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Travelling on the train with my mom on our first mother-daughter trip in years felt like the perfect time to pick her brain on her financial journey. I meant to do this interview for a while, as my mom was a big inspiration for me growing up. She managed our family’s finances while also working in the industry.
She always talked about the importance of being financially literate and was concerned that personal finances were not a part of our school curriculum. She helped me open my first bank account at seven years old and get my first credit card at eighteen.
My parents’ financial life is one that I hope to emulate. They grew up without a lot of money and worked hard to get to where they are today. They funded my college education, have paid off their mortgage in Toronto, and have both successfully retired with enough saved to continue to support their lifestyle. These are things that many of us hope to do one day.
So, as the family money manager, how did she do it? Does she regret anything along the way, like when she got into the real estate market? And, what advice would she give someone hoping to do the same? I made sure to ask all of these questions.
Besides our mortgage, the only time was when I left school with a small student loan. In my last year of undergrad, I took out a $1,500 loan that I had to pay off. It didn’t take me long after I started working. Although it doesn’t seem like much now, that was an entire year’s worth of tuition back then! I was fortunate not to have more debt. I could afford education by working every summer with the Canadian government in Ottawa, where I’m from. Whatever I couldn’t afford, my parents would cover the difference to focus on my studies throughout the school year and not have to work. This helped me a lot.
I started investing when I began working in the finance industry at 25. I started as an assistant bond trader without much prior experience at a mutual fund company. I was able to buy my companies funds without any management expenses. It was a great deal for me since it was cheap and easy to manage on my own. I didn’t get a financial advisor until I was 45 when our family’s finances got more complex. I would invest in my Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), as the Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) didn’t exist back then, and every year I would max out my contribution room.
Yes, I’ve always managed dad’s money. He’s never been very interested. Similarly, I would put all of his savings into an RRSP and buy my company’s mutual funds. The various income splitting strategies that exist today didn’t exist back then. What did exist was the use of a spousal RRSP like they have now. Since dad was still in school and working part-time, I would use some of my RRSP contribution room and contribute to a spousal RRSP under his name. This meant that we would have similar retirement savings and save on taxes as a family. It
never affected our relationship — he had his specialties, and I had mine. He was pretty happy to hand me the reigns. We treated all of our money as a pool, so it felt right that I would handle all the financial decisions.
Our lifestyle has always been pretty frugal. We enjoy travelling, but otherwise, we’ve never cared much for material things. When we had our only child, I’d been in the workforce for over ten years. At that point, I was 36, and dad was 40. Although dad was still in school, we felt like it was time to start a family.
In terms of having a child, as that came first, we had researched and talked to friends, so nothing came as much of a shock. We had found a daycare that we liked and were comfortable with the costs. We also saved by using my parents for childcare the first few years, although we did pay them a small salary for their time. With saving for a house, we ended up using the Home Buyer’s Plan to borrow money from our RRSPs and took out the full amount at the time, which was about $40,000. The additional $20,000 of our down payment came from a savings account. We knew we were going to buy soon, so we slowly started saving. It’s crazy to think that $60,000 covered the 20% down payment, and then some only 25 years ago in Toronto!
Sometimes we wish we had bought something more extensive, but back then, no one had any idea that housing prices would behave as they have. At the same time, being conservative suited our personalities, and when we bought, dad was still a student. So we took a chance that dad would be able to find an academic job in the city. Luckily he did find a professorship right after he graduated. Although other families in the area eventually upgraded their homes, we were happy to stay put as we liked the location and the size fit our three-person family. We also loved the idea of paying off our mortgage soon and putting away more money in savings for retirement, our family, and our travels.
When we first bought our house, we got mortgage insurance on my life while dad was still in school. That way, if something happened to me, the mortgage would be paid off. Once dad got a job, we both had small life insurance plans with work. We decided against toping up this coverage. Life insurance can be expensive, so you need to evaluate each particular situation. We felt that we could support our family on only one income if something happened to the other. If something happened to both of us, we felt that the equity in our home coupled with our investments would support Sarah (daughter).
I retired at 60, which is a little younger than the average Canadian today. I chose that time because my company had a share pension plan where eligibility began at 60. I always enjoyed my job and the people I worked with. I had a good work-life balance, so I didn’t mind sticking it out. It also matched up well with dad’s retirement. After that, I felt that we had adequate money to lead the lifestyle we both desired. Due to the pandemic, my first year of retirement hasn’t been what I expected, but I’m lucky to have close family and hobbies to keep me busy. So far, I’m not missing work in the slightest!
It surprisingly wasn’t, at least based on my experience. Although the media portrays equity traders in a male-dominated way, it was all female when I started in my trading department. I worked on the buy-side of trading, and when I started, I think trading was seen as having an administrative component at which women excelled. Although most of us had degrees, few had a finance background or other credentials like their CFA. As I moved up, everyone was very supportive, and I never felt like I had to fight to belong. I’m grateful for that.
This interview was so fun for me, as it felt like I got to know my mom a little more. Although money talk can often be stressful in families, I would highly recommend having similar conversations with your loved ones, no matter how small. You’ll never know what you uncover!
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Mixed Up Money is pleased to share a free resource for anyone looking to cut back on non-essential spending. My most-requested product is these monthly calendars to share on your Instagram story, use as a phone background, or print off to track your spending habits.
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