How I spent $152,000 this year

2014 was certainly an interesting financial year for us. I had a major car accident in February which costed us about some $4000 overall after our deductible and the cost to replace the car (insurance covered a bulk of it, but we bought a slightly newer model). Jonathan was laid off in March which while gave us a good boost due to the severance, plenty of the severance was used up because he stayed unemployed for some 2.5 months. He also splurged a little with a riding lawn mower and a laptop. I also purchased a desktop computer.

Frankly, if we didn’t have the severance we would have to tap into our emergency savings. We spent the whole year fixing up major parts of the house (the bathroom, the air exchanger, the driveway. Cars gave us more expenses with a minor repair on one of them, a new set of wheels, as well as purchase of snow tires for both vehicles.

I had anticipated around $142,000 in spending but we went slightly over with $152,000.

People are shocked when I tell them that’s how much we spend per year. What could we possibly be spending our money on?!

Housing, which includes mortgage, property taxes, home maintenance, home insurance, and utilities made up the biggest portion of our budget – a whooping 43% of our money is spent there. Mortgage alone takes up over 20% of our total spending! Renovation expenses were unexpected this year – did not expect to do the driveway or replace the air exchange.

Kids are the next biggest expense. Not including the increased cost of car, housing, etc. just their care, clothing, activities, toys, etc. make up 20% of our spending. Yep, we are spending as much on kids as we are on our mortgage. The kids go to a pre-school for 7.5 hours per week (3x, 2.5 each time), and the rest is nanny time at home. Needless to say, nanny is the big chunk of the cost (over 90%).

Groceries are the next big expense, 12% of our spending– which is about $18,000 annually. This is a fairly large budget, but it includes everything we would buy at a store that doesn’t quality as something for the car or furniture. Absolutely anything we pick up from Costco or Superstore. It feeds 4 adults (2 males who might as well as be horses), 2 females, and 2 kids. Fresh produce is probably the biggest chunk of this expense, followed by dairy. We are big on dairy – we spend close to $60 a week on dairy alone.

Auto was the next big expense this year, 11% of our spending. It wasn’t suppose to be, but it was due to unforeseen circumstances (the car accident). My husband and I work in two different part of the cities (my work, his work, and our home literally are points on  an isosceles triangle), and the minivan that he drives is quite the gas hog. Sadly, it makes many round trips when we pick up and drop the kids off from school. We spend nearly $6000 a year on fuel – yep, I wish public transportation was available to us — I would use it!

Charity is also a good part of our budget, but not as big as we like (a goal for 2015!). It makes up about 3% of our spending.

That’s about 90% of our spending. The other 10% – 15k or so is discretionary spending on hobbies, entertainment, vacations, furniture, gifts, etc. Considering it even includes dentists, I think that’s a fair amount.


2015 – Net worth update

Despite many unexpected expenses over the year, we saw a 20% increase in our net worth (not taking into account appreciation of the house).

We contributed massively to our mortgage (while the interest rates are still low) and saved a fair amount of cash. Investments performed OK given our couch potato strategy, returning about 6-8% for the year.

Despite a pretty good year for us, I am expecting a much slower 2015 year (due to a potential maternity leave and an addition to the family), and expecting a 6-10% growth in net worth. It’s not so bad for as long as it’s going up and keeping up with inflation!

Facebook is not the place to speak your mind!

I’ve recently added a whole new set of people on my facebook — members of my church family. Facebook is no longer a place to post my thoughts and opinions, as it turns out that people are really easily offended.

Becoming a Canadian Citizen is more expensive now and a lot of people are calling this a new tax, which is baffling to me. The fee has been increased to match what it actually costs. It’s the second year it’s being done because initially the fee was $100. Instead of going from $100 to $500, they decided to do $100->$300->$500. The $100 fee has been in place since 1995!

I am not sure what people expect here. If we don’t change the fee, then other Canadians are on the hook for paying for to-be-Canadians to become citizens. In fact, if the fees are not increased, then taxes are actually increased. If the fees are kept at what they are, then whoever is using the service pays for it.

Is the argument that the poor can no longer become Canadian Citizens? Frankly, most people in position to fly into this country and then quality for citizenship are usually economically well off. The only exception to these are refugees.

As an economic immigrant myself, I feel no sympathy for those struggling to become a citizen. Heck, even for those brought in with family…get the family to pay. However, I hold refugees very close to my heart. The world is a terrible place, and these guys are constant reminders me to me on why we must keep fighting. Our church supports a few refugees rescued from Congo, and hearing their stories is heart-wrenching.

I do think refugee fees should be either entirely waived, or there should be a private fund (setup by members of community) to support these refugees for applying for citizenship.

But everybody else? Stop leeching.

