Friday, October 24, 2008

Nice, France

I'm off to the airport today to catch my Air France flight to Paris then onto Nice.

Just need to finish up some packing--I travel pretty light.

Back in about 2 weeks.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Dream Account

I recently nicknamed one of my savings accounts "Dream".

Putting a label to an otherwise numbered account allows me to "direct" my intentions. In a previous post, I stated that one of my financial goals in a dampened economy is to increase my cash position.

To my bank's surprise and perhaps dismay, I have opened up 8 new "high interest" (I use these words lightly as what they are paying does not astound me!) accounts and labeled them "Home, Travel, Car, Properties, Dream, Slush, Education and Savings".

Sure, I could have just put all the money into one account but I want to be able to save for more specific reasons and have an easier way to plan for how much I would like to be in each account. For example, in the Home account, I would like to have enough there to pay for a new roof whereas in Education, I would like enough there for 2 tennis lessons a month and ski lessons this January and so on.

The Dream account is my favorite one in that it represents my open intention for the fulfillment of something big/cool/mind blowing/surprise!/insert another wonderful adjective...

In my life I have been presented time and time again with events that surpass my mental limits of "cool".

I constantly create a plethora of ideas and although I think I may be doing a good job with realising them, the universe takes some and reforms them into things that blow my mind and stretch what I believe is possible.

I believe that people "create" their own luck and this is one way I am expressing my desire for all things good.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I would like to think that I do a pretty decent job of conserving resources. My utility payments are made automatically each month out of a checking account. The bills are sent online. We recycle, compost and produce 1/2 bag of garbage a week. Once in a while I am drawn to take a closer look at a utility bill to see if my efforts are bearing fruit. Then I get frustrated.

For example, my most recent hydro and water bill just came in. We used $37.24 worth of electricity from the end of August to end of Sept. (we live in a high summer heat and humidity area so we do use air conditioning) For water, we used $14.50 worth for the month, for a grand total of $51.74. I do not find those numbers over the top.

We've incorporated the changes that most have talked about ie. the low flow shower heads, the new bulbs, shutting lights off in rooms not used etc. etc. Heck, we even buy homes that have a lot of natural light so no lamps are turned on until dark.

It is the "other"charges that make the entire bill add up to $128.77! I am sure that I'm not the first one to rant about this and I realize that I am helping to pay for the infrastructure that brings these services to my home but come on!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quotes to Live By

I enjoy inspiring quotes. Reading them are a quick way to get back into a healthy mental and emotional zone. Below is a list of various sayings I have jotted down in margins and spaces of my day timer. Sources when known are quoted.

--All progress depends on the unreasonable man. (George Bernard Shaw) The reasonable person tries to adapt to the world whereas the unreasonable man adapts the world to himself.

--Your body has to go a long way, so make sure you take care of it.

--Retirement -- It's a time to step forward and engage with the world -- on your own terms.

--When attempting to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department uses water.

--People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost. (Dalai Lama)

--Too many people miss the silver lining because they're expecting gold. (Pablo Casals)

--When I'm anxious, it is because I am living in the future. When I'm depressed, it is because I am living in the past.

--Those who do not know how to fight worry die young. (Dale Carnegie)

--With money you can buy a house but not a home.
With money you can buy a clock but not time.
With money you can buy a bed but not sleep.
With money you can buy a book but not knowledge.
With money you can see a doctor but not good health.
With money you can buy a position buy not respect.
With money you can buy blood buy not life.
With money you can buy sex but not love. (Chinese proverb)

--When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that need expressing, then we truly live life. (Greg Anderson)

--He who says he never needs help most does.

--You know you are rich when you can afford anything you want and you don't want anything.

--Worry does not empty tomorrow of its empties today of its strengths. (Mary Engelbreit)

--Speed is irrelevant, if you are traveling in the wrong direction. (Gandhi)

--Worry and Obsession is a form of mental abuse--stop doing that! (Melody Beattie)

--Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired. (Jules Renard)

--Fear less, hope more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Hate less, love more; And all good things are yours. (Swedish Proverb)

Monday, October 20, 2008


The word luxury can give the impression that it must cost a lot or is something only a billionaire can afford to do, buy or experience. Not so.

