Articles: reducing your online time & addressing stress

If you are looking for some interesting reads on stress reduction and reducing the time you spend on your phone and online, I suggest the following:

The Binge Breaker: Tristan Harris believes Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones. He’s determined to make it stop.

Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?): Switch multitasking for monotasking.

My Distraction sickness: An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.

Neuroscience Says Listening to This Song Reduces Anxiety by Up to 65 Percent: Sure to both stir your soul and calm your nervous system.

Why One Neuroscientist Started Blasting His Core: A new anatomical understanding of how movement controls the body’s stress response system.

Shuffle your thoughts and sleep: Traditional ways of tackling insomnia are largely useless, says Oliver Burkeman, but this is different.

My favourite quote from the above article is:

“Attention, as you’re doubtless aware by now, is a finite resource. This means it’s important to steward it carefully; if you let yours be seized by panicky headlines, there’ll be less left over for what matters.”

Own your attention, take back your time

This was literally my teens and early 20s

How does one who works in social media step away from social media? With great difficulty, actually.

This morning I was thinking about the internet of aulde: back in the day when I used to hangout on local BBSs, freenet, usenet. I was young and full of punch and I got into debates with people with alarming frequency (youth+time+lack of knowledge). Can I remember the subject of even one of those arguments over 20 years later? Nope. I can’t even remember any of the arguments I had over livejournal in the 2000s – and I had some fairly prolific debates there as well. I am even sure that if we picked out all the comments I had made over time, more than half of them I wouldn’t even agree with today. Still, I have continued the great debate over social media as an adult and I don’t think I can even remember the arguments I had last week, let alone last year. I am at the point where I am questioning the value of these discussions in relation to my overall life satisfaction.

On one hand, I am the kind of person who is compelled to correct someone who posts incorrect information over social media. No person X didn’t do that. No, grapefruit juice doesn’t cure cancer. No, this is clickbait garbage. I find the internet so infuriating in that aspect: so many garbage websites spreading misinformation, bad political conclusions, and downright lies. It drives me batty. However, in order to counter a lot of these arguments I have to click and read them, which is exactly what they want. The internet has become a place where your attention has been monetized, where every click is another dollar in the pockets of the people who just made you angry and wasted five minutes of your life. So I wonder again: what is the value of this to my life?

XKCD draws a picture of me

I love the Internet. It’s given me friends, relationships, entertainment, a career, a way to connect with people far away. But the Internet giveth and it taketh away. I love that I have a little world in my pocket where any question can be answered with just a few clicks. Conversely, it is convenient way to procrastinate, it eats my time because it’s a default thing to do, and it is constantly there to ring and beep whenever my work needs me.

Most content consumption on the internet isn’t conscious consumption. We talk about “wiki-spirals” where you go to look at information on one topic when suddenly you find yourself sitting in the dark at 3am reading about the reproductive processes of the African lemur. That time, washed away. Most of us have done it because it’s so easy to do.

Technology was supposed to empower us, but for many it has power over us. The world is clamoring for our attention and we have to learn to shut it out.

I talk a lot about how my time is worth money. I create intricate calculations on savings rates and inflation for financial independence but yet I can swipe for an hour without even realizing I am doing it. That time is an infinite resource and while it may be cliché, I will never get that hour back. Some things have value for me (blogs, articles) but many don’t (listicles, memes) and being clear on the difference is a skill I need to hone.

My time and my attention belong to me and I need to stop giving it away so freely. I need to cultivate more judicious use of my time and my attention. The problem is that in a world where an entertaining listicle is waiting for your laughing pleasure, it’s hard to get out of the habit of the two-minute entertainment minefield for the mind. I am as guilty as anyone of reaching for my phone the moment that the anxiety of boredom appears on the horizon. At the bus stop: phone. At the doctor’s office: phone. Eating my lunch: phone. That’s why it’s not surprising that people prefer being shocked over being alone with their own thoughts.

Shocking? Not really.

Mr. Tucker and I discuss this often, mostly because we both have jobs where we can be pulled into work with a ring or beep on our phones. Still, we are working towards culling our internet and phone use in the following ways:

Not my circus, not my monkeys: Recognizing I don’t have to feed into every argument with every fool who posts their silly opinions on the internet. I don’t have to allow comments with no added value seep into my life and control my time. I don’t even need to respond to everyone who shoots their ire in my direction. This is not a video game where if I defeat these monsters eventually I will get to the big boss of the internet and win the game forever. There is no end to it all, so put a stop to your investment in it.

Turn off your notifications: heck, if you are feeling edgy, you can stick your phone on airplane mode for awhile! But at the very least, go through your settings and block notifications for everything that isn’t super important leaving only the things you really need, such as phone calls.

Content begets content: I am slowly learning to be less prolific over social media. I don’t need to share that article. I don’t need to update my status. I don’t need to document every aspect of my life. When you are constantly posting, people are constantly reacting. When you post, even if you turned off all your notifications you know that there is probably a comment or two you need to respond to. If it’s a controversial or political post, you know there will be responses and it will gnaw at you until you check and respond to the comments. Rinse, repeat. You will never get out of the spiral if you are constantly posting, no matter how great the information is to compel you to share it with the world.

Work is work, home is home: While we will still have to be available for work sometimes, we don’t need to have our work phones right next to us. Mr. Tucker has specific ring tones for work emergencies, and I can keep my work phone in another room and only check it periodically. For personal use, I put my phone in airplane mode and stick it where I can’t reach it. My time at home after 5pm is time with the family to eat dinner, play games, and to hang out. Even when the kids are in bed I am training myself to work on reading, writing or other hobbies rather than consume internet content.

Yep. I have two phones, one of which is a Blackberry of all things

Learn to adjust your attention span: I am frankly amazed at how short my attention span has become. Years of toggling between windows and watching various social media feeds has made it that I can only concentrate on one thing for a short period of time. Also, I already had attention problems so it has made it worse. Instead, I am training myself to work through the anxiety of concentrating too long. When I recognize my attention floating, I don’t just give in, I force myself to double down and concentrate for another minute…two minutes…three minutes as I slowly train myself to continue for longer periods.

Learn to relax: I know it’s hippy froo-froo to suggest meditation but honestly, it is a good way to reduce anxiety and to clear the mind. It seems counter-intuitive to suggest using your phone but there are a plethora of great apps and podcasts out there that will guide you through the basics of meditation. I’ve found it’s helped me to stop ruminating about things that make me anxious and in turn that has helped me sleep at night.

Explore boredom: Boredom makes us anxious. It makes us pick up the closest thing to us (our phones) and relieve the anxiety. However, boredom is a gateway to creativity. I remember being young and when boredom would hit (*cough* pre-internet) and I would find something to do. You just have to work on the initial hump, which is the barrier to creativity: getting started. I often will sit and flip through things on my phone while sitting next to a bunch of personal projects (such as my knitting) that are immensely satisfying but that always seems like a hassle to start compared to swiping.

Get socializing – in person: I remember in high school I would call up friends and see if anyone would like to meet for coffee downtown. We’d all meet up for a couple of hours at various coffeehouses around the city and enjoy some company and conversation. As an adult, I have always felt that I need to bring that connection back into my life. While it’s great to have all your friends in your pocket, by only communicating online you miss the subtle nuance of human interaction: people’s moods and meaning are less clear when you don’t have their body language to rely upon. Body language is often touted as the majority of communication between people, so being together in a room with someone gives you a different way of connecting. If I were to start a movement, it would be the one to bring back the $2 coffee date amongst friends. There is a richness to in-person connect that I feel we should build on.

Bring new hobbies into your life – or bring back old ones. Sit down and make a list of all the activities that make you happy, all the things you’ve wanted try, or things you want to do around the house. Make a date night with your partner that is device-free where you pour a glass of wine and try a new recipe. Find some like-minded people and get together once-a-month. It could be a craft circle, a book club, or just a few friends getting together and going for a hike.

I will be the first to admit that you will tear my access to the internet from my cold, dead hands. But that doesn’t mean that the internet is always serving me well in every occasion. Like most relationships, you have to set boundaries and acknowledge when certain things aren’t working for you. Once you see that you need to change things, start right away. Don’t wait until it gets harder and harder to change your attention span or stop your reliance on the internet for entertainment.

Sorry, you’re Canadian

Growing up in Canada is kind of like being the second child: your big brother the USA gets all the cool shit first while you are stuck shuffling along in his shadow hoping you get a turn someday. Personal finance is no different.

One of the topics that came up en parlent with some friends recently was the yearly amount you need to live on in Canada. In the context of many English personal finance blogs, obviously many of them come from the US. Being the next door neighbour to a country with a population 319 million when you are a country of 32 million people means that most of what we consume in the media and on the internet has a US-slant. We’ve learned as Canadians to change the advice accordingly (IRA vs. RRSP, for example) and make adjustments where possible.

The problem with this though is we get used to seeing various costs come out of US media that we can sometimes feel like underachievers when things cost twice as much here. Blogs in particular are always enlightening when I see grocery bills under $200 a month for a family, or gas receipts for cars at staggeringly low prices. Let’s just face it: things in the US are just generally cheaper, or subsidized (meat, gas). It’s enough to throw any frugal Canadian into an apoplectic fit!

The thing is, there are tradeoffs for both countries. I think day-to-day living costs are fairly low (meat, gas) in the US and high-ticket items (university, health care) appear to be lower in Canada. I also always joke that in the US anything bad for you is cheap, and in Canada costs a fortune but that’s not always true either. Still, there is no Two-Buck-Chuck in Canada, alas.

So imagine my surprise when I checked out this cost of living calculator from Numbeo. Holy CARP! Is Canada actually this much cheaper than the US?

Well yes, and no. Firstly, that data is self-reported, not government data. I figured some of it was suspect when I remember paying practically nothing for eggs in Maine and they have them listed as more expensive than here. Of course, geography is at play here as there will be variances across both countries*. So here is a completely non-scientific look at a few things:


But here are some fun comparisons for a few grocery items, in the respective currency of the country:

I could go on and on, but it is boring so you are free to play with the American and the Canadian sites if you are particularly curious.


Transportation is a huge chunk out of the budget for a lot of families, especially those who have no access to decent public transportation. Fuel is subsidized in the US, which is why when we cross the border into the US we feel like …

So in terms of averages, I was unsurprised to see that in the USA gas is on average $2.22 a gallon or .59/litre , and in Canada it is $105.6/l or $4.22 a gallon. It’s a significant difference that also affects the price of goods as they travel.


The average price for a home in Canada has far surpassed the average home in the US, 41% more, in fact. Last spring, the average home in the US was US$271 803 and the average price in Canada US$383 402. That’s a pretty substantial difference.

The US also has many mid-rage cities where there are tons of amenities but low prices, which seems to be less of an occurrence here (see: small population). Even those small cities such as Hamilton have seen explosive growth and a lack of affordability as Toronto expands out. Even if you take the hot markets of Toronto and Vancouver out of the equation, average house prices are still CAD$332 711 which is still fairly high.

