is that boredom gives us anxiety. The anxiety comes because we feel we should be doing something with our time – maybe work on that book we want to write, maybe take the time to do a budget and get yourself on track, maybe reach out and see a friend you haven’t seen in awhile. But we often get anxious and overwhelmed and so we go for the simple wins: fill that hole with shopping for happiness, refresh social media and compare our lives to others.

We need to stop.

Look at all the things you store right now that you once bought to make yourself feel happy. How do they make you feel today? If spending truly makes you happy, why have you spent all this money over the years and have yet to reach peak happiness? How much more do you think you need to spend to make yourself happy? Is there a finish line?

The reality is that after you have your basic needs met, you need relatively few extras to make you happy. Once you hit that peak, your enjoyment for money spent goes way down. This is obvious when you observe children: they have food in their bellies, clothes on their backs, they marvel in the world around them, they have good friends and time to enjoy them, they solve boredom creatively, they get regular exercise, they don’t default their attention to electronics, they generally get a good night’s sleep. Frankly, more adults should take their cues from kids – not the other way around. When do they do get a treat, their excitement is infectious. If all purchases made us that happy!

So I put it to you, adults: be more like kids. Get creative with the way you view the world. Stop looking to money to make you happy – and stop comparing yourself to people on social media, that’s a guaranteed way to make you unhappy, and when you are unhappy you spend money.


Hey-o! Look at me, making my own meme-like guide! Pin that sh!t on the fridge, people!

Monthly savings update – July edition

Note: Our financial goals for 2017 include saving $18300 to buy back my pensionable years for my defined benefit pension as well as save $50000 which will make us mortgage-free at the beginning of 2018.

As I previously mentioned, I had yet another surgery which brings me to a total of four surgeries in a little over a year. Go hard or go home, I suppose. Mr. Tucker accuses me of really overworking the “in sickness and in health” clause of our marriage contract. So given this, I have been convalescing at home for the past three weeks – apologies to my facebook friends for being more prolific than usual as I am ridiculously bored and spend way more time on my phone than is healthy. Also, despite some planning on our part, we have also outlaid a ridiculous amount of cash, as with with any medical adventure. Que sera sera.

Let’s get to the good stuff, shall we? Our July savings:

Check out that bad boy! In the esteemed words of Bon Jovi:

Except I don’t believe prayer is going to help much if you aren’t laying down mad cash in that savings account. It reminds me of this joke I heard once: a woman was in financial crisis so every night she would pray to god, “Please god, let me win the lottery!” The day of the lottery came and went and she didn’t win. So the next week she prayed every night, “please god, let me win the lottery!” The lottery day came and went and again she didn’t win. The third week unfolded in the same way and when she didn’t win she got down on her hands and knees and screamed into the heavens, “Why god? Why have you forsaken me? I have begged you to let me win the lottery for weeks and you haven’t answered my prayer!” Suddenly, the skies open up, angels are singing and a bright light shines down. A booming voice comes down from the heavens, “LADY, I AM TRYING TO HELP YOU! COULD YOU AT LEAST BUY A LOTTERY TICKET?” Moral: put your back into it, people.

What is interesting about surpassing the halfway mark of our goal is that it occurred to me that another milestone has been reached. When I looked at July’s numbers I realized that it matches up with our yearly expenses. In other words: we are sitting on a year’s worth of expenses for the family on our basic budget: the ability to buy a year of non-work. Obviously, we have other goals at this point – the house and the pension – but it’s amazing to think that we can buy a year’s worth of non-work. So for every year we work and save at this rate means that we can buy ourselves two years of non-work.

Of course, this year hasn’t been typical but no year really will be. Sure, Mr. Tucker got a bit of a windfall from a sale of stocks but we also had larger medical expenses this year. He started a new job that pays more but for this summer at least we had to put the kids in camps – which we hadn’t planned – because of my surgery & his new position. We’re rolling with the punches and still saved almost 40k in six months. That is pretty impressive!

