Welcome to the Million Dollar Journey August 2014 Net Worth Update – Team MDJ edition. A select group of readers were selected to be part of Team MDJ which was conceived after the million dollar net worth milestone was achieved in June 2014. SmilingSaver was selected as a team member and will post net worth updates on a regular basis. Here is more about him.


    • Name: SmilingSaver
    • Age: 29
    • Net Worth: negative $55,612
    • Day Job: Engineer
    • Family Income: $72,000 – Promotion last month.
    • Goals: Save For Wedding in May $15000 – Done August 2014. Start 2016 Debt free.
    • Notes: Fiancé still in school (second Degree), graduating May 2015. Wedding is scheduled for May 2015.

Hey Everyone.

I think I am the only person on this website with negative net worth and I have to say I feel sorry about that. I think I have to give a bit of background about myself and my current situation.

I immigrated to Canada 13 years ago. As such, people who want to learn more about immigration, feel free to ask me questions in the comments. We we arrived, we did not have a lot of money, but we did have strong family unit. My parents took English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and I was in high school while working at a Tim Horton’s. My sister worked 2 or 3 low paying jobs to cover rent and food. This was our life for the first 2 or 3 years after arriving here. It was a really stressful time for our family, emotionally and financially. My parents were respected engineers in our previous life, but here, they had to rely on their children ages 16 and 23 to cover food and rent.

After about 5-6 years, I went to college and bartended at night.  My student loans covered my books and tuition while bartending covered the rent and food for the family. My sister graduated from Queens as a teacher with honors and my parents both found their first jobs (security and travel assistant). Life was getting better. Later mom completed her travel agency courses and my dad became an electrician. I went to university to become an engineer.

I ended up graduating with an Engineering degree and $45,000 in debt. I was not frugal by any stretch of the imagination, but I was worked hard.

A lot changed in my life when I moved to Calgary for work. I found a lot of people who were mindful about their money and they kindly introduced me to Million Dollar Journey and The Wealthy Barber. I started with a budget and planned my spending. My now fiancé (then girlfriend) made a leap of faith, she packed her bags and moved to Calgary to be with me. She has a degree in pharmaceutical quality control, unfortunately a degree that is not in demand in Calgary. After long discussion we decided she had to go back to school.

I have been in Calgary now for over three years. My student loan is paid off and we are planning a wedding. The only debt we have is my fiancé’s student loan. We rent and we budget. The only thing we are probably doing wrong financially is that we travel. Our travel budget only comes from my overtime. And yes we could have probably saved more money and got out of debt quicker, but I still want to see the world when I am still able to climb the pyramids and travel the mountains.

On to the net worth numbers:

Assets: $9,433 (+0.00%)

    • Cash: $2,000 (+0.00%)
    • Registered/Retirement Investment Accounts (RRSP): $0,000 (+0.00%)
    • Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSA): $7,433 (+0.00%)
    • Non-Registered Investment Accounts: $0.00 (+0.00%)

Liabilities: $65,045 (+0.00%)

    • Student Loan (Fiancé) : $65,045 (0.00%)

Total Net Worth: ~LOSS: $55,612 (+0.00%)

    • Saved up for wedding: $15,000

Some quick notes and explanations to common questions:

The Cash

We have $2,000 as an emergency fund sitting in Tangerine checking account.


$15,000 In TFSA that is put aside for wedding and is not considered part of my net worth.  $7,433 in TFSA in Tangerine Balanced Portfolio. The moment fiancés student loan requires interest payments, currently it is interest free, all this money will go into lump sum to pay it down.

I am really open to any question and/or suggestions. I will be asking for help, when I will be making my financial decisions. So I am waiting for your comment.

Again thank you for all the votes and thank you FrugalTrader for choosing me to be part of the MDJ beginners team.

RelatedHow we paid off our mortgage in three years!


  1. FrugalTrader on October 6, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Great story SmilingSaver, I’m always interested in hearing stories of new immigrants and their challenges adjusting to a new country. In terms of recording your net worth, I would count the “wedding savings” as part of your net worth, but include the “wedding expenses” as a liability.

  2. DavidV on October 6, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Great job! Your net worth my be negative now but you’re on the road to success. Keep it up!

  3. Rocky on October 6, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Good Morning,

    I receive the MDJ emails and rarely comment on them. But I found your story to be quite appealing. I think you may be looking at the travel expense of your financial journey in the wrong light. I like how Trent Hamm from the Simple Dollar describes it. You should reduce your spending on things that don’t matter to you and spend on the things that do. If travel is important to you then that should be something that you plan on spending. It may not be the best financial move, but life is also meant to be enjoyed. So, I would not think of travelling as a bad thing, but rather as a reason to be frugal in other parts of your life so you can travel and not feel guilty about it.



