FI Lifestyle Personal Finance

February 2020 Update (Life Pre-Virus)

downtown vancouver from the lookout

A view of downtown Vancouver from the Vancouver Lookout, which we visited in February

So… I started writing this update a month ago, then I got sidelined because of this, then this. And then of course, like everyone else, I started to really pay attention to how we were handling COVID-19. (In my opinion—not harshly enough).

Now we’re into April and I still haven’t released my monthly update for February! Well, since I had it mostly written up, I thought I’d release it anyway. I apologize that it’s late and a little dated, but I’ve decided to treat it as a time capsule of sorts. 

It’s a way to document our lives just before coronavirus took over everything. Plus, it’s interesting to read it now and see how much everything changed in just one month.

Life update

February was full of the usual activities our calendar would be filled with (pre-virus):

Valentine’s Day

Fellow FI-seekers will be unsurprised to know that Valentine’s is mostly a non-event at our house. It just doesn’t align with our values to spend money on one specific day just because it’s what’s ‘expected’.

Instead, we choose to spend time together and do nice things for each other throughout the year. That’s just more meaningful for us. 🙂

However, I’m not saying it’s wrong to spend money on each other for Valentine’s! Not at all—if you can afford it, and it brings you joy, I think it’s worth every penny.

Vancouver Lookout with Kidsworld

We celebrated the Family Day holiday in mid-February by attending another Kidsworld event with my sister and her family. This time, we received free admission to the Vancouver Lookout (which was really cool and educational).

This was a $56.25 value for the four of us—which means this event alone makes the $55 for one Kidsworld pass worth it. We’ve also used our passes for a local trampoline park and plan to attend several more events, so the $55 was absolutely money well-spent!

For those who live in the Vancouver area, check out my Kidsworld review to get all the details on this amazing family pass. 

(I don’t receive a thing for promoting Kidsworld—I just love supporting them because they’re such a great organization!)

Disney Movie Night

This February marked the sixth anniversary of our Disney Movie Nights with Kid 1’s best friend and his family. Almost every month since February 2014, we’ve met up for dinner and a Disney movie at one of our houses.

Usually, we try to theme the food to the movie we watch: French cuisine for Beauty and the Beast, Chinese food for Mulan, and British pies for Mary Poppins. The host cooks the dinner and the other family provides the popcorn, chips and dessert.

It’s a fun, frugal way to hang out and catch up. With the boys getting older, we don’t see each other as often, so it’s a nice way for all of us to maintain a connection with our good friends.

We hope these dinner and movie nights continue for many years to come!

Spreading the FIRE

My sister’s book club read Quit Like a Millionaire* (my favourite FIRE book) and they invited me to join their meetup to discuss it. This was definitely a highlight for me in February!

*That’s an affiliate link, which means I may earn a commission if you purchase through my link.

I had a great time chatting with these smart and thoughtful women. They surprised me with their generally positive reaction to the book and FIRE. All were open to the ideas and were curious to learn more—and I was happy to share what I knew!

However, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. They did bring up some reasonable (and common) criticisms: 

  • Their spouses weren’t ready to come on board.
  • The numbers and investment strategies were confusing—especially for newcomers.
  • The FIRE journey is long and overwhelming—where do you start?
  • They enjoy working and don’t feel the need to stop.

I agreed with them on every point, and we had great discussions about all these topics. In the end, it seemed that everyone took away different lessons from the book. But the overall feeling was that it was helpful and inspiring.

It’s always hard to know how others will react to FIRE, but I couldn’t be happier with the way this group took it in. And now I’ve even got a couple of new followers! (If you’re reading, hello, K and A!)

Optometrists vs. ophthalmologists

This is a PSA for those who, like me, didn’t realize that optometrists are just as qualified as ophthalmologists to monitor general eye health. Additionally, they’re better-trained to give you an accurate eyewear prescription.

We didn’t realize this until Kid 1 complained that his brand-new $450 glasses were blurry. Ugh! They were made using the recent prescription that his ophthalmologist gave us, so I was completely puzzled by this.

Why you should see an optometrist for your prescription

The lady at the eyeglass store told me it’s pretty common to receive slightly-incorrect prescriptions from ophthalmologists. That’s because they’re highly trained to treat eye disease and perform surgery, but less-trained in prescribing and fitting eyewear. 

This realization left me feeling almost the same as when I discovered FIRE: How did I not know this all these years?! I’d assumed all along that my kids were getting the best possible care by seeing our ophthalmologist!

No doubt, we were—with M’s eye issue, we wanted to make sure our kids were closely monitored. However, we should have seen an optometrist for their eyewear prescriptions. In the end, we found a wonderful optometrist who gave us a new prescription for Kid 1—and he’s seeing clearly now, phew!

Luckily, his lenses were covered by a kids’ package, which gave us one free prescription change for the first 18 months. So, while the prescription mistake was a waste of time and resources, at least it didn’t cost us any extra money.

Lesson learned

Optometrists are great for monitoring your general eye health and giving you accurate eyewear prescriptions. Ophthalmologists are who you want to see for more serious eye conditions or surgical procedures.

