FI Lifestyle Personal Finance

FI Update: April to June 2021

mika at the river

Mika, the boys and their cousins trying to stay cool in the river

I’m back with another update, but I almost didn’t get it out on time. We’ve been suffering through a ‘heat dome‘ here in Vancouver, and it’s sapped me of all my energy, ugh! Two days ago, we reached a high of 42°C (108°F) which smashed all previous Vancouver temperature records. That’s REALLY hot for us!

Thankfully, the heat finally broke, and will soon be back down to the high-20s. That’s still a tad hot for me, but it’s way better than 42°! Anyway, you didn’t come here for a weather report… I promised an overdue update, so let’s get started.

Life update

April, May and June were both uneventful and momentous. It was uneventful because, well, we’re still in a pandemic. But it was also momentous because we’re finally on our way out of this mess!

Litter picking

This is about as uneventful as life gets, but I wanted to mention it because it’s fun and might inspire others. 

A while back, Kid 2 complained that our daily walks with Mika were getting boring. (Admittedly, I agreed with him—the last 15+ months of COVID have been more than a little repetitive.)

We brainstormed a bunch of ideas, including listening to music, taking photos, scavenger hunts, and geocaching. Kid 2 wasn’t overly enthused with those ideas, so we kept mulling it over. 

A couple of days later, I was perusing Dr. Plastic Picker’s blog, and a lightbulb went off. Dr. Plastic Picker picks up plastic and other litter at her local beach… we could do the same in our neighbourhood!

It would not only make our daily walks more fun but would also be good for the Earth. In addition, Kid 2 has grown increasingly informed and concerned about the state of our planet. He’s pushed us all to find ways to do more, and litter picking fits the bill perfectly.

I shared the idea with him, and we both knew right away that it was a winner.

Finding the perfect litter pickers

M got to work, researching litter pickers that would meet his list of exacting criteria:

  • Ergonomic design.
  • Easy-to-squeeze trigger.
  • Good quality.
  • Made mostly of metal (which is recyclable and less likely to break than plastic).
  • Designed to be durable (no springs or plastic parts that could fail).
He eventually settled on a two-pack of these (this is an affiliate link):

We’ve been using these pickers since March, and are happy to report that they’ve lived up to all of M’s high expectations.  

An unexpected benefit

We knew we’d enjoy litter picking—if only because it made Kid 2 happy and is good for the planet. However, we didn’t anticipate that it would also be a conversation starter.

Quite often, we’re stopped by neighbours or passersby to thank us, cheer us on, or ask where we got the pickers from. It’s been heartwarming to see how our small action has uplifted others. 

Hopefully, it inspires them to do something good for the Earth too. It’s also been good for Kid 2 to contribute to a cause he believes in (while also enjoying some quality family time).

We’re halfway to normal

covid 19 vaccinated
Got our first doses, finally!

That’s right—my family of four is now half-vaccinated! M and I got our first Pfizer jabs on May 19th and the boys got theirs on June 8th. Both times, it felt like a momentous step out of this awful pandemic. 

I’m still in awe of the achievements of the scientists who made these vaccines a reality. They truly accomplished the impossible. Thanks to their hard work, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

M and I will receive our second shots in July and the boys a few weeks after us. After that, we’ll get back to the non-urgent, routine medical care we’d mostly skipped since March 2020: full dental cleanings, health screenings, eyewear prescription updates, etc.

If all goes well, we’re hoping to finally go on our trip to Japan in Spring 2022. (We just need Japan to catch up with their vaccinations!)

M's surgery

school at green timbers urban forest
The boys doing their schoolwork at the park next to the hospital while M had his surgery

Back in 2019, I mentioned M’s eye condition (Coats Disease) as one of the reasons why he wanted to get his dream car sooner rather than later. Well, as most of you know, he got the car, which has been so amazing for him.

It’s a good thing we did because since then, M’s vision has further deteriorated. He’d been receiving monthly steroid injections and laser treatments, but unfortunately, they stopped working. His doctor decided to try surgery as a last resort. 

And so, in early June, M underwent surgery to clean out the scar tissue, cauterize a few vessels, and implant a slow-release medication. Hopefully, this will prevent further damage. 

