I totally get it, Mika—we’re getting tired of the same old, same old too 🙁
Since we’re already into June, and I still haven’t published my April update, this will be an April/May update. There’s lots to cover, so let’s get started!
March was a month of upheaval and disarray, but April and May felt very different. The initial shock of life in isolation was largely gone, and in its place was something verging on normal.
Here’s what my family and I have been up to the last two months:
Homeschooling (aka crisis schooling)
For the first half of April, our teachers were still getting up to speed with online schooling, so I had to find other ways to get the boys learning.
Luckily, on a recent episode of Explore FI Canada, guests Megan and Phia shared plenty of helpful tips. I happily ran with their advice, and found ways to build learning into our everyday lives.
Much to my kids chagrin, this everyday ‘learning’ may have resembled child labor in the form of cooking, cleaning and other chores. 😬 But these are important life skills—someone’s gotta teach these boys!
Fun with online learning
It wasn’t all drudgery and work at our house! We also tried some fun activities from the show notes of our homeschooling podcast. (There are over 175 educational resources listed!!!)
Both boys also spent lots of time writing and drawing comics together… which mostly went well. (There were the occasional creative differences and squabbles.) For the most part, it’s been a good collaboration.
A crash course in remote learning
Our kids finally started school in mid-April, and we found the experience to be rather varied:
Kid 2’s experience
Kid 2’s Grade 6 teacher has been phenomenal. She hit the ground running, and had the kids set up on Edmodo, Zoom, and Teams within a few days.
On Sunday evenings, she emails the schedule and assignments for the week to come. Then, every weekday from 9:30–10 am, the kids join a Zoom class meeting. Afterwards, they break off into small groups or sign off for the day to work on their assignments.
If they need extra help, their teacher has virtual office hours, or they can message her on Edmodo. Because Kid 2’s teacher’s been so on the ball, I don’t feel he’s missed a thing. His teacher’s amazing!
Kid 1’s experience
Kid 1’s teachers took a little longer to get on board. It was also trickier for him since he’s in high school, and has eight teachers/classes to manage.
In the first week, only his computer teacher had everything up and running. By the beginning of May, six out of eight teachers had made contact, with about half regularly assigning work.
But as we entered the middle of May, all his teachers finally got the hang of things. At this point, Kid 1 only has three to five Zoom meetings each week, and less assignments than his younger brother!
Thank goodness he’s only in Grade 9—if he misses out on anything, it’s not too big of a deal.
Once we made it past the first two weeks, remote learning has gone quite smoothly. My kids are doing well and can manage their own schedules, meetings, and assignments. I rarely need to help or intervene.
While this isn’t the optimal way to deliver a consistent, well-rounded education, it’s working. Our teachers have done quite well in making the best of these difficult circumstances, and I’m grateful for that.
They had to ramp up very quickly to teach remotely, with very few resources and training. And now (in BC) they have to switch gears again to deliver a hybrid of in-class and online learning. It’s a nightmare job, and I don’t envy them.
Thank you, teachers
I’d like to send a huge THANK YOU to our teachers (all of them—all over the world). You’re forever asked to do more, while always having your budgets cut. And then a pandemic comes along, and you’re expected to move mountains in a matter of days.
Along with our other frontline workers, you are our heroes. Thank you for all that you do. ♥
Working from home
Pre-pandemic, M often worked from home in the evenings. That made his transition into full-time remote work pretty easy. He’s really enjoying it (which is great, because his company plans to continue this indefinitely).
Having M working from home has been a nice change for all of us. Since he doesn’t have to commute, and can see us throughout the day, we get a lot more time together.
However, he and his co-workers have experienced some Zoom fatigue. (It’s pretty draining being in virtual meetings all day long.)
They’re trying to be mindful of this and are taking steps to reduce the number of virtual meetings they have. (But it’s hard for him to avoid since he’s a manager.)
Even so, he’s not complaining—he’s happy to have a job and be paid to do what he loves.
M’s job stability
We’re very fortunate that M works in the videogame industry. Since so many people are stuck at home, videogames are one of the industries that’s doing okay.
This was unexpected for me. I predicted that videogame sales would go way down since so many people have less discretionary income right now. So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I’m grateful that M’s job is (for now) stable and that we won’t have any short-term financial worries. However, this is an unprecedented time for our world.
Who knows what things will look like in 6 months or a year from now? We’re hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst.
