FI Lifestyle Personal Finance

December 2020 Update

mika under the tree

Mika hopes you had a Merry Christmas!

The holidays are over and I’m excited to get back to semi-regular blogging! While I took a break from publishing new blog content, December still managed to fill up with all kinds of busyness. Here’s what happened at the ESBFI household last month:

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. That means I may receive a commission if you make a purchase through my links. There’s no extra cost to you and it helps to support the blog. Thank you!

Life update

I mentioned in my final December post that I was feeling a little burnt out—2020 just about did me in, and I decided to take a break from publishing new posts. In hindsight, the break turned out to be very well-timed…

Blog headaches

Coincidentally, the timing of my blogging break was very helpful—it freed me up to deal with some major website issues:

Issue #1

In the early hours of December 11, my blog suddenly went offline. When I called my web host (Web Hosting Canada) they told me my site wasn’t loading because all my site files were gone

What?! I still have no idea how it happened and hope that it won’t ever happen again. Thankfully, WHC’s tech support is amazing. In less than an hour, they restored my site and got it back online and fully functional—phew!

Issue #2

A couple of days later, my site started displaying a critical error that I’d never seen before. I again reached out to Web Hosting Canada for help. After some trial and error (disabling a plugin, updating the PHP, editing something else in the backend—which I didn’t understand) we sorted it out. Thank goodness WHC has such capable and patient tech support people!

In the end, I believe the issues were all related to the latest WordPress update. I normally don’t update WordPress right away in case there are bugs they still need to work out. This time, I broke my own rule and paid the price! I won’t be doing that again in the future.

Issue #3

Unbelievably, there were more problems to come! After I resolved the last issue, I noticed that Google Analytics hadn’t registered any pageviews for a week. I think that when my site was restored, the Google Analytics code was somehow removed. 

Since I try not to check my pageviews more than once a week, I had no idea that anything was amiss until a week later! (I’ve since signed up for free email notifications from so I’ll know immediately if my site goes down.)

It took nearly a day of research, trial and error, but I finally got my analytics reconnected. With this issue resolved, all is well with my site again. I sure hope that’s the last of the issues for a long time.

Special thanks to my blogging buddy Family Money Saver—you’re always ready to offer help and/or an open ear when I have weird tech issues! Your help and suggestions have saved me on more than one occasion. 🙏

What I got up to

walking mika in sun and rain

The boys walking Mika as the sun breaks through the rain

When I wasn’t dealing with website issues, I spent my blogging break enjoying a low-key holiday with my family. We went for walks, took Mika to dog parks, watched movies, cooked, and pigged out on lots of yummy food.

The break was rejuvenating and helped me get caught up and ready to return to weekly-ish blogging. In the coming weeks, I’ll publish the posts I worked on over the break: my two-year blogging update, some new review posts, and a post to finally reveal my family’s annual spending!

A COVID-style Christmas

Our Christmases are normally a flurry of activity: Christmas Eve with my dad and siblings; Christmas dinner with M’s family (30-40 people total); then a multitude of other gatherings between Christmas and New Year’s.

This year, due to COVID, none of those gatherings happened. Instead, they were replaced with (you guessed it) Zoom meetings. Given that the participants ranged in age from 1 to 94, there were the expected technical glitches, interruptions, and everyone talking over each other. (Oh, the joys of Zoom!) 

Even so, a good time was had by all. It was nice to see each other—even if it was only virtually. (To be honest, it was a nice change for me to not have endless in-person gatherings to host and attend this year!)

Still, our Christmases are all about time with our loved ones, so I’m sure we’ll be back to the craziness in 2021. (Hopefully it’ll be safe to do so by then.) 

Investing update

December wasn’t all about website issues and Christmas Zoom meetings. I also spent a considerable amount of time wrapping up our finances and preparing for 2021:

Maxing out our contributions early

Uber-optimizers like me know how valuable it can be to fully contribute to our tax-sheltered accounts early in the year. It puts our money to work right away and gives it the maximum amount of time to grow tax-free.

As a FIRE blogger, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that we’re usually not able to save up enough to max out our RRSP, TFSA and RESP contributions in January. 😳 Typically, it takes us half the year (or more) to fully contribute to our registered accounts.

The year of COVID was different for us. Due to our decreased spending and M doing well with his company stock options, we were able to save enough to nearly fill all our registered accounts in January.

I know this combo of low spending and increased income is unlikely to repeat itself in future years, so I’ll take this year’s win as a consolation prize. It’s the least 2020 can give us, given the dumpster fire that it was!

Our investment performance

December was another great month for stock investors. We were up 4%, which meant our portfolio reached another all-time high. I couldn’t have predicted in March that we’d be where we are now with our investments.

