FI Lifestyle Parenting Personal Finance

FIRE Life Update: End of Summer 2023

kapiolani park beach

Ahhh, Hawaii! 😍 (Photo taken at Kapiolani Park Beach on Oahu, Hawaii)

Hello again! 

It was another busy summer at the ESBFI household (which is partly why I’ve been away from the blog). But now that school’s back in session, I finally had time to write another FIRE life update!

Our kids come first

The main reason why I’ve been silent on the blog lately is because of our kids. They come first before everything, and in the last year or so, they’ve needed a lot from M and me.

They’re no longer physically demanding and exhausting like they were as babies and toddlers, but the stakes are so much higher at this stage. There’s a lot riding on their decisions and many big, important issues to consider.

Thankfully, both of them are overall happy, healthy, and thriving. But it sure takes a lot of time and effort to keep them that way! Even with M retired and fully available to co-parent with me, it’s not easy keeping up with Kid 1 and 2’s busy lives and needs.

And yet, despite the challenges we’ve faced in recent months, I’m more than happy to accept this role and parent our kids to the best of my abilities. 

There’s nothing I value more than supporting them as they grow into young adults—soon enough, they’ll both be on their own and no longer needing us. That’s why I’m fully embracing this season of our lives and cherishing the final years of our kids living at home with us. 

Related: The Sadness of Motherhood

Kid 1 did it! 

ubc letters sign

UBC” by Raul Pacheco-Vega is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Note—I didn’t share this in my February update as we weren’t ready to share the news at that time. But we are now, so here it is!

In late January, Kid 1 got the amazing news that he was accepted into UBC!!! (But the silly kid didn’t check his email, so we didn’t find out until two days after he’d received the letter from UBC! 🤦🏻‍♀️)

As I’d shared in my October update, we’d taken a leap of faith in Kid 1 and me with his UBC application. Instead of paying an expensive educational consultant to help with his application, I decided to try my hand at being his application coach.

Fortunately, I had some help via some excellent, free resources to guide us through UBC’s application process. After reading the info myself, I sent the most useful bits to Kid 1. He then got to work, drafting his paragraphs for the personal profile section of UBC’s application.

About a month before the December 1 early application deadline, Kid 1 completed his drafts. We then spent the next few weeks going back and forth, with me proofreading and suggesting edits and him retyping his profile in his words.

He finally completed and submitted his application about a week before the deadline… then we crossed our fingers and waited. UBC told us it could take until the end of February to hear back, so we tried to put it out of our minds until then.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long. At the end of January, Kid 1 was officially accepted into the Faculty of Science! (He plans to apply to the Computer Science program in second year.) We were overjoyed and are so proud of Kid 1!

We’re ridiculously excited for him and can’t wait for him to experience campus life at UBC. (M and I are both art school grads, so the university experience will be all new for us—we’ll be living vicariously through Kid 1! 😆)

Income taxes x 3 

As full-service clients, our financial planner and his team help us file our taxes for free every year. This year, I also helped my dad and M’s parents to collect their tax records. (My dad became a client in 2020 and my in-laws in 2022.)

So, back in March, I was busy downloading, printing and organizing not one but three sets of tax records to send to our financial planning team. (My in-laws would have done it themselves, but they were on a four-month-long world cruise! 😎)

Unfortunately, their wifi was unreliable and the time zone differences were very challenging. 😵‍💫 Even so, we managed to collect their paperwork and mail all three sets of records to our planning team on time—phew! (Kudos to my in-laws for their patience as we worked through this process from a distance!)

As usual, we all received our assessments and (if applicable) refunds soon after. M and I should get a big refund again this year, thanks to the interest deduction from our investment loan, tax loss harvesting, and innovative tax planning that our planning team did for us.

However, that refund’s been held up by CRA because (gasp)—we’re being reviewed. 😱 More on this below… 

CRA reviews x 3

It finally happened—we’re being reviewed by CRA for our interest deductions. Our financial planner had always told us this was inevitable. When using leverage to invest, he said it’s a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’ we’ll be reviewed or audited.

