My 4-month update on my 2016 financial goals. How are your goals going so far? // Smart Woman

2016 Financial Goals – April Progress

2nd May 2016

Hi guys, we are a third into 2016 and I believe I promised you a progress post about how my financial goals are going so far. So here goes!

By the way, here’s the original post I wrote in January, 2016 declaring what my goals are for this year: 2016 Financial Goals

My 4-month update on my 2016 financial goals. How are your goals going so far? // Smart Woman

1. Save up a down payment for our first house.

At the beginning of the year, I had saved up $17,000 in my RRSP so I can take advantage of the Home Buyer’s Plan.

In January, I also took out a loan for $8,000 to put into my RRSP. That bumped the balance up to $25,000 for the HBP (the max I can borrow from my RRSP for a first house down payment).

Borrowing that money for down payment was a super risky move! With the help of the advisor I was working with, this loan was borrowed as a deferred-interest loan meaning that for the first 6 months, it wouldn’t be accruing interest and I wouldn’t be required to make payments on this loan. This would be a stupid move for most people, so I would advise against it! (I’m thinking the advisor probably received a good commission from this too which was why he suggested it.)

The only reason I went through with this plan is because I still had tuition credits from my university education for the 2015 tax year – we expected a big enough return to cover most of the loan which meant that I will have it paid off within the 6 months before interest starts accruing on it and I’m required to start making monthly payments. At the time, I thought it was a smart move.

Worst case scenario, if I didn’t receive at least $8,000 from my tax refund to pay back this loan, we had enough in our emergency fund to cover this debt now.

Well after filing my taxes, I’m hoping to receive about $6,000 from my return. This will be used to pay off that $8,000 loan (plus another $2,000 from our emergency fund) and may be the last time I’ll do something like this again. 

To help make it up to our 10% down payment goal, over the first four months of the year, my partner and I managed to sock away another $6,500. This is sitting in our EQ Bank making 2.25% in interest.

Also, after discussing numbers with my partner, we decided to use our emergency fund to add to our house down payment as well. Once we reach our $45,000 goal (10% of our target purchase price + closing costs), we will start replenishing our emergency fund again.

Total to date = $40,300 for down payment 

house keys

2. Put another $12,000 towards my student loans.

I formulated (ooh fancy word) a plan to pay off the rest of my $40,578 student loan: here’s my plan if you wanted to read (or borrow some of my tactics! 😉 ).

By the end of April, I anticipated to have paid another $4,000 towards these loans.

Over the last four months, I was able to squeeze more money out of my budget by doing this one thing – every time I saved money elsewhere, I made sure to apply those savings on my debt. For example, when I went out to dinner with a friend and she offered to pay for it, I put the money I didn’t spend on dinner towards my debt. Or when I skipped a night out to a social event, the money I saved by not going out went straight to my loans. I did this every time I was able to save money from other spending.

Those extra $10 or $20 payments added up and I was able to put more than the $4,000 I had planned towards my loans. I’ve also been working more night shifts at my job as a Registered Nurse which allowed me to make more money to put towards my loans. (we get paid extra for working nights and weekends)

Total repayment to student loans to date = $5,077

I must add that paying at least $1,000 every month towards my student loans has become easy to do after doing this for over 7 months now. As I mentioned before, I’m grateful for my student loans because it has taught me to live on less every month. I don’t even notice that $1,000 anymore – just that my student loan balance is coming down!

3. Travel plans in 2016.

We have budgeted $4,000 for our month-long trip to the Philippines (with possibly a week spent somewhere else in Asia) and another $1,000 towards our Vegas trip in June to the Electric Daisy Carnival – a huge rave party.

At the end of April, we were able to scrape together our goal! Phew, what a relief! I was afraid that with our other goals (the two biggest ones above), we wouldn’t be able to save this money in time.