Our new new normal
The boys and Mika on one of our daily walks through the neighbourhood
In my March update, I wrote about our new normal—before school started. Now that we’re fully into the online schooling thing, we’ve fallen into a new new normal:
We all sleep in a little later and start the day slowly.
M ‘heads to work’ while I make breakfast for the boys.
I leave the boys to eat breakfast while I take Mika for her morning walk. (M and I do intermittent fasting, so we typically don’t eat breakfast.)
Mika and I return from our walk, and I feed her and clean up breakfast.
9:00 am–12:00 pm
The boys log into their classes and work on their assignments for the day. If they finish early, they can read, go on Codecademy, or work ahead on other schoolwork.
While they’re occupied, I use the time to catch up on email, bills, paperwork, meal planning, etc. I also sometimes help with homework (e.g. Kid 1’s cooking class assignments.)
Everyone (including M) breaks to have lunch as a family. Sometimes, Kid 1 prepares something yummy for all of us. (His cooking teacher assigns him a dish to cook every week or two.)
I clean up lunch dishes while the boys finish leftover schoolwork or help me with chores around the house.
Time for Mika’s second walk of the day! We’re fortunate to live in a quiet area with lots of wooded trails. The hilly, uneven terrain gives us a pretty good workout.
We often run into friends and neighbours on our walk, so we’ll stop to have a (physically distanced) chat. I forget how much I miss these people until I see them and realize it’s been weeks since we last met.
About once a week, we squeeze in a physically-distanced walk with M’s parents. Most of the time, we walk from their house to M’s grandma’s place.
It lights her up to see the boys, even if it’s only for a few minutes. It’s nice that we can do this and help the boys maintain their connection with their grandparents and great-grandma.
Time to do more tidying up, read a book, play with Mika, play in the backyard, build a puzzle, chat with friends, or just chill out.
The boys get their videogame/Netflix time. I catch up on more emails, bills, paperwork, meal planning, etc. This is also the best time for me to squeeze in podcast interviews.
While they’re playing, I cook dinner. M usually isn’t done work until 6, but if he finishes earlier, he helps me with dinner.
Time to eat! As we did pre-pandemic, we have a sit-down family dinner every night. (And during the pandemic, we’ve also been having Saturday Zoom dinners with our parents and siblings.)
The boys help clear the table, then head upstairs to shower and brush their teeth. M and I finish washing the dishes together and chat about the day.
Time for the nightly cheer for our frontline workers! We have some cowbells that we never had a use for, but I’m glad we saved them—Kid 2 enjoys ringing them most nights.
M and the boys head down to his mancave to watch something on Netflix. (They’ve watched Community, Sherlock, and are now starting Modern Family.)
I use the quiet time to work on my blog, the podcast, or deal with emails. (Is it just me, or is everyone getting way more emails these days?)
The boys go to bed around 9, then M takes Mika out for her last walk of the day. For the rest of the night, M and I will watch a movie, chat, or just do our own things. For me, this includes blogging and reading other blogs.
Lights out! Pre-COVID, I’d try to get to bed between 10 and 11. But with our slower mornings, I go to bed and wake up later.
We follow roughly the same routine, but the school/work hours are filled instead with chores, longer walks with Mika, hobbies, or more lazing around.
And that’s it—our new new normal. I really can’t complain. It’s a nice life, and we all find it pretty relaxing. However, it’s getting harder and harder to tell the days apart because of the same sameness every.single.day.
Do you feel the same?
The latest COVID update in BC
I have to say: I’m so proud of how our province has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Bonnie Henry, our amazing provincial health officer, has led the response beautifully (as evidenced by our low numbers):
In May, parks, playgrounds, libraries, and other services and businesses will partially or fully reopen. In June, schools will also reopen, but only to 20% capacity.
What does all this mean for my family? We intend to continue as we’ve been doing—isolating at home and maintaining physical distance from others. We’ve been a little more lax with Mika though, and have taken her to play at dog parks again. (She’s SO happy about that!)
As for school, we won’t be sending our kids. Since M and I are both at home, we really don’t need to send them back. This keeps spots open for families who need them.
We’re also still a bit fearful for the safety of our kids and their teachers. Keeping our kids home will help to prevent them from potentially catching or spreading the virus.
Our teachers will continue to provide some online learning, and we’re happy with whatever they’re able to do. (Again, thank you, teachers—you’ve been amazing through this.)
Actually, I am okay
In April, I wrote about my many worries about the pandemic. They’re big, scary fears—most of which are far beyond my control.
