FI Lifestyle Personal Finance

FI Update: January 2021

walking mika in snow

Yes, it does snow in Vancouver—we got a light dusting in January!

While January was relatively uneventful at my house, I still have a few interesting and helpful things to share in this month’s FI update. I tried to keep it short, as I’m busy preparing to publish my first FIRE spending interview soon! (Hopefully, it’ll be ready next week.)

To be notified when the interview goes live, be sure to subscribe to my email list (in the sidebar or scroll to the form at the bottom of my contact me page). 😉

Life update

Remote learning: we’re halfway!

I can’t believe it, but we’re at the halfway mark in the boys’ school year. They’ve been learning remotely since September, and it continues to be an amazing experience. 

It was unexpected and wonderful that we’ve enjoyed the experience so much, but it’s making it really hard to want to go back to regular school!

We’re still planning to wait until the end of the year to make the final decision, but I can already tell it’ll be a very tough call. Once the school year’s over, I’ll write a full update on our year of remote learning—stay tuned! 

Until then, if you haven’t read my post on our experience up to October 2020, you can read it here: Remote Learning During COVID-19: How It’s Going So Far

Zoom birthdays

We celebrated a couple of family members’ birthdays in January. The celebrations (of course) happened over Zoom. It’s odd to realize how normal this has become. Even so, we can’t wait to get back to our usual in-person gatherings!

My hopeful estimate is that we’ll all be vaccinated by October. However, my realistic estimate is that it won’t be for another year or more. (The kids will most certainly be delayed, given that they’ve only just started testing teenagers.)

What’s your estimate for when we’ll see a return to normalcy?

FI and investing update

Liquid net worth update

For the month of January, our liquid net worth dropped by 0.9%. This was partly due to market fluctuations but also due to us selling a bunch of M’s stock options. 

Instead of reinvesting all the cash from the sale, I held onto some of it to even out our cash flow. (M’s paycheque drops every January as his EI and CPP deductions start again for the year.)

Related: Learn how I manage M’s stock options (ESPPs) and grants (RSUs) in The Ultimate Guide to ESPPs and RSUs.

Teachable moments with meme stocks

My kids are old enough now that they actually pay attention and want to know more about trending news. Recently, the meme stock craziness caught their attention.

One story that was particularly interesting to them was about the boy who ‘got rich’ from selling his GameStop shares. While it was a nice ending for that kid, it prompted a discussion about how all this madness isn’t sound investing—it’s speculation and gambling.

We also discussed short sales, hedge funds, and the likely consequences of this situation. It was an interesting opportunity for my kids to learn about investing in real time.

Hopefully, all this money talk will ensure that they enter adulthood with a strong grasp of how to build wealth: not by gambling, but by building it slowly but surely!

My friend Family Money Saver wrote a post about this topic: GameStop / AMC / Dogecoin FOMO—How to Recognize Manias & Avoid Risk. It’s an excellent reminder to get educated and stick to a solid plan.

Helpful FI calculators

I recently shared two useful FI/retirement calculators in the ChooseFI Canada Facebook group. They seemed to be well-liked, so I thought I’d also share them here:

I’d like to eventually write a post about all the FI/retirement calculators I’ve used over the years, but I hope you have fun with these two for now! 

Spending update

Low-spend January 

While we didn’t make it a no-spend January, it tends to be a low-spend month for us anyway. That’s partly because none of our large annual expenses are due in January.

We also tend to be all shopped out, after getting all the things we needed on Black Friday and Boxing Day. We were also fortunate that we didn’t have any unexpected expenses or repairs in January. (Though there was almost one! I’ll tell you more in the next section.)

How I unbricked my phone

Remember how I bought a new-to-me phone in November? (See my Fall 2020 Update, and scroll to the spending update for the full story.) Well, that same phone decided to throw a tantrum last week. 

For no reason at all, it sent itself into a boot loop, powering itself off then right back on, over and over again. I tried every troubleshooting tip and even got on a chat with Google support, but nothing worked.  We couldn’t interrupt the loop. 

The support person said my only hope was to bring the phone to uBreakiFix It to have it inspected and repaired. I couldn’t believe it! I’d just bought this thing! Now it would cost me $200+ to replace the motherboard (the likely issue)—more than half of the $390 I paid for it! Ugh.

I was furious, and took to Google to do more research. Eventually, I found a support thread about this very issue. There were over 130 comments! I scrolled through them, gradually losing more and more hope as I went.

However, something kept me scrolling to the end… and I’m so glad I did. At about the 126th comment, I came across this:

pixel 3xl bootloop

It sounded too easy and spammy to actually be true, but I had nothing to lose. My phone was bricked anyway, so why not?

