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You Can Do Anything For 30 Minutes

You Can Do Anything For 30 Minutes

On Monday last week I decided that I would be going to the gym at 6AM. It wasn’t something I’d extensively planned. It wasn’t a ‘new year, new me’ move. It wasn’t even a habit I intended on creating. I just wanted to go to […]

Debt Payoff Report – January 2018

Debt Payoff Report – January 2018

It’s time to say goodbye to the first month of 2018. I can’t say I’m sad to see it go – January tends to be a tough one. We indulge in December and then struggle to dial it back to our usual routine for the […]

Travelling While Indebted

Travelling While Indebted

Some recommend avoiding all luxuries while paying off non-mortgage debt – no travel, no meals out, no purchases other than necessities. I’m not one of those people. A few of my friends and family members have passed away at young ages, and I know that I can’t take the average 82 year lifespan of a Canadian woman for granted. If today was my last day on this planet, I wouldn’t want to feel like I’d saved my best years for the non-existent future.

There can be this attitude that if you have non-mortgage debt you’re failing financially and you absolutely must pay it off completely before allowing yourself any non-essential spending. I feel that there’s always a balance – you can be committed to paying off your debt in a reasonable amount of time and spend money on things that you value.

Our last vacation, excluding work travel, was to the Dominican Republic in 2015 to celebrate my graduation – on my bloated line of credit, of course! It was an amazing time, but I couldn’t truly enjoy it as much as I wanted to. I had $130,000 in student loan debt and wouldn’t receive a job offer for another two months. I was in paradise, but my chest still felt tight.

Last year, my spouse and I decided that we wanted to take some time away. We’d both been putting a lot in at work, and I’d just spent the year paying off $30,000 of debt. We knew we wanted to do things a little differently than our last trip together, so we had a discussion about an ideal getaway within our means for 2018.

Choose A Local Destination

We live in Vancouver, and we’ve been talking about a visit to Tofino on Vancouver Island since before we moved here several years ago. It seemed like the perfect time to head over for a few days of waves and chill. Visiting somewhere close to you is a great way to reduce transportation costs while exploring your own country.

Identify Your Priorities & Spend Accordingly

This trip was all about relaxation, so we decided to leave the excursions like surfing or boat tours for another time. Since we wanted to spend most of our time in our room and on the beaches, we made our accommodation and meals a top priority. Below is my portion of the cost of the trip – my spouse and I keep separate finances – and a few thoughts along the way.


We had several options to get to Tofino – air, public transportation, or rental car. Flights were $350 round trip per person, so that was out! We could have rented a car for a portion of the trip, but we like the hands-off approach so we decided to rely on public transportation.

We took the city bus from our apartment to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal which took about an hour. We could have taken a bus to the ferry terminal from Pacific Central Station, but it would have cost about $10 extra per person each way. Our city bus portion of the trip was included in the monthly passes we already have for commuting. $0 

Arriving at the terminal, we hopped on the ferry to Departure Bay in Nanaimo while enjoying the ocean views. The ride was about an hour and forty minutes, with a high school boys lacrosse team taking up residence among us in the seats with the best views. I am so thankful to be an adult. $16.95 

To cross the island from Nanaimo to Tofino, we walked outside the ferry terminal and boarded the Tofino Bus all island express which provides daily bus service from Vancouver to all major Vancouver Island points. Book online in advance for a few dollars off! The bus was nearly empty and the trip took about four hours. $45.60

By the time we reached Tofino, $62.55 lighter and just under seven hours later, we were ready to eat and head to the beach! We took the same route home, so double the amounts above for our visit.

Total: $125.10 per person


We stayed in the Lookout Suite at Chesterman Beach Bed & Breakfast, right on Chesterman Beach, so we could hear the ocean crashing first thing in the morning and while we fell asleep at night. The private patio outside of our room led to a path down to the shoreline. The proximity to the water cost a premium – $195/night, which we were happy to pay for the three nights we stayed there.

We visited during storm watching season which is generally Tofino’s off season for tourism. During spring and fall our room would have been $275/night and over the summer and holidays it jumps up to $355/night! If you’re flexible with your dates and don’t mind the cooler weather, try to book during off-peak travel times. 


