Bisky enjoying the dog beach at a campground

Sam and Riley are a married couple living in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada along with their dog Bisky and two cats, Theodore and Greta. Sam works as a plasterer and Riley is a social worker at a local college. The couple, both age 36, hope to have a child soon and are wondering how to balance that new financial responsibility alongside their current goals of finishing up a Masters of Social Work (Riley) and changing careers to become a sprinkler fitter (Sam).

Additionally, they bought their first home in June 2022 and are still settling into the realities–and expenses–of home ownership. Sam wrote that they feel like a lot of things are up in the air at the moment and said, “We have so many ideas for ourselves but need help creating plans to execute them. We want to do all these things as soon as possible to increase our incomes, pensions, and employment options, while also having a child soon as we are both already 36 and feeling the pressure on that front too.” Join me in my 100th Case Study today as we help Riley and Sam plan for their future!

A note on pronouns: Sam uses he/him pronouns and Riley uses they/them.

What’s a Reader Case Study?

Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send in requesting advice. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, dear reader) read through their situation and provide advice, encouragement, insight and feedback in the comments section.

For an example, check out the last case study. Case Studies are updated by participants (at the end of the post) several months after the Case is featured. Visit this page for links to all updated Case Studies.

Can I Be A Reader Case Study?

There are four options for folks interested in receiving a holistic Frugalwoods financial consultation:

  1. Apply to be an on-the-blog Case Study subject here.
  2. Hire me for a private financial consultation here.
  3. Schedule an hourlong call with me here.
  4. Schedule a 30 minute call with me here.

→Not sure which option is right for you? Schedule a free 15-minute chat with me to learn more. Refer a friend to me here.

Please note that space is limited for all of the above and most especially for on-the-blog Case Studies. I do my best to accommodate everyone who applies, but there are a limited number of slots available each month.

The Goal Of Reader Case Studies

A beautiful camping evening

Reader Case Studies highlight a diverse range of financial situations, ages, ethnicities, locations, goals, careers, incomes, family compositions and more!

The Case Study series began in 2016 and, to date, there’ve been 99 Case StudiesI’ve featured folks with annual incomes ranging from $17k to $200k+ and net worths ranging from -$300k to $2.9M+.

I’ve featured single, married, partnered, divorced, child-filled and child-free households. I’ve featured gay, straight, queer, bisexual and polyamorous people. I’ve featured women, non-binary folks and men. I’ve featured transgender and cisgender people. I’ve had cat people and dog people. I’ve featured folks from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and France. I’ve featured people with PhDs and people with high school diplomas. I’ve featured people in their early 20’s and people in their late 60’s. I’ve featured folks who live on farms and folks who live in New York City.

Reader Case Study Guidelines

I probably don’t need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not condemn.

There’s no room for rudeness here. The goal is to create a supportive environment where we all acknowledge we’re human, we’re flawed, but we choose to be here together, workshopping our money and our lives with positive, proactive suggestions and ideas.

And a disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. 

I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.

With that I’ll let Sam and Riley, today’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Sam and Riley’s Story

Greta under our Charlie Brown Christmas tree

Hello, I’m Sam, I’m 36 and I live with my spouse Riley (also 36) in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. I was a chef and restaurant owner until 2019 when I came to the hard realization that I could not continue in that industry any longer and made the change to become a plasterer. Plastering was meant to be an in-between job until I found something more permanent, but I enjoy what I’m doing for the time being. My long-term goal is to switch to sprinkler fitting, since it’s a good union job with a pension and a higher rate of pay.

Riley is a social worker at a local college and they are weighing the feasibility of finishing a Masters of Social Work degree that they completed most of between 2015-2019, before dropping out due to the onset and diagnosis of systemic lupus. Riley’s had a couple of significant health leaves from work since then, also due to lupus, and has been fortunate to be covered by short and long-term disability insurance through their employer. This has resulted in only small decreases to overall income (although pension contributions were paused or reduced since they were based on employment income and not insurance benefits income). Overall Riley’s health is relatively stable now, but there are some challenges; recently they had to take a few weeks off due to Covid, which hit them harder due to their immunosuppressed status, but they seem to be making a gradual, full recovery.

Riley’s employer approved an education plan in which they will reimburse a portion of the tuition on completion of their MSW degree. They are awaiting final approval to transfer vacation time to have enough to use instead of taking unpaid leave during school, so Riley’s income should stay at the same level.

Sam and Riley’s Hobbies

Riley enjoys cross-country skiing and we both love riding our bikes and gardening. We try to get out camping when we can in the summer and enjoy seeing live music once in a while. We take care of our nephew, who just turned 5, every weekend. We have a dog named Bisky, who is a Shepherd/Husky rescue dog from up North. He’s a handful but keeps things lively around the house. He’ll be 3 this summer. We also have two cats, Theodore and Greta. They are great singers and love to cuddle. They are getting older, at ages 14 and 12.

The Wedding and The House

Riley and I married in September 2021, in a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision to go through with a small ceremony, as we had a window of lifted pandemic restrictions and less transmission. We gathered a few of our closest friends and family in a park near a river and had a gorgeous (and affordable) wedding.

We bought our house in June 2022 and are head over heels for it. It has great character, lots of original wood, and a huge backyard with a lot of garden beds. We can’t wait to raise a child together in our home and hope to have a baby soon. We like having friends over for casual get-togethers on the weekend– brunch, bbq, bonfires, etc.–and it means a lot to us that our home is so conducive to hosting.

What feels most pressing right now? What brings you to submit a Case Study?

Right now there are so many things up in the air that we feel a bit tangled up and don’t know exactly the right order in which to do things.

Cupcakes we made for our nephew’s 5th birthday

Riley writes: In 2022 we made a larger combined income than ever before, and expect to make more in 2023. We are coming from periods of going in and out of debt as we struggled to manage expenses on lower incomes. Fortunately, the debt never became unmanageable and we were able to take advantage of low-interest balance transfers to pay it off quickly. We managed to start saving beginning in 2020-2021 when Sam shifted to plastering work and I increased from 4 to 5 days a week of work.

That helped us with the down payment and costs to buy our home, but we still basically wiped out our savings buying the house and went briefly into debt from moving expenses. Not the smartest move, but fortunately we have quickly paid off those debts and are slowly rebuilding our savings again. Our car was totaled this fall, and it turned out to be a financial opportunity for us as we were able to take the insurance money from the car, pay off our car loan, and buy a lower cost car we could afford outright, while still having some money leftover.

I think that was a significant shift in our thinking as we made the difficult choice to downgrade our car for the sake of not having a car payment any more.

It’s saving us several hundred dollars a month. We would like to look ahead now that we’ve reached the big milestone of buying a house, and set some bigger saving, investment, and retirement goals for the first time in our lives. Clarifying our goals will help motivate us to keep making frugal and smart financial decisions.

Sam writes: I want to make a career change but that will mean less money for a few years as I start out as an apprentice again. It will take about 2-3 years to make the same income I have now, and about 4-5 years to reach journeyperson status and max out the income for the trade. It will be worth it in the long run, especially to switch to a union job with an employer-matched pension.

Riley wants to complete their MSW which may mean more student debt. However, their work will reimburse a portion of the tuition upon completion of the MSW.

Starting a Family

We want to have a child, which means parental leaves from work and reduced incomes (we want to take close to a year off). The Canadian government Employment Insurance (EI) provides 15 weeks of leave for the parent giving birth, and up to 40 weeks of standard parental benefits that can be split between both parents (55% of income to a max of $650/week).

Garden preserves

We are looking at starting IVF by the end of the summer if we’re not pregnant by then; the medication costs of $5,000-$6,000 would be covered at 80% by Sam’s health insurance; the other costs would be around $14k. There is a provincial fertility tax credit that would return 40% of the cost to us; we can also claim medical expenses on our federal taxes but it would reimburse a smaller amount (the lesser of 3% of net income, or $2,479). We have an unused line of credit with $10,000 available to help with the upfront costs.

Riley’s employer also tops up their income to 90% (including the EI benefit) for 17 weeks. If Riley becomes pregnant soon, they would be in school when they have the baby. The implications of that are: the employer top-up would be reduced because it would be 90% of the 80% income during school. The EI may be less depending on the timing; EI takes your best paid 22 weeks from the last year to determine the income the benefit is based on. And we would need some extra help to allow Riley to finish the program with a newborn, and it’s really hard to predict how the postpartum period will go. But we do have friends who live nearby and family who would be able to help a lot. If Riley goes back to school, tuition will take some of our savings that would otherwise go toward supplementing our income during parental leaves, and their income will be a bit less during school so we will be saving less during that time.

The rush to complete the MSW is because previously completed credits are starting to stale-date, and have to be assessed for currency.

If Riley can complete the degree in 2023-24, only a few courses will have to be re-assessed (and repeated if not found to be current). If more time goes on, more courses will have to be assessed. So, it feels like the last chance to complete this degree. If not, they could go back to school to re-do it or do a different master’s program sometime in the future. The motivation is to have more confidence in trying new roles in their current job and to have more job options if they want to make a job change in the future.

Retirement Plans

We want to retire as soon as we can. Although realistically, we expect that won’t be super early based on where we’re starting from, but even age 55 or 60 would be nice to aim for. We do our best to keep our expenses low and live a frugal lifestyle.

I suppose this is where you come in. We have so many ideas for ourselves but need help creating plans to execute them. We want to do all these things as soon as possible to increase our incomes, pensions, and employment options, while also having a child soon as we are both already 36 and feeling the pressure on that front too.

Other short-medium term expenses are that our aging cats could start to have additional costs, a car replacement (hopefully the Mazda can hang in there another 3-5 years) and dental surgery for Riley (not urgent but in the next 1-2 yrs, about $2,000-$3,000).

We recently bought a new bike for Riley and a second-hand trail-along bike for our nephew for a total of $900. Riley’s been biking to work and we’ve been taking our nephew on bike rides every weekend.

What’s the best part of your current lifestyle/routine?


We aren’t under any major pressures and we live a pretty relaxed lifestyle. We’ve fine-tuned our routines around cooking, chores, and getting to bed on time. We love enjoying summertime outdoors in our yard gardening, chilling on the front porch, camping, and biking around the city visiting with friends and family. Lots of friends live in our neighborhood and it’s nice and central in the city, easy to walk, bike, and bus to many places. Plus, several car co-op (short-term rental) cars are located within a 10 minute walk, which allows us to remain a one-car household.

