Gen Squeeze often describes the financial challenges facing younger Canadians. But what does a real life financial squeeze look like? How can a family - my family - making $80,000 per year be squeezed for money? Where does it all go?
The problem is people don’t like to talk about the details of their household budget. Money is often a secret or taboo topic. So, to help answer some of these questions, I'm going to provide a snapshot of how my family is feeling the squeeze and how we have struggled to adapt and live within our means.
Meet The Bond Family
My name is Julie Bond. I am a teacher with the Coquitlam School District with a part-time position, though I’m currently off work finishing maternity leave with my second baby.
I devoted most of my 20s to getting an education. I successfully achieved my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology and Psychology, followed by my Bachelor of Education Degree in teaching high school English and Social Studies, and then my Masters of Education Degree in Teaching English as a Second Language in the hopes of getting a full-time, well-paid job.
On the other hand, my husband Noel spent his 20s working. He started from the bottom at Sperry Rail Service as an assistant operator and he’s now with the Canadian Pacific Railway as a locomotive engineer and train conductor. He makes around $80,000 per year.
The median family income in Canada is $68,000 after tax, so Noel and I do make a lot of money compared to many households. But the money is gone at the end of the month. Here’s what our household balance sheet looks like.
Things We Can’t Afford
- Saving or planned spending: another $400 per month
- Daycare for two kids under five years old: $1,500 – $2,000 per month, every month.
We’ve been trying to adapt
Our family has already made a lot of decisions to allow us to live within our means. I pursued more education in order to find more stable and well-paid employment, but I have stayed at home to care for our children because childcare costs are so high. As a part-time teacher, I would make around $30,000 per year. But the cost of daycare for my 2 kids, both under 5 years old, makes it prohibitive for me to return to my part-time job at this point. We definitely can’t afford to add a $1,500 daycare bill every month for our 2 children. I would prefer to work, but unless I was given full-time hours, my daycare costs would be equal to or greater than my net income.
We have also cut what expenses we can. We recently moved to Mission BC for more affordable housing, which means I would have to commute three hours to Coquitlam for three hours of part-time work. We returned the truck to get a better commuting car since Noel now commutes from Mission to Port Coquitlam for work. However, this cost saving measure is not equivalent to changing our budget by $2,600.
I have tried for a long time to budget for our family living off of $400 per week. It sounds like a lot of money. But once you spend $225 at Canadian Superstore or $200 at Costco for food and house supplies, and then you fill the truck up with gas (at least $80) and the car up with gas ($45), the $400 is basically gone. And you haven’t yet stopped and bought beer, a birthday gift, a date night out, a babysitter – nothing extra yet. And that $400 per week doesn’t cover any of the big bills, like car repairs, Christmas, any kind of camping or summer holiday, fixing up your home, a new car seat or anything around $100 or more. If you add in those things, it’s probably closer to $2,000 per month living cost.
What will my family do?
On one income, at $80,000 per year, Noel makes take home net $4,000 per month. Our bills are closer to: $6,600 per month (without daycare costs). Is that living high on the hog or is that just life? What can you cut out? What can you add?
We have managed because I was on paid maternity leave for a year, but now that year is coming to an end so I need to find another way to earn money to make up the difference between our expenses and income. If I try to go back to work to make up the difference, I will also need to factor in an additional $1,500 in childcare costs, which means I have to make a minimum of $4,100 after tax each month just to break even.
Our family is not alone in this struggle and I wonder how families like ours can make ends meet.
Julie Bond is a teacher and mother of two living in Mission, B.C.
Editor's note: in response to Julie's closing question, we asked personal finance expert Preet Banerjee for his advice.
- This is probably half the cost of most mortgages in Vancouver, because we live out in Mission. But we have a higher commuting gas bill though.
- We haven’t started an RESP for baby number two, Zack, because we can’t afford it.
- Most condo fees are more like $200 per month. We’re lucky.
- We should probably be paying down more on all of our credit cards.
- Though my car is paid off, this is equivalent to two vehicles payments. We have 1 expensive truck and 1 clunker car.
- Stupid, but we are stuck with this loan.
- Three university degrees later.
- Noel is commuting by truck from Mission to Port Coquitlam for work. He can’t take transit or the West coast express train because he is on call 24 hours a day, and his shifts sometimes start at midnight.