Mrs. J, a subscriber of MDJ, has emailed me with a load of questions on how to get started with her finances.  I sometimes forget that a lot of my readers are just starting out where a lot of my writing is geared towards intermediate/advanced topics.  Not today though, back to the basics for the personal finance babe in the woods.

Here is some information about Mrs. J (and her husband):

  • We are both 38
  • Family income is $72k
  • We live in NT
  • We have 3 children

Here are some of her questions

  • Should we continue renting or buy a house?
  • Why would I need an RRSP AND a savings account?
  • What books would you recommend that I read?  Is Rich Dad Poor Dad Recommended?

If you haven’t done so already, I would suggest that you start an “emergency fund” because you never know what can come up.  How much?  Some suggest to have around 3-12 months worth of expenses.  Personally, I keep enough in my savings account to cover the worst case scenario accounting for insurance/EI benefits etc.  Alternatively, you could get a line of credit as your emergency fund.

Once you have a “cushion” to work with, you and your husband should consider getting aggressive with your retirement savings.  As your husband is in a higher tax bracket (for NT), he should start his RRSP.  For every dollar that he puts into his RRSP, he’ll get around 34% of it back when tax refunds come around.  On top of that, with a large discrepancy between your incomes, you should consider Spousal RRSP’s which will allow you to income split when you both retire.  When you do get to contributing to your RRSP’s, look into investing in low MER INDEX funds/ETF’s.

As to the question regarding renting vs owning, that is a question with many opinions.  It really depends on your situation and where you live.  Are the prices of houses in your area ridiculously high?  Would the mortgage payments be significantly higher than the rent that you’re paying now?  If so, it makes sense to rent.  For example, in Vancouver, the difference between mortgage and rent payments is substantial thus the reason why even people with high incomes rent there.  If house prices are crazy high in your area, I’m a believer in the rent low and invest the rest.

In terms of which books to get started, my favorite beginner book is “The Wealthy Barber“.  Rich Dad Poor Dad is also good book to read to get you started.  It’s not a “how to” book, but a book to help you get in the frame of mind of how a wealthy person thinks.  Another great Canadian read is: Spend Smarter, Save Bigger.

When it comes down to it, it really depends on what your financial goals are for the future.  Does your husband want to retire when he’s 65 or earlier?  At what income?  It all boils down to one mantra, and that is to live below your means.

So, as per the regular routine, I’m going to pass the buck to you, the reader.  What advice would you give Mrs. J to get started?

Note that i’m not a financial advisor so please consult a financial professional before using any of the info given in this article.

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FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.
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13 years ago

In my opinion one should have their own house even by means of mortgaging. You are just wasting money in renting while in mortaging you are sure that one day that house could be yours.

Reader Mail: Babe in the Woods II | Million Dollar Journey
13 years ago

[…] amAdd comment Babe in the Woods has contacted me again with a bunch of questions.  After the last response to her questions, she has gone out and read a couple personal finance books and now has more […]

just learnin'
13 years ago

Can anybody tell me if there is some catch to these free books I came across? Is this useful for someone starting out.

btw. Frugal you are so popular maybe you should consider a drupal community blog. It could generate a lot more advertising revenue. Just a thought, and not just because it would be easier for people to discuss things. :-)

13 years ago

Babe said (in jest): “What other “assets” are there to consider besides real estate? I was joking with my husband we should start a chapters and starbucks, but we don’t quite have a few million kicking around just yet to embark on that venture.”

Maybe you don’t have the few million, but had you bought $10,000 of shares in Tim Horton’s this past July, today (not yet six months later) you could pocket about $2000 in gains. Without you having to wash a single coffee cup!

Read the books mentioned above, and others that you can borrow from your local library, follow this and other financial blogs, and learn all you can.


Babe in the Woods
13 years ago

I just realized a few more details might help. The rent where we are staying hasn’t been raised in 20 years, and we are quite fortunate, in that we are saving a lot compared other places we might be able to rent in the city. My husband income currently covers our living expenses with a few hundred free each month. He’s was told there would be pay raises, and there is a couple of thousand bonus each year. (This went to basic furniture this year as we haven’t been here very long.)I’m not sure if I’m exact here, but I believe the average income for a family is 140 (a lot of people like to collect expensive toys here.) I don’t really understand the tax situation here, but I know there are some benefits, and also with regards to education for the children. My husband offered for us to get child care for 800 a week, so I could spend more time working in my studio, but I am hoping to be here for them and fit my work around it. They are pretty well behaved… and I think it could work. I know I could earn much more here doing another line of work, but my career is pretty established, and it is very much a calling for me that I don’t want to give up unless my family’s welfare was threatened. I’d like to learn more about investing so I can take the little I make and make it grow.

