Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Looking towards 2014

Ever since I discovered NetworthIQ, I’ve religiously tracked my numbers every month. Sometimes I’ll browse through the profiles to see how others are doing, but mostly I keep track of my numbers for myself and for this blog. From the time I started up until today (8 years), my net worth has increased by over $110,000 (an average of approx. $14,000/year).

Now, that’s pretty good considering I have never been a high income earner. Before this year, my average gross annual salary (not including freelance/side income) for the last 8 years was around $45,000. And even when you factor in the freelance/side income, my average gross annual salary only increases to $53,000. 2011 was my best year when I earned just over $82,000. This year, I’ll hover between $75-80,000 when you add up my salary with my freelance income. That’s a comfortable amount to live on… but it’s not life changing.


My net worth hasn’t increased enough for me to feel satisfied, and that’s mainly due to my retirement savings. In 2011, I had a consultation with a fee-only financial advisor (provided by the Toronto Star), who informed me that if I want to retire by my goal age of 55-57, I need to be saving a lot more aggressively than I have been. Unfortunately last year, I barely saved anything, and this year it’s been a struggle to get back on track. I’m earning less money than I did in 2011, so is early retirement still my number one goal? If so, then every other financial decision I make needs to reflect that fact. And if it isn’t my number one goal anymore, then what is?

This is what I need to figure out before I start tackling what I want to achieve for next year. I see next year as a pivot point to my finances (and my life). I’m finally settled down in Vancouver. I have a home and a steady job, and at my advancing age (yep, I said it) I don’t see myself dropping everything and moving abroad again or doing anything drastic anytime soon. Travel will always be a big part of my life, but I’ve already acknowledged the fact that I need to scale back. Even this year (where I was supposed to really slow down) was a bit excessive.

Right now I’m saving 10% of my gross annual income for retirement. It’s not enough. Based on my calculations, I need to be saving 18-20% of my gross if I want to hit my early age goal (without counting on CPP, OAS, or property). Since that doesn’t include other savings goals, this will mean making significant lifestyle changes, or increasing my income somehow. Likely both.

A lot to ponder over the next few weeks, that’s for sure.

Have you started thinking about your goals for next year?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a 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, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. Ellen says:

    Fascinating question! I guess it depends on how you envision your early retirement — what do you plan to do, what is it for. It’s hard to peer into the future, but you seem like the kind of person who would work part-time or on passion projects even after formal retirement, just to have some project to work on. Moreover, while it may be advantageous to save a little more and travel a little less in the next few years, it strikes me that you really value travel, and probably don’t want to wait until retirement age to do a lot of it. So maybe what you want to do is save a little more and target an age around 60, thinking that after that you may choose to work part-time or continue to freelance or consult to augment your income.

  2. alexislives says:

    That’s great that you’ve been tracking your worth. Since I have student loans and I’ve only been out for 2 years, I’m afraid to look at mine. As for goals, I can’t wait to start on my 2014 goals since they’re more primed for my future, rather than short-term goals like running a 5K.

  3. greg says:

    “I need to be saving 18-20% of my gross if I want to hit my early age goal” — this tacitly assumes that the amount needed for happiness is linked to current income. For my case no such link exists, and for me it means that my income has grown substantially over the past 5 years without what most see as concomitant increases in expenses (in fact, they have gone down by 30%).

    A 60%+ after-tax savings rate does wonders for financial stability and growth.

  4. Leigh says:

    I went through all of your monthly goal reviews from this year and through the end of October, you have spent $34,491.83 on a gross income of $62,500 (my estimate by doing $75,000 / 12 * 10). You’ve been going over budget many months this year, which sounds like your budget isn’t in line with reality very well. Overall, it matters less how much you save/spend than that you spend less than your income. In the smaller picture though, it is super important for your savings goals and spending amounts to line up or you get upset with yourself, which can often cycle into spending more.

