What being debt-free means to me

debt free means

I just turned 30 and I have been in debt since I was 19 years old.

This debt does not include a mortgage. It has always consisted of student loans, and for a brief period, a few thousand dollars of credit card debt.

I recently ran my numbers for 2018, looking ahead to the year where I will finally be able to get rid of my debt for the first time in eleven years. 

I should be able to make my last payment in July 2018. That means eight more months of pouring anywhere from $400-$1300 each month toward my debt repayment.

My stretch goal, depending on my side hustles, is to get it done by May 2018.

It is hard for me to explain what this debt has created in my life. For those who have not spent a good proportion of their lives with this burden, it might be strange to imagine what it feels like to know that any dollar coming in is not really yours to spend, that it belongs to someone else.

It is even more difficult to explain what being in debt has done to my relationships, my mental health, and my overall well-being. I have tried. I talked about how my scarcity mindset started to erode my relationship. I talked about how I paid off 7K of debt in 7 months to try and tear through as much of it as I could ASAP. Somehow, in these posts, I don’t know how well I have ever managed to communicate just what being in debt has done to me.

But now that the deadline is fast approaching, I have thought a lot about my why for paying off the last 20K of debt so quickly and what being debt-free will mean to me.

So in honour of my 30th birthday coming and going, here are 30 things I look forward to this year that a debt-free life will afford me:

  1. I’ll be able to get a dog, and know that I will be able to take care of it.
  2. I can take more nights and weekends off from side hustling.
  3. I can treat my mom to lunch more often.
  4. I can buy more lattes.
  5. I can stop thinking about how that $4 for my latte should have been used to pay off debt.
  6. I will be able to treat dear friends to a glass of wine or a coffee without stressing so much.
  7. I can go back to physiotherapy, even though my benefits are maxed out.
  8. I will up my monthly donations to two charities near and dear to my heart.
  9. I will take care of my health in ways that I might hesitate to with debt.
  10. I will TRIPLE my monthly contributions to my Tax-Free Savings Account.
  11. I can build my emergency fund into a real F-U fund.
  12. I want to travel to new countries and new cities.
  13. I will increase my savings toward the wedding I might one day want.
  14. I want to go out and see more live music.
  15. I can send loved ones care packages.
  16. I will pay for music lessons or art classes.
  17. I can ditch side hustles that don’t fulfill me.
  18. I want to take more road trips.
  19. I will buy books that I love and want to have on my bookshelf.
  20. I will have more freedom to build a business if I want.
  21. I will enjoy the comfort of knowing that my emergency fund will go way further in case of a job loss.
  22. I will start seriously saving for a down payment on my own home.
  23. I will never have to make relationship decisions based on my financial situation.
  24. I can take more risks in my career.
  25. I can pay for language learning materials.
  26. I will drink the occasional $20, and not $10, bottle of wine.
  27. I can actually begin to contemplate the expenses associated with having children, and think more seriously about whether I would like to start a family one day.
  28. I will buy all the yarn to knit my terrible creations.
  29. I will visit my family – who are scattered across Canada – more often.
  30. I will know that I have infinitely more options, choices, and freedom.

What is your why for paying down debt? What are you so looking forward to when the day of your final payment comes?


Wtf is going on with my savings rate?


I have been giving the 1% Challenge a go for the last eight months. For those who don’t know, it is a challenge to bump up your savings rate 1% each month – the idea being that if you increase your savings ever so slowly, you won’t miss that extra $20 or $40 or $70 getting funnelled into your savings each month.

Eight months in, and I’ve learned some lessons about trying to bump up your savings rate:

  1. Having side hustle or freelance income makes it pretty difficult to make projections about your savings rate with any kind of accuracy.
  2. My savings rate varies pretty wildly from month to month (see #1) – but I am becoming more okay with that.
  3. Tracking my savings rate – along with all of my spending and my net worth – has been hella helpful for getting my financial life together.

Why is tracking your savings rate so awesome?

It tells you, more or less, in how many years you will be able to retire. It is an easy-to-monitor number that tells you much more about your financial health than your income does.

You might earn 200K a year, but if your savings rate is 5%….YOU GON BE WORKING FOR A LONG TIME.

If you want to learn more about how to actually calculate your savings rate, check out my earlier post that walks you through exactly how to figure out this percentage.

Most run-of-the-mill recommendations advocate for putting somewhere between 10-15% of your income towards retirement. But in the online personal finance community, it is not uncommon to see savings rates well above 50%.

I tend to hover somewhere in between. Over the last eight months, my savings rate has fluctuated anywhere from 16-55% and it tends to land around 25-30% of my income.

I would never argue that this is possible for everybody.  I have a boatload of privilege that allows me to save that proportion of my income. But I do think that it’s possible for many of us – because there is nothing particularly extraordinary about my situation.

I am not a high earner. I still have student loans. I am not excessive in my lifestyle, but there are definitely some areas I could pare down. I love going out for the odd cocktail, buying a latte every Friday, and I recently broke down and bought a car (used, obvi, but still).

You can do some of those things, and still save a good percentage of your income.

So let’s take a look at how I have done with my savings rate over the last eight months.

Here is a recap of how I did during my first four months of the challenge.

  Goal (%) Actual (%)
March 30 29
April 31 33
May 32 31
June 33 41


And what happened in the last four months?

  Goal (%) Actual (%)
July 34 21
August 35 55
September 36 16
October 37 25

All I can say is….wtf is going on with my savings rate?


