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Name: Charlotte Smolley

Age: 32

Annual income: $55,000-60,000; $300/month in child support

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Savings: $3,185 in savings account; $63,500 in tax-free savings account; $20,000 in registered retirement savings plan; $3,750 in registered education savings plan; $117,000 in non-registered account (self-directed brokerage accounts); $20,000 in guaranteed investment certificate

Debt: $0

What she does: political assistant

Where she lives: Gatineau

Top financial concern: “I always want to have enough money. My vision is to retire at 60.”

Charlotte Smolley spent her 20s like many eager, altruistic new graduates. She worked long hours in non-profit advocacy jobs in her hometown of Montreal, taking on roles that were community focused. They also paid low salaries, which Ms. Smolley found difficult to live on.

“You’re driven by passion – but it’s $30,000 a year,” she says. “I started to look for purposeful work but with a good salary.” In 2016, she found her calling as a political assistant in Ottawa, a role that lets her still serve her community and to comfortably support herself and her son.

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“I always want to have enough money – and to put some aside,” says Ms. Smolley, who has accumulated considerable savings given she’s a single mother of a five-year-old. “I started saving as soon as I got a full-time job,” she says, and now has a variety of investments.

In January, 2016, she opened multiple online brokerage accounts and invested in exchange-traded funds that now total $117,000. Having taught herself the ins and outs of investing – aided by her background in economics – she’s now focused on “looking for dividends.”

“I keep 10 per cent of my non-registered account as ‘play money,’ if I want to try out a new strategy or a new fund,” she says.

Ms. Smolley credits her upbringing with her careful yet savvy approach to money. “I’ve been paying my own cellphone bill since I was 16,” she says.

She rents a two-bedroom apartment in Gatineau and collects points on her credit card, which she uses to buy groceries. That strategy has helped her whittle down her monthly grocery bill from $140 to $100. Plus, she saves on meals by batch cooking and eating mostly vegetarian meals.

She’s also happy to be living in Gatineau, which is considerably less expensive than neighbouring Ottawa. “In Gatineau, I can buy a pound of apples for $2.97,″ she says, “and I can buy local.” She and her son often patronize community kitchens which – in exchange for prepping dinner or washing dishes – cost $5 a meal, while providing a social outlet and a sense of family. After-school care for her son is also partially subsidized by the government of Quebec, costing only $184 a month. A comparable daycare spot in Ottawa would set her back $1,009 a month .

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Looking ahead, Ms. Smolley would like to buy a property in Gatineau. She’s looking at duplexes where she can both live and rent out a second unit, or a communal living arrangement. And she hopes to retire at 60, relying on a combination of savings from her RRSP, a pension and non-registered investments.

Ms. Smolley says her strategies of keeping spending to a minimum have not detracted from her lifestyle. “I don’t call it frugality – it’s sensible and pragmatic consumerism,” she says. “My life is mostly about relationships.”

Her typical monthly expenses:

$602 on rent. “I have a two-bedroom rental.”

$800 per year on renovations/home improvement. “This is a home-improvement/decoration fund for my rental. It’s for repainting furniture, making it lively and your own. A rental doesn’t mean it can’t be homey.”

$184 on childcare. My son has after-school care at school. [Quebec] provides care at a subsidized rate for kids up to age 6.”

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$0 on Internet. “I don’t have internet at home.”

$9 on Netflix. "I have a Smart TV and connect it to my Smart phone via Bluetooth to stream apps like Netflix using my Smart phone data plan. If my Smart phone data plan is ever insufficient for my Netflix consumption habits, I can just pop by my local library and use the library free WiFi to download some Netflix series onto my phone or laptop for my kid to watch offline at home later. "

$166 on home-cleaning services. “This is a complete luxury and indulgence: I pay a cleaning lady to come every two weeks at $83 per visit. I use my gym money to pay for this – instead of paying for a gym membership.”

$100 on groceries. “My groceries are bought with points. Most of our diet is vegetarian. Sometimes we do fish or organ meat. I meal prep using a lot of simple ingredients.”

$120 on eating out. “When I go to a restaurant, it’s usually someone’s birthday. There’s an amazing pizzeria across the street from where we live.”

$50 on nights out.

$20 on alcohol.

$22 on coffee. “I try to make it at home. On Saturdays I’ll have a coffee at one of those independent hipster places.”

$155 per year on parking tickets. “It’s something that just happens. It’s the unlucky part of being me.”

$56.50 on car insurance. “My car is a 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit. I got it used. It makes things easier.”

$62.50 on car repairs.

$100 on gas. “I drive back to Montreal from Gatineau one weekend per month to visit family.”

$23.10 on inter-city bus tickets.

$80 per year for fitness classes. “Sometimes I bug my friends to use their [gym] guest passes.”

$292.50 per year on child-fitness activities. “My kid does Sportball, skiing and swimming. He’s a sporty kid.”

$40 on cellphone. “I’m with Koodo. I own the phone. I actually have two phones – one is covered by work.”

$214 on dental services.

$1,500 on medical fees/prescriptions.

$100 on outings and hobbies. “[My son] is very curious. He needs stimulation. We visit museums in Ottawa. I’ll take him to water slides in the summer or a farm. [These outings] build memories.”

$20 on clothes. “I mainly buy clothes for my son.”

$13.33 on haircuts/esthetician visits. “I mostly do my hair at home.”

$127 per year on training/continuing education. “Last March, I did a financial course.”

$585 per year on union dues.

$15 on political donations.

$30 on charitable donations. “I support Unicef; the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association; the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services; and Autism Speaks Canada Walk."

$1,000 per year on gifts. “I spend on gifts for Hanukkah and birthdays for my immediate family and best friends.”

$2,500 per year on vacations. “I love going somewhere warm. Last December, I went to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. With my kid, I like to do beach vacations in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Miami Beach.”

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