Although we don’t have much savings or a clear plan for the future yet, it feels great to not have too much debt hanging over us and the ability to have some of our spending align with our values, such as purchasing our meat, eggs, some of our veggies, and much of our grains/beans from local CSAs. Although interest rates went up more than expected after we bought our home, we were able to switch our variable rate mortgage to a fixed rate for peace of mind, and it still feels affordable for us. We can see ourselves living here for a long time and that feels really good.

What’s the worst part of your current lifestyle/routine?

We feel some anxiety when we want or need to make bigger purchases because we don’t have the saving buffer we know we need. We’d like to be able to travel a bit more and visit friends and family in other parts of the country. We’d like to feel less financial pressure about purchases that improve our quality of life, such as Riley getting acupuncture and taking some supplements that support their health, or sending Bisky to doggie daycare once a week so we can have a slightly less hectic Saturday with our nephew.

Riley’s bus commute is not ideal on the coldest winter days but since it is only twice a week it is tolerable. Riley’s job can be unpredictable and stressful at times. Sam doesn’t have vacation time but gets vacation pay added to each pay cheque, but it ends up getting treated as regular income and so he rarely takes “vacation” time. It would be nice to take a week or two off together a couple times a year.

Where Sam and Riley Want to be in Ten Years:


1) Finances:

  • We’d like to have sizable, comfortable savings available for house repairs/upgrades, emergencies, car repairs/replacement, pet emergencies, etc.
  • We’d like to upgrade our kitchen and maybe upgrade our outdoor gear, such as our cross-country skis and bikes.
  • We don’t want to be stressed about expected or unexpected costs.
  • We’d like to have a clearer idea of our target age for retirement and be setting aside extra money to allow us to retire potentially ahead of receiving our CPP, OAS, and employer pensions at age 65.

2)    Lifestyle:

  • In general, not too different from now.
  • Hopefully, we will have a child who we will be taking to festivals and camping in the summer, and doing outdoor activities like skating and cross-country skiing in the winter.
  • We’d like to travel outside our province every 1-2 years to visit friends and family.

3)    Career:

  • Sam should be well-established in a unionized trade job as a journeyperson. This would mean having vacation time and fairly regular hours, as well as increasing his income by $30k or more annually vs. his current income.
  • Riley may be content to stay in their current position as they enjoy the work/workplace overall, the pay is decent, and there is still about $14k left of advancement on their salary band. However, they may wish to move into more policy/administrative work or other types of leadership work in their field.

Sam and Riley’s Finances


Item # of paychecks per year Gross Income Per Pay Period Deductions Per Pay Period Net Income Per Pay Period Notes Annual Net Amount
Riley’s work pay 26 $2,732 govt pension (CPP): $155, income tax: $518, employer pension: $216, life and accident insurance: $7, federal employment insurance: $45, charity: $2, health & dental insurance: $69. TOTAL deductions: $1,012 $1,720 This is assuming full time hours; on a health leave the income is partially supplemented by disability insurance. $44,720
Sam’s work pay 25 $2,123 (includes vacation pay paid out) govt pension (CPP): $118, income tax: $438, federal employment, insurance: $35, group life/disability: $27, group medical: $19. TOTAL deductions: $637 $1,486 $37,150
Tax return 1 $4,500 $4,500 What we expect this year. The previous year we owed a bit; there are some tax credits related to buying our home that helped this year $4,500
Sam’s side jobs Variable $2500 $2,500 Started picking up cash side jobs last year, made $1,000 in 2022. So far have earned $500 this year, expects to be busier this year than last, but amount is an estimate. $2,500
Sam’s Bonus (2022 amount – could vary) 1 $700 Income tax: $140 $560 $560
Sam’s EI for 2 week lay-off 1 $583 Income tax: $117 $466 $466
TOTAL GROSS: $131,690 TOTAL NET: $88,870

Mortgage Details

Item Outstanding loan balance Interest Rate Loan Period and Terms Equity Purchase price and year
Mortgage $257,160 5.19% 25-year mortgage, 5 year term (4 years 9 months remaining) $4,508 $282K; purchased in 2022


Item Outstanding loan balance Interest Rate Loan Payoff Year Monthly required payment
Riley’s Federal Student Loan $7,282.06 0% 2031 $72 (both student loan payments were set when my income was much lower; gov’t recently announced 0% interest set during covid will now be permanent)
Loan from Sam’s RRSP (retirement account) $7,210.56 2038 We used this toward our house down payment; we have to repay the balance of $7,210.56 over 15 years ($481/year; $40.08/month), beginning in 2023
Energy Loan for Central Air $3,828.05 7.70% 2027 We pay the $83 minimum payment; additional payments can be made any time without penalty or fee
Riley’s Provincial Student Loan $1,484.00 0% 2028 $25 per month
Total: $19,804.67


Item Amount Notes Interest/type of securities held/Stock ticker Name of bank/brokerage Expense Ratio Account Type
Riley’s Employer Pension Plan $25,000 Currently 8% income is deducted and employer matched. I just learned I can elect to contribute an additional 2% (not employer-matched). Contributions reduce my taxable income, and reduce my RRSP contribution limit for the following tax year. At retirement I can elect to transfer my balance to 1. a life insurance company to purchase a lifetime annuity; 2. a Life Income Fund (LIF) or 3. a combination of these. Earliest retirement 2037. Pension Plan Details Retirement
Savings Account 1 $9,634 Emergency fund – currently increasing this as much as we can each month 1%; 5.25% on new deposits to this Account until July 31, 2023. Tangerine N/A Cash
Chequing Account $4,017 This fluctuates from about $2000 – $5000 as pay comes in and bills get paid/money transferred to savings 0.01% Tangerine N/A Cash
Sam’s RRSP 1 $3,778 GIC Assiniboine Credit Union Retirement
Savings Account 2 $2,901 Annual expenses – we try to put about $350 here monthly and take out as needed for annual/quarterly expenses 1%; 5.25% on new deposits to this Account until July 31, 2023. Tangerine N/A Cash
Total: $45,330


Vehicle make, model, year Valued at Mileage Paid off?
Mazda 5, 2010 $4,500-$5,000 174,000km Yes


Item Amount Notes
Mortgage $1,544
Groceries $926 Includes consumable household supplies (such as toilet paper, toiletries) as well as pet food and supplies.
Medical (health co-pays, prescriptions) $365 this includes Riley’s supplements, co-pays for acupuncture, massage, dental, etc.
Spending money $363 includes restaurants/fast food, personal purchases such as books, and spending on our nephew for eating out, toys, activities
Dog sitter and daycare $252
Property Tax $213
Home items (decor, non-consumable supplies, tech items) $200
House Insurance $198
Gas (car) $177
Home repair/maintenance $160 this is a very rough estimate since we only have 10 months of home ownership experience; we like to do what we can ourselves so that helps keep costs down
Hydro $153
Eggs and Meat CSA $117
Car Insurance $116
Car maintenance and repairs $100
Christmas gifts & decor $96
Vet visits/pet medical expenses $92
Clothing $88
Energy loan repayment $83
Cellphones $81 PC Mobile and Koodo
Water and Waste $75
Bus fare $73
Federal student loan repayment $72
Spiritual Companioning $70
Summer camping and festivals $68
Donations $65
Car coop $45
Gifts (birthdays, other holidays) $45
Alcohol/Kombucha $45
Internet $42 Can com
RRSP loan repayment $40
Subscriptions $34
Veggie CSA $33
Gardening $33 this doesn’t account for any savings by eating our produce. decorative flowers are the biggest expense of this category
Grain CSA $26
Provincial student loan repayment $25
Haircut $20 Sam cuts his own; this is for one haircut every couple months for Riley
Parking $7
online yoga annual membership $6
Costco membership $5
Credit card fee $3
Monthly subtotal: $6,156
Annual total: $73,872

Credit Cards

Card Name Rewards Type? Bank/card company
PC Financial Mastercard Earn points for buying gas and groceries; use points to reduce grocery costs PC Financial
MBNA Mastercard We have only used this for balance transfers to pay off debt quickly MBNA
RBC Visa We keep this for the insurance coverage that applies to our car-coop membership, and because it’s the one Riley’s had the longest. The amount we spend on it doesn’t equate to much in terms of rewards. Only card with a fee – $39/yr RBC

Anticipated Social Security & Pensions

Item Annual Amount Year and age you’ll begin taking SS
Riley’s CPP $13,666 2052, age 65 (amount is estimate if working till age 65)
Sam’s CPP $13,666 We haven’t looked into Sam’s CPP and OAS amounts yet but will likely be similar to Riley’s
Riley’s OAS $8,250 2052, age 65 (amount is estimate if working till age 65)
Sam’s OAS $8,250 CPP and OAS would be less if we stop working before 65
Riley’s CAF Pension $2,441 2047, age 60
Annual total (starting in 2052): $46,273

Sam and Riley’s Questions for You:

  1. Apple pie filling – preserves from our apple harvest

    Is it financially possible and prudent for Riley to go back to complete their MSW this fall, even while we are trying for a baby?

  2. When is the best time for Sam to pull the trigger on switching careers?
    • Should we wait until after having a kid/finishing parental leaves to keep his income stable until then? What if we aren’t able to have a baby or it takes a while to conceive?
    • We’re eager for Sam to switch so he can get to the increased pay that will be just a few years away, and to be paying into a pension sooner. But, we’re also nervous about the temporary income decrease.
  3. Where do we start to get on track with getting a clearer picture of our retirement possibilities and starting to work toward them?
    • We haven’t made intentional efforts in this area yet since we’ve been focused on saving for the house and paying off debt.
    • Should we pay off the energy loan (our only debt with interest right now) or keep making minimum payments to keep more cash available until we figure out school/baby/Sam’s career change?
    • Should we keep saving to our emergency savings account until we have a 3-6 month expense amount? Then what? Should Riley start making the optional additional 2% contribution to their employer pension – or should that also wait until after baby/school/Sam’s job?
  4. We know we can pull in our spending a bit more, where would you suggest we try to focus our efforts on that front?

Liz Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

I commend Sam and Riley for pulling all of this information together and taking a pause to iron out their next steps. I think it’s noteworthy they’re doing this type of in-depth financial–and life–analysis on the precipice of so many potential life changes. Very well done! Alrighty, let’s jump right in.

Sam’s Question #1: Is it financially possible and prudent for Riley to go back to complete their MSW this fall, even while we are trying for a baby?