Here's my list of luxuries as seen and experienced by someone who is kinesthetic and visual.

  • a black sky teaming with stars
  • silence
  • sound of waves crashing
  • smell of the woods
  • rose windows of Notre Dame
  • Bourges Cathedral
  • french antiques
  • dance
  • a Rodin sculpture
  • Trevi fountain
  • classical paintings
  • photo realism
  • nature's wonders
  • a good meal
  • clothes that fit well
  • a down comforter
  • a good book
  • lessons
  • a strong cup of tea
  • fresh whipped cream
  • blue skies
  • mountain air
  • airports
  • European architecture
  • ferry rides

What's on your list?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Survival, Comfort, Luxuries

I was reviewing the page out of "Your Money or Your Life" yesterday, that had the fulfilment graph (parabola) to remind myself of some key living values.

There are 3 categories of fulfilment: Survival, Comfort and Luxuries. Once one reaches the level of luxuries, then the "enough" point is reached. Should you surpass the enough point, then the law of diminishing returns drops the fulfilment curve down so that you are not getting the most value from further monies spent or "bang for the buck" if you will.

The reason I needed to remind myself of this graph is because the word "enough" can mean different things to different people. There are plenty of blogs out there where it is obvious that "enough" to the writer means survival--the least amount spent on housing, clothing, everything. There are others who prefer to live less small and enter into mortgage contracts and vehicle purchases and have lifestyles that on the outside look like "most people". The blogs of people who have reached their enough point seem to be already retired. I haven't found any blog yet of people who are living their enough life now while saving for early retirement. That's what I am working on.

I've found it very easy to get caught up and excited about how others live and want to change my direction to incorporate new ideas. It's easy to get carried away. So I find it necessary to come full circle and ground myself with my plan again, albeit affected by new knowledge, to remind myself that my definition of enough includes comfort and luxuries, not just survival.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Handling Emergencies

A number of people I know recently encountered a what I call a "full stop" life event. One family is dealing with a loss of a job (of the breadwinner) within the year. Another couple with a newborn is trying to manage with one parent in the hospital for a serious illness that may lead to a permanent disability.

As I empathize and offer support as best I can, I am also realizing that these event can happen to any of us and it tests the very foundation of our character, security and preparedness.

I am a big believer in learning from other peoples' examples. It is common for me to mentally place myself in the shoes of others and see what reaction I would have.

For the 2 events listed above, here's how I've responded.

Taking out discretionary spending (ie. travel), we would still have about a $2900/year left over, so not too bad. I am in an accelerated mortgage repayment plan. I would have a talk with my banker and get that changed if necessary. I would probably not do this unless the end of the emergency was really far away.

We have about 3 years worth of savings that can be mobilized. Should this happened when there was no mortgage to pay, then it would mean 6 years worth of savings and approximately $9500/year savings post expenses. As long as one of us is still working, there is no risk of losing our home or other properties. I would only consider using a HELOC or other lines of credit in an extreme emergency.

If both of us could not work anymore, that would point to some form of long term disability whereby we would have to calculate additional health expenses and liquidate assets accordingly. We have a small disability coverage.

In my experience in dealing with short and long term disability insurance for other people, I've learned that it may take a bit of time before any money come in. There can be a large amount of paperwork and depending on the health status, the person involved may not be in the condition to handle it properly or in a timely fashion.

This means a power of attorney for health and property is crucial. Also a review of medical and pharmaceutical benefits/coverage is in order.

In another post, I will describe how I handled a health emergency that resulted in me working part time for half a year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


As promised, here a few recipe tips we have recently tried and like for its ease and taste. Let me know if it works as well for you.

Pizza--We started making the crust ourselves from a recipe found in the "Jamie at Home" cookbook by Jamie Oliver. It makes 8 med to large pizzas (depending on how thick you like your crust). I use a pizza pan (one with holes all over) and in 12 minutes, you are done. He suggests using "Tipo 00" flour. It really exists. I found it at an Italian grocery store.

I've found making your own pizza sauce not worth the time and effort so I use good spaghetti sauce and sprinkle rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, chili pepper flakes etc on it. I also use good Italian mozzarella and pepperoni.

