Spent is a new column in which the Financial Post’s Victor Ferreira takes an entertaining and insightful look at the financial lives of everyday Canadian millennials. Some toil in lower-paying jobs while others are earning six-figures — what unites them is their desire for more and their everlasting struggle to get it.
Losing his job amid the COVID-19 outbreak has been a blessing in disguise for this 26-year-old we’ll call William.
Before the pandemic, he delivered vanities and toilets for a chic kitchen and bath centre located in Toronto to “rich jerks who don’t deserve them.” He was only taking home an average of $2,300 each month, the equivalent of $38,000 per year, and made even less in his final full month on the job.
As one of eight million Canadians who applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), he’s certainly earning less than he did before. But without much in the way of the temptations to divert his income, he’s also saving more of it than he ever has before.
“It kind of feels like I have more,” William said. “As soon as I got that $2,000, I put it in my TFSA.”
That one cash infusion more than tripled the $651.16 that William had in his TFSA prior to losing his job. Should he continue to save at this rate, his long-term goal of moving out of a house he shares with his father and two brothers could be accomplished much faster than he initially thought possible.
William and his two brothers each pay their father $850 to live in their small Toronto house. As is the case with most millennials his age, he’d rather live somewhere else.
One of his brothers is a drummer, meaning that William can find about as much solitude in his home as he could at an AC/DC concert. The other has grown into the habit of waking up his family at 3 a.m. with the sounds of screeching electric guitars pumping out of his stereo system. Both are often unemployed. His father is in his 70s but cannot retire due to some financial hardship. He still maintains a paper route in the morning.
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And so it’s William, who filed about 10 years’ worth of income tax returns this year in order to catch up, who finds himself acting as the responsible financial crutch for the family. It’s a role he never asked for and one he enjoys even less knowing it’ll mean staying in Toronto — a city that’s just too densely populated for his tastes.
With only a total of $5,792 to his name, moving out and leaving the city seemed like it would take two years and a strict savings plan. That may no longer be the case.
William was spending more than he was earning before social distancing measures were put in place and it’s no surprise that, like a typical millennial, most of his income was spent on food.
His spending is unapologetically Canadian. William went to that one Tim Hortons 32 times in 19 days and spent $171. On some days, he’d visit three separate times. Those employees, he said, would begin typing in his order as soon as he’d walk through the door.
“Every time I open my banking app, I hate seeing Tims, Tims, Tims,” he said. “It’s way too much.”
With social distancing measures in place, his fast food bill, which easily surpassed $500 when he was still working, has all but been eliminated. Travel is no longer a possibility and so the $267 he spent in February is now in his pocket. So too is the $168 he spent on a membership at a jiu jitsu gym. And with no reason to leave home, his transport bill — $443 — is a sliver of what it once was.
It helps that William, despite some dicey spending, has no debt.
“My spending habits have been obliterated,” he said. “It’s giving me time to sit back and think about everything I want to do and get a better picture of the grand idea.”
To find out how William can afford a move, Spent asked Cornerstone Financial Management Inc. CEO Ryan Sims for help.
My spending habits have been obliterated
Based on his pre-pandemic income, an apartment in South-Western Ontario is affordable, Sims noted. In the area that stretches from Guelph down to Windsor, Sims said the average two-bedroom apartment costs $1,200 per month. If William can find a roommate and split the bill, he’ll actually be able to save $250 per month.
Sims has helped his fair share of clients move away from Toronto in the past year and has always recommended that they save three months worth of salary first. Because William’s finances are less solid, he’s recommending double — $14,750.
William, Sims said, could reach that plateau in two years by adding another $8,600 to his savings. Doing so would require putting $350 per month into a high-interest savings accounts where he can earn about two per cent. Even after interest rates were cut, there are still a handful of credit unions and banks offering these rates.
Sims acknowledges this all could change once William finds a new job. It’s a missing detail that makes planning for William a difficult task. And so while William could hypothetically collect more than one third of the $8,600 he needs by squirrelling away $1,000 over the next three months, Sims said he should refrain from making a decision to fast-track a move.
“I would suggest he keep going with the extra savings and then re-assess once he is back to work for a month and see what expenses he keeps,” said Sims.
Like William, many of Sims’ clients have used quarantine to slash their expenses and commit to lowering their fast-food bills. Sims is uncertain, however, if they can keep to that commitment once the economy reopens. William’s first month at his new job will be a test of his resolve.
“We may find this will be a great time for William to see exactly the difference reduced spending makes, and he may be able to commit more funds than normal to his original plan, once things go back to a state of normality,” Sims said.
Financially, William feels his goal is closer to being achievable. But in every other way, speeding up the timeline likely isn’t feasible, he admits. Apartment hunting would be complicated and likely ill-advised in the middle of a pandemic and without a job, he wouldn’t feel comfortable committing to a new place anyway. Most of all, he’d feel guilty about leaving his family when their finances are less than stable.
“I want to have all my bases checked before I make a move,” he said.