Camping in the backyard with our nephew and Bisky

I’m of several minds about this, but what keeps popping to the forefront for me is that if they really want to have a baby, they should just start trying. Fertility doesn’t exactly improve with age–nor does one’s energy for parenthood–and I’m always hesitant to suggest that someone in their late 30’s delay starting to try. Plus, I don’t think there’s ever a ‘perfect’ time to have a baby. There are certainly less optimal moments, but Sam and Riley are in a stable financial position, have a loving marriage and, most importantly, a strong desire to become parents. What more could an infant want?

→My real questions here center around Riley completing their MSW:

1) Is there a direct, measurable, known salary increase/advanced job position/new career option that’ll become available once Riley has an MSW?

It wasn’t clear to me if this is the case. If it’s not the case, why do the MSW? I am the proud owner of a master’s degree that I’ve never once used or needed and I wish I’d done this meticulous calculation before the blood, sweat and tears (LOTS of tears) of going to grad school while working full-time. If you don’t have to do this, why do this to yourself? If you’re not going to see an immediate and directly correlated salary increase, why do it?

On the other hand, if there is a measurable difference, go for it! It sounds like Riley’s completed credits will expire if they don’t finish the degree soon, so it seems like it would make the most sense to finish it now. I will say that going to grad school while parenting an infant AND working doesn’t sound tenable (at least, not to me), so I caution against assuming that’ll work. If, however, Riley can complete their MSW before a baby is born, that would definitely be a mark in favor of getting started ASAP.

2) How much is the financial burden?

Thrown right into the challenges of home ownership with some plumbing issues (fortunately mostly covered by insurance!)

Sam wrote that Riley’s employer would reimburse a portion of tuition after the MSW is done and that Riley’s income would remain the same during school. In light of that, I’m curious what the actual total cost for the remainder of the degree will be? They have the financial flexibility to pay for this degree–depending on how much it’ll cost.

Sam’s Question #2: When is the best time for Sam to pull the trigger on switching careers?

Since there’s a direct pathway to an increased income and more stable career path, it seems like Sam should get started on this transition right away. While it’s not ideal to make a bunch of changes at once, it’s also true that there’s no time like the present. Since this is a years-long process, delaying it for an “easier” time doesn’t seem possible. It’s not going to be easier when you have an infant. It’s not going to be easier when you have a toddler. It’s not going to get easier at any near-term future point, so might as well dive in now.

To the question on the potential for reduced income, the good news is that Sam and Riley can manage this by reducing their expenses. Let’s explore how they might make that happen!

Sam’s Question #4: We know we can pull in our spending a bit more, where would you suggest we try to focus our efforts on that front?

Anytime a person wants to spend less, I encourage them to define all of their expenses as Fixed, Reduceable or Discretionary:

  • Fixed expenses are things you cannot change. Examples: your mortgage and debt payments.
  • Reduceable expenses are necessary for human survival, but you control how much you spend on them. Examples: groceries and gas for the cars.
  • Discretionary expenses are things that can be eliminated entirely. Examples: travel, haircuts, eating out.

Sam & Riley’s current annual take-home pay: $88,870

– Their current annual expenses: $73,872

= $14,998

This is a great savings rate and it’s allowed them to build their emergency fund back up after buying a house. However, if Sam’s income reduced by more than that difference, they’ll need to reduce their expenses. The good news is that they have a lot of discretionary line items, which means they have a lot of flexibility in where/how they make up the difference.

Item Amount Notes Category Proposed New Amount Notes
Mortgage $1,544 Fixed $1,544
Groceries $926 Includes consumable household supplies (such as toilet paper, toiletries) as well as pet food and supplies. Reduceable $826 Hard to know how much can be reduced here since household supplies and pet food are lumped in.

Between their groceries, three CSAs and the Alcohol/Kombucha line item, they’re spending $1,147 a month on food.

Medical (health co-pays, prescriptions) $365 this includes Riley’s supplements, co-pays for accupuncture, massage, dental, etc. Reduceable $365 While technically a “reduceable,” I’m leaving this amount the same
Spending money $363 includes restaurants/fast food, personal purchases such as books, and spending on our nephew for eating out, toys, activities Discretionary $0 An area ripe for reduction if they need to.
Dog sitter and daycare $252 Reduceable $152 Are there opportunities to reduce this?
Property Tax $213 Fixed $213
Home items (decor, non-consumable supplies, tech items) $200 Discretionary $0 Another line item that could be reduced if needed.
House Insurance $198 Fixed $198
Gas (car) $177 Reduceable $100
Home repair/maintenance $160 this is a very rough estimate since we only have 10 months of home ownership experience; we like to do what we can ourselves so that helps keep costs down Reduceable $100
Hydro $153 Fixed $153
Eggs and Meat CSA $117 Reduceable $0 Between their groceries, three CSAs and the Alcohol/Kombucha line item, they’re spending $1,147 a month on food.
Car Insurance $116 Reduceable $116 I’d shop this around if they haven’t done so recently.
Car maintenance and repairs $100 Reduceable $100
Christmas gifts & decor $96 Discretionary $0 Another line item that could be reduced if needed.
Vet visits/pet medical expenses $92 Fixed $92
Clothing $88 Discretionary $0 Another line item that could be reduced if needed.
Energy loan repayment $83 Fixed $83
Cellphones $81 PC Mobile and Koodo Reduceable $25 Canadian readers: are there any cheaper MVNOs available?
Water and Waste $75 Fixed $75
Bus fare $73 Reduceable $73
Federal student loan repayment $72 Fixed $72
Spiritual Companioning $70 Discretionary $0
Summer camping and festivals $68 Discretionary $0
Donations $65 Discretionary $0
Car coop $45 Discretionary $0
Gifts (birthdays, other holidays) $45 Discretionary $0
Alcohol/Kombucha $45 Discretionary $0
Internet $42 Can com Fixed $42
RRSP loan repayment $40 Fixed $40
Subscriptions $34 Discretionary $0
Veggie CSA $33 Reduceable $0
Gardening $33 this doesn’t account for any savings by eating our produce. decorative flowers are the biggest expense of this category Discretionary $0
Grain CSA $26 Reduceable $0
Provincial student loan repayment $25 Fixed $25
Haircut $20 Sam cuts his own; this is for one haircut every couple months for Riley Discretionary $0
Parking $7 Reduceable $0
online yoga annual membership $6 Discretionary $0
Costco membership $5 Discretionary $0
Credit card fee $3 Discretionary $0
Monthly subtotal: $6,156 New Monthly subtotal: $4,394
Annual total: $73,872 New Annual total: $52,728

To be clear, I’m not advocating for this budget or implying that they SHOULD make all of these reductions. Rather, it’s an illumination of the room they have to reduce their spending if they must in order to enable Sam to change careers, to take parental leave and/or to pay for Riley’s MSW. The point of this exercise is to illustrate how much flexibility they have in their monthly spending, which is a good thing! Where and what they decide to reduce/eliminate is entirely up to them. This spreadsheet gets them started on identifying where they can cut.

When they have Sam’s new salary in hand as well as Riley’s MSW costs and any potential IVF fees, they can comb through their expenses and decide what they’d like to eliminate or reduce.

Don’t Take On More Debt

Theodore in the blanket chest

One thing I caution Sam and Riley against is taking on debt to cover any of these upcoming costs. It seems this may have been a habit in the past and it’s an easy one to fall back into. But it’s not sustainable, safe or wise. Riley mentioned using a line of credit for their IVF costs and, while I don’t know the parameters or interest rate associated with that, I instead encourage them to reduce their spending in order to pay cash for what they need. This brings me to my next suggestion to:

Pay Off The Energy Loan for Central Air

This loan is only $3,828.05, but it has an interest rate of 7.7%!!! If Riley and Sam reduced their spending per the above for just 2.5 months, they’d save up enough cash to pay this off in full! Just do it.

Since Riley’s student loans as well as Sam’s RRSP loan are at fixed, permanent 0% interest rates, there’s no reason to pay those off ahead of schedule. But, it absolutely makes sense to dispense with the energy loan as soon as possible.

Sam’s Question #3: Where do we start to get on track with getting a clearer picture of our retirement possibilities and starting to work toward them?

1) Fill the Emergency Fund First: $16,552

Sam is spot on that they should first fill up their emergency fund to a full three to six months worth of their spending. Between their three cash/checking accounts, they already have $16,552 saved up, which is wonderful! At their current spending rate of $6,156 per month, they should target an emergency fund of $18,468 to $36,936. However, if they decide to reduce their spending, they can commensurately reduce their emergency fund total.

2) Then Save More Cash

Garden cukes!

While Sam is correct that they should begin to save and invest more for retirement, they’re at a true juncture right now with many potential changes on the horizon. And one thing that makes changes easier? Having a cash cushion. Sam and Riley are potentially facing:

  1. Costs for conceiving a child
  2. Costs associated with pregnancy/birth/an infant (they’re notoriously unreliable and expensive)
  3. Costs for Riley’s MSW
  4. Reduced income for Sam while he changes careers

That’s a lot of balls–financial and otherwise–to have in the air at once! If it were me, I would start spending a lot less every month and stash that money in a high-yield savings account. That way, I’d be able to deal with any and all of the above expenses.

3) Next, Save for Retirement

Once these four variables settle out and Sam and Riley have a solid grasp on their new expenses and life with their baby, they can turn their attention to increasing their retirement investments.

I encourage them not to wait too long for this since they’ll want to reap the benefits of remaining invested in the market for many decades before they need to withdraw the money to live on in retirement.

Summary of Recommendations:

  1. Determine the financial basis for Riley completing their MSW:
    1. If it is indeed going to lead to new career opportunities–and a higher salary–go for it and don’t delay so that you don’t lose any of your existing credit hours.
    2. If Riley’s career and salary will remain the same, consider very carefully if it’s worth the time, stress and expense.
  2. Tomatoes from our garden

    If you want to be parents, get started right away:

    1. Fertility is not one of those things that improves with age.
  3. Have Sam look into starting his career transition training now:
    1. No time like the present, especially if you are willing to…
  4. Reduce Expenses and Save The Cash:
    1. You have a lot of discretionary and reduceable spending categories, which means you have a lot of options for reducing your monthly expenses.
    2. Trimming here and there will enable you to easily live on a reduced income, fill up your emergency fund and have the cash to pay for other major expenses, such as IVF.
    3. And remember: you don’t have to eliminate/reduce these expenses forever. Just for now as you navigate this transition period.
  5. Pay off the Energy Loan:
    1. You could have this paid off in under 3 months if you reduce your spending per the above recommendations.
  6. Don’t Take on More Debt:
    1. You are SO CLOSE to being debt-free (other than the 0% student & RRSP loans and your mortgage). Don’t let yourself slip back into a debt/payoff/debt cycle again. Save up the money to pay cash for IVF and whatever else you might need.
  7. Invest More For Retirement:
    1. Once things have settled down in terms of becoming parents, Riley’s MSW and Sam’s career change, start saving and investing more for retirement.
    2. Keep your extra money in cash for now as you navigate all of these changes.
  8. Keep us Posted!
    1. Among other things, we demand baby pictures.