It’s sad and difficult for M to lose so much of his vision at such a young age, but we’re trying not to get too down about it. Situations like these remind us that life is short and good health can’t be taken for granted. Hopefully, M will maintain the vision he still has for many years. 

Finally—we can picnic again

Well, that was a bit heavy! Let’s switch back to a happier topic. In BC, we were allowed to meet outdoors again (up to 50 people)—just in time for Father’s Day. Our families took advantage of the sunshine and regained freedom to meet up for a picnic.

This was another momentous step back to normal, out of this awful pandemic. We all enjoyed seeing each other in person again, after too many months of Zoom-only meetups.

We also got to enjoy some yummy takeout at the picnic—my sister kindly offered to pick up vegetarian banh mi (Vietnamese subs) from Dharma Garden for everyone. They were sooo good! 

Even my meat-eating hubby enjoyed them and couldn’t tell that they were meatless. If you’re in Vancouver, I highly recommend these banh mi! They’re delicious, healthier and cheaper than meat, and better for the planet—it doesn’t get much better than that!

School’s out!

Back in October, I wrote about our decision to choose remote learning for our kids this school year. It turned out to be an amazing experience! 

Kid 2 was thrilled to finish on June 10th (19 days earlier than regular school) and Kid 1 on June 18th (one day early). 

I plan to write a full update to share all the details, including whether we’ll continue remote learning next year. Watch for that later this summer!

FI and investing update

April, May and June were exciting, busy months for our investments and retirement planning.

New highs

The stock market continued its upward trend, helping our liquid net worth to reach more new highs:

  • April 2021: +5.1% (new net worth high)
  • May 2021: -0.7%
  • June 2021: +6.0% (new net worth high)

I continue to shake my head in disbelief. Our investments keep climbing, yet the pandemic is still very much here. I really wonder where the stock market will go once we’re fully back to normal? Could it go even higher, once regular spending resumes?

Drawdown planning

In May, we recorded a podcast episode with Mark Seed where we discussed FI drawdown strategies. It got me thinking about our drawdown plans—and I realized it had been a while since we’d met with Ed (our financial planner). 

We booked a meeting with him in mid-June and went over our FI progress and decumulation plans. It’s still too early for us to get into the specifics of our drawdown strategy, so we could only discuss general ideas. 

But I like to think about things well ahead of time, so Ed humoured me. As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed discussing the numbers with Ed and his team. I once again realized how complex and personalized drawdown/decumulation is.

In my opinion, simply knowing the math and strategies isn’t enough. There are a lot of moving pieces, and (unique to FIREees) an unusually long timeline to account for. It’s comforting for me to be able to lean on Ed’s knowledge and expertise.

Spending update

April, May and June were also interesting in that we spent and saved significant amounts.

One year of COVID spending

In my December 2020 FI update, I’d tallied up our spending for 2020 and found that our annual spending had dropped by 21%. However, given that 2020 included 2.5 months of non-COVID spending, that wasn’t the most accurate number.

I decided to tally up our spending for an entire year in COVID (April 2020 to March 2021) and compare that to 2019. Well, I was shocked to find that one year of COVID spending was 30% less than what we spent in 2019!

Note: The biggest contributor to our drop in spending was the lack of travel, so I took that out to compare the numbers again. Even then, our expenses were still significantly lower—17% lower!

As an ‘Optimizer Extraordinaire’ (as crowned by my friend Court) that’s astounding! I honestly believed that we’d already optimized everything as much as we could. COVID showed us otherwise. 

Most of us can live quite comfortably on less than we think. That’s reassuring for me to realize. When we reach retirement one day and hit a downturn, at least I know we can cut back and it won’t be overly painful.

Related: Find out how much my family spends on our essential expenses

Our big, new purchase

It’s a good thing our expenses have been lower than usual… in June, we spent over $3,000 on two fancy, new, adjustable beds! I resisted these for a very long time, but in the end, M made a good case for them and won.

Yes, that’s beds—plural. We had to get two so that each side could move independently. (Sometimes M stays up later than me. With my own bed, I can flatten my side and go to sleep first.)

After much research, M picked these Ghostbeds from Costco and couldn’t be happier. He loves being able to sit up in bed to read and watch in comfort. Plus, as a technophile, the extra features (such as under-bed lighting and built-in USB ports) are right up his alley!

