New Doc Financial Checklist

I have been thinking lately of the financial steps I took early in my career. Many of these steps I took without really having any guidance. I have also witnessed many of my classmates fall prey to easy credit offered by their financial institutions. Thus I thought I would provide a bare bones checklist for new professionals.

Medical School

You are broke. Try not to put many things on credit. Many of my classmates had significant debt by the time we left medical school and that was in the 1990’s. The problem has compounded immensely. During this stage in your life, you have no money so live like a broke student.

Residency Training

Try not to increase your debt at this time. You are starting to earn an income. Thus you may start saving a small amount to pay off the debt. You might not be able to pay off all the debt from medical school but stop accumulating more debt by treating yourself or thinking you deserve shiny things. Furthermore, you should be so busy during this stage in your life that free time will involve getting some good rest instead.

Early Practice Years- Pay Off Debt By Saving 50% of Your Income

You have to pay off the debt now. Do not make it feel easy. Attack it aggressively. Start working a lot. Live like a poor student until all the debt is paid off. Any hospital rounds that give you free food, you are going. Anywhere they give you free food just go- think friends and family. Do not be too proud. You have no life style per se. You are broke and in debt. Now is a good time to get disability insurance. The main asset you need to protect is your ability to work. You likely do not have children at this time. If you do, you need to start thinking of term life insurance and that is it. Before you have children, work like crazy. You have no beautiful babies pulling at your heartstrings at this point. Work any chance that you get. Not only will you increase your clinical acumen by practicing full time but you will earn a lot of income as well. You are young and just went through full-time residency and medical school. You already know how to work hard. Do you know how to jet fuel your savings? Do not buy a car. Live close to where you work and where you can buy groceries. Be very efficient. Not buying a car will save you a lot of money. You need to up your game and save at least 50% of your income.

Save Money In Tax Shelter Accounts

Begin to put the maximum in tax sheltered accounts such as the RRSP in Canada. Often medical associations offer a matching contribution and this will also lower your taxes. Buy low fee broad based ETFs such as those offered at Vanguard. You are just beginning your working life, you can afford investing your ETF mainly in equities. You do not require a financial advisor. You barely have any money. Why the heck do you need a financial advisor? Learn to start saving. You are at the kindergarten stage of money management since you are likely still in debt.

Buying A House

Housing is a basic of life. Similar to food and clothing. It is not really an investment per se. But it is a very emotional topic. Everyone needs to figure out for themselves what it means to them. Pretending housing does not matter to you when it actually does, is not healthy. Sometimes it is just easier to work harder and buy a suitable house for yourself rather than justifying why you are correct to not buy one. People who are at peace with their choice generally do not have to waste energy justifying it to others.

However, forget about buying a dream house. And buying too much house will simply take away many options for investing. Buy a home in a good neighbourhood so that when you have children you do not have to incur extra expenses by sending them to private school. If you want to buy a larger home, or live in a high cost of living area, you might want to use the “house hacking” method. Live like a student before you have children and maybe even when the kids are young. You can live in the smallest unit of a multiplex. Some people live in the basement of the house while renting the upstairs for more income. Don’t worry, you will own the whole thing before you know it.

Minimize Large Expenditures

Exotic Vacations

International travel is highly overrated. You might need some time off but if the local park or the great outdoors does not satisfy you, then your lifestyle will probably ratchet up pretty quickly. If you have to travel overseas, try learning how to travel hack with credit cards or learn to stay with friends. Using after-tax dollars to travel at this stage in your life is borderline insanity. It teaches you horrible habits that will always hamper your ability to save. If you have that much money laying around pay down your mortgage instead.

Free or Cheap Entertainment

Learn to really enjoy free entertainment. Use the local library as well as enjoy Netflix. You definitely should not have cable or waste much time on television. Also do not sign up for expensive gym memberships or expensive classes unless it is something you absolutely love. Expensive gym memberships do not make you exercise, most gym memberships are unused after a few months.

No More Debt

Do not go into debt for anything. If you can not afford it, do not buy it. The only thing you are allowed to go into debt for is your mortgage and try to pay this off in less than 15 years. Once your mortgage is paid off, your basic living expenses will be stable and low.

Save 25x Your Living Expenses

You may discover after a decade you could probably work less. You might have been able to save 25 times your living expenses. If you have children, you may want to start working part time. You could enjoy time with your young family while they are growing up. If you need more money in the future, you can always continue working part time. And those funds that you have been sticking into ETFs along the way can continue to grow. And that’s all you need to do. Very simple and very easy. Do not allow anyone else to talk to you into a more complicated plan. You simply do not need it.

After saving 25 x your living expenses, you can take your foot off the pedal. You figured out how to get this far, you do not need umpteen assurances. You will figure it out along the way. Money is not security. It is who you had to become to get to this stage that is the real wealth. No spreadsheet will save you if you are fearful of losing money. Do not allow money to have that power over you.


Forever Investment Plan

Well that is a bit of a catchy title but it is ultimately what I want for my financial plan. And maybe even for my life. For instance, I really enjoy marrying a forever husband and I really love my forever children. I also love my forever home and I plan to not change our forever careers. I have even maintained the same hobbies since I was a child of running and reading books from the library. The library is still one of the few places I go to regularly. I note that “forever” is simply a plan, I am old enough to realize that things can go sideways pretty quickly. But that does not mean you can’t plan with forever in mind.

Therefore why not design a forever investment portfolio? In any case, I would be guided by my own plan. That is why I often write about making a plan based on what you really want, your values and your goals.

Forever Equities Plan

  • Plan to buy & hold forever (and at least 30 years)
  • Diversify money over assets and time by:
    • Buy low fee broad based ETF’s. I plan on buying a global ETF.
    • I will deploy capital into the market with DCA (dollar cost averaging).
  • Understand that although I can not time the market, with the CAPE10 currently above 30, I will expect lower long term returns on average.
  • Risk management for equities:
    • Avoid company, sector and market specific risk by buying a global ETF eg VGRO from Vanguard
    • Mitigate drawdown risk:
      • Buy and hold for > 30 years
      • Dividends can easily support our expenses so I do not need to sell the stocks.
  • Exit Strategy- keep forever, thus no exit planned except for estate planning.
  • Focus on things that matter and that I can control:
    • Fees matter so keep them low. Definitely less than 0.5% MER.
    • Taxes matter so trade less. I plan to add cash to balance a portfolio rather than sell which would trigger capital gains tax.
    • Stay the course. Whatever plan I decide upon, do not switch the strategy part way. Pick a line and stay in line.
  • I have zero interest in researching anything that I have no control over such as the public equities market. It is simply buy, hold & pray afterall.
  • For me, it is a place to keep pace with inflation. If it grows, that is a secondary benefit. Regardless, I will prefer the favorably taxed dividends.