It just goes to show (yet again) how difficult it is to predict which way the markets will go. That’s why I’ll always be a long-term, buy-and-hold investor. That’s the best way to take advantage of all the gains the markets have to offer.

Some notes on our investment numbers

  • I’m lazy, so I don’t subtract contributions when calculating our investment returns.
  • I know this makes our numbers less accurate, but our contributions make such a tiny difference and don’t change the numbers all that much anyway.
  • The majority of our money is invested with our investment manager, but we also hold some investments in M’s group RRSP and a tiny amount at Questrade. I include all of these accounts in our calculations. 
  • I don’t include our kids’ investments or their RESPs in our numbers.

DAFs for Canadians who aren’t billionaires

American FI bloggers and podcasters often mention DAFs (donor-advised funds) as a tax-efficient way to donate to their favourite charities. I won’t get into the details of DAFs here, but here’s an excellent post to give you a balanced overview of them: A Pro/Con on Donor Advised Funds.

In Canada, DAFs are expensive and complicated to set up. You can’t just open them at a brokerage like you can in the US. As far as I can tell, Canadian DAFs are complex and reserved for the ultra-wealthy. Basically: if you don’t have enough to start a foundation or endowment, fugeddaboutit!

A new option

Recently, I learned about a new option for Canadians who want an easy, free way to start a DAF of their own. It’s called Charitable Impact. They’re based in Vancouver and they offer an account that works like a DAF. It’s free to open and use and the fees are similar to a robo-advisor (0.25–0.5%).

I learned about Charitable Impact from another Canadian in the Socially Conscious FIRE Facebook group. I haven’t used Charitable Impact myself, but this FB group member had—and he was happy with his experience so far.

For those who are considering a DAF, this could be a great option. (Note: I’m not an affiliate for Charitable Impact nor do I receive any compensation for mentioning them.)

My two cents

Okay, I’m really selling this service, but am I going to put my money where my mouth is? To be completely honest… it’s unlikely. 

I kind of agree with The White Coat Investor, who thinks it’s a “jerk move” to use DAFs. That’s because you get the tax write-off immediately, but charities get nothing until you decide to actually release the money to them.

In addition, I can invest and grow my money more efficiently and effectively outside of an account like this… which would result in more money to give anyway.

Still, I think Charitable Impact is a novel idea that may be of interest to some of my Canadian readers. Plus, I have a certain friend (ahem, Money Mechanic) who’s always game to learn about unique investment options! 

Let me know what you think, MM! 😉

Spending update

Normally, December is one of our lower-spend months. Since most of our Christmas shopping is done in November, our only major expenses in December are food and other core expenses.

In addition (as I shared in my Green Christmas post) we’ve negotiated gift truces*. with most of our family and friends. That meant an even smaller Christmas spend this year. However, we had a couple of line items that made December 2020 a higher-spend month…

*Thanks to Chris at TicTocLife for the idea to call our no-gift negotiations ‘gift truces’—I love it!

More donations

We still had money left in our donation budget, so we gave to a few more causes in December. 

One was for a man who volunteers tirelessly for the homeless in our area. He collects bottles and cans to return for refunds, which he then uses to buy gift cards for local homeless people throughout the year. 

He’s a one-man operation and not a registered charity (so we don’t get a tax receipt) but we know how hard he works and how much he cares. It feels good to give our dollars to someone who will put 100% of it to good use.

We also took advantage of a donation match from Canada Helps. (Which ended up being double-matched since M’s company also matches all his donations.) We look forward to continuing to support more worthy causes in 2021.

The unexpected $700 boiler repair

We had a couple of chilly days in December when our boiler suddenly stopped working. (Our home is heated with in-floor radiant heating that’s connected to a natural gas boiler.) The first night we realized it, M and I spent 90 minutes diagnosing and attempting to fix the issue.

Thanks to YouTube, we figured the likely issue was that the thermocouple needed replacing. Unfortunately, given that it was 10 pm, there was no hope of getting a replacement until the morning.

We decided to try cleaning the buildup on the thermocouple, hoping that that would be good enough. Of course, that would’ve been way too easy of a solution—and it was. It didn’t work, so we put on some extra layers and settled in for a chilly night. 

The next day, M was (as usual) fully booked with Zoom meetings. That meant it was up to me to rectify the boiler situation. I’m pretty comfortable with DIY repairs, so that didn’t bother me, but I sure wish M had gone to pick up the thermocouple instead of me. 