I fell short of my goal for three out of the last four months. In July, I took a vacation and absorbed most of the cost from my usual monthly expenses rather than dipping into my vacation savings account –my savings goals took a hit as a result.

August was nuts with a 55% savings rate. I received a windfall, and was able to redirect over half of my income to various savings and debt repayment goals including my emergency fund, my investment account, and my student loans.

September was a 3-paycheque month so I should have done really well here. What happened? Well…I bought a car instead. This was a purchase I had been contemplating for about a year and I wanted to only move forward when I knew that owning a car actually made sense for my budget.

My 16% September savings rate might look pretty abysmal on paper -but I bought a car in cash AND was able to pay down debt and save for my future all in the same month. That is a huge victory when looking back on where I was with my finances this time last year.

October was also hit pretty badly in terms of my savings goal. I was traveling internationally for the first 10 days of the month and like my trip in July, I wanted to absorb most of the travel costs from my regular budget rather than dip into my savings.

So what’s next?

According to the 1% Challenge, my savings rate goal for the month of November would be 38% and December would be 39%.

That is a huge stretch goal for me. I have only been able to achieve savings rates higher than that on months with unusually high income. But I am still going to pursue it and I will keep you posted on how November and December – what can be some pretty spendy months – end up looking.

The 1% challenge has been an excellent way to look for the small wins. To find the little ways of earning an extra $40 or saving an extra $20/month. These are the little things that you can start doing today that can snowball and make a big difference in the months and years to come.

The 1% challenge has also made me think long term, though. I can keep working on upping my savings rate each month, but I am going to keep hitting a wall — unless I make some big changes. 30-35% seems to be the ceiling on my savings rate, assuming that I maintain my current income and fixed expenses. So that’s my next move.

I am paying too much for rent right now and I should be able to find something in downtown Ottawa for $100-200/month less than what I am currently spending. I am also exploring some job moves that would come with a pretty significant bump in my annual income. I am beyond excited to see what some of these longer-term goals can do for my monthly savings rate.

How are you doing with your savings goals? Where do you typically land with your monthly savings rate and does it tend to fluctuate wildly each month? Let me know in the comments!

When you don’t get the job


Not getting a job you really wanted sucks. Especially when you are surrounded by the success story background noise about people getting 5-digit raises overnight. About friends locking down their dream job.

Especially when you sink weeks into crafting your CV, writing a flawless cover letter, researching the organization extensively, and doing multiple interviews. To find out it was all for naught. It’s demoralizing and brutal.

This happened to me a couple months ago. I had been speaking with the organization for over a month, had several interviews, and submitted a writing sample of one of my peer-reviewed publications. I knew I had been shortlisted to the top three candidates…and then I finally got the dreaded “We’ve decided to go with another candidate” phone call.

One of the worst parts was that I had already started to check out of my current job. I had started mentally assigning tasks to my colleagues and was mid-thought about how great it would feel to resign when I got the news that oh yea, hey, did not get that new job after all.

The job hunt is integral to building a career and increasing your salary, and rejection is part of that. So let’s break down what to do when you don’t get that job you want. Forget the success stories for a minute and let’s go through some things that have genuinely helped me in the past.

As a jumping off point and for my own personal therapy, I asked the Twitterverse about how to handle a major job disappointment:

1. Believe it happened for a good reason

“I assume it is for a good reasons—not in a fate way, but as in they saw something in me that was not a good fit for that particular spot.” – Ms. Steward

This has honestly been an enormous help to me over the last couple months. The more I reflect on that particular position and the organization, the more I can see some red flags — things that would not have been a good fit for me or the organization. The research position was in a different field than I am used to, and one that I don’t necessarily know I would have enjoyed very much. I think I was romanticizing it in the moment, but I probably would have wanted to move on again in a year or two. I want my job moves to be more strategic now. The job I didn’t get would not have built toward the future positions that I dream of holding. So for many reasons, it was actually kind of great that this job did not work out.


2. Learn from it

“Learn what you can from it and apply these insights to your search. Main thing is not to let it discourage you and slow your search.” – Barnaby King

This one seems obvious, but I don’t know how many people actually do this.

A great example was when I applied for a research position back in March. Stage one of their interview process was completing a technical writing task. I was in Asia for work at the time, with a huge presentation and several work commitments during the week, but I managed to squeeze in a block of time to complete it. How did it go? It was a total shitshow. I was jetlagged, exhausted, and not at all focused. My mind was on other work obligations. But also, I just didn’t prepare. I knew more or less what the task would be, and I could have done research, taken notes, and had a gameplan for how I wanted to handle the task. But I didn’t.

Sure enough, I got the email when I got home that I had not made it through the first stage of their screening task. No surprises there. But here is where it gets good. I kept the PDF of the writing task and I still review it before I have interviews or skills assessments for other roles in my field.  It’s built-in technical practice for every interview or upcoming task I’ll see.

Another tip that never occurred to me before came from Finance Patriot Blog – “Watch YouTube videos on how to interview. This did wonders for me. I visited collegegrad.org, lots of good videos there.” I have done some mock interviewing with friends and mentors, but  never did much with online resources.  The Internet is a veritable gold mine of job searching material. Go take advantage of it.

3. Find out why you didn’t get it

“Ask for feedback on why you didn’t get it so you can improve for next time.” – Savvy in Somerset

All I have ever managed to elicit from any HR rep or manager are incredibly generic platitudes a la “We went with a stronger candidate.” But if you feel like the person interviewing you will be somewhat transparent, I am all for this.