What other “assets” are there to consider besides real estate? I was joking with my husband we should start a chapters and starbucks, but we don’t quite have a few million kicking around just yet to embark on that venture. Also the time I can afford to put into something is a issue.

I had wondered about joining an investing club to learn the ropes… but have to do a little more research. I could only find a seniors one, and I’m not sure they’d take me just yet. (^; I did once get an advance on a painting to buy stocks in 2000 (my husband was paying attention to some tech stocks), and would have made 40 thousand in a day, but I was laughed out of the door. They were only selling to people who wanted to buy hundred thousand or more…

So here I am starting over (albeit sleep deprived), and wondering the best place to start to take care of my family.

all the best j.

Babe in the Woods
13 years ago

wow.. thanks for all the feedback. I’d have been here sooner, but busy with the baby (who is waiting for me now, so I’ll try to be brief.)

I’d like to help my little ones get started so they wouldn’t be left owing the estimated `100,000 for tuition when they are 24. It was hard enough for our generation, and is part of our late start. We are just rebuilding our credit, and dusting off the last of the fall out from the dot com crash. When the company my husband worked for went under he may have been a little too loyal and trusting.

We are saving on our rent in a very family friendly area, and according to the new york times calculator renting is a better option. I guess this means we have to be much more disciplined about putting money aside. I am thinking about the possibility of getting a mortgage on a building to rent for investment purposes, but not sure where would be the best market. Should we think about getting someone to manage property for us in another part of the country? This may be jumping ahead, but at our age we need to do some serious planning.

We’d also like to retire in France (possibly), for my husband to write. I’m an artist so self employed. It’s possible I could keep working till 90 or be earning much more in years to come, but it is nothing I’d like to count on. Having said that if I have a goal in mind, I’m prepared to work towards it.

Baby calling me again. Have to go. Hope this makes sense. Once he sleeps through the night I’m hoping to start working again.

Thank you for all the help, and all the feedback. I really appreciate your time and opinions. I had mixed feelings after I heard the author of Rich Dad talk, so I had to ask…

p.s. Does anyone have any suggestions about life insurance, and various companies?

13 years ago

“The best piece of advice from that book is stop buying “doodads” and start buying assets. That is step #1 for anybody on the path to financial freedom.”
I agree with this, but the book is contradictory on this, as Kiyosaki boasts that he has porsches, mercedes, rolexes, expensive golf clubs.
The authors of The Millionaire Next Door found conspicuous consumption was typically a sign of a non-millionaire who was trying to impersonate a millionaire.

The book has been proven as a piece of fiction. What it is selling is the same as those late night get rich infomercials.

The Millionaire next door is a good book with tomes of data (some if it maybe a little old now), but still accurate in terms of lifestyle and consumption habits. Some of Gordon Pape’s older personal finance books are quite good (all Canadian content).

Mr. Cheap
13 years ago

I actually meant to recommend “The Millionaire Next Door”, not “Millionaire Mind” (both by Stanley), so I’ll change my book recommendation to match TMW’s.

I’m still firmly anti-“rich dad” though.

Gates VP
13 years ago

Book suggestion: “Personal Finance for Dummies (for Canadians)” It’s really enough information for anyone to get started without being bogged down in details.

The rest of these well-known books have real issues: Rich Dad.. is just poorly written, Wealthy Barber is a parable with the message of “Save 30%+ of your income and you will be rich” (no kidding).

There are also tons of other books and information guides, but after you’ve read the dummies book, just start surfing the Canadian PF blogs. More information (and opinions) than you can shake a stick at.

The deep truth though, is that Babe in the woods had a bunch of questions regarding financial tools (rent vs. buy, RRSPs vs. savings). But she didn’t give us any financial goals, so any advice (outside of the book suggestions) is just kind of moot.

I’d love to help her out, but we’d need a whole bunch more information to be able to offer any specific advice. Otherwise, Babe will just have to keep reading books and figure out how to apply the tools on her own.

You got a lot of smart people on these boards Babe, give us a little more to chew on (i.e.: your dreams for the future and your cash flow situation) and we’ll give you a host of options.

13 years ago

I agree with FrugalTrader, Rich Dad Poor Dad, even though not the best book in the world, will start the path of thinking like a rich person. The best piece of advice from that book is stop buying “doodads” and start buying assets. That is step #1 for anybody on the path to financial freedom. Good luck and have fun on your journey!