Like lots of Canadians, Pauline experienced something of a financial reckoning in 2020. Balancing government support with earned income, debts with bills, and that ever-loathed student loan with savings was a serious headache, but Pauline has come away from 2020 with the golden ticket: a solid plan to reach her financial goals.
This interview is part of a lightly chaotic series where Megan, a writer, discusses millennial financial goals with her peers and their strategies to get there. Spoiler: we all want to be millionaires.
In this conversation, real talk about financial FOMO, balancing goals and debt on a tight budget, and looking to the future.
Megan: Hi Pauline! Thanks for chatting with me today. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you’re connected to Mogo?
Pauline: Hi! I’m Pauline, I’m a freelance copywriter. For Mogo, I write for our social channels and email newsletters. I also run marketing for an accelerator which supports science and tech startups.
M: That’s very cool! How long have you been freelancing?
P: Since 2018, I would say, so two and a half years.
M: How did you wind up working as a contractor?
P: I kind of fell into it. It started as a side gig while I was working full time, and grew from there.
M: Freelancers unite! Go team. Thank you for that. Are you ready for your first hard hitting question?
P: Let’s go!
M: Can you describe for us your level of financial literacy in three keywords?
P: I have a better grasp on financial concepts and stuff now, but before, one of those words would definitely have been “reckless”. I was reckless and careless, I think.
But now? How about “better than before”? That’s three words, does that count?
M: It’s perfect. Do you feel satisfied with your level of financial literacy?
P: I think so. I know I’ll learn more as time goes on, but I’m comfortable with my level of knowledge for right now.
M: What was your experience like getting to this point? Have you always been interested in personal finances?
P: Well, not exactly. In March 2020, I quit my job. I was planning on doing a two month stint living in Europe.
M: Oh my God.
P: Yeah. You know what happens next. Enter: pandemic.
It was rough. I didn’t have that much saved, and I didn’t have a job. I had a moment of panic, like, I really need to get my finances in check, and fast. I managed to figure out where my money was and I sorted out what I needed to get organized.
M: That sounds like a very stressful period for you.
P: Knowing that I didn’t have a job, and knowing that there was no money was coming in was really scary. I knew what the job market was like in those early months—it’s entirely accurate to say I was freaking TF out.
M: What did you do?
P: Honestly, I panic-pulled a TFSA that was set up for me a couple years ago to have on hand. It was enough to fall back on in case I couldn’t find any more income and needed to pay bills, but it wasn’t a ton.
M: Ah yes, the panic withdrawal. I know those well!
P: I was really nervous to spend it. But I had to pay my bills.
M: How did you decide on your strategy for spending that amount?
P: Well, right away I started using an adapted 50/30/20. I would pay my bills, spend almost nothing on my wants, and the rest I’d put into savings. This made me feel way more comfortable because even though I wasn’t purchasing anything “fun”, I could see my savings becoming stronger.
M: So your budget looked more like 50/10/40, for example. How did you decide on the ratio?
P: Honestly, I got into manifestation. I know a lot of people think manifestation is silly, but it helped me. Basically, when I started sorting my finances and felt really motivated to develop a plan, I picked a number.
This number was what I wanted to have saved by December 2020. I focused on that number and kept it in mind always, as this goal I really wanted to reach. And that really helped me.
M: Did it help you just to have that goal set? To know you had a plan?
P: Definitely—but it also helped to have context for my budgeting and my spending.
My strategy fit in with my adapted saving strategy 50/30/20, and I think just gave me the subconscious push that I needed to stay on track.
I really didn’t want to reach December 2020 and not have reached a goal that was entirely attainable.
M: Well… Did you meet your goal?
P: Yes! I did. It’s not a ton, but I’m really proud that I got there.
M: That’s spectacular! Congratulations. It was very difficult to save last year, so it’s great that you were able to make a plan and stick to it. That is so cool.
P: Well, it’s also really interesting. Because looking back at my finances even a year ago, it’s very surprising I was considering a trip to Europe. That was like, no. Just no. I think that’s really telling, in terms of where my own financial knowledge was at that point. Taking a two month trip just wasn’t realistic.
