Earning Less and Spending More: A Reflection of the Times

It all started with FOMO…

I was coveting a house. Renting a townhouse, I wanted a place to call my own. I have owned houses before, but life changed, and I had to let those go. Despite the fact that I desperately wish I could turn back time, I am still a renter. 

Over the last few weeks, I have been, self-admittedly, experiencing FOMO. I have a fear of missing out. It’s not fear of not receiving, but a fear of not having a choice. 

Home Ownership and Renting

There’s a lot of controversy about homeownership vs. renting. Many people believe owning a house allows you to build equity, but it comes with a cost. Appreciation is never a sure thing, and as the owner, all repairs and maintenance belong to you. 

Renters claim expenses are lower than owning a house. Renters never need to replace a furnace, pay for a new roof, or pay realty taxes. A two-month notice to the landlord means the renter is free to move anywhere, without having to wait for a house to sell. A smart renter who invests the difference between owning and renting will often come out ahead. 

This is not a debate about which is better or worse. That’s a topic for another day. 

Back to my FOMO. I was scouring the real estate sites, looking for the “deal” or a diamond in the rough. I was shocked to see houses had more than doubled in cost over the last 20 years, and it led me to a comparison that was shocking. 

The Year: 2000

In the year 2000, I rented a two-bedroom apartment. It was close to amenities and downtown, but still located in a residential area. The building was an actual apartment building with laundry facilities and an elevator. People were friendly, and we were allowed pets. That apartment was my all-time favourite. When the sun set, the bedroom walls would glow a soft orange. All windows faced a city park that featured the old canal, and a large totem pole. It was big enough for two, and for a time, it was perfect for one. 

I paid $650 a month for this apartment. 

In the same year, I worked for a call centre where I made nearly twice the minimum wage. I had started in an entry-level position, working full time and receiving raises fairly regularly. Walking to work or taking the bus was an option, therefore I did not need a car. Grocery shopping was a bit more difficult, but it meant I purchased less, and supported smaller vendors when shopping downtown. My only real expense was my rent. 

My rent was only 33% of my gross income. 

By the time I left that employer, I was making 2.5x the minimum wage. Minimum wage did increase slightly – I believe it increased by $0.60 cents. I was earning a decent income for a position that was available to anyone with a high school diploma. Also, I had medical benefits, and paid vacation. 

The Years: 2005 – 2008

Unfortunately, and ultimately, my position was reassigned to Manila, and I was on the hunt for my “career”. After working for a couple employers, I decided that it was time to get educated for my new career, so I went back to school. 

It was a difficult two years, as my marriage ended shortly after I had started school, and I was not working during the school period, as our course was intense. Did I say intense? INTENSE.  After I graduated, I applied myself to working in the field. 

That was almost 13 years ago. 

The Year: 2019

So, I was reminiscing about lower-priced houses, and apartments of the past, and I decided to look up the rental cost for that apartment I rented. Then, I calculated my income and made the same comparison as above. 

The same apartment rents today for $1,450.00. It’s scary to think that rent has increased so significantly over the last 19 years, but it’s a fact. It’s just like food, transportation, utilities, cost of licences and everything else. 

Then I looked at my wage. I am now in a position where education is mandatory, and I am considered to be a senior staff (not based on age! based on experience). Ready for this? 

I earn $4.00 more today than I did 20 years ago. I have no medical benefits.  

That same apartment would eat up nearly TEN PERCENT MORE of my income! It would be approximately 42% of my current gross income. 

Let’s consider minimum wage as a scale: Today I make less than 2.5 times the minimum wage. It’s less than 2 times the minimum wage. In fact, I earn 1.5 times the minimum wage. 

So, the apartment now costs 223% more than it did in the year 2000. But my wage has decreased to being 1.5 times the minimum wage. My wage, with education and without benefits, has only increased by 21% in 20 years. 

How can this be real? When minimum wage was increased to a more reasonable amount (it jumped from $11 to $14 very recently), a relative few received an equal increase while still earning above minimum wage. Most of us did not get an equalizer increase. In fact, when I asked my previous employer if considerations would be made for the increase, I was informed that “no one in the company makes minimum wage, so it doesn’t affect anyone”. 