The neanderthal at the plumbing store

In the morning, I ran down to our local plumbing wholesaler to get the new thermocouple. Unfortunately for me, I was greeted by a neanderthal who insisted on mansplaining to me that they didn’t sell the thermocouple I needed. (But I knew they did because I’d called earlier to confirm!!!)

Just as I was about to give him a piece of my mind, his colleague came to the rescue. With a friendly smile, he asked what I was looking for, measured my old thermocouple, and grabbed a new one for me. The neanderthal sheepishly turned red and was slightly nicer to me after that.

(This is why I hate going into businesses like these—more often than not, I’m treated like I’m stupid and don’t understand English. OMG.)

More frustration

I raced home with the new thermocouple and quickly installed it. (I was basically a pro at it at that point, after removing, reinstalling, then again removing the old one.) I got the pilot to light, but it would not stay lit. Ugh! 

I did some Googling and came across a few suggestions to try cleaning the gas nozzle. I undid the entire assembly yet again, scrubbed everything clean with a wire brush, then reinstalled everything one more time. 

I tried lighting the pilot again… and I almost cried when it stayed lit! I joyfully put everything back together and headed upstairs to turn all the thermostats back on. I couldn’t believe it—with a $7 part, I’d fixed our boiler all by myself!

boiler repair

See that little blue flame in the middle? That’s the pilot light!

Not so fast

Clearly, I pushed my luck by celebrating too soon. By the time I returned to the basement to put away the tools, the pilot had once again died!!! I tried to light it several more times, but every time, it went out as soon as I released the gas valve button.

I did more Googling, and it sounded like the issue was not, in fact, the thermocouple. Instead, it was probably the gas valve that was failing. Unfortunately, that wasn’t something we could DIY.

Calling in the big guns

I immediately called the plumbing store to ask for their recommendations for a local plumber/gas fitter. They gave me three names, and I called all three to ask for their rates and availability. (Something I always do when outsourcing home repairs.)

One place wasn’t available until next week, one was unnecessarily rude, and the third was friendly, helpful and had the best rate. I think you can guess who I picked. A few hours later, Mike the plumber showed up at our house. 

He spent a couple of hours trying to make the old gas valve work… and he almost did, but it just wasn’t working reliably enough. We didn’t want another freezing night or to have to call him out again, so Mike ran out to get a new gas valve.

He swapped it with the old one… and that finally did the trick. Unfortunately, it took another 24 hours or so to get our house fully warm again (a downside of radiant heating) but we were very glad to have a functional boiler again.

Time and money well spent 

Even though our DIY repair didn’t work, I’m still happy that we initially attempted the repair ourselves. I learned a lot: how our boiler parts go together (and come apart) how to replace the thermocouple and how to clean the parts.

Thanks to YouTube, it’s so easy to take on projects like these with confidence and ease. (And if it had been the thermocouple, DIYing the repair would’ve saved us hundreds of dollars.)

We also don’t regret the huge $700 bill for the plumber. As much as we try to DIY things around the house, we’re more than happy to pay a professional when needed… and in this case, it most certainly was.

The final tally: our 2020 spending

In my March 2020 update, I wondered how our annual spending would shake out. Based on our COVID spending patterns, I predicted that it’d be a lot lower—and it was. Compared to 2019, we decreased our spending by 21%!

Most of our savings came from not being able to travel. We also saved a significant amount by taking one car (M’s 2008 Mustang) off the road. Gas and insurance are very pricey in Vancouver, so that made quite the impact. 

However, we ended up spending more in some categories: groceries, utilities, and donations. Below is a breakdown of the spending categories that changed the most for us in 2020 (from biggest percentage decrease to biggest percentage increase):

Entertainment: -79%

Our favourite forms of entertainment usually involve getting out of the house and interacting with other humans. Very little of that happened this year, so our entertainment spending was almost non-existent.

Travel: -65%

We took a short local trip to Whistler in August and prebooked flights to Japan in March 2021 (which I’m 99% sure we’ll have to cancel). Still, this spending was only a fraction of our normal travel spend.

Car insurance: -47%

We didn’t renew the insurance for M’s 2008 Mustang (his commuter vehicle) when it came due in May. However, we did put storage insurance on it, but that’s extremely cheap. Insuring only one family vehicle (my Mazda 5) halved our insurance costs.

Note: I don’t count M’s classic Mustang insurance as part of our car insurance costs.

Christmas: -43%

As mentioned earlier, the gift truces we’d negotiated in previous years already helped to lower our Christmas spending quite a bit. For 2020, it went even lower since we couldn’t attend or host any in-person gatherings.

Gas: -38%

Our gas spending would’ve been lower, but M drove his Classic Mustang a lot more in 2020. (He had more time to drive it in the evenings since he was working from home.) 