Total saved for Travel = $5,000

As for the rest of the year, we haven’t solidified further travel plans – although both Raf and I don’t list ‘travel’ high on our financial priorities at this point in our wealth-building journey. We find that there’s plenty of opportunities to explore our city and surrounding beauties to satiate our “travel itch” for now.

Hawaii Maui

This is a photo I took on our vacation to Maui in February, 2015. I’m excited to do some more travelling this year!

4. Save up tuition for CFP courses.

With our down payment goal, travel budget goal AND student loan payments, I wasn’t as aggressive with this one.

Every time I got paid, I just transferred $100 to a separate savings account (my EQ Bank account!). Also, I recently paid for an online writing course with the money I already had saved in this account. I now have a total of just over $1,000 in that account.

Total saved for Education = $1,080

I did reach out to a CFP program in Calgary and asked them questions and did some research online – I’ve narrowed down my choices to two programs! As I suspected, job shadowing was near impossible due to the sensitive nature of information exchanged between advisor and clients… bummer!

5. Expansion of the Smart Woman Blog

Oh man, how can I even quantify how much I’ve learned just by running this website?

I can count how many hours I’ve spent (which has been a lot this year alone) between my full-time shift work and personal life and fitness goals and sleeping – but it wouldn’t be enough to express to you how much work, stress and how rewarding it has been to keep the Smart Woman Blog up!

If we’re looking at numbers alone, my traffic, social media followers and email list subscribers have steadily increased – higher than where I was at this time last year. So I know I’m on an upward growth trend and I’m happy with my progress.

I’m not drawing income from this website – nor am I sure that that’s what I want to turn this into. I’m just still trying to figure out my money stuff! 😛

Anyways, I’m just so glad you guys have chosen to stick around with me as the Smart Woman Blog continues to grow. As long as I know you guys are out there reading and listening and working to improve your own financial lives, I’m here to stay. Your lovely comments, emails and messages are fuel to my work (thank you, thank you, thank you XoXo). 

I would love to hear your progress on your own goals! Care to share them with us? Or if you need some fresh ideas to shake up your goals progress, let me know in the comments section below! 

A Month In The Philippines - Part I

A Month In the Philippines – Part I

18th April 2016

Hey peeps, here’s my hiatus notice x1month while I go visit my home country in May. 😉

I’m excited to go – I haven’t been back there since my whole family immigrated to Canada in 2002. I was told it has changed a LOT – although I shouldn’t expect it to stay the same after 14 years.

I have a ton of family there – some of my cousins I have yet to meet because they were born after I left. I’m excited to see my aunts, uncles and grandparents; it’s been way too long. And I’m fortunate to witness two of my cousins’ weddings while we’re there – because Filipino parties are the best (totally unbiased! 😛 ).

A Month In The Philippines (Part I) - My intentions for this trip and why it's the perfect time for me to visit my home country. // Smart Woman

Mostly Work, Some Play

Oh man, looking back on my 14 years here in Canada, I can say that I’ve worked my butt off. I was 9 years old when we came here so I felt that I had to grow up pretty quick to take care of my younger sister and brother while my parents went to work. We knew only our aunt and our landlord in Canada when we first came here.

I got my first job in retail at 14 years old – folding clothes, stocking shelves and helping customers in a department store. I was going to school full-time at the same time and played sports for fun. In the summers, I worked as many hours as I could pick up.

This continued through university as well – I worked part-time while going to school full-time then worked full-time during the summers. I got so used to it that it became my normal. I was proud that I could help my parents out by them financially providing for me less.

I remember a point in my 2nd and 3rd years of university where I worked at two jobs while going to school. Even then, I ended up with $40k in student loans – although admittedly, I wasn’t the smartest with my money at the time.

Related post: What I Wish I Knew about Student Loans Before Borrowing

Anyways, I graduated in April, 2014 and landed my first “big-girl” career job in May, 2014. It was a full-time gig that required a LOT of study and orientation. At the same time, I was studying for my final qualification test to get my nursing license. I was under a lot of pressure and I remember spending a lot of my time studying, then studying some more.