We received the first letter in December, notifying us that we needed to send more info for our 2020 income taxes. We then received two more letters and notices of reassessment in May and June for our 2021 and 2022 tax years. The letters and NOAs outlined back taxes and interest that were due—a rather scary five-figure amount! 😱

It’s frustrating because we know CRA is wrong and that our interest deductions are 100% allowed and accurate. Even so, it’s nerve-wracking to receive these letters (and the ongoing reminders to pay up).

We’re so grateful that our financial planner and his team are taking care of all the legwork and communications with CRA. I’m also grateful to have their repeated reassurances that it’s okay to ignore CRA’s demands to pay our huge tax bill. (I’m 100% comfortable with the debt from our leveraged investing, but not with an IOU to CRA!)

So far, our planning team has managed to clear up one year with CRA, with the other two in progress. It’s very slow going as CRA seems to be backlogged with files like ours. Thankfully, I know we’ve got our trusted pros on the job so I’m sleeping fine and don’t have to give it a second thought! Here’s hoping we’ll get everything cleared up soon.

Kid 1 graduated! 

The month of June was crazy for all of us as we dealt with all the planning, celebrations, and other events for Kid 1’s high-school grad. (It was also a busy month for Kid 2 as he finished up Grade 9.) It was such a whirlwind that I barely survived the month! 😵‍💫

The grad ceremony and banquet (held one week apart) were both lovely and so nice for us, as parents, to take part in. There were tears, reunions with kids and parents we hadn’t seen in years, plenty of pomp and circumstance, music and dancing, and lots of good food. 

Kid 1’s graduation from highschool was another huge milestone for our family. We’re so excited for the new adventures Kid 1 will *eventually* embark on. But first… 

He’s taking a gap year!

After considerable thought and discussion, Kid 1 and we decided that taking a gap year would be an ideal option for him. It’ll give him a year to recover from the burnout from Grades 11 and 12, have time for personal growth, and gain more independence (while we’re still around to teach him)!

So, in late May, he applied for and was approved for his deferral from UBC. (Kudos again to UBC’s amazing staff—we’ve been nothing but impressed with their kind and thoughtful interactions with Kid 1 and us.) 

During his gap year, Kid 1 plans to work, volunteer, and hang out with friends who are also taking a gap year. He’s also looking forward to enjoying some interests that he didn’t have time for the last few years: learn how to play guitar and ukelele, do some programming, go jogging regularly, etc.

Gap years weren’t really a thing at M and my highschools. But it seems to be much more accepted and even encouraged in Kid 1’s grade and peer group. I think it’s a positive shift and am happy that attitudes about gap years have changed. (Also, as a mom who loves having her kids around, I’m happy to have one more year with Kid 1 at home. 🥰)

We went to Hawaii!

For most of July, M, the kids and I joined M’s parents in Oahu, Hawaii. It was a long-awaited return to international travel for us. (Our last trip outside the country was to Korea in March 2019. 😮) 

Instead of boring you with too many details, I’ll share the highlights (and lowlights) in point form:

  • We weren’t expecting to travel this year but we were offered free accommodations (M’s aunt needed house sitters). It was too generous of an offer to pass up so we made the trip happen!
  • As guilty as I felt about the massive carbon footprint of our flights, I set my climate anxiety aside and went ahead with the trip. 
  • We almost didn’t make it to Hawaii because the Canadian federal workers’ strike held up Kid 1 and 2’s passport renewals. (Thankfully, the strike resolved relatively quickly, the union got a fair deal, and we got the passports in record time.)
  • M caught COVID on the plane to Hawaii, then I caught COVID at the end of the trip—ugh! It was our first time catching COVID (or any illness) since pre-COVID. Thankfully, the kids and M’s parents stayed healthy. 
  • Prior to catching COVID, I developed a severe rash that required a visit to an ER. The 45-minute visit cost me $600 USD (~$800 CAD). 😱 Thank goodness for travel medical insurance!
  • We ate poke nearly every day… and never got sick of it! Poke is sooo good in Hawaii—it’s fresh, well priced, and so delicious. (FYI, the poke at Times Market and Foodland is really good and very well priced.)