There are tradeoffs

Of course, Canada does have a few tricks up its sleeves in terms of government benefits for people who live on a low income – even moreso if you have kids. When I plug our numbers into the CRA benefits calculator, we can expect $939 – $12430 in yearly benefits, depending on whether or not the kids are still at home.

Universal healthcare is another way in which we benefit, as well as low costs for post-secondary education. I mean heck, if our income is low enough our children will probably qualify for a plethora of assistance with post-secondary (we have money to help them though).

But every day living in the US can be much cheaper. They are spoiled for choice in the retail market so grocery stores slash prices in ways I have never seen here and clothes can be had at rock-bottom prices. Property taxes can be much lower in smaller cities and still have access to the amazing amenities we’d only find in large cities in Canada. I would say that there are generally just more ways you can save money in the US, although not everyone takes advantage of it.

What does this mean for me

Really? Nothing. The reality is that it can be a super bummer to be saving to the best of one’s ability only to discover that due to geographic factors you’ll need twice as much. But lamenting this isn’t going to change the reality that we all have unique circumstances and need to adjust our plans accordingly. The math still works, the possibility to become debt-free or achieve early retirement is still there, it’s just that every path is different.

Of course, someone who lives in San Francisco or Vancouver will spend way more than someone in Duluth or Saskatoon. I remember picking up a $6 pound of bacon in Vancouver 10 years ago when you could still get a pound in Ontario for $2.99. I doubt it’s better today now that rents are sky high. Location, location, location as the old adage goes. For those people willing to move, or who can survive off a jar of PB and a bag of lentils, they will obviously be able to save quicker than someone in a house who eats fresh vegetables.

The key is not to let any of this get you down, the key is to continually play with the numbers and to reduce your lifestyle to a level where it is comfortable, all your needs are met (with a few extras) but where you can save a significant amount of your paycheck. Comparing yourself to others – especially others in other countries*** – will just serve to bring you down when you realize that it’s impossible to have the same numbers. Look more for the hows in the information than the how much and you will be able to adjust the information to suit your own life. In reality the only comparison you should be making are between the you of yesterday and the you of today.

*Disclaimer: this is just for entertainment purposes and is not scientific in the slightest. It shouldn’t be taken as gospel as I’ve just pulled a bunch of info together to get a ballpark idea of comparisons.
**I haven’t compared rents but in my area renting is not that much cheaper in my area, in other areas it’s much cheaper. I am a big fan of renting and think everyone should run the numbers & do what is best for them.
***European readers be like, “You think you have problems?!”

Exit strategy: conversations with my mom

“I wish I had retired later. I find retirement really boring.” My mom said. She was over for her weekly cup of coffee & a visit with the kids and I. Although we keep Sundays as a strictly family day, Saturdays are usually bustling as our extended family usually drops in for a visit at various points in the day. Between music lessons, birthday parties, and visits, it’s always a chaotic day of the week. We love it though, it’s nice to be able to be so close with our parents when so many people live far away from their families.

Still, I was shocked to hear my mom say she wished she had worked longer. I remember when she decided to retire she was working in an extremely stressful environment and had had enough. A pediatric nurse for over 30 years, it was getting more difficult to work the long hours and overnight shifts. When she retired, it seemed like the ideal time for her and with her pension we didn’t worry about her ability to support herself.

My mom is fairly healthy and she enjoys travel, so in the beginning she traveled quite a bit with a girlfriend who also loved to travel. Her girlfriend ended up getting married though and the traveling slowed down. She also used to play cards one day of the week but stopped going when the friend she went with moved out of the city to be closer to her family. Now I guess she feels rather aimless. She still goes out to lunch with friends once-a-week, and will visit friends in Florida during the winter, but I can see how she feels like she needs something extra.

I know she just needs to adjust and add things to her life but she hasn’t done that yet. As people have moved on, she hasn’t added new things to her life. I know she can and probably will adjust, she is just in a rut right now.

What’s interesting is that this conversation occurred because I was discussing early retirement (specifically the fun I have been having with the retirement calculators) and was showing her how amazed I was at the numbers. Since she is in this rut though, all she can see is how boring her life is lately so she can’t imagine why anyone would draw that out. Conversely, I am in a pretty stressful job right now and can’t imagine doing this for the next 25 years. In a way we are both wrong: she won’t always be bored, and I won’t always be maxed out.

The grass is always greener

Most people who seek out early retirement do so not just because they just don’t want to work. I’ve noted (rather unscientifically, true) that most people want to raise kids, travel, volunteer, and have hobbies that will more than keep them busy over the next X amount of years. Mr. Tucker and I definitely could think of a million and one ways to fill up our days because we’ve thought about and talked about early retirement since our late 20s. Despite being derailed by setbacks that pushed early retirement out of our field of vision for a few years, we are back on track and are both looking forward to transitioning out of full time work completely within ten years.

A cautionary tale

In university I spent a summer working a job at a city yard. Basically, we were “on the bucket,” which was short for walking the city with a garbage bin on wheels, cleaning the streets with a grabber. It wasn’t glamorous but it paid decently and was low-stress.

Our day started at 7:30am and I would ride my bike the 5k from my house to the yard every morning. No matter when I pulled up on my old clunker of a bike, a couple of guys who had retired within the past couple of years would already be sitting around drinking coffee. Being 21, I was confused that anyone would retire and come back to their old job everyday, but a few did fairly regularly.

Given the vehemence with which these men (I was the only female) hated their jobs and constantly were counting down their days to retirement, I always thought it was weird that anyone would come back to visit so often. But there was a fairly steady roster of retired men who would come back and grab a coffee with the guys, or pop in for lunch. At the time I was completely confused but now I understand it: these guys had no exit strategy. After 30+ years of doing the same thing every day they didn’t prepare for what they would do when they didn’t have to go back anymore. So they did what was familiar to them: they came back to work to enjoy the camaraderie they had missed when they retired.

You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone

I often take out way too many books from the library. Curse you, express reads shelf!

The thing is: work is often boring! Coming to work is just a habit that many people who are bored in retirement just haven’t broken. I just spend 5 years working 8-10 months of the year and I can say with absolute certainty that during the months I was off I was at home (and the kids in school), I could fill up a day. There was no end to the things I could do and frankly, I enjoyed it and was never bored.

Mr. Tucker and I have often had conversations of what we would do if we didn’t have to work every day. In these discussions there is no end to what we could do in a day, which is to say it’s mostly just an extension of what we already do. We’d spend more time also doing things we enjoy doing but that we don’t currently have time for, and try our hand at more DIY projects (such as our backyard reno this summer). While some of these plans rely on us being more or less able-bodied, retiring early will hopefully ensure we will be pretty mobile.

Of course, our current plan includes having kids still at home at least for another 6+ years when Mr. Tucker retires, which means our days will still be regimented. They will have school schedules, activities, and possibly jobs so our lives will include that chaos. I also will probably be working in some capacity at that point, which means we will have to work around those hours. We are approaching this goal slowly, one small step at a time.

Still, it’s important to have an exit strategy. I think the best way to do this is to have hobbies and interests outside the day-to-day work/kids/tv/bed schedule that most westerners adhere to. I have found that over time, many people get so busy with life that they set aside the things that make life fun. Both Mr. Tucker and I have an interest in music, writing, biking, skiing, and travel – all of which could fill up a life quite nicely. We also would like to do more of the things we currently enjoy doing – such as drawing and knitting – that we just don’t have time for in our lives right now. On top of these things, we’d like to explore some new stuff we’ve dabbled in and have enjoyed but that we just can’t fit into our lives, like gardening and spending more time volunteering.

If all those things get boring? Well, I am sure I will never run out of interesting books to read (and I have yet to finish every book in our local library). In fact, I would rather be bored in early retirement than exhausted at a stressful job. As much as I absolutely love my career and am so grateful for a challenging, supportive environment, there are a million and one other things I enjoy doing as well.

So for now my exit strategy is to keep up with my interests, look forward to creating new interests, and to explore the million and one things there are to do with my time that aren’t working 9-to-5.

Game changer: make your own bouillon

It’s rare that food things BLOW MY MIND. I have been reducing our food bill for years with a combination of sale purchases, learning new skills, and mostly cooking from scratch. So it’s rare that I consider some recipe or short cut a game changer. If I dig into my memories, I think the last thing that really blew my mind was Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread which busted onto the scene about 10 years ago and still enjoys mega popularity today. If you haven’t tried it, it is definitely worth the effort (non-effort?).

So imagine my surprise when I was flipping through River Cottage Handbook: Preserves and came across their Souper Mix. I swear I must have slapped my forehead and exclaimed, “Why didn’t *I*think of that?”

Essentially, most stocks are just veggies and bones/meat boiled in water to let out their natural flavours. This mix reduces that to its essential components: what if we took out the water and just processed aromatic vegetables into a paste? The result is a flavourful bouillon a million times better than their powdered store-bought counterparts. I dare say (as I am feeling a bit blasphemous) it’s even better than my beloved Better Than Bouillon: the mainstay of so many of our dishes, including my favourite Quick ginger-miso soup

There is indeed a lot of salt in this recipe, much like store-bought bouillons. The science behind this is that the salt limits bacteria from growing, allowing you to store this for a long time. I find adjusting the salt in my recipes help balance the sale in this mix. I am presenting the original recipe as-is:

Souper Mix
Makes about four cups:

9oz (250 g) leek
7oz (200 g) fennel
7oz (200g) carrot
9oz (250g) celery root
2oz (50g) sun-dried tomatoes
2 or 3 garlic cloves
3 ½ (50g) parsley
3 ½ (50g) cilantro
¾ c fine sea salt

Put all the ingredients into the food processor and blend until you have a fairly thick paste. To use: combine 1 tsp of souper mix to 1 cup of water.

Of course, the evening we planned to make this we didn’t have all the ingredients on-hand. However, this is an incredibly forgiving recipe and we ended up substituting celery for the celery root, and mushrooms for the fennel. We also lacked fresh parsley so we used dry. As long as you stick to the aromatic vegetables you probably will be able to make a myriad of tasty variations based on this basic recipe.

The recipe assumes you will store it in the fridge but we found storing it in the freezer to be a much better option. The mix stays relatively soft due to the amount of salt, and in fact, if you wanted to reduce the salt and up the vegetables (I would try adding onion, personally) putting it in the freezer will help it keep longer. To use we just scoop out a teaspoon and use in our recipes as directed.

Given how fall is in full swing and most of these vegetables are harvested this time of year, it’s a great time to whip up a batch of souper mix so you can enjoy comforting soups all winter long.

Why I am buying back my pension

Fun site for Canadians in certain provinces: all benefits you are eligible for in your region. When I checked it wasn’t updated for this year’s tax season but I am hopeful it will be.