Note: While I try to separate M’s Classic Mustang spending from the rest of our car spending, it’s too much of a headache to retroactively figure out which gas-ups were for which car. It’s easier to just add up all the gas spending together.

Eating out: -33%

This was actually a shocker for me. I was certain that we’d been spending a fortune on eating out in 2020. To help support our local restaurants, we made a concerted effort to order a lot more take out than we normally would. Somehow, it still ended up costing us less than usual.

Clothing and general shopping: -32%

Since we hardly went out, we didn’t need new clothes or much else in 2020!

Groceries: +28%

In 2020, our grocery spending went up for a couple of reasons: 1) we spoiled ourselves with higher-quality or specialty ingredients; and 2) we chose to spend more to support local grocery stores and delivery services.

Heating: +38%

In normal years, I’m the only one at home on weekdays. I’m happy to keep the house cool while I throw on an extra sweater and fuzzy socks to keep warm. Unfortunately, my family would have none of this! Up went our heating bill—ugh!

Electricity: +46%

With three (sometimes four) computers running all day, more meals to prepare, and more entertainment streaming from screens in 2020, it was a given that our electricity bill would increase.

Donations: +67%

This is one area that I’m more than happy to have increased in 2020 (and hope to continue increasing in the future). It’s so important to give back when and if we’re able, especially during challenging times.

Will these changes stick?

2020 was certainly an unusual year. Our spending patterns were completely upended—both in expected and unexpected ways. My prediction is that many of the changes will stick. 

For example, M’s company said they’ll make remote working a permanent option. That means we could very easily share my Mazda 5 for commuting and keep his 2008 Mustang off the road. We’ll also continue to shop small and local, which means our grocery budget will remain higher than in previous years. 

I think overall, once our spending goes back to normal, it’ll continue to be lower than in the past. It’ll be interesting to revisit this in a year and again in two years. (Let’s hope we’re fully past the pandemic by then.)

And that’s a wrap!

How did you spend your holidays? Were your celebrations also low-key? Did you enjoy the slower pace, or are you dying to get back to the flurry of parties? Tell me about your 2020 spending as well—I’m curious to see how everyone else’s spending patterns changed!

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  • Reply
    Court @ Modern FImily
    January 13, 2021 at 7:24 am

    Great update as always Chrissy and many I got so angry just reading about your experience with that Neanderthal!!! Ugh and OMG are right. I’m glad you were able to get the heating issue resolved though 🙂

    Our spending was a lot higher than normal this year but due to a one off event – buying a home. We had the extra costs of an inspection, uhaul, furnace cleaning, new king mattress/duvet/sheets/bed frame (not necessary lol), and random stuff for the home. And the down payment ha. And finally set up our wills. And tried to conceive for baby 2.

    But those one-offs aside, our spending fared out pretty normal!

    • Reply
      January 13, 2021 at 5:08 pm

      Hi Court—yeah, that neanderthal was awful to deal with. I don’t get why some people feel the need to treat others badly. Sigh!

      2020 was a big year for you! Lots of extra expenses, but they were for big, important things. Given that your regular spending’s already so low and optimized, I’m not surprised that everything else was on par with other years.

      Thanks for sharing! It was an interesting year, and I’ve been very curious about how it affected the FIRE community.

  • Reply
    Jeff Fang
    January 13, 2021 at 8:45 am

    Solid post and as always love the transparency Chrissy! Argh those blog errors really do sound super frustrating. Wondering if there’s anything that could be done in advance to prevent it.
    Looking forward to more of your 2021 content!

    • Reply
      January 13, 2021 at 5:13 pm

      Hi Jeff—I don’t reveal everything, but I try to be open about the things I do reveal! I asked my host about the odd issues, and they suggested that I change the password, which I have.

      But they and I have no idea how the files were deleted. Thankfully, they do daily backups (and I do as well) so it didn’t take much to restore everything. At least I’ll know what to do if it happens again!

      Thanks for commenting. I look forward to reading and sharing your content this year!

  • Reply
    January 13, 2021 at 9:27 am

    Sorry to hear about your boiler issue, Chrissy. I’m always so skeptical about hiring a plumber or HVAC technician to come out to the house. So much of their fee is just for showing up, so if you’re able to do a bit of research yourself, you can save a ton of money. Of course, that doesn’t always work out so well. When it’s winter and chilly, the family isn’t going to wait around for a few days while you do research and order parts from eBay (ha!). For that reason, it can be a good idea to get familiar with your home’s heating system and plumbing before things break. That way, when they do, you aren’t starting from zero. However, probably a better idea is just finding a good plumber or HVAC technician that you trust – like from a family or friend referral – and keep their number handy.