Minimizing our travel costs

Hawaii is a very expensive place to travel (and live). But our per-day cost ($202.36 for the four of us) was the lowest of all our trips since I started tracking in 2015. The free accommodations were the biggest factor in our low costs, but the following also helped:

  • Spreading out the cost of our flights over a longer duration.
  • Buying groceries on sale, from Costco, or from Chinatown/Asian markets. 
  • Cooking most meals at home. (M’s mom did most of it—thanks, Mom!)
  • Splitting expenses with M’s parents (we paid two-thirds and they paid one-third).
  • Using Aeroplan points for one set of flights.

Hawaii, we miss you already 😭

Hawaii is one of our favourite places on Earth, and it was so lovely to return (after 10 years away). Despite the unexpected hiccups, it was an amazing, rejuvenating trip. 

And now, to close off this mini trip report, here are some of my favourite photos from the trip:

manoa falls
Gorgeous Manoa Falls Trail (one of the filming locations for Lost, Jurassic Park, etc.)
Mmm... so much poke!
baby gecko
We had fun watching (and sometimes catching) the cute little geckos at our relatives' house
matsumoto shave ice
Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa (on the North Shore)
poke bowl
A homemade poke bowl (with homegrown avocados)—yum!
private beach
A gorgeous little 'secret' beach near our relatives' house

A note about the fires on Maui

We’d already returned home from Hawaii when the horrific fires happened in Maui. I’m shocked and saddened by the devastation and trauma the fires left in their wake. M and I visited Maui on our honeymoon in 2001 and cannot believe that the beautiful town of Lahaina is gone. 😥

To try and help (albeit in a very small way), I chose to donate to Hawaii Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund—it’s a Hawaii-based organization that will ensure all donations go to local community groups and leaders.

August busyness

Given that we were away for nearly a month, there was a lot to catch up on in August. Our calendar quickly booked up with appointments, plans with friends and family, and a long list of chores and to-dos. 

As much as we tried to balance the craziness with quieter catch-up days at home, it still felt like we were constantly on the go. Even so, I wouldn’t change a thing—our summers are busy because we choose to fill them with quality time with family and friends. 

But it’s September now! We’ve had our fill of summer fun and look forward to a cozy fall to catch our breath and relax a bit. 🍂🎃

What else I’ve been up to 

Aside from managing our taxes and planning our trip to Hawaii, I’ve also:

  • Continued to volunteer at my sister’s school library. 
  • Patched and painted all the white trim and the accent walls in our house.  
  • Started researching heat pumps and government rebates. (I was motivated to finally do this, thanks to this tweet from Mr. Dreamer.) 
  • Made more homemade hair pomade for Kid 2 and M and foot and heel balm for myself. 
  • Learned how to make other DIY beauty care products (e.g. whipped body butterconditioner barsleave-in conditionerfinishing powder, etc.) This is not only fun, but it also saves money and further reduces our plastic waste. 👍
  • Mended and repaired clothing and other items around the house. 
  • Gave away the lumber from our old fence via Craigslist, Nextdoor, and Freecycle. (It’s shocking how many people want old, weathered wood and very cool to hear what they plan to do with it!)
  • Practiced driving with Kid 1 in preparation for his driving test to get his novice licence. (He passed!)
  • Cleared out the kids’ closets and gave away or donated piles of old clothes, toys, and books. 