Our dining table sat next to the large window overlooking the beach, and we had our own gas fireplace and a kitchenette with a dishwasher, microwave, and toaster oven. One of the best parts – a sinking tub with a heated towel rack. Yes.

Coming back to the suite after walks on the beach to turn on the fireplace and pour a glass of wine was the definition of relaxation. I think we were asleep by 8PM every night, thanks to the fresh ocean air, lack of light pollution, and overall coziness.

Total: $307.13 per person

Meals & Alcohol

I packed some snacks from the grocery store so we wouldn’t be tempted by anything overpriced on the ferry. Definitely pack your own snacks! For the cost of one combo meal, we had sustenance for the whole seven hour trip. $16.79

A brief walk from the bus stop near our B&B was the original Tacofino truck. We quickly fell in love with their vegetarian burritos – shredded cheese, rice, beans, salsa, cabbage, chipotle mayo, sour cream. So simple, yet so delicious. If you’re ever in Vancouver, Victoria, or Tofino, definitely check them out. This total is just for the first time we went – my spouse paid for our second trip on our last night there. $27.60 

On our way to check in at the B&B, we stopped at a small grocery store called Beaches Grocery and picked up some iced tea to accompany our tacos and some fancy locally made bread and cheese for the next morning. We could have paid $20/person for a full breakfast at our B&B but that definitely wasn’t in our budget. $18.40 

The next day, fully refreshed from a night of burritos, iced tea, and gorgeous views of the ocean, we set off to explore and buy supplies. We walked an hour into town and had planned to stop at Schooner for some lunchtime fish & chips. Sadly, our casual approach meant that we didn’t check their schedule which was dinner only and arrived hours before they opened. If you’re visiting somewhere on the off season, do some research online first to see what’s open. 

We decided to grab quick paninis from a coffee shop down the street instead, and come back for dinner. Did I mention that this coffee shop was cash only and we hadn’t brought any with us? The two banks in town weren’t ones that we used and we didn’t want to pay service fees or hassle to get them refunded, so we did what any resourceful travellers would do – we purchased alcohol instead and requested cash back!

Three bottles of wine and some beer later.. it might have been a better idea to pay the service fees, but we made sure it was put to good use. $58.09 

Armed with cash, we finally got our paninis! Nothing memorable, but enough to keep us going. $16.00

With several hours left before dinner, we meandered around town which took approximately six minutes. Then we set off for Tonquin Park, which is a short walk from the main street and a leisurely hike to the beach. The trail was well maintained and had stunning lookout views. We lingered on the sand for a while, watching the waves come in and exploring the shoreline – starfish sightings! There are some nice properties on the cliffs by the beach and we daydreamed about  purchasing a little slice of heaven of our own someday.

We wanted to walk straight back to the B&B after dinner, so we stopped by the grocery store on the way to pick up some supplies for the rest of our trip. Frozen pizza, croissants, chocolate, an entire black forest cake. You know, just the essentials. We probably should have shopped after dinner. $52.32 

By the time we returned from our walk and grocery trip, Schooner had opened! We shared an order of fish & chips with fresh local red snapper and the halibut bawden bay which has been their signature dish for over 30 years – for good reason! I’m just going to post the description and let your imagination cover the rest: hand picked crab, baby shrimp, creamy Brie cheese and scallions are tucked inside winter halibut – oven baked and finished with an apple-brandy green peppercorn cream sauce. Yum! My mouth is still watering. I didn’t pay for this one but it was $100+ with a few beers, taxes, and tip.

The next day, we made croissant sandwiches and frozen pizza in the toaster oven in our room and spent the rest of the day walking the nearby beaches – Chesterman, Cox Bay, and Wickaninnish. Also, lots of cake! At night when the cloud cover wasn’t complete, we walked out to the beach again and stared at the stars for what seemed like hours – you don’t get that in the city.