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice do you have for Sam and Riley? We’ll all reply to comments, so please feel free to ask questions!

Would you like your own Case Study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Apply to be an on-the-blog Case Study subject here. Hire me for a private financial consultation here. Schedule an hourlong or 30-minute call with me, refer a friend to me here, schedule a free 15-minute call to learn more or email me with questions (

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  1. What a lovely couple with such beautiful photos!
    I think it’s really important to check that Sam meets any eligibility criteria for parental leave in the apprenticeship before trying to conceive. I don’t know how it is in Canada, but each country I have experience living and working in has bizarre windows of employment length/status etc before being eligible.
    I also would caution against working, studying for the MSW and doing IVF at the same time, especially when you have periods of chronic ill health.
    You never know how your pregnancy health, birth and how challenging the early weeks,/months or years with a young child can be. Even with friend and family support it is totally life changing.
    I’m with Mrs Frugalwoods – unless there’s an outsize and immediate benefit to doing the MSW then I would avoid it. But if you feel like you’d really enjoy and benefit from it, and have good support then it may be worth it to you!
    Many find that the process of IVF is gruelling – loads of appointments that are closely timed by where you are in your cycle and the physical and emotional toil it takes is not easily compared to fertile hetero couples.

    1. For parental leave in Canada, there is a minimum amount of hours required to be worked in the past year, and the pay will be based on your best 22 weeks of pay (approximately, I think there is some variation by geographic region) and from those 22 weeks, it’s 55% of income to a max of $650/week. So it doesn’t matter where you worked/how long with any employer as this is a Federal benefit for all Canadians. The only issue with transitioning to the trades is whether he would have continuous employment through out his apprenticeship stages. He could probably always go back to plastering if he was having a hard time finding work for a period because there is always demand and he is skilled in that.

      Part of the motivation on the MSW is that I am so close to done and it saves me having to do a graduate degree in the future. MSW is gradually becoming more of a requirement for clinical work or leadership positions, though this is not exclusively true, but thinking to the forward, I know an MSW or another graduate degree or other specialized certificate would probably feel necessary eventually, so I’d like to get it over with now since I have done 3/4 of the program already and can save a lot of time and money vs starting something from scratch.

      I’m am not looking forward to IVF – we are trying to conceive naturally and have been for a year and a half; there have been 2 early miscarriages in that time. We are recommended to start IVF now/soon because of our ages; if we continue to have miscarriages/difficulty getting pregnant we would be better off at least having frozen embryos now at age 36 vs later at age 38, 39, etc. We have friends who are queer who conceived through IFV, as well as a family member, so we do fortunately have people with local experience to share with us about what the process looks and feels like.

      1. Fellow IVF’er here. I am truly sorry for your loss. I recommend doing coagulation blood tests to make sure it wasn’t the cause of your miscarriages.

        1. Thank you. We have done extensive blood testing, with my lupus it was considered before I even started trying. I have no indicators of anything causing the miscarriages.

      2. I’m also curious if it feels like an option to freeze embryos ASAP then finish the process in a few years when finances are more settled?

        1. Yes we are considering that option to freeze the embryos for later use. This could also be for if we want to keep trying naturally a while longer.

  2. Hello from a neighbouring province 🙂 the thing that stuck out most to me was food costs. We spend significantly less than you do, eating well, and we have 2 adults and 6 children (and we do not grow any of our own food or eat out at all). And with the PC points system, you are likely getting free groceries as well on top of that! I would definitely brainstorm ways to save on food.

    1. Hello! 🙂
      Yes, this is coming across as a theme for us. I will have to look into it more. I know that some of this is the cost of pet treats, which is high because we have a reactive dog who needs a lot of food re-enforcement to help him on walks or throughout the day with training. Since we do so much training with him we have used higher quality treats, but I can look into cheaper alternatives, even to supplement part of the treats.

      Another factor is that we try to eat very healthy, “Mediterranean-style” partly on the recommendation of our fertility doctor, as well as my care team for lupus. So we eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, some fish/seafood, etc.

      I do think there is some room for cost comparing, and looking at making more of our meals grain/bean/legume-focused, and perhaps switching more of our vegetables to frozen (although sometimes that is not a cost savings).

      I am open to other brainstorms!

      1. I’m not sure if you can get these dog treats in Canada but Charlee Bear treats are pretty inexpensive for the number of treats and not bad on ingredients. They work well as jackpot treats for my more reactive dog. Ingredients for the cheese and egg: wheat flour, cheese, dried egg product, wheat gluten, salt, garlic powder, Brewer’s yeast and mixed tocopherols. There are a bunch of flavors and my dog likes them all.

        1. This actually makes me wonder if we should experiment with making our own treats, since those ingredients sound pretty simple. If we found something he liked we could make it in bulk and freeze it… hmmm…

          (I am concerned about the garlic powder in the treats, as I’ve read that we should keep garlic away from dogs, though I have seen it as an ingredient on other dog treats too so that’s a bit confusing).

    2. Oh I meant to add – we are currently saving up our PC points as an extra fund to draw from when the baby hopefully comes. But maybe this only makes sense psychologically and not financially!? Logically we should increase our savings/pay down debt as much as possible now, and accumulating PC points don’t earn any interest, or reduce our debts… hmm. I think we just like the idea of being able to make some bigger purchases with our “free” money but maybe it is not the best strategy.

      1. Although there is the advantage of saving at least enough to wait for one of the “get $500 for $300 worth of points” events, as those make your dollars go REALLY far.

        1. I totally forgot about that, that’s a great point. Those would be great for stocking up on baby supplies.

      2. I spend my PC points as I earn them because a few years ago people were having them stolen all the time. I can’t remember what the issue was, or if it was fixed, but it left me with the feeling that it wasn’t a terribly secure system.

    3. Laura, we are in Ontario, 2 adults, 2 kids and spend too much on food. Do you have any info you can share on how you save on costs, what you eat for meals etc? One of the things that complicates ours is that I am celiac and all 4 of us are dairy intolerant – oat milk and almond milk are so much more expensive than regular milk. I know there is calcium in other foods but not enough for them to get what they need without having some of the milk substitutes. Would love ideas for savings in other areas though.

      1. Hi Carla, Several of my friends have started using the Almond Cow milk maker to make plant-based milks at home. They have all raved about the quality, as well as the cost savings. Something to consider!

  3. Definitely get started on IVF asap. As Liz said this is not going to get easier or cheaper with age. And i totally agree that Sam should start the new career asap and i second the reasoning that it’s going to be easier to do that now than with a baby/toddler.

    However i am going to disagree a little about Liz’s take on the masters. As i understand it the masters is likely to help in the future if Riley wants to move into more senior roles, and losing already completed credits by not doing it now would make it more time consuming (and hence more expensive) to do at a later date. So even if you don’t have a firm plan to use the masters, i think it’s still worth doing. Also It seems like with all the financial support available you can afford to start the masters while starting the IVF. Reduce spending as much as you can and cash flow as much as you can, but you may be eligible for more student loans for masters expenses, and possibly government assistance of some kind if you are both technically students.

    I assume the masters will be a minimum of 2 more years part time?

    IVF cycles take a certain number of weeks (i think it’s about 2 or 3 monthly period cycles from when you start taking the meds till embryo implantation but i could be wrong). And then pregnancy is ~ 36 weeks from implantation. And IVF typically takes more than one cycle to be successful (i think only ~30% are successful on first try). So realistically it is at least a year before you have baby.

    I suspect once Riley is back in the masters programme and has completed another year, the university is unlikely to use going on maternity leave as a reason to expire old credits. So realistically Riley may be able to take a year off the masters programme when baby comes and then restart again. Obviously this is not guaranteed but i suspect this would be the case. So plan for it that way, and then if you feel up to it, you can choose to do some masters work during mat leave or not.

    Good luck with the IVF, new apprenticeship and masters.

    1. We are absolutely starting IVF asap. As I mentioned in another comment, we have been trying for a year and a half, and have had two early losses. We have gone through fertility testing and nothing can be found, but we are recommended to start IVF right away based on our age. The soonest we could see the Dr at the fertility clinic again is end of July.

      I do see Liz’s point about the masters, but I think I am still leaning to ward doing it because I am so close to done, and it will open some doors for me if I want to move into a different area of work in the future. I will be able to complete it on a part-time basis in just 8 months, (Sept to april) as long as all of the old credits are accepted. I’d like to just get it over with at this point! As you say, we might not have a baby yet in that time so I’d rather have given it my best shot to get it done since the baby might take a while/might not even happen.

      Thanks for your well wishes!

        1. I think you’re looking at Sam’s net pay. My gross salary is $71k. My net pay is $44,720 after deductions which includes my portion of my pension contribution, taxes, health insurance, etc.

      1. I’m so sorry for your losses.

        If it’s only going to take 8 months to finish the masters then i think doing it is a no brainer

        1. Thank you.

          And yes, as long as those three credits get approved (should know in Aug), it should be doable in 8 months, which is pretty exciting. I think it makes sense to go for it.

  4. Off-topic!

    List of the case studies mentions “polyamorous people”. I don’t remember that one! I’d be interested to know how people deal with money in a group relationship. Any chance of a link? I’m about to start scrolling through all 99 but in case i don’t find it!

    1. The only one that comes to mind is the one with Puck, who didn’t live with any of ver partners but did live with roommates (link: A case study like you mentioned would be great as financial resources tend to assume couples (and more frequently than before single people). While not necessarily unique to polyam people, there can be extra finagling with more people making decisions, contributing and spending money, etc!

      1. Oh yeah i remember that one. Not much of a difference from a non-poly single person though since they weren’t sharing finances.


  5. I would suggest Riley have a serious talk with the doctor managing their Lupus about what to expect during TTC and pregnancy. Autoimmune diseases can make pregnancy much more difficult, so it would be good to go into it with their eyes open about if they may need to financially prepare for medical leave during the pregnancy.

    Full time Work + part time masters + new baby does not work. Year long parental leave + new baby + part time masters can be quite nice if you have childcare available for class times. I have fond memories of finishing a term paper in bed with a laptop on my lap and my baby sleeping on my chest.