Forever Real Estate Plan

I love buying urban multifamily homes that support our families now and into the future. I enjoy having my growing children start their young adulthood in our previous rental unit. I also enjoy buying the unit that my husband conducts his practice in. After years of paying rent, it has been wonderful to purchase our own unit for the practice. We bought the unit for ourselves and thus it has become a sanctuary even during working hours. We do not have to ask for consensus to do whatever we want with our unit. I simply love control at times and I am very happy to pay for it.

The only area that I have ever taken a mortgage was in purchasing real estate. But I am careful to never leverage more than I could easily cover with my liquid assets.

I am one of those people who keep a lot of cash around and am often told that this is foolish and that inflation will demolish my lifestyle. However, as I have gotten older, my living expenses continue to decrease rather than increase. I no longer wonder if there is something better out there anymore. I have tried all the luxury goods and services I need and I am always left thinking “is this all there is?”. I am content with my simple needs and I frankly love my lifestyle. At 49 years old, I have found no one else’s lifestyle that I wish to emulate. That is a wordy way of saying that I feel that I have enough and then some.

FIRE Anxiety

Lately, I have been coming across many calculators for the 4% SWR strategy. I sense the real anxieties. This probably exists because equity market volatility assists you while you are accumulating, but volatility will be risky when you are decumulating. Therein lies the issue. You can get the calculations right or you can veer far off base unknowingly.

Furthermore, many of the young FIRE community have never experienced the market crashes like the dot com bubble and the financial crisis of 2007-2009. Looking at the timelines of many of these portfolios, they were accumulated in the past 10 years during a bull market. Perhaps that is why I focus on tangible assets such as real estate. In fact, I do not even really focus on rental cash flow real estate but rather in acquiring homes for myself and my family with simple leverage. I recall when I purchased my current home as a rental initially. My husband was very concerned that the numbers might not work and all I could think was that even if this was a terrible investment, I would love to live here!

Therefore, you need to know yourself and what it is that you want. I love my home and if anyone told me that I should have kept the mortgage longer to invest more into the stock market, I still would not have. The whole point of wealth is to not have to worry about money. And I can confirm for myself that the more grateful I am, the less I need of it everyday. Additionally, the more simple my life and my needs become, the less money I also require. I suspected that when I was 15 years old but now as a 49 year old woman, I absolutely know that that is my truth.

I love the plan that Warren Buffett has for the trust for his wife. He plans to invest 90% into a Vanguard S & P index with low fees and keep 10% in short term bonds. Now that is a plan I can wrap my mind around. It is profound in its simplicity. It speaks volumes about one who can enact such a plan. Many of us would be wise to follow his advice.

Automate My Life

We live in a world of automation. It appears many people would prefer to deal with a machine rather than with other people. Quick examples include self checkouts at libraries, grocery stores, gas pumps and today it even included my car wash.

I have to admit that I love automation. I have swooned about my Roomba for years. I also have a love affair with my dishwasher as well as my washing machine. I have never needed to hire anyone to clean my home since it all works like a well oiled machine. Perhaps my standards are also not as high but that is part of the reason why my systems are easier to maintain.

There have been so much improvement in the automation arena. Real changes that have made my life noticeably easier and simpler.

Automate Finances

The days of needing to stand in a bank teller line are long gone. I used to wait so long just to deposit cheques and to pay my taxes. It was horribly painful. My bank recently has even allowed cheque deposits by taking a photo on a smart phone. I recently discovered that I was able to purchase term deposits online as well. The whole area of automatic bill payments have simplified my life dramatically. Having the convenience of automatically paying my credit cards ensures that I do not incur interest charges.

It is endless the amount of automation one could set up with respect to finances. I may write another post about this later.

Automate Meals

One of the easier ways to lose weight is to eat the same meals over and over again. This same technique is used by weight training athletes who want to maintain their macronutrients. I admit that I was attracted to this concept as I feel deciding what to make for dinner each evening a common torture. I now reserve dining out once weekly rather than our previous three times or more a week. Yes, I am probably not going to be voted mother of the year.

In any case, I have devised a plan to eat the same breakfasts, lunches and snacks as well as a simple rotation for weekday dinners. This has made grocery shopping a breeze and meal prepping even easier. I still venture off the routine but much less than before I had a meal plan. It has been healthier to eat these meal plans since I incorporate more healthy ingredients into the plan at the outset.

One of the simplest meal planning options that I have researched involved batch cooking and then freezing premade meals for the week. There are a plethora of options when you research online.

Automate Cleaning

I track my finances to make sure that I spend less. And I track my cleaning routines to make sure that I clean LESS!! That really messed with my children’s mind when I told them that that was the intent of the weekly cleaning list. The whole point of using the cleaning checklist was to ensure we all did less cleaning. The kids loved that concept. We would regularly tweak the cleaning checklist to test how little we could do and still have a clean home. I love turning concepts around. We finally decided that all we ever needed to do were the following on a regular basis.

Weekly Cleaning Routine

  • Bathroom:
    • Clean toilet
    • Clean bathtub
    • Clean sink
  • Kitchen:
    • Clean sink
  • Laundry- every Sunday we run all loads of laundry
  • Dusting- this is simple as I make sure to minimize knick knacks that are a nuisance to dust around.
  • Vacuum areas that Roomba can not do such as our stairs.

Daily Cleaning Routine

  • Roomba runs daily since she never tires out!
  • Empty garbage and compost when full.
  • General pickup and returning items to their proper locations. May I stress that you need to have a place for everything in your home. That way things can easily be returned after use.
  • Keep counters cleared. Counters attract clutter so keep them cleared.

Roomba has been wonderful. Just like recurring expenses, recurring errands and tasks will cause death by a thousand cuts. I am vigilant to decrease those mercilessly.