We didn’t venture back into town again – I think most of the locals were annoyed that we infringed on their off-season quiet with our big city vibes. The “f*ck off and go home tourists” graffiti was a little bit of a giveaway. The only friendly interactions we had were with our host, our bus driver, and a few of the people we passed on the trails and beaches. If you’re visiting, try to blend in. Wear ruddy neutral colours like browns and greens that look worn – my black snowboarding jacket and my spouse’s bright yellow windbreaker were a dead giveaway. Together, we looked like a hornet’s nest of tourism ready to destroy everything that was good in the world. Then again, maybe most of the locals were just annoyed to be at work rather than enjoying the outdoors?

After three short nights, it was time to make the trip home – with leftover croissants and snacks for the ride. On the bus home, my chest started getting tight again. The ocean air was gone from my lungs and I was already anticipating the overstimulation of the city. It was a sign for me to spend more time in nature and take deeper breaths.

Total: $189.20


Accomodations $307.13

Transportation $125.10

Groceries $87.51

Alcohol $58.09

Restaurants $43.60

Total $621.43

Again, this is just my portion of the expenses so our total was closer to $1,200 for a couple over four days and three nights. Our goal for this trip wasn’t to have the lowest budget – if it was, we could have just stayed home. We wanted to enjoy our first trip together in almost three years, maximizing our priorities while spending less where we could. We don’t know when our next trip will be, so we wanted to live large for a few days!

For context, my average spending on debt repayment in 2017 was $2,859.26/month. To allocate 20% of that this month for a trip was an easy decision for me to make, and I know we’ll remember our days in Tofino as some of the best we’ve had together.

If you’re wondering about travel hacking – I don’t do it. I’m not sure that I’d meet the minimum spends on enough of the cards we have in Canada to really make an impact on travel costs. It might be an option if you live in the US though, so look into it. Just make sure that you’re not spending more than you’d save in travel rewards – that kind of defeats the purpose.

Should you travel while indebted? I have, and I think it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  • the length of your debt payoff timeline – if it’s short or near its end, can you wait a few more months and enjoy a guilt-free vacation paid for in cash?
  • the type of debt you have – if it’s high interest consumer debt, will you regret paying the extra interest?
  • the attitude you have toward debt – some people despise debt and want it out of their lives as quickly as possible, no exceptions, and I support you on that!

It all comes down to personal choice. Make the best decision for you, and try not to feel guilty for enjoying yourself once in a while!

As a final note, the lack of pictures in this post was due to our technology pause for the trip. We used our phones for navigation and to take a few photos, but for most of the time we put them away and enjoyed our surroundings and each other! If you want to see more of Tofino, there are many photos from talented photographers online – or you can plan your own visit!

I’d love to hear about your own travel stories on your way to becoming debt free, whether you decided to go or wait. Share your thoughts in the comments.

That Decade I Earned $0

That Decade I Earned $0

Being transparent with your finances online is interesting. I know it helps to see real numbers which is why I share everything, but there are obvious downsides. Like, all of the times people tell me that they wish they had my income. I can’t help […]

Treat Yo Self

Treat Yo Self

I’ve tried many different spending challenges over the years – not buying clothing for a year, setting up a budget for specific categories, not eating out for 100 days, aiming for a certain number of $0 spend days every month. I can’t argue with the […]

How I Paid Off $30,000 Of Debt Last Year

How I Paid Off $30,000 Of Debt Last Year

My relationship with debt has never been a resolute one. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. I’m not an expert in personal finance and I still have a long road ahead, but I hope my experiences might help you along your own journey.

I graduated with $130,400 of student loan debt, largely from tuition and living expenses during nine years of my undergraduate, graduate, and law degrees but also from a significant emotional spending problem. Fortunately, I landed a full time position the summer after graduation and was able to start repaying my debt in November as scheduled.

At the beginning of the following year, I began using the You Need A Budget (YNAB) app to track my finances. The plan was to reduce my spending and increase my debt repayment beyond the minimum payments, but at the time I felt that I didn’t earn enough money to pay more. Spoiler alert: I did. Over the course of that year, I tracked every single penny I earned and spent. I never fully embraced the budget during that time, but I was starting to get a handle on what I purchased month to month and that opened my eyes to the amount of money I was letting slip through the cracks.

Step #1: Calculate the amount you’re burning every month (and every year) on interest.

