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paycheque project

Ray has been able to pay off $27,000 in debt, but recently had to draw from his savings while he had no work for a semester

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Name, age: Ray, 32

Annual income: $60,000

Debt: $0

Savings: $5,000 in savings account, $4,000 in tax-free savings account (TFSA)

What he does: Artist and sessional university instructor

Where he lives: Hamilton

Top financial concern: “Job security and stability” – there are semesters when he teaches several courses, and semesters when he has no work at all. “I had a comfortable year but just not knowing whether that’s going to be the same next year or the year after that is something I think about the most.”

The amount of work that Ray gets as a sessional instructor at several different universities isn’t consistent – it ebbs and flows depending on the semester. He worked almost full-time at the start of the year, somewhat less in the summer, but wasn’t assigned any courses to teach for the most recent semester.

“The teaching is considered seasonal or conditional employment,” said Ray, who is receiving employment insurance payments of about $1,000 every two weeks. “I’m going to start teaching again in January. EI is enough to cover the basics for now.”

Despite the inconsistency, Ray – who holds a masters in fine arts – feels grateful to have a job in his field. His previous job, in corporate training, was less fulfilling but helped him pay down his debts – he had a $20,000 student loan and about $7,000 in credit-card debt that he finished paying off about two years ago. “Over the pandemic I wasn’t really spending as much.”

As for the student loan, he had it down to about $10,000 before receiving an inheritance that paid off the rest.

“That’s where a lot of my money was going,” he says. “The thing that gives me the most peace and comfort is knowing I don’t have that debt anymore and can actually start focusing on long-term savings and career goals and not always having that debt over my head.”

Ray lives in a modest, three-bedroom rental house in Hamilton with his partner and two cats. He gets health and dental benefits through his teaching union and also earns a small amount of money from his art.

“On a good year, maybe I’ll make a few thousand dollars from art-related things, if I sell something, get a small grant, or do an exhibition,” he says.

Ray’s expenses went down a few months ago when he and his partner moved from Toronto to Hamilton. He says his partner makes more than he does, and that they’re dreaming of home ownership eventually: “Maybe at some point in our not-too-distant futures, we’ll be in a good place where we can work towards buying a home.”

With his debts behind him, he’d like to get more organized with his savings, but says that goal goes on pause whenever he’s out of work. He recently had to draw money out of his savings and won’t be putting money into that account while on EI.

“I have really been used to [living] paycheque-to-paycheque, month-to-month,” he says. “Over the pandemic, it helped having that time and space to think about how we spend our money.

“Especially getting a bit older, now is the time I really have to start thinking about finances long-term.”

His typical monthly expenses:

Investment and savings: $100

$100 to TFSA

$0 to savings account

$0 to registered retirement savings plan: “I plan to open [an RRSP account] before the next tax deadline.”

Household and transportation: $1,670

$1,250 on rent: “We rent a small home. We each have space for our own office.”

$100 on gas: “I have been driving to work mostly.”

$80 on car insurance.

$60 on car repairs.

$80 on his cellphone.

$25 on internet. “We split it – a big shout out to the Splitwise app for helping us track our shared expenses.”

$75 on utilities.

Food and drink: $580

$250 on groceries: “Planning some really nice, complicated meal to make feels like a nice way to spend my time and money in a way that feels rewarding.”

$200 on eating out: “Going to a nice restaurant is always something I won’t sweat as much [if] it’s a great experience and it’s really delicious.”

$100 on alcohol.

$30 on coffee. “I mostly make it at home but I do get coffee out from time to time.”

Miscellaneous: $645

$150 on concerts and going out: “As a cultural worker, it’s important to me. I want to support people.”

$40 on cannabis.

$35 on apps: “Mostly streaming apps, like Crave, and Mubi, which is more like art films.”

$20 on clothes.

$100 on pets. “Two cats. We just had to take them to the vet the other day.”

$80 on art expenses: “Equipment, supplies, software like Photoshop.”

$20 on haircuts.

$200 on vacations.

Some details may be changed to protect the privacy of the person profiled. We want to thank them for sharing their story. Are you a millennial or Gen Z who would like to participate in a Paycheque Project? Send us an e-mail

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