The Big Holiday Toy Book arrived with our newspaper this week, with glossy offerings such as Avengers Monopoly and Monster High building sets. Intercepted by my eagle-eyed seven-year-old as I attempted to discard it with a do-not-pass-Go trip to the recycling bin, this catalogue has provided hours of fun for the whole family! It even came with a helpful, detachable "all i [sic] want for Christmas" list.
My son, ignoring the fact that we do not actually celebrate Christmas, got to work, filling out the form – including corresponding page numbers in the designated spaces – with requests such as the Hot Wheels Spin Storm and the Lego Minecraft Dungeon (because nothing says celebrating the birth of Christ like spawning zombies).
His 11-year-old brother, scrutinizing the selections the other night, looked up and announced, "$1,047.74!" He had calculated the cost of buying everything on the list. "And that doesn't include tax," he added.
We will not be laying out this kind of cash this or any holiday season, but as someone who would have once described myself as an enthusiastic shopper, boy, do I understand the temptation.
I've been reading The Globe and Mail's The Boomer Shift series with fascination, dread and, I admit, some envy this week. While boomers prepare to cash in on generous pension plans and cash out of real estate bought on the (relative) cheap, trouble is looming for the next generations, with rising health-care costs and a shrinking labour force – and slower economic growth.
I worry about the prospects for Generation X-ers like myself (and, worse, for Millennials) when we start hitting retirement age. Unlike some of the people profiled in the series, I don't see myself building a dream home in Costa Rica – or having a paid-off house at 61 (or ever).
Even if you don't live in Vancouver, you have no doubt heard about our real estate woes. Housing prices here are through-the-roof ridiculous: in my East Vancouver neighbourhood – we're not talking about the much pricier west side – a tear-down bungalow will cost you a million bucks (more if the land is developable or, imagine, the home is actually livable). With Baltic Avenue properties at Park Place prices, the market has become inaccessible for anyone who didn't buy in some time ago, doesn't have a large chunk of cash at their disposal – say, an inheritance or family money – or doesn't have a huge income (some earners with generous salaries still can't afford to buy).
That leaves all kinds of hard-working people who can't own a home here. Their options – at least until/if the bubble bursts – include a long commute to the suburbs (where homes aren't exactly cheap either), a move out of town altogether, or life as a renter (and rents are high while the vacancy rate is low – 1.4 per cent as of last spring).
This is an issue elsewhere too – Toronto, in particular. Stats this week show that Hamilton, where some Torontonians have moved for this very reason, is also experiencing a sharp increase in housing prices.
I remember standing on the porch of my childhood home – a modest, North York bungalow – while my mother tore open a letter from the bank with glee: The mortgage was paid off. I didn't know what a mortgage was, but her joy at what she found in our mailbox was unmistakable. She was probably about the age I am now.
It seems certain that this kind of notice will never arrive in my mailbox (or super mailbox, depending on how things go) – and many of my Gen X contemporaries are living the same experience.
We have crushing mortgages and lives that are dictated by being house-poor. We sport supermarket-bought wardrobes and take staycations in service of our debt. Sock money away? Ha. Many of us are woefully unprepared for that rainy day – or retirement. I came across a terrifying poll result recently: A 2014 BMO survey found that 34 per cent of Canadians hope to win the lottery to help fund their retirement. As they would say on Twitter, I can't even.
This is not a tale of woe by any means – I know how fortunate I am, believe me – but it is a cautionary tale.
If only I had saved more, invested earlier, purchased less footwear over the years, maybe I would be writing this from the basement I so desire (a place to put all those toys!) or the backyard. My tiny but beloved East Van duplex has neither.
I am not blaming the victim. I recognize that my cohort and those after us are up against an environment (employment and otherwise) that is much more fraught than the boomers navigated. But boomers weren't simply handed the keys to their monster-home kingdoms; they scrimped and saved, made sacrifices. We do have some measure of control over our finances.
I am probably the very last person you should be taking financial advice from, but I urge you: If you are young, or even if you are not, think hard about the choices you make. Before you blow a thousand bucks on building blocks and board games (or boots), imagine what that money, saved, could buy you down the road – or consider the interest you won't accumulate on your credit card. As our boomer series experts have warned, it's important to take action now to avoid future disaster.
Buying lottery tickets does not count as taking action. Because chances are, your thimble is never going to land on Free Parking.