As you probably have read, I have the opportunity to buy back pension years where I worked for the federal government but wasn’t a permanent employee. It actually amounts to 3.5 years (go contracts!). Of course, I am currently not permanent now; I am actually a term, which means I am an employee who can be renewed yearly. I am still entitled to all the benefits of being an indeterminate public servant but my contract may have a chance of not being renewed.

So while I want to buy back my pension, I will wait and see if they will renew my contract in March. The reason for this is that you need to be vested for two years before you can be eligible to withdraw a pension. So since I only started contributing in March of this year, I will have to have another year under my belt before it vests. So if they renew me, I will have those two years locked down. If they renew me and I buy back the 3.5 years, I will have 5.5 years of pension under my belt by the end of March 2018.

Over the years I have heard the same advice about pension buy backs “oh you should do the math, it may not be worth it!” Since the federal government pensions are defined benefit pensions however, I can’t see a reason NOT to buy it back. The pension fund assumes a 5.5% real rate of return so by buying back I am essentially buying a government bond with a guaranteed interest rate. Since it also adjusts for inflation, I don’t have to worry about the state of my investment in this case. I fail to see a reason NOT to buy it back.

Of course, there are challenges here. Firstly, I have the option of taking payment plans (with varying interest rates) or paying in one lump sum. The options are to pay back in 3 years, 5 years, or 10 years (omg!). After I calculated the interest, I realized that borrowing to pay in one lump sum – if you can pay off the amount in less than a year – is cheaper than the payment plans offered by the government. The challenge here is that you need the contribution room for pensions/RRSPs to be able to go this route. Thankfully (or poorly planned, you decide) I do have enough carried-over contribution room to pay the entire amount in one tax year.

Secondly, I need to have a full physical where my doctor makes a best guess that I will live at least another 5 years. This is doubly-awkward: if she says I won’t, not only will I not be able to buy back but I also have a chance of kicking it within 5 years. Double whammy!

Thirdly, I only have one year in which to buy back at the estimate I was given. The government calculates your buy back at your current salary. So even though I am buying back years where I made half as much as I make now, I have to buy back at my current salary because my pension will be based on current salary dollars. Of course, if I miss this deadline the payment will go up substantially. Our union also negotiated new salary rates recently so I absolutely must not miss this deadline or I will see the buy back amount rise substantially.

Of course, I am hedging my bets to get in and get my physical first thing in the new year (now that I am walking & after many hours of physio!) as I have until the end of March to get all the paperwork in. It also gives me time to save up as much money as possible to put towards it and I calculated that I will actually be able to pay about $18400 out of pocket without tossing the balance on my line of credit. The buyback amount? $18318. What are the odds?

Since I plan to work 5-10 more years in the Public Service (renewed term willing!) that would give me a lowball pension of approximately $1000-$1500 at 60* (in today’s dollars), adjusted for inflation. So this makes planning working part-time/early retirement much easier, as once I hit 65 I will have that guaranteed income – and if I die, it will transfer to Mr. Tucker.

Since the public service has all sorts of fun calculators, let’s play with them. Assuming I only work six years from March 1st, 2016 (when I entered the pension plan)and buy back the 3.5ish years I worked previously, let’s see how that pans out:

If I retire at 46 and start drawing my pension at 60*:

If I retire at 46 and start drawing an annual allowance at 50:

The early retirement reduction is 50%

How about if I work a little longer? Maybe I could work until age 50?

Retiring at 50 and drawing a pension at 60:

Retiring at 50 and drawing an annual allowance:

The early retirement reduction is…wait for it…49%**

This is a cute thought exercise but I am not an actuary so it isn’t accurate. Also, since I entered the Public Service after 2013 I won’t actually be able to “retire” until I am 65 (new, fun rules!) so really it will just sit there until I am 65 when I can begin drawing an inflation-adjusted pension. I also put in my current salary but not any raises or promotions I may have in the next 5-10 years, just to keep it constant. Because there is an increase every year on my salary and I feel like a bit of a go-getter, those things are more than likely.

What is interesting here is that if you have a pension coming down the pipe and you are planning on retiring earlier you have two choices:

– Save like you don’t have a pension and when yours does come, it’s a pleasant boon
– You can do the heavy calculations and determine what you need to save to support yourself between when you retire and when you can draw on your pension

I haven’t done the heavy lifting in the calculations department yet but that will depend on how I feel in a few years. Our current plan is for Mr. Tucker*** to retire in 5 years. If I stay in the Public Service I will have more options than he would, work-wise: I can probably do compressed time, drop down to part-time, or take leave with income-averaging for a few years. We won’t theoretically need to touch our nest egg until much later if I explore work alternatives for a bit as all the above options will still bring in enough money to support the family. Of course, no one knows what will happen in the future but our current plan continues to be to save like mad to pay off the house and buy back my pension. After that we will rethink – and recalculate – what our plans are in 2018.

OH, and if I work until I am 65?

*Bridging is for the years between 60 and 65. It stops at 65 because that is when it is assumed you will be drawing from the Canada Pension Plan (and for some, Old Age Security).
** I have no idea why the dates are different here but I don’t think it will make enough of a change to care.
*** Hilariously, we will get a huge chunk back in child benefits and tax credits if Mr. Tucker isn’t working

To every season, turn, turn, turn…those goals into reality

Don’t tell anyone but I love all the seasons. I grew up having all four seasons fleetingly spread across the mere 12 months of a year and I still love them all. Sure, sure, I am one of the complainers: in summer it’s too damn hot, and in winter it can get too damn cold but secretly I love it.

Of course, we are in fall right now: apple picking, pumpkin patches, warm cider, crisp air, beautiful landscapes of yellow/red/orange leaves….oh man, I love fall. I will admit, it has a special place in my heart. Although it may be the harbinger of winter, I do enjoy these days even if they bring with them shorter, darker days. It’s just another reason to start a fire in the fireplace.

Mr. Tucker could not care less about seasons. In his mind it makes more sense to live in the Caribbean and if we ever miss seasons, we can come visit them.

Personally, I think I would be a bit sad if I didn’t have the seasons to look forward to. I enjoy transitioning from one time of the year to another. Just like holidays help us mark the days, so do the seasons. It gives me the satisfaction of a year fully lived. Spring is about rain, seeing grass again, and the fresh smell of petrichor. Summer is marked by swimming, watermelon, and the smell of sunscreen. Fall is about walking through crunchy leaves, decorating pumpkins, and the smell of apple cider mulling. Winter is about skiing, building snow forts, and the smell of wood smoke.

“Most everyone’s mad here…You may have noticed that I’m not all there myself.”

Our last CSA basket came in this week. It came with 10 pounds each of onions, potatoes and carrots, and of course, a pumpkin. I’ll be sad to see them go, there is nothing better than having farm fresh food weekly. Part of me is jealous of people who live in more temperate climates where they can get local food all-year round but the other part of me enjoys the end of things so we can transition into a new period of the year.

So this morning I sat down with my coffee and booked the kids into skiing for winter. It seemed as good of a time as any to admit that winter IS coming and since you can’t do anything about it, you may as well embrace it. I save money all year round to be able to send the kids to ski lessons so I am happy that I can pay cash for it in November. Of course, I am saving money this year on my ski pass as I am sure my orthopedic doctor would prefer to not have to see me in clinic again!

November will also mark the month where we start saving for some fairly aggressive goals. We will be hunkering down to save more for our house fund so we can be mortgage free in March 2018, and as well I have decided to buy back my pension at work (more on that later this week). So as of right now we are starting from zero with a goal to achieve almost 70K in savings by March 2018. That is 16 months from now.

A pretty lofty set of goals

It seems fitting that we start right when the darkest days of the year are ramping up. I find it’s much easier to hunker down and save when all you want to do is avoid the cold and dark by curling up by the fire with a book. Despite the madness of the Christmas season Mr. Tucker and I have been traditionally better at saving money during the winter months because we don’t ever go anywhere.

So while the fall is traditionally known as the end: the end of summer, the end of long days, harvest and the end of the growing season, it’s going to be a new beginning for us. we have huge goals but I think we can make it. I’ll be posting regularly here with updates on how it’s going, so if you are interested in watching us succeed (or fail?) you’ll be able to follow along. Also, let me know if you have any big goals or dreams planned out for the near future, I’d love to hear about them.

Happy fall!

A tale of three Halloween choices

This is Halloween, this is Halloween!

One interesting thing about living in the social media age is you get a window into other people’s choices. I am always particularly fascinated to see the way people entertain themselves because it always seems so opposite to what I would ever do. As we come up on Halloween, it’s a good time to compare very similar – but financially different – ways people have fun.

I will be honest, being a SAHM for so long meant that we have had to make different choices over the years than people who had more income. We just didn’t have the money to pay much out of pocket for entertainment without sinking ourselves into debt, so we rarely spent money on passive entertainment. We did have time however, so in the past I spent more time coming up with frugal ways to entertain ourselves. Conversely, people with two full time incomes probably didn’t have to think twice about spending money on entertainment because they didn’t have heaps of time but they did have money to spend.

One of the bonuses of this is that my kids don’t have the expectation that they need to be entertained at expensive indoor gymnastics places, kid arcades, or any of the other “family” style businesses around our city. So even though we are now a two-income family, we have not upped our lifestyle to include these things and my kids have not come to expect them. Eating out is a mind-blowing treat to them, and when we do hit one of those “entertainment” centres they have an incredible gratitude as they know what a rare experience that is.

If social media is any indication, these businesses will thrive and thrive because my timeline is full of people paying top dollar for passive entertainment. Since it’s Halloween though, it’s a good chance to compare three ways of celebrating this time of year.

Super cheap: either grow your own pumpkin or buy them when they go on sale at the grocery store. Paint and carve at home using scrounged craft supplies. Who doesn’t love a toilet paper ghost? It’s 2016 and Pinterest is full of a million and one ways you can do crafts with your kids during October to build up excitement to Halloween. Cost: 1-$10

Moderate: hit a cheap pick-your-own pumpkin patch with your kids at a farm inside the city limits (no spending tons on gas!). Pick up some pumpkins, decorative gourds, and some apple cider and take pictures of the kids climbing the hay bales and playhouse the farm has set up. Cost $20, for what you buy.

Expensive: Drive an hour outside the city to a farm that has been converted to an edu-tainment centre full of trampolines, hay rides, a bunch of haunted houses, and various other attractions and then pick your own pumpkin. Cost: $21 – $36 – per person entrance fee ($61 if you want to jump the lines on all attractions!) plus the cost of what you buy.

So essentially, the least expensive option here for a family of four is the daytime price of $84. There is a super cheap option where you have no access to the attractions but why bother if you can’t do anything? Who wants to pay money to look at all the things you could be doing? Your kids will just lose their minds on you.