 4. Take a beat and appreciate what you can about your current situation

I recognize this may not apply to everyone cause some people just loathe their jobs.  I am fortunate in that I do not hate my current job. Not getting the other job has actually been a really nice opportunity to re-evaluate my position, observe myself in my work, think about what I like and don’t like about my role, and apply this to my job search. I was going a little fast and furious with applications and interviews, but now I am being much more intentional with where I apply and what kinds of questions I ask during the interview process.

And for the time being, it’s making me much more appreciate and grateful for my day-to-day.  I like my coworkers, I get to work remotely one day a week, and the work is still fairly interesting.  Not a bad position to be in at all.

5. Channel the failure into motivation

I don’t know about you but there is nothing like not getting what you want to build a little motivation. Right now, I am pretty fortunate – not getting that job is not the end of the world. I am not trapped in a job I despise. But I could be in that position down the road, and I definitely don’t want to be trapped if that day comes.

Not getting this job was a good reminder not to bank on that one job as your ticket out. Do other things to ensure your freedom.

Build up your emergency fund, so that you can one day quit without something else lined up.

Give yourself a big savings cushion so that you can go back to school, change careers, or take a pay cut to take a job you love.

Not getting this job was a blessing in disguise because it has gotten me back on the “Build up a 6-month emergency fund so that you have options” train.


6) Keep the lines of communication open

You never know what will happen.  You don’t know what will end up happening with the candidate they select – what if they back out?  What if you are interviewing with the same organization two years from now?  After they’ve let you down gently, send a thoughtful email thanking them for the opportunity, and ask them to reach out if anything else comes up.  You never know how valuable those small gestures might be.


What are some things you do to learn from letdowns and stay motivated after disappointments in the job hunt?  Would love to hear from you in the comments!

Family Planning and Frugality, or Why I’m in Love with my Mirena

FP and frugality

One of the best things I have done in recent memory is get an IUD. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but a pretty significant part of deciding to get the Mirena was because my doctor made a strong case about how much financial sense it makes to get an IUD.

Damn, doc. You’re making a financial argument? He really knew his audience.

I would never advocate that anyone select a family planning method based on frugality. My friends, family members, and I have all gone through countless switches of birth control pill brands, migrated over to the ring or the patch when faced with unholy side effects, and yea some of that shit is expensive. If ever there were a part of life where I think it is okay to splurge, I would argue it is contraception. Like buy the good condoms. Really.tumblr_ntx3u7lhrT1qk7scno1_500.gif

That being said, I was a grad student of limited means when my doctor made this financial argument. I also knew that my health insurance would be lapsing once I defended my thesis and I had no idea when I would have health insurance again. Don’t misunderstand me, there were many other compelling reasons for me to get an IUD. It was a decision that made a lot of sense for me. I won’t delve into those reasons in great detail but if you’re curious, the financial argument went something like this:

The Mirena costs about $410 in Ontario.

My student health insurance paid half. Okay we are down to $205.

All doctors’ appointments including the insertion and the follow-up visit were free of charge. Thank you, Canada.

It should be noted that the Mirena lasts a minimum of five years. Doc pointed out that even with insurance, I was currently spending about $10/month on the most generic garbage birth control pills on the market, accompanied by a host of horrifying side effects.  Being a woman is awesome.

Using that method of contraception, assuming I had insurance coverage the entire time (which I wouldn’t) would bring me to a grand total of $600 over five years. That’s also assuming I didn’t break down along the way and switch to a better (*ahem* more expensive) method along the way, which I absolutely would have.  So $600 is a very conservative estimate of what five years of hormonal contraception actually costs.

Also, periods are expensive. Doc informed me that half of women with Mirena do not get their periods anymore. I know that it is bizarre-o and maybe a little scary for many a woman, but I cannot tell you what a joy it is to live sans period. It has also effectively stalled my need for tampons for five years. I don’t hate that, and money is just one small reason. But since we’re talking numbers, the Huffington Post estimated that Canadian women spend about $65 per year on tampons and pads (also conservative, me thinks). Over five years, this totals $329. So let’s break this down:

Scenario A Scenario B
Method of Contraception Birth control pills Mirena hormonal IUD
5-Year Contraception Expenses $600 $205
5-Year Period Expenses $329 $0
Grand Total $929 $205
Monthly Cost $15.48 $3.50

In Scenario A where I continued to use my same nonsense birth control pills with the added fun of still getting my period, the grand total for five years of maintaining my highly desired childfree status would have cost $929. Never a cost more worth it, in my opinion, but hey, that’s still some cash. It breaks down to a monthly reproductive health cost of $15.48.

In Scenario B, where I got the Mirena, the grand total for five years of sweet childfree living is $205. All of this cost is front-loaded, which can make it a pretty big expense at the time of insertion. Also, the insertion is not exactly a walk in the park. BUT you are then worry-free for five or more years, and the monthly cost of my reproductive health needs is now averaging $3.50 per month.

An added bonus: Doc tells me that the scientific literature is now suggesting Mirena is good for 6 years, which would bring the cost down to a cool $2.84 per month.

Back to the bottom line. We are talking about a difference in roughly $12 per month and I know that. This is not the make or break line in my budget. But as with many other things, the value added shines through in other, more subtle ways.

For instance, the Mirena has reduced my chances of experiencing an unintended pregnancy in the next five years. You cannot put a price tag on peace of mind. The sheer peace the IUD has afforded me by making it less likely that I will have to deal with the emotional, psychological, and physical tolls of becoming pregnant when I don’t want to be is pretty wonderful.  

