Annual income: $45,000 after tax
Savings: $1,500 in savings account; $7,560 in TFSA; $30,680 in RRSP; $19,300 in pension plan (former employer)
Debt: $45,000 mortgage
What he does: Wildland firefighter
Where he lives: Vancouver/Sunshine Coast
Top financial concern: “The cabin is a big part of my financial plan. I would like my house to be paid off in 10 years."
As wildfires ravaged the forests of British Columbia last year, Chris was on the ground trying to stop them. As a wildland firefighter, he spends April to October working long days to help prevent fires from spreading to B.C.’s remote communities. “Last summer was a big one,” he says, adding that he foresees a dangerous summer season ahead – there’s been little precipitation over the past winter.
During the off-season, Chris supplements his firefighter’s salary with carpentry work in Pemberton, B.C., and, at times, collects employment insurance, which is the norm for seasonal employees such as firefighters and fishermen. His home base is Vancouver, where he rents a studio apartment near Granville Island. Fighting fires is intense and exhausting so when he’s not working, Chris seeks the calm of B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. That’s where his dreams lie.
After years of saving, in 2018 Chris bought a plot of land in Davis Bay, where he hopes to build a property he can make his home. Situated across the street from a pristine beach, the sunsets are spectacular. “Right now, it’s my weekend getaway – it has power, sewage, water and a trailer,” he says. “I want to build my own dream property. It’s beautiful here."
Chris credits his upbringing with his ability to set and meet financial goals. Raised in Ontario, his family made sure to spend money on experiences as opposed to things. “There was not a lot of extravagance – we ate a lot of home-cooked meals and money was spent on trips that were high-value,” he says.
Chris worked while in high school and university, earning enough to pay off student loans accrued while getting his bachelor of science, and using funds from a scholarship to pay for his master of forestry degree.
On his grandmother’s advice, he also started making contributions to a registered retirement savings plan in his early 20s, initially putting in 10 per cent of his salary – and upping that to 25 per cent eight years ago. Her advice was to “put away 10 per cent of every penny earned and you’ll be a millionaire,” he says. His tax-free savings account and RRSP are in exchange-traded funds with a good geographic mix.
His biggest expenses are the mortgage, $100 a month on working out and $400 on monthly social outings. “I like going out with my friends – that’s how I blow off steam,” he says. He’s also forgoing vacations to start construction on his property, beginning with a sauna. “My grad studies were in Sweden – and ever since, I’m big into saunas,” he says. He expects that the whole cabin, replete with a sauna and in-law suite, will cost $100,000.
“The cabin is a big part of my financial plan,” says Chris, who plans to rent it out while he’s off fighting fires during the summer. “I would like my house to be paid off in 10 years,” he says. “I would like to not have debt.”
Chris wants his future to be “a cozy, quiet life” filled with community-based activities and “trading services for services.”
His typical monthly expenses:
$450 on mortgage. “I owe $45,000 on my vacation property - lot only, no cabin.”
$133 on property tax.
$950 on rent. “It’s in Vancouver. It’s an older studio built before [condos] ran out of space. There’s a separate kitchen and lots of storage.”
$33 on Internet. “I piggyback off my neighbour for a modest sum.”
$40 on B.C. Medical Services Plan.
$12 for Netflix. “I will be getting Game of Thrones.”
$30 on utilities. “That’s for gas and hydro. Heat and water are included in rent.”
$250 on groceries. "With my daily schedule, I’ve gotten behind on home cooking. I make my lunches half of the time.”
$250 on eating out. “There are lots of little places in Vancouver – many with high-value, low-cost options. I do a lot of necessity eating – pizza, sushi, muffins and a coffee."
$400 on social outings. “I like meeting up with my friends and going out. That might be twice a month.”
$50 on coffee. “I buy a coffee a day.”
$50 on alcohol. “I don’t really drink at home much – I like to go to breweries with friends. And we rotate who’s buying beer after the hockey game.”
$75 on cellphone. “I’m with Rogers.”
$200 on gas. “I drive a 2007 Mercedes SUV.”
$5 on parking space.
$100 on car insurance.
$250 on recreational vehicles. “I have a camper, scooter and boat. It’s too much.”
$12 for apps. “I like Spotify.”
$50 on hockey. “I’m in a beer [hockey] league. I play once a week. I’ve been with that team for six years. They all have kids now. “
$50 on gym fees. I go to a gym – it’s at the community centre. I might do a light workout or spend an hour in the sauna.”
$0 per year on holidays/trips. “During the winters, I used to go to Mexico. The last two I have stayed in Canada. My priorities are elsewhere.”
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