Later in the year, I was coming up on one year since I had started my debt repayment process. I compared my remaining balance and my payments and while I had paid $15,000 over the year, I’d only decreased the balance by $10,000. That’s right, FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS went to interest.

I guess you could say that seeing how much I’d paid the bank and the government that year just to service my debt was my breaking point. I felt like I’d piled up thousands of dollars in cash and just lit the whole thing on fire. It was a tough lesson to learn, but in a way it’s the reason I’m here now so I’m thankful for that experience!

Step #2: Know when to seek help if your plan isn’t working.

At that point, I finally decided that I’d had enough. I refused to pay the full projected $20,000 in interest over the remaining decade of my repayment schedule. I desperately searched online for ways to decrease debt, and stumbled across two men who would change my life forever: Mr. Money Mustache and Dave Ramsey. I read Mr. Money Mustache’s blog from start to finish, and I listened to the Dave Ramsey podcast every single day.

Reading and listening to podcasts sounds easy – it wasn’t. I had to face the fact that I was a highly educated, adult person who was failing at money. I wasn’t being intentional with my spending and this behaviour was going to keep me in debt for at least a decade if I didn’t do something to change immediately. I also had to face all of the emotions that put me in this situation in the first place – the death of a parent, the feelings of inadequacy and disillusionment during law school, and the fear of taking on a significant amount of debt without any guarantee of employment.

Along the way, I found a major support network. I started seeing a therapist, which I highly recommend. I told close friends and family about my journey. I also started an Instagram account to track my progress and discovered the #debtfreecommunity, which is probably one of the most supportive online communities I’ve ever seen. If you want to follow my journey in more detail, come say hi to me there: @debtstoriches. If you’re thinking about starting down the path to being debt free, there’s no better place to hang out for motivation, commiseration, and major encouragement.

Now that I had a plan and a team around me, I was on my way to one of the toughest parts of this journey: facing your spending and attempting to change your habits!

Step #3: Track your spending. Not just monthly, but annually! 

After almost a year of tracking my spending, I had a lot of data at my disposal! I knew that I’d spent exactly $3,555.51 on eating out over the year. I saw every clothing transaction leading up to the $3,069.37 balance. That’s not even including the $3,759.40 I spent on shopping or $2,241.52 on entertainment. When you’re tracking things monthly, the details can get lost. Lower months seem to make up for higher months, but averages expose every crack in your delusions.

Clearly I had a spending problem rather than an income problem, but I didn’t realize the extent to which I was wasting my money every single month. I mimicked the excuses I heard others making for why they couldn’t achieve their financial goals: I live in the most expensive city in the country. I have a long commute and I’m too exhausted to cook all of my meals at home. I work hard and I deserve to treat myself. I had to ditch those excuses and the poor decisions that they were masking.

Step #4: Face your demons and challenge yourself to decrease your expenses!

One of my first objectives was to tackle my problem categories. I didn’t have a cable bill or a Starbucks habit to cut, but I did have data. I knew I could save thousands of dollars if I spent less on a few main categories that were completely draining my funds every month.

Meals Out

One of the obvious areas for me to reform was my spending on meals out – drinks, lunches at work, takeout, restaurants. All of it added up to $3,551.51 – almost $300/month! Near the end of the year I’d already started cutting back by making the easiest changes first, and I continued to work my way through every area of spending in that category.