I gave it a try… and guess what? It actually worked! I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to see my screen turn off and stay off! And then, even more amazing: when I turned the phone back on, I finally saw my lovely lock screen appear before my eyes:

my pixel 3xl lockscreen scaled

SO happy to see my lock screen again!

I couldn’t believe I’d unbricked my phone—all thanks to a random internet stranger. I’m so relieved to not have to spend more money on this phone (or have to recycle it and buy a new one). It’s been a week and the phone is fully back to its happy, functional self. Let’s hope it stays that way!

An alternative to YNAB?

Most of you know that I’m a huge YNAB fan. I’ve used this amazing budgeting software since I won a free copy in 2015… and it’s changed my financial life. (For the record, I don’t use YNAB to budget, but to track our spending and give every dollar a job.)

The only problem with YNAB is I’m on the desktop version—and it’s no longer supported. Eventually, I’ll have no choice but to move to the new, web-based subscription version. I was fully prepared to one day pay the $84/year subscription (yes, YNAB is that amazing). But a new alternative recently came to my attention… 

A member of ChooseFI Canada recently shared a link to Aspire Budgeting, and it looks like a YNAB clone! At a quick glance, the only major difference I can see is the price: Aspire Budgeting is free! It’s also kind of cool how it runs on Google Sheets.

I’ve yet to try it out, but I did a bit of research, and it sounds like a worthy contender. If you end up giving it a try, let me know what you think!

And that’s a wrap!

How was your January? Are you also itching to get back to in-person gatherings? Any estimates for when that might be??? Also, let me know if you also got caught up in the GameStop/meme stock frenzy. (It was tough not to!)

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  • Reply
    Family Money Saver
    February 3, 2021 at 9:25 am

    Hey Chrissy, thanks very much for the article link – hopefully, the information ages well! 🙂 We’re also usually in the mode of no-spend (or minimal spend) after December and try to use up gift cards and cash ‘gifts’ to lower our budget at the start of the year. It’s a great strategy to get ahead early.

    That sucks about your phone, but amazing you solved it! We bricked an iPhone about a year and a half ago, and it’s still in that state. I remember trying a few of those websites with no luck, and repair shops wanted over $400 to look at it with no guarantee of retrieving anything!

    On vaccines, I’m hoping we can get them by September as promised before kids start the new school year, but my probability estimate on that happening is about 15% 🙂

    • Reply
      February 3, 2021 at 8:42 pm

      Hi Family Money Saver—that’s a great idea to use up gift cards in January. I’ve been systematically using mine up since COVID started. (I’m a little worried about holding onto GCs that may become worthless if the companies shut down.) Your comment reminded me to go through my wallet to see what else I can use up—thanks!

      It’s maddening when an expensive device physically looks fine, but conks out! I hope, for our wallets’ and planet’s sake, that manufacturers go back to the days of building things to last (and be easily repairable).

      Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to safely send the kids back to school in September? It’s probably too early to predict that now, but at the pace we’re going, I think your 15% estimate sounds about right!

  • Reply
    February 3, 2021 at 9:38 am

    I am so glad you mention both the YNAB substitute and the calculators. Its much easier to find them on your site than through the FB group. Great update!
    Althought only about 40 minutes drive away from you, we haven’t gotten any snow yet 🙂

    • Reply
      February 3, 2021 at 8:45 pm

      Hi Shaidah—FB doesn’t make it easy to find old posts, does it? I’m glad it’s helpful to you that I shared the links here. Hopefully others will find them useful too.

      Where you live, it’s sunny and dry like, 90% more often than anywhere else in the Vancouver area! Enjoy your snow-free micro-climate!

  • Reply
    Judy Denham
    February 3, 2021 at 11:31 am

    Hi Chrissy
    I enjoy reading your posts every week.
    Here is Ontario, we’re having sunny days but expecting some quite cold weather soon.
    We did get affected by the Gamestock debacle since we own some Blackberry stock but it didn’t really bother us as we’re Buy and Hold investors.
    We think it may be a few years till the virus is gone. We’re waiting to see if there’s a third wave once rules are relaxed again. As far as the vaccines, it looks like it might be many months before any amount of vaccinations take place.

    • Reply
      February 3, 2021 at 8:52 pm

      Hi Judy—what a lovely comment. Thank you, it made my day!

      It’s interesting, I didn’t know that Blackberry was still around until this GameStop craziness happened! Who knew? It sure is nice to be a buy and hold investor in times like these. We can just sit back and let the storm pass!