To be honest, I was perfectly fine with our previous bed. It was just as comfy, and I don’t need all the fancy features. But M’s worked hard and wants to enjoy some of our money—is it so bad to spend on wants that aren’t also needs?

No, it’s not. But as a frugal, eco-conscious consumer, it took some convincing for me to come around. In the end, I agreed that it was a worthwhile way to spend some of our hard-earned income. 

I may not need or use all the fancy features, but M enjoys them very much. Being able to finally buy these beds meant a lot to M. And that, of course, makes the $3,000+ worth it!

Car insurance savings

One of the major areas where we’ve reduced our spending this year is our car insurance. All three of our cars became much cheaper to insure, all for different reasons:

My 2012 Mazda 5

In May, the insurance on my Mazda 5 dropped from $1,922 to $1,324. This huge decrease was due to ICBC’s new no-fault, enhanced care coverage. It’s still too early to know how equitable this new system will be, but I can’t complain about the $598 savings!

M’s 2008 Mustang

Since M’s still working from home, his 2008 Mustang is still parked and covered by storage insurance. It’s really cheap, especially since we raised the deductibles to the maximum of $2,500 (more on this in the section to follow). This car previously cost $1,826 to insure, but now only costs $72!

M’s 1965 Mustang

After an arduous application process, M’s classic Mustang qualified for collector’s insurance, which is significantly cheaper (but comes with stipulations). The savings on this isn’t as clear because we switched mid-term, but it’s at least $688 cheaper. That’s a lot!

Insurance deductibles: psychology versus math

As mentioned in my How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life interview, one of my favourite ways to save on insurance is to increase deductibles to the highest amount allowed.

However, as I called around to get new quotes on my Mazda 5 insurance, I started questioning myself on this. That’s because the three insurance agents I spoke with seemed to think I was crazy to choose the maximum $2,500 deductibles.

They said it was ‘only’ saving me about $300 per year and didn’t see how that was worth it. In their opinion, I was making a ‘risky’ decision. Since we can cover a $2,500 expense with our regular cash flow, I don’t see it as risky.

Still, after the third agent gave me a hard time about it, I asked the ChooseFI Canada Facebook group for their opinions: was I as crazy as these agents thought I was? Was it a dumb idea to have such high deductibles?

I received lots of thoughtful, insightful answers and noted that people fell into two main camps:

  1. Low deductibles don’t cost much more and provide a sense of security. (People who made large claims in the past tended to prefer this option.)
  2. High deductibles provide instant savings and claims are unlikely—why wouldn’t you choose this option? 

For me, reading the group’s replies helped me to see that the decision around insurance deductibles comes down to psychology versus math. It’s a gamble either way, with no certainty of what the best choice might be.

However, I’ve always erred on the side of math, probabilities and knowing my likely scenarios. Given that I’ve never made a large claim in over 25 years of driving (and I drive very little now) the chance that I’ll make a large claim is quite low.

I decided to stick to my decision to go with high deductibles. However, I’m glad I asked the group—if only to better understand my decision and the reaction of the insurance agents. 

Related: In You Don’t Need an Emergency Fund (You Need an Emergency Plan) I detail how I work out the math and probabilities for the emergencies in our life.

Bonus: let’s play a guessing game!

Before I end this update, I thought it’d be fun to play a little guessing game: Can you guess the single most common item we come across when litter picking? 

Note that I’m not referring to a category of items (like paper or plastic). I’m talking about a single item (like receipts or toothpicks). 

Maybe you won’t be surprised by the answer, but I’ve been shocked to find so many of this one thing everywhere. It outnumbers any other single item BY FAR. Think up a few guesses, then hit “Reveal Answer” below to see if you guessed it correctly!

I’d love to hear what your initial guesses were—share them in the comments below!

Cigarette butts

Did you guess it? I know I wouldn’t have—who still smokes (and litters)?!

number one item litter picking

And that’s a wrap!

I’d love to hear how the last few months have been for you. Have you done a tally of your spending after a full year in COVID? Any notable shifts? Also, what’s your opinion on insurance deductibles—do you go for the lowest, highest, or somewhere in-between?

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  • Reply
    Maria @ Handful of Thoughts
    June 30, 2021 at 6:21 am

    Great update Chrissy.

