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paycheque project

To augment his $71,000-a-year salary, he and his fiancée, a teacher, have a side hustle: tutoring

istock/The Globe and Mail

Name, age: Alex, 29

Annual income: $76,000

Debt: $28,000 in government student loans; $8,544 car loan

Savings: $23,000 in TFSAs; $10,700 in RRSP; $3,800 in company share plan

What he does: Chemical engineer/scientist

Where he lives: Barrhaven, Ont.

Top financial concern: “I’m looking forward to pulling out of the pandemic and hosting an awesome wedding with my fiancée.”


Like many young Canadians, 29-year-old Alex has many competing financial priorities.

Repaying student debt is a big one. The Ottawa-based chemical engineer graduated with a PhD in 2016 with loans from the government and the bank. “When I finished my degree, I had $15,000 in student debt on a line of credit,” he says. “I focused on grinding that down – my line of credit was my top priority.”

He made his last payment to the bank in July, 2020, but he still has $28,000 in government student loans. “Pursuing a PhD was definitely a financial hit. … I still ended up taking on more debt than I was comfortable with,” he says. In retrospect he’s happy with his academic investment, which he feels will ultimately translate into a stimulating career and a high salary.

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Alex’s short-term priority is next year’s wedding. He and his fiancée have saved $10,000 to $15,000 so far. “I don’t want to take on any debt,” he says of the 120-person event. “My parents will help out with the bar bill.”

To augment his $71,000-a-year salary, he and his fiancée, a teacher, have a side hustle. “We tutor after school, teaching math and science to high-school students,” he says. This brings in an extra $4,000 to $5,000 a year.

At the moment, Alex and his fiancée are paying off a $300,000 mortgage on a small townhome in Barrhaven, a suburb of Ottawa, which she bought in 2018. He contributes $850 a month.

Alex is also an avid investor, transferring $350 a month into a TFSA at an online brokerage and $110 to his TFSA emergency fund with MotusBank. He also contributes $177.50 a month to a group RRSP and $295.83 into a company share program, in which employees purchase shares in their employer.

“I always max out all of the company options,” he says. His inspiration comes from his grandmother. “She’s always invested and managed her own finances and retirement.”

Alex does splurge on some things: his car, his dog and the odd dress shirt. His vehicle, a 2018 Volkswagen Golf he purchased new, costs $447 a month. “There’s peace of mind with a new car,” he says, adding that he commutes into Ottawa from Barrhaven, 20 minutes away, three to four times a week. As for his dog, a two-year-old Labradoodle, doggie daycare sets him back $100 a week.

He hopes to buy another home in the same area after the wedding, if the couple have kids. And he’s grateful he’s already got a foot in the housing market. “Ottawa’s housing market went up more than Toronto’s,” he says.

Until then, Alex plans to continue tutoring and wants to teach a university evening course in the next few years. “I’m fiscally conservative,” he says. “I have a spreadsheet. Taking on no debt is a big focus.”


His typical monthly expenses:

Investments ($971.66)

$498.33 to TFSAs. “It’s $175 biweekly to self-directed investments via Questrade and $55 biweekly to a cash emergency fund with MotusBank.”

$177.50 to RRSP. “I feel like I’m making up for lost time. My monthly contribution is 3 per cent of my salary, which includes a 3-per-cent company match. I’m in mutual funds. All equities.”

$295.83 to company share purchase plan.

Debt repayment ($249.17)

$249.17 to student debt. “It’s a Canada Student Loan with low interest.”

Household ($1,731.12)

$850 on mortgage. “My fiancée bought a place in 2015. I moved in in 2018. It’s a middle unit of a small townhouse. The mortgage started in May, 2018, at 3.6-per-cent interest.”

$446.62 on car payments. “It’s a 2018 Volkswagen Golf. It’s $32,000 over six years, 0 per cent interest. There’s peace of mind with a new car. I had a toxic relationship with the previous car.”

$180 on gas. “The commute is 20 to 25 minutes.”

$65 on car insurance.

$45 on car repairs.

$56.50 on cellphone.

$88 on internet. “I pay for Crave, HBO. I’m watching Succession. I surf a lot and watch podcasts like The Looney Hour. I glean a lot of financial information.”

Food & Drink ($685)

$500 on groceries. “We’re Costco people and we usually go to smaller stores for produce. We will make dinner with friends on the weekends.”

$150 on eating out. “There’s a lot more takeout. We get it once every few weeks, usually from Mucho Burrito.”

$35 on alcohol. “I’ll buy a few bottles of expensive Scotch every few months.”

Health & fitness ($61.67)

$20 on dental fees. “My fiancée’s benefits are pretty wicked.”

$41.67 on sports. “We’re both pretty into the gym. She’s into spinning and I’m into weights.”

Miscellaneous ($956.95)

$500 on wedding fund. “It’s in August, 2023. We gave ourselves two years. We don’t want to take on debt. It will probably cost $25,000 to $30,000.”

$40 for print subscriptions. “I [subscribe] to The Globe and The Economist.”

$35 on apps. “This includes e-mail, password manager, Apple Music and cloud storage.”

$16.95 on Netflix.

$60 on haircuts.

$40 on clothing. “I don’t spend too much on clothing. I try to get good dress shirts at Harry Rosen.”

$100 on pet. “Dexter loves doggie daycare.”

$165 on gifts for birthdays or special events.

$0 on vacations. “Prepandemic we drove to New York. We took short-haul trips.”

$0 on entertainment. “We hike around Ottawa with the dog. That’s been our thing during the pandemic.”

TOTAL: $4,655.57


The last name has been omitted to protect the privacy of the person profiled. We want to thank him for sharing his story.

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