What M’s been up to 

I’m not the only one who’s been busy—M’s been keeping himself occupied too! Along with parenting the kids and running the household with me, M’s days have been filled with the following:

  • Continuing to volunteer at a local high school.
  • Continuing to volunteer with me at my sister’s school library.
  • Giving presentations at our friend’s school about his career in videogames.
  • Gardening.
  • Repairing, maintaining, and upgrading our, his, his parents’, and friends’ cars.
  • Replacing our fence with the help of our neighbour (which saved us thousands of dollars)!
  • Other ongoing maintenance and repairs around the house.
  • Making gifts and other projects at the high school maker lab he volunteers at.
  • Taking part in a charity drive and car show (with his beloved 1965 Mustang, of course)!
  • Going to other car shows and group drives. 
  • Making pizzas for friends and family in his fancy pizza oven.
  • Practicing driving with Kid 1.
  • Getting back into photography with a DSLR Nikon camera he was recently given. 
  • Taking photos of his and his uncle’s classic cars using his DSLR.
  • Helping Kid 2 rearrange his room so he can properly store and display his Transformers.

Seriously—how can anyone be bored in retirement?! There’s an infinite number of fun, interesting, and engaging activities out there (and not nearly enough time to do it all)! 

Related: We Did It—We Reached FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early)!

Paid ‘work’

Uh oh, time to call the IRP (Internet Retirement Police)—M did some paid work! It all came about through Nextdoor, where I saw two posts from neighbours needing help.

Gig #1—A wooden plaque

The first neighbour was seeking an artist to create a memorial plaque for her dog. Specifically, she wanted a quote to be designed then etched onto a piece of live-edge wood. 

I knew the project would be easy for M as he has access to laser etching equipment. I also knew he’d love the opportunity to help out a neighbour and put his design and creative skills to use.

And so, I connected M with our neighbour so that he could get all the details for the plaque. Soon after, he got to work on the design while she sourced the wood. It turned out beautifully and our neighbour couldn’t have been more pleased. She gave M a nice bottle of liquor for his efforts, which he appreciated.

Gig #2: Art tutoring

The second gig I found for M (again on Nextdoor) was for art lessons. Another neighbour was looking for a one-on-one tutor to help her 11-year-old daughter expand her skills and interest in art. 

I knew this would also be right up M’s alley. For one thing, he loves teaching. On top of that, M’s been happily rekindling his love of drawing and painting in retirement. Art tutoring would be a perfect way for him to combine all these passions. 

And, to make the deal even sweeter, this neighbour lives just up the hill from us! (Only a five-minute drive away.) We couldn’t have asked for a more ideal side gig for M!

M reached out to our neighbour and worked out a rate, date, and time to do a trial lesson. The trial went really well and M, our neighbour, and her daughter were all very happy to continue the lessons. 

So far, he’s been back four times and everyone continues to appreciate the arrangement. It’s a win-win for all of them!

It’s all for fun

The thing we love most about these little side gigs is they’re totally for fun. M enjoys them enough that he’d do them for free—being paid is just a bonus. He doesn’t need the money (it’s not much anyway), doesn’t count the minutes, and is happy to be generous with his time. 

It’s amazing for M to have this kind of freedom, to be able to freely spend time helping others—whether he’s paid or not. We continue to marvel at the power of FI. 💪

Reassessing his time

FI not only allows M to choose what to do with his time—he can also choose what not to do. And, in recent months, he did exactly that as he took a step back and reassessed how he’s spending his time in retirement.

In doing so, he decided it was time to drop one of his volunteering commitments. While he very much enjoyed the job and valued the cause, it was a difficult role to fit into our lives. Because he could only do it on Sundays, it meant we often had to plan family time around his volunteering. 

We made it work while he was doing it, but he eventually realized it was no longer working for him. Reluctantly, he gave his notice and did his last shift in May. The founder of the charity was sad to lose M but they left things on good terms and still keep in touch. 

M does sometimes feel guilty for no longer helping the founder. He’s such a kind and amazing person and the main reason why M got involved with his charity. But in the end, M knew it was time for him to move on.

