Fiona graduated & went from unemployment to a goal of being mortgage free

Fiona is unbelievably successful.  You would not know it right away. She does not sport the traditional symbols of expensive clothes and lavish travel we often use to distinguish the successful from the not.  Instead, she makes you understand what true success is.

Fiona was born in the Scotland to a middle class family.  Her mother was a nurse who worked nightshifts and tried to sleep during the day and her father was an independent house painter.   Given the working hours of her parents, Fiona was a latch key kid, spending lots of time with grandparents, neighbours and playing in a nearby forest with her sister.

Meet Fiona

●      Late 30’s

●      Immigrated to Canada from Scotland with her family when she was 11

●      Completed a Masters of Information Studies

●      Works in the not for profit sector

●      Personal income in the range of $45,000 to $60,000

Canada was recruiting nurses in the early 90’s, so her parents, driven by the opportunity for a better life, decided to immigrate.  Fiona was 11.  They moved into the basement of a friend’s house for a couple of months until they found a nearby rental home.  They then lived frugally with 2nd hand clothes for Fiona and her sister.  It took them two years to get settled, get jobs and save up a small down payment.  They bought their first house in Pickering in 1993 when Fiona was 13.

High school was a difficult time to enter a new school.  Kids can be mean, especially to new people who aren’t from the same cookie cutter.  Fiona loved reading, being outdoors and hanging out with her best friend Madeleine.  She was not interested in stuff, not interested in the same Roots sweatshirt everyone was wearing and certainly not interested in going to these “weird, immaculate, giant malls” that seemed to be everywhere.  Because she loved no cost activities and had distaste for consumption, Fiona did not see a reason to have a part time job in high school. 

Fiona was very fortunate that her parents agreed to pay for her undergrad degree and her 1st year of living expenses.  She recognizes the enormous impact of their investment.  With their support, Fiona went off to pursue a general arts degree at York University in Toronto.  There she met Andrew who was 6 years older and doing his PHD in philosophy. 

At the beginning of her second year of university, they moved into a 400 square foot bachelor apartment at Queen & Dufferin and paid $600 monthly in rent.  They had 2 small chests for drawers, a coat rack and a hot plate.  Fiona got a job at the information booth at the local mall and worked 20 hours a week for $10.00 an hour in addition to going to school.   Andrew paid the rent as he was a TA and was earning more.  Fiona paid all the groceries and house bills. They lived there for four years.

During this period, Fiona had become interested in religious studies and thought she would like to be an academic like Andrew.  She applied for her Masters at Laurier and off they went.  Rent in Kitchener was more affordable so they were able to get a nicer apartment with a balcony and paid $50 less a month. 

Fiona quickly realized that she had no interest in being an academic “spending years on researching something to get it into a journal that no one was going to read”. She was paying for a degree that was not going to take her anywhere she wanted to be. 

The silver lining was that through her research she realized that she loved organizing information and finding core insights that had meaningful value.  She knew this was a skill that had job opportunities and so she finished up her Masters in religion and applied to the University of Toronto for a Master of Information Studies. 

Andrew and Fiona returned to Toronto to find that they could barely afford a place to live – everything was at least $250 higher than what they had been paying in Kitchener.  They moved into a horrendous apartment at St.Clair and Dufferin. where she had to call the police on neighbours because she thought they were going to kill each other.  They lived there for 2 years.

Fiona completed her degree in 2009 and began looking for work during a period of significant recession.  She struggled.  She secured an 8-month contract with the government fixing a program database.  After that contract she was unemployed again.  It was the most stressful time in her life; financially and emotionally. 

Fiona met an old friend at a conference and he introduced her to a small not for profit looking for some database support.  Fiona began providing volunteer database support 2 days a week. Through this, she learned about another not for profit looking for a full time database manager.  Fiona applied and started full time in 2012.  She loves the work, the people, the cause and she is happy. 

In this role, she has earned between $45,000 & $60,000 annually.  She knows she could earn significantly more in the private sector where the average salary for the work she does is between $70,000 & $90,000 annually.  She chooses to stay where she is because she understands the difficulty in finding an organization consistent with her values, including being part of a small team.

In 2011, her partner inherited $1 million after his grandfather had passed away.  Andrew decided to buy a house.  Given they both had distaste for consumerism, they looked for something he could afford to buy outright and that would leave him with money for his future.   He spent $200k on a small 2-bedroom bungalow in Scarborough.  In 2014, after being common law for 15 years, Andrew decided he wanted to live a more off the grid lifestyle and moved to northern Ontario.  They had the house appraised for $380 k and Fiona secured a mortgage of $190k to buy out his half. 

Fiona has a goal of being mortgage free.  She has been focused on paying down as much of her mortgage as possible and has shaved 12 years off her payment period.  She is conservative from a financial perspective and so has also maxed out her TFSA’s and has a healthy RRSP account. 

Fiona is values driven in all her efforts making sure her decisions are consistent with who she is and what she wants. 

  • She is a meticulous and frugal budgeter

  • She tracks everything she spends on a master spreadsheet

  • She cooks vegetarian spending less than $100 a month on groceries and $30 a month on entertainment

  • Everything she purchases is purposeful and frequently second hand

The biggest symbol of her values is how she spends her time.  She enjoys spending time with her boyfriend, friends, traveling (she was in Florida and Europe this year) and volunteering in her community.  She is part of 6 community groups and has fun participating in and organizing everything from cycling events to not for profit data management groups. This is great – it provides her with endless opportunities to socialize without spending money. 

Most importantly of all Fiona is happy.  She is living the life she wants and enjoys her success.