  4. Nick on October 6, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Great, inspiring story SmilingSaver! I agree with other posts here that you are well on your way now. Congratulations on all you have accomplished already. With the right mindset (which you seem to have), you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can turn your situation around. I too immigrated to Canada (about 20 years ago) and I look forward to following your progress & wish you all the best for success on your journey! Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  5. Tawcan on October 6, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Very inspiring story SmilingSaver. If you could I’d recommend seeing if you could save some money for your wedding. We did a lot of DIY’s for our wedding that allowed us saving quite a bit of money overall.

    Looking forward to your progress.

  6. nobleea on October 6, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    The creation of wealth is like pushing a massive boulder down a hill. It’s impossible to start, and even after exerting a lot of effort it doesn’t seem like you’ve made any progress. Your careers, your move to Calgary, and your focus on understanding finances are excellent groundwork. Think of it as smoothing all the edges on the boulder and clearing the way of obstacles down the hill. You’ve started to push the boulder. Pretty soon it will be impossible to stop given your careers and location.
    Don’t skimp on travel or experiences in general. It’s a long term, non financial investment that will pay off with memories for a long time. No one ever regrets traveling too much when they were young.

  7. SmilingSaver on October 6, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Thank you all very much for all the encouraging comments.
    I do have a question for anyone who is willing to answer:
    What is your weekly budget for groceries? (two people family preferably)
    We shop at Superstore and do have access to Cosco (landlord), but we seem to be spending more and more. And I can’t curb the reason.

    @FT I will change update as you suggested in the future. I really like the idea of balancing it this way.

  8. S on October 6, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Your story is shared by so many… I came here as a toddler and my work ethic and drive come from my immigrant experience. My parents worked hard to build their success and I grew up in a household where the mantra was independence and self-reliance.
    I know many self-made successful immigrants who came with little and created wealth. You certainly sound like you have the talent and ability to navigate the obstacles and achieve your goals. Best of luck to you.

  9. Aster on October 6, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    Hi OP, I’m in a two-person household (married, both aged late twenties) and we spend a lot on groceries – $200 AUD per week on food and household items (cleaning supplies, basic toiletries etc.) plus an additional $60-80 average per week on eating out. We don’t have a budget or place any restraints on consumption. I am a bit of a grocery hoarder; my cupboard is filled with toothpaste, paper towels, etc. which I know is a problem I need to deal with. If you are concerned about your grocery spending maybe have a chat with your fiancé.

  10. Al on October 6, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Keep it up! Our household started approx 3 yrs ago with 300K in debt (and no house) now we have a 130K net worth – a 430K swing. Tracking your net worth monthly is the best thing you can do to keep track of it.

  11. Bernie on October 6, 2014 at 8:30 pm


    It is wonderful that you are taking charge of your finances & wish to follow a more disciplined plan. Once you are married & both working put together an all inclusive budget that includes putting 5% towards your debt & 5% towards long term investing (ie: retirement). When your debt is eliminated devote 10% to the investments. Work towards maxing your TFSAs first, then utilize your RRSPs. A well diversified portfolio of index funds is probably the best course for investing to begin. I wish you a long & happy life & marriage together!

  12. My Own Advisor on October 6, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    First all, great story, for all the reasons others said.

    Secondly, kudos to FT for including you in this series because it really demonstrates the challenges many families have when they immigrate to Canada.

    Third, don’t feel sorry for this “I think I am the only person on this website with negative net worth and I have to say I feel sorry about that.” You have helped your family, you have helped yourself and you have and will continue to help your partner in life; all by the age of 29. You have absolutely nothing to apologize for and everything to look forward to.

    Most people can always save more money if they really wanted to but you also have to life your life. Sounds like you have a balanced approach and mindset, good on you.

    I look forward to your next post.

  13. Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet on October 6, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    The good news is that you’re in the right city; I also live in Calgary and I work with lots of engineers who do quite well financially. I wouldn’t worry about your net worth being negative because it will only be negative for a short period of time

  14. Cool Koshur on October 6, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    @SmilingSaver, There are no mistakes in life but lessons. You seem to have identified the path. But how far you can go is something you have work on. Do you have a car? If not do you use public transportation. You don’t need to spend lot of money on grocery bill. Before you buy anything.. think for a moment whether it is “need” or “want”. Price match everything at Superstore using local flyers. Shopping at Costco doesn’t necessarily mean savings. Since you are small family. buying in bulk doesn’t apply to you. Brown bag your lunch to work. Don’t drink $5 latte everyday. Buy generic brands. Try to cut down on your wedding cost. $15K is lot of money. Setup wedding registry and work with your fiancé on it. Avoid big box gifts. Your fiancé should looking into working part time and foot some of her tuition bills. If she doesn’t want to work, then she needs to cook so you can save $$$ on eating outside. Ask your utility companies for a discount. Unless and until baby cries she wont get milk. You will be surprised just by asking you could save money on anything.
    Good Luck
    Cool Koshur

  15. Emilio on October 7, 2014 at 12:22 am

    And here I was thinking that immigrants were horrified of being in debt all along. Being eastern european I was told that only a mortgage (to be paid asap) was the only kind of debt that was tolerable. A car loan would mean being disowned by my family.