While you would think we would choose the cheap option, you would be wrong. Since the kids were little we headed out to this small family farm at the edge of the city where we let the kids choose their own pumpkin to carve. We nab some local cider, some small and large pumpkins, and we go home and spend the day drinking warm cider and decorating our gourds. It’s a bit of a family tradition as we’ve done it since the kids were young. All in, we spend about $20 for a couple of hours of entertainment.

A little fall decoration

Holiday traditions are important but don’t have to be costly

In fact, Halloween is the only holiday we celebrate by heading out and spending money for entertainment. With the other holidays we only celebrate with neighbourhood-related activities where we celebrate together as a community at someone’s house. On Easter a friend invites all the kids over for egg decorating, for Christmas our family hosts a chili and Santa cookie decorating party, and on Halloween another neighbour has a potluck at their place before the kids all head out en masse Trick-or-Treating (with the parents gripping their roadies with the strength of Hercules).

To be honest, the way people spend money is none of my business. If you have the means and the desire to blow $100 for passive entertainment, then that is your prerogative. However, I don’t think spending $100 vs. $20 provides so much more of a mind-blowing experience. Kids are usually just happy to get out and spend time as a family so there is no need to pump dollar after wasted dollar into passive entertainment all the time.

Also, let’s face it: people who spend this kind of money are usually doing it often because they feel their families have come to expect it, and it’s normal in our culture to have that level of entertainment. Every weekend there is a new outing, a new restaurant meal, a new way to spend. There is no shortage of ways to blow cold, hard cash and no shortage of companies who will take it. They know there are hardworking parents out there who feel guilty about not being home all week, and they are more than happy to feed into your guilt by selling you “family memories “and “quality time.” But family time isn’t bought and sold, family time is a real effort you spend at connecting. It’s about paying attention to one another, it’s about talking about our lives, it’s about being present. Traditions don’t need to cost a fortune just because some marketing campaign has told you it’s the easiest way. You don’t have to buy into it.

Pizza Fridays get a little Halloween update

It’s time to start bailing

While I can’t speak to people’s particular situations, I do know that many of us have financial goals we aren’t reaching. If you are constantly complaining that you aren’t getting closer to your financial goals, it’s time to be honest with yourself. Throwing your hands in the air and saying “I just don’t know what is going on?!” when your entertainment/eating out budget is through the roof is like pointing out all the places on a sinking ship where there aren’t any holes. To enact change you need to plug the holes and start bailing but you can’t do that unless you are willing to see the leaks in the first place.

Maybe consider these questions:

Am I doing this to fill a hole? Sometimes our emotions control us and we do things we may not have chosen otherwise. Do we feel guilty for working so much? Working too much overtime? For missing certain family events? Do we feel the need to WOW our kids to show them that we love them?

Are we being manipulated by ads or friends? Are adverts manipulating us into believing that we will be closer as a family if we spend money? Are we seeing our friends doing cool things and posting their pics online? Do we feel that we are missing out if we don’t do similar things? Social media can be a great place to share ideas and stay connected but we can sometimes be made to feel like we aren’t measuring up.

Does this contribute to our goals? I don’t mind spending the $20 because it’s a fun tradition we’ve had for years and it’s a low cost for entertainment. If it was $100 a year, I just would choose something else. If your goal is paying off debt and you are constantly justifying $100 every weekend (or every other weekend) are you truly trying to reach your goals? You can definitely choose to spend tons of money on entertainment and it’s valid to make that choice but if you aren’t achieving any movement in your financial goals be honest with yourself.

Are we getting value for our money? This one is tough because it is different for everyone but I will say in my instance paying $100 to head out to an incredibly busy edu-tainment centre does not appeal to me. When they have a pass you can buy to skip all the lines, you know that it’s going to be packed and you may not be able to see everything you came to see. That seems incredible low-value to me.

Are there lower-cost ways of achieving the same goal? With my example above, you could essentially spend less than $10 on buying/carving pumpkins and doing crafts at home as a family. If your goal is to spend time together, it can be achieved both ways but with wildly different price points.

In the end, we don’t spend a lot of money on paid entertainment on a regular basis because I don’t want the kids to feel the need to be constantly entertained. I want them to have open space at home to relax, craft, read, and hangout after a crazy week of work and school. I want them to have space to use their imaginations, to create, to play. I also don’t want them to come to expect that they should be entertained all the time, or that weekends are the time to blow all our cash on stuff. I don’t want them to become teenagers (or worse, adults) whose expectations are that they are entitled to jam-packed weekends of whirlwind entertainment with an ever-growing list of “wants” because that is all they have ever known.

So I says to the guy, are you just pumpkin me up?

In the end, there is nothing wrong with spending your money the way you want to spend it. If you are getting value for your cash and you want to shell out every weekend, good on you. You may well review the above questions and determine you are happy with the way you do things and honestly, I am happy for you if this is the case. But if you take a hard look at your situation and decide you aren’t getting much value, then it’s time to change. It may be difficult at first when your family is used to being constantly entertained but you don’t need to go cold-turkey. just slowly reduce the amount of money and time you are spending at paid entertainment. Swap the $100 edu-tainment experience for the $20 one. Choose to go on a picnic instead of out to a restaurant. Hit the cheap cinema over the blockbuster cinema. Have friends over for drinks and cards instead of going out to a bar. There are a myriad of creative ways to change the way you consume entertainment. I think you’ll find the more creativity and effort you put into things, the more you will appreciate those experiences.

Incidentally, this year our family decided against even the $20 pumpkin patch experience. With me in a wheelchair, we thought it would be easier to skip it. So we got one pumpkin in our CSA basket & bought a second one from the farmers that supply our basket so both kids will each have a pumpkin to carve. The kids were ok with that.

(The difficult art of) Digging deep

Snow? Seriously? That’s not really helping, actually.

I was fed up before I even left the house today. The first email I received on my work phone at 7:30am infuriated me and left me fuming as I headed into the office. Not the most perfect way to start the day.

Usually at that time I get the day’s news articles sent my way, and I’ll peruse them as I drink my coffee, so “the email” was not expected at all. It’s rare to get anything else at that time because most people haven’t come into the office yet, so to say I was blindsided is an understatement. Oh well, lesson learned: don’t read your email until you get to work!

Of course, this email set the tone for my morning and when colleagues were headed out to the mall at lunch to shop, it was tempting to go along with them and engage in a little retail/restaurant therapy. But I didn’t, I stayed behind at work and ate the food I had brought with me and caught up on some reading*.

It’s times like these that I am learning that I need to dig deep. I need to recognize that no amount of purchasing, no amount of delicious deep-fried vittles, no amount of spending money is going to make a crappy morning better. To shop or to eat ones’ feelings does not going to suddenly make those feelings go away. In fact, the only real solution is the long-term solution: keep saving so I don’t need to deal with a day like this in the future.

Similarly, Mr. Tucker and I instituted a rule about how we spend our weeknights. It’s easy to transition from the chaos of a long work day with a glass of wine: come home after a long day, drink a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, rinse, repeat. But while we weren’t getting rip-roarin’ drunk on the regular, it was It’s still too much to drink on a regular basis and we found our evenings less productive. When we sat down and really looked at it, we decided to save our drinking for the weekends, which saved both money and gave us more energy in the evenings. While it took a bit more time to transition in the evenings without the winding-down wine short cut, our wallets and our health thank us.

Today is Friday! HUZZAH!

Sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve fallen into these habits until our drawers are stuffed with clothes we don’t wear, or we calculate how much we’ve spent at the liquor store that month. In our minds we probably didn’t even buy or drink as much as we thought we had but our “once in a while,” suddenly become “more often than not.” Humans are designed to adapt and to adapt quickly but that doesn’t mean we adapt to the right things.

I have been really working on my ability to dig deep when things get hairy. I used to be the kind of person who would throw her hands in the air and justify my actions to myself by saying, “Oh what the heck!? It’s only a $10 bottle of wine!” But the reality is that nothing is every “just a.” Just a bottle of wine is the teaser I need to make it “just a” dinner out, or “just a” new sweater. The reality is that it never really is “just a” this one time. It creates habits.

I am not suggesting we never treat ourselves but we should be treating ourselves in a conscious way. We should be actively choosing these moments, not reacting to bad moments that spur us into bad-decision making. If we can recognize the difference then we have a better chance of reaching our goals and not letting our emotions override our goals.

Waiting – patience in general – is a good habit to cultivate. By waiting to have those two glasses of wine at the end of the work week, I have something to look forward to every Friday. By saving and not spending my money as a way to treat myself during stressful periods, I will be rewarded by not having to work more days in the future. So the next time your job, a friend, or your kids makes you want to scratch the “just a” itch: dig deep. It will be difficult – especially when everyone else is out spending – but by digging deep you will get the satisfaction of knowing that you are one step closer to your goals.

* Walking is out until I can, well, start to walk again next Tuesday

Feeling stupid can make you smarter

I am a strangely private person for someone who is probably known as the most extroverted person in my group of friends. When I started this blog I kept it on the down-low, choosing not to let friends read it. I have since lifted that rule somewhat so we will see how that goes but I am still choosing to be mostly anonymous.

The reason to keep hush about this blog has a lot to do with not only working in social media but also being a huge consumer of it. I think many of us can’t read a post or a tweet without automatically assuming that the writer is discussing us specifically. Or we all know people who feel like tearing everything apart like it’s their job, “But…but…but…what about this esoteric instance that may occur when the sun is in Saturn!” they snivel on facebook after someone posts an article they feel is a personal affront (for some reason?). I know this may be shocking to some: but not everything is about you. And since I couldn’t control the reaction to my blog, I originally controlled the access.

Being interested in personal finance is like putting a giant magnifying glass on yourself because it’s a highly contentious topic. If I discuss our choices and goals, someone else is quick to point out how impossible it is, or makes excuses as to why they could NEVER do THAT. That’s fine, I don’t really care to hear the million-and-one reasons why someone would never make the choices we make. I am being completely honest when I say that is the one key thing about personal finance is that it’s personal.

Still, I think there are some situations that affect all of us whether or not we are willing participants. I think also it’s important to be cognizant about the way things affect us and how things affect others, too. I know some people will get their backs up because ZOMG STOP JUDGING ME but honestly, I generally don’t care what people do with their money but I do think certain decisions are stupid and I am not going to change my mind just because someone’s fee-fees are hurt.

Where you are financially does not dictate your worth, nor does it say anything about you as a human being. However, sometimes we are feeling judged because we have made bad decisions, we know we have made bad decisions, and watching someone else say in a completely different circumstance, “damn, that a dumbass decision,” can make us feel shitty to our core. I get that, but there is no time like the present to change things!