  • Beverages: I’ve never been a coffee drinker, so this was one of the easier changes for me. I stopped buying drinks on the occasional morning before work. No mochas or London fogs or iced teas here. Instead I made tea when I got to the office.
  • Breakfast: I’m not a morning person so I’m always rushed at the start of the day and I never eat breakfast unless it’s the weekend. It’s not easy to make good decisions on an empty stomach, so I’d find myself buying something on the way to work. Instead, I made sure I purchased fruit or muffins at first to have something fast and easy just to tide me over. If I was really on top of it, I made overnight oatmeal the day before.
  • Lunches at work: I was also too disorganized to make a lunch the night before work. I gradually stopped eating lunch out during weekdays by keeping ingredients for simple meals like sandwiches or salads in the fridge at work. I continued to eat out for one meal a week at first, and then eventually I was able to stop altogether. Peanut butter and jam sandwiches were a lifeline during this transition period!
  • Dinner: This category was one of the toughest for me, as I’m sure it is for many people. At the end of a work day and an hour on the bus, the last thing I want to do is prepare a healthy meal at home. I pass hundreds of fast food places and restaurants on my commute, a few of them regular haunts, so it was even more challenging to say no. I felt that curbing my routine of picking up takeout on the way home required drastic measures, so I challenged myself to completely stop in order to reset my habits. I tracked whether I had purchased a meal out in a given day, and each day that went by without spending was a tiny boost to my self-confidence. When December had passed and I’d only spent $2.60 on Costco fries because my spouse was craving them, I knew I was onto something. My only spending in January was $21.72 at a friend’s birthday dinner. With these two months under my belt I decided to go all out: 100 days without spending any money on meals out. Guess what? I did it, and it is so satisfying seeing three blank spaces in my spending charts from February to April!

Over the entire year, I’d gone from spending $3,551.51 on meals out to $596.66! It wasn’t easy, but now it’s the new normal and I can’t imagine eating out as often as I did before. I still enjoy the occasional dinner at a restaurant or a quick takeout meal, but it’s so much more special when it’s truly a treat and not a routine. You’d be surprised how much you can adjust to a new pattern of behaviour with a little time and patience.



Starting my first professional job and being more mindful of the ethics and sustainability of the clothing industry led to some major clothing purchases: $3,069.37 – over $250/month! I decided that the best way to tackle this would be to not buy clothing for an entire year.

I convinced myself that purchasing clothing was not an option, and I unsubscribed from all of the retailers through email and on social media. I even started varying my route home to break myself of the habit of stopping in to browse the stores. I fully embraced the art of the capsule wardrobe and ironically, I felt better dressed and more confident than I ever had when I was buying clothing regularly!

Near the end of the year, I accomplished my goal! I wrote more about my thoughts on the zero dollar clothing year, but ultimately it came down to loving and wearing what I already owned. At the end of this experiment, I did replace some essential items that I had worn out like underwear, bras, and tights. I also purchased a pair of black pants and a few shirts. In total I spent $901.55.



This was one of the categories that devastated me the most, because I had spent $3,759.40 and I couldn’t really give you a list of what I’d bought! It was hard to even write this section, knowing I spent over $300/month on things that clearly didn’t add enough value to my life for me to even remember them in detail. Generally, this money all went to things like cosmetics, books, board games, and complete randomness.

I didn’t have a defined strategy for spending less, but I did start to keep a wish list of items that I was interested in while I delayed the actual purchase. I’d review the list occasionally and delete things I no longer wanted, which reinforced the idea that I was making a significant number of impulse purchases.

Really, just looking at the total was excellent motivation to spend more intentionally the following year: $1,193.70, which is still a decent amount of shopping but much better than before.



Being in a new city, I definitely fell for the fear of missing out hard during my first year. With all of the food festivals and shows and concerts, I’d spent $2,241.52 or almost $200/month.

Sadly, there were quite a few things I wish I had missed out on! That tacky Oktoberfest with an insane cover charge and $10 beers & pretzels? Just thinking about it annoys me because we left after our first drink, refusing to waste any more money there.

We also went to the most pretentious picnic ever – Dîner en Blanc, where you buy tickets and then set up your own table and chairs and food to have dinner with hundreds of strangers all dressed in white. That one was actually a great experience, but definitely not enough to pay for it more than once!

Last year we focused on the events that we enjoyed the most, not hype or novelty. We saw the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra a few times, caught Cirque du Soleil, and had a couple of movie nights on half price Tuesdays. I went to see some of my favourite speakers – The Minimalists, Courtney Carver, and Jason Silva. I also attended a Millennial Money Meetup where I got to meet two of my favourite bloggers in person – Cait Flanders and Jessica Moorhouse. Starstruck!

Every one of those experiences was so memorable and absolutely worth the money: $823.31 for the year.



$750/month – $9,000/year!