2014 Year in Review (Financial) – How we did on our goals

Looking at my 2014 goals, how did I do this year?

Reduce money spent eating out to $4200/year – SUCCESS
Jonathan and I worked hard on this one – and we did good! We budgeted $4200 and spent $3860. We can probably go to around $3000 a year, but it would be challenging. Often times we pay for other family or friends who don’t have to funds to eat out, so we can spend time together. I have regular lunches with friends of mine from previous workplaces, as does Jonathan. We like to eat at nice places (but don’t usually get drinks or appetizers), so this one gets pretty tricky. But I think we could still do $250/month – given that 2015 is the goal of fitness for both of us, eating out will naturally reduce.

Increase and diversify charitySUCCESS
I was shocked to learn that we were spending more on eating out than on charity, so my aim here was to give to charity way more than we eat out, and we did! We went from an average of $200/month charity to $330/month. We diversified our charitable contribution by now including, on a monthly basis, Sick Kids, Doctors without Borders, and Just Girl. We also provided one-time contributions to Cancer Society, Rotary Club (Turkey Drive), and Wikimedia. We also found ways to give to non-organizations and helping folks directly (even without that charitable receipt) when we could.

Groceries down to $1500/month – CLOSE
Really close, but no cigar – the last month pushed over the edge! The goal was to spend less than $18,000 on groceries for the year, but we hit $18,288.87. The last trip hit us wrong :). Although this is still pretty high, I am OK with it. We have a lot of company over – and in the month of December had many people over our house (it was our most expensive month for Groceries!). We also had people stay over our house for 7 nights in the month! We are not big on vacations, so this is big for us. Having said that, will try for $18,000 again next year!

Contribute $28,000 to RRSPs SUCCESS
Yes, we certainly saved enough to be able to do this and are grateful that we could, given the tax hit Jon is going to take because of his severance. I feel strongly about saving for retirement, especially given we don’t have work pension plans, so this is very important to me (Jon doesn’t think we need any money…).

Contribute $2,500 to kids RESPs SUCCESS
Yes, and for each kid! I am glad that I set up auto-payments for this, because there are certainly months that I would have skipped it.

Contribute $5000 additional to mortgage  SUCCESS
Yes, after Jon’s severance we had enough extra to contribute a little extra. Contributed just over $6000 for the mortgage!

Overall, I am very happy with how we did with our goals, particularly on reducing the eating out and increasing the charity. Now to work on those 2015 goals 😉

When she doesn’t want to be healed

Long before I had my biological children, I had another child to take care of. Her and I were acquainted when I got to University. She had been abused in every way; she had been abandoned; she had been neglected; she had been told that no one loved her; she had been betrayed, her innocense stolen early in life. Her big, bright eyes sparkled with tears that she couldn’t shed anymore. Her body was charred with all that the world had given her, and she just wanted a place to hide, to be kept safe.

So I took her in. I told her that I loved her. I told her that I would keep her safe, no matter what. I told her that I wouldn’t abandon her. And most of all, I promised her, that I would never let those who hurt her, come to even know of her.

I visited her not too long ago, to ask her about how she feels about joining me in this journey. Where before she played with her toys in a scantily lit room (she doesn’t want to see her scars), she has now turned all the lights off. She lays in the corner, in a fetal position with all the lights off. She is terrified.

Where I want to show her the love of God to heal her, she is terrified of God. She doesn’t trust God the way I do. Where I believe that God has a plan for everything he does, a plan beyond my understanding, she doesn’t believe in any such plan. We all have her trials, all have our cross to bear; but her shoulders haven’t grown yet to carry hers.

And I don’t know what to do anymore. Do I drag her to God? Do I give her time and space? How long do I keep her enclosed, sheltered, away from God’s love and mercy that can heal her? How do I tell the little girl, with everything that she has been through, “to have courage?” I cannot lose her trust, I am all she has. I cannot abandon her. I cannot force this fragile soul. So I await, patiently, for her to be ready.

On why I need God

What is God?
A force, a healer. God is not my friend (just like gravity is not), but he is just there. God doesn’t need me, but I do need God.

Why do you believe in God?
Because I need to. I would be really screwed up without him. No really, I would.

What about heaven/hell?
Don’t care. Will worry about it when it’s a problem. For now, I am here, and I got to get by. Even if it’s something I must think about “now”, I just don’t have the mental capacity to do so. Moot point. Fear of hell is not something I entertain.

What about this devil stuff?
What about it? I believe in a negative force (“the devil”). We are saved (and I don’t mean salvation) by believing in God.

What about Jesus?
Maybe God sends messengers to share some light with us? Maybe he has sent many messengers. Maybe he still is sending these messengers. Jesus is one of these messengers. I don’t particularly care for his “Son of God” thing. It as irrelevant to me as the virgin birth.