He now has more time to devote to causes and activities that are better aligned with his schedule, energy, and motivations. As mentioned in my One Year of FIRE AMA series, both M and I continue to evolve as we move through retirement. I’m thankful that FI has given us the freedom to do that. 

That’s it for now

My apologies for taking so long to share this update. I hope it explains why I’ve been away from the blog and confirms that yes, I’m still alive and well and enjoying our FIRE life! 

If you’ve stuck around despite my ever-inconsistent and spotty posting schedule, thank you. Even when I disappear for a long while, I still think of all of you. 

I hope you’re doing well and would love to hear from you. Leave a comment to let me know how you’re doing!

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  • Reply
    Court @ Modern FImily
    September 13, 2023 at 2:13 pm

    Love the update! I still do not understand the “won’t you be bored without a job” comment! NO!!!

    Major congrats to Kid 1 on all his accomplishments and so glad he chose to do a gap year! Way to go TigerMom! 😉 😉

    • Reply
      September 14, 2023 at 10:32 pm

      Hi Court—I know you’ve likewise had a very full (and sometimes exhausting) life in retirement!

      It’s so nice to know you and others are also on board with gap years. They really are a great option for some kids! 👍

  • Reply
    September 13, 2023 at 8:36 pm

    Yea an update! Congrats on Kid 1 getting accepted into UBC. I went there for undergrad and lived on campus for 4 of the 5 years. Had some very awesome memories while living on campus. A gap year is an excellent idea, glad to hear he’s doing that.

    • Reply
      September 14, 2023 at 10:34 pm

      Hi Bob—I’m not surprised that you enjoyed living at UBC. It’s a gorgeous campus with so much to do!

      Thanks for all the kind words. We’re excited for Kid 1 to join the UBC community next year. I hope he enjoys it as much as you did!

  • Reply
    Moe (Moementum Finance)
    September 13, 2023 at 8:51 pm

    Congrats Chrissy and Mr. M on your son’s admission to UBC! That’s a huge accomplishment. As for CRA audit, it can definitely be nerve-wracking. I’m glad you have your documentations in order and reliable experts by your side to navigate through it. Interesting they go as far back as 3 years and audit multiple tax years. wow!
    Lastly, glad to hear you’re all safe. Hoping for a speedy recovery for everyone impacted by the FIRE (you know, the wild kind).

    • Reply
      September 14, 2023 at 10:39 pm

      Hi Moe—so nice of you to stop by and leave a comment! Yeah, it’s not fun having multiple years reviewed by CRA. But I guess once they started looking into one, they decided to go ahead with the others. 🤦🏻‍♀️ Ah well, it was inevitable! It should be resolved soon.

      Sadly, it was a fiery summer in so many areas this year. I also hope for a speedy recovery for all who were affected. ♥️

  • Reply
    Christopher Mercanti
    September 14, 2023 at 5:05 am

    Hi Chrissy! It sounds as though your family had a great summer and congratulations to all of you on your recent accomplishments! I’m approaching my first full year of FI / retire (relatively) early! It’s been great and my only adjustment has been a bit of a tax shock, which I’ve developed a plan to manage over the next little while. Thanks so much for this update!

    • Reply
      September 14, 2023 at 10:43 pm

      Hi Christopher—congrats on your upcoming one-year FI anniversary! 👏

      I’m sorry to hear about your tax shock but glad to hear it was only a bit of a shock. I hope the 2024 tax season will be smoother for you!

      Thanks, as always, for stopping by!

  • Reply
    September 14, 2023 at 8:52 pm

    Great update and happy to read how your family is enjoying FI.

    • Reply
      September 14, 2023 at 10:45 pm

      Hi AL—it’s nice to hear from you! Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope you and your wife had a good summer. 😎

  • Reply
    Ed Rempel
    September 15, 2023 at 1:40 pm

    Fascinating update, Chrissy!

