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Jason Gratton, 36, has temporarily given up his career in logistics to become a stay-at-home dad. For now, Amy Gratton, a 33-year-old career adviser for students, is the breadwinner. (JASON FRANSON For The Globe and Mail)
Jason Gratton, 36, has temporarily given up his career in logistics to become a stay-at-home dad. For now, Amy Gratton, a 33-year-old career adviser for students, is the breadwinner. (JASON FRANSON For The Globe and Mail)

Meet Amy And Jason Gratton, prime earners facing tough choices Add to ...

In the Paycheque Project, bold Canadians talk to The Globe and Mail honestly about how they spend their incomes and their tough choices for the future.

THE PAYCHEQUE

  • Net monthly income: $4,136

THE PAYOFF

  • Housing: $2,215
  • Food: $267
  • Transportation: $405
  • Fun: $119
  • Child care: $139
  • Savings: $350
  • Debt: $0

THE BUFFER

MEET THE FACES OF THE PAYCHEQUE PROJECT

  • House: $317,500
  • GIC/Bonds/TFSA: $30,322

Even before their daughter, Violet, was born almost three years ago, Amy and Jason Gratton made the tough decision to buckle down and live on one income.

Once daycare, transportation and parking costs were balanced against the time commitments of getting a toddler to and from outside care, as well as the inevitable unpaid days when someone would have to stay home with a sick child, the Edmonton couple figured it made little sense for both of them to keep working. By their calculation, continuing with two incomes would only bring in an extra $200 per month.

And so, Mr. Gratton, 36, has temporarily given up his career in logistics to become a stay-at-home dad. He still works in the summer as a beekeeper at his family’s honey farm, which contributes some cash to the family finances. But for now, Ms. Gratton, a 33-year-old career adviser for students, is the breadwinner.

“Some students are drowning in debt,” she says. “We really cut back. I see students come into my office in their Lululemon pants and their Starbucks coffee and I think, ‘I can’t even afford that.’”

The couple isn’t immune to the pressure to buy – they spend on vacations and generally enjoy life – but they are committed to living simply in the hopes that they can afford to expand their family. By the time Violet is in school, they also plan for both of them to be back at work full-time.

Still, they wonder if they will be able to pay for children’s activities (team sports and music lessons) and still afford to travel as they did before kids, while also saving for retirement.

Right now, their mortgage is their biggest liability. They hope to pay it off within five years, and shift gears to invest in Violet’s Registered Education Savings Plan, buy a rental property, and make sure they have life insurance and savings to retire with security.

“Our biggest financial fear is having to work past the age of 60,” says Ms. Gratton.

THE BIG PICTURE

The one-income family used to be the norm – when homes were affordable, there were steady wage gains and (at least in some cases) consumption was more modest. But the Grattons make ends meet by living simply. And they’re becoming a new norm themselve: Across Canada, the rate of retail spending is cooling rapidly.

THE PRO’S TAKE

Amy and Jason Gratton have set ambitious goals: paying down the mortgage on their Edmonton home, saving for their child’s education, and aiming to be “retirement ready” by 50.

Right now she is 33, working in human resources with a defined benefit pension plan. He is 37, a part-time beekeeper and stay-at-home dad. That puts the burden of trying to meet financial goals on just one salary, and Ms. Gratton wonders whether they can keep up if they have more children.

Jason Heath, a financial planner with Objective Financial Partners Inc., a fee-only financial planning firm in Toronto, acknowledges that one-income families have financial drawbacks – but even so, the Grattons are in an “awesome position” for a young couple.

“The potential to be mortgage-free in five years is a big accomplishment,” he says, adding that the Grattons shouldn’t feel like failures if they come up short on their bold targets.

What they do need to do is prioritize. So, for example, it’s better for them to pay off their mortgage right now, says Mr. Heath, than save for emergencies (for those, they can take out a line of credit). If they have another child, they may also want to look at lowering their mortgage payments during Ms. Gratton’s maternity leave, or converting their mortgage loan to an interest-only line of credit.

Still, Ms. Gratton is right to be concerned that her insurance coverage falls short, says Mr. Heath. Ms. Gratton should get separate disability insurance; although it’s expensive, people in their 30s are far more likely to become disabled than to die, and group disability insurance, such as the one provided by Ms. Gratton’s employer, is “notoriously weak.” For life insurance, they can supplement Ms. Gratton’s current coverage with “cheap, simple, term life insurance” for both of them.

Looking to the future, Mr. Gratton has little in the way of retirement savings, and no earnings to make RRSP contributions worthwhile, so he has been considering a rental property. A good idea, says Mr. Heath: Rental expenses, including mortgage interest, are deductible from income for tax purposes; the property’s value likely will grow tax-deferred (you pay capital gains tax only when you sell); rental income tends to rise in line with inflation; and rental losses, common in the early years, lower income taxes payable in much the same way as an RRSP contribution.

His last tip: If the property is going to run at a loss, it may be better to have it in Ms. Gratton’s name, since she has the higher income and would benefit more from a tax deduction.

Dianne Maley

 

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