Why, why do you need God? There are happy, content atheists/agnostics/{put word here} all over the world?
Because I am different then them. I tried this atheist thing, but not out of lack of belief, because I was angry with God. I had been betrayed so inexcusably, and this ‘God’ hadn’t taken care of me. I was angry. It’s been shoved down your throat that bad things happen to those God doesn’t love; so if something bad happened to you, it’s your fault. Wow. Way to make sure that an 8 year old victim of child abuse is completely screwed up.

I tried going back to religion, but left it each time because religions tend to indicate that God loves us, takes care of us, yada yada. Well, ya know what, there are hundreds of young folks being sold into sexual slavery RIGHT NOW, and God sure as heck isn’t doing anything about them. If he can write the Universe to indicate that two people make a human being, he couldn’t write the universe to indicate that people can’t be sold into slavery? Don’t tell me about this omnipresent, omnipotent, God when there is clear proof, for me, that there is NO SUCH THING.

But what is there is a very beautiful force, a force to give you strength when you need it. A force to help you rise. A force to help you find the battle against cruel realities in this world. And that’s God. God gives us the strength to make the improbable happen.

And THAT, THAT I absolutely need. I go to Church not to hear sermons on how Jesus died for my sins and I am saved, etc…but, instead, to reinforce that strength. There is beauty in every religion (and in my opinion, the devil has managed to slip in every religion too), and I seek that beauty. Is that the right thing to do? Probably not. But I don’t care.

The Anticipation of Adoption

PregnantI dislike being pregnant. A lot. After two natural-born kids, pregnancy is a period of my life marred with severe depression and a turbulent marriage. Never in my time do I feel more alone than when there is a thriving human being inside my uterus.

However, we love kids. Our kids bring us a great deal of joy and raising them has to be one of life’s greatest experiences. Sure, it’s full of sleepless nights and an incredible amount of stress, but it’s all worth it. Coming from a relatively small family of four (parents, sister), I have always wanted a large family. I’ve always also wanted to adopt. Jon wants more kids too, and recognizes how pregnancy affects me, so slowly but surely, the idea of adoption has won him over.

We recently finished the PRIDE training offered by Ontario. I didn’t even know there were kids to adopt locally, but there are! So why not? I don’t care where the kid comes from or who the kid is, we just want a kid. I find it odd that I have to specify whether we would be open to kids with disabilities (not something you choose when you are pregnant), but it makes sense: those kids may need resources and time that you may not have. For now, Jon and I have ruled out severe disabilities as we both recognize that we don’t have the training, capacity, or even the maturity to handle that. Some people do because they have to, but if the option to not to, we would rather not.

We are almost wrapped up our homestudy…so now comes some serious anticipation. The birth mother will look through our adoption profile book and make a life-changing decision. We are so excited and nervous at the same time. Will she like our family? Will she believe that we will raise her kid as our own? How long will it take our child to adjust? How long will it take us? What kind of battles await us?

I am apprehensive about what will happen with the extended family. Some of the reactions genuinely surprised me. Comments such as “it’s never the same as your own” or “you won’t know what’ll be wrong with it” or “it’ll have serious issues.”

I didn’t expect that of a Christian. I don’t understand what they expect to happen? First, theyare vehemently against abortion. Then against social assistance. And then while they like the idea of adoption…anyone but them should do it. What? Who is going to do it if not you? *We* are the body of Christ. *We* should be extending our arms. *We* should be showing love. Not our next door neighbor. That’s not how it works.


The Question of Baptism

My pastor at church that I’ve been attending regularly for the past 6 years asked if I would be interested in attending the baptism session early fall. If at the end I decide that I want to be baptized, it would be done this year.

Little does anyone know, this has thrown me in for a loop.

I very much like Christianity as Tolstoy presented it or something like Jesuism. I don’t understand why people are so tied to the Bible when it’s canonization isn’t even close to divine and made by a body of church that seems entirely about power! (Might I mention no women were involved in it’s canonization?!) I even toy with Gnosticism, because frankly, if reading through the Old Testament doesn’t evoke anger for the guy called “God”, then I don’t know what you’ve been smoking. There is a massive difference between the God as described in Old Testament and teachings of Jesus Christ. And then there is a difference again when you compare the synoptic Gospels and “Apostle” Paul. One teaches love and inclusion, and the other seems to teach hate and exclusion.

Yeah, there are people who defend it and say that it’s “out of context” and yada yada. I am just not sold on it. I feel that Christianity took a bitter turn with Apostle Paul. Maybe he wasn’t a bad guy, maybe it wasn’t intentional; I don’t know. I just don’t feel comfortable with it.