I passed my exam and since then, have continued to work full-time (my first year at my current job, I did not have vacation hours accrued so I simply didn’t go on vacations).

Now, it has been 2 years since I started my career job as a Registered Nurse, 14 years since starting our life here in Canada, 10 years of full-time school and part-time work… and my mind and body are finally telling me it’s tired. I need a break!

My mental health has suffered and I can feel my physical health following. As proud as I am of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve worked, I need to change gears to keep moving forward.

Hence, this family vacation is a welcome gift and an exciting adventure! It will do me good to get out of the country for a bit.  

My Travel Goals

I figure I need to be intentional with my time there, otherwise, I will be tempted to let it pass by or take it for granted. I also didn’t want to be too ‘strict’ with my goals (I am notorious for being too ‘serious’ about stuff). So here are my ‘guidelines’:

  1. Take lots of pictures.
  2. Keep up with my physical fitness goals.
  3. Enjoy the company of my family and friends.
  4. Add in plenty of “alone” time to recharge.
  5. Stay within our $4,000 budget for the trip.
  6. Go outside a lot and disconnect from technology often.
  7. Return home to Canada safe and sound.

Okay peeps, now you know my goals. Please help me stay on track! For example, shoo me off Twitter if you see way too many tweets from me at one time 😛 Or nag me for pictures!


The Finances

We have saved for this trip since December. Raf and I have each saved $500 per month for a total of just over $4,000 by the end of March (excluding flights). We’ll probably put some more money away in April just in case we go over that.

Our flights were booked 6 months ago so I think booking far in advance helped us save some money – it came to $980 per person for our round-trip flights. We spent this money in October and has since paid this off.

Our accommodations will be a combination of staying with family and some days at hotels depending where we end up. Food is pretty cheap and travel by taxi should be affordable also. We don’t plan to do a lot of shopping but we may spend money on experiences (for example, ziplining or sightseeing). Raf and I are hoping to escape away to a different country in Asia for a week or so as well – but we’ll book this when we get to the Philippines.

We haven’t done a big trip like this before so I’m not 100% confident if I budgeted enough or too little for a month of living expenses there. I came up with $4,000 from research on the internet and speaking with family and friends who have recently visited there. I’m hoping we can stay under that figure!

After the trip, I’ll write a post of what our actual expenses were. Raf and I both enjoy travelling comfortably and that doesn’t come cheap! (Though it should be cheap-er than many other countries we could visit) So expect the post to be a “comfortable travel” budget instead of a “cheap budget”.

See you soon Philippines!

We will be there from May 10 to June 6 – if you happen to be there and would like to meet, I’m totally down for it! We will mostly stay in the north – Manila, Lingayen and Baguio City. We may be visiting some friends in Cebu or Palawan (to be decided).

If there are adventures you recommend, please let me know about them! Our itinerary is flexible (and mostly empty) right now so that would be a lot of help.

Let me know! Do you have some exciting adventure coming up soon? 

We've been about 2 years into the hunt for our first house. We are learning that it's not as easy as it looks... when you're trying to buy smart. These are the challenges we've run into in our search and our plan moving forward. // Smart Woman

The Hunt For Our First House – April Update

4th April 2016

As you guys may already know, one of my goals is to buy my first house – this is a shared goal with my partner as well. Here’s why:

  1. To move out of our parent’s homes into a place of our own
  2. To invest in a real estate property that will hopefully beef up our net-worth over time

I was told by many people that buying a house is easy. Well, in my experience, it is anything but! I would agree that it’s easy in the sense that there’s less resistance to it – meaning the banks are happy to lend you the maximum you can afford to buy a house, your realtor is happy to help you because they receive a commission and family and friends are supportive because buying a house is deemed a sign of success (like renting is somehow evil?).

I find that it’s NOT so easy… when you’re trying to buy smart.