Automate Shopping

I detest shopping so this takes up significantly less time in my life than for most of my girlfriends. I have NEVER shopped as entertainment since I always bored of it quickly. Moreover, when others found it interesting or enjoyable, I always found it exhausting to make meaningless decisions about what to buy. I read product reviews, not to ensure that I buy the best but to allow the reviewer narrow the choices. That is why Costco has been fantastic since they usually carry a limited number of product options and I only have to decide yes or no instead of staring at a dozen brands. I am what they call a satisficer- it usually is good enough. I could care less to buy “the best” mainly due to my lack of discerning taste. I often believe that having bad tastes has allowed me to save a lot of money over the years. Luxury brands generally have zero pull on me. No, I do not believe that if I buy your product that I will be smarter, happier, fitter, more popular- seriously, I just don’t.

When something is on sale. I tend to stock up. When I have a non perishable item on my shopping list, I tend to buy two so that decreases my shopping by half.

Weekly Templates

I started using weekly templates as way to simplify my schedules. It is fun to design them and thus far have been working out well to set boundaries.

Money Mondays– I use Mondays for taking care of bills, investing, banking, etc. Anything financial falls into this day.

Career Tuesdays– This one is simple since this is the day that I head into the office and work.

Body Wednesdays– I use this day for anything health related such as medical and dental appointments. I often book my appointments as the first appointment in the afternoon. I also try to schedule my next appointment before I leave the current one. Can you tell that I am a mother yet?

Stuff Thursdays– This is the day where I take care of errands related to shopping, household and lawn care. I enjoy modifying my “to do” list so that this day has become noticeably easier.

Miscellaneous Fridays– This day is reserved for taking care of things that I did not get done on the other scheduled days. But usually I use it to do NOTHING!

These are guidelines. I use it mainly to avoid booking a health appointment randomly all over my schedule.

Automate Life To Fit Your Energy Level

I automate my life in terms of my energy as well. I follow a regular ritual of gratitude, reading, writing and exercising every morning. I am definitely a morning person and thus I reserve these early hours for projects that require focus and concentration. When my energy wanes in the afternoons, that is when I book all appointments and errands that require less energy.

Try out different routines and see what works best for you. Similar to tracking our spending, one tends to improve whatever one tracks. The mind has a way of honing in on whatever you start tracking. Automating and simplifying not only helps with personal finances but could also improve other areas of your life. Isn’t this the whole point of it all- to live better lives?

It’s Not About The Money

It has been said so many times that no one really listens to it anymore. But it’s true that “It’s not about the money.”

I used to make excel spreadsheets which would predict how much my money would grow at a certain rate of return. I used to pat myself on the back when I would see the millions that would accumulate. I started doing these calculations when I was 15 years old and used to do them by hand calculator. I look back and have to chuckle. Nothing really worked out that way for me and I doubt it does for many people.

I also used to read about all the intricacies of taxes. But tax laws change and political climates change. My best advice is to make sure that you hire a good accountant.

Most importantly do not put all your hopes and dreams on reaching a certain number. Think more about what kind of life you really want to live. Then the number is secondary. The government could change a tax law and you could see many years of savings collapse. That is why I am a fervent believer that you must at least enjoy the journey or else you may be very disappointed.

It is healthy to see more physicians are talking about finances. We do not tend to speak about our finances amongst ourselves since it could be seen as poor taste. I believe when physicians take care of their finances, they are able to work with less distraction and less stress.

It is wise to ensure that one has multiple layers of redundancy with respect to their finances. I am cautious to not fully expose my financial future on a paper portfolio anchored mainly in a public equities market. That is why I constantly review the tactics that are completely within my control such as minimizing unnecessary expenses. And I try to build a wonderful life with minimal financialization.

I am seeing especially amongst physicians or anyone who is able to reach FI, some of their fears do not vanish. Once the baseline FI is reached, more and more money will not help to assuage your fear of enough. Money does not tend to quell fear-based thinking. That is why the bar continually gets moved higher and further away. The numbers begin to be Franken numbers. The healthiest players are those who set a modest number. They have a simple plan to reach it and then spend more effort building a resilient life rather than reworking their excel spreadsheets. The lure of the one last year syndrome is real and can add decades more to your original plan if you are not careful. Furthermore, it is not healthy to give money all that power over your life.

For myself, it is about control. It is about laser focus of your values and your goals. I am beginning to see bloggers sharing their net worth. Although interesting, be careful about comparing too closely. Know that there are some people who can reach FI with a fraction of the ultimate number but are steadfast in their ability to “make it work”. Then there are the others who develop spreadsheet after spreadsheet and even with a massive number have to hold on for another year.

Design your financial plan robustly. Avoid blindly worshiping the public equities market of which you have zero control. I am participating in the buy, hold and pray technique but I assure you that my equity portion is simply used as an inflation hedge. I do not need it to make me wealthy. The public equities market is a place to store a portion of your wealth. Even the infamous Warren Buffett- he built a business and he has influence with the companies he invests in. You and I do not. I hope that that was not a surprise to anyone.

I am generally distrusting of simple models that are also easy such as the 4% SWR (safe withdrawal rule). That might work but I am certainly NOT relying on it. It pays to be a bit paranoid at times especially when it comes to your wealth.

I tend to use multiple and redundant layers when it comes to my financial plan:

  1. Live Modestly– As I continue to pontificate, learn to love extricating yourself from consumerism and being thunk upon by corporations.
  2. Be Self Employed– I plan to keep my license active since I enjoy being a doc and my work enables me to dial it up or down as needed. I appreciate this aspect of my career a lot. It probably will help me age healthier as well. One of the issues with some older retired people is that they seem to talk about their prior work a lot…
  3. Use Inflation Hedges
    1. Real estate:
      1. You can continue to increase the rent of your investment properties which should keep pace with inflation
      2. Owning my home will allow me to keep my living expenses stable. It will be the best option to hedge against rental inflation and sequence risk which all these 4% SWR folks need to worry about. Plus I love having my own home. It does not have to be fancy but it has to be mine.
    2. Equities– I have zero control of these companies but hopefully they will produce products or services which are inflation adjusted.
    3. Commodities– Buy some precious metals in case all the digital assets become frozen. No, I am NOT a prepper/ end of the world enthusiast.
  4. Buy Non- correlating Assets
    1. I doubt that my local real estate which I have fully paid off would catch the contagion of an equities bear market. Be careful with REITs since they use a lot of leverage and this could be affected by the stock market.
  5. Guaranteed Investment Certificates– I love having insurance on my money. I like knowing that I can get my capital back. I often use GIC’s(CDs in US). I simply use 5 year ladders which mitigate the interest rate risk of locking the money up for longer terms.
  6. Community– Rely on family and friends and make sure to that others can rely on you!! You could take care of many things with sharing, bartering, etc.
  7. Hire Professional Help– Especially for professionals with complicated corporate structures, use the internet to stimulate some questions but please use knowledgeable accountants and lawyers who understand your specific details. It bears repeating but everyone’s financial situation is different so tread carefully.