My goal for August is to heal up and to get back to work as soon as I can. I may be in a wheelchair for a while but if I can get my butt working again life can return to some semblance of normality. Still, it’s great to know that at least we are on track with our goals.


For looooooooooove…If I have to live with this ear worm, so do you

Everyone loves to hate budgets – Part 2

(see here for Everyone loves to hate budgets – Part 1)

It has been a crazy month or two to try and nail this down as we are a bit in flux with Mr. Tucker’s new job and our new government benefit payment amount (which I am shocked we still get, but hey, I’ll take it!). Still, in many ways every month is going to have some sort of issue affecting our budget so giving you a snapshot of today allows me to show that financial planning should be open to change whenever there is new information. So without further ado, how we spend money – pie chart edition:

As I have mentioned before, we live off my salary and save Mr. Tucker’s salary. So the figures above represent the percentages we spend based on my salary alone. It puts us over the “recommended” housing allowance of 33% but not by much. I am sure you have some questions so let’s go through the categories:

Hydro, water, gas (residential) – 8.63%: I suppose I could have done these categories better since I know them and they may not be as obvious to you (duh). So the top three entries are what most people would shuffle under “utilities,” and they represent electricity, water, and our heating/cooling/hot water tank, respectively. We also only get a water bill every second month, so this number reflects the average per month amount/

Housing – 34.53%: this is the rent we currently pay to live in our home. We rent from a relative and by the end of the year we plan to buy this house outright and this category should go down.

Car savings/emergency savings – 6.90%: Car savings represents what we save for maintaining our (paid off) Grand Caravan and our savings for a future car down the road. Our car is 7-years-old this year but since we haven’t driven it a lot (it has under 85000km) maintenance has been low. We’ve driven many of those KMs in the last year due to my current medical issues but hope to reduce that soon.

Groceries/personal care – 13.81%: To be honest, this is what I budget monthly but we also belong to a CSA that we pay for in February and that is filed under the “all from list” category (more about that later). These are our fresh vegetables and fruit from the middle of May until the Middle of October.

Gas – 3.22%: the second (confusing) entry for gas. This is actually gas for the car. When we are not driving my disabled butt around this is much lower (but an entry appears for public transport) but since Mr. Tucker works from home and we are walking distance from most amenities we don’t usually need to drive as much.

Cell/insurance – 8.10%: This category is a one-line entry on my budget because I actually have these amounts come off my credit card and then I pay my credit card like a bill. Because they are constant amounts every month, it makes it easier to lump them together. Currently, it stands for our life insurance, our car insurance, and our cell phones/internet, as well as our YMCA membership (which, after the summer we are going to cancel but for now we get a huge markdown on summer camps for the kids so we keep their basic membership rolling).

RESP – 1.84%: Registered Education Savings Plan. Self-explanatory, but essentially post-secondary education for the kids. This amount will hopefully go up significantly once we pass our first tax year with Mr. Tucker’s new job.

Pocket money – 8.63%: This could probably be renamed “Entertainment,” but for simplicity I have lumped Mr. Tucker’s rehearsal fees for his band in here as well as the money I allocate for fun spending every month. This is because he pays once-a-month. Conversely, I put my dragon boat fees in the category below because the payment is once-a-year.

All from list – 14.59%: If you are thinking this is a strange entry, you are correct. However, it’s my most important strategy for managing expenses that don’t come up once a month. They may come out once a year, or two or three times a year, but if I save for them monthly they aren’t surprises. Here is an example of things we have on the list: extracurriculars for the kids, snow removal, clothing, child care, replacing household items and birthday/Christmas gifts. I have this amount socked away in a savings account at an online bank and when the amounts are due, I just move the money back over to our checking account.

That is pretty much it. I am not the kind of person that needs to have every category meticulously balanced down to the penny so sometimes our entertainment money may go to buying really good steaks for the BBQ, and even though I have a grocery budget monthly our CSA comes out of our “all from list,” category. I don’t feel the need to perfectly categorize every cent into its appropriate field because all I want is a big-number snapshot at how our spending is going. By knowing my averages every month I will also know if any adjustments need to be made. Whenever a category changes (ie: car insurance goes up), I make adjustments accordingly.