And suppose I were faced with an unplanned pregnancy. I am proud to say that abortion is a covered procedure in Canada and women do not have to pay out-of-pocket for it, so there would not be direct financial impacts associated with that decision for me. But I am privileged to say that. The average cost of a first-trimester abortion in the US is about 470 USD – and that was back in 2009. It is even more expensive in other parts of the world.

And while about half of all unplanned pregnancies will be terminated, half of all women who encounter an unintended pregnancy will carry the pregnancy to term.  Many of these women will decide to parent.  That comes with massive financial implications. You know, to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars.

So while getting the Mirena was kind of about frugality initially, that has just been a small bonus. It has actually provided so much value to my life in other ways. It is providing great confidence and comfort when it comes to some of the biggest financial decisions I will ever make – if and when to have children.

So, thanks Mirena. I initially got you to help me save a few bucks a month, but you have done a whole lot more for me.

Have any of you made a decision based on frugality, and ended up getting a whole lot more out of that decision than you even hoped? Or have you made a frugal decision and ended up totally regretting it?  Let me know in the comments!

Why I haven’t automated my finances


Nearly every personal finance book or blog will advocate a handful of golden rules to build wealth.

Among them: automate your finances.

Most personal finances experts are big fans of this approach, and I can see why. I first learned about automation from Ramit Sethi in “I Will Teach You to be Rich.” The concept is simple: set up your financial life so that everything is going where it’s supposed to be going automatically as soon as your paycheque hits your bank account. You do not even really see the money available to spend and you don’t have to lift a finger.

Arrange automatic bill payments, student loan payments, and contributions to your RRSP/401K.

Set up a biweekly or monthly transfer into your investment account.

Have specific savings goals, like a down payment or a wedding? Make a designated savings account and automate contributions into those accounts, too.

You will be saving without even really realizing you are saving. No effort required. No time spent talking yourself out of contributing to your retirement fund if you are running short on funds after an online shopping binge. And the money just starts to accumulate.

I get how wildly appealing that is. Saving money can be a weird combination of boring and hard – at least that is how I felt about saving until recently. Humans function via the path of least resistance on most things that are good for us.

You will only eat healthy or work out if you remove as many barriers as possible that keep you from doing those things. Like sleeping in your workout clothes. Like meal prepping and stashing containers of healthy food in the freezer so you don’t eat an entire pizza when you get home from work.

Automating your finances is the equivalent to that. It removes barriers to saving and investing. That can be a beautiful thing.

Yet I have maintained the majority of my finances as a manual activity. This includes my student loan payment, most of my retirement and TFSA contributions, and saving for ma big goals.

The only real exceptions are my rent, which automatically gets withdrawn every 1st of the month and the 5% of my biweekly paycheque that automatically gets put toward my work pension plan.

That begs the question: Why have I kept everything so…unautomated?

Here are five reasons why I like keeping my finances at the press of my own button.


1. Saving is a privilege and I want to appreciate it.

Having an extra $50 per month to put towards your student loan balance? Or trimming your budget to find another $100 you can send toward your retirement?

That is a privilege, my friends.

I am fortunate that I can find the money in my budget to build up my emergency fund, finally start funding my retirement, and yes, save up for the fun stuff, too. Not everybody is well positioned to do that.  Many people work two jobs and cannot save for retirement.

All of this means that part of me likes taking the moment out of my day, out of my week, to sit down with my finances and set up the transfer myself. It has helped me to realize and appreciate how much I really have.  It has helped me recognize how privileged I am. Being mindful of this has also helped me visualize how and where I want to give money when I have more of it.


2. I want to be intentional about my savings right now.

 There are so many daily activities we automate now (check out this awesome post from Ms. ONL recently about convenience services and gadgets).

Some of them I find borderline obscene (like really, humans need these things?)

Some are downright amazing.

Exhibit A: dishwashers.

Exhibit B: GPS.

But I was bad with money for 28 years and I am still trying to un-learn a lot of ingrained money habits and behaviours.

Maintaining control over every bill payment, every transfer into my savings has been a good way to actively participate in putting my financial life back together.  I am still tracking every penny I spend. I want to be in the driver’s seat right now. This may change in the future when my financial habits have improved and I just want to set it and forget it.

This point may sound counterintuitive – I suck with money so I do not want to automate. A common argument is that automation can help people who are traditionally poor savers. But I am a control freak and now that I know what to do with my money (more or less), I like doing it myself. To each their own.


3. It does not take much time.

Going back to my earlier point about how awesome dishwashers are – so much yes. As a person living sans dishwasher right now, I can vouch for how much some automation is totally and completely worth it. Some automation saves you hours of mind numbing and possibly soul destroying work every week or month (I really hate doing dishes). Sold.

But paying my bills online? Sending money to my investment account? This takes five minutes out of my week. For some people, that’s too much. Cool. I am down for spending those five minutes though.


4. My side hustles ARE my savings money.

I earn a reasonable income and I usually have a small gap between my salary and my spending. My student loan payments alone take up about 31% of my monthly take-home salary. That’s huge.

Right now, the only way I have really been able to save for my goals at all is through my side hustles. And side hustle money, my friends, is unpredictable income.

In January 2017, I earned $0 in side income.

In June 2017, I earned $1863.95 in side income.

The idea of setting up automatic transfers when my side hustle money varies so wildly from month to month just doesn’t make sense right now.


5. I am a huge nerd and I like doing it.

Money is fun! Is there not some kind of strange satisfaction in moving a ton of cash into your investment accounts? Tell me there isn’t, I dare you.