The dough freezes well, as does the cheese and sauce. We have found that one standard can of sauce is good for 5 pizzas and 2.2 kg of cheese does 10 pizzas.

We package cheese, dough, sauce and pepperoni in freezer bags and pull them out an hour before making. This has replaced our takeout and frozen pizza buys. Price wise we figured out that we are on par with the frozen pizza cost (depends on how much you choose to spend on cheese and pepperoni) but the taste beats it hands down.

Chicken Fingers--Here's a link to a recipe I found online that is really easy and tasty. The only think I've changed about it is that I season the chicken as well with salt and pepper in addition to the flour and breadcrumbs. We use a deep fryer and for us, it takes about 5 minutes.

French Fries--We buy potatoes in bags of 10lbs as there are only 2 of us. Invest in a french fry cutter. Ours came from Canadian Tire but we've seen them in kitchen supply stores. Again we use a deep fryer. Contrary to popular belief, food out of a deep fryer (we use vegetable oil) isn't soaked with grease at all. We cook the fries for 8 - 9 minutes at the highest temperature on our fryer and then let it sit for 10 - 15 minutes. Then re-fry for 2 -3 minutes for the final crisp up. Shake up and season with sea salt.

Stuffed Peppers--We just tried this recipe last week. With the fall harvest upon us, we felt this was a great thing to make a big batch of and freeze.

Almost forgot dessert!! A simple Brownie recipe can be found on a container of Fry's Cocoa. It makes what I consider to be "regular" brownies vs. the half ton ones you get at coffee shops. We make a batch, free half (or we'd end up eating everything).

Finally, our favorite Butter Tart recipe. We do not make the shell part. We buy a no name 30 pack pre-made, unsweetened tart shells. We eat the buttertarts straight from the freezer.

Have fun and Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2008

What's my Definition of Net Worth?

As I have written before, I don't place a huge importance on the calculation of net worth when talking about real estate holding that you do not plan to be selling. It may look great that your primary residence is worth "x" but unless you plan on realizing that "x" by selling, it is irrelevant to everyday life.

You cannot eat your house. In dire circumstances, housing is one of the most illiquid things you own. It is still interesting to see how much your house is "worth" based on market values and I enjoy that exercise as much as the next person but I don't dwell on it beyond amusement. I dwell more on how much do I really own of it instead.

So, when I was making my plan, I looked at how much money I would need to sustain me for life without having to sell my homes. So if the going number was 1 million, then my way of thinking would mean I need to save 1 million Outside of my real estate holdings.

If I was a landlord, it would be different because I would be relying on either the sale of the rental property or the continued passive income instead of having to save the money "the hard way". Other people money is part of that retirement equation.

I do not use the value of my furniture, cars (they are too old anyways..) etc. in my net worth calculation. Those of you who have sold used things know that you frequently take a beating. If things get really bad, I want to know that there is true liquidity. That means cash. I save at least 50% of what I earn.

How I Started. Where I am Now.

My life motto has been to begin with the end in mind. I started doing that when I graduated and was interviewing with various clinics, checking out what my professional and personal life would be like if I moved there. I was willing to go pretty much anywhere for a chance to build a great life. As I am pretty adaptable, I was able to see myself doing well in many places.

It was a matter of choice and vision and how much I was required to adapt that eventually won out. What I was looking for was minimal adaption of who I was, a gut feeling I was home. It took going to the 14th practice (a start up) before I felt it. I committed to the vision of what was to be. My current associate was the only one who asked me to write down a list of what I needed from work and what I needed for life. We would discuss it and decide together if we fit in with each other's lists.

That was 10 years ago. This summer I attended my reunion, got interviewed by the local paper and reconnected with classmates from all over the world. It affected me more than I would have guessed. There were those who changed dramatically physically and attitude wise and those who didn't seem to have changed at all. More importantly, it forced me to stop and assess how far I have come in 10 years. In hindsight, it was a really good thing because my gratitude for my life has skyrocketed.

I cannot say I have been ungrateful. For most of my life I have been plagued by pressure. Pressure to prove myself, pressure to succeed, pressure to go beyond what either side of my family had done, pressure from knowing I had no one to rely on except myself.