I was amazed that being more intentional with my money could have such a huge impact in just one year. The $10-20 purchases of food or drinks or small items added the most excess to my spending, and they seemed so innocent at the time! Of course, these were just a few of my highest spending categories. Some of the other categories increased, particularly electronics when I purchased a laptop, phone, and Nintendo Switch all in one year. Not exactly recommended by any of the personal finance experts, but all things I love and use often!

All in all, I was able to decrease my spending from $36,000 to $29,000. That’s a difference of $7,000! My income also went up from $65,000 to $78,000, which allowed my to allocate even more money to debt repayment.

In total I was able to pay off $30,000 of my student loan debt last year – $34,311.07 including interest!

I would never have been able to achieve my goals if I hadn’t started tracking my spending and challenging myself to change my habits.

I’m also extremely grateful that I found a position after graduation that allows me to afford my student loan payments while enjoying my success too. Spending nine years in university and $130,000 was a major risk, one that doesn’t work out for many students. I’m one of the lucky ones, and I want to make the most of it.

Step #5: Forgive yourself and move forward.

I’m so proud of myself for exceeding the goals I set for the year. It feels like the weight of my debt is finally starting to lift and as the balance decreases I’m letting go of the shame and disappointment that came with it.

I’m also trying not to feel guilty when I spend money. There’s a difference between the pain that accompanies change and the unnecessary pain that we impose on ourselves when we’re just out for punishment. We can improve without enduring suffering as some skewed form of reparation for our poor decisions. Developing a positive relationship with money isn’t going to be about deprivation for me. I’m determined to find a balance between clearing past missteps, enjoying the present with intentionality, and securing a thriving future.

So what’s next for me? Well, I still have $89,200 of debt left to go! I’m hoping to pay off $40,000 this year, by doing largely the same things as I did last year: decrease expenses, increase income. It sounds simple, but it’s a lot harder in practice! At least I won’t be spending so much money on electronics again!

Debt Payoff Report – December 2017

Debt Payoff Report – December 2017

Well, December happened. I took two weeks off but ended up having to work from home for the first week. A seemingly brief time for family and friends followed and then I came down with a cold to cap off the year. Happy New Year, […]

The Worst That Could Happen

The Worst That Could Happen

In some ways, the most enjoyable moments of our life are when we haven’t started yet. We haven’t added up the debt we owe, we haven’t calculated how long it will take to pay it off, we haven’t started saving or investing. All we know […]

First Or Last

First Or Last

If you’ve seen the movie Talladega Nights starring Will Ferrell, you’ll remember that Ricky Bobby, #1 NASCAR driver, lived by the last thing his father, Reese Bobby, said before walking out on their family: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Years later, Ricky and Reese were reunited after an accident that left Ricky unsure of himself and his racing career.

Ricky Bobby: I did just like you told me! “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Reese Bobby: What the hell are you talkin’ about?
Ricky Bobby: What you told me that day at school for career day. You came in and you said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Reese Bobby: Oh hell, Ricky, I was high when I said that. That doesn’t make any sense at all, ‘first or last.’ You can be second, you can be third, fourth… hell, you can even be fifth.
Ricky Bobby: What are you talking about!? I lived my whole life based on that!

“If You Ain’t First, You’re Last”

Sometimes quotes or stories can leave such an impression on us that we find ourselves crafting our whole lives with them in mind. Financial independence / early retirement (FIRE) is a series of those stories: Mr. Money Mustache retired at 30; Thriftygal retired at 33; Winnie and Jeremy from Go Curry Cracker retired in their 30s; Steve from Think Save Retire retired at 35; Kristy and Bryce from Millennial Revolution retired in their 30s. These are all fantastic and inspiring tales and I definitely recommend reading them if you haven’t already, but they’re just a small subset of the community of people who have retired early.

The trouble with stories is that not all of them are published, and not all of the published ones are widely read. There’s a certain amount of self-selection that goes into writing about your life online. Not everyone who retires early is going to share that, and they’re less likely to do so if they don’t feel that their story is unique in some way. We also tend to amplify the outliers – people who are doing exceptional, inspiring things – because they’re more interesting to read. Most people would rather hear from someone who saved 80% of their income and retired at age 30 than someone who earned an average income and saved 30% for several decades to retire at age 50.