But I was able to save and reach my goal, build up an emergency fund and start investing, ultimately. I still have a major student loan, but I’m on a path now.
M: You’re already investing?!
P: Yes! I just made an account with a robo-investor in December to celebrate hitting my savings goal. I started with their premade investment savings portfolios and have actually started trading a few stocks here and there, too!
P: I’m even, actually, dabbling in bitcoin too. Since I started working with Mogo and learning more about it, I’ve been putting some money straight into crypto using Mogo. That’s where I’m at now!
M: I would say it sounds like you are very financially literate!
P: I mean, I’m turning 27 this year so I feel like it’s taken a while. But I’m glad to be on track.
M: What about your student loan? How does that factor into your planning?
P: Thinking about the future, I do feel better now, like I’m in a better place. But I do have a lot of student loans to pay back.
M: How does that feeling manifest for you?
P: I feel like I’m years behind my peers. It’s a big insecurity for me.
It’s frustrating because I’ve been working since I was 16, but I didn’t save enough, blah blah blah. So I have this loan and comparatively little savings compared to some of my friends.
We’re at the stage in our lives where my friends are starting to buy houses.
It’s still on my mind that my peers can make these big purchases or investments, even though I know our circumstances are different.
M: Different how?
P: Well, a lot of people get help from their parents, right, when buying a home. Stuff like that. I have moved back in with my parents now, which has really helped me stabilize my finances.
But my parents are immigrants; they’re just trying to save and survive. Growing up, money was just about making sure we were all comfortable and that we were going to school.
In terms of actual spending and saving habits, it wasn’t really part of my family’s literacy. That’s part of why it wasn’t until much later that I really understood more about finances and was able to save.
M: Can you elaborate, if you’re comfortable doing so?
P: Yeah, like, for example, I didn’t realize that best practice with student loans is to save as much of it as you can.
You can be accumulating interest on that amount, and you can get a head start paying the loan back.
M: All of that info should be more plainly communicated to folks taking out loans. As a kid in college or university, it’s hard to know what you should be doing with that money, and naturally, if your parents aren’t familiar with Canada’s systems, that only compounds things.
P: Totally. So I owed $25,000 at the height of my loan. And now I owe $19,000.
M: How long will it take to pay that down?
P: Well, the loan website says it will take… 89 months. That’s like 7 years. Shiz. That’s long. Damn.
M: Is that with the minimum payments only?
P: Yeah. But now that I’m living at home again, I’m going to try to focus more on getting that number down.
M: How do you decide what to put into Wealthsimple versus onto your loan?
P: I have automated payments set up for both, and now, I have a little discretionary income, so I can toss anything extra onto the loan to pay it down faster.
It was reassuring to read Mogo’s post on paying down your debts and saving… Loans like student loans, which have low or no interest, can be something you tackle over the course of years, because it’s important to get a head start on savings to cash in on compounding interest and earnings.
So I’m not putting everything onto my loan, but I am going to be more aggressive than the minimum payments.
M: What about retirement? Do you have a goal number?
P: I do! I used the 50/30/20 strategy to figure out what I can reasonably put away every month into savings.
M: And that’s saving a fixed amount?
P: Yeah, so as my income goes up, I’ll be able to put even more away. So barring any disasters, it’ll be $1.4M on the low end.
M: What do you think about that?
P: I feel like I can’t wrap my brain around that. Retirement feels so far away, but I’m still really grateful to know that this is possible for me. It’s a really big sigh of relief.
M: You’re gonna have to change your email signature. Pauline Leoncio, Millionaire.
P: See, it just sounds good, doesn’t it?
Pauline has to balance her savings goals with her student debt. But we can all learn from Pauline: if you feel like you’re missing out, or like your financial goals are incongruous, don’t panic—just make a plan, and stick to it.
Automate your payments, set a reasonable budget like the 50/30/20 plan, and remember that this is your path, no one else’s.
Financial literacy is within reach for all Canadians, and Mogo is here to help. Read more about the 50/30/20 Budget here. Learn about why you might want to pay off your debt before you start saving here. Now let’s start building wealth!
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