Finally remember that money helps you with aspects of life but it is not the end game. At times, it pays to develop multiple layers of redundancy especially for something as crucial as your financial health.

Deal With Your Money

Money is a topic that will need to be attended to for the rest of your life. For those who wish to keep their head in the sand- this would be terrible news. Furthermore, it is liken to schoolwork. Studying it makes one less stressed about it.

Your financial statement is your adult report card.

I understand the sentiment when people say they do not care about money. They tend to think along the lines of materialism and greedy rich folks. Those are emotional reasons to avoid dealing with money. However the whole arena of personal finance is very simple.

Live Within Your Means

That is the entire concept in four words. Powerful indeed and much of this is relatively within your control. If you do not see this as a gift, wait until we delve into investments. You will be extremely pleased that you get the personal finance under control first. And when I speak about being in control I am referring to building systems for oneself. Do not rely on will power since that can become exhausted and then it is back to bad habits again. I am talking about designing your life so that you can end up saving more money.

Avoid or Minimize Recurring Expenses

Aside from your regular housing expenses which includes rent or mortgage, property taxes, home insurance, utilities, and internet- there are plenty of areas to slow this drain down. Watch out for expensive cellular and internet plans. Schedule time once a year to review these ongoing plans and see if you want to renegotiate them. Think about gym memberships. The fact remains that most people would get most of their benefit from simply going for a daily walk with friends, family or their dog. Add in simple mobility routines and weight training which can be done at home and you have will a wonderful exercise regime. Most of your weight will be determined by your diet so this is where the maximal benefit lies.

Figure Out Your Base Burn Rate

This is vital. Many folks believe their money mysteriously vanishes. Unfortunately that is exactly what will happen if you do not keep track of your finances. There are plenty of ways to achieve this. You could use an online program, a paper journal or even your own excel spreadsheet. The only thing stopping anyone is the desire to want to know what the number is. I have never been successful with budgeting. I have found tracking to be extremely useful. No judgement- just track. And review it once a month. Understand that based on your working hourly wage- each expense equates your life energy. You will begin to look at money management completely differently.

It is useful to know the amount of money it truly takes to maintain the basics of life for you. Then after tracking for a period of at least three months, you will see how close you are to the base burn rate.

Keep Your Money Simple

A common reason that people have a hard time dealing with money is because there is so much emotion attached to it. I think awareness is the key to it all and that is why I belabor the habit of tracking. In the early stages of money management- the most important habit is to determine your savings rate. The oft quoted “save 10%” will probably never get anyone to financial freedom early unless you start at 20 years old and have a pension. Save more, like a lot more. You need to save at least 35% just to retire in 25 years and saving 10% will take you 50 years to retire! Unfortunately for those who spend more than they earn, those years will be infinite as you can not compound a negative number except in reverse.

Thus your savings rate is the most important initially.

Focus On A Living Expense Ratio of 25-50%

The media has been able to sidetrack most people into worrying themselves about the stock market. Unfortunately most people have not even been able to control the one thing they can – the savings rate.

In fact most early retirees have been able to do it mainly with their extremely high savings rates. You can retire in under 7 years if you can save 75% of your income. They do not even have to concern themselves with equity growth since they would not have had enough time in the market for it to make an appreciable difference. The double and likely more important benefit of being able to save that amount yearly is the flip side. You learn to live on 25% of your income. And when you master that, you have a lot of freedom to choose whether you want to continue doing your work after a while.

I agree with the whole concept of an encore or passion career. Many people would benefit from planning out their base burn rate of their living expenses. Work for a number of years to save enough so that this amount could passively replace their living expenses. Then you are free to do what you want at this time.

Figure Out What Financial Independence Means To You

Many people start blogs and podcasts to show others how to achieve financial independence. This is a wonderful concept since they start to give back to society with their knowledge.

But before this, it is important to know thyself and to thyself be true. There is no point in blindly following anyone else’s plan. That is the benefit of tracking. You will begin to see what you value since your numbers will undoubtedly uncover some truths and patterns of your behavior. Many of which you have been unconsciously doing for years.

Money is a topic that will not go away. It underlies so much of what we do with our lives and there are certain truths about it. For instance, after a certain amount of money, it stops being an important part of your thoughts. You will find that you get to a point where money will simply be a monthly management checklist. You will develop solid systems and this will serve as a ballast for your life plans.

There are some people on websites who want to gain 10 million dollars of investable assets before feeling wealthy. If you are unable to figure out the role money plays in your life, that bar can and will be moved regularly and easily. Have I stated already that money is a mental game yet?

How Little Do You Really Need?

The reason I prefer to have money is to afford options in my life. With time I have also come to respect the limits of money however.

I used to believe that it was about attaining a certain “number”.

When I started my financial journey, I would research how much would I need? Like many, I believed that it was some magic number that once attained, all your problems would be solved. There are a myriad of calculators and articles written about this vaunted “number”. But in time, I recognized that this journey has many layers to it for myself as well as others.

Personal finance is straightforward. Spend less than you make. That. Is. It.

But like many things in life, it is simple but NOT easy. That is why I regularly remind myself that money is first and foremost a mental game. You can learn a lot about others with how they approach money.

Unfortunately, there is minimal financial literacy taught in schools. Many people do not have to deal with any of this until they have been out working for years. I am going to introduce another concept of how little one may actually need.

So what is the basic amount that I need?

Pay Off A Home

The big three expenses is often housing, food and transportation. I do not budget but I review my expenses regularly. I highly recommend people budget if they have a spending issue. For over a decade, my expenses were below 30,000/ year. We moved to my previously rented multiplex a few years ago. The carrying costs of our current home is higher. It costs about 1100/ month to take care of the current house. I do not think I could rent a one bedroom in my neighbourhood for this amount. Thus having a paid off home is very effective.