    1. Yes, I was going to comment about this too. It can be unexpected how your body will handle pregnancy but also post-partum period with an autoimmune disease. I don’t say this to discourage at all, but just to be informed so you can prepare the best way possible! Your immune system is generally suppressed during pregnancy, so you might even feel better (cross fingers)! But post-partum your immune system swings back the other way.

      I also have an auto-immune disease (ulcerative colitis) and was really unprepared during my first pregnancy. I was not on maintenance meds due to lack of symptoms and had a serious flare in post-partum that normally would have landed me in the hospital, but I suffered at home due to start of Covid. It was very stressful and not safe for me or baby (who was solely breasted). Finally found outpatient Dr still open during Covid to start treatment.
      Second pregnancy, I worked with Drs to keep on safe meds and managed the condition even though symptoms kept showing up through pregnancy. Post-partum period kept on meds and was so much easier than first time!

      I wish you both the best of luck with all of these exciting life changes!

    2. I’ve started to explain a bit in other comments, but I prepared extensively for pregnancy. I waited until my disease was stable, got shingles vaccines (since I had shingles once and am more susceptible to it being immune suppressed, and didn’t want a repeat, and read that labour could be a trigger); had my rheumatologist clear me and I do regular bloodwork and follow ups.

      So once I have the baby, I will go on parental leave, and continue part-time masters if the baby comes that soon, but as others mentioned, if we don’t get pregnant in the next couple months, it will take a while to go through the IVF process so I would most likely finish the program before having the baby. And I have a plan to use vacation time 1 day a week while I am doing my practicum hours (just waiting final approval at work), so that I would not have to reduce my work hours/work full time. I also plan to apply for a policy-based, remote practicum, so that I will be able to do most of the hours on my own time, from home. I spoke with an MSW student who just finished one such practicum and based on her experience I think it would be a good fit for me. So if there is a chance to have the baby while still finishing the program, I would have the flexibility to do that part of it from home. Beyond that I would have one class per week, plus one class every other week. I’m aware that it might not work out but I am willing to take the chance that it will. It’s nice to hear your experience of finishing papers in bed with the baby on your chest. I have heard from other parents who have done similar. My partner Sam can also take his parental leave concurrent with mine, so I will have his support for whatever amount of time we choose to have him off. Both of our moms would likely be able to provide some amount of support too. So, we have our “village”. Obvs things can be unpredictable and everything might not line up, but I feel like I have to give myself the chance for things to go right too, to take a calculated risk on this.

      1. In the main body of this case study, and additionally here, I wanted to say how impressed I am with how Riley has carefully considered options. And I think you can pull off the job/IV/school thing since you may be able to complete the masters in less than a year. The odds seem to be in your favor, and you seem like the type of person who can come up with a new plan if necessary.

      2. Hi Riley, you have a great plan in place, and it sounds like you have several great backup plans in place as well! You can definitely do this! In the 2020-2021 school year, I completed my master’s degree and internship while teaching full time, while also parenting a 1 year old and navigating a high-risk pregnancy with my second baby, who was born less than a month after the school year finished. It was challenging, but having that goal of finishing the program before my second baby was born was really motivating, and it worked out! Having that “WHY” in mind, as well as the “HOW” is key–and you definitely have both of those in place. Good luck to you, in all of your endeavors!

  6. This is off-topic, but fwiw, I’d recommend that Riley check out Dr. Brooke Goldner, who was diagnosed with lupus at a young age and managed to “cure” herself (or at the very least, be in remission with no symptoms) and have 2 kids “naturally” (ie without IVF or specific medical interventions).

  7. Just one note on the fact money are with Tangerine. It used to be a great online bank. It still has these occasional hight rates. But 1% is not enough, especially given inflation. There are other banks around with higher interest rates, one example is Hubert Financial. People’s Trust might be another, just Google for Canadian-specific high interest saving accounts and pick the one that has the easiest platform, doesn’t require in-person presence, is covered by the CDIC etc.

    1. Thanks for this advice, I did join Tangerine ages ago when it was known as one of the best, but I haven’t looked at options lately. I will look around.

  8. Canadian here! Just a note that Canadian cell phone plans are ridiculously priced. If Sam and Riley are paying a combined $88/month then congrats to them on finding a great deal! This is as cheap a plan as they can hope to find.

    1. Thank you! We did both look around a lot when we had to renew our plans about half a year ago. We also own our phones outright (Sam recently had to replace his and got an older refurished model), and chose plans with moderate data amounts, and this was really the best we could find on offer. I think some of the bigger Canadian cities might have more options than us? But this was the best we could do.

      1. We Canadians are lucky to have the highest cell phone bills in the world! We pay $90 a month for our two and are thrilled with that. The hours to only pay that.

        Working in human services myself, I believe a MSW would be a great investment. The demand appears to be there.

        All the luck with IVF and a high energy dog. Our high energy one is 13.5 and it is the last 2 years and especially the last year she has settled!

        1. Canadian here (BC). I use public mobile and pay $12/month. Low data, but I WFH so works great for me!

          1. Maybe their offerings are/were different in your region; unfortunately the cheapest one I see now is $39/month which is pretty close to what I’m paying now, though it does have more data than my current plan.

  9. As previous poster stated I would definitely find out about pregnancy-Lupus before making any big decisions. More options for jobs with a MSW but you can go back to school later than being pregnant.
    Your grocery bills can come down quite a bit. Price matching saves us a lot of money & you don’t have to run around to get the deals. Use the Flip app to find the sales. I get most things on sale this way. Save on Foods has 1.49 Tuesdays. Instead of a CSA next year, grow some veggies in your yard or community garden plot. Still not too late to put in some this year. Usually easy to find people giving away tomatoes or zucchini. I throw tomatoes, onions, garlic & balsamic vinegar in a big pan on the BBQ and cook down to make a pureed sauce. Flat pack vacuum sealed bags freeze well. Look into the rates for your house insurance through a group rate because of where you work or went to school. Consider putting your emergency money in a TFSA-any interest you earn isnt taxed then & you can take it out if needed.

    1. I’m really curious about the food costs – as these are separated from the various CSAs they seem quite high. Is this perhaps down to specialist pet food? I imagine there’s a lot of scope to reduce these costs (for the two humans anyway!). Personally I found anyway that in the early months of having a baby, the unpredictability of CSAs/veg boxes made them untenable. We needed food that was quick, easy, plannable and batchable – which isn’t to say it can’t be done, but I think it’s not unusual for there to be a pause or for it to become a lesser part of meals for a while. And friends who grew their own food similarly found they needed to cut back production for a time. With kids everything changes though, a situation is rarely forever.

      I agree with others that FT work plus PT study plus IVF or baby would be really, really hard. Look for a program that supports PT students, they’ll have a good setup for taking parental leave and/or taking a slower path through the course.

      I do think that when your kids are young is a good time to have a lower income – if you are planning to be home anyway there is less or no childcare, and the kids typically have fewer costs – they’re not clamoring for branded toys or clothes, you’re probably traveling and going out less anyway. So all these life changes can work really well together! Good luck!

    2. I check in regularly with my rheumatologist and have also checked in with other specialists as needed, and I am supported in trying for a baby. Although I have had periods of health leave and health challenges, I have been relatively mild all things considered. I am automatically considered a “high risk” pregnancy due to lupus but my rheumatologist said I would be considered at the lowest risk within that category because other than simply having the autoimmune disease, I do not have additional risk factors. I will still be with a high-risk ob-gyn if I do get pregnant.

      We normally do pick-ups for our grocery orders, I will have to find out if there is a way to do a price match with that. We really value the convenience of a once weekly pick up, vs going to different stores.

      We are already signed up for the CSA this year but will think about skipping it next year. We are getting more into the garden this year so next year we should have an even better idea of how much we can grow. We are learning more options for canning/freezing etc what we grow.

      Yes, I meant to look into the insurance before we renewed this year but I didn’t have time. Interestingly when we first got our house insurance, some companies would not take us on as a new client because we were in a weird year where there was an extraordinary amount of spring flooding affecting basements etc. so there was a pause on new clients. So we stayed with the company we had for our tenant’s insurance. I will make sure to shop around next year.

      If I put the money in a TFSA, I have to invest it to earn money on it, right? So would that money be easily accessible if we need it in an emergency? That’s the only reason I haven’t started putting money in one so far is to have the cash readily available.

      1. I think it makes sense to put at least some of the cash in TFSA> yes, you do invest it, but I believe that any gains you get while it is invested increases your overall TFSA room, so if you end up withdrawing the funds, you can put the $ back up to the total amount it grew to. (of course double check)

        You can probably structure a couple different pots of funds within the TFSA, so you have rolling due dates for term deposits for example.

        and prob worth putting some of the cash into higher risk investments, helpful to do some cash flow analysis, but I doubt that you would need all the emerg cash all at once and you could just bite the bullet on any penalties if it came down to it.

        In the meantime, you will probably do well on the growth, waiting in the emerg scenario.

      2. You don’t have to invest money within a TFSA in stocks, funds, etc. Money within your TFSA can be in a simple TFSA savings account or invested in guaranteed investments like GICs. I have some emergency funds in a TFSA savings account with EQ bank (the interest rate is currently 3.00%, which is a little bit better than their regular savings account rate) and I’ve also previously bought GICs within my TFSA at EQ.

        If the funds in a TFSA are liquid (like in a TFSA savings account) you can just withdraw them from the account (and your TFSA) at any time (and if they’re in a GIC, you can choose to withdraw from the TFSA once the GIC matures). However, you should bear in mind the effect of a withdrawal from your TFSA on your TFSA contribution room and make sure you don’t then subsequently over-contribute when putting the money “back” into the TFSA, as over-contributions are penalized. Definitely do your own research on this, but my understanding is that any withdrawals from your TFSA will free up contribution room but only in the FOLLOWING calendar year. (So, for example, if you’ve maxed out your lifetime TFSA contribution, and then you take out $1000 from your TFSA in 2023, you’re still maxed out for contributions for the remainder of 2023, but will get an additional $1000 of contribution room in 2024: see “How to know your TFSA contribution room”, and the explanations on how to figure out your contribution room, on the government of Canada page about TFSAs, here:

        A related thing to keep in mind is that if you want to move money that’s in your TFSA between different financial institutions while keeping it under the TFSA umbrella (e.g., if you want to move money between TFSA savings accounts at different institutions or take money that’s been sitting in a TFSA savings account and move it to a TFSA investment account at a different institution) you can’t just withdraw the money from one account and deposit it in your account at the other institution without it affecting your contribution room. (For example, if you’ve maxed out your TFSA contribution room, if you withdraw $1000 from one of your TFSA accounts, you’ll be over-contributing if you try to deposit it in another TFSA account at a different institution that same calendar year.) I’ve been able to move money between TFSA accounts at different institutions without effecting a withdrawal by making a request to the institution and having them do the transfer (which took them some time).