Did they not understand that the increase in minimum wage (and no increase to our wage) created a situation where costs significantly rose, and in turn, we were actually making less than we were before?

The New Norm

All of this is part and parcel of my FOMO experience, as I am not sure if I should try to purchase a house to stop the cycle of housing increases. Perhaps I should continue to rent, as it would be cheaper … or would it? I have no idea anymore. What I see is a new norm: the working poor. 

I know I live in a first world country, and I have heat, hydro, water and food. I am grateful for all that I have, and know things could be much, much worse. Yet, I still work a 40-hour work week, and when my wage does not increase to match the increases of the cost of living around me, I am losing ground. I feel like I am failing.

I must admit: I panicked. What if we have to move? What if we need to find a new place to live? How are we going to afford it? Why can we not afford a house when others around us are buying and selling? How are we going to save money, afford to have a roof over our heads and feed ourselves? What will retirement look like?  

Then I wondered where all the money has gone. If we (employees) are not receiving adequate increases, and the cost of living is demanding more money, who is the lucky winner of this windfall?

This is the new norm. We are making less money every day, and every time that someone increases the minimum wage, small business owners are shut down, and we, as the former middle class sector, make less and less. 

Yet those entry level jobs now pay $14/hour … it almost makes you wonder if it’s worth the $25k in student loans.

One day, I’d love to address employers and governments. I’d love to shout from the rooftops that we need something done to adjust the gap. It’s getting too wide of a divide. 

What happens if that divide increases? 

We are earning less, and having to spend more. This is our new reality. 

I’m Back: After Six Months’ of Self-Care

It’s been much too long since I’ve posted anything. I have had a tumultuous last twelve months, from leaving my job and starting a new one, from leaving that job to find myself back where I felt months before, and then back where I started – back in the career I love to hate but hate that I love it, all in the effort of self-care to get my life back. 

Let me catch you up on 2019. 

I discovered taking a moment to appreciate gratitude and acceptance. In January, I was meeting with medical professionals to deal with my depression and anxiety, and realized how much I missed my old job. My old job gave me the opportunity to use my brain, experience and knowledge. There was no other job that I could find which rivalled the intellectual aspects of working in real estate law.  

Change of Fortune

I was on the short list for two jobs that I was sure would be offered to me. Neither one panned out. I was stunned. This was the beginning of my eye-opening experience of what the world looks like today. Here I was, notorious for landing on my feet when looking for employment. It would take one or two interviews – at most – and then I’d have work. 

This did not happen. 

Dealing with Loss

We also lost our older dog. Sam was my best friend, my “hip”. He was always next to me, and knew when I needed him. Sadly, in his eleventh year, we woke to find that he’d had a stroke of sorts, and he was not going to recover. He became relatively paralyzed after that episode, and we made the hard decision at the emergency vet’s office to let him pass with dignity and peace, not live with the hopes of getting better and losing quality of life. I loved him so much that I couldn’t bear to see him in pain, and there was no reason to prolong it. We sent him over the rainbow bridge to play and wait until we’re together again. 

Loss, depression, anxiety, self-care, sunshine and new/old jobs... the last six months have been a true rollercoaster of life. This is where I've been.

This was really, really hard on me. I still have a hard time dealing with emotions surrounding this loss. I miss him every day, and never knew such pain and loss before. I am so thankful for the time we had, and think of him often. 

More Reflections

I also reflected on the turmoil I’ve dealt with in my employment over the last few years. It’s easy to appreciate a stable income and a good work environment, but employers can stain the experience very quickly. I know I put too much of my own standards and morals into my work, but it allows me to sleep at night, and be loyal to an employer who deserves it. 

February was sneaky – I thought I had much more time on my unemployment insurance payments, but it was nearly out. I had to make a call with my doctor that said I was ready to return to work on a fulltime basis. I thought I was. Looking for work consumed much of my day, and by making this decision to be “work ready” I was able to extend my benefits for a while longer while I looked for work. 

Therapy is nothing to be scoffed at. I sought out appointments with my therapist, my psychiatrist, and my family doctor to try to create a peace in my mind as to why my world had changed so much. Struggling with yourself is especially difficult when it’s due to depression and anxiety. 