I started off with buying a half duplex in a less affluent neighbourhood with my parents. I did not want to have a mortgage since I was averse to debt that I had to pay for. Since the duplex was more affordable, I was able to buy it with cash. This allowed us to make a downpayment on our current home in the more upscale neighborhood. We rented the multiplex out for about a decade. And that is how an urban multiplex is owned. We lived in the half duplex for years and we never felt that we sacrificed anything. A lot can be accomplished with patience and using time to your advantage.

Reliable Transportation

Cars are very expensive. I think this whether it is a luxury vehicle or not.

We made sure we lived in walkable neighbourhoods. It is extremely convenient to live close to grocery, shopping, healthcare, pharmacies, banks and restaurants. I wanted to live in a community that I could have conveniences when I am 80 years old! I do plan very far in advance.

I need reliable transportation. Many times it could involve walking, biking, or public transit. It also could involve car sharing programs around my city. I use my own car rarely and mainly for larger shopping trips.


This one had been one of our largest expenses. We love to eat. Dining out was probably the only area that I spent more than the average household. And do you know what helped decrease this expense? I changed my eating habits. I began eating more of a whole foods, plant based diet. This made eating out less of an issue as it is much easier to meal plan at home with basic ingredients. This one has become a huge win. It is healthier and easier as the ingredients are simpler and many recipes are also easier to make. I even started a home garden and that has made some meals even more economical. Plus I really dislike shopping so having a home garden meant I could skip the grocery line and head out my backyard and just harvest some greens!


Some of the best trips we ever took involved visiting good friends around the world. I have taken trips which involved fancy hotels and restaurants. But nothing compared to staying with good friends and seeing the city through their eyes. Plus it is always great to catch up with good friends.

Admittedly, our favorite travel experiences involve nature. We love hiking the national parks and that takes more physical ability than money to fully enjoy it.

I believe sculpting your life to not always require financial transactions make for a better life. Money is useful for those times when there is no other alternative. It is not what I reach for first.

Here are other ways that less money is no problem!

Cleaning your house– You could hire a maid or cleaning service weekly. But you could also simplify your home so that it is a breeze to clean with an organized system. Use dependable appliances such as dishwashers, Roomba, and washing machines. You do not need to screen them, hire them, or work around their schedules since my machines work around MY schedule.

Drying clothes– I could use the clothes dryer and waste a lot of energy or dry it outside or on a rack in the house. This one is simply a no brainer for me.

Clothes– One could shop regularly and buy lots of fast fashion or you can design your wardrobe around durable, stylish pieces from reputable brands. Many outdoor sportswear stores fit the bill. Some will even repair or replace your clothing if there is a defect.

Public school versus private school– There are plenty of medical students whom I met who came up through private schools. My parents paid zero for my elementary and high school. There are many parents who strive to enroll their children into private schools in our city. However, I still see many students from local public high schools who have no issue gaining admittance to great universities and exceling when they get there.

Fitness– I used to have a gym membership. Workouts would be over an hour of driving to the gym, waiting for machines or weights and then heading home. Nowadays I simply go running right from my front door. It is wonderful to enjoy the fresh outdoor air. And the addition of free weights for the home has been wonderful to ensure that I rarely miss workouts now.

Use The Access and Sharing Economy

I use the access economy for many things. Think of the public library, public transit, Netflix and Spotify.

For many things I prefer the concept of sharing (ie you actually know the other people). I include the sharing economy for my multiplex, cars, garden, home gym, internet and other household supplies such as yard care equipment and tools.

Sometimes It Is Definitely Not About Money

I use money mainly because I have not found a more efficient or effective means to get something done.

Paying for an expensive hybrid car versus just driving less. I do not think I could ever recoup the costs of a more expensive hybrid. I would simply drive a lot less.

For some people, no green invention will ever be worthwhile. For someone who already lives a naturally green life they simply do not even need it. It is akin to container stores being useless for those who harbour minimal clutter.

Everyone is so focused on making more and more. How about trying to live on less.

More money does not make the book, movie or music that you are enjoying any better. That is also true for the great run or whatever health goal you might have set for yourself. You need some money but after a while you see that adding more money does not at all increase the enjoyment of life. Take an inventory of your life and see if any of this rings true.

This is my short list. Most folks are more imaginative than I am. I am sure they can come up with a bigger list of ways to live without using a lot of money.

Something I have also noticed lately is that even with money, it is not buying the convenience and security that many crave. The problem with money is that you think you have money but so does everyone else. You do not have any edge. Products and services go to the highest bidder and thus the bar is moved all the time. Whereas self reliance is something no one can take away from you. It really is one of the most reliable, sustainable and healthiest ways to live.

You must have a framework upon how you base your thinking about finances. If you do not, others will be more than happy to impose their ways of thinking upon you. Unfortunately they usually benefit financially from thinking for you.

If you can clearly define how little you need to live an optimal life, it can truly be a game changer.

Reasons To Buy A Multiplex

For my family, this is one of the best options for buying real estate especially in expensive cities. I believe in buying “forever” properties so that I can minimize realtor fees and transaction costs. (A multiplex refers to small residential multi-units of 2-4 units)

There are a few ways to attain financial independence.

  1. Paper route– Save regularly over a period of decades usually into investment accounts with 60% equities and 40% bonds. Eventually live on a 4% safe withdrawal rate. So much has been written on the internet about this tactic. I tend to think of this as the “paper route” as it usually involves the public equities market. Many in the FIRE (financially independent retire early) group seems to fall into this category.
  2. Cashflow route– Generally I see this done with real estate. We are regularly searching for this since we enjoy looking at our local real estate market as a hobby.
  3. Business route– We have our own practice but the folks who knock it out of the park are small/ large business owners. I am not talking about self employed professionals here. These businesses utilize leverage and the owners could leave the country and their business would still generate income. Professionals tend to only earn money when they go to work.

Currently, we participate in the real estate cash flow and paper routes. Real estate tends to be illiquid but that could be a pro or a con. It has become way too easy to be able to pull the trigger and sell when the equities market takes a nosedive. Sometimes I think it is better to build a barrier around your investments so that it is harder to change your mind. The adage of save me from myself comes to mind.

Here are some reasons why I believe buying a multiplex versus a single family home works better for our situation.

What Are The Pros?