A tale of two minimum payments

Still, some people are so contradictory and they don’t even realize it because they don’t think about it. A couple of years ago I saw someone post on a forum about how they NEEDED to use debt to finance certain parts of their lives. They apparently used their credit cards to take time off work so they could do volunteer work to serve poor communities. If there was no credit, this man claimed, he’d never be able to do the all good work he does. Unfortunately this is ridiculously backward to me. Why? Because credit card companies rely on people who pay their minimum balances to support the systematic destruction of poor people. They over-lend at ridiculous interest rates to people who they know will have a hard time paying back that money. Knowing that most people will desperately try to meet their minimum payments, people of few means will try and keep up as long as they can. Of course, many of them fall behind when faced with an emergency because they are already maxed out. Because the credit card company is happily collecting minimum balances from middle class folks, they are still collecting piles of cash as they start going after the people who can’t pay with fees, higher interest rates, and of course the threatening – and mostly illegal – telephone calls at home and at work. So this person was arguing that they were using a method that oppressed poor people to be able to help poor people. I would argue that playing into the credit game is marginalizing them further. it would be smarter to get the credit under control and find other ways to assist.

I mean, does no one remember 2008? They gave sub-prime loans to individuals who were not mentally capacitated enough to actually sign legally binding agreements.

Of course, the more libertarian-minded of you will point out that most people chose to sign up under those terms and it is their fault if they can’t meet their obligations. But credit card companies aren’t stupid, they have actuaries that calculate the risks of these approaches. Despite the fact that someone who makes minimum wage should never qualify for a $40000 truck loan, they often do. “It’s only $200 a month, surely a successful person such as yourself can manage that, isn’t she a beaut!?”

These companies rely on a certain ignorance from the population to support their business model. They make the terms complex and full of legalese, and when you are in a desperate situation – such as living below the poverty line – you can’t make a logical, free decision because you are grasping at any branch that may pull you out of the quicksand. To argue that it is just good business is to assume we are all standing on the same starting line, which we are not.

So in my view, I would rather not carry a balance on my credit cards knowing that my payments would be contributing to this system. Instead, I use the grace period to let my own money collect interest, and pay it off before accruing interest.

Ok, but what if we all did that…

We don’t. If we did, the companies would start reigning in the bajillion credit card offers there are available every day. It’s a business model that has served them very well over the years and will probably continue as more and more people rely on credit to feed their lifestyles.

The best thing you can do for yourself, your family, and for the world at large is to climb your way out of debt. It may not be tomorrow, it may not even be until a couple of years from now, but the single most important change you can make to your life is to get out of debt.

You can argue with me until the cows come home about how you NEEDED to put stuff on credit for whatever reason but the reality is that it doesn’t affect my life one way or another. In the past, I, too, have used a lot of credit I couldn’t pay off quickly and I will be the first to tell you how ridiculously dumb that was.

How dumb? Generally speaking, a minimum payment covers your interest, plus about 3% of the principal, so here is a fun game you can play at home using a minimum payment calculator. The average interest rate this week according to is approximately 15%, so to pay $2000 assuming that most minimum payments are your interest rate plus that 3% of the principal, it would take you 10.8 YEARS of paying $60 a month and your total out-of-pocket costs would be….


-3,222.34 or MORE THAN 60% of the money you originally borrowed.

Conversely, for giggles let’s put that money in an index fund earning 7% instead!

So basically, you can have $10500 in 10 years, or pay -3222. What sounds better to you? It’s a decision that has a potential $13700 consequence attached to it! Wowzers!

In the end, the gentleman who did the volunteer work could not be swayed by the discussion, which is often the case for people who are looking for validation and back-patting. We all want our friends/family/the internet to tell us that our reasons are justified and some people when faced with the reality end up doubling-down and digging deeper into their own messes. His life doesn’t affect any of us really but imagine had he donated that $10500 to alleviate poverty in his community?

Now let me blow your mind: do the above math taking into consideration that the average U.S household carries $15,675 in credit card debt alone.

Why I don’t side hustle

Short answer: kids and a husband.

Long answer: I know that there is a lot of emphasis on side hustles in the FIRE community and I completely understand that. What is better than retiring early? Retiring even earlier! It makes complete sense to me that people would want to actively seek out ways to make even more cash they can stash.

But it’s really not my thing.

A couple of years ago I did have the opportunity to work part-time from home doing some consulting work while I also worked a full time job. I just couldn’t do it. At the time my kids were 2 and 4 years old and between work, commuting, the kids, and all the wonderful things that happen in life, I just felt so exhausted by 8pm that I didn’t have anything left to give. I really envy people who can do all these things, and then when their kids are in bed give even more, whether it be to their art, a side hustle, or to volunteer work. I don’t want to take away anything from these people, they should be super proud of themselves for having these goals and working towards them.

Truth be told, I love the idea of side hustles. I read articles about people like Sean Cooper and my first thought is, “WOW, what an incredible accomplishment! Congrats to that guy!” (of course, not everyone is as keen to heap on praise). So please don’t conflate my lack of interest in side hustles with snubbing them. I think they are a worthwhile pursuit, in the same way going back to school can be: short term pain for long term gain. It makes sense to me, and if you can do it, that’s amazing.

For myself, I am a mixed bag of interests that all sort of float around this idea of personal finance. I read the The Complete Tightwad Gazette when I was 18 and Your Money or Your Life when I was 20, then I cut my teeth on the The Simple Living Guide in my early 20s, so I am no stranger to the statistical outliers of the personal finance game. But if you notice from the above, those three books alone all have similarities but also differences, and that is mostly how I feel about my view of FIRE.

For us, I am willing to cut our expenses to the bone and look for alternatives so that we can save as much as possible. I’ll happily eat beans and rice, and wear socks and a sweater inside in winter. However, I am not willing to give up my evenings cooking with Mr. Tucker while enjoying a glass of wine, helping the kids with their homework, or playing board games as a family. To me, there has to be a balance between today and tomorrow: I am fine with making smart decisions today to reap the benefits in the future, but I am not ok with completely sacrificing today. My kids are only going to be young for so long and I don’t want to miss these moments when they happen. Sure, I could work after they go to bed but KNOW THYSELF: I need some time to decompress after the day, work on personal stuff or catch up on reading, and I need to go to bed early to have the energy for the next day. That’s just me.

I will be the first to admit that the harp was not a frugal choice.

You do you

We all have to choose the levels that work for us. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and it is perfectly acceptable to figure out what your levels are and live with the results. Besides, everyone starts their FIRE journey at different starting lines: some people are younger, some are older, some are just starting their careers, and some are mid-career. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the way we run this race and while some people will cross the finish line sooner, almost all of us cross the finish line before people who stick with traditional methods.

Mr. Tucker and I both make really good salaries, have a good – but frugal – lifestyle and an ability to cut our expenses to the bone without feeling the pinch. But cutting expenses for a middle class family of four looks very differently than cutting expenses for a single person. While we don’t mind doing the myriad of things we do to save a dollar, we also spend money on things other people – other families, even – do not. Our kids both take music lessons because we put a high value on music in our family and were not capable/willing of teaching our kids. Other people will balk at that idea, because music isn’t a priority, or they will learn music from some youtube videos then teach their own kids. I consider this an awesome way to go about things but it isn’t for us. So we still keep music lessons in our budget because it’s a priority for us. It also satisfies other values in our lives, such as keeping money in our community and supporting local artists.

We understand and accept that when we spend money on lessons for our kids that we are subsequently taking our dollar bill soldiers out of commission from helping us work towards early retirement. We are ok with that and feel the tradeoff is worth it for our family.

You can’t have it all

Of course, when chasing FIRE you have to be judicious in your use of all your resources and cut what you can down to the bone. It’s nice to review your financial situation and know that you can still retire in 5-10 years even if you have some fun along the way. It’s another thing to review your budget and decide to keep a 5000 sq ft house, two expensive resort vacations yearly, music lessons, dance lessons, premium name-brand clothes, eating out at lunch every day, dinners out on the weekends, and high-end alcohol and THEN complain that you don’t understand how other people can retire early.

That’s not being smart with your money, that’s whinging.

Win/win: a friend needed storage for her piano, we wanted to borrow one!

The reality is that we all have choices to make and goals to set. If you want to retire in 10 years but when you crunch the numbers and it tells you that you need to work 15 years, then it’s time to cut. If you are unwilling to cut, then you need to admit to yourself that early retirement is less of a priority to you than the things you are currently spending money on.

Our quality of life is enhanced by music lessons, so those stay in our budget and we plan for them. But when we keep one thing in, another thing has to go. By carefully analyzing what is important to us we can get maximum value from the money we do spend on stuff and experiences.

Conversely, I am not willing to side hustle so that means I either have to strip our budget down or find cheaper versions of the things we need. Mr. Tucker and I are constantly reviewing our expenses and trying to find cheaper versions of everything from cell phone plans to quinoa. Almost all of our attempts to scale down have had either minimal or no impact on our quality of life – but they have reduced the time we have to spend working. I guarantee it, once you actually put the thought and effort into reducing the costs of things, you will often find those things weren’t as important as you once thought. I just tell myself when I reduce that I will always be able to bump it back up if I don’t like it. Nothing is forever.

One-size does not fit all

I don’t like financial advice (or any advice, really) that it dogmatic: THIS IS THE WAY AND THE LIGHT! Yeah, no. But I also don’t believe that a> complaining about things solves problems, and b> criticizing people for doing things differently from you is ok.

In the first instance, your entire life is going to be full of people who (you think) have had it easier than you, or who weren’t as affected by the economy as you, or who just generally have more luck in general. It sucks, and I get it. We all encounter these people in our lives and it’s demoralizing to watch them ride the wave to success while we struggle for our piece of the pie. Honestly though, what can any of us benefit by complaining about it? Does bitching about it make your life any better? No, it does not. It doesn’t because now you are wasting precious time and energy out of your day hyper-focused on something you will never, EVER be able to change: other people. You can change yourself however. You can stop ruminating and put that energy someplace else, maybe even someplace where you can have more success.

Secondly, none of us are going to do things the same way 100% of the time. I will not side hustle at this point in my life but when someone else does and is successful at it I am not going to criticize them. The article above on Mr. Cooper is a great example of this: he busted his butt and achieved something great. So naturally people who didn’t make the same choices as him feel some personal affront at his success. Why? What compels people to jump on their high horses and pick apart someone else’s success? Jealousy. Jealousy is a wasted emotion. It contributes nothing to your life and like complaining, has no value-added. In fact, Mr. Cooper’s side hustlin’ his way to mortgage freedom has ZERO impact in my life, except that I thought it was a cool thing to do and read about.

Excuses, excuses

Finally, it’s important to live with your decisions. I choose family time and a higher quality of life over making more money and retiring a bit earlier. I made these decisions based on our financial situation and our values. I own this decision and I am comfortable with it. If we had less money, we’d have to chop more, if we wanted to retire earlier, we’d cut those music lessons. Maybe you make more, maybe you make less, maybe you have kids, maybe you don’t but the point is that it doesn’t matter. We all have to make choices with the resources we have available to us whether those resources be time, money, or energy so make choices you can live with.