Shorter timelines and lower ages intrigue us when it comes to achievement, but these stories are also more rare than we tend to perceive. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and Elon Musk and Sara Blakely all made their first million in their 20s, and we focus on their stories even though only 1% of typical millionaires become wealthy before age 40.  When we hear more from the outliers, we start to view them as the benchmark – and ourselves as below average if we fail to meet the same standard.

One of the common sentiments in the FIRE community is that someone planning to retire early in their 40s or 50s is not retiring early enough to meet the true early retirement standard in our niche. If our target is a day after age 39, we feel the need to qualify our statements and distance ourselves from the main narrative so that we aren’t judged on it. I’ve done this in the past, and I’ve seen it play out in so many comments online as well. I don’t think any of us mean to set arbitrary standards like this for ourselves or others whatsoever – it’s just a byproduct of our focus.

Hell, You Can Even Be Fifth

I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice by unintentionally framing the conversation in this ‘first or last’ way. It’s not even a race at all, although it can often feel like one and that we’re behind if we’re just getting started when others of the same age have already crossed the finish line.

It can be useful to remind ourselves of other metrics so that we aren’t hyper-focused on the outliers. We may never make a million dollars by age 30 – I know it’s already too late for me, unless I invent a time machine or win the lottery soon – but maybe that’s not the objective we should keep in mind.

In basic terms, early retirement simply means leaving employment before the usual statutory age. In Canada, workers can collect old age security and Canada Pension Plan benefits at age 65. The median retirement age here as of 2016 according to Statistics Canada is 63.

On the Mr. Money Mustache forums, there are threads for members who have retired during a particular calendar year. Out of 39 people who have retired early this year and shared their ages, the median age is 43 with a range of 27 to 59. Keep in mind that this is still a small sample size – it’s one forum based on one personal finance blogger’s following within the FIRE community niche. I’m certain that there are many more early retirees out there who don’t even know that the early retirement community exists. We also have to consider self-selection when we think about who would be willing to share their age in one of these threads or their story online.

The reality is slightly less romantic than the early retirement narrative: a few have retired or will retire in their 30s or earlier and the majority have retired or will retire in their 40s or later. Either way, isn’t simply crossing the finish line at all a win? Whether you’ve added 10, 20, 30, or 40 years of financial independence to your life, any amount of earned freedom at any age is an outstanding achievement. Personally, I’m aiming for fifth.

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My Heisenberg Moment

My Heisenberg Moment

Facing a desperate situation – a six figure student loan debt with no six figure income – I did what many graduates do at first.. I ignored it. I decreased my spending enough to make slightly more than the minimum payments. In some months I relied on the credit card float and then paid it off in others with tax returns or bonuses. I never felt like I had enough money to get through the month. I tried to budget and almost always failed to stay on track. I felt like I was waiting for this ten year sentence to end so that I could finally just start from zero again.

I want my life back. Please tell me … how much is enough? How big does this pile have to be?

I spent the first year of my debt repayment journey tracking my spending and pretending to budget. I made $15,000 in payments to my debt that year, and at the time I felt proud of that accomplishment. I’d paid about $800 more than the minimum payments, which seemed like great progress.

At the end of the year, I had to calculate the interest I’d paid on my student loans for a deduction on my tax return. Out of $15,000 in payments, the interest totaled almost $5,000. FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS. Just in interest. To this day, I have a vivid mental image of throwing stacks of bills on the ground and setting them on fire.

It all hit me then, harder than ever before – I was staring down another ten years of payments, and another $20,000 in interest. I was making an average salary for my city, but I was struggling somehow.

At the beginning of my second year of payments, I knew I had to make some major changes. I was ready, but I wasn’t prepared.

I’m a relatively privileged person – I’m white, educated, and I was always encouraged to be productive. When it came to money, I started out well behind the curve. Money was never something positive during my childhood – it was something you needed, something you fought about, and something that you earned somehow but that disappeared somehow. Our house was always ringing with the noise of money fights – I’d lock myself in my room with headphones in for hours to find some quiet. My parents always made sure we had enough, and I’m grateful for the way they provided for me and pushed me to succeed. I was just missing the money framework that seemed to come so naturally to others.