What is interesting to note is that I keep all these as averages and so there is almost always extra money in the account from various places. So while our house gas bill during the summer months is $60 it may go as high as $175 during the coldest of winter months. I also don’t budget 100% of my income, which you will see when you add up the percentages.

Real math people will look at my charts and roll their eyes because they are probably the kind of people who need to know where every single cent goes. I am not that person. I just need a road map to make sure I am heading in the right direction. I don’t get panicked by detours because of the easy-going nature of my average categories. When things change, just go with the flow and change with it.

Tracking real money spent

Because a budget is a projection of anticipated spending, I also have a column beside the budgeted amount to reflect the real amount. Here are some numbers from July, in percentages (based on just my income):

As you can see some numbers will be 100% bang on, such as my car savings and Housing number. That number is an automatic withdrawal from my account every month for the same amount. If you look at our Pocket money amount though, I haven’t spent it all because the month isn’t over. So far I have only spent over 1/3 of the money I have allocated. Things like gas for the car fluctuate constantly.

At the end of the year I can add up all my columns when I go to re-do my budget and see the categories I have overspent – or underspent – in and adjust accordingly.

I update this spreadsheet whenever I pay a bill, or at minimum you could update the spreadsheet about once-a-month to ensure you are on track.

So who brings in what?

I hemmed-and-hawed about this pie chart because it’s a bit of a misrepresentation. You see, Mr. Tucker has no income tax taken off at the source so we will be on the hook for that tax at the end of the year. However, because we have so much contribution room in our RRSPs (Registered Retirement Savings Program) carried over from previous tax years, I think we will be able to get our taxes close to zero for at least the next two tax years. Once that changes, this pie chart will definitely change.

Also, my amount is not just my net, but it is also my net amount after taxes, benefits, pension, and insurance through my employer. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s just count total amount coming in every month.

Our government benefits are the amount the Canadian government gives us for our two children based on our family net income. Obviously, the less you make the more you get (you can play with the benefits calculator here if you are interested). What is simultaneously funny and not-funny is that if we bring Mr. Tucker’s tax liability down to zero next year, this amount can conceivably skyrocket even though our gross income doesn’t change.

So if you have kids, the more you save for retirement will a> give you retirement savings that can grow without capital gains, b> reduce your income tax by up to 50% of the amount you have saved, c> help you qualify for more Canada Childcare Benefits. So if you needed a push to get you saving – there it is!

But your chart isn’t realistic!

Nope! I deliberately don’t include Mr. Tucker’s salary because I never want to think of it as income, I want my brain to earmark it as savings at all times. However, for fun I did put together another chart to show you what it would look like with his amount included. You will notice that in this chart, Emergency savings, car savings, and RESPs are lumped in with “savings” so you can get a big picture idea of what our total savings rate is. You will also notice that it doesn’t add up to 100% because I haven’t allocated every single cent & always have a small bit of “give” in our checking account.

The other wildcard in this equation is that since Mr. Tucker gets paid in USD I did his income calculation based on the average exchange for this year. This may give us an idea but until the year closes I won’t know what the real exchange is. So again, I am not looking for perfect here, just an idea. That’s why we call them projections.

What is also not reflected is that Mr. Tucker will see bonuses over the year and I will also get a cost-of-living increase. In the past I have allocated that money to savings or vacation – sometimes both. But because we can’t rely on these quite yet, I don’t add them to our projections.

To be honest, I know some people will look at the way I manage our money and think it is either too easygoing or way too difficult to manage. But remember: a budget is personal. The way you manage your money will reflect your personality. In the end, my personal view on budgets still stands: A budget is a plan you put in place to free yourself from having to think about money.

Hopefully this post inspires you to put your own system in place that not only reflects your personality, but that also will give you financial peace of mind.

Happy budgeting!

Inspiring video drops

So convalescing is taking more out of me than I think I would like to admit. So writing is on the back burner for now. Still, over the past two days I have watched two great videos I’d like to share that may give you some encouragement.