      I was feeling so optimistic when the vaccines first shipped out. With all the excitement and news about extra doses in the vials, I thought we were doing well. Now that reality’s hit, I agree that it’s going to be a while. I guess all we can do is keep hoping for the best. 🤞

  • Reply
    Maria @ Handful of Thoughts
    February 3, 2021 at 3:15 pm

    I love when you can solve a problem with something you found online. I’ve had a few phone problems over the years that the internet helped me solve.

    Currently my phone has no audio for ringing or alerts but everything else works fine so I’m living with it.

    As for when “normal” returns who really knows. I don’t think things will ever go back to how they were but I would sure like to see family in friends in person again soon.

    • Reply
      February 3, 2021 at 8:58 pm

      Hi Maria—you are a trooper with your phone! I rely on my phone to remind me to do just about everything. With no ringer or alerts, I’d be a complete mess! 🤪 Well, you’re saving money and saving the Earth for a little while longer, so good for you.

      You’re absolutely right, so many things will never go back to the way they were. We, too, miss seeing our friends and family in-person. It’s been a long, lonely winter. Hopefully it’ll be safe enough to get together again in the spring and summer (distanced and outdoors, of course). That’ll at least help tide us over for a little longer.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2021 at 5:20 pm

    I can’t wait to try out Aspire budget! I am a YNAB fanatic and although I probably won’t cancel my subscription, that’s amazing that there’s a high-quality free option out there. I always want to recommend YNAB to my friends but it’s hard for a lot of people to justify the subscription fee when the whole point of budgeting is saving money, especially for beginners. For my YNAB is so worth it because I know I’ve saved way more than the subscription cost. Please do a YNAB post in the future, I’d love to see and tips and tricks you have.

    • Reply
      February 3, 2021 at 9:04 pm

      Hi Maggie—YNAB fanatics unite! It’s such an amazing program that I’ll probably still stick with them even if Aspire is free. I’ve gained so much from the use of this free copy that I won in one of their classes, I kind of owe it to them to pay for a subscription one day!

      I’ve always wanted to write a YNAB post, but they switched to the subscription version soon after I started blogging. Since I’m using the old desktop version, I worry that any tips I share will be outdated. However, the basic concepts and principles that YNAB teaches are timeless. Maybe I can centre my post more around that, rather than the mechanics of using the software. Thanks for the idea, I’ll add it to the list!

  • Reply
    February 3, 2021 at 5:58 pm

    That’s great your kids are learning the difference between investing and speculating at such a young age. Keep following this meme stock story. In the end I’m sure there are many important lessons to be learned vicariously through the mistakes of others.

    Anyway, I bought some $GME and $AMC last week in my TFSA. It’s been a bumpy ride so far. But I’m enjoying it. 🙂 #YOLO trading in the markets can be fun, but only if you don’t mind losing it all, lol.

    • Reply
      February 3, 2021 at 9:11 pm

      Hi Liquid—you’re absolutely right that there’s more to be learned from this story. I feel really bad for the one who’ll be badly hurt, but what can we do? I guess it’s just more motivation to spread the buy and hold, get rich slowly gospel.

      Ha ha, how am I not surprised that you’d have some fun with this? I’d love to hear how things turn out for you. I bet you’ll find a way to come out ahead!

  • Reply
    revanche @ a gai shan life
    February 3, 2021 at 9:34 pm

    I don’t anticipate seeing a new normal until 2022 at the earliest. We adults aren’t likely to be in line for the vaccine any time soon, and our kids are too young even for the trials that are coming up for teens. Until they can be protected, I really don’t see us taking the risk of acting like anything is old normal. It’s not easy but we’re planning to stay isolated and remote only for the rest of this school year and possibly next. I am also thinking about whether we can find a charter school that’s online only like you’ve been doing in case we need to withdraw from the school district. Quite the mess down here in CA, the vaccine supply is only the barest fraction of what we need.

    • Reply
      February 3, 2021 at 10:15 pm

      Hi Revanche—I fully agree, until my entire family is vaccinated, we’ll act as if none of us are. That’s why, for us, our timeline to normal is based on our youngest being vaccinated. He’s 12, so he’ll probably be in the second-youngest age group to be tested. I guess it’ll be a while yet for your little ones. 😕

      I’ve been following your challenges with JB’s teacher and feel for you. The pandemic is hard enough, but having to also work full-time from home while dealing with a difficult online school situation is enough to drive anyone crazy. I can’t imagine what I’d do if my kids were little.