    One item from your budget that I’ve been pondering is the extra payments you’re making on your mortgage. Your minimum mortgage payment is already $1,098/month, plus strata fees of $180/month. You’re paying an extra $220/month-ish (I say ish since you’re on accelerated biweekly). What is your goal with this? To bring in the mortgage payoff date? Why? Have you considered sending that money to your RRSP instead?

    Also – you declare how much money you’re setting aside for your budget each month to help hold yourself accountable, but you don’t declare how much you plan on putting into savings each month. Would declaring that publicly help you at all?

  5. Tara Zee says:

    It’s interesting to see a couple of posts like this where bloggers realize their shortcomings with retirement planning. It’s even scarier to find out your own parents are exceedingly short in their own retirement funds (like my mother is). I don’t think I’ll be at a place in my life to retire in my 50s, especially with my current rate of savings, but I hope to be able to comfortably retire in my 60s when the time comes. Your post makes me realize I got to buckle down also on alternate income sources so I can get to better retirement saving goals like you’re planning to start.

  6. It’s crazy how even someone as driven as you still can’t relax and take a breather – now you have to save aggressively for retirement! It really goes to show that financial work is never “done”, there are just new tasks to tackle.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      It’s never ending! That’s what I love/hate so much about personal finance. It’s constantly evolving for each person, and there’s always something new to learn. :)

  7. Krystal, I think that saving and scaling back or just one part of the answer. Perhaps think of different ideas like a short term room mate or hosting international students or buying a rental property or whatever you feel comfortable with. The more streams of income, the easier to retire. You are definitely not an advanced age and I think the amount people are comfortable to retire on varies very greatly – not sure there is an exact formula. Depends on how you want to live. I see mine changing immensely – we would have 3 grown kids – our next biggest expense next to our mortgage is their sports and activities, we’d have 1 car instead of 2, far cheaper housing, property tax, utilities, etc. I am in my forties but my attitude is to do a lot while you’re young and save as much as you can for the future – play hard and save hard and keep travelling! Best wishes!

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I’ve been working hard on multiple streams of income. Aside from my full-time job, I make money through freelance writing as well as from this blog. My place isn’t big enough for a roommate or to rent out space (otherwise I would have signed up for AirBnB a long time ago), but I can definitely see how my finances have been affected by being single. When I was living with my (then) boyfriend, all of my living expenses were cut in half, and I was able to save at a much, much faster rate.

      Also, yeah… my retirement lifestyle will likely mean reduced spending. But not by much, I don’t think. Sure, I won’t have to deal with work-related expenses (insurance, gas, lunch, etc), and I likely won’t spend as much on sports-related activities. But I don’t have kids, and I already live in a small 1-bedroom home. Plus, I still hope to travel, and my goal is to live retirement without having to stress about money.

      Thanks for the comment! :)

  8. morgaine80 says:

    I have started to think about my goals for next year. 1) to get out of this debt cycle (2) pay back my RSP HBP loan (well 1/15 of it) (3) save for and have a baby (4) have emergency savings that I don’t spend at the drop of a hat. In order to do this we definitely need to cut back on spending on the house and eating out. It might be a challenging year!

  9. cvivien says:

    How do u factor in the cost of children in this? Are you planning to start a family?

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Well kids have never been in my life plan, and as I type this (single, 31), I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But stranger things have happened.

      Right now I’m planning for the future I see ahead of me. If things change, goals can and will be adjusted. :)

  10. Eric F. says:

    Krystal, some hard questions for you.

    1. After browsing “Putting a face on America’s Tax return”, how do you feel about yourself? Forget the policies, and take a look at the numbers. My favorite is the average income for americans.

    2. Why 55-57? No seriously, what’s your decision-making process to come up with this target? Is it because of a famous, very famous marketing plan who ran during the nineties? I’m really curious to know why you choose 55 years old.

    3. Finally, a challenge: why does the CPP starts at 65 and not after? Would you dare going into the politics of retirement when it was established in the first half of the 20th century?

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