But thanks in large part to the insightful, supportive comments that so many of you left, I’ve slowly moved past my fears.
It’s become much easier for me to set aside my worries, and I’m feeling much better. (I’ve also accepted that it’s okay to not be okay.)
Focusing on my sphere of influence
These days, I try as much as possible to focus on things that I can make an actual difference with, such as:
- Shopping at local small businesses.
- Avoiding price-gouging delivery apps. (And instead, ordering takeout directly from local restaurants.)
- Helping family and friends with groceries, finances, and emotional support.
- Emailing our kids’ teachers to thank them for their hard work.
- Applying for and using grant money in my own community. (More on this in the spending section.)
- Setting money aside for donations. (More on this in the spending section.)
- Continuing to minimize my environmental footprint (cooking from scratch, buying groceries with less packaging, etc.)
- Sharing helpful info on Nextdoor and thanking my neighbors for their contributions.
To be sure, these are small gestures. But I hope that each positive action will have a ripple effect. For me, that feels a whole lot better than worrying about the looming national deficit.
As if life wasn’t full enough, our investments also kept me busy in April and May:
Another big tax refund
Just like last year, M received another big tax refund. This is because we use the Smith Manoeuvre (that is, we refinanced our house and use our equity to invest).
However, all this comes at a price! There’s extra paperwork, headaches, and worry when using leverage to invest. You have to know exactly what you’re doing when deducting investment interest from your income.
For me, it was too much risk and worry to do it on my own. I do not want to get on CRA’s bad side! That’s why I’m so glad to have our financial planner Ed Rempel and his team to hold my hand through the process. (Ed prepares and files his full-service clients’ tax returns for free.)
With their help, I’m always confident that my taxes will be filed properly. And if we’re ever audited, or there are errors, I’ll have their support to guide us through.
Maxing out my spousal RRSP
M’s tax refund allowed us to max out my spousal RRSP in April. (But we had to leave some room for his paycheque RRSP contributions, which are partially matched by his company.)
While it’s better to make our full RRSP contribution in January (to get the maximum amount of growth and tax-sheltered time) it works better for our cashflow to time it with our tax refund.
Why a spousal RRSP?
For at least the last four years, all of M’s RRSP contributions have gone into my spousal RRSP (versus an individual RRSP for him). We do this because M can deduct the contributions from his income, but when we withdraw, the income will be taxed in my hands.
This makes sense because M earns most of the income right now, so the tax deduction is more beneficial under his name. However, we don’t want our retirement savings to be lop-sided, with him ending up with way more than me.
If we instead put his contributions into a spousal RRSP under my name, we can get closer to a 50/50 split in our retirement income. When we start drawing from our portfolio, this will help us to lower our overall tax burden.
Our investments rallied
In April, our investments rallied and were up by 5.4%. That brought us back to where we were in October 2019. (This is a HUGE improvement—in March, we dropped to our March 2018 net worth!)
In May, our investments continued to rally, and were up by 2.5%. This brings us to our November 2019 net worth.
I’m continuing to stick with our plan and am investing cash as we have it. However, I’m holding onto slightly more cash than usual by prefunding two to three months of our budget in YNAB (as opposed to just one).
Cleaning up my dad’s investments
This is embarrassing to admit, but until recently, I haven’t done much to help my dad with his investments. I figured he had things running fine, and I knew it’d be a lot of work to take on the task. So I kept putting it on the backburner.
However, my guilt finally got the better of me. My siblings and I want our dad to have more than enough to live out the rest of his years comfortably and with no financial stress. I realized that I needed to get proactive.
After my dad’s health scare in October, I finally decided to dive in and clean things up. It took a while for me to get a feel for all his finances, get access to his accounts, and come up with a plan… all while still managing our own lives and finances!
That’s why it took me until May to get my dad’s new accounts set up and his investments transferred over. As of this writing, we still need to do a few more things, but he’s about 75% of the way there (phew)!
An uplifting investment read
After my financial planner Ed read my Actually, I’m Not Okay post, he sent me the nicest email. He was worried about me, and thought I needed something positive to cheer me up.
To do that, he sent me a book by Nick Murray (whom Ed says has been like a mentor to him). The book, Simple Wealth, Inevitable Wealth, arrived in the mail about a week later. I’ve only managed to read the first dozen pages, but I can already tell I’m going to love it.