I’ve heard that depression is looking back, and anxiety is looking forward. So, it seems fair to think that if you deal with both, you are a human yo-yo, looking for that sweet spot to stop and find the calm. Desperate to find it, I tried different medication, different doses of medication, and different ways of dealing with the struggles which presented daily. 

Pawsitive Changes

We added a new pup into our home. It will never be a replacement for Sam, but I had a huge hole in my heart that seemed to be dog-shaped. We welcomed Pip into our lives – a spunky Chihuahua who was nothing like my past dog, and yet managed to display so many quirks that only Sam had. 

Loss, depression, anxiety, self-care, sunshine and new/old jobs... the last six months have been a true rollercoaster of life. This is where I've been.

March brought some sunshine in my life. The weather was getting better, and my partner and I decided to return to our Cuba oasis to practice self-care and relaxation. We spent a week at our resort of choice. Despite a few things that were disappointing, we did manage to have a good time, and to think and self-reflect on the next few weeks. He needed the break, and I needed the sun. 

Listen To Your Gut… Or At Least To Google

March also brought about an opportunity for employment. If you ever get that gut feeling that you should NOT take that job, then by all means, LISTEN TO YOURSELF. This girl did not. I found myself in a toxic environment with alleged potentially shady practices, and I needed out. (Google this person, and you will learn much about the dark side of this region.) Thankfully, I was “released” from that job because I didn’t really fit in. I pride myself on working for people I can be proud of – people not preying on others, making ill-fated decisions, etc. Some say, who cares since he/she signs the paycheque. Me. I cannot do it. And this situation just sent home the same feelings. 

March went on by, and I found myself in April. 

A New Old Job

I found a new job. It was a position I held a few years ago. At the time, it didn’t work out because of my own personal issues. It had been nearly a decade since I worked for this employer, and my life had changed in so many ways. To sum it up, I’d say I matured, found a stable home life and was able to put forth the necessary focus required to competently complete my work. 

It’s been 8 weeks since I started the new job, and it feels like the first week and like years into it, all at once. The drive is longer than I’d hoped for, but if that is my only complaint, I’ll take it. 

I wanted to share where I’ve been over the last 6 months, because I never intended to walk away. I needed to focus on some self-care, and find out what was important to me. 

A Slight Change of Pace

It’s only three months until the next FinCon#19, and I want to commit to writing more commentary pieces. XennialBlogger is indicative of a generation lost, and I want to focus more on that in the weeks coming. I hope you will enjoy the twist in writing for a while! 

TLDR: I’ve missed all of you. Self-care is necessary to be a better version of yourself. I am looking forward to sharing more with all of you, and hope to meet many of you at FinCon#19!

Teach Me!

Let me know in the comments below how you manage your self-care, or how you stay balanced. Thanks!  

Goodbye to the Joneses: Who Were They, Anyway?

Goodbye to the Joneses:
Who Were They, Anyway?

 

Obituary: It is with our deepest condolences to all that we announce the death of Mr. and Mrs. Jones, everyone’s favourite neighbours and friends, as they passed away at the ripe old age of 105. They will no longer taunt us with their fancy purchases and their beautiful pictures of every vacation we have ever dreamt of. We wish them a peaceful rest, and ask that, in lieu of flowers and donations, your money may remain with yourselves and your time with your friends and family. There will be no service, as we have celebrated life of keeping up with the Joneses for far too long. 

 

Who were the Joneses, anyway?

 

You hear the term “Keeping up with the Joneses” used liberally in the personal finance space. If you don’t know the term, it describes the efforts that people take to keep up with the neighbours that have everything.

 

What I didn’t know was that it started with a comic strip called Keeping up with the Joneses created by Arthur R. “Pop” Momand in 1913. The comic strip was popular and ran until 1940 in The New York World and other newspapers.

 

There are a few other ideas where the Jones’ family came from, but this is the most widely accepted version.

 

Here we are, more than a hundred years later, still chasing the dream of keeping up with the Joneses!

 

I had previously shared a post about our history, and how, post-war, we were in the mindset to accumulate anything and everything, as life before was a struggle, and excess anything was but a dream. In the post, I felt we had become addicts of owning stuff.