We've been about 2 years into the hunt for our first house. We are learning that it's not as easy as it looks... when you're trying to buy smart. These are the challenges we've run into in our search and our plan moving forward. // Smart Woman

I started browsing listings in 2013, casually at first because I was still in university at that time with a part-time job – I wouldn’t have been able to qualify on my own for a mortgage. I’d say that’s when I started learning more about real estate. Since then, I think I’ve developed a small knowledge base of what it means to ‘buy a house’… and yet there’s still more to learn.

It wasn’t like there wasn’t anything I can do towards this goal then though. I did work on establishing and improving my credit score and history. I made sure my bills were paid on time and started working away at my credit card debt.

In 2014, when I landed my first ‘big-girl’ job as a nurse, I was finally in a position to qualify for buying a house. Qualifying for a house and being ready to buy are actually two different things I learned.

That’s when I started saving up a down payment, alongside paying off my credit cards and then my student loans… I’m probably crazy for having these goals at the same time but I’m also crazy (and extremely lucky) for still living with my parents at 23-24 years old. Due to this, I have extra money to work with because my parents didn’t charge me for rent.

All along, I kept researching and reading up on ‘buying a house’. I sought out conversations and people that had different takes on real estate.

I did these because a) I wanted to buy smart and b) I didn’t want to overpay for a house.

Then the oil and gas industry in Alberta took a nose-dive and workers by the thousands started losing their jobs. Since the housing market is highly tied to the job market, we saw an opportunity in holding off buying a house, waiting to see if prices would come down now that not many people are buying (and hopefully more would be selling).

In August, 2015, we almost bought a house but came to our senses before the deal was completed. I think we were both just tired of looking at houses that this one house, which was kind of an okay fit for us, seemed like a good enough deal. There was talk of interest rates increasing, changes to mortgage insurance fees and possible changes with down payment rules (which did happen with the new Liberal government) – we were almost swept away by greed and fear. 

Related Post: We Almost Bought A House – The Reasons We Held Off & What We Learned

Thankfully, we dodged that bullet and decided we needed a break from house hunting for a few weeks or months. Winter is coming (hi GoT fans!) and it meant more leverage for buyers because moving in the winter sucks.

Long story short, we looked at just under 10 more homes over the winter months. We found one we loved but lost out on the bidding by $1,100 – I’m sad about this, the house would’ve been perfect for us! It just wasn’t meant to be. 🙁 Anyways, had we been able to buy that house, the financing would’ve been tight because we haven’t reached our 10% down payment goal. (Our advisor told us to go in with 5% down payment and put the rest of our money in RRSPs but now, we’ve decided that’s not the way we’ll do it.)

Moving Forward

I definitely have a lot of anxiety and apprehension for the biggest purchase of my life so far. Coworkers, friends and family are surprised I haven’t yet found a house. Peers of mine who have looked for shorter than we have have found their homes and have either moved in or will soon be moving in.

This used to bother me thinking maybe we’re being too picky. But I realized that if I’m not comfortable with the numbers and they’re not making sense, I should go with that. Buying a house is a numbers game. Emotions just have this pesky way of butting in because I think that’s what we’re used to from greater society. 

The search continues and we’ll keep working our butts off to beef up our down payment in the meantime (and hack away at my student loans). One day, when we are living in our first home, I’ll refer back to these notes and laugh at why I worried so much. I’m confident we’ll find a house that fits us for the right price – it’s just a matter of being patient and sticking to our strategy. 

Here’s my declaration:

We will find a property that suits our needs and lifestyle for the next 7 to 10 years in Calgary. This home will have potential to be an income-producing property. We will save up a 10% down payment ($42,000) or more before buying this house (budget of $420,000). We hope to find this house in the next year. 

Have you seen this house? 😛


I’d love to hear about your ‘first home’ buying experience! What was it like? How long did it take you & are you happy with your decision after you bought?