So those are my five reasons why I haven’t gotten fully automatic yet.  Have you fully automated your finances? Tell me why or why not in the comments – I would love to chat!

Taking on the 1% Challenge: Update 2


As the six or so readers of this blog might know, I have been doing the 1% Challenge for the last several months. Put forth by Paula Pant over at Afford Anything, it is a challenge to bump up your savings rate 1% each month for a year or until you hit a target savings rate.

I have not set a target savings rate per se, because I am still in early days of getting my financial life together. Figuring out what my spending looks like from month to month is still a mission, making it super hard to predict a reasonable and regular savings rate for my income and lifestyle.

But I still needed some big time motivation to bother increasing my savings rate.


Because I have a thousand different things I am saving for right now. Seriously, count them. A thousand.

A down payment, a new laptop, a wedding, vacations (yes, plural), and a car. Oh, and I’m still getting rid of that last 10K of student debt.

This blog is called Making it Rain for a reason, folks. I work hard to earn money and I like to spend it on things I enjoy and people I love. Yes, some of my money goes to the necessary evils like retirement funds and investment accounts but that’s because future Kate is also down to make it rain.

Let’s be honest, though.  Saving is boring. IT JUST IS. And the only way I seem to be willing to increase my savings to reach my many goals is by finding an extra $30 or $40 a month to save here and there. Beyond that, I’m out.

Hyper-frugality is not for me, and I do not have a high enough income to save a significant portion without making big cuts to my lifestyle.  I have already made some compromises like not buying a car in a mission to pay down my student loans faster, and I am just not willing to trim down my lifestyle anymore.

So 1% at a time it is.

If you want all the gory details of how to calculate your own savings rate and what I include in mine, go check out the original post back in March here.

Two months into the challenge, my first recap saw me hit the following savings rate:

March Goal: 30%

March Actual: 29%


April Goal: 31%

April Actual: 33%


I fell a little short of my goal in March, only to jump past my target rate by a couple percent in April. Despite the numbers being a little wonky, I was pretty happy with this because it is still absolutely crazy to me that about one-third of my income is going toward savings and debt repayment.

While those numbers were a little uneventful, check out my standings from the last two months. Without further ado, my savings rates from May and June:


May Goal: 32%  

May Actual: 34%


June Goal: 33%

June Actual: 41%


Whoa! Fireworks! Champagne! I know, you are all very impressed with my 41% savings rate in June. How did she do it, you might ask?

-Pared down her grocery bill?

-Only ate at a restaurant once or twice?

-Miraculously negotiated cheaper rent overnight?


Not a single one of these, my friends.

In fact, June was one of my spendiest months of the year. I had a pricey trip to Toronto for a family visit that included lots of picking up the tab for a family birthday and Father’s Day and a round-trip Via Rail ticket.

You know what really helped me destroy my savings rate goal?

Earning nearly $2000 more in June than I usually do in a given month.

Thank you, side hustles.

In fact, my savings rate could have been much higher in June but between travel, birthdays, Father’s Day, and other summer shenanigans, it was not my first priority and I wanted to enjoy some of my hard-earned dollars.

Lesson of the day: saving more is way easier when you earn more.  June’s income was totally out of the ordinary (and May’s was actually quite high, too) making it way easier to crush those savings rate goals.  Even though my income is probably going to simmer down over the summer, I am still going to shoot for my goal of 34% in the month of July.

This is going to take a lot more finagling than when I was bringing in the big bucks, and it might not happen when I am earning numbers much closer to my regular salary, but let’s see how it goes!

How are you all doing with your savings rate goals?  What percentage are you saving right now and how have you been able to increase this over time?  Let me know in the comments!


How to pay off $7,000 of student loans in 7 months


I hit an important financial milestone about a month ago. In early May I made a hefty transfer of $1000 toward my student loan, and this payment pushed my student loan balance comfortably below $10,000.  That means I have paid off $7,041 of debt in 7 months.

While getting my loan balance into 4-digit territory is an important milestone, I almost didn’t feel like it was totally worthy of celebration because I have totally been here before.

Let’s rewind three years.  By early 2014, I had spent the last four years working overseas and, even though I was making it rain just about everywhere except my savings accounts, I was still smart enough to be throwing money at my student loans.

I managed to get the balance of my student loans from my undergraduate degree to around $3,000. I was this close to getting it paid off in its entirety…

…and then I went to grad school. And guess who took out more student loans? This girl.

It has been crazy frustrating to be shackled with piles of debt again, but I am coming at it with a few more years of financial mistakes wisdom under my belt this time.

And I am paying back my loans on a pretty normal income. I do make a good living. Full disclosure, it is higher than the median individual income in Canada. But I do not have the luxury of earning six figures (or let’s be honest, anywhere remotely close to that). I do not have the benefit of having a high-earning partner, or living at home with my partners, or one of myriad factors that often help people destroy massive, intimidating sums of debt super quickly.

I toyed with my budget so many times, trying to figure out how to find hundreds of extra dollars that just didn’t seem to exist. I simply did not have the disposable income to make huge payments toward my debt every month.

Or so I thought. Since going into repayment last November, I have averaged just over $1000 per month toward my debt. Seem crazy? It might be, but I think it can be replicated if you are tenacious and have sexy dreams about getting rid of these monthly payments for good.

Let’s walk through a few of the ways I did it.


Upped my minimum monthly payment immediately.

In Canada, the federal and provincial government wants you to pay back your loan for the next 9.5 years. No freaking way. I am getting this thing gone in a couple years, and you can too.