First, Peter Dinklage giving a talk on what led him to his current fame and the steps and thoughts that brough him there:

Secondly, I heard about Penny Rimbaud (one of the founders of the punk band CRASS) and how he and Gee Vaucher rented a tumbledown house in London. They kept an open-door policy and soon people had come and renovated the space & the gardens with fruit trees, vegetables and flowers with various outbuildings built as well. People came an exchanged their labour & created an oasis in the process. They keep their lives very simple to be able to concentrate on art. When asked, Rimbaud said, “I don’t think I have every paid tax. How much do you need to earn? £5000 a year? I don’t earn anything like that.”

June savings update & life update

This post should be my budget post, part II. Alas, it isn’t! My apologies but I had to review all our numbers with Mr. Tucker’s new job and since then I have had to revamp my numbers. I am waiting for his next pay period to solidify the numbers and then I will be able to give concrete percentages of where we allocate money.

Since I last posted, we had our week-long vacation at a rented cottage with some friends. For the past couple of years some neighbourhood families have rented cottages all together for a week so our kids can enjoy a typical Canadian adventure: swimming, catching frogs/fish, and enjoying hikes and campfires. Now that the kids are older the adults can relax a bit and enjoy some much-needed respite. All told, it was a great week – and definitely not long enough – I am sure I will have some follow-up comments on that.

I will get to the good stuff though: our June numbers. This month Mr. Tucker had some shares from a previous employer that were sold for various reasons. This added to our kitty nicely as you can see below.

With Mr. Tucker’s new pay structure I actually had to take my third pay in May and organize our finances so we are ahead. Let me explain. At Mr. Tucker’s previous job he got paid twice a month on the 15th and the 30th so I organized our bills into two “mini budgets” twice a month to reflect what bills we paid with what paycheck. In order to keep with this schedule (which works well) I just needed to organize it so that my first pay fell before the 15th as I am paid bi-weekly. So taking my “extra” pay in May to start to get ahead of the game made sense when we are now living entirely off of one salary. So we are always a little bit ahead.

Our plan going forward is to bank all of Mr. Tucker’s salary in a 60/40 split between house/pension savings and his RRSPs, respectively. That will help us save the money we need and reduce our taxes significantly.

In other news, tomorrow is my surgery. I am supposed to be off work for a fairly long time but I only have a certain amount of time banked that I can use. Let’s hope they meet up! I am incredibly grateful that I work a job with a> supportive upper management, and b> a good benefits package. Even still, there will be some expenses that will have to be paid for out of pocket. We have some savings and while my benefits are good, I have discovered that they don’t cover a lot of things disabled people require, which was an eye opener.

I hope my convalescence will encourage me to write more blog posts! I swear I have a ton of subjects in a note on my phone I just never have time to write about them!

At any rate, Mr. Tucker is whipping up a special dinner (which I am trying not to equate to the Last Supper) of all the things I enjoy. I am hopeful this will be my last medical adventure for the foreseeable future. Wish me luck!

Everyone loves to hate budgets – Part 1

My friend Devon asked me to write about budgets so I thought I would put together a wee post summing up my budget theory and discussing the different approaches. There is a LOT of info out there though, so I don’t want to make it too complicated. Before we begin though, we have to tackle the elephant in the room: people hate budgets. They shouldn’t, and I am going to explain why.

People often view budgets as restrictive, like having a old school marm pointing a finger at them from the recesses of their brains saying, “THOU SHALT NOT SPEND MONEY!” This is exactly the wrong mentality to have. A budget – at its simplest – is just a plan. It’s a system you have put together to meet your goals. It is just a tool and like every tool requires an actual human to make it work – for good or bad. My budget theory is as follows (and I suggest you write this down):

A budget is a plan you put in place to free yourself from having to think about money.