        All that being said, if you’re investing in higher yield/higher risk investments (outside your RRSP) it makes more sense to use your TFSA contribution room for that rather than a savings account. (Someone else mentioned Modern FImily, and they talk about this here: But if not, nothing wrong with having your emergency fund in a TFSA savings account.

  10. I suggest not drinking alcohol if trying to conceive and husband as well to support, bonus money savings!

    1. I am already not drinking, hence the “kombucha” part of that budget line. And my husband is not drinking much, averaging $20-25month to have a beer or two when getting together with friends or family. But we can definitely consider cutting back further. I would like to get back into making my own kombucha which is a fairly easy hobby and would save me a little cash each month.

  11. Two things really stuck out to me- when my partner and I were thinking about kids, I remember talking to my dad about if we were “ready” to have kids and if it was really the “right time”, and he said immediately, “if you wait for the perfect time, there’s never a perfect time, so you’ll never do it, and when you actually have them, that will be the perfect time.” He was right. I agree about just going for it and seeing what happens as far as pregnancy/ if you need IVF, and I’m speaking as someone who was an older mom myself. The other thing is that I *didn’t* wait until after grad school (I just went for a kid, and a miscarriage later I was pregnant during grad school) and it was HARD. And I was mostly healthy aside from being older. Grad school plus working plus older pregnancy plus auto-immune disease might just be too much, unless this is a super-useful degree, and it sounds like it’s more of a “sunk cost fallacy”. (you can look it up if you’re not familiar with the term- it’s basically the idea that you’ve invested so much you should just keep going, whether it’s worth it or not) There’s nothing wrong with not finishing something that isn’t you or isn’t going to help you now. Investing more mental energy, money (debt), time, and health for something isn’t always the best strategy. I do think it’s a good strategy to get Sam into the new program sooner rather than later because that will up the earning power down the road. I also thought their food costs were high, even for high quality food. We eat mostly farm raised/ sustainably harvested CSAs, etc. for a family of 4 and we spend about $700-$800 a month.

    1. I agree about the “right time”, and given our ages and how much we know we want a child, we are going forward full steam ahead!

      I do recognize that it might be too much, and I am okay with having to pull the plug on it if it I have to. It is hard to know what will be too much for my lupus, though overall since my diagnosis 4 years ago, I have trended upwards in terms of my health and capacity, and have learned a lot about managing stress/lifestyle factors (sleep, exercise, diet, limiting other commitments, boundaries in relationships, etc.) within my control to manage it better.

      I have been wrestling with the idea of whether this is a sunk cost situation, and I will agree that it is at least somewhat of an influence on my thinking. However there really are more job options with an MSW and I think it is psychologically important for me, given my work, to know that I have a relatively easy “out” with at least comparable pay or better. I have really lucked out with my job, most BSW jobs have extremely high case loads and stress and many have less pay than me. I am probably at the top of the pay scale for most BSW jobs (having partially completed my MSW was likely a factor in my being hired for this position). Right now I am very happy and supported at my workplace and look forward to working here for at least the next several years. But I know workplace culture/health can change if there are changes in leadership and that it is possible that it might not feel sustainable for me any more, but that other BSW jobs could be even worse for my health/mental health. My health is a big factor in wanting to get the MSW to ensure I could get a more policy, etc. -focused job in the future, just in case. A backup plan. I think just knowing I have the option will go a long way for me. Sort of like having an emergency fund is such a massive relief, I’m sure many people can relate to that feeling.

      Also I don’t think I mentioned anything about the tuition and fees, but it’s about $3500 if I am allowed to be considered a part-time student, and if I finish it in the 8 months as planned. I have to double check with my work plan about the portion that would be reimbursed. But it feels like a relatively small cost to have finished graduate school. I will update when I check in with my work about the portion that would be reimbursed.

      Where are you located? I do find grocery costs are higher in Canada than US. Is that just with food costs? We are including household supplies and pet food/supplies in that total. I have addressed this food question in other comments though and we will be trying to uncover where we can spend less in that category for sure.

      1. Just wanted to add that we are a household of two in another major Canadian city, and our grocery+household goods costs are around $700 per month for the two of us, no pets. However, we do eat out more than you, around $500 a month. So while there is always (I’m sure) room for improvement, your costs don’t seem outrageously high.

        Another note is that depending on the store/app there can be hidden costs, or you can miss out on in-store sales. CBC did a story about this.

  12. What a lovely couple! My only addition to Mrs. Frugalwoods’ excellent advice would be for Sam to start his job transition slightly later. First, pay off that one debt and beef up the emergency fund. Make sure you are both on track with cutting expenses and saving up cash — possibly this could happen in just a few months? Then take the pay cut and change jobs.

    For Riley, the challenge is that even with a plan, things aren’t likely to go perfectly to plan. Health, bodies, and babies are unruly and unpredictable. If it would feel good to be making progress on the Masters, as the one thing in this situation that you actually have some control over, then go for it! It’s not all or nothing: Give yourself permission to pause and restart your studies (even if that would mean losing some credits) as life happens.

    1. I’m just a bit confused about how we could do all that at once – Sams pay cut from the job change, at the same time as paying off debt, and building emergency fund, while paying for school, and IFV? I will look closer at the math and try to see how it could work but if we are to pay for the IFV upfront… we need that money in just a couple months.

      Yes, I recognize that everything may not go according to plan, and I am (mostly) at peace with that. I have done a lot of avoiding situations where something could possibly go wrong/get worse for me since I got sick, and I would like to give myself this chance for something to possibly go right. I think it’s part of the journey of living with the uncertainty of chronic illness. Thanks for the encouragement!

      1. One thing you could do over the next few months is create a budget based on the lower pay you expect and see how workable it is on a trial basis. You could also do one that reflects your mat leave pay (borrowing from Gail Voz-Oxlade here). That way, you know exactly what the financial toll of either or both of those options would be. Maybe you’ll find it’s more workable than you realized, especially guided by Liz’s advice here!

  13. Hi I just wanted to pop by with my experience of being an immune suppressed autoimmune mum (twice!). So it’s very possible to do but I am not going lie it’s hard and you need to be able to cope with the unexpected and have room in your life and budget for that. Baby number two was a premmie and caused a very bad relapse (& permanent worsening) of my autoimmune disease. She is totally worth it!

    One thing I learned was that I could cope much better with my desk based job on an ill days than taking care of the kids during the baby and especially the toddler phases. As when I couldn’t walk/lift/leave the house etc I just couldn’t take care of my kids solo but I could totally work my day job as it was significantly less physically demanding. So I worked full time and my kids went to high quality daycare. Also if I was truly awful my work would let me have sick day and time off for my treatment; no sick days for mom’s in my experience.

    Another issue has been me catching bugs off the kids, literally I have had Covid 5 times caught from my kids (I had all the vaccines; they just don’t work very well when you are suppressed). In my experience it’s practically impossible to be a mum to small children and not pickup all their illnesses. Again totally worth it!

    My husband has had to be very hands on with the kids (especially on the occasions when I have had a relapse or am flatten by an infection) we see this as a bonus and are fortunate that he has been able to negotiate this with his employer. His employers flexibility has been critical to family life and financial security.

    I am hugely grateful that I managed to get and stay pregnant and have had the opportunity to be a mom despite having a life long illness but I have had to make work and family my complete focus- as I just do not have the energy for anything else. (So no hobbies apart from the occasional post on frugal blogs/own social life)

    I wish you all the best with your future

    1. I commented above already about auto-immune disease during pregnancy and post-partum period, but just wanted to write here and agree it is so hard but so worth it! Good job for you to figure out what works best, it’s nice to read here about other people with these same issues and feeling support by this online community! 🙂
      Similar to you, my husband has to do a lot more “lifting” with the kids and I focus on my career work (also work from home desk job as consultant). We actually started our own consulting firm to have the most flexibility possible.
      It works out well for us too!

      1. Wow, that’s so great to hear that you also have an arrangement in your marriage and with your career that is supportive of you. It is so important to have these success stories in mind to give me confidence to believe it’s possible and be assertive in trying to get my needs met.

    2. Thank you for sharing your story! It is nice to hear experiences of success (even with struggles) and not feel alone in this daunting journey. I feel fortunate and feel like I am set up for success because my work has been very supportive and I currently work from home 3 days a week, and they are mindful/supportive of me balancing my schedule and workload as much as possible to be sustainable. Also being 5 years into this position, and over 10 years in social work, is a protective factor for me as I am starting to feel more like a pro, have more colleagues in the field I can draw on for support, understand my own needs better, etc.

      You raise a good point about work being less physically demanding than childcare. I think Sam and I will have to discuss the options around possibly having him take more of the parental leave. We have the option to not only split it between us, but also to use the weeks each of us takes at different times, e.g. he could stay home with me immediately following birth, then go back to work while I continue on leave, then he could go on leave again for the final weeks/months as the baby got older/heavier/more mobile.

      I hear you on the bugs, with taking care of our nephew weekly I got sick with about 5 different bugs this winter, covid being the last one (I had all the vaccines too. Fortunately I was eligible for paxlovid and I think that really helped). Love to hear your enthusiasm about it being worth it! Yes!! We can do hard things.

      We feel fortunate that we have so much childcare experiencing with our nephew, we have got to practice the dynamics a bit. We recognize it’s definitely not the same as 24/7 parenting, but we do have him about 24 hrs/week so it is a decent amount of immersion into the dynamics of our relationship and running the household with a kid underfoot. Sam definitely has to do more of the engaged/physical care tasks and household tasks when I’m feeling rough. This was one reason it was important for me to get a new bike for myself with the tag-along bike for the kid this summer – if Sam is away working on a side job when we have the nephew over on a Saturday, we’re able to get out of the house together in a way that’s easier on my body. We load up the gear on panniers and have an adventure. It keeps the kiddo engaged and happy, and I don’t have to pull a wagon/carry a backpack, etc. So, I try to keep that open-minded approach to adapting to parenting and have faith that there are adaptations available if we’re creative.