Go up your monthly minimum payment, even if it’s only by $20. Pay a little more than you have to. Your framework of how much you can really manage to pay back every month will slowly start to shift, and you may find that you can even throw a little extra at it every now and then. When I changed my monthly payment to $500, it was a stretch for my budget. I really wondered whether I would be able to make it work for more than a couple months, and I thought I would have to lower it back down again to $400 or less. As it turns out, I have not only been able to put $500 toward my debt every month but way more. Rock on.

Side-hustled my face off.

Side hustling is an effin grind. I know some people love their side hustles. I do not. I have about four of them, and they are all okay. I freelance write, I grade standardized exams, I write standardized test exam questions, and I also do contract-based research. P.S. I also spend about ten hours a day getting to and working at my day job. Suffice it to say, I do not have a lot of free time. This is not my first choice, but this is a compromise I am willing to make for right now to get this debt gone. With my side hustle funds coming in at $2,824 in 2017 thus far, they are a huge part of the reason I have been so successful with my debt repayment.

Did not buy a car.

This one was a killer. In case you had any illusions about Canadian winters, walking and taking public transportation to work through a six-month-long Ottawa winter is no joke. It involved multiple layers of pants and navigating over mountain-like snowbanks. It also means that what could be a 15-minute commute in a car is a 45-60 minute commute by public transit.

Needless to say, there were many moments I was desperate to buy a car. That bus ride to and from work certainly gave me plenty of time to daydream about car ownership.

But not buying a car is the reason that my transportation expenses average a mere 6.6% of my monthly expenses. That frees up a lot of extra room that would simply not be possible as a car owner.

Used my money for other things, too.

We all know the story about so-and-so who paid off a bazillion dollars of debt in 17 seconds, but that’s just not my jam. Those stories are amazing and inspiring and have played a major role in my personal debt repayment journey. But there are so many other things I want to be doing with my money right now, too. Listen, I haven’t just been paying off my loans and buying boxed wine over the last seven months. I have also:

-Contributed to my retirement fund.That’s right, I’ve transferred about $1,500 to my retirement account in seven months. This is less than impressive to many folks. For someone who did not HAVE a retirement account until seven months ago, I am unreasonably happy with myself about this.

-Built up my emergency fund. Yes, I have all the mixed feelings about my emergency fund. But there are some possibly imminent changes coming up in my life, including a potentially expensive move to Vancouver…and mother of God, I am so glad I have suffocated my spendy side for the last seven months and not run off to Cuba with this money. My current and future self, especially any future version of me living in Vancouver, are already thanking me.

-Built up a travel fund of $800. To appease my aforementioned travel beast, I have also been tossing some extra moolah into a travel fund. There are lots of potential trips on the horizon and it feels so awesome to know that when the time comes to charge a plane ticket or a hotel stay, I’ve got it covered.

-Saved $700 toward a new laptop. The one I am currently tapping away on makes legitimate crunching noises. If anyone else has had this happen with a 6.5-year-old Macbook, please let me know what my future holds. In any case, my baby is hanging on for now but it’s just a matter of time.

-Traveled.  I have lived in a bunch of different countries, and traveled to even more. Traveling is a huge part of my life and I knew it would be integral to continue prioritizing this even as I paid down debt. In the last seven months, I have covered Washington DC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and also made the rounds to the more local but lovely cities of Toronto, Winnipeg, and Quebec City.

Indulged in good beer, cottage weekends, and nights out. Cause you gotta enjoy life.  Nobody here is saying that you have to live like a recluse to pay down debt quickly.


Taking charge and paying down my student loans has been difficult. It has been all-consuming at times; I even went so far as to say that it has affected my relationship with my partner. So I hope you take my last point to heart and are using your money for other stuff, too.  Be kind to yourself, your family, your partner on your debt repayment journey. It will get paid off eventually.  


How are you doing with your debt repayment? Have you been able to pay it down quicker than you imagined or is slow and steady winning the race? Let me know what’s working for you in the comments!

May 14 Weekly Roundup: Sunday Morning Reading


I am terrible at getting these link roundups out (for real, I should change the name to monthly roundup) but I will blame it on the fact that I have spent 3 out of the last 5 Sundays either on a plane in transit for work, or working.  That being said, these roundups are some of my favourite posts to include on the blog and I love getting the word out about some of the great posts I’ve recently come across.

Last week, I wrote about how my scarcity mindset is seriously eating away at my relationship.  It was an emotional post about something I have been struggling with for months.  The support in the comments was amazing, so thank you to all those who stopped by and shared their personal experiences with a scarcity mindset and how it has impacted your relationships.

And without further ado, here were some of my main reads this week:

Worked to Death (Ty at Get Rich Quick’ish)

Want some scary stats on how many of your best hours you’re giving to your employer?  Yea, it’s 105,300 hours.  I am not a FIRE blogger but Ty has such a way with breaking it down to sound, well, awesome.  If someone is going to bring me over to FIRE, it might just be Ty.

The Meandering Path of a Financial Late Bloomer (Luxe Strategist)

I loved this post from Luxe Strategist for two reasons.  One, I love hearing more about people’s back stories – where they come from, what they’re about, and why they have the ideas about money they have.  But also, I am totally a Financial Late Bloomer as well and can personally relate to this post on many levels.  Do yourself a favour and go learn a little more about Luxe Strategist and some of the financial decisions she made in her early twenties.