So, here comes the question of Baptism. The church in question is a Baptist church; heavily biblical. My pastor is a fairly liberal pastor, who is very welcoming. He can maintain genuine friendships with atheists and Muslims, which counts for something. But that’s the issue….I think I am in love with the idea of Christianity as my pastor presents it, not as the baptist community necessarily does. And that scares me. I feel like I’ve tied my religion somehow to my pastor; whereas it should be something way stronger…like God.

Not having God as the cornerstone of my faith surprised me. I realize that I still don’t trust that God is there for me. I realize that I still don’t believe that he won’t abandon me. I realized how far away I am from God’s love than I had expected. And while I may have been alone before, now I feel alone. I am afraid that God is actually like what Apostle Paul and the Old Testament talk about (a God I cannot trust or love, a God apparently obsessed with Israel), verses the God that that Jesus presents (a God that loves me, a God that I love). It’s weird, but other Christians are making me realize how God is now who I thought he was.

I don’t know what to do now that I’ve realized the incredible emptiness in my soul.

Financial Goals for 2014

Reduce money spent eating out
This one is a really easy one. My husband and I are spending between $400-$600/month eating out – $4800-$7200. That’s more than charity! I’d love to bring this down to $350/month for 2014, for a total of $4200 for the year.

Increase charity
Our charity amount seems to be directly tied to how often we attend church…which means in summer, we are practically donating nothing. I’d like to increase our charitable contributions for the year, as well as give to a varied amount of charities. Currently we only give to World Vision and our church. Would definitely like to include some secular and local charities as well, to give back to the community.

Be mindful when buying groceries
Our groceries are averaging around $1800 a month, I’d like to bring this down to $1500 a month. I think we can — if we are just slightly more vigilant about not over-purchasing produce or goods that we don’t need. This is mostly on me on not buying expensive Tupperware or products that we don’t need!

Contribute $28,000 to RRSPs
Keeping in with our retirement plan, I’d like to contribute $14,000 for each of us in our individual RRSP accounts.

Contribute $2500 to kids RESPs
Despite much opposition from Jonathan, I think he is realizing that just because we feel strongly against paying for our kids’ education, it is unfair for them to not be given the grant that the government provides. I’d like to contribute monthly to the kids’ education fund.

Contribute $5000 for Mortgage Pre-payment
Anything to have this mortgage paid is sooner! A $5k annual payment with a 5% increase in payments every year means I pay off the mortgage in 10 years instead of 17!

What are your goals for 2014?

Why can’t people understand RESPs?

For some reason, parents around Canada are mystified when it comes to opening and managing a RESP account for their children. Before they even have a baby they start getting calls from official sounding companies that practically sound like the government. They are offering you a 20% return (guaranteed!) on your deposits.

They are not lying.

What they are not clarifying is that their organization exists to get a cut of that 20% and money that you put in. This is free (well, tax payers) money and everyone wants a cut at it.

You don’t have to go with these organizations. You don’t even have to open the account today. Or before their birthday. Or in the first year. None of that. (There are exceptions if you receive additional grants from the government for your children, but we do not.)

The government will match upto 20% of the first $2500 you put in, per year, until the kid turns 17, upto $7200. Which means they are really only matching for 14.4 years or up to $36,000 of your contributions.

We didn’t open our kids RESP until they turned 2. The first couple of years are hard on parenting — maternity leave, increased expenses, etc. For us it was also a new house and a new car. Now for as long we contribute until our children’s 16th birthday (and then some after), our children should receive the maximum grant possible for our family.

We put aside $208/month per kid in a TD Mutual Fund e-series account. This account carries no “account setup” or “activation” or “admin” or any fee. You hold funds in it. The funds have low fees. They are index funds. The math works out pretty well and is a popular couch potato strategy.

My husband and I hold different views on whether we should fund our children’s education. His parents didn’t fund his. My parents did. Naturally, we both want to do what our parents did. His arguments were:

  • Kids don’t learn the value of money if we give them handouts so early in life.
  • They won’t value education as much.
  • They are more likely to go for a degree with which they would be unable to live a life of financial freedom.

On the flip side, the arguments are:

  • We are saying no to free money. This is not fair to our kids.
  • Since OSAP etc. look at financial situation of the parents, our kids will be ineligible for many grants and loans.
  • Whether or not we like it, the society expects us to pay for our kids and tax benefits are provided keeping that in mind.

Ultimately, we “agreed” with opening RESPs for our kids under the following conditions:

  • We get to keep our principal payments (this is *our* after-tax money).
  • Kids will contribute to their RESP when they have the ability to get a job or have income.
  • Kids will keep the grant as well as the interest on the grant.

This was a compromise for my husband. He feels cheated out of the interest on his $36,000 (per kid!), but it is a little more fair for our kids. The interest payments and the grant leaves each kid with ~$20,000 for education (assuming 3% return, which is rather modest).