  1. It Would Cost You Less– You could leverage your renters to help you pay your mortgage. You would be able to learn how to be a landlord as owning a couple of these multiplexes could fund your retirement. Everyone talks about inflation risk- well you would have no better inflation hedge than local real estate where you could increase rent at market rates.
  2. You Would Own Land– Currently I am seeing so many young people who would rather buy fancy new condominiums rather than living in one unit but own the entire house. People underestimate what can be accomplished over a long enough runway. It might be from watching too many home improvement shows on television. Too many people have been sold that the only home worth owning is one with granite countertops. They really need to see how little of a home’s value is in the house versus the land on property assessments.
  3. Safer With More People on the Lot– Especially if you are someone who is not home very often, it would be beneficial to have more people watching your lot. It could be a mini neighbourhood watch. Thieves probably tend not to target property with many residents coming and going.
  4. Who Could You Help Now & Later?
    1. Your adult children- I am sure they would be grateful for the assistance. Many young adults are having a difficult time getting good paying jobs.
    2. Your aging parents- Who do you owe more than your parents? It is more efficient when you need to care for them with respect to getting them to their appointments and general checking in on them.
    3. Continue renting out for income- You could live in your home for free as the ongoing carrying costs would be covered by renting out the other units.
    4. Out of town guests- Many of us love having visitors stay with us. It is a blast having your close friends use your other unit. We did just that a couple of summers ago and it was awesome!
    5. Short term rentals- AirBNB anyone?
    6. House swap while you travel- This is something we often think of doing. We could swap them into our rental multiplex unit and have more privacy in our own home.
  5. Sharing! There are a plethora of things you could share.
    1. Internet- You know by now how much I dislike ongoing costs.
    2. Cars- Have your own car share program with your adult children.
    3. Gym- We have a room that everyone can use with free weights and racks. Plus you can have plenty of people to work out with.
    4. Yard Care/Snow Removal- need I say more?
    5. Gardening- more help with the garden and more people to help to eat all the extra food grown.
    6. Skills- baking, shopping, networks, etc since everyone has different things they are gifted at.
  6. Healthier– The evidence continues to mount of the importance of being part of a community! Do not underestimate the power of having loved ones check in on you regularly.
  7. Better location– Especially in a lovely urban community which could harness better public transportation options, better work & educational opportunities and better healthcare. Many millennial prefer to live in the city if they could afford it.
  8. More environmentally friendly– Multiplexes are a very efficient way to live with using one piece of land to house multiple families. The land is the most expensive portion of the purchase price so why not be more efficient?
  9. Options for different ways of living– You can build a laneway house as the popularity of tiny homes abound. Busy urban cities are beginning to increase density in some popular neighbourhoods.

As with almost anything in life there exists yin and yang however.

What Are The Cons?

  1. More expensive to buy– This is not always true however, it pays to be patient and wait for the right property that fulfills your criteria.
  2. Live smaller– But seriously who wants that much space since it only tends to invite clutter! Also I recommend you buy these as early as you can at a time in your life when you have better things to do than stay home all day.
  3. Probably live in an older place
  4. More hassle– Being a landlord is not for everyone. But you could gain useful knowledge if this ends up being part of your cash flow retirement plan.
  5. Less privacy– Depending on the age of the home, some walls are paper thin for sound travel. However, I have also been in newer condominiums where I have found this to be true as well.

All in all, I love multiplex homes. Currently my children live in our downstairs unit. This allows them to begin living as independent young adults with their benevolent “dictator” close by- that would be me! It has been wonderful to watch them grow into self sufficient adults.

My biggest investment regret is that I wish I had bought another multiplex when I purchased my first one. I would have lived in the smallest unit and rented out the other units. And once I could make one property positive cash flow, I would have repeated the process again with another multiplex. When I run the numbers you only need 2-3 of these to retire. How simple would that have been?

I have learned that I prefer control and I like tangible investments. These are insights you gain about yourself after investing for 25 years. You learn what you have a preference for and how straightforward it could have been. Investing is about the process for me. I think the goal is to learn from my mistakes and hopefully get smarter the next time I deploy capital.

Everyone needs to decide which asset class or combination they wish to use to pursue financial independence. We all have different values, goals and strengths. What works for someone else might not work for you. But starting small and learning is available to everyone.

How Would Your Life Change With A Billion Dollars?

I use this amount because this is a life altering number. There are so many who continue to remind us that 1 million dollars today is not the same as 1 million dollars in the past. Therefore this larger number is to allow all discussion to surpass those barriers. Thankfully this has been a question that I have used in some form or another to make many big decisions in my life.

It is a wonderful thought experiment. It allows one to compartmentalize for themselves what money will and will not be able to do for you. Here is how I sequence it.


I would most certainly have the same relationships. You would not be able to change the most important relationships such as with yourself and your family. Hopefully you already possess meaningful relationships well before you develop wealth since we hear more stories of money destroying relationships rather than the other way around. This part of one’s life needs to be solid as for many people, myself included, not getting this part of your life correct will cloud everything else. I am a firm believer that without meaningful social connections it is difficult to attain true happiness.

Many would agree that the easiest moments to make great friendships were during our younger years. Some of my most enduring friendships were cemented during university. Most of us were broke during that stage in our lives and we could enjoy one another’s company effortlessly. That certainly makes me pause when I remember that.


This one is multifaceted. It is likely in the American medical system that you need money. Probably a lot of it. Thankfully I am in the Canadian medical system. However, to attain general good health probably has more to do with some basic principles- get proper sleep, eat less and maybe even fasting at times, exercise, do not smoke, do not drink alcohol in excess, maintain a healthy weight, wear seatbelts and bike helmets, etc.

I think of these broad strokes when it comes to good general health. I have found myself healthier and happier when I maintain a mainly whole foods, plant based diet. This is a very affordable way to eat. It certainly limits my ability to dine out as often since it is very simple to make sweet potatoes and beans at home!

With respect to working out I would never sign back on for a gym membership. After outfitting my basement with free weights, I simply can not go back. It is so convenient and efficient to workout out at home. And going for a wonderful run outdoors still can not be beat.

Finally, practices that maintain a healthy mental state usually involve meditation which is free! It is the ongoing practice of these basic health habits that will help each of us achieve better health.

Thus when it comes to healthy lifestyle habits, more money does not help all that much in this arena.


This is an area that pays dividends to get right. I truly believe that a good education opens up many opportunities. I used my post secondary studies to train in a profession but my real education started after my formal training.

Being wealthy does not particularly aid with one’s appreciation of a good education. Especially for competitive programs, few gain entrance by simply paying more. And even those who get in by paying, they still need to do the requisite training and hard work to attain a degree or profession. The public education system thankfully still maintains a relative meritocracy. It is not perfect but if you are a hard working student, you still have a good chance to succeed.