      I appreciate your comment about the employer flexibility too. It is something for us to weigh as we decide when to pull the trigger on Sam getting into his new career path. That is an intangible part of the job that is not so obvious as the salary, but that has a huge impact on quality of life. On the one hand, he’s valued by his current employer and able to take time off when he needs it since he’s normally very reliable and hard working. But on the other hand, there is no sick time so he either needs to try to bank hours by working longer days, or take unpaid time off. So a union job could be helpful in that sense of being able to take paid sick time for family reasons. But we’d have to look into any probation period, etc.

      I am so happy for you that you have been able to have the kiddos you dreamed of and make it work with your employment and spouse. You sound like a fantastic team and that is really inspiring. Sam and I really strive to keep the “team” approach as our mode of functioning.

      Thanks for your well wishes, I wish you all the best too!

      1. I would double check about your partner being able to stop and start the parental leave. It would be awesome if he could but definitely you want to be sure. My brother and his wife had a baby in March and he was planning to do the same thing. He unfortunately found out that once he began his leave time, he had to finish it. He couldn’t do it in multiple parts. That may have been a rule of his employer though? They are in Ottawa.

  14. I am an American married to a Canadian. We are both over 65 and receive OAP, old age pension, from the Canadian government in addition to OAS and work pension. Requirement is simply that you are over 65. It is a considerable amount and very helpful every month.

  15. Public Mobile in Canada is a great, cheap, reliable cell phone service. I highly recommend it.
    Since they say that Riley has completed most of their masters degree, my vote is for them to finish it ASAP. Even if they get pregnant right away, they’d still have 9 months to finish off that degree before the baby came along. My husband was in the same position: They had completed their masters course work, but were stalled on the last report that was needed for completion. My partner didn’t *need* it for their job, but the fact that they’d already done 95% of the work… plus that piece of paper can open doors for higher earnings down the road. Anyway, my hubby completed the report finally, and feels so much relief that it’s done. 🙂
    Sounds like you two have a beautiful life and love that you take care of your nephew on weekends.

    1. Thanks! Glad to hear your husband finshed off their course work. I understand some people may feel like if it isn’t totally necessary than there should be no need to bother with the stress and finance and that’s fine. I’m sure you’d agree though that it helps keep the options open for the future in case of a need to change positions or jobs. I’ll look at Public Mobile, I’ve heard some good things about them. Thanks again.

  16. So I think I’m looking at this a bit differently than Mrs Frugalwoods- Riley’s MSW and the baby stuff both have time limitations, and Sam’s career change doesn’t. So if you at all can crunch your budget tight and tackle all 3, I’d do that; at least in the US going from BSW to MSW opens doors to much higher pay especially when fully licensed as LCSW. But if it’s not feasible I think it makes sense for Sam’s career change to wait, not because it’s not important but it has less of a rigid timeline. Good luck! It sounds like you two are building a really lovely life

    1. That’s an excellent point and really helps me feel less pressured. I’m still making moves to get all my ducks in a row, studying for the aptitude test and researching etc. But I also feel like it’s lower on the priority list as well!

  17. I’d even go so far as to say if you’ve crunched your budget down to grad-student level and you still need a student loan or an IVF loan, that’s not crazy. These are investments in your future, not loans on toys and frills.

    1. I agree. I’m all about saving and paying cash but sometimes life’s timing wins out, and this just may be one of those times. As long as you have a solid and realistic plan to pay it off, you can avoid a debt cycle. Cheering for you.

      1. Thanks! I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods that not taking on debt is a top priority but we’re also in an extremely time sensitive position where we may just simply not have to the time to save up the cash for IVF. As Shayna says: sometimes the timing wins out. Whatever, we’ll pay off that energy loan and reduce as much spending as possible but if we have to jump back on the debt-train then choo-choo!

  18. I’m a social worker in the US & don’t know the system in Canada, but an MSW is required here for most clinical work & supervision. If you plan/want to stay in the field, I’d definitely recommend completing your degree. I had a bachelors level SW degree & went back for grad school in my late forties, and I can tell you it’s definitely easier the younger you are! Best wishes

    1. It’s less rigid here, at least in my province, but it is gradually moving in that direction and its required or requested on job postings more often for anything more clinical or supervisory.

  19. I skimmed the comments and didn’t see this (but sorry if it has been mention). I also live in Winnipeg, Manitoba – hey neighbours! There is mention of shopping around for car insurance in this post and that is not actually possible in Manitoba. You can investigate a higher deductible to reduce it, but all vehicle insurance is through a provincial government corporation. You pay what they tell you to pay (for the vast majority of situations).

    1. Hi neighbor! Thanks for the comment. Yes, we did consider going for a higher deductible, but we stayed with the current set of options because it gives $0 deductible for theft and vandalism, which is unfortunately quite likely in our neighborhood where we park on the street. I think I worked it out at the time that it would only take 1 incident in three years to make up for the difference in cost (and sadly, that seems likely). Maybe there’s a case for saving the ~$5/month but it’s kind of splitting hairs imo. For a slightly more savings per month, the deductible increases to $500.

      Another way to save on it that we do plan to take advantage of in the future is to pay the insurance upfront for the year. Paying for it monthly means it’s financed by the provider.

  20. I really, really wish we had paid parental leave here in the US. Like, for every job, not just random jobs. If I became pregnant right now, I’m a contractor. So I’d have to take unpaid time off and hope I don’t get fired and I literally couldn’t afford to do that.

    1. Fyi “paid” is not fully paid in most countries. Parental leave payment in Canada is $650 a week = $480 us dollars. In Ireland maternity/paternity payment is €262 per week = $281 us dollars.

      If you are in a low paid job you might not notice much difference, and of course SOME employers pay more, but most people in a high paying job have a huge drop in income during parental leave. Many well-off people save in advance. I started saving for maternity leave as soon as i bought my house (i kept saving the same amount but put it aside for mat leave instead of down payment). We also have significantly higher taxes to pay for the social welfare which covers paid mat leave.

      The main difference isn’t really the money, its the fact that it’s illegal for them to fire you. Which is actually not the case for a contractor (in Ireland, not sure about Canada).

      Not supporting the dystopian maternity system in the us! I agree with you that it’s awful! But just pointing out that the grass is not as green on this side as some us ladies seem to think.

      1. Do you have the type of contract where they are paying your company for a service and you are the employee providing that service, & the fact that you also o n the company is not so relevant? If so then you could just hire someone to work when you are off, if they earn less than you then you keep the difference.

        My mam is a teacher and she told me when she had me (43 years ago) at the time mat leave was only 12 weeks and you had to hire someone to do your job when you were on mat leave; you still got paid your salary and you had to pay them. So the trick was to hire someone fresh out of college so you could pay them less than you earn and still have some cash to live on.

        I’m glad we don’t have that system anymore! But it might be something to consider for you.

      2. That’s fair, it’s definitely more complex than just having “paid leave”. There are other supports available too, most of them currently dependent on income, such as Canada Child Benefit (we estimate this would give us $250/month, it would depend on our income the previous tax year).

        The parental leave amount you mentioned, $650/month is the max, and it is income-based, so it is less than that for those who make below a certain amount, I think you max out at just over $60k/year. So it can be a real challenge for example in households where one person makes significantly more than the other or is a sole earner, if that person wanted to take leave there would be a much more dramatic decrease in income during the leave. The way the policy works out, it seems intended to keep families out of poverty, while still expecting middle and high income households to supplement their parental leave costs with their own savings.

  21. Hey Riley & Sam,

    Congrats on your new home and all the fires you’ve got cooking. It’s an exciting time of life!
    Fellow Canadian, with a couple of kids (11 & 17).
    I have no idea if you will qualify, but EI does offer top-up for low income families- so if you overall income was way lower for a while during parental leave, then you may actually be able to get closer to 90% (I think?) of your wages covered. I think you can probably start and pause your parental leave over a longer time span- so this could be a way to fit some work time and some parenting time (perhaps in concordance with the construction industry quiet times)- and may make the transition back to work a bit easier if you know you are going for a few months and then have an extended break.
    I think it can be super helpful to look at your income level and what programs you qualify for at a lower income level ( such as childcare subsidy)- as these can help you have more time and energy with your kids when they are younger, if that is something that you would like/ value/ benefit from.
    IDK about Manitoba, but childcare costs can be very expensive ( like a second mortgage) and sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it to spend all this time working to only just pay more for these expenses.
    There also used to be programs for parents that were on parental leave to support them with starting their own businesses after their leave is complete and/ or to pursue more education. IDK if these are still happening and they might be helpful to you as you pursue your goals.

    You may also want to consider if you can have your home provide you with an income stream. Perhaps you could take on a roommate or someone would like to park their tiny home on your property? Perhaps you might make a connection with 1 or more other parents & kids & you can share childcare and household duties.

    1. Hi there, fellow Canadian! Thanks, it is an exciting time indeed!

      I looked into the EI top up and to qualify your annual net family income has to be $25,921 or less, so we would definitely not qualify. As I mentioned in another comment, we would get the Canada Child Benefit, which would probably be at least $250/month depending on our income.

      I also mentioned in another comment that it might make sense for me to take the first part of the leave period, and have Sam split his leave – be home with me for a bit at the beginning, go back to work, then take over, maybe around 6 or 8 months? to finish the ~year of leave off so that I can go back to work – this may be helpful if full-time parenting on my own is too demanding on my health/energy compared to work.

      Manitoba has just implemented the $10/day childcare program but it is in a rough transition period. The subsidy only applies at licensed child care facilities that receive operating grants, so those centres saw their already long waitlists spike when the policy came in place. The government is frantically trying to increase childcare spots but it requires hiring more Early Childhood Educators, who are burnt out and underpaid, and expanding or building new physical spaces. So, we would be hopeful to find a subsidized spot near us in in time for our child to start at the end of our leaves but it could be a challenge. I’m not sure what the situation will look like a year or so from now.

      There is also a partial subsidy for childcare centres that do not qualify within the $10/day; I’m not sure how much the partial subsidy is; the household net income limit for that is $82,877 so we may qualify depending on how our earnings, the parental leave reduction income may help us in this case, at least temporarily until we are both working full time again. Actually, there may be some potential for us to put some money into RRSPs to decrease our net income, if we find we are going to be close to this limit come tax time. I will try to keep this in mind in case we find ourselves without a $10/day childcare spot!