 

Despite being an Xennial (for those who do not know, it’s the gap between Gen X and Millennials, roughly 1978 – 1983), I was raised with the Gen X mindset of more is better. To have more, to afford more, to accumulate more meant that you were wealthier, and therefore better off, should something happen in the world that limited our access to “stuff”. Gen X was really the last generation raised by parents who remember rations and war/post-war life. Those were the days when parents  made you sit at the table until your dinner was finished, whether you were still hungry or not, and if you liked it or not, because that was what was served. There was no option for a different meal, or not finishing your plate, because that was wasteful.

 

How many people remember being told there are starving children in the world, so finish your dinner! (Can’t say it made sense to me then, or now. I offered to ship it to them…. that didn’t go over well.)

 

My parents, for example, have a basement full of stuff. An extra dining table, supplies that were “on sale”, childhood toys, exercise equipment from the 80s, the old Atari game system, an old stove, a massive freezer (for the two people that live there), a couch, the last two artificial Christmas trees, a dresser… the list goes on and on.

 

Sometimes there were benefits from having parents that saved everything. We all had that time in our lives that we didn’t have anything: college days where life was about hand-me-downs, and making due with small spaces because we didn’t have the money yet to have the life we wanted. Post-college, reality tended to set in, and we started wanting, but for some, a simple lesson (or two) was learned. Fellow blogger,  Your Money Geek, shared a post about being broke and learning the value of things during that period of time.

 

It’s a common perspective that millennials have been raised in a completely different time, leaving them with a different mindset. They have never seen a shortage of anything: there’s been a never-ending supply of food, commodities and technology that moved faster than a speeding bullet.

 

They can’t reminisce about getting up to change the television station, rewinding a cassette tape with a pencil, or waiting for a sibling to get off the phone so you could call your friends.

 

(Removing the privilege argument from this to say that not all millennials have been raised to rely on having enough. I acknowledge that many were not as fortunate to have everything handed to them.)

 

Earlier, I read a post shared by the blogger of FlytoFi.com where he has a guest writer who discusses minimalism and millennials. This post resonated with me, as I agree with the writer who states that minimalism can be traced to millennials, and not needing everything is a concept that is new to everyone. Millennials had enough, or too much, depending on the situation, and now excess has flipped to the extreme: to want nothing.

 

So, who are today’s Joneses? Are they the neighbour who has a boat, two or three cars, a big house and flashy jewelry? Or, are they the neighbour who lives in a condo, has a compact car, and believes less is more?

 

Are today's Joneses the mindless consumer or the immaculate minimalist? Do they still exist and why, after 105 years, do we let them control us? Click To Tweet

 

We struggle with the concept that both are the Joneses. We want access to the big house, the boat and the flashy side effects, but we also crave the simplicity of minimalism. How many times have you gone on vacation with just a suitcase, stayed in a hotel room, and realized that there was very little you actually needed beyond what was there? How many times have you gone home, glad to be home, but overwhelmed with all the clutter and things you own?

 

And yet, how many of us still get a thrill from going shopping and buying something we think we need, just to bring it home and realize three months later that it was not something we needed, but something that cluttered up our space and gave us a momentary glimpse of what being the Joneses is like.

 

What a vicious circle we have created for ourselves!

 

Whether you are on the journey to seek financial independence, saving for your retirement, or just having a healthy savings account, let’s redefine the Joneses.

 

Ten Reasons Not To Be The Next Joneses:

 

  1. Reduce waste in our landfills.

 

  1. Less property tax to be paid on smaller properties.

 

  1. Less fuel emissions on smaller or hybrid cars. (What’s better than paying for a Ferrari? Having a friend who has a Ferrari!)

 

  1. Less stuff to clean and purge or to launder (like clothes).

 

  1. Enjoy and appreciate your belongings more.

 

  1. No stressing about overextension of credit.

 

  1. No awkward moments with the repo man.

 

  1. Better credit score from less debt.

 

  1. No worries about people trying to steal from you if you are perceived as wealthy.

 

  1. More money for the people and things that matter.

 

Being a conscientious spender is one of the biggest factors in the pursuit of financial freedom.

 

What do you think about the Joneses? Is it still attractive or has it finally come to an end? While I wish the Joneses of our lives well, I think their reign has finally come to an end.

 

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