My upbringing was very very humble. There was no help with homework because my parents were not very educated. There wasn't even camping. I had enough to each and was neatly dressed. I was the first person from either side to go to university and I had to pay for it myself. Being that I am the first born, there were a myriad of hopes and dreams placed on my shoulders from the start. My family came to Canada to give my brother and I better chances and I never forgot that.

I grew up seeing my father work 7 days a week to enable us to live in a detached house. After many decades of being overworked and detached from family, my parents' relationship fell apart. I have an extreme aversion to being overworked, I feel because of this. So it became my goal to dream up a wonderful balanced life for myself and test it out as soon as I could. I want to be someone who walks their talk especially because I work in a field where I have the ability and opportunity to influence many people.

What is the Purpose of this Blog?

The purpose of this blog did not start from the desire to make money. To be honest, I never considered it or thought it was possible. Sometimes I do think I've been living in some hole somewhere! I participated in a blogpoll recently and when the results were revealed, I was the only one who answered that my blog was just for myself (Eric, if you are reading, that was me).

My work doesn't involve html links, adsense or uploading sitemaps. Web 2.0, digg it, technorati etc. I'd never heard of until recently. I am a pen and paper worker who uses a software program that shows me my appointment schedule. That's as sophisticated as it gets. I read my news, check banking, email, buy plane tickets etc. online--What I consider as "regular" stuff. It is pretty easy to get caught up in trying to make my blog accessible, to increase it's reach, get ranked but it can turn into a serious job! I don't need another job!

I built this blog for myself as a form of an online journal where I can see what I am working on pretty much on one page. I also believe that I approach life differently and have built a unique way of living and if someone finds what I have to say as interesting or inspiring, that's cool. It helps me get stuff out of my brain into the visual world. I am an artist at heart and have a need to express myself visually.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Already Retired?

One can argue that I am already living much of what I strive for in "retirement". Creating this blog has been immensely rewarding in that it makes me see on print what I've been seeing in my head. My journal is the place where plans take shape but often I do not go back and read it. I haven't stopped long enough to see the fruits of my labour in a big picture way.

Once my mortgage is paid for and I move to a 2 day work week, then I could be considered "retired" as defined by me! Should I define retirement as the point when I do not need to work for money, then I guess that will likely be closer to 10 years away whereby I will be working 2 days a weeks (4 yrs from now) until then. Not much else would be different.

Why Buy Real Estate?

There are so many advertisements in the paper about "great buys" right now.

Why I like real estate is it offers an opportunity to live differently. A real estate agent I worked with 5 years ago said that to me and it stuck.

I maintain that I need to be "moved" by a piece of real estate. It has to serve a bigger purpose than just income. I am not interested in being a landlord. Being a landlord is a form of paid work that has never appealed to me.

I want to be able to enjoy each piece of real estate I own so the prospect of someone else "buying" it for me over a period of decades doesn't give me as much satisfaction as something I am paying for that I get to use right now. A place that enhances my life Right Now.

Some days I wish I could be a landlord because it can be great form of passive income. Unfortunately I can only see the parts where one gets called in the evenings and weekends about a leaky toilet.

The point of the life I am striving to create is one where I am gaining freedom. Being called to an emergency or issue isn't freedom to me. I don't necessarily wish to be found on the weekends. No amount of money I could make from rental income could make it so. I guess I could employ a property manager in these cases but it would cut into the profit margin and make it not worth while.

In the end, I've bought properties that enhances my life now. They will be paid for by the time I am 41 years old. They provide the environments that allow me to live differently, be creative, be grateful for such beauty and privacy without breaking the bank.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Interest rates

The prime lending rate in Canada recently went down. What that means to me is my variable rate mortgage just got cheaper ie. the biweekly amount owning dropped. What I will do about that is increase my payment to where it was before. By making this small step (a few dollars increase), my overall amortization just dropped by a couple of months. Sweet!!!

I've been doing some very serious thinking the last few days about my financial plan. I use a spreadsheet to track monthly cash flow (isn't it all about the cash flow?!) up to 2012. My plan A was to max out the 15% mortgage prepayment allowed by the rules of my mortgage yearly. Should I succeed, then it would mean complete debt freedom in about 4 years.

With the markets having taken such a dive, buying opportunities have been abound. The investor in me wants in. So do I put in place plan B which is to divide what was to be the mortgage prepayment by 50% and invest as well?