    Thanks have yet to tally up our covid spending but with the lack of travel opportunities I know it’s much lower than previous years. We’ve taken advantage of this time to dump money on yo our current mortgage. Thanks know it’s not the best math decision of psychologically it’s the right decision for us. And I can’t wait to be mortgage free again.

    • Reply
      June 30, 2021 at 3:14 pm

      Hi Maria—if you ever have time to add it up, I would love to hear how your spending changed. I love that you’re putting the extra savings towards your mortgage. IMO, if you feel better paying off that balance, go for it! Making decisions based on math alone are only for weird automatons like me, ha ha. Most people prioritize paying off their mortgage, and there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s a sound financial choice. 👍

  • Reply
    Mr. Dreamer @
    June 30, 2021 at 6:47 am

    What a fantastic update! It is so detailed that I felt I am home staying with you! Thank you.

    I hope and pray for your husband to get better after the surgery or at least it doesn’t get any worse so he can enjoy his cars even more just no speeding please.

    WOW for the insurance reduction. That’s so much drop. Still my $320 / yearly is a lot less than yours. Quebec 🙂

    I think I like the garbage collection idea but I don’t think there is enough garbage anywhere I have been to close by to make it a day out kind of activity. People are too clean.

    • Reply
      June 30, 2021 at 3:24 pm

      Hi Mr. Dreamer—thanks for reading and leaving such a nice comment. I also hope my husband’s vision doesn’t get worse. All we can do is hope for the best. (And no, there will be no speeding, ha ha. He’s a very careful driver, and is just as worried about wrecking his car as he is about his own safety!)

      I cannot believe how cheap your insurance in Québec is!!! It’s actually unbelievable to me that it can be THAT cheap. I’m totally jealous.

      My neighourhood is also quite clean, but you’d be surprised how much garbage you can collect in one walk! It’s not bags and bags, but half a grocery bag is pretty normal. (However, our walks are approximately 4 kms long, so we cover a lot of ground.)

  • Reply
    Court @ Modern FImily
    June 30, 2021 at 7:09 am

    As always, great detailed update Chrissy.

    Finn also loves finding garage on our walks/bike rides! She come to a VERY abrupt halt and puts them in her bike basket.

    I was going to guess cigarette butts and then though nah can’t be. Must be plastic bottles or something like that. Crazy and sad that cigs are the #1!

    • Reply
      June 30, 2021 at 3:28 pm

      Hi Court—I love that Finn picks up garbage on her own. What a good little Earth citizen she is. 😊

      Yeah, I still can’t believe the number of cigarette butts we pick up. I can’t think of a single person I know who smokes anymore… or anyone who would chuck their litter anywhere but a garbage can! Who are these smoking litter bugs?!

  • Reply
    Accidentally Retired
    June 30, 2021 at 8:10 am

    Great update. I love that you guys selected garbage collecting put a big smile on my face. My kids and I took a day to spring to walk around our neighborhood and clean up everything that we saw in sight which to our surprise filled up two giant trash bags. I would consider our neighborhood to be rather clean to the fact that we were able to fill up that much is quite telling.

    But I also agree that walks around our neighborhood have become quite redundant and not as appealing as 15 months ago. Just let us to find some new hiking pass and consider other options like walking in other neighborhoods just to get out of the funk.

    Also valid points about the deductibles I should take a look at that for our insurance, since it’s been a while since I’ve even looked at it. We also like to pay the six months in advance to get an additional discount.

    • Reply
      June 30, 2021 at 3:36 pm

      Hi Accidentally Retired—I love that you cleaned your neighbourhood with your kids. It’s important for them to feel a sense of ownership and pride in their community. I hope that, like we experienced, others saw you in the act and will be inspired to do good as well.

      You’re right that 15 months ago, it was fun and novel to explore our own neighbourhood, but now it’s just the same old same old! I try not to drive to other neighbourhoods to walk, but we may eventually have to do that, if only to preserve our mental health!

      It’s interesting to hear about how insurance is handled in other cities and countries. Here, we can pay monthly or for the whole year in advance. It would be nice to have the six month option so that I could keep my money working for us for an extra six months!

  • Reply
    June 30, 2021 at 10:22 am

    Great update Chrissy. Very detailed as usual. 🙂 That’s awesome you were able to save so much on auto insurance. I’ve noticed a cost decrease for mine as well. If only property taxes could go down too lol.