So once again having a billion dollars won’t help you here.


My husband and I have talked about this. I am grateful that he would not change what he does for a living. He enjoys his career and has no plans to give it up.

But having a billion dollars could allow one to work significantly less while their family is young. Or even take a sabbatical to pursue further study and opportunities. In this arena having a billion dollars could change this altogether. If you dislike what you do- you would simply quit. That’s what happens to some lottery winners. Unfortunately without adequate preparation to fill their lives with other meaningful activity, some of them become adrift and start to spiral downhill quickly.

This one is a wash- I think a billion dollars would be helpful but you could quit that job you dislike with much less money saved!


The investing principles should remain the same. There are only a few major asset classes where one could invest. Basically equities, real estate, business and commodities. Most investing is in some variation of all these.

It would be prudent to maintain an investing plan as you would be investing with even larger dollar amounts. This is where risk management would be crucial. And you would likely require excellent accounting and legal help to maneuver through the maze of it all.

Unfortunately, having a billion dollars here is beginning to feel like more work!


This is the area that would change for most people. They start to dream about what they really want. But when you read the brochures to many of these lotteries, it is eerily repetitive. Everyone seems to want a dream home, luxury vehicles, exotic vacations, vacation homes, nicer clothes and jewellery, etc. I can not help but laugh that it is always the same slew of stuff. It is a veritable template!

I want a comfortable home, reliable cars and a relaxing vacation at times. I am not sure a billion would really help me here since I already have all those. The other stuff I think I would sell it or give it away since it sounds like too much of a hassle to keep.


Since I refuse to hire people to do for me what I can do for myself, I would not tend to buy more properties or stuff that I need to maintain. I prefer designing a home that almost cleans itself with good dishwashers, Roomba, built in cabinets that keep dust out, etc. I like hardwood floors that are easier to clean. I prefer minimalist furnishings since it is much easier to clean your home with less clutter.

I definitely subscribe to the trifecta for all errands of eliminate, automate and delegate. But eliminate first!!!!

Whenever I do this thought experiment I realize that I would not change much of anything. I still believe that a good life is filled more with things that require accomplishment such as getting a good education and developing a meaningful career. Furthermore, the most important aspects of life for myself involve relationships and health. Those can both be attained with minimal costs.

That is the value of these thought experiments since it allows one the ability to envision life not being all that different with the additional wealth. The ability to enjoy a simple and minimalist life is truly priceless. Performing these thought experiments might highlight exactly what you feel is lacking in your current life. Try talking this over with your partner. See if you share any of the same goals or are they divergent?

I have developed an appreciation for a minimalist uncluttered life. This runs counter to having wealth purchase things for me.

Most of this life journey begins in our minds. You can build a wonderful life by being very clear of exactly what you want. No one has the answers for your life. Therefore take the time to figure out what it is that you might be seeking. Enjoy your thought experiment!

Minimalist Packing List For Women

This is my curated minimalist packing list. I love packing lists since like a shopping list it keeps one in check. But the best part of a packing list is that it seems to get better after each trip.

The goal is to strive for traveling light with one small bag.

The Bag(s)

  1. Any backpack between 16L – 20L- I use the Fjallraven 16L backpack
  2. Baggu- for shopping, I keep one with me everyday
  3. Collapsible backpack- 20L Sea-to-Summit
  4. Drawstring bag- I use this to keep my hands free while I am touring a new city


  1. Passport in zip-lock bag
  2. Financial- Credit Card, Debit Card, Cash
  3. Tickets- plane, etc
  4. ID- Driver’s License
  5. Medications- Rx


  1. Toothbrush
  2. Toothpaste
  3. Dental floss
  4. Tweezer
  5. Nail clipper
  6. Comb
  7. Go Tube filled with shampoo or Lush shampoo bars- I use these for shampoo, soap, shaving, laundry- that means for almost everything!
  8. Moisturizer
  9. Shaver
  10. Sunscreen
  11. Mosquito repellent
  12. Towel
  13. Medical Kit
    1. Bandaids
    2. Face masks

EDC (Everyday Carry)

  1. Phone with charger
  2. Headphone
  3. Extra battery pack for my phone
  4. Travel adaptor
  5. Buff headwear- this is versatile as a scarf, headband, face mask, towel, etc
  6. Carabiner
  7. Hat
  8. Sunglasses
  9. Pen
  10. Umbrella
  11. Eye mask
  12. Ear plugs
  13. Hand sanitizer

Food Supplies

  1. Water bottle- Klean Kanteen insulated 473mL
  2. Chopsticks- collapsible
  3. Titanium spork
  4. Metal container for packing food

The Clothes


  1. Yoga tank with built in bra
  2. T-shirt x 2
  3. Long sleeve shirt


  1. Shorts
  2. Pants
  3. Leggings


  1. Bed clothes


  1. Underwear x 3 pairs
  2. Socks x 2 pairs
  3. Extra Bra- must have a sports bra x 1
  4. Swimsuit


  1. Small rain jacket- Patagonia Houdini
  2. Midlayer jacket- Patagonia R3 Hoody


  1. Sneakers- NB Minimus
  2. Flip flops

Cold Weather

  1. Fleece tops
  2. Fleece pants
  3. Patagonia Nanopuff Hoodie
  4. Gloves


  1. LBD (little black dress)
  2. Black flats
  3. Lipstick

Travel Food

  1. Instant coffee/ tea bags
  2. Dried fruit
  3. Nuts
  4. Oatmeal packets

I love traveling light. There is such a joy with being able to leave all the encumbrances of daily life. It is wonderful to see how little anyone really needs.

Do laundry while traveling. You can definitely pack less if you can wash your clothes and allow them to dry in your hotel. Many people swear by wool clothing. Nowadays I simply bring what I have in my closet. I only bring my iPhone since I am not running an online business. That decreases pack weight a lot.

I am not a seasoned traveler. However I did spend two weeks each in Thailand and Russia with the same packing list during the past year. I was not lacking anything.

In fact, I had to delete certain items since I simply did not use them. I enjoy seeing new places but more than anything it gives me a chance to trial my packing list. I realize it should be the other way around but I am slightly obsessed with minimalist packing. I see this as representative of my overall approach to life. The question of how little do I really need is something I challenge myself with. Over the years I can say with conviction that it really is not as much as one would believe.