Eventually we all ride off into the sunset

What to check when buying a used car

Sometimes you ask and the internet provides. When considering a used car, most of us are pretty clueless as to what to look for before you buy. Obviously, hiring a mechanic who can check out the car is the best court of action but there are things you can actually check yourself. I came across this image on reddit from a guy who asked his mechanic brother what he should be checking and I found it a helpful list for the average person.

Further down the post is a pdf from another guy named Chris which is a checklist for things to look for. He even has a handy video:

If you are currently on the hunt for a new used car, you may find the entire thread a worthwhile read.


Vice UK put out a trailer for a new Adam Curtis film this week. I think this film touches on a lot of thoughts we have on the world around this so it’s definitely worth the watch: Hypernormalism.

I will say though that a friend pointed out that Adam Curtis is not without his critiques as well. So I will just let you make up your mind.

Happy Sunday!

What does your perfect day look like?

A rainy view from my office window

Since today is a miserable day outside I thought I would engage in a little mind exercise. Often, we get caught up in the busyness of every day life and think things like, “man, if I only had an extra day,” or “I can’t wait until I retire so I can do project X!” But the problem with this kind of thinking is that we aren’t exploring the things we can do RIGHT NOW to make our lives better and more enjoyable. Constantly thinking your future self will be happy after you achieve certain milestones ignores the power we have over ourselves to be happy today.

An interesting exercise is to compare what you think a perfect day will look like today compared to a perfect day in the future. So for me, let’s assume it’s a weekday because I will compare a perfect day today to a day in the future in which we retire early. It’s also during the school year, as the summers would look completely different.

Wake up early; enjoy a cup of coffee and some journaling
I pack lunches for the kids and I, and make breakfasts before getting them up & sitting with them while they eat
Take the bus to work, earlier because I am planning on working an extra ½ hour a day (a compressed day) to take off some extra vacation time
(Mr. Tucker gets the kids on the bus)
My workday is busy but manageable and I eat a delicious meal I brought to work and then go for a long walk at lunch
I get home around 5pm and help kids with music practice and homework while Mr. Tucker makes dinner
After dinner we enjoy a cup of tea and play some games or read a book together (assuming this is an evening with no activities)
After the kids are in bed, Mr. Tucker and I tidy and prep for the next day
After chores, we connect over a cup of tea, work on personal projects, watch a show or read for an hour or so
We go to bed early to get a good night’s sleep

Non-working life
Wake up early; enjoy a cup of coffee and some journaling
I pack lunches for the kids and make breakfasts before getting them up & sitting with them while they eat
Do a few chores at home, to get ahead of the day (instead of cramming them in on weekends)
Head off with Mr. Tucker to get some exercise, such as a walk, a bike along the parkway, or over to our local YMCA
Have lunch together at home
Volunteer or work on personal projects such as writing or music
Get the kids off the bus at 3:30 and help with homework/music lessons
Have an early dinner together before heading out to the evening’s activities or playing games/reading together at home
After the kids are in bed, Mr. Tucker and I tidy and prep for the next day
After chores, we connect over a cup of tea, work on personal projects, watch a show or read for a couple of hours
We go to bed early to get a good night’s sleep

I think what is important is not what is different on these two lists but how similar these two lists really are. Our lives aren’t changing drastically except we will have more room for more projects (both personal and house-related) and volunteering. The weekends we can also spend in family-related activities instead of cleaning and errands.

But this is also an “ideal day,” and as we know, not every day is ideal. Usually we stress out about having to get up, get ready for work, commute (me), work all day (I often work through lunch), and worry about how both our jobs can interrupt our evenings and weekends sometimes. Not to mention all the time we spend worrying about work-related things.

The other thing I tend to do is put off starting projects because I am saving them for down the road. If I think about this, it’s silly to do this when a lot of these things could add to the quality of my life right now. For example, I used to be a prolific knitter and keep telling myself that when I have more time I will dig out my knitting stuff again. The thing is, I do have enough time to take my knitting out again! Not only that, the eldest has expressed an interest in learning how to knit, which would be a fun thing for us to do together (and I have so much stuff that we’d not need to buy anything for a long time!).

As the old adage goes: don’t wait for that mythical “someday,” it may never come. While I am planning to make it come sooner rather than later, I still shouldn’t put off the things in my life that bring me joy now. This is in part why I am doing a lot more blogging lately, and signed up to get back into harp lessons (which is now on hiatus until I can walk again). There are a plethora of things that I like to do with my time that cost little or no money; I need to find a way to slowly reincorporate them into my days now that the kids are older and I have more personal time.

We’ve all heard the stories of people who wait for their lives to start until after they retire. The person who waits to travel until retirement but is physically unable to manage the places they want to explore, the person who drops dead a month after retirement. All these stories should be a reminder to us to not wait, to do the things we want to do when we have the chance to do them. It doesn’t mean we have to do everything at once and cram it all in, but as we all know there are no perfect moments, so carve out some joy whenever you can.

Thanksgiving 2016

I’ll be honest, 2016 has been a difficult year for our family. Despite the fact it started off fairly well: finally a diagnosis for my issues, a great new job, fun travel planned, it didn’t go as well as I thought it would. Breaking my ankle and the ongoing issues associated with that has made this year not only difficult health-wise, but also incredibly expensive and stressful.


As a friend recently pointed out, I do have a lot to be thankful for. I have amazing kids, the gold standard of husbands, a great job with benefits and work flexibility, a roof over my head, food in my belly, and an incredible support network of family and friends. So on Canadian Thanksgiving I want to recognize that despite some downs there are an incredible amount of ups in my life, too.

Mr. Tucker: finding Mr. Tucker and marrying Mr. Tucker is pretty much the smartest thing I have every done. He’s an incredible husband and father with the patience of a saint. He’s the glue that is holding us together right now with his sheer commitment to maintaining our life as normal as possible as we get through 2016. On top of all that he’s incredibly handsome, a mean Yahzee player, and his love for cooking means we eat great meals most days of the week. Considering this is the same man who I leaned on as I hobbled through Italy and who pushed me all over Walt Disney World in a wheelchair for a week, I’m pretty much convinced I am the luckiest woman alive.

The Sprout and the Bean: oh man, I have such great kids. Sure, they are still kids who act like kids but they are healthy, happy, helpful people. I just am so grateful that I am able to raise such bright, talented, good-hearted people. They have helped a lot over this past year and have been patient as our life got chaotic.

Extended family: I am so grateful for my parents, Mr. Tucker’s dad and my brother. My dad has helped immensely with getting the kids off the bus and having them over so Mr. Tucker and I can have a break. My mom took the kids overnight last night – and often also babysits – to help us out, and as we all know, they took the kids for two full weeks when we were in Italy earlier this year. Mr. Tucker’s dad often pops in with treats and he helps often with landscaping and our more ambitious projects – such as our backyard project this summer. My brother also came over and helped with the backyard and will often take the kids overnight. We are spoiled with the amount of support we have from our families and it has helped us immensely, especially this year.

Friends: Man, I do have the loveliest friends. I’ve been so grateful to surround myself with a community of people who have supported our family through good times and bad. From card game nights, to the amazing get-well gifts, to just being there for us in good times and bad, I have been lucky to cultivate such an amazing group of human beings that I can rely on, and who can rely on us.

Work: I have mentioned this before but I absolutely adore my career and am so grateful to work in a place where management is supportive of a good work/life balance. I am also grateful for Mr. Tucker’s career, as both of our salaries are decent enough to be able to save for the future and still have a great quality of life. Although things can change at any moment, I hope that for the next six years our work skills and salaries will increase allowing us to save even more.

House & Home: we have a great house in a great neighbourhood with most amenities walking distance, and public transportation nearby. There is a lot of green space and a wonderful park that has a wading pool in the summer and a skating rink in the winter. We are a half-an-hour away from amazing ski hills and hiking trails and only 5km away from two beaches in the summer. We have great food on the table, and clothes on our backs and generally with a little planning never have to worry where the basics of life are coming from. If we play our cards right, we could also be mortgage free in 2018. That’s a huge thing to be grateful for.

So while the day-to-day bustle of life can be incredibly overwhelming – especially this year as I heal – I am so grateful for all that we do have. Pulling the focus away from feeling bad about my predicament and instead reflecting on the fact that it is short-term allows me to have a better perspective. There is so much good happening in my life that it is important to recognize it, and what better time to do that than during Thanksgiving.

Have a great long weekend, folks!

Mama said there’d be days like this

I am sick. The kids are sick. The house is a mess and things are all over the place, disorganized. Work has been an absolute gong show and it seems like the list of tasks I have to accomplish both at home and in the office are a mile long. It’s making me incredibly flustered and frustrated and both Mr. Tucker and I are feeling overwhelmed.

(she says she is “too busy”, as she sits down and writes)

Seriously, I feel like a bag of smashed buttholes

It’s easy when I am overwhelmed to throw my hands in the air and start making bad decisions because they are easier. It’s easier to take the kids through the drive-thru for dinner, it’s easier to buy my lunch, not fold the laundry, or drive instead of walk. But it’s exactly when things are at their worst where I need to double-down and say: enough.

It’s much harder to stay the course when you are under pressure either with work, with family/friends or with your finances. In fact, long-term stress such as being poor can affect your ability to make good decisions. While obviously I don’t suffer from that level of stress, I think most people would be able to see how stress can lead to poor decision making in their own lives. When faced with a myriad of mountains we have to tackle during high-stress periods, it’s easier to let the good things slip. We may eat more sugary or fatty foods, spend more money, or let our good exercise habits slip.

Unfortunately, the high-stress periods are the times where I really need to DOUBLE-DOWN on good habits. When I spiral during periods of high-stress it may take me weeks to come around to getting back on track, well after the chaos has ended. It makes more sense to actually push through the terrible period and keep with as many good habits as I can because reigning in one or two bad habits it much easier than reigning in five or ten.

So I am really proud of Mr. Tucker and I for getting through this crazy week. I may have had to take days off work due to illness, and I spend most of the day sleeping off this flu but we still stuck as closely as we could to our normal schedule. The floors are filthy and the laundry is piled in heaps on our bedroom floor but we didn’t succumb and eat out this week despite exhaustion and illness we didn’t bail on the kid’s activities at all.

But this is really what needs to happen. When you are at your weakest, when you are the most tempted to make bad decisions, it’s the best time to dig deep and try and give a little more. I know that sounds like a weak platitude you may see in a Facebook post but in real life it makes a lot of sense. I am pretty sure if I kept count, I made most of my bad decisions during times of high stress. Digging deeper doesn’t mean I will make 100% good decisions even during stressful periods (you’ll notice that I didn’t spend a weeknight folding laundry, for example) but I made good decisions where it counted: we didn’t spend money unnecessarily or get drunk on Tuesday night which would have put us even further behind in financial and health goals.