Another aspect of my money plan is to increase my cash position to cover inevitable costs of life and home ownership--kind of like what condos have to draw from in "x" years when all the roofs need to be replaced etc. I have established a number of savings accounts nicknamed for the various categories ready to go.

In the end, what made my decision easier is coming back to the question of "What do I know for sure?"

I know that I have debt.

I know that I want to work 2 days a week.

I know that I want to take advantage of this economical opportunity but only in a proportion that won't lengthen my debt free date or undermine my liquidity.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What is Retirement?

Retirement for me means freedom to do what I would like. In Canada, one of the few ways of receiving favorable tax conditions is to be self employed. Our country is not known for low income taxes. Therefore maintaining my business would be a smart thing to do unless I no longer wish to work in such a capacity.

I am happy to report that I have achieved most of my work, life and retirement goals. I am still working towards a 2 day work week. It is a matter to being able to afford a reduced income. This is where my frugality comes in. I am still on the down slide with respect to monthly expenses and expect to bottom out in the next year. The only left after that is debt of which in my case, they are in 2 categories--a home equity line of credit and a mortgage.

Today is a special day as I am expecting the line of credit to be done by the end of the business day. The HELOC was used to put a 33% down payment on another property. That is the only way I've ever used a HELOC--as leverage towards an asset.

In Canada, if you do not have 20% down on a real estate purchase, it is considered a "high risk" mortgage and thus requires "insurance" that is calculated as a percentage of the purchase price. I've only paid this fee once on my first home and never again since.

By taking advantage of the 15% yearly prepayment allowed on my mortgage, I gain equity sooner. When new opportunities arise, it is nice to know that I am able to get into the "game" should I wish. I like to leave myself some room to play.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Retirement Goals

My retirement goals are the manifestation of my life goals listed earlier.

My work goals, also earlier, is what allows me to enjoy my life while I still need to work for money. A key decision that has allowed me to achieve my work goals is moving to a smaller city center. Life is more relaxed. Real estate costs a fraction of what is found in a major city center. It is easier to become debt free sooner.

I want to enjoy every aspect of my life in the meantime so that I can have a better idea of what I feel constitutes a great life and what aspects of it I'd like to keep around. I don't want to start living only when I've reached a magical place financially nor do I wish to "kill" myself with my career in order to get there. Like anything building a rewarding life has been a process of trial and error.

So what does a year in my retirement life look like?

I see myself spending time according to the seasons.

To be skiing, skating, tobogganing in the winter

To be breathing in fresh spring air in the woods

To be beach walking through waves in the summer

To be catching some warmth in the Mediterranean at the last of the outdoor fall markets

To be witnessing beautiful fall foliage

To be explore new places, learning new things, meeting new people

To be continuing helping people 1 to 2 days a week paid or not paid

To be visiting places where my charity dollars go

To be participating hands on with humanitarian projects around the world

Life Goals

My life goals are as follows:

I want to live in an architecturally significant home. ---Done!

I want a place to escape to. ---Done!

I want to live near water/beach. ---Done!

I want to live in the mountains. ---Done!

I want to be able to travel overseas each year. ---Done!

I want to nourish myself mentally, emotionally, physically. --Ongoing!

I want plenty of contemplation time. --Done!

I want to express myself creatively. --Working on it!

I want to integrate myself with other cultures via language, food and common goals. ---Ongoing!

I want to keep learning. ---Ongoing!

I want to connect with like minds. ---Ongoing!

I want to inspire others to create. ---Hope I am having this affect!

Work Goals

What do my working goals look like?

I want to be able to afford a home within the first 5 years of working. ---Done!

I want to work 3 days a week. ---Done!

I want to have work hours that correspond with my most productive time of day. ---Done!

I want to live within walking distance to work. ---Done!

I want freedom to set my working days and hours. ---Done!

I want all of my working administrative details taken care of for my so I can just work and go. ---Done!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I believe in wanting to find the best value in every transaction. It only makes sense when one is exchanging life energy for paper energy. I've read blog posts differentiating between being frugal vs. cheap. Cheap being an approach where the lowest cost is sought even if it may not make sense in the long run.