    • Reply
      January 13, 2021 at 5:27 pm

      Hi AnotherLoonie—I feel the same. It takes a lot for us to bring in any trades person that we have no prior experience with. If they’re honest and good and their rate is reasonable, we’re more than happy to pay.

      But we try to avoid situations where we call them in, and it turns out to be something we could’ve easily done ourselves. (I know of another blogger who called an electrician, and the problem was simply that her breaker had flipped. That call cost her $300!)

      I’ve also done the eBay parts thing, but for my car! It was a fuel temperature sensor (or something like that) and was only $5 on eBay. Everywhere else, it was $50+! It took a few weeks to arrive, but it wasn’t critical, so it was worth the wait. M and swapped it out ourselves, and felt so darned accomplished for doing it (it was not an easy job, and the YouTube videos we could find weren’t for my exact make and model).

      I agree that it’s best to find a good plumber/HVAC tech through friends and family. That’s our normal first source for trades people recommendations. But somehow, no one in the family had had any plumbing issues within the last decade! That’s where the Nextdoor app and Google Reviews come in really handy. 👍

      My comment is turning into a mini blog post, so I’d better end it here! Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting.

      • AnotherLoonie
        January 14, 2021 at 9:16 am

        Nextdoor looks very interesting. I hadn’t heard of that one before. Ha, and yea, just slap a title on it and this comment is ready to go live on the blog!

      • Chrissy
        January 14, 2021 at 4:42 pm

        Nextdoor is great… but also very distracting. My neighbourhood is very involved and active on the app, so there’s a lot of info to sift through! Still, I think it’s overall more useful than it is detrimental. 🙂

  • Reply
    Money Mechanic
    January 13, 2021 at 10:35 am

    I am so busted!! LOL As I was reading the section about DAFs and Charitable Impact, I had already opened the link to read more about it. Boom, then you call me out! Nice work attempting the DIY on the boiler. I have been going through similar problems with mine. I have yet to call out the pro’s though. It is running, and if I wasn’t a helicopter mechanic used to tuning turbine engines, I’d probably think it was fine. But it just doesn’t quite sound right…

    Those are some big drops in your spending numbers! Ours definitely follow a similar trend with increase in heating, electricity and grocery. But the drop in other categories probably more than offsets it. Happy 2021 to the family.

    • Reply
      January 13, 2021 at 5:35 pm

      Hey MM—ha ha, you’re totally busted! I knew you’d be curious… but hey, most of us in the FI community are, right? That’s partly what drives us. 😉

      You’re lucky your heat’s still working! That’ll at least buy you some time to do more research into the problem and/or find a good person to help fix it. I’m jealous of people like you who have extensive mechanical experience. I would love to be able to tackle tings like this with confidence and the intuition that comes with experience.

      Cool to hear that your spending patterns were similar. I suspected as much, based on our previous conversations. It’ll be interesting to see if our spending changes again in 2021.

  • Reply
    January 13, 2021 at 4:11 pm

    In addition to the global pandemic, looks like you had a few more challenges to deal with. Overall, looks like it was a great year especially on the investing and spending front.

    Our expenses increased in 2020 by about 13% compared to 2019. We purchased a townhouse towards the end of 2019 and had some expenses related to deck and furniture in 2020. Although our international travel expenses decreased, we saw an increase in local recreation expenses.

    Holidays were low-key. We had plans to go to Ecuador but didn’t happen with the pandemic. Stayed in Vancouver and explored locally – snowshoeing, skiing, etc.

    • Reply
      January 13, 2021 at 6:05 pm

      Hi Shashi—like Court, you had some big purchases in 2020! 13% more after buying a townhouse sounds like a pretty small increase to me. You did well!

      I’ve heard wonderful things about Ecuador! It would’ve been lovely to get away in the middle of winter. Too bad you missed out, but sounds like you made the best of it here in Vancouver.

      Let’s hope for a speedy vaccine rollout and a return to travel for your family and ours!

  • Reply
    Family Money Saver
    January 13, 2021 at 11:33 pm

    Hey Chrissy, thanks for the mention – always happy to help. I really love the rundown of your budget and might just steal that idea. I’ve been working on our budget and don’t like releasing exact numbers, but I was considering the same idea of illustrating the percentage differences this year with COVID. All our budget categories were a little wacky and hard to predict.

    I’m glad you got your heating fixed, but I have no idea why you thought it was okay as a female to enter a plumbing store and worse, ask a question!