Who Cares if Your Passions Cost Money? (Mixed up Money)

I am pretty much in love with this post.  I have been feeling so guilty for months about needing to go out and buy new canvas and acrylics.  I am trying to throw every last dime toward debt, and it has completely blinded me to the fact that uh yea, you still need to have hobbies and enjoy life and stuff.  Big thanks to Alyssa at Mixed up Money for this awesome reminder.

April 2017 Blog Traffic and Social Media Update (The Savvy Couple) 

Okay this post was from over a week ago, but I keep going back to re-read it!  It is so inspiring to see how these two are growing their blog.  I love the transparency about how much work they are putting into developing the blog and how they check in with the goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the month.  Keep up the great work, Savvy Couple.

Thank you all for another week of reads and happy Mother’s Day Sunday!

My scarcity mindset is eroding my relationship

scarcity mindset relationship

My scarcity mindset is deeply internalized.

So deeply internalized that I did not realize the extent of it until I woke up to the damage it has been doing to my relationship.

I do not know exactly where my scarcity mindset comes from. It does not come from growing up in poverty. My family was decidedly middle-class. We did not want for food, or clothes, or school supplies, or Christmas presents. My upbringing came with economic stability and privilege.

My scarcity mindset might come from being in debt for all of my adult life.

It might come from witnessing the realities of our economy and job market, personally and among friends and families.  From watching talented and smart people battle bouts of unemployment or face long stretches of precarious employment characterized by contract work with no job security and no benefits.

Mindset is complex, and I suspect that my scarcity mindset comes from many of these places.

Regardless of its roots, my scarcity mindset is insidious and ever present.

As I draw closer to my 30th birthday, still paying off student loans and starting a brand new career, I feel totally lost. I feel frustrated. I feel angry with myself for taking on more debt in my late 20s. I feel so much fear and anxiety about every cent of debt I owe and an unhealthy attachment to every cent in my bank account.

That’s messed up.

Because I got woke to my financial mistakes almost a year ago and I am now making great decisions. I have a steady job and I finally got the ball rolling with my side hustles. I am paying down my debt aggressively, all while building a healthy emergency fund, investing a small amount, and contributing the 18% maximum toward my retirement fund.

My student debt should be completely gone in about 18 months.

Yet I can’t sleep. I check my balances obsessively. I am torn between sending every last dollar toward my debt and aggressively tucking my paycheques away like a squirrel stockpiling nuts for the winter. I reluctantly fall somewhere in between, and am still deeply miserable.

That’s the thing with a scarcity mindset. When you do not have a lot of something, you fixate on it.

“When you really want something, you start to focus on it obsessively. When you’re hungry, it’s hard to think of anything other than food, when you’re desperately poor, you constantly worry about making ends meet. Scarcity produces a kind of tunnel vision, and it explains why, when we’re in a hole, we often lose sight of long-term priorities and dig ourselves even deeper.” -Shankar Vedantham (NPR)

With debt, it feels like every dollar I have is going to this invisible place and I do not get to use it for what I want, or even what I need sometimes. On some level, I knew my psyche was being affected in strange ways by being in debt, but I thought I was handling it. I thought I was coping, and it turns out I’m just not.

And this all came out in the subtlest of ways with my partner.

My partner is currently facing a stretch of underemployment. He is brilliant and well educated, armed with a PhD in his field, a creative mind, and a tough work ethic.

In the seven months he has been underemployed, he has been freelancing and teaching a class at the local university. He has pursued multiple different job opportunities, going on numerous interviews, completing language assessments, personality tests, and a myriad of other screening tasks.

None of those opportunities has yet come through.

And he is okay with that. He planned exceedingly well for this stretch of his life after defending his doctoral dissertation, knowing full well that work may be hard to come by. He diligently saved during his PhD and has a plentiful emergency fund to cover many months of expenses, freelancing all the while to bridge the gap.

Yes, he has been anxious and worried dealing with this uncertainty. But do you want to know who this has most dramatically impacted?


I have spent every day of the last seven months deeply conflicted and anxious about what is happening to him. I hate to admit it, but I hate that he is underemployed. Let me be very clear, I do not value him less.  But this dynamic surrounding his job status has created an underlying anxiety in our relationship that has become hard to ignore. Here are just a few things that have made up my emotional portfolio over the last several months.  Let me preface this by saying that some of these are fleeting, some are more ingrained, and just about all of them are completely unfair.

Resentment. I am a little resentful.  I am resentful that I am the only one really making an income right now.  I am resentful that he would not really be able to provide for me if something happens with my job.  It is not fair to use somebody else as your emergency fund, but the reality is that many of us do lean on our partners financially and it is scary to know you do not really have that safety net.

Fear. I am afraid of so many things right now. The unknown is terrifying. We talk about our future together, all while having no idea when or where his next paycheque will come from.  That is scary to me in ways I cannot adequately express.

Sadness. It has taken me some time to fully process this, but I am sad about how this employment situation has significantly impacted some of our life plans. I know we will get there, but there is definitely some mourning involved. Building a life and starting a family already feel like insurmountable financial challenges – with two solid incomes. Right now, it feels straight-up impossible and like we’ll never get there.

Anxiety. Plain and simple. It stresses the bejesus out of me to think that the economic wellbeing of our coupledom is falling pretty squarely on my shoulders right now. What if this continues for X amount of time? When we have children? What if, what if, what if?

Bitterness. It is hard to work three jobs to pay down student loans after graduating with an undervalued degree (or three) into a precarious and part-time work-based economy and wondering how we would ever eventually pay a $1200/month daycare bill without feeling a tinyyyy dose of bitter that we are operating under way different circumstances than our parents were when they were building their lives.