    I always choose the highest deductible for any kind of insurance. Like you said, it’s simply about the math. Also, by paying lower premiums I could invest the instant savings and earn more money. #opportunitycost

    Since I got married during this pandemic it’s hard to gauge our relative household spending. Of course we’re spending more now than when I lived along. But maybe we can compare our expenses in 2022 to this year.

    • Reply
      June 30, 2021 at 3:45 pm

      Hi Liquid—exactly, if only property taxes could also go down! Ours has instead gone in the other direction, sigh!

      It’s nice to hear from someone else who chooses higher deductibles. I thought I was the crazy one when all three agents told me that high deductibles only make sense for BMW or other luxury car owners! You’re absolutely right that there is an opportunity cost. Sure, I only saved $300, but I’ll take it!

      You probably spend more as a couple than as a single person, but I’m betting that your per-person cost has gown down. I believe it’s about a 30% savings overall when you compare the spending of a co-habitating couple versus two single people.👍

  • Reply
    Impersonal Finances
    July 1, 2021 at 10:54 pm

    The litter picking is such a great example of how small gestures can make a huge impact–not just in the trash you pick up, but in neighbors seeing this and “paying it forward” in their own way. Restores faith in humanity a little bit haha. Awesome stuff and thanks for sharing. I need to consider this myself.

    • Reply
      July 3, 2021 at 10:53 pm

      Hi Impersonal Finance—you’re right that it can restore faith in humanity when witnessing the good deeds of others. I hadn’t at all expected this side benefit, but it helps to motivate us even more to get out there and do what we can for our community and planet. Thanks for the lovely comment!

  • Reply
    July 3, 2021 at 7:47 am

    You made my heart swell this morning!!! I’m going to repost on the Physicians for Sustainable Future and Women’s Physicians Group Facebook pages. Hugs to you.

    • Reply
      July 3, 2021 at 10:55 pm

      Hi Dr. Plastic Picker—you do the same for me, every time I read about all that you do for the planet. You are amazing! Thank you for being such a force of positivity in my life and for so many others.

  • Reply
    Family Money Saver
    July 6, 2021 at 10:15 am

    Good update, glad you guys are enjoying your summer and we are getting gout of lockdowns finally. Cigarette butts were my guess and correct. I’m not surprised at all, unfortunately. People treat them like they’re just going to dissolve in the next rainfall or something. Congrats on your FI gains as well!

    • Reply
      July 6, 2021 at 8:14 pm

      Hi Family Money Saver—long time no talk! I hope you’ve been well. It’s sad that you guessed and weren’t surprised by cigarette butts. 😕 They’re especially bad because they’re small, easily eaten by animals, and full of toxins. It’s terrible that people just toss them wherever they feel like!

      I hope things are getting back to normal where you are as well. We’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel!

  • Reply
    David @ Filled With Money
    July 6, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    If it’s a bed that you love, you’re going to love how much it improves your sleep! I got a bed earlier this year and swapped it out and it’s made a whole world of difference in how I sleep.

    It’s well worth any amount of money that I will ever spend in my life and I’m sure it will be the same for you as well.

    • Reply
      July 6, 2021 at 8:18 pm

      Hi David—it’s admittedly a very good bed! My husband sleeps better on it for sure. I don’t notice a huge difference myself, but the adjustability is handy! Good sleep is critical, so a decent bed is definitely worth the investment. Thanks for the comment!

  • Reply
    July 6, 2021 at 4:25 pm

    Great update Chrissy. I’m not completely shocked to hear that cigarette butts are the most common. For some reason they’re everywhere.

    • Reply
      July 6, 2021 at 8:24 pm

      Hi Bob—thanks for stopping by! I still don’t understand how there can be so many cigarette butts since so few people smoke anymore (but perhaps I’m wrong)!

  • Reply
    July 6, 2021 at 5:04 pm

    My neighbourhood has a few ladies that love to pick up garbage, and we all cherish them. I think I need to join them one of these days..

    Adjustable beds seem like a really cool idea. Curious to hear about your experience with them down the road.

    • Reply
      July 6, 2021 at 8:37 pm

      Hi AL—it’s lovely to hear that you have an unofficial cleanup crew in your neighbourhood! The adjustable beds are undeniably cool, even though I’m perfectly happy without all those features. 😆 I will try to remember to report back about them later!

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