In our April 2016 issue of MoneySense, we introduced you to Shannon Jarrett, 37, and her partner Marcin Duran, 34. They’re trying to track their money, come up with shared goals and cash in bad habits. Throughout the year we’ll be giving them a financial challenge every month to help them get her finances in tip top shape. Make sure to follow along! Let’s start.
Challenge No. 1
Shannon and Marcin’s first challenge was to schedule a one-hour money date. They were asked to have it at a time and place that’s convenient for both of them—either a coffee shop or simply the kitchen table. They were also asked to bring a pen and some yellow sticky notes to write down everything they’d like to do in the next five years—one item per sticky note. Once they have written down several individual money goals, they were asked to arrange them in order of highest priority to lowest on the table TOGETHER. What are their top five priorities? Did anything about this exercise surprise them? Let’s find out:
Shannon and Marcin’s experience (as told by Shannon)
We enjoyed doing this challenge and were reminded that we communicate very well most times—especially about our short-term goals. We both wrote our No. 1 priority as the porch needing to be repaired. It’s a safety hazard and needs to be fixed. No. 2 was paying off the debt since it’s always something that we’re working on.
Where we failed was priority No. 3—buying a new shed. We both know that living on a smaller income so that Shannon can be home with the kids from Monday to Friday means a couple more tough money years until our young daughter is in school and Shannon return to work full-time. At that time our money situation will improve dramatically with the added income.
For the porch, we’ve decided that Marcin will do the work and use a portion of his pay to cover the cost of the wood. I have $1,000 in my savings account for just such emergencies and if there’s money left over at the end of the year, I’ll put it towards the debt.
Some good news: We’re also planning a short family trip down south. We received the trip as a gift from family and will only have to pay for small incidentals. We really like the idea of having a vacation with our kids even though we wouldn’t be able to afford it ourselves.
Did we enjoy this challenge? It focused us on our goals but reminded us of all the things we could be doing but don’t have the money to do quite yet. So it was a bit frustrating—a bit like a fantasy of things we want to do but know we can’t. But even though we have constant unforeseen money expenses popping up—$175 for reading glasses for our son, $150 for summer camp fees, $105 for soccer and softball registration fees and a new car hood that will cost $225—time with our kids right now is priceless to us. It’s the Crunch Years for us, we know that. We feel we’re just treading water with the day-to-day cost of raising a family and sometimes wonder if even going through this exercise is beneficial to us.
What the experts say
“Marcin and Shannon know their situation will change when they are both working full-time in a couple of years but as they say, right now there just isn’t much money to go around in these crunch years,” says Rona Birenbaum, a certified financial planner with Caring for Clients in Toronto. “So they have to work within that framework with their money.”
Their porch is a safety issue so that should be a priority. “They should have Marcin fix it as cost efficiently as possible and pay for the wood in cash as this will keep them from adding to their debt load, something they should avoid at all costs” says Birenbaum.
At this point, Birenbaum also feels that the couple’s No. 2 goal should really not be trying to pay off their debt. “That’s unrealistic for them to do over the next 18 months when they have a much lower household income and so many expenses on the home front. They are just setting themselves up for disappointment if they do this.” Instead, Birenbaum suggests their No. 2 goal be simply, “to not add any more money to the debt. This is different from pushing themselves to pay down their debt when money is very tight.”
Instead, Birenbaum would like to see them wait until Shannon re-enters the full-time workforce before they tackle the debt head on. “They can then set up a debt-repayment plan with Shannon’s added income at that time and they’ll have the debt paid off in no time soon after that,” says Birenbaum.
As for goal No. 3, getting a new shed, Birenbaum suggests the couple do a purge of all their “stuff” first. “It’s spring time and they can have a garage sale. With a lot of ‘stuff’ gone, they’ll find they need a smaller shed and can use the garage sale money to pay for some of it.”
Birenbaum is happy the couple is planning a small trip with the kids. Every family needs some time together away from the daily routine and since the trip is paid for, it fits right into their budget. “I’m glad they’re starting to realize that they can’t accomplish all their financial goals—saving, paying off the debt, contributing to RRSPs and TFSAs, and paying down the mortgage—all at once. They have to pace themselves with the household income they have to work with and in a couple of years they can start working on more long-term financial goals. That’s when they’ll see faster results.”
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