Also good to know: in most Canadian provinces, optometric eye exams are free for kids between 0 and 18 (but check your provincial guidelines—they vary).  

Investing update

Well, that was my personal life in February… let’s take a look at our investments. 

Coronavirus and the markets

Note: This was written in early March, before the coronavirus took hold outside of China, but it was already having a significant effect on the markets.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised to read lots of messages/posts/comments calling for calm and rationality as we weather this storm of volatility. It seems that most people are less worried about the ‘loss’ of their money and more interested in the buying opportunities.

This is a very good thing! Could it be that people are finally getting smarter about investing? One would hope… but it may be limited to the blogging/social media circles I follow. The rest of the world doesn’t seem to be as optimistic, with people getting out of the markets left and right. 

The sale we’ve been waiting for

This market drop is worrisome for unprepared retirees, but it works out well for those of us who are still accumulating. It’s the sale on stocks we’ve been waiting for!

In the coming days, I plan to buy into the dip by investing the lump sum we received from our mortgage/investment loan refinance. In April, I’ll continue to invest when we receive M’s tax refund and funds from selling his stock options.

Our net worth decreased

Unsurprisingly, our net worth dropped by 2.2% in February. (Note: this only includes our stock market investments. I don’t include our home equity, vehicles, or the kids’ RESP account.)

However, it doesn’t faze me in the least because we’re in it for the long haul. Crashes like this are part of the normal cycle of the market, and we were long overdue.

Getting some perspective

One way to get some perspective on this is to zoom out: Google one of your ETFs and zoom out on the chart to the maximum time period. You’ll quickly see that, while the recent crash is big, it’s not nearly as bad when you see the big picture.

For us, this crash sets us back to where we were last February. We’ve temporarily ‘lost’ a year of gains, but since we’re in the accumulation phase, that doesn’t affect our plans.

A good plan will carry you through

If we were withdrawing now, I’d be a little concerned, but not panicked. That’s because our plan was built to carry us through—even during turbulent times. 

We’re ready to be flexible when needed, and have plans in place to mitigate the risks. (On Episode 3 of the Explore FI Canada podcast, we discuss this very topic.)

Our mortgage refinance is almost complete

As mentioned in my previous update, we refinanced our mortgage/investment loan in February. As a result, we have a new, lower interest rate and a little more money to invest with—yay!

I was hoping it would all be done by the time I wrote this update… but there are still a couple of minor things to sort out. It’s like death by a thousand paper cuts—one small task after another!

I’m hopeful that this will finally be wrapped up before we leave for Japan… wish me luck!

Spending update

February was a quiet month on the spending front, with only one entry of note:

Eating out is not cheap!

kokora tokyo mazesoba

Mmm… the Zenbu Mazesoba from Kokoro

Before the Kidsworld event on Family Day, we decided to have lunch with my sister at a new restaurant we’ve been wanting to try: Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba. It’s described as, “not ramen, not udon, but something totally different”.

And it is! Mazesoba is very unique and really delicious. It’s basically soupless noodles with sauce and toppings. And the cool thing is, when you’ve eaten all the noodles, they’ll give you a free scoop of rice to eat up the leftover toppings and sauce.

Sticker shock

We all enjoyed the meal, but I did not enjoy the final bill! While I knew how much the dishes were when we ordered, I’m always shocked when I get the bill and add the taxes and tip. For three bowls of mazesoba, we paid a total of $60!

Yes, it fed four of us and yes, the service and food were excellent. It was also within normal as far as the price range. But still—that’s $15 a serving! We can easily make delicious home-cooked meals for $2 to $3/serving. That’s a huge difference.

More sticker shock

We also went to a local Szechuan restaurant for lunch with M’s uncle and aunt in February (their treat). We again split three entrees between the four of us and the bill came to $50. 

There was one serving of leftovers, so that brings the per-serving cost to $10. That’s a lot better than the mazesoba, but still not cheap! 

This is why we cook at home as often as we can—eating out can really add up.

And that’s a wrap!

I’m writing this closing paragraph on April 1, 2020. It’s a little surreal to read what I’d written a month ago—our life was still so normal and go-go-go in February. 

I couldn’t have possibly imagined the changes our way of life was just about to undergo. In less than a month, the world as we knew it vanished. In its place is a whole lot of uncertainty and chaos.

I’m working on my update for March, to share a little more about the new normal of our post-virus lives. Until then, please share in the comments below how your February compares to March. What surprises you most when you look back now?

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  • Reply
    April 2, 2020 at 10:06 pm

    Oh man what a difference a month makes. You guys were doing the usual outings with your family and friends and now we can’t even do that. Let’s hope that all of us follow all the recommendations to stay at home, social distancing, wash your hands, etc.. and so we all can go back to normal living as soon as it’s okay.

    • Reply
      April 2, 2020 at 11:07 pm

      Isn’t it weird? I think all of us were thrown into this crazy new reality so quickly that it’s taken until now for it to start to feel a little bit normal. Yes, let’s hope for a quick-as-possible return to normal.

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