Basically I want to put in place habits, behaviours, actions that will be sustainable and supportive of freedom and help me attain the quality of life I strive for. Curbing waste and unconscious money leaks is where I started from.

In order to make those changes stick, I had to understand myself a lot more. What am I working towards? What am I running from? What am I using to trick myself? What makes me miserable? What is my ideal form (mental, emotional, physical)? What are my goals?

As I asked myself better questions, I got better answers. Then it became easier to willingly make sustainable changes.

To this end, here is a initial list of things I have cut spending on:
  • cable/satellite--I don't watch TV. I take movies/documentaries out of the library instead.
  • cell phone plan--I don't remember my cell phone number most days as it is never on. I use it solely for car emergencies and I use a pay as you go plan.
  • books/newspapers/magazine subscriptions--again the library as well as the internet is my source.
  • eating out--I love food so this one was tough. Once I realized I could make a lot of what I used to order better helped immensely. The dishes I can't or won't because it isn't worth it, I will go out for. This has cut our restaurant bills by at least 75%.
  • meat consumption--We're working on cutting down meat by 50%. Better for the environment, our health and our pocketbooks.
  • transportation--I am within a 20 minute walk to work. We moved a year ago to facilitate this. My spouse works 2 days a week at home so that helps with gas costs. When I move to a 2 day a week work week, we will be considering not replacing one of our vehicles. We both drive 11 yr old reliable Hondas.
  • telephone--We have a basic line. That's it, along with an answering machine. For long distance we use Skype. (voip)
  • laundry--I have been hanging up clothes to dry for 10 years. I find it therapeutic. Not using a dryer saves a lot of electricity.
  • cooking--We cook with gas. It is lightning fast. I have noticed a minimal change in our gas bill compared to how much an electrical range used in electricity.
  • clothing--We buy mostly middle of the line on sale. Sometimes I'll stumble onto a great sale of higher end pieces. I believe in buying good shoes and coats and proper gear for exercise.
  • sports and recreation--This was a tough category to analyse. We already own sports equipment like kayaks, skiis, skates, tennis racquets, exercise machines. We enjoy going to theatre. It is now a matter of fully integrating what we already have before adding. We've put a yearly limit on how many theatre productions we go to.
  • travel--I've put this category last because this is where I've gone overboard in the past. I have a love affair with France. I've also paid many a cancellation fee for changing my mind frequently. When I realize a lot of bookings were frequently related to my being overwhelmed and wishing to escape vs. truly wanting to travel, then it was easier to correct. Instead of looking for the next place, I had learned to just slow down first and see if I still wish to go.

This area is a work in progress and obviously just one side of the equation. On the other side are things that I consider true luxuries which feed my soul that I am willing to pay for. More on that another time.

What is Middle Way?

I'd like to clarify what it is I mean about Middle Way. It is an approach I have taken with respect to money and life issues. For example--full time work for me is 36 hours/week. I felt it was too much so I made it my goal to be able to work roughly half of that. Of course that took some planning and saving and frugality in order to have what I consider to be a better lifestyle, peace of mind and security all at once.

To be honest, I didn't set out with this philosophy in mind, it just seems my decisions tend to end up feeling the best in the middle. Over the years this way of approaching things has served me well. I didn't wish to pay for a mortgage for 25 years so I settled for roughly half of that and in the end beat that goal significantly. I have been able to take advantage of more opportunities because of it as I am not tied down financially for so long that I am completely worn out emotionally at then end.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Before immigrating to Canada, my family lived in a one bedroom condo within a concrete jungle. I never had a backyard or a front yard. I knew no one who "gardened" on the weekend. My family was considered middle class.

Growing up in North America it was pretty apparent what I was supposed to aspire to have. The house in the burbs, multiple car garages, beautiful gardens, a pool, lifestyle things like memberships at various clubs, vacation properties, participation in "have" sports like skiing and golf.

I honestly didn't question it until I was ready to purchase my first home. All of a sudden, the rubber hit the road. I was the one paying for this so I'd better understand if I really wanted it that badly. I credit my loathing for debt for helping me out with this one.

Questions about how much utilities cost, property tax, length of commute overtook the "dream". Thank goodness because in the end, after changing my mind 3 times on various units, I chose a 1000 square foot, 1 bedroom plus den one storey townhome (condo) with attached garage and full basement in a gated community. How American!

