Patricia tripled her salary and is now earning $80 - $100 k

Meet Patricia

  • Mid 30’s

  • Immigrated to Canada during elementary school

  • Lives with partner and step-children

  • Planning manager in a company with 500+ employees

  • Personal income in ranging from $80 - $100k

Patricia describes herself as an opportunist when it comes to money.  I would say she’s more like a stylish huntress meets MacGyver for problem solving.  

Drawn to the arts, Patricia studied design at a university in Toronto. She saw early on the financial challenges associated with the arts and knowing her lack of comfort with a “granola vagabond” lifestyle, she decided to focus on interior design.  It still offered an opportunity to be creative and came with benefits of stability and comfort .

After graduating, Patricia knew she needed to leave her multiple low wage retail, call center and reception jobs and start her career.  She says during school she "didn't know how to get good jobs so was just working at things that were easy to get".

Patricia needed something that helped her get started.  Given bad timing (it was 2001 and no one was hiring), little connections and no known job opportunities, she knew she had to take a short term hit to get to where she wanted to go.  She moved back home, made a portfolio and a list of 10 design firms she could work for. She proceeded to call them one by one and offer a 10-week free internship.

Patricia found a firm willing to take her and worked her but off for the 10 weeks.  The firm had little organization and when she asked about staying on, they were not willing to make an offer. After the 10 weeks had ended, she stopped going to work and was about to start doing this all again when she got a call from a manager saying they needed her and wanted to offer her a full time job.  

This was great, she had achieved her goal – a job in her career of choice !!  Go Patricia!  Wait a minute; they offered to pay her $27,000 annually.  She was working 50-60 hours a week and commuting 3 hours a day.  With no other options, knowing she needed experience on her résumé and that the firm had a good brand, she decided to accept the offer.

After 3 years, Patricia decided it was time to move.  She had built up her portfolio and the company’s lack of organization and poor management was increasingly frustrating.  She took a 3-month contract at an architectural firm.  She knew it was a risk but she couldn’t stand her old firm any more.  She was 26 at this point.  

Luckily, Patricia was able to translate this contract into a full time gig and continued to focus on developing her portfolio, innovating and going above and beyond.  She continuously took on new projects; established the firm’s architectural library, set up drafting standards, and systems to manage relationship contacts.

During the next few years she bounced around between a few different firms, using each move as a way to slowly increase her salary.  She was able to move out of her family home and move in with her partner.  She took a couple of longer vacations between jobs which she really enjoyed.  She worked to learn more about other’s success stories and info sharing with friends. She used PayScale and glassdoor to understand salaries.  She read MoneySense magazine to understand the ins and outs of money.

Through this period, she started to see the benefits in having a house.  She saw how the value was consistently growing and how it provided security.  She established a goal to buy a house.  This was not easy in her situation.  Although her salary range was in the $50 - $80 k range at this point, her partner has 2 kids from a previous relationship so had limited ability to contribute financially towards a house.  

This is where the stylish huntress comes in.  She saved $80 k in 6 years for a down payment on her house.  How in the world???  Here are Patricia's strategies:

  • She sets goals; Patricia is aware of all her expenditures and has not only her big hairy goal ($80 k for a down payment) but also smaller specific goals and challenges with herself. She continuously challenges herself with“out of reach” goals that force her to think out of the box. Examples include:

    • Putting away $100-$200 per month in RRSP's

    • Reducing the grocery bill by 30%

    • Reinvesting 10-10% of tax return in RRSP's with a goal of maximizing the benefit of the First Time Home Buyer tax credit

    • Using only 2nd hand stores for housewares, books and toys that children quickly grow out of

  • She focuses on growing her income; Patricia continues to pursue new employment opportunities that leverage and build her skills as well as increase her salary. She has broadened her knowledge and is shifting towards more general management which is higher paying

  • She exercises patience: Patricia has an idea of what she wants and what she is willing to pay for something. Once she knows, she often does a bit of research and percolates on how to get it in a cost effective fashion. She is not aggressive or concerned with getting it right away. She is instead concerned with getting it at the right price. This waiting and problem solving is what helps her to find and create alternatives

    • When buying the house, Patricia spent 3 years watching the market. She understood the various costs and premiums associated with location, size, and houses that did not need updating. This enabled her to jump quickly on a house in a neighborhood she wanted

  • She is continuously assessing, revising and managing: Patricia will on a monthly basis look at where she spent her money and how she can spend less. She is continuously refining her budgets

  • She focuses on reducing her expenses through free and lower cost alternatives: Patricia is always problem solving her way to more value. She identifies what is most important and what she is willing to pay full price for like her rock climbing gym membership. She then enjoys the bargain hunt for her remaining expenses;

    • Patricia and Greg's dining room table is this gorgeous piece of reclaimed wood they got in a clearance bin. Greg used the Toronto Tool Library tools to build it

    • Patricia loves clothing swaps and one year experimented with only buying clothes that cost under $5.00

    • Home décor, appliances and lighting have all come at unbelievable prices. She frequents garage sales, Value Village and Rotblott’s for hardware and renovation items. She is particularly proud of her pot lights - they cost $0.30 each

    • Patricia & Greg use Toronto Public Libraries, Parks & Recreation as well as community centers for family activities, as well as sports & fitness for the kids

    • They have cancelled cable and opted for free streaming and Netflix

    • Patricia bikes to work, drastically reducing her transit expenses

    • She has long hair - this enables her to have one hair cut a year instead of 4 (that's $75 vs $300 annually

    • Patricia is always looking for a good deal. This is where the stylish huntress comes in. When we met for tea, she was wearing this sleek black outfit and these super cool shoes that cost $75 but retailed for over $500

  • She is creative:

    • Patricia enjoys the process of going to see what food is good and cheap and coming up with gourmet economic meals. She picks ingredients based on price and plans her meals accordingly. Before our tea, she offered me duck soup that had been made from the leftovers of BBQ duck and salted with herring and fish sauce. A lovely filling soup that I thought of as a Chinese version of Vietnamese Pho

  • Patricia and Greg are DIY (Do it Yourself) all the way:

    • At work, Patricia keeps light groceries (fruit, oatmeal, salad ingredients) so she can always make something tasty

    • Patricia and Greg enjoy the process of creating and building together. They love keeping a vegetable and herb garden. They make flavored salts with fresh herbs and preserve in the summer for the fall

    • Greg just finished fixing up her bike and built himself a bike at volunteer run Bike Pirates

Patricia is now happy with her income, owns a portion of her house (the bank owns the rest) and has set a goal to grow to a VP level which will give her a significant salary bump.  She is now thinking about getting an MBA but finds it too expensive so has started to look at which companies might invest in supporting employee education.  She recognizes that this will take a few years but is setting herself to be in the right position to make it happen.

Patricia says this requires discipline, can be painful and takes significantly longer than a DIFM (Do it For Me) approach. Renovations on their house are now starting to annoy her. It was extremely challenging to move home and work 10 weeks for free with a 3 hour commute, only to get a starter job at $27,000.  But without other resources, this has been the most effective path she could find to build her career, income and net worth.

From a systems perspective, how might we enable all individuals to take advantage of the growth, tax and community benefits associated with home ownership?  How might we create an economy where new graduates and other vulnerable populations do not have to work for free for 10 weeks to secure experience? 

Might we work on shifting our investments to those opportunities that give the greatest social benefit?  Instead of exempting residential properties from capital gains tax, might we instead provide down payment matching funds or rental tax credits to lower income populations that need it?  Instead of providing tax incentives to large companies, might we benefit more from providing funding to small entrepreneurs who are working to add employees to their business?


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