Marilyn Reynolds, Kingston, Ont.
Now: June 2014
Marilyn Reynolds has just made the biggest decision of her life. After watching many of her friends start families over the past few years, she has resolved to plunge into motherhood herself. Unlike her friends, though, Reynolds is single; she plans to get pregnant through artificial insemination. “I’m getting older and I’ve decided that I’m not going to wait for The Relationship,” says the 37-year-old resident of Kingston, Ont. “My biological clock is ticking hard and loud.”
Reynolds (whose name we’ve changed to protect her privacy) knows a child would change her life and she’s determined to be a good mother. What she’s not so sure about are the financial implications of single motherhood. Until now, money has never been important to her. A decade ago, she walked away from a well-paid career to go back to university and develop the intellectual side of her life. Her current job with an environmental policy group is a four-day-a-week position that pays $26,500 a year. She finds her modest paycheque meets her needs while her job gives her the time she needs to work on a novel and other writing projects. “I like to create balance in my life,” she says. “I earned an extra $4,000 last year by doing some freelance editing on top of my regular work, but I’m not sure I’ll continue with it. I want time to write my novel and pursue my dream of having a baby.”
The simple living movement, with its emphasis on an anti-materialistic, family-centred lifestyle, has exerted a strong influence on Reynolds’ thinking. She figures that working hard solely to accumulate more toys and gadgets is a silly proposition; in fact, she’s turned down job offers that would pay her far more than her current position, but leave less time for her other pursuits. “I don’t want to be a slave to the earn-and-spend lifestyle. I suppose I could work more, but that would mean I would live less. And so far, at least, not having a lot of extra money hasn’t really been much of a sacrifice.”
Reynolds would love to have three things: a baby, a small house and a four-day work week that will leave her time for herself. Can she accomplish all of them on her modest salary? Or will she have to give up her simple-living philosophy to fulfill her dream of being a mother? “I realize it may sound unrealistic,” she says, “but before I surrender to a more normal lifestyle, I want to see if it really is possible for a simple-living gal to have it all.”
Marilyn who likes books, films and small-town living, grew up in Unionville, Ont., an affluent suburb of Toronto. After graduating with a degree in fashion design from Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, she worked for five years as a purchaser at a clothing retailer in Toronto. Although she has never been married, Reynolds did have a serious relationship during this time. Problem was, her boyfriend wanted to get married. She didn’t, so she ended the relationship. “I’m glad I did that,” she says. “I wasn’t ready for marriage.”
Nor was she ready to settle down in her career. Despite earning a big salary, she found her job stifling. “In the late ’80s in Toronto, I used to work six days a week and earned a lot of money. I always had cash handy for expensive lunches and dinners out. But I wanted something more.”
At 26, she quit work and returned to school—this time to pursue a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies at the University of Victoria. Her second round of education loaded her with a mountain of student loans, but she has no regrets about changing her life. “I wanted to start fresh,” she says. “I still miss Vancouver Island. I remember one January day, I was sitting on a park bench by the ocean. It was 10 degrees with a warm breeze, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh boy, this is great. In Ontario, they’re still plowing through snow.’”
She spent seven years in Victoria, attending university, then working in the public relations department of the provincial ministry of the environment. Despite the great weather, she began to feel homesick. “I went through this weird phase in my life where I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go next,” she says. “That was when I started thinking that I should probably move back to Ontario. After all, my family and most of my friends are here.” When she spotted a job opening with a Kingston-based public policy group that specializes in environmental issues, she sent off her résumé and landed the position.
Now, five years later, Reynolds is ready for another big move —this time, into motherhood. She acknowledges that her decision to have a child is a spiritual and emotional choice, but she hasn’t rushed blindly into the process. Rather, she has weighed the pros and cons with great care. She thinks that if she manages her finances well, she may be able to achieve all her goals.
The would-be mother says her attitude toward money can be traced to her own mother. “My mom’s relationship with money is interesting because she has a sense that she’s thrifty, but she likes to have nice things,” says Reynolds, the middle child of three siblings. “Growing up, we had Wedgwood dishes and Waterford glasses. Mom always looked for savings in other areas so that she could buy what she really loved.”
Just as her mother economized in some areas so she could buy luxuries in others, Reynolds feels she can finance her “baby project,” as she calls it, by pinching pennies in other parts of her life. For instance, instead of owning an automobile, she belongs to a local car co-op, which allows her to rent a vehicle cheaply whenever she wants to buy a lot of groceries or visit family in Toronto. She walks to work and packs a lunch. Her indulgences— an occasional bag of chips, a video rental, or a magazine—are covered by the $40 a week she allows herself in spending money.
Reynolds tracks her bigger costs using what she calls her “envelope method.” She sets aside a separate envelope for every regular expense from rent and phone bills to groceries and haircuts. As money flows in, she divvies it up and puts an appropriate share into each envelope. The system works, she says, because it lets her know where her money goes and discourages impulse spending.
One of her biggest expenses is repaying the debt she accumulated doing her second university degree. She’s whittled the total down considerably, but she still owes just over $16,000, divided between official student loan programs and low-interest- rate commercial loans. She’s putting $5,000 a year toward retiring her debt and hopes to have it paid off in five years—at which point, her disposable income will soar. Her total annual expenses, including what she puts toward debt repayment, come to $22,456, leaving her with only a few hundred dollars to spare.
Living in Kingston, a small university town with a low cost of living, is an enormous help for someone on a tight budget. Reynolds’ comfortable three-bedroom apartment costs her the rock-bottom sum of $555 a month plus utilities. But she worries that if her 80-year-old landlady passes away, her sons may decide to reevaluate their mother’s decision to choose reliable tenants over extra rental income.
Even if that doesn’t happen, Reynolds would like to own a home one day. With mortgage rates at record lows and with small homes selling for less than $100,000 in some parts of the city, Reynolds thinks she may be able to swing a deal if she taps her RRSP for a down payment. “I contribute $50 a month now to my RRSP and I’ve accumulated about $3,200,” she says. “Owning a home is part of my retirement plan and as soon as I have a 5% down payment”—about $5,000—“I’d like to look into buying.”
Reynolds’ plan is to have her baby and take a year off work, which would be largely funded by government maternity benefits. If everything goes according to plan, she would then return to her fourday- a-week job and put her child in daycare. What happens if she finds herself short of money? She figures she could always go back to the five-day-a-week grind if it meant a better lifestyle for her child. With her two degrees and a strong background in environmental issues, she’s confident she could get a job paying $50,000 a year or more, especially if she moved back to Toronto. But she would like to avoid that option.
She’s aware that she may face some hard choices. For instance, she contributes to her employer’s pension plan, but she has no disability insurance—a safety net she would like to have when she becomes a mom. “The rates are high and the choice is between being insured and having a bit of cash in the bank,” she says.
A more immediate question is how she will finance her conception plans. Artificial insemination will cost her $800 per attempt. She figures she can dip into her line of credit for $2,400, which would finance three months’ worth of treatments. “I’m hoping that my eggs will cooperate early on in the process,” she says. “Three attempts is all I will make.”
Reynolds is aware of the risks involved in bringing a baby into the world when she doesn’t have a solid financial foundation. But, the way she looks at it, if she waits too long, she may wind up with money in the bank but no baby. “I’ve looked at my financial statements and it’s all there in black and white,” she says. “Getting through the next five years will be a challenge, but it will be worth it.”
—This article originally appeared in the September/October 2003 edition of MoneySense. To read where Marilyn is now see, click here.—