    To be Canadian and more so North American means to slave off for a better part of our lives paying interest to the “financial services”. We are under imense pressure to do so. Predatory loaning is strong among us. Just think about all those radio comercials screaming “approved”, “approved”…

    To recap. Debt is bad, it is horrible, suffocating, just think about the compound interest they are making off of you. Somebody, having 65000 of debt has no business spending 15 k on wedding. Get married for free, have kids, pay off your debt, and then save up for a big party with a tux and a white dress.

    Also to answer your question we spend about 300$ for a family of four for Groceries in Calgary, mostly from superstore. (We get their points, cc, and all the specials) When it comes to food eat well more imoprtantly than worry about saving pennies. Try as much organic produce as possible, veggies, fruit, “free from” meat… It adds up but it pays off with good health in the long run.

    Best of luck on your journey!

  16. Melanie S on October 7, 2014 at 9:22 am

    You are well on your way. As long as you are spending less than you make, paying down your debt and planning for the future, there is no need to cut things that are important to you.

    As for groceries, the costs are rising, that is just a fact. We are a family of 3 plus baby in Edmonton and it vairies wildly but groceriesrage we spend 200 per week. We support local growers and businesses and we eat well. I find Superstore is often cheaper than Costco, especially for sales. If you want to save on groceries, it helps to make a meal plan for the week based on the sales in the flyers. I also find it helps to stock up on things you buy often when they are on sale but try to stick to your budget anyway and don’t be afraid to pass up a good sale because they tend to happen in cycles. Stocking up is only helpful if you were going to use it anyway.

  17. Banjopete on October 9, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    My lady and I are just two in a house and we spend from $300-400 a month on grocery store items. We don’t particularly watch or shop for deals but definitely we pay attention to $/kg metrics which are readily available on labels for pretty much everything. Also nothing shocking really but buying non-branded products is a great way to save small amounts that really add up without affecting the food in my opinion. I mean who cares if your lentils are this brand or that?

    I’m often reminded of the Simpsons episode where they visit the Duff beer plant and see one big tube that drains out of a large vat of Duff Beer!, that single tube is split into spouts where they’re filling bottles at the bottom, one says Duff Light, the other Duff, and the last one Duff Premium.

    I have nothing to back this up but I think most manufacturers operate somewhere along these lines where they produce a premium branded product for $$, a second with a plain wrapper for $, and one with a yellow no name label for 1/2$. Same stuff different pile.

    Anyway thanks for sharing, and as other have said you’ll be amazed at how fast money starts to accumulate when you get paid interest rather than paying interest to someone else.

  18. Alpha Centauri on October 9, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Great to see someone who is really starting their journey from scratch, ie negative net worth! The fact that you’ve take a keen interest in this, Smiling Saver, I have no doubt you will be on the right track as the years go by.

    Your education seems to be paying off, too! $72 000 for a 29 year old is very respectable. Live on a student’s budget, and you’ll have no probably reaching your short term goal: Debt free by 2016

  19. Max on October 9, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    I found it very encouraging to read stories of other immigrants who arrived in Canada with virtually nothing but built successful careers with their own hard work.

    I came with a very similar background as you did. My father died when I was 12 and I came to Canada shortly after that with my mother, who barely spoke any English at that time. Long story short, I am now in my late twenties with a master degree and a professional designation working in an industry I genuinely love.

    Don’t be sorry about your negative net-worth. There are a lot more people who understand where you are coming from and fight with you along the way towards financial independence. You have accomplished so much at your age. Keep up the good work!

  20. Sean Cooper, Financial Journalist on October 10, 2014 at 12:47 am

    Welcome to the team, SmilingSaver! Very inspiring story! I am only imagine how hard it must have been to come to a strange country where you don’t even know the language. I picture myself moving to a far away country like Japan and trying to fit in. Not only have you fit in, you’re successful. Congrats on your success! I look forward to reading your posts!

  21. Alex on October 11, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Family of 4 here. Kids are 2 and 4. We live in Montreal. We have Costco but we dont do coupons or specials otherwise. I cook meals for us for work and in the evening completely from scratch. We spend about 570$ per *month* on food items. It differs per month obviously because of the big packages at Costco.

  22. Krish on March 2, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    This look like my story. Immigrated to Canada 8 years back, completed my masters in 2011. Started with a Job which was paying 42,000k$ now at 75,000$k. Had to take care of responsibilities at back home brother education and few other things. My net asset is -8000k$, spended 25k$ in wedding 2 year back :)..I think only asset I have right now is my life partner. :)..I am 31 by the way.

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