    • Reply
      January 14, 2021 at 12:43 am

      Hi Family Money Saver—the GALL of me to go into that store expecting fair treatment, right? 😆

      Regarding the budget, feel free to do the same on your blog. I’d love to read about it! It’s fun for me to see how others changed their spending (or didn’t) in 2020.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Reply
    Chris @ Mindful Explorer
    January 14, 2021 at 11:16 am

    Well done on your year, as for the post I was sold at Shiba photos lol 🙂
    You realized some incredible savings yet the quality of life for you didn’t decrease. I hope this awareness isn’t lost as things move back to normal in a year or so (yes I don’t expect anything soon). Life can be extremely large while living on a small scale which you accomplished this year, keep that momentum alive and strong.
    Cheers ~ Chris

    • Reply
      January 14, 2021 at 4:55 pm

      Hey Chris—love for Shiba photos noted! 😆

      I’m 100% certain that our spending and lifestyle will be permanently changed. After all, Court (accurately) dubbed me the “optimizer extraordinaire”! Nothing thrills me more than cutting our spending and consumption while still getting a lot of enjoyment out of life. There’s always room to improve, though, so I’ll continue looking to you for inspiration and motivation. Thanks, friend!

  • Reply
    Mrs FDU
    January 14, 2021 at 8:40 pm

    Wow – issues really do come in 3’s!
    Glad it’s all sorted now and you are well equip to deal with these problems!
    Sorry to hear Christmas was virtual – it’s nice that you can see the upside to it! I love a good busy Christmas, but it can be a bit much having to go one place for breakfast, another for lunch, and then another for dinner. Not to mention all of the Christmas parties with other friends and family.. because of that our savings rate was an all time low of 24%. But many memories to keep forever 🙂
    Love the positivity!

    • Reply
      January 15, 2021 at 9:24 pm

      Hi Mrs. FDU—I still find it surreal to hear how normal your lives are in Australia right now. I (and most of the world) can only look on in envy! I thought we had a busy Christmas, but yours definitely tops ours! However, as you say, it’s memories to keep forever. That’s why even introverted me is looking forward to all those in-person gatherings again. 🙂

      Thanks for coming by to comment. I hope you have a wonderful 2021!

  • Reply
    Maria @ Handful of Thoughts
    January 15, 2021 at 6:29 am

    I love that you tried to fix your thermocouple. We also have a boiler and I’m not sure even where our thermocouple is.

    As for the Neanderthal at the store, I have run into many like him when I was restoring my old truck. Such a pain. I remember walking into a store and asking for a part the guy told me they didn’t have it. I left and then my dad walked in right after me, asked for the same part and got it 🤦‍♀️ . Obviously some people just don’t want our business.

    Great update. Here’s to a prosperous 2021. (Although I think you might be right with having to cancel your Japan trip again).

    • Reply
      January 15, 2021 at 9:32 pm

      Hi Maria—hopefully your boiler always works and you never need to find the thermocouple! (But if you do, take heart—it’s not hard.)

      Ohhh, I bet you have to deal with all kinds of attitude when dealing with car parts. I am in disbelief about how that guy treated you and then your dad. What?! I would’ve gone in and throttled him for that! Clearly, some people think it’s more important to feel superior than to earn a few extra bucks. Sheesh!

      I wish you a prosperous 2021 as well! With luck, we’ll all be able to travel again by… December? That’s my realistic prediction!

  • Reply
    January 15, 2021 at 11:43 am

    Great update! I think my spending was pretty low for 2020 except for more grocery shopping. You do a wonderful job of tracking your numbers. And you’re a natural at tackling DIY situations. I dread going into the hardware store alone– the mansplaining 🙄

    Our big repair this year was the A/C $500. Fortunately, it just needed a new part but we know it could go at anytime. There’s always something to save up for!

    • Reply
      January 15, 2021 at 9:57 pm

      Hi Ana—it sounds like our spending patterns were pretty similar in 2020. Since I started using YNAB in 2015, I’ve been slightly obsessed with tracking our numbers! It’s just a fun game for me to keep track and see where everything is going. 🙂

      Oh, the mansplaining in hardware stores! I find the big box stores are usually fine. It’s the smaller places that tend to be the worst. I would boycott them, but I like saving money more! I’ll just send M next time. 😆

      Yes, with home ownership, there’s always something!

  • Reply
    Bob Wen
    January 19, 2021 at 12:58 am

    Hi Chrissy, below is a list of our big movers in 2020.

    A few comments: The Vacations line item is down 100%; didn’t get away before Covid struck. Internet is up because I needed a faster link to work from home. Cell phones is up as I retired and have to start paying for it myself. Car insurance is down because we changed it to ‘pleasure only’ as I didn’t have to drive to/from the office and then retired, and also because Manitoba Public Insurance gave everyone a rebate of around $100 each due to less accident claims as a consequence of Covid and people driving less.