So finally it’s Friday night – pizza and a movie night in our house – and Mr. Tucker and I can sit down and enjoy a well-deserved beer and a slice while we hangout as a family. It will be especially sweet knowing that with the extra day this long weekend we will be able to get our lives pretty much back to normal – and then some. After a week of vacation followed by a week of illness and stress, Monday will be a good Thanksgiving indeed.

Post-Disney redux

Well, we are back from Disney and despite setbacks (me being wheelchair bound and then catching a righteous flu) we are now settling back into our daily routine. It’s always hard to hit the ground running right after vacation but it is even more difficult when you get home and have a raging fever and a cough that won’t quit. I had no intention of taking sick days after our vacation (as it is bad form) but I have had no choice but to take a day and a half because I truly am under-the-weather.

Although that puts some delay in our plan to get back and get organized, I do have to say that Mr. Tucker is an unsung superhero of our time! As soon as we got back home he tossed all the laundry in the washer & headed out to grab a few groceries for the week. He’s pretty much been solo-parenting as I have been sleeping every possible moment I can, so by this weekend I am sure he’ll be beat.

Not going to lie: we totally sprung for the build-your-own droid & build-your-own light sabre stations

The kids had an amazing time and we had an amazing time watching them enjoy themselves. Still, here are a few observations from last week:

1 – The amount of food and food waste is sad: we got the free meal plan with our vacation and even then it was way too much food. Often we shared one quick service (ie: cafeteria style) meal between two of us. In the end, we even left 5 meals on our plan that went completely uneaten. The portions were immense.

The buffets were all meat covered with cheese covered with meat covered with a meat sauce (ok, an exaggeration but not by much) that I ended up mostly at the salad bar. Most of the cooked vegetables were even covered with so much sauce that rendered them a shadow of their former selves. Honestly, I get it: Disney has to serve hundreds of thousands of meals in a week and they need to serve what appeals to the most people. But even with that seeing so much waste left on plates was really sad, which is obviously not Disney’s fault. They even had signs that read “please eat only what you can enjoy” which mostly went unheeded.

Having said all that though, the GIANT BOWL of gummy bears in the children’s breakfast buffet was a bit over-the-top. We had to argue with the kids over what constitutes a sensible amount of gummy bears for breakfast. Sheesh!

The kids enjoyed collecting autographs during our character dining meals

2 – Disney is a pro at accommodating people with disabilities: Despite some major setbacks (the Magic Express lift broke and I ended up having to finagle my way off the bus, and I only got a partially-accessible room), the actual accommodation for transportation within the parks & on rides was on point. With the exception of the People Mover (the only one I could not do) if you can manage to take one or two steps, you can pretty much do almost all the rides.

Disney also has the DAS where you can go and get a special pass if you can’t wait in line. Since it’s done on the honour system a lot has been written about how this can get abused. We did not get a special pass as I can wait, I just can’t walk. Even without the pass, a lot of the access to rides happens via the fastpass line if you are in a wheelchair, so a few times we were lucky to bypass some lines, even when I told the attendant that I could wait in line with everyone else.

Also – and I thought this was the coolest – some rides like The Seas with Nemo and Friends, as well as It’s a Small World have wheelchair-accessible cars that you can access with a chair. For other rides – especially ones with moving walkways – they will stop the ride so you can get on. It’s impressive and I am so grateful: this allowed me to do every ride except one. I was completely impressed by this. Great job, Disney!

3 – Having stayed at a budget resort and a luxury resort the better deal is…*drumroll* …it depends. Honestly, being in a wheelchair made staying at the luxury resort on the monorail so much less stressful than having to bus everywhere, which takes longer. When you are in a wheelchair everything already takes a ton of time so being on the line was a bonus this time around.

The overflowing top hat was a huge hit

Still, I feel I got even better service at the budget resort & the quick service meal options were so much better. The quick service meal options at the luxury resort were extremely limited and a bit frustrating. The pool and play area were 100x nicer at the luxury resort, and the rooms were bigger but how many hours do you realistically spend at the pool when you are generally in the parks during the day? You also only use a room to sleep, so really it’s a bit of a waste considering the budget resort rooms are clean and serviceable. If I went back – and assuming I was able-bodied at that point – I would definitely go budget resort again. You get the same, great Disney service at a fraction of the price. Disney can be as pricey or as inexpensive as you make it as they have figured out how to drawn in people at all different price points. Smart.

4 – Mr. Tucker is a champ: he hates roller coasters and still managed to suck it up and do all of them with the kids. On the day we were at Animal Kingdom it rained and most people left so we were able to do Expedition Everest six times in a row (much to the chagrin of Mr. Tucker’s stomach!). He was amazing the entire trip, and now he has the healthiest cardiovascular system in our city owing to the fact that he pushed me and my wheelchair for miles and miles, up and down hills, and in the rain and shine. What a trooper!

5 – Disney truths: if you bring a rain poncho, it will never rain. If you forget a rain poncho, it will pour.

Packing to come home

Overall, I am glad we had this trip. Sprout is old enough now that she pretends she is not into the fun stuff anymore but it was great to see her eventually get caught up in the moment with the characters when she let herself. The Bean is at an age where she LOVES IT ALL and isn’t afraid to show it, so watching her unabashed excitement was worth every penny to me.

It is good to be home though, and since this weekend is Thanksgiving here in Canada, we will have an extra day to enjoy. I am grateful for that because we will use it to prep our winter stuff & to have both sides of the family over for dinner. Until then, we are settling back into our school/work routine as I convalesce from this horrible flu.

It’s a small world after all

We are counting down to our last family trip for awhile: a week at Disney World. Of course, because I love surprises, we aren’t telling the kids until Saturday morning at 6am. Our flight leaves at 9am.

I know that the anticipation of a trip is usually the best part (which is why taking more trips of a shorter duration makes people happier) but when you are traveling with kids, mum is the word. Why? Because even worse than the “are we there yet?” comments from the back seat on a road trip, is the “how many more days?” comments. I know my kids, and they would badger me relentlessly daily with their excitement. Besides, a selfish part of me is looking forward to video taping their reaction when I tell them they are leaving TODAY! RIGHT NOW!

Given that Mr. Tucker has never, EVER been to Disney I ended up spending more than I would have (last time it was $2k for three of us – flying on points) booking a fancier hotel. Still, we did manage to snag a good deal anyway, we just ended up being beholden to a fluctuating dollar that pushed my overall costs up past my budget. BUT…Mr. Tucker is a card-carrying introvert who gets incredibly frustrated in crowds and who happens to not be a huge fan of the Disney machine. Even though Disney has it down to a science and moves hundreds of thousands of people daily as efficiently as possible, I did want to minimize his exposure. So I ended up booking a more central hotel instead of booking at a budget hotel.

The key for Canadians to book a Disney trip with minimal fuss is to watch for the deals that come up in May for travel in September. If you are willing to take your kids out of school for a week, you can save yourself money and enjoy reduced crowds. It’s also the time of year for Mickey’s not-so-scary Halloween party, if you are a Halloween fan. Typically, you can get park tickets, a meal plan, and hotel for about $750 per person, which isn’t bad. We always fly on points, but if you are a Canadian living near the US border, you can save substantially by flying from a US city (Ogdensburg, NY recently had a $49 US deal, which really can’t be beat).

I know that there are travel hackers that can nickel and dime a Disney trip to much lower levels than this but I was unfamiliar with that process until recently. Also, since I spent most of this year in various degrees of immobility, I also didn’t have a lot of time. It’s also the reason why I went through a travel agent this time. I still got the same deal I saw online but she did all the work (including booking the fast passes and character dining). I loved doing it myself the last time but with illness + a full time job this summer, I felt it was best to get an expert on the job to ensure we got the experiences we wanted. She also was able to spend time switching everything around so accommodate the fact I will be in a wheelchair this time around. So all in all, it was a smart choice this time.

The reason we chose Disney this year is because the kids have been saving their money for a while. I also think with the eldest being nine next spring, this may be the last chance we have where she will enjoy the full magical experience at Disney.

On the Sprout’s birthday this year she said to her grandmother, “Oh Nana, I hoped for my birthday I could go to Disney with my Daddy.” When the eldest got money from the Tooth Fairy she put it in her “Save” jar and announced, “I am saving that for next year when we save enough to go back to Disney!” They both spent the summer periodically measuring themselves to see if they were tall enough for Rockin’ Rollercoaster. Imagine their surprise this Saturday morning. I seriously can’t wait, and even the curmudgeon Mr. Tucker has said, “I am getting excited for this weekend.”

Of course, travel is out next year as we double-down our savings efforts to reach $50 000 before December 21st, 2017. We may do a camping weekend or a jaunt to an inexpensive cottage with friends (think: wood structure propped up by toothpicks, near water) but anything fancier is way out of the budget. So in light of that, I am looking forward to this last hurrah for 2016.

How not having to work for money helped me build a career at 40

As I have mentioned before, I ran a small business when my kids were quite small. By the time the Sprout was born though, it was too difficult to try and do that and run a business. I threw in the towel and prepared myself for being a full-time stay-at-home-mom.

I will always be grateful for being a SAHM. It was wonderful to be able to be there for my kids when they were younger and plan our days with our energy levels and moods in mind. No rushing out the door at 7am to get to daycare, no long commutes with only seeing the kids before bed. I am so incredibly grateful we could do that, even though it was financially tight for our family for a long time.

One particularly difficult winter saw Mr. Tucker’s work environment become more stressful and there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not he’d lose his employment. Being a type A person, this uncertainty made me incredibly stressed out, and having not worked an office job in awhile, I was concerned about my ability to get back into the workforce.

We all know how this ends: I end up spreading the word that I am looking for any level of office work. Within a couple of weeks I had myself a contract for 4 months.

Back to the grind, now with extra caffeine

Of course, I started at a low salary and to be quite honest, we were only marginally ahead financially after my bus pass and daycare were paid. But I was more concerned about rebuilding my resume than I was about the money. Since Mr. Tucker and I lived off one salary, everything I made was gravy.

The rest is history, as they say. I took the summer off, and then started to look for work at the end of the summer. By October I had a job at one level higher than my previous one. Then a friend who runs a local communications company hired me to do part-time work doing social media. The pay was low, but the experience was crucial and I could work from home. This job made me want to get back into Communications work, so I geared my resume towards that, and reached out to all my friends in Comms, asking them to consider me if they have a contract available. Low-and-behold: the contracts came.

One of my office mates, Palmela (I know, I know, I kill me!)

In the end I have jumped in salary 55% over the past five years by putting out the word, taking the jobs that people offered me, finding out what I wanted to do, and then tailoring my networking to focus on getting those jobs. I also did 5 years of contracts with summers off. Amazing!

But I couldn’t have done it if we were dependent on the money. If our lifestyle had incorporated both salaries and we were budgeted to the hilt, I wouldn’t have been as free to take summers off, or to tailor my job search. Had we needed the money, I would have panicked and made my resume more generic, and taken whatever work was thrown my way. When you are busy surviving, it’s harder to make long-term decisions.