Plus ten thousand other feelings all day long.

As you can see, I have a lot of work to do. The scarcity mindset is real, and it has caused emotions to run high over the last six months. The result? Lots of tears and lots of little arguments.  I am so very lucky that my partner and I have a fantastic line of communication about most things, money included, and that having tough conversations is something we have gotten better at over time.  I am really lucky to have a partner who loves and trusts me enough to wade through these fears with me.  But I would be lying if I said that it has been easy, and I am guilty of letting my scarcity mindset slowly eat away at small pieces of our relationship.

We have had many brutally honest conversations about this. He is rightly confused why I do not have enough confidence or trust in him that he will find work, and soon. Why I do not have the faith that things will eventually work out. Why I do not see that we have both always managed to earn money and find jobs, and we will again.

On an intellectual level, I know these things to be true. I trust him implicitly in every other way as my partner in life. And I have great confidence in myself and my overall career path.

But believing these things in a real, emotional way? In a way that will calm the sinking feeling I get every time I look at my debt balance? Or in a way that will keep me from frantically checking my bank account every other Friday to make sure my salary was actually deposited (even though it always is)?

I should have faith in us and our ability to work things out. I should know that we are two highly-educated and resourceful people with multiple income streams and a ton of potential for lucrative and solid careers.

But I just can’t seem to get there yet.

Is anyone else struggling with a scarcity mindset when it comes to your money or any other resource in your life?  How has it impacted your relationships?  I would love to hear from you in the comments.  

Taking on the 1% Challenge: Update #1


After neglecting the blog for a couple weeks while in Asia, I am so excited to get back to posting on a weekly basis. I thought it would be a great time to check in on one of the goals I set for myself in March. Because I am still a total newb to the finance arena, I had never actually calculated my savings rate before. Inspired by the many posts from bloggers saving half or more of their income, I decided to calculate how much of my income I was actually saving.

And LOL. Yea I am not saving half. Not even close.

But I was still pleasantly surprised at my savings rate. For someone who used to spend every dollar on margaritas and plane tickets, I was pretty damn impressed with myself for having a savings rate of 29%.

You can go check out all the nitty-gritty details here about how I calculated my savings rate and what I included in the calculation here.

And even though I thought my achievement of 29% was wildly impressive (ahem it’s really not), I decided to take on a baby challenge to try and bump my savings rate up little by little. I am getting close to finishing up Month 2 of Paula Pant’s 1% Challenge (www.affordanything.com) where you increase your savings rate by one little percent each month.


Why the need for baby steps?

Because my income is not high. I make a super average Canadian salary. Let’s be real, it is simply easier to bank thousands of dollars a month when you’re taking home, well…lots of thousands of dollars every month.

That is so awesome for people who are able to save half or more of their income (and some do this on average salaries too!) but that is not me. After my basic living expenses are covered every month, I do have some left over, just not a lot.

Because of that, increasing my savings rate is going to take careful planning.


Why bother increasing your savings rate by so little?

Fabulous question. I could go into the hardcore FIRE details of how even a 1% increase in savings rate will change your road to retirement, and these statements are true and worthy of consideration. But for me, I wanted to do this for a few reasons:

  • Easy wins. We all need easy wins sometimes. Stretch goals are awesome – I have a bunch myself that I fully intend not to hit by the year-end. But doing the 1% challenge was an easy way for me to re-ignite the fire when it comes to my finances and get excited about these monthly accomplishments.
  • Habit building.  Managing money, like most things in life, is about learning the basics and developing sound habits that allow you to achieve what you want to achieve.  This challenge has forced me to re-examine my budget, look closely at where else I can make some cuts, be really intentional about every dollar, and make saving a habit.  And that is an AWESOME thing to do no matter your financial situation.
  • Competing interests. I have about a BAJILLION competing savings interests. This may very well be a generic stage-in-life thing and not unique to me at all, but I apparently need to have a car, a wedding, a house, and a baby in the next three to five years. And retiring sometime before 80 would be nice. An extra $30-40 a month saved now, while it doesn’t feel like much, makes a big difference in two years. Five years. Forty years.


Alas, how did I do?


My goals for the month of March and April were as follows:

March: 30%

April: 31%


And the final result?

March: 29%

April: 33%



If trying to get my finances in order has taught me anything, it’s that I am not good at math. I actually chalk up the failure in March to simply being bad at calculating percentages.

To be fair, these two months were extreme outliers in terms of my income. Planning a 30 or 31% savings rate any other month would have been super easy, but these two months happened to be stashed full of fun financial wins like a healthy tax return, a 3-paycheque month, another big tax credit from the government, and some unexpected side hustle money.

So shouldn’t it have been easier to hit the goal of 30% in March?

Yes, yes. But I had earmarked some of my tax return money for my vacation fund.  I also moved in February and previously didn’t own a single piece of furniture, so February and March were just spendy months and I had planned for that financial reality by allotting a good chunk of that third paycheque in March accordingly. Even so, with a little bit more planning and math-ing, this should have been an easy goal to hit.

And almost as if I knew I failed in March, my competitive streak emerged to overcompensate in April. A 33% savings rate is awesome and I can’t complain about exceeding by April goal by a couple percent.


My glorious two months of extra cash flow have come to an end, and the real test as to whether I can pull this off will come in May.

For the month of May, I am still maintaining my goal of a 32% savings rate and I can’t wait to update you next month and let you know how it’s going!

Are any of you trying to increase your savings rate right now? What is working (or not working for you)?