I knew generally that frugality was beneficial, that you should live within your means, that you shouldn’t take on debt, that you should save for retirement. I knew the theory, but I didn’t have the practical skills. I didn’t know how to budget properly, or what you should do if your numbers weren’t working out. I didn’t know how much more prepared food cost, or how to cook inexpensive meals at home. I saw how others were spending their money, and I emulated it. I thought I just needed a higher income.

The moral of the story is: I chose a half measure, when I should have gone all the way. I’ll never make that mistake again.

There was one thing I did know – my plan wasn’t working. I needed to find other plans. When I searched for resources, there was one name I kept running into over and over: Dave Ramsey. At first I was skeptical, particularly about taking advice from a person who was so opposed to some of my major values, but I decided to be an adult and listen to the plan – even if I didn’t fully agree with the personality behind it. I started listening to his podcast on my commute, and I listened for the full three hours every single day. I haven’t missed one episode in an entire year.

Every month another lightbulb went on as I listened to all of the debt free screams and the millionaire calls. I started doing the math on how much my debt was costing me every month. I compared prices on groceries. I used habit trackers to mark days where I spent $0. I did challenges and experiments. I went 100 days without any meals out. I stopped buying clothing for a year.

Every month I felt a little more confident. I went from making $40 in extra payments every month to $280, to $700, and now to $1,200+. This wasn’t a switch I turned on that suddenly gave me the skills and habits I needed. This was a constant daily struggle to overcome more than a decade of ignorance.

Dave Ramsey gets a lot of love, and a lot of hate. I’ll just say this – if you’re privileged or lucky or educated enough not to need his help or understand why others do.. just be grateful for that and shut the fuck up, okay?

It is not easy to budget and follow through on that budget if you’ve never been shown how to do it correctly.

It is not easy to meal plan and buy groceries with a list if you’ve never been shown how to do it correctly.

It is not easy to defer your desires and save for things instead of paying with credit if you’ve never been shown how to do it correctly.

For some reason we treat managing money like an innate human ability and if someone isn’t successful at it right away it must be because they’re lacking in intelligence or willpower or strength of character. We should be treating managing money as a necessary skill that some of us were just fortunate to have mastered early on.

If someone’s trying to learn how to swim, you don’t just show them a chart and tell them how obviously easy it is. You wade in. You instruct them to float. You teach them how to tread water. You demonstrate different techniques. You get in the water with them and show them how to splash around for fun. If they’re drowning, you don’t shout physics equations or insults or misplaced words of encouragement from the deep end like a total sociopath. You jump in the water and help them, or you stand quietly to the side while the lifeguard helps them.

You clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No! I am the one who knocks!

Coming up on two years of this journey, I’m not the same person I was before. I’m not at the mercy of a bank. I don’t nervously log in to my accounts after avoiding them for weeks. I’m not afraid to check the mail. I don’t panic at the thought of an emergency. I’m the one who knocks now. I say when I’ll be paying this debt off. I say how much I’ll be earning. I say how much I’ll be paying in interest.

I didn’t start with this confidence – it grew as I learned how to manage money, month by month. I’ve cut my spending by thousands of dollars per year. I’ve received raises and bonuses, and directed most of that to my debt too. I started a side hustle to shorten my timeline even more. Instead of $15,000 in payments, I’ve doubled that to more than $30,0000 this year.

I plan to pay off my debt in 2019 instead of 2026. That’s more than SIX YEARS of my life that I’ll get back because I started to pay off this debt faster. If you saw my spending from last year to this year, you would swear they belonged to two entirely different people.

The best part? It wasn’t a sacrifice.

I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really — I was alive.

It’s amazing how much we can adapt. When I started to make changes, the first few days and weeks were tough. I wanted to quit. I relapsed occasionally. I made mistakes. I overspent. I caved. I stumbled.

It was all worth it.

The truth is that I feel happier and more content now than I ever have in my life.

Now say my name.