Now I am happily in a dream job in my dream career. I have a pension (and I can buy back those years I worked when I wasn’t in the public service), benefits, a great work environment, and an ability to work from home. I couldn’t have done any of this had I not flipped in-and-out of private and public sector jobs, and definitely couldn’t have done it if we were dependent on the cash. Even today, Mr. Tucker and I are living on one salary for the most part (but spend a lot more on travel!) and this habit is laying the foundation for Mr. Tucker’s early retirement.

Pay it forward

Of course, having lucked out in my career I am more than happy to help others who are also looking to get back into the working world. Since I have put out the word that I am also always looking for work, more people contact me for contracts than I can take. But, since they know I know other people looking for work, they usually shoot me a note, asking if I am available or if I know anyone. Typically, I can connect them to someone who is looking but more than a couple of times, I have had people hem-and-haw about taking obviously lucrative contracts, and they have lost out.

For example, a childhood friend lost her job earlier this year and took to social media asking people to keep an eye out for some work. She had a family, she said, she needed to work as soon as possible. Since I knew she worked in marketing, I told her about this amazing contract at the government that had a chance of becoming permanent. I had been offered the job but I was already working so I couldn’t take it. I thought it was perfect for her! She needed no French (often an issue in Canadian government jobs), and it paid more than $20k a year than she was making at her old job.

I sent her a quick note asking for her resume and told her that she could probably be working within a couple of weeks – what a relief for someone desperate for a job, right?


She emailed me back and told me she was going to send me a resume & that she was really excited for the opportunity. She promised to get her resume to me the next day. I told my contact I had someone perfect for the job they were looking to hire, and that I would send a resume to them the next day! But the next day I heard crickets and no resume came, so I messaged her. She switched gears and told me that she wasn’t going to send me her resume; instead she was going to take time for herself. A mini vacation. Then after that, she planned to take French classes to help her chances of getting a better job in the future. I was gobsmacked. It was a unicorn of a job, and she didn’t want to even explore it.

I was not going to push, people make their own decisions for their own lives. But I will never help her with work again. I don’t have time for people who are unreliable like that and I don’t want to burn any bridges with my contacts. Don’t bother even saying you are looking for work when you really aren’t, especially if you are in no position to be rejecting work (been fired, long time out of the workforce).

Sadly, a couple of months later this friend realized that she couldn’t live off employment insurance and contacted me again, looking for work. I didn’t know of any contracts at that time but even if I had, I wouldn’t have recommended her. Naturally, she was bummed to learn that the person they did end up hiring for that previous contract also had been hired permanently. An amazing job with a pension, benefits, time off, and work-life balance went right through her fingers because she wanted a mini vacation. In the end, she took a job in retail, making no money with no benefits and shift work because she ended up desperate and had to take the first thing that came along.

Here is the thing, if you are behind the 8-ball and have gaps or issues with your work history, it pays to take whatever comes your way. I always took any good office job that came my way, from administration to communications. My logic was that if it was truly horrible, I could always give notice and leave. Nothing is forever! I only fine-tuned my resume when I was certain I had enough recent work experience to be able to do so. Having started out with a few years out of the workforce, my logic was: beggars can’t be choosers. I even went back salary-wise after a nasty experience at one contract, and an opportunity came up to work at a really cool place came up but that paid much less. I didn’t consider it a step back – I considered it a small bump on the road to a better career. It gave me valuable experience and was one of the references that led to my current job.

It’s all about options

Now I am in a position where I have a set of skills that are in pretty good demand. I also work really hard and have great references. I couldn’t have done that unless:

1 – We were living off one salary already. Having money in the bank means you can step back and build a career. I didn’t have to choose cash over other things such as great work experience or a great work environment.
2 – I took everything I could when I first started out after a gap in my resume from being a SAHM.
3 – I didn’t wait until a financial crisis to react. I took a pro-active view of getting back into the workforce.
4 – Because of the above-things, I was able to start working towards positioning myself as a senior person in my field, which led to my current, amazing, job.

The no-brainer here, of course is: MONEY GIVES YOU OPTIONS*. So you should take advantage of a good financial plan combined with frugality to buy yourself options. One of the reasons I went back to work was due to the uncertainty of Mr. Tucker’s employment. Now I stay in because we can save one entire salary. That entire salary will allow Mr. Tucker to retire early (I hope!) as the interest from our savings should cover our basic household expenses. During this time, I hope my career continues to flourish but even if it doesn’t we will still have that money and it will give us some breathing room as we figure out what to do.

At the point of my career I am in now, I enjoy my job and like going in every day. I currently have dreams to progress further in my career, and I hope I do. Still, it may not always be like this. A change in management, of policy, or direction could make me throw in the towel much earlier than planned. By squirreling away our money for a rainy day, it will give me the option to quit if I want to, and that’s worth its weight in gold.

*Caveat: this example is from a family of four who lived off one salary, which at this point is relatively high. I know someone will point out that this is not available for single people or people with less means. That may be true in some cases, but when Mr. Tucker and I had two small babies at home we were also paying child support for my amazing stepson and his salary was $60k at the time. So if you do the math that is not exactly a huge amount of money for 5 people. Conversely, I know people who make minimum wage or less and people who work only seasonally and they manage to work out options for themselves.

Is fresh bread worth it?

The jury is out on the entire convenience appliance thing. I try and stay away from most “convenience” appliances (ask me my opinion on rice makers…go on…it’s definitely colourful) but you will pry my beloved bread maker from my cold, dead hands.

A quick Ciabatta to accompany our soup & cheese

There was a time where you could get a loaf of whole wheat bread at a reasonable price. Now, you are lucky if you can get a 2-for-$5 deal on commercial loaves. I truly don’t understand it because actual whole-wheat flour can be bought cheaply all year round with the regular price of 10kg at Costco being about $6.50 (and that’s in Canada where grocery prices are ridiculous). So essentially, $6.50 worth of flour makes me 29.5 loaves, or about .22 cents worth of flour in one loaf*.

Of course, I also use yeast, sugar, salt, water, and electricity so that would push the price up, for sure. Given all that, the reality is that I would be surprised if a loaf costs more than $1.50. A quick calculation with my electricity provider tells me that running the bread maker off-peak costs about. 34 cents per loaf. If I run it on-peak, it would be .71 cents.

But where my bread maker really shines is when it is making a bunch of different kinds of breads or doughs. It has a quick loaf setting if you suddenly find yourself needing fresh bread in an hour and a bit (hello, last-minute guests!), it has a dough-only setting I use for pizza dough and pastry dough, and often I find myself whipping up a quick raisin bread for breakfasts, which bakes overnight while we sleep.

(my bread maker even has a mini-baguette setting and has a recipe book full of alternative uses such as pasta and jam – all of which I don’t use).

Need something quick for the bake sale your kids told you about 20 minutes before bed? Look no further!

I know some naysayers are thinking, “BAH! When I was your age I stone ground my own flour, collected yeast from the air, and made it all by hand.” To this I say: congratulations! If I had to do that, I would just buy all my bread products at full price. Other people are saying to themselves, “why not get a Kitchenaid, it does so much more!” I will admit, I have Kitchenaid dreams but when my mind floats back to planet earth the reality sinks in: it costs too much, it’s too hard to store, and it doesn’t bake. Since the last thing we do Sunday night before bed is toss in a loaf of bread. We then wake up to a fresh loaf for the week. I can’t do that in a Kitchenaid.

The other thing is that it proofs dough in a way other appliances don’t, making a finished product that is light and fluffy like store-bought baked goods. When Mr. Tucker used to make our breads by hand, they tasted dense and overly-yeasty by the time they cooled down. I never really grew an affinity for them. But the loaves we make in the machine stay fluffy. They typically also keep for about a week if wrapped(if they last that long).

Of course, we have to consider the cost of the appliance weighed against its lifespan. I got mine as a gift but I have had it for four years and its original price was $200. Naturally, you can reduce this cost by buying second hand or on sale (I am amazed at the amount of un-or-under-used bread makers there are on the secondhand market). But for our purposes, let’s assume that I make a loaf of bread a week, and then twice a week I only make the dough and then bake in the oven (all my breads take less than 30 mins in the oven which the appliance calculator tells me would be .08 off-peak, .13 cents mid-peak, and .17 cents high peak). Since my bread maker has lasted 4 years and I fully expect for it to live for another year, that means that it costs about $40 a year to own my machine. I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasted longer, either. My previous bread maker I got as a gift when I was 24 and lasted more than 10 years. But let’s assume a 5-year replacement. I divide it by the amount of times a week I use the machine (two dough-only cycles, one full loaf) that means that it costs approximately .27 per run of the machine. So let me make this simpler through an example.

Friday night is typically pan pizza & a movie night at our house

One loaf baked in the machine, off-peak. We’ve already determined that the flour itself costs about 0.22 and then on top of that I have to add sugar, salt, yeast **and water. Since I can’t nickel and dime myself down that far so I am generously giving ingredients a total of 0.50 cents.

One loaf
Ingredients: 0.72 cents
Electricity: .34
Depreciation: .27
Total: $1.33 per loaf

Of course, there are other reasons:

1 – Bread is absolutely fresh, and can be made at anytime. You don’t have to run out for bread last-minute if you run out, which wastes time and gas (if you need to drive).
2 – You can make a wider assortment of things (pizza dough, banana bread, focaccia, baguettes, buns, pastries, rolls) with minimal hands-on time.
2 – You control the ingredients. Often with store bought bread there are a bunch of extra ingredients designed to preserve the bread. When you make it at home, you don’t add those extra things you don’t need. We also make 100% whole grain recipes.
3 – It’s cheaper. It saves $3.50 a week or $182 a year. Sure, it’s not millions but at least you can say it does save!
4 – It’s also part of my strategy to not grocery shop as much as possible. I only have to pick up bread making ingredients once every couple of months.
5 – If it stops you from buying one take-out pizza a week the thing pays for itself in less than a year. A dough cycle is about an hour, so you can whip up a last-minute pizza dinner LIKE A BOSS.

An herb-y Focaccia is great with pastas

If course, while my machine is super fancy and has a price to go with it, you can drop your overall costs by buying a model with less fancy settings. Really, you only need a bake cycle and a dough cycle. I am not saying that it is necessary to buy a bread maker, you could very well enjoy the hands-on aspect of baking, or you like to just stick to no-knead breads. But part of my overall food strategy is to make sure we eat delicious, wholesome food that surpasses anything we can get in a restaurant or take-out. Fresh bread just makes everything feel fancier, and you are saving money in the process. So if you do like fresh bread, do a lot of baking, or if you are like me and just want to shop the least amount as possible, a bread maker can be a welcome tool in your frugal arsenal.

*Flour: 88.5 c in 10kg/3 cups in a loaf = 29.5 loaves
**Yeast: $12 for 93 tsp or 0.13 cents/tsp