I no longer live there but it was a great starting point for my life and I learned a whole lot about real estate from this experience.


I hate debt. Even with everything paid for there are those irritating monthly line items that constitute basic cost of living expenses for those who do not live off grid and grow and make everything.

The largest debt I carry is a mortgage. I have an unspoken rule that I would not buy anything that I could not afford to pay for in 15 years or less. In reality, I've never taken longer than 7 years to pay for anything.

My first meeting with a mortgage representative was what got me onto what I would consider an extreme line of debt repayment. She assumed I would want a 25 year amortization and made it feel like there was no choice with respect to modifying lengths. So, I did not sign on the dotted line until I did more research and got what I wanted. Most people know that with a longer amortization, you are paying for the property 2 - 3 times over. I was not a real estate speculator. This was to be my home and I did not wish to be senior citizen by the time I hosted my mortgage burning party.

A Bit More About Me

I am a 36 year old health care provider living in a small "city" (town) in Canada.

Somehow I knew I was not to live a conventional life. Don't ask me how but I remember looking around at my extended family one afternoon while drawing what was to be my first art contest submission at the age of 8 and thinking that I was not going to live like them. The 5 days or 7 days a week (in the case of my dad) of working at an uninspiring job did not appeal even then.

Little did I know what I really wanted was freedom. Freedom from schedules, freedom to live according to the seasons, surrounded by beauty and art. Some of that cost money. I grew up in a family that valued education and hard work. I was the first on either side to go to university. Though I love art and literature, I also excelled in business and sciences. In the end, it was the sciences that I followed as it was to be my chosen path to career success. I studied music and art privately on the weekends.

Currently I work as an associate in group practice 3 days a week. I turned down the offer of partnership as I did not wish to expend even more energy in the "paid work" category. What I longed for was time to start pursuing the art of living. I had spent the last 10 years of my life putting down the foundations of my life and paying for them. Now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I'm nervous to see whether all the pieces will fall together like I had imagined, dreamed and formed into reality.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Cooking is one of those skills I didn't feel I had time for while in my heavy duty working years. I am just too exhausted most nights to feel like pulling out a recipe book no matter how pretty the pictures are. I wanted to give the art of cooking the time it deserved so made up my mind that it wasn't going to happen until I was sufficiently retired.

Boy, was I wrong to wait all these years. I had been underestimating myself and didn't even know it. Don't get me wrong. I am not claiming to be a wunderchef. On the contrary, it hasn't taken a whole lot of effort to completely change our weekly meals plus save a significant amount of money. And we are eating well! Most of the dishes I enjoy has not required the level of know how or effort needed compared to a first year chemistry lab.

My goal wasn't necessarily to save money. Some things (like home made pizza costs the same or slightly more because I've opted to use better cheese.) What has been the real surprise in all this is the sense of satisfaction I feel about being able to do it myself. Now that I have a reasonably stocked pantry, it has saved the amount of running around to pick up this and that.

In time I shall post some of my favorite recipes for everyone to try out.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Real Estate

I am a huge fan of real estate. The whole process and how ego driven it can be amuses me. It can be a major power trip. I love looking at places on the mls. I like the mortgage calculations, the bank pre-approvals and signing on the dotted line.

Despite the current real estate crisis in the US and abroad, my enthusiasm has not wavered. I am not in a position to buy anything right now but it doesn't stop me from learning a lot about communities just on the basis of "I wonder what I can buy for $x?".

My aunt was the only person in my family who had a passion for real estate. By the time I was finishing high school, she had moved into her 5th house. Each transaction making a really decent amount of capital gains. (In Canada, you do not pay tax on capital gains from a primary residence.) She must have been a stronger influence on me than I had thought.

Start Where You Are

It is really easy to feel depressed when reading retirement planning books and sites. Of course I would not have to worry if I had started saving before I was born. That isn't the point, is it?

I tend to be a linear thinker with respect to money. I like to tackle one goal at a time. I didn't graduate until I was 26. I put myself through university (entirely) and graduate school (living expenses only, the rest was student loans). When I graduated and had my first meeting with a bank representative about "consolidating" my student loans, I nearly fell off the chair when she told me how much I would be paying each month for the next 10 years.

