Guest Post – Personal finance, goals, and the relationship factor

NOTE: Today’s guest post is from Robb Engen who writes about Canadian personal finance at Boomer & Echo, as well as at Moneyville.ca.

We all know that teenagers are out of touch with reality, expecting to earn $90,000 per year by age 30. In my experience, many single 20-somethings are just as clueless when it comes to creating a realistic financial plan.

I read an article recently about a 22-year-old man named Sean who just graduated from college and started working for an investment bank. His goal was to be financial free by age 33, and here’s how he planned to do it:

Sean had a great starting salary of $75,000 per year, with the potential to earn an additional $50,000 in bonuses. To maximize his income, Sean’s brilliant plan included working 85-hour weeks for the next 11 years. He shared an apartment near his office downtown so he could walk to work.  Sean planned to save money on food by bringing his lunch and dinner to work so he could eat at his desk.

The end result of Sean’s financial plan was to save over 60 per cent of his income and have an investment portfolio worth $1.5 million by the time he reached age 33. I’m all for setting lofty goals, but this plan doesn’t stand a chance. It’s just a dream.

I can remember when I was in my early 20’s and single, dreaming of financial freedom. I worked long hours, socked away money inside my RRSP, and lived on Pizza Pops and Kraft Dinner. I was going to retire young and wealthy, and then live it up over-seas. But then something happened that usually foils the financial dreams of all single men; I met a girl.

The one thing that is rarely accounted for in the financial dreams of young singles is the relationship factor. Suddenly you have to consider someone else’s needs other than your own. I don’t know about you, but my significant other wouldn’t really appreciate me working 85-hour weeks while sharing a cramped two-bedroom apartment with my old college roommate.

My financial priorities have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. When I was single I put any extra dollar into my RRSP without even thinking about my short term financial needs. Now that I’m married and have a family, I find myself more concerned with paying off our mortgage, building an emergency fund, and saving for a nice family vacation. I’ll stop myself before I end up buying a used mini-van.

I’m not suggesting that young single folks can’t make their financial dreams come true. Just remember to have a back-up plan that includes a significant other in your life.

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**NOTE: I absolutely agree with Robb. Everything you thought you knew and wanted in life can be turned upside down once you meet someone special. I think even the biggest relationship skeptic can change if the right person comes along. But maybe that’s just me wanting to believe that it’s true. :)

Robb Engen lives in Lethbridge, AB and writes about Canadian personal finance at Boomer & Echo. Together with his mom, (she’s the Boomer, he’s the Echo) they offer their own unique perspectives on saving, investing and personal finance. You can follow him on Twitter @BoomerandEcho.


About Krystal Yee

I'm a writer, personal finance blogger, and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I'm a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner's Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I'm not working, you can usually find me running, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.

16 comments

  1. “I’m all for setting lofty goals, but this plan doesn’t stand a chance. It’s just a dream.”

    So when I thought I actually did something like that — working like a dog, saving as much as I could and retiring at age 39 — I was really just dreaming? Can you help me wake up? I’ve been retired for almost 20 years now and I really need to wake up from this dream!

    Lest you think I’m just being selfish, I want to wake up to help my Beloved Spouse. You see, my Beloved Spouse has been having the same dream for 20 years, too.

    • @Jane – Congratulations on retiring at 39. That’s an incredible accomplishment. My post was aimed at single 20-something’s today who may not have considered a significant other in their financial dreams.

  2. Robb – I think this definitely makes sense, and it’s even true for those without the loftiest of goals.

    I don’t know too many people like the Sean you’re describing, but I do know many more that make modest financial goals and still fail to meet even those.

    Relationships seem like they can easily derail any early retirement and financial dreams whether the person you meet has the same or different goals and priorities in life. Most relationships end with kids and, while I don’t have any now, the cost of raising children will surely wreak havoc on just about any financial plan.

    • @Jeffrey – You’re right, this can be true for most young, single people.

      My wife and I changed course a few years ago after she was diagnosed with MS. We decided to have kids earlier than we originally planned, and my wife now stays at home full time.

      This required some major changes to our financial plan, but it looks like we’re back on track now.

  3. Great post. I think you’ve hit on the main point, being that young people may be unrealistic about what they will really earn when they graduate. They think they’ll be ballin’ with $75,000 out of college, not realizing what it takes to get there.