      I hope things in CA improve in the coming months. ❤️

  • Reply
    Graham @ Reverse The Crush
    February 4, 2021 at 1:28 pm

    Hey Chrissy, I always enjoy reading your updates. Your kids are going to have such an advantage by having an understanding of the markets. That’s awesome that you talk about current market events with them. And sorry to hear about your phone troubles. That’s good that you got it resolved. In the past, I have been the type of person that would get the latest iPhone right now. I still think it’s worth it to pay the money for quality because it lasts. I currently have a Samsung Galaxy Note 9. It’s over 2 years old and starting to work less efficiently. I will need to upgrade eventually but I am going to try to hold off for as long as I can. I am enjoying the low monthly bill right now. Anyways, sorry for my rant. It sounds like you had a nice month overall, you always have a lot happening. As an introvert, I have not been longing to get back out. I live with my gf so I have her around at least. And yeah I followed the GME thing, I did not participate but I support it. Thanks for the update!

    • Reply
      February 4, 2021 at 5:58 pm

      Hi Graham—I hope my kids will be well-versed in investing and the FIRE lifestyle by the time they have their own money to invest! So far, it seems they do get it and are already planning on FIRE. (Second-generation FIRE all the way!)

      It’s pretty crazy how a two-year-old phone can feel old! I hope yours lasts for at least another year or two. These things aren’t cheap, so anything we can do to hang onto them longer definitely helps the bottom line.

      I’m a fellow introvert, and I do have to say I DON’T miss the small talk with other parents on the playground or the endless school meetings and events! I guess for me, our family gatherings don’t drain me that much, so I still look forward to them, even as an introvert. (But I totally get why you’d be happy as a clam in your bubble of two!)

  • Reply
    Save Long and Prosper
    February 4, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    Ah, I got around to read your article. 🙂 And I’m glad I did, because I am definitely going to go check Aspire Budget!

    Also, I think that is soooo cool that you made the whole Game Stop mess into a teaching opportunity for your kids. They sure have a great teacher when it comes to personal finance (and much more, I am sure)! It’s also refreshing to see a parent that ACTUALLY enjoys online school!

    Keep up the good work and continue writing. It’s always delightful to read your articles. Cheers!

    • Reply
      February 4, 2021 at 6:05 pm

      Hi Save Long and Prosper—I’m glad I shared Aspire Budget in my post. Hopefully it’s helpful to you and many others. 🙂

      Regarding online school: being an introvert, I wasn’t at all expecting to enjoy it! It’s been such a pleasant surprise that we’ve loved the experience as much as we have. However, I know it helps a lot that I’m a stay-at-home mom and that my kids are pretty independent. Not sure how happy we’d be if I was working full-time and my kids were really little!

      Thanks so much for coming by and commenting. I’m looking forward to more of your posts in 2021.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2021 at 12:41 pm

    It is so great to learn so much more from you and to hear about Aspire which I can recommend to friends that don’t want to pay for Ynab. If I find time, I may just try Aspire to see if it is as good as Ynab… but must find the time. I have never heard of bricking in phones so that is another lesson for me. Hope it never happens to me though! Congratulation in achieving 5 stars for your podcasts – now we know many appreciate your podcast like the rest of us.

    • Reply
      February 10, 2021 at 5:53 pm

      Hi Mom—I hope Aspire is as good as YNAB! I also haven’t had the time to test it, but it sounds like a great alternative. Yes, I hope you never brick a phone (which basically just means it’s completely dead and useless).

      We’re pretty lucky to have such a nice podcast audience. Everyone’s so supportive. Makes it fun and worthwhile to keep making the effort! As always, thank you for the comments and support. ❤

  • Reply
    T on FIRE
    February 10, 2021 at 6:19 am

    K so, I’ve had the Aspire Budget Google sheet sitting in my Google Drive for over a year, with full intentions to start using it alongside YNAB, write a post comparing the too, and with the goal of eventually switching over to it. However NONE of that has happened. Haha! I just love YNAB too much. That said, you’ve renewed my interest to go and give it a shot, if only to be able to write the post. I know there are limitations that I may miss but it would be a great way to save $110ish CAD. Congrats on the phone fix! That sounds like some cheat code you would have to do to get secret stuff in a video game. WHY would they make it so complex! That scares me since I also just bought a new to me phone…so far it’s been going well. Fingers crossed. 🙂

    • Reply
      February 10, 2021 at 6:01 pm

      Hi T—I would LOVE to read that post! You’ll be doing me and others a HUGE favour if you test Aspire and write about it. I would be really interested in the differences and limitations, coming from a fellow YNAB fan girl.

      Ha ha, I never thought about the phone fix that way, but you’re totally right! “Secret cheat code ACTIVATED. You may now proceed to the next level.” Gosh, go figure—that a secret combo of buttons would do it!

      Yes, I was deeply regretful of my decision to go for a new-to-me phone as it was happening. Hopefully that’s the end of its antics. 🤞

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