    Congrats to Kid1! I hope he learns from his year off & does not get used to it. 🙂

    Don’t worry about paid work. FI is about not having to work. Nothing wrong with choosing to work.


    • Reply
      September 17, 2023 at 4:15 pm

      Hi Ed—I’m also hopeful that Kid 1’s gap year is full of learning and not too much lazing about, ha ha. He still seems very excited to start at UBC in 2024, which is a good sign!

      Thanks for the vote of confidence about doing paid work. I absolutely agree that FI means M and I can now choose to work only if we want to. Our main criteria is whether it’s fun or not. If not, we say no! 🙂

  • Reply
    PP Gal
    September 15, 2023 at 3:26 pm

    That’s definitely a busy, worthwhile summer with lots of surprises you guys had.

    Hawaii is amazing and quite unexpected. I thought I’ll be reading a post about Japan to glean some tips for upcoming trip next year. Maybe you’ll surprise us to wherever you next adventure is.

    Enjoy. Stay safe and healthy.

    • Reply
      September 17, 2023 at 4:19 pm

      Hello again PP Gal! Hawaii was definitely unexpected for us, but we’re so glad it worked out and we could make it happen.

      I was really hoping we’d be able to go to Japan next year for spring break. But flights are CRAZY expensive ($2,500+ per person). So that’s unfortunately off the list for now. 🙁

      If you’d like, I can send you some notes I made from our trip to Japan in 2018. Some of it may no longer apply (e.g. businesses that may have closed). But a lot of it should still be helpful!

      Shoot me an email at and I can send my notes to you. 👍

  • Reply
    David @ Filled With Money
    September 16, 2023 at 6:29 pm

    I’m glad you’re doing well Chrissy!

    And glad to hear of the gap year. It’s something I wish I did when I was in school.

    Let’s finish 2023 strong!

    • Reply
      September 17, 2023 at 4:22 pm

      Hi David—it’s so nice to hear from you! I think gap years are a great option for many young people.

      Not everyone is ready for post-secondary right out of high school and/or has other goals to accomplish before they start the huge commitment of working towards a degree.

      I’m happy to see it’s a very acceptable, normalized option now.

      I wish you all the best for the rest of 2023 as well!

  • Reply
    Maria @ Handful of Thoughts
    September 16, 2023 at 7:04 pm

    What a great update and welcome back online.

    I can’t believe people pay someone to help with their university application. I didn’t realize Canada had gotten so competitive. Lots to learn before my little ones reach that age.

    • Reply
      September 17, 2023 at 4:26 pm

      Hi Maria—TBH, university application consultants may only be a thing where I live (a pretty high-income area).

      They’re also not necessary for universities which only look at your transcript/grades (e.g. SFU, which is Vancouver’s other major university).

      I believe universities in Alberta are like SFU and do not require personal profiles like UBC does. But don’t quote me on that—I’m not 100% sure!

      Regardless, if you have the time to coach your kids, the info is out there and you can DIY it like we did!

  • Reply
    Money Mechanic
    September 19, 2023 at 11:56 am

    Great update! Happy to hear you and the family are doing well. Congrats to K1! I’ve never heard of Nextdoor, definitely looks like something right up my alley. Pun intended. Also interested in your research on Heatpumps, I’m still holding out.

    • Reply
      September 20, 2023 at 1:15 pm

      Hi MM—I have a love/hate relationship with Nextdoor, LOL. It’s great for lots of things, including meeting/connecting with nice neighbours. But like all social media, it sometimes devolves into a cesspool of negativity! 😬

  • Reply
    October 2, 2023 at 4:40 pm

    Chrissy, M & the boys made our family trip to Hawaii special because it has been 10 years since we went together. I had more people to cook for and we sure had fun together. Let’s do it again!

    • Reply
      October 5, 2023 at 7:52 pm

      Hi Mom—you know we would love to! Hawaii is such a special place for all of us. ♥️

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