Being able to travel lightly is a simple gateway to experimenting with the concept of minimalist living. Many folks could probably be interested in doing this during their weeks on vacation. Few would want to lug heavy baggage during their travels.

We live in a society with too much. There is too much stuff, too much information, too many choices, too many activities. People are bombarded with too many distractions. Being able to carve out a small arena of your life that you can start to simplify ever so slightly would be a welcome reprieve. Minimalism may help one gain some clarity to what is important to you and your family. There is much information gleaned from what you choose to delete from your life.

Sometimes just with the lessening of possessions and obligations allows one to focus more on one’s health and dreams. Many state the process of decluttering more enlightening than therapy! It is a small victory to express free will in a society which prizes the construct that more is better. I firmly believe in the minimal effective dose for many areas in my life. There is often a point of diminishing returns when it comes to work, possessions, exercise, finances, etc. It is more meaningful to be able to come to terms with that level for yourself. Much healthier than having it imposed upon us by someone else.

May you give minimalist travel packing a try. Setting limits for yourself is a healthy approach to living. It just might inspire you to declutter other areas of your life as well.

I would provide links to various purchases but the aim of this site is for you NOT to buy more of things you do not need. There is freedom in NOT buying the best in everything and researching all items before buying. I read reviews simply to narrow my options down to a few choices and then I use my gut sense to make the final decision. I also do not bother to buy things at the cheapest price since I tend to buy so few items that it really is not worth the energy. If something is worth buying I wait for any sale and then I pull the trigger. I am the penultimate satisficer. I am NOT a maximizer when it comes to material goods since they are simply not as valuable to me.

This comes back to “know thyself” since some people must have the “best” in all things. That is fine as long as you are willing to put in the effort in terms of time, energy and money to fulfilling that end. Otherwise, welcome to regular frustration and a prison of your own design.

I believe the entire weight of my travel backpack was less than 10 lbs. It was a cinch to carry around with my all day. During plane rides I was able to board later as I did not need to worry about overhead storage for my backpack since it fit easily in the airplane seat in front of me. Now that was freeing since there was no line up for me before the flight.

I will include photos of my travel pack after my next trip. Until then curate your own minimalist travel list.

Design A Wealth Plan

It makes sense to have a wealth plan. This may be for no other reason than to have a template to make all the other parts of your plan a reality. This is the backbone of curating your life to allow you to be pulled and pushed toward wealth since it a very trackable game.

Setting up your life where you develop a value based foundation of expenses will help guide your journey. You can consciously decide which areas of your life you would like to add or subtract expenses from. Review this once a month so that you can be more conscious and stay on target. Remember that it is about reviewing and then deciding whether or not you wish to make changes upon reflection of your current values. You can not undo what you have already spent in the past but you can make decisions about the following month.
A wealth plan is anchored to your expenses which is why I mention it regularly. You can adopt extreme frugality or decide to live more modestly. The difference will be that this is completely within your control.

Many areas in our financial lives are not within our control. Some folks who have been able to reach financial independence have alluded that they started treating their personal finances as a business. It was odd that they could function in their careers balancing the books for their work but then return home and be unable to deal with their personal numbers.

Unfortunately most of this money stuff is within a person’s mind. That is why all the options and strategies will not work unless a person decides that this is important to them. The best plans fail if no one will enact them. That is why I focus on habits and curating my life so that it would be easier to make sense of it all when there is less clutter.
Know thyself and know thy numbers! Being able to develop a 30,000 feet view of your life will likely help it become less reactive. A lot of slippage occurs when one has to react.
There are many areas that are not worth tracking but numbers lend themselves easily. Wealth is an area that would only help anyone enjoy their lives more easily. I doubt that anyone would say no to wealth. Wealth simply makes one more of who they already are. It serves as an amplifier. If someone has good habits and are good to those around them, then wealth simply aids that.

For instance, with respect to housing I would not buy luxury homes since I feel that that is wasteful and unnecessary. I do not value luxury and thus would rather invest in urban multifamily homes. I believe these afford the best of all worlds. Being in the city allows one to partake in the entertainment and wealth of established social networks. Also one can benefit from the education, transportation and health infrastructure. Many of those networks can not easily be replicated no matter how much money one has. This segways into why I would prefer not to buy a recreation property in an isolated location. I prefer access to good healthcare and resources quickly.

An urban multiplex allows one, if they are doing better financially, to live in the home all by themselves. However it gives one the options to allow visitors to stay with you without giving up your privacy. It allows for house sitters when you are vacationing. It also allows for options to have family stay with you as they age or are disabled. It allows for live in caretakers if you are the one who is disabled. The point of all this is optionality.
If one was unable to live in this all by themselves, you could rent the other units out for income. You could rent it out to your adult children as they are beginning to get on their feet financially. Plus what a great asset to be able to give to your future generations. Real estate is a very emotional subject so it pays to have some.
Invest and build wealth with future generations in mind. I am confident that your grandchildren will not say that you overpaid for the home and the stocks!

And that brings me to one of the consistent traits of people who can not accumulate wealth. There is an element of FOMO (fear of missing out) and inability to delay gratification. There is an underlying belief that spending money equals happiness. I equate happiness with my financial freedom and I see buying many goods as an impediment to my happiness! Most of wealth building is in one’s mind. It is about focus and attitude. You need to decide what it is that you value more. If you value all the goods and services that money can buy then you will likely take a very long time to achieve freedom. There is nothing to say which camp you want to subscribe to. It is all personal preference.

Wealth planning involves all the regular avenues of real estate, equities, bonds, cash and commodities. There are plenty of articles which offer quick fixes. I recognize that the oft repeated stock market advice of buy, hold and pray are designed for a certain type of investor. That is fine for my situation since I intend to hold my index funds forever hopefully. It also pays to have some level of self awareness such that you do not bite off more than you can tolerate. Risk management is probably more important than trying to find the perfect investment. Forecasting is also fraught with many differences of opinion. Ultimately one has to listen to advice but be able to think deeply of what it is that you want to accomplish. And hopefully your spouse is onboard since that appears to be a difficult path if they are not.

The wealth plan is the blueprint. This helps one visualize which of the asset classes one can best utilize to grow their wealth optimally. There is certainly no one size fits all. That is why I believe personal finance blogs are useful. It allows each of us to take a peek at what each other are planning without conflicts of interest. I am enjoying this journey no matter where it ultimately ends up.