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paycheque project

Name: Josh

Age: 34

Annual income: $150,000

Debt: $430,000 mortgage; $7,000 in car debt

What he does: Oil and gas control-panel operator

Where he lives: Fort McMurray, Alta.

Top financial concern: “We’d like to pay off our mortgage while trying to start a family, while saving and investing for retirement.”

When the pandemic hit, Josh didn’t panic or hunker down. Instead, the Fort McMurray-based oil and gas control-panel operator drained his emergency fund – a total of $22,000 he had set aside for trips and emergencies – and invested it in his online brokerage account.

“When the markets crashed last year, I went all-in with our emergency fund and purchased equity,” he says. “It was a good time to buy some ETFs we had been eyeing for some time. [The market] has come back nicely.”

Josh is used to extremes. Having come from the searing heat of Dubai to Ontario in 2004 with his parents, he’s gone from studying eco-friendly environmental engineering at McMaster University to working in Fort McMurray’s oil and gas sector. “This week it’s been -35 – and it feels like -47,” he says.

Graduating in the recession of 2008 with few job prospects, Josh decided to go back to school. Armed with a Masters in engineering that he received in 2011 from McMaster, he worked a variety of jobs in supply-chain management in Ontario before landing a job at a water-treatment plant in Fort McMurray.

Like many, he only expected to stay for a few years. But Josh secured a solid position as an oil and gas control-panel operator. “Then in 2014 I met my wife, and the rest is history,” he laughs, adding that his spouse, 25, is from the area.

His annual salary of $150,000, coupled with his wife’s salary of $75,000, allowed the couple to buy a single, detached 1,300-square-foot home in Fort McMurray in 2016 for just over $600,000. “Sure enough, as soon as we bought it, house prices came crashing down,” he says. But the house, he adds, “has enough space for us that it could easily hold two to three kids. We bought it with the future in mind.”

While now an official Albertan, Josh hasn’t embraced the ATV-driving lifestyle of many of his neighbours, although he likes hiking the area. He doesn’t eat out often, owing to his frequent 12-hour shifts, grabbing a shawarma or a pizza now and then. He prefers to spend on travel abroad, such as exotic holidays or trips to see his parents, who live in Mississauga.

“We like to go all-out when we travel,” he says. Most recently, the couple went to Japan for a month. They also visited India and Dubai in 2019 to see family. “My wife wants to travel to Italy,” he says – a trip he hopes she’ll be able to take when the pandemic ends.

The couple would like to have a big family, and Josh is already preparing for those additional costs. Still, his goal is to save a sizeable nest egg and to perhaps buy more property in Edmonton or Calgary. “We would love to get our mortgage paid off in 12 years,” he says.

He’s already built up considerable savings and investments, split between Canadian and U.S. accounts: $115,000 and US$31,000 in tax-free savings accounts; $150,000 and US$61,000 in registered retirement savings plans; and $5,000 and US$3,500 in regular savings accounts. He also has $120,000 in workplace savings and retirement funds.

Mindful of giving back, he plans to continue to give 10 per cent of the couple’s monthly income to charity, split between a local Baptist church and a missionary group in Edmonton. “They support people who are in need of health care, education and business loans,” he says. “To be able to give is good.”

His typical monthly (except where indicated) expenses:

$3,262 on mortgage. “This is accelerated to bring our overall amortization period and interest payments down. We bought our home in 2016, and home prices have dropped at least 20 per cent since then. Our home is in the newer part of Fort McMurray that escaped the [2016 wildfire].”

$375 on utilities.

$500 to RRSP. “I have $150,000 and US$61,000 saved.”

$500 to TFSA. “I have saved $115,000 and US$31,000.”

$3,000 to investments. “I find it difficult to pass up buying stocks that I have kept an eye on for a while dropping to an attractive price to buy.”

$522 on car payment. “I have just over a year to go until it’s paid off. I am paying zero-per-cent interest on a four-year car payment. It’s a 2018 Toyota Corolla, and I bought it new in 2018.”

$149 on home insurance.

$2,249 a year on property tax.

$160 on disability insurance. “Due to the nature of my job, I figured that disability insurance would be prudent.”

$30 on life insurance.

$221 on gas. “COVID-19 has helped cut down on [gas] consumption as [my wife] works from home most of the time now, and I have employer-provided transportation.”

$100 on education. I’m pursuing a fourth-class power-engineering certificate.”

$450 on groceries. “Groceries are expensive in Fort McMurray across the board.”

$215 on eating out. “It’s especially hard to go out in a pandemic. There’s a Lebanese restaurant – I love getting shawarmas and hummus from there. And I have a soft spot for pizza; Papa John’s is a go-to.”

$58 on cellphone. “We are with Telus, and this price was negotiated.”

$198 on Internet.

$25.50 on financial-advice sites/newspapers. “I subscribe to The Globe and Mail and Motley Fool.”

$27 on annual Nintendo subscription. “We love video games. Family and friends sometimes give us EB Games gift cards, which typically cover the cost of video games.”

$58 on clothing. “We spend between $600 to $800 annually. We’re not huge clothes shoppers. Since I work in a plant, you don’t want to wear your best stuff there.”

$35 on haircuts.

$290 on gifts. “I spend this on things like birthdays, Christmas gifts, friends getting married or having babies.”

$900 a year on parent care. “This covers lawn-mowing and snow-shovelling for my parents in Ontario due to their health issues.”

$1,400 on charitable giving. “[We both] started giving through Kiva a number of years ago. They provide loans at low interest or no interest to support people in need of health care, education or business loans.”

$10,000-$20,000 a year on vacations. “We like to go all out when we travel. Most recently we went to Japan for a month. We went to India and Dubai in 2019.”

$500 on travel fund. “My wife wants to travel to Italy. And I would like to go to Japan again for two weeks.”

$1,100 to emergency fund. “We ended up depleting this heavily in 2020 to buy stocks on the cheap when the market collapsed in March, 2020. The investment has paid off nicely.”

The name and some details may have been changed to protect the privacy of the person profiled. We want to thank him for sharing his story.

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