Nick Murray writes much like Warren Buffet and JL Collins—in plain language, and in a rational and soothing tone. His message is simple and optimistic, and it did wonders for my mood (as Ed had hoped).
In times like these, it’s helpful for me to seek out positive, hopeful messages such as those shared by Nick Murray. Thanks again, Ed, for your kind gesture—I truly appreciate it! (And I hope to have more time in June to finish the book.)
At last—we’ve made it to the spending update for April and May:
Continued lower-than-average spending
April was another low-spending anomaly. While we didn’t have a negative-spend month like we did in March, we basically broke even—with a $67 net spend! This was due to the same reasons that caused our negative spending in March:
- We spent almost nothing (being stuck at home is a huge money saver)!
- We received another trip cancellation refund.
May was still lower than normal, but nowhere near zero. Our biggest expense in May was the $1,922 (!!!) annual insurance premium for my Mazda 5, with groceries coming in second. (More on our grocery spending below.)
April was another low-spend month for groceries, totalling less than $300! However, as predicted, our grocery spending went up in May—to $527. Here’s what caused the increase:
- We ate up most of the food in our freezer and pantry, so we needed to restock.
- We’re limiting our shopping trips, so we can’t catch as many sale items.
- We’re trying to order all our produce through a local produce delivery company, and some items are more expensive.
Our gas spending normally averages $250 per month. But with no commute for M, no social outings, and fewer errands, our fuel costs have decreased by at least half.
In April, our gas spending was just over $107 and for May it was $123. (But most of it was for M’s classic Mustang, which he drives when the weather’s nice.)
To help save money and avoid physical contact, we once again used Filld to gas up my car. (I paid only $0.88/liter with Filld when gas stations were charging around $0.99/liter—pretty good!)
Unfortunately, Filld no longer delivers to households.
Continuing with the trend from March, we spent less (or nothing) on our discretionary spending in April and May.
This includes things like shopping, clothing, entertainment, and gifts. However, two areas we’ve spent more on are takeout and donations. (More on this below.)
Lately I’ve been feeling the need to give more. We’re so fortunate to have all that we do, and I think it’s important for us to pay it forward. So, M and I sat down to work out a bigger giving budget.
In our discussion, we also realized that we want to focus more on individuals and smaller causes, such as:
- Handsewn face masks from my friend Jenny, who donates all proceeds to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.
- Small fundraisers, like on Go Fund Me.
- Individuals and families in need, who we hear of through friends and family.
- Bigger tips for service people—even those who don’t normally receive tips.
- Digital products from content creators I’ve received a lot of free value from.
- More Girl Guide cookies than we’d normally buy. (Can you ever buy too many?)
- Takeout from local restaurants (more than we’d normally spend).
- Shopping small and local (even though it costs more).
I’m frugal to a fault, but am more than happy to support others in need—especially right now. We’re lucky to be in the position that we’re in, and I hope our increased giving will help make a difference for others.
Neighborhood grant for puzzles
It’ll take us a while to get through all these puzzles!
In May, I heard about a small grant program from Vancouver Foundation. The program’s goal is to support projects that build and connect local communities—while complying with physical distancing guidelines.
As soon as I heard about the program, I got to work… I had the perfect idea! We were already participating in a neighbourhood puzzle exchange via Nextdoor. If I could access some grant money, I could add some new puzzles to the circulation!
In my proposal, I stated that I would buy the puzzles from local toy and book stores. Then, to further add to the goodness, I also planned to put a note in each puzzle box to tell my neighbours:
- The local business which the puzzle was purchased from.
- That the grant was generously provided by Vancouver Foundation.
- To consider shopping local or making a donation.
It’s a perfect virtuous circle!
To my delight, my proposal was accepted a few days after I applied. My local small grant coordinator e-transfered $157 to me shortly after, and since then, I’ve managed to pick up three of the five puzzles I wanted. (Two more are on order and will hopefully come in soon.)
I’ll prep the puzzles for sharing shortly, and plan to have them circulating amongst my neighbours in the next week or so. It feels good to be able to spread some goodwill and happiness like this!
And that’s a wrap!
I found April and May to be at once quiet and busy: quiet in that we have fewer appointments, plans, and obligations. But busy in that the days somehow evaporate before my eyes. Have you felt the same?
Let me know how your April and May went. Has your spending gone down, or has it increased? How have you and your family been coping with the stay-at-home orders in your community?
I’d love to hear from you—leave a comment to let me know!
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