Once again, for those in the back:

A BUDGET IS A PLAN TO FREE YOURSELF FROM HAVING TO THINK ABOUT MONEY

Sounds contradictory, right? It isn’t and I will tell you why. Once you set up your budget most things on it can be set-it-and-forget it. Over time you will know what to expect and know where you need to tweak. It is only when you don’t have a plan that you waste inordinate amounts of time thinking about money. Does this sound familiar? “I hope this doesn’t overdraw the account!” “I hope my pay goes in before they cash that cheque!” “I wonder if we will be able to afford to travel and visit the family this year?” When you have a budget you will know the answers to these questions because you will have it all written down. It doesn’t even have to be perfect, a road map is still good even if you have to take the occasional detour.

Budget theory

There are a million ways to budget and they all have commonalities but I don’t want to get caught up in the minutiae here because we are all different. If you are looking for something simple to start with, I recommend Elizabeth/Amelia Warren’s plan from All You’re Worth (a great read, I recommend it highly) called the Balanced Money Formula, and it looks like this:

Must Haves: such as housing, food, utilities
Savings: such as retirement, education, long term goals
Wants: pretty much everything else

It’s a pretty simple way to divvy up your money provided you have enough money coming in for your needs, have no debt, and want to retire at around 65. If so, this formula is for you.

However, if you are like me and are looking to reach big goals (such as saving almost $64k in one year) your budget will look a lot differently. With Mr. Tucker’s new job, our budget currently looks like this:

As you can see, our outgo for Must Haves and Wants are much smaller than our savings rate. That makes sense given our goals and our ability to save one salary and live off another.

Obviously, there are a myriad of ways to calculate your own personal percentages given your own personal parameters. I will say though: be honest with yourself. No one is keeping track besides you so you aren’t fooling anyone.

Budget methods

Cash system

Works well with: people who have a lot of debt or spending problems

I have always been a huge fan of Gail Vaz Oxlade and her TV shows (Til Death do us Part, Money Moron, Princess,). If you haven’t had a chance to watch them, they are still available on Slice. She recommends the cash system to help people climb out of debt and take control of their finances. Also called the envelope or jar system, you allocate your monthly cash to one of these pots and when the money is gone, it’s gone.

To be honest, I haven’t really liked this system mostly because I am a digital kind of girl. There is research saying you tend to spend more when you use cards as opposed to handing out cash as cash seemed more psychologically “real.” In recent years though, I have also seen opposing research saying electronic payments are more difficult. Who knows? For me, the question is about complication: when I pay so much online, actually putting cash in pots was inconvenient and made me give up. Having said that, I think if one were to use a mix of systems – the envelope system works perfectly for things like wants, groceries, personal care, and clothing/accessories to help you stay within budget. Anything where there is a real-world transaction is a good place to use this system – or if you have one particular expense that keeps getting away from you.

Zero-sum

Works well with: consistent income

This is closest to what I use. The idea behind it is that you budget monthly with every cent going to one category until at the end of the month you have nothing left over (or it carries over to another category). You start allocating money in order of responsibility, hoping to hit a good pie chart for your situation. Most are set up monthly but they can also be set up by pay period, or any other time you prefer. I will go through this one in more detail later because it is also the most popular of all the budget systems.

Fluctuating

Works well with: irregular income

If you are a consultant, artist, or have a job with a heavy bonus or sales kickback structure this budget is for you. Not knowing when the money is coming in can be incredibly frustrating but you can mitigate some of that stress by knowing how much your living expenses are. Review your last year and tally up how much you spent and then make an estimated guess as to how much you need every month and base your budget on that. So if your expenses are $1500 but you bring in $2000 in January but only $1000 in February you won’t panic because you know you still have $500 leftover from the previous month to cover it.

People with fluctuating income often work in feast-or-famine mode spending all the money as it comes in and then filling in the gaps with credit until the next big payday. This is stressful and confusing to manage. By creating a budget to reflect your reality I guarantee over time that you will start to see trends and account for them. If you are smart, you will also build up enough of a buffer to be able to know when you can, say, take a larger break away from work for a period of time.

So now that we’ve covered the basics, next time I will get down to the nitty-gritty of our budget.

(to read Everyone Loves to Hate Budgets – Part II click here)