    The biggest mover is “Crafts and Hobby” at +325.43%. My wife discovered crocheting, now always making gifts for family members and blankets for around our home, I even have a crocheted case for my iPhone – stops it from getting cold and draining the battery on our winter walks.

    +65.11% Internet
    +18.00% Home & Cell Phones
    -74.92% Yard Maintenance & Tools
    -77.50% Lunches etc. at work
    -71.79% Eating Out and Takeouts
    +44.77% Dog Food and Treats
    +66.24% Vet
    -8.84% Car Insurance
    -46.92% Car Gas
    -87.86% Car Maintenance
    -18.82% Birthdays – Ours
    -66.95% Birthdays – Family
    -54.15% Xmas – Ours
    -32.43% Xmas – Family
    +173.92% Other Gifts – Family & Friends
    -56.94% Clothes and Footwear
    -52.72% Household Goods
    -78.70% Outdoor Furniture
    -100.00% Vacations & Family Visiting
    -80.77% Days Out and Activities
    -72.73% Video & Audio Purchases
    -65.65% Books and Magazines
    +325.43% Crafts and Hobby
    +123.25% Photos (prints, frames, albums)
    -28.32% Bits for Kids & Grandkids


    • Reply
      Bob Wen
      January 19, 2021 at 1:17 am

      Just adding to the above:

      The total reduction in our regular spending was 22.22% as compared to 2019. There were a few special items we purchased in 2020 that we’d been saving for when we were both retired, so they aren’t included in the regular spending.

      Other changes:
      +250% Walks
      +500% Time with partner
      +500% Smiles
      +10% Waistline (hmm, maybe 15%)

      • Chrissy
        January 20, 2021 at 11:35 pm

        Hi again Bob—I really, really like your list of “other changes” (except maybe the waistline increase 😆… I definitely concur with that one)!

        Isn’t it nice that this extra time with our loved ones has led to more happiness, despite the awful circumstances in the world? It’s something we’d all do well to remember when things go back to normal. 😉

    • Reply
      January 20, 2021 at 11:31 pm

      Hi Bob—wow, this is an amazing amount of detail! Thank you so much for sharing your expenses for 2020. I see significant changes across the board, but mostly decreases… which is one good thing from this terrible pandemic.

      I sure wish ICBC gave BC drivers some kind of rebate! Instead, we just get our regular, outrageously high rates. Doesn’t seem fair!

      Your comment about your iPhone cozy made me laugh. I completely understand your wife’s passion for crocheting. Once upon a time, I was also crazy for knitting and crocheting. It’s easy to fall very far down that rabbit hole and spend a whole lot of money! However, given the circumstances in 2020, I’d say it was a very good use of your extra savings.

      Thanks again for your openness in sharing. I really enjoyed reading about and reviewing the changes in your spending! 👍

  • Reply
    January 22, 2021 at 7:33 pm

    Wow, Chrissy, I am in AWE at your DIY skills! Youtube or not, I am an absolute klutz at DIY – touching a boiler would be way too scary for me, haha! And I dread going to hardware stores – wandering around not knowing where the bits I need are then trying to explain to a smug employee what I’m trying to do. Hence I avoid them as much as possible.
    My grocery spending went up a lot too – more comfort eating with buying chips and ice cream plus the essential fruits and veggies seem to have increased in prices too. May 2021 be kinder to us all!

    • Reply
      January 24, 2021 at 8:49 pm

      Hi Latestarterfire—I’ve always been curious and into DIY and am lucky that my parents my in-laws were all DIYers. They set a good example for us!

      If it’s something you’d ever like to get better, at, I’d suggest starting small and building your confidence! It also helps to have family and friends to give you hands-on instruction the first few times. You can do it!

      I think you’re right that many of our grocery staples have increased in price. I hope it’s just a temporary bump due to COVID. (But if it means better wages for everyone all along the distribution chain, maybe it’s a good thing?)

  • Reply
    January 23, 2021 at 11:54 am


    Glad to see you all have some more options for giving in terms of tax efficiency up north nowadays!

    Jenni and I debated a bit about some of the moral/ethical quandaries of DAFs before getting involved with them. We read the articles from both PoF and WCI that went back and forth on them.

    I believe that WCI ultimately relented to PoF’s position on things once they really went through the numbers.

    But, the central questionable point…to quote you…still stands:
    “That’s because you get the tax write-off immediately, but charities get nothing until you decide to actually release the money to them.”