I did some quick math and realized that I could not afford it and living expenses and practice start up costs, insurances etc. So, I decided to play upon my strengths and applied to do a master's degree in education. This would mean the interest on my loans would be paid by the government and any monies I paid would be directly towards principle.

As challenging as it was juggling a new practice, studies and another part time job for a couple of years, it paid off. I paid off my student loan and immediately set my sights on the next goal.

I didn't worry that I hadn't saved anything for 2 years. In reality, I saved a ton of interest. Though it doesn't show up in a savings account, it showed itself as piece of mind. And early triumph with debt repayment paved the road to where I am today. I no longer worry that I was "late" getting started. I have the power and discipline to apply to any goal I decide is worthwhile. I now tackle major financial goals, one at a time.

Net Worth

I'm not a fan of the calculation though I understand the concept. I am a bigger fan of total amounts outside of real estate holdings because I feel it is a more accurate indicator of how well one can weather a difficult time.

For example: If I had a million dollars net worth of which 50% of it was real estate (assume it is paid for) then I would have $500000 "cash" placed in various vehicles. Depending on how much you would need yearly to live, that may last you until you die. What I want to caution is this. If you require more than $500000 to fund the rest of your life, then fooling yourself in thinking you have a million to spend isn't going to cut it unless you are planning to sell your house.

Real estate values only come true when you sell it and if you are counting on it as part of a retirement "savings" plan. If you are living in a home that is your "last" and do not plan to move, then I would no place such an emphasis on it as part of net worth.

My true net worth, as I see it, revolves around the concept of liquidity. Should shit hit the fan, how long can I stay afloat until I am forced to liquidate more difficult assets? How much debt do I have? What do I really own? How solid is my financial foundation?

In light of recent market turmoil, my need for increasing my financial base has strengthened. I am working towards a stronger cash position, easily attainable as a first base. I would speculate that no who doesn't have to, would be cashing anything out of their investments right now. My goal to have a few layers of just "cash" in various forms, very safely put away, amounts intact for such a time.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


For as long as I can remember, I have had this unexplainable tension with time. In my profession, I see a lot of examples of how I do not wish to be. So, I've felt that it was normal of me to learn from example to take steps in avoiding certain life pitfalls.

I've learned that I would like to do more, see more, be more while I am young. I want to continually work toward increased mental acuity, physical strength, flexibility and vitality. I realize that once one get into daily work routine, weeks meld into months into years and before you know it, you are another year older, but are you wiser?

I close each year with only one request of myself: To be better next year in every way.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


My view of work is pretty straight forward. It is an exchange of my time for money. I used to think it was the only work that mattered--which led to many years of angst as I struggle with meaning in my life. As with most people, we are not what we do and paid work isn't all that it's cut out to be mentally or emotionally.

Even though I attain a great amount of satisfaction from my career , I find that I do wish to try something different at times even though my profession may seem like an 'ultimate career'. It is difficult to do the same things day in and day out for decades and not suffer boredom and guilt for wanting something different. The time and money spent to attain my profession can be a hindrance because when it is difficult to strive for any more than what you have right now, I often feel trapped. I guess that's what they call the golden handcuffs.

Once I saw how I can use work to attain my goal of early retirement, I had a renewed sense of purpose. I want more time to myself. I want to pursue a liberal arts education again. I want a slower pace of life. I want to surround myself with beauty. I want to help people but for a smaller fraction of my day. I want to travel. I want to cook more. I want to breath deeply. I want more freedom.

With a preliminary list, I began to built what is to be my ideal life. More later.

your money or your life sequel "Get a Life"

I just finished reading "Get a Life" and was reminded why I enjoy "Your Money or Your Life" so much. It is because nowhere in the book does it tell anyone what the "enough" point it. Those who have read either book would recognize the concept of enough as being the point on the graph where money spent gives maximal "returns" in terms of enjoyment, fulfillment etc.

So the underlying philosophy of money and energy thus applies to everyone and one can scale it however you wish--brilliant! No one is asking you to knit underwear out of dryer lint nor are you blasted for wanting foreign travel as part of your life. As long as you realize the true cost of what your spending entails, you can have everything you wish.