    Few points (as I am one of those 20-somethings who earn well over)

    A) This is why i-bankers don’t have girlfriends. I know a lot of them, and they seem to be the workaholic types, because their jobs don’t let them have a life. They work on average, 100 hours a week (or so they say), which means their $75,000 base salary is really only $37,500.

    The only i-bankers I know with a life, and a significant steady other, are ex i-bankers who made their money in 3 years & got out ;)

    B) It is possible to make a lot of money when you’re young, but it’s hard to plan it beyond getting good grades, the right degree and getting into the right job from the start.

    C) I had a similar plan, and really did save a huge chunk of my income. I made $180k in 9 months and saved $130k net. It’s possible, it just means you need to watch for lifestyle inflation and to be diligent.

    D) I never had (or still have) any plans to retire. I love my job (weird, I know).. and I already tried pre-retiring this year (took the year off to travel), but I found it tiring and my brain turned to mush. I spent a decent chunk of change, but most of all….I am dying to get back into working again.

    E).. oh and through it all, I have a steady BF :) ..

    At any rate, thanks for the good guest post, to remind us all that it isn’t just all about us!!!!

    • @FB – good point that working 100 hours a week essentially cuts your salary in half. It’s tough to keep up that pace and have a life too.

      I worked in the hospitality industry for 10 years and could have easily worked internationally and made really good money. But I would have been moving every 2-3 years, working long hours in a high-stress environment.

      Now I work 37.5 hours a week and get home by 4:45pm every day. I have time to spend with my family and to focus on doing things I enjoy in my free time.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I should also mention that in my spending of the $50k for the year (net), it included my business taxes/fees/registrations/business travelling costs (hotels/flights) and everything that I couldn’t avoid.

  5. I understand the sentiment of this post, the only word of caution would be to SOME young women who have the “oh, I shouldn’t make a financial plan at all because my prince charming is coming” attitude. I could see some of these ladies reading this post as a reinforcement of that mindset when what they really need is someone to challenge it.

    On another note, I don’t understand why people are so obsessed with retiring early. I think most of those people need to focus on finding another job that they don’t hate and can thus work in until their sixties as opposed to coming up with a bunch of outrageous financial stunts that will allow them to retire at 30. I suppose it’s a “to each his own” kind of thing, but I just have a really hard time understanding the ‘retire early’ perspective.

    • @TeacHer – That’s an interesting observation that I didn’t take into consideration. I’ll admit this post was mostly aimed at 20-something guys.

      Some people are a bit obsessed with retiring early but perhaps they’re confusing retirement with being financially free enough to not have to work for someone else.

  6. I wouldn’t say that “meeting a girl” is such a bad thing. Maybe he’ll meet a “financial drain” of a girl with massive debts and massive spending plans. Then of course his plans don’t stand a chance.

    But maybe he’ll meet a girl who will also have a decent income and together they can probably save one person’s income entirely and some of the other’s as well while still maintaining a good life together.

    Double income does tend to increase one’s saving potential. So I wouldn’t necessarily say that meeting a girl is a bad thing. In reality, in most cases, it turns out better for ones financial situation. Unless of course he meets a girl, marries her and then divorces her and then goes into a rather-rinse-repeat mode with relationships.

    • @JA – I agree that double income households can lead to better financial situations.

      I just don’t know very many women who would put up with their man working 85 hours a week, regardless of their financial acumen. That’s the equivilent of working 7am – 7pm, 7 days a week.

  7. When you are 20, you can work longer and better than when you’re 30. while I applaud his commitment, Sean should try and pace himself, otherwise he might not reach his 30s in good health.

    I worked like CRAZY when I was 20, but spent money just like that.

    I’m 33 now, have been with my own small business for the past 2 years. worked a lot in the first months and now I make sure I work and also have time for myself.

    Even if I never had financial goals till now, the past 2 years change me a lot. Having good tangible goals is amazing, but you always need to take into account that you’re human and sometimes too much is just too much

  8. One thing not taken into account that reinforces the point – Sean discounts the general malaise that comes with age. At 30-some, unless you’ve been rewarded often for your hard work, you inevitably start to wonder why you work so hard for someone else, who may not even really be a good boss, and may fire you at the drop of a hat. He probably thinks “not me” but it happens to many.

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