    I think that’s quite valid. At least for us, we wanted to create a specific goal and meet it quickly (in our case, to set aside a year of our FIRE budget to be donated–about $40K USD).

    I don’t think we could also identify how to meaningfully donate that much money, directly, at the same time. We want to give in effective ways and talk about it along the way, which for us, means lots of research and discussion about the giving. Of course, we could just dump ~$40K into a charity we care about all at once and be done with it, but that doesn’t really meet our personal goals with giving which is to make it a part of our routine so it’s more integrated within our life than a one-and-done type of thing.

    Now, we could have just kept the money outside of a DAF, kept it invested, and donated from the same ~$40K of funds over time and ignored the DAF altogether. But that’s where the DAF’s tax advantages really start to shine.

    By donating our appreciated investment shares to our DAF, we can effectively donate more value to the charity since neither the charity or us have to pay taxes on the donated amount OR on the capital gains of the underlying shares. While you can donate appreciated shares without a DAF in the middle, it’s laborious to do so to many individual charities and in somewhat small amounts. A DAF really makes that whole process much easier since it serves as a middle-man to reap the tax advantages of donating appreciated shares.

    On top of that, a DAF makes it possible to donate in “chunks” for giving that you might want to research over the course of multiple years. In other words, we could donate $40K to our DAF in a single year and reap a large tax advantage from it—then proceed to research the actual charitable giving from the DAF over multiple years, giving small grants to charities we care about along the way. If we just gave, say, a total of $10K of grants to several charities per year, over 4 years—to come to the same $40K total—we might not exceed the itemized deduction limits in the US and therefore receive no tax advantage for doing so.

    Tax law varies and individual situations certainly affect all this though 🙂

    Ultimately, what I think is really important to consider when analyzing the use of DAFs (or Charitable Impact in Canada)—is how you’ll use the tax advantages that the account type can earn.

    If, ultimately, you just retain the tax advantages and just donate the same total amount—the charitable causes aren’t really getting anything extra out of it. And really, they’re likely receiving delayed giving. There’s nothing *wrong* with doing that, we’re not obligated to pay more in taxes than we need to. But I can see where the morality of doing that is a little more questionable.

    However, if your goal is to maximize your giving by limiting the total tax you pay—and to donate the savings—I think that’s a moral good about DAFs and their equivalents. You wind up giving more to charitable causes by maximizing tax savings. That’s the coolest thing about DAFs and why we’ve worked hard to maximize the value of our giving.

    🙂 Hope 2021 is going well. Looks like you guys are off to a great start, despite some plumbing issues.

    • Reply
      January 23, 2021 at 8:58 pm

      Hi Chris—wow, this is an excellent breakdown of the right way to use DAFs. I am so impressed with the thoughtfulness, time and research you’ve put into this. After reading your comment, I will say that my mind has definitely been changed. Your arguments for DAFs are undeniably sensible. I can’t disagree with any of your excellent points!

      Your solution to give the same amount AND also donate the tax savings beautifully addresses the issue of not giving money to your chosen charities immediately. You’re right—that is a moral good about DAFs. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your considerable knowledge and experience. Clearly, I have a lot more to learn about these accounts.

      You and Jenni have done an amazing job with your charitable giving—both in your generosity and in documenting your process. You’re an inspiration to me and I’m sure many others. ❤

  • Reply
    January 24, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    Weird blog tech issues aside, glad you had a rejuvenating break. The low-key Christmas — can definitely relate to that and totally agree re: it being nice to have a break from endless gatherings. A different holiday season, for sure, but not necessarily a bad one, you know?

    Glad your got the boiler issue sorted out. I’m also in the camp of trying to DIY first, but if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that sometimes…you just gotta call in the pros.

    (also? Sounds like you handled the Neanderthal at the store much better than I would have so props to you haha)

    • Reply
      January 24, 2021 at 8:56 pm

      Hi Tara—my extrovert son and husband wholeheartedly disagree about the socially-distanced Christmas being not so bad! But I’m in the same camp as you. It wasn’t ideal, but it also wasn’t the end of the world.

      LOL, it would be amazing to send in an army of angry women to put that neanderthal in his place! Oh, if only…

      I wish you and your husband a healthy and prosperous 2021!

      • Tara
        January 25, 2021 at 5:12 pm

        I could definitely see how it would be hard on extroverts but my introverted soul appreciated it haha. The way I choose to see it is that we did what we had to do for 2020 so we can do what we want to do in the future.

        I’d be part of that army, just saying.

        And same to you and your family! Even though in a lot of ways it seems 2021 started off as a continuation of 2020, it’s still early and I have hope things are going to improve.

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