      We have talked about the possibility of a roommate but I don’t think it would be sustainable for us in the long term. I am not totally opposed (I can’t speak for Sam on this one, not sure his current feelings) but I think it would very much have to be the right person, a special kind of fit (based on Sam and I both being introverts, and the logistics of space in our home, as a couple big factors). I appreciate your brainstorming other options for us though! It’s important to keep thinking outside the box and re-evaluating as we go.

  22. Riley and Sam,
    You have done extensive research and prepared yourselves for what comes next. I say, cut the expenses and just go for the IVF and MSW.

    Wait with the apprenticeship. If you start your IVF in late July, by the end of August you’ll have a much clearer picture of that road ahead. You’ll know how many good embryos (get them screened!) you have and how soon you’ll need to have a new IVF in case all transplants fail (not likely at your age. 36 for IVF with screened eggs is young). Also, the hardest physical part of IVF will be behind you and if you do frozen embryo transfer Riley’s body will have time to settle before pregnancy.

    Riley, you have done most of the work for your MSW and know firsthand the pressures. 1-2 classes a week for 8 months sounds reasonable, even with work and pregnancy. I assume you’ll know by September if you need to take any of your past credits again.

    So to sum it up – I say cut the expenses to get more cash, start IVF and the MSW and decide about the apprenticeship in 6 months when the road ahead is clearer.

    You are doing great.

    1. Thanks for your input and encouragement!

      Yes, we are planning to get the embryos screened. That is helpful perspective on our timeline and how things will be becoming clearer then. And also that the hardest part of IVF will be over, I hadn’t factored that in.

      You’re correct that I should also know by Sept if I need to re-take any credits. And if we do have the baby I will go on parental leave, so I will just have school to deal with and not work.

      I think even from a psychological perspective, what you’re saying makes sense, in terms of waiting on the apprenticeship. Re-starting school and starting IVF are both big changes, and putting off the decision on the apprenticeship even 6 months or until the dust settles so to speak makes sense.

      Thank you, I really appreciate your perspective.

  23. I can’t see the comments on this Case Study like I normally do. Has something changed in the format?

  24. Dear Sam and Riley:

    As an acupuncturist, I see ladies who wish to become pregnant referred to my colleagues and myself by nurses at IVF clinics in my US state, especially if the person has been struggling to get pregnant, has had miscarriages, etc.

    You might give yourselves a slightly longer time frame before going to an IVF clinic. You could lay the groundwork and start now by changing your diet to as organic as natural (a frequent recommendation from my colleagues), add alfalfa sprouts to your diet – both of you (from Adelle Davis’ books), and, Riley, try acupuncture with electrostimulation (e-stim) and moxa to start things going. Talk to the acupuncturist about your goals.

    Then, if you do wind up going to an IVF clinic, continue with the acupuncture, e-stim, and moxa in order to continue the optimization of fertility and readiness for yourself, Riley. If recommended by your acupuncturist, consider taking TCM herbal combinations to help your body reach optimal fertility, especially if you have been on birth control.

    I’ve had younger patients whose bodies responded more quickly, and older patients who took about a year for scans to show increased circulation to the female reproductive system, but who all wound up becoming pregnant and carrying their child to term.

  25. just wanted to shout out that we are doing fertility treatments too, both 36 as well. And they suuuuuuuuuck. I just went out on medical leave bc I had a mental breakdown over it…. The hormones aren’t helping. Just chiming in bc honestly the rest of the world is falling apart around us bc of the fertility hellscape and honestly nothing even matters. I’m just saying that because it seems like there is a LOT going on in your lives and sometimes the easiest thing to do when you have a big mountain to climb is just take that straight and narrow path, all the off shoots can be trekked at any time.

    and for $ I am not sure if the IVF costs you mentioned were per cycle of IVF of if you are doing a shared risk program (typically 3-6 cycles). That could be a $ changer but at this point what does it actually matter?

    At the end of the day while trying to make a little human you may not have any energy or bandwidth to make dinner let alone school. Please don’t take that as not being supportive of the amazing goals or trying to paint a bleak picture. I know with your previous loss you have already been down that road. Just don’t make yourself go crazy, the world does that already 🙂 Wishing you both a happy, healthy bundle of love.

  26. I was excited to see this case study as it’s the most similar to my situation that I’ve seen! Also in the prairies (small city SK), on an IVF journey (just entering 2nd trimester of pregnancy after 2+ years at the fertility clinic), chronic health issues, and similar age & incomes.

    My advice, like so many others, is proceed with fertility treatments right away. Our journey took us a lot longer than expected even though our issue seemed relatively simple.

    I saw one other person mention Public Mobile and I second that! They have good sign on, customer loyalty, and referral bonuses as well as good coverage (using Telus towers) and affordable plans. My partner and I, as well as my brother in law all have our plans 100% free for the last several years after using the referral and loyalty bonuses they offer! Now we’re working on getting my father in law’s phone plan free too. I wrote a review about it here if you’re interested:

    Also check into any insurance discounts that your university alumni association offers. I got a huge discount on home insurance with U of Saskatchewan’s deal with TD Meloche Monnex (I think that’s it) which worked out to be almost half the price of the next lowest insurance quote with better coverage.

    Also have a look at higher interest bank accounts for sure. You should be able to get closer to 3% or more interest nowadays. I like this website that keeps an up to date list of Canadian bank interest rates

    Hope everything goes well with your upcoming life changes!

  27. Riley & Sam, I’ve read through some of the comments, and I’m so impressed with your detailed knowledge related to all your different goals and the paths to get there. You have so much going on, and you are doing amazing.

    I agree with other commenters that IVF & Riley’s MSW seem like the most urgent items. I would definitely focus on those first. At first, I thought the MSW seemed unnecessary, but based on the info in Riley’s comments, it sounds like it’s a good idea. Having careers options & not being stuck is important! It is lower cost/time to do it now, as long as the credits work out, and will be easier to do before having a child anyways.

    I definitely think it’s best to avoid too much debt, but based on timing and level of priority, I do think it’s reasonable to take loans to reach the above goals, if you need to / can get a good interest rate. Also, if you can get a better interest rate for IVF/schooling than the 7.7% interest loan, I would go ahead and pay off the 7.7% loan and swap it out for a student loan with lower interest.

    I would wait until you’re into the IVF & MSW before considering the career change for Sam. The timing sounds very flexible on that, and you will understand your financial & emotional & logistical situation much better at that point. Side note: I am a huge planner, and also have chronic illness issues. When I start thinking too much about future decisions that rely on unknown factors, it really helps to remind myself that “future me” will be capable of figuring out these decisions and will have much more info than “current me”.

    Once you are further into the IVF & MSW paths (& into home ownership), you should have a clearer idea of your financial picture. Once you are financially covered for those goals, I would focus on the following order of priorities. #1: Get emergency fund up to 3 months of spending. #2: Eliminate high-interest debt. #3: Set up sinking funds to save for known upcoming expenses (dental surgery, new car, parental leave income reductions). Consider using a bank like Ally, that lets you have different buckets of goals in your savings account. #4: For me, this would be the point when I would feel okay reducing Sam’s income temporarily to do the apprenticeship. You might have a different threshold for this, but this is when I would feel like my financial house is in order. #5: Increase emergency fund further (6 months of spending, or 3 months + ~$12K for major home repairs). #6: Increase retirement savings. Is there a rule of thumb in Canada for what you need? In the US, it’s saving 15-20% of your annual income. #7: Start saving for other major goals that are “wants” (like desired home renovations, travel, etc) rather than “needs” (like the car & surgery).

    Last thoughts: You asked about ideas for savings. I think home decor, clothing, and other purchases of non-consumable items are all good opportunities to reduce spending. Do you have a Buy Nothing group in your neighborhood? I’ve gotten a ton of home & clothing items from mine. Could you do a clothing swap with friends? Could you do a no-spend-month-on-non-consumables type of challenge? Is there a local place where neighbors share cuttings for plants, and other gardening supplies, or could you start one? I honestly have lots of fun finding free stuff to use for hobbies & home; it’s fun to be creative and to connect with my neighbors. Another area to consider is restaurants/fast food: Would it be cheaper & just as convenient to keep some easy foods on hand in the house, and to carry around in your car/bag/etc.? I’m not saying to totally cut it, but I am much less likely to buy random food out if I have a protein bar in my purse & some frozen food in my freezer.

  28. Fellow Winnipegger here! It was so interesting reading this, knowing we live in the same city. My partner and I (WLW) had tried five times with IUI via Heartland Fertility, which I imagine is where you may have to go for IVF. We were successful on our fifth try and have a beautiful seven month old daughter now. If you have any questions about the process I’m happy to help in any way I can.

  29. I definitely think you should just get on with the Masters. Even if it is never used, you’ll feel better for having finished it and the timing works well with the IVF – chances are you’ll be done with it before the baby comes as IVF isn’t instant!

    I’d leave the career change for a bit – cut your expenses, save up so IVF can be partially covered even if you do need to take on a little debt. Pay off the debt, then reconsider. You might find that’s the right time or you might find you’re exhausted with a new baby and want to wait until you have more energy!

  30. Fellow Winnipegger here – get on all the daycare waitlists asap! You can sign up with an anticipated baby birth date, and then you may be at the front of the line (fingers crossed) when you actually need the spot.

    Good luck with all these exciting life changes!

  31. For Canadian centred financial independence advice I’d recommend the blog modernfimily. The creator is super approachable/helpful too. One thing I’d do financially is focus on your TFSA, not your RRSP, given your modest income level and greater flexibility of aTFSA. Also, consider waiting to 70 to claim CPP – this will result in 40% more!

    Good luck with everything!

  32. Lots of helpful experience here on the issue of parenting children, but one suggestion on the doggie parenting front: instead of relying on paid pet sitters and doggie daycare for Bisky, find some other doggie families in the area and make an informal doggie coop. Exchanging dog sitting with friends you trust and inviting dogs to social gatherings at your lovely home can give him socializing/exercise/tiring out for free. Good luck!

  33. What an exciting time in your lives right now!!! I am so impressed by your focus and how goal oriented you are. I wish you all the best in your IVF journey. May is be smooth and successful.
    It doesn’t seem like it has been addressed here, but you appear to be providing free childcare for a nephew. Is there any way that can be remunerated now, or reciprocated once you have a child of your own? This can either increase your income now, or decrease child care costs in future.

  34. Hi Riley and Sam,
    It’s the end of July now and I’m really curious to see where you are in your journey? I’m a fellow Canadian, but living in Finland and married to a Fin. We have two children. I took parental leave for the first 6 months and my husband took some leave for a few months, then I continued on leave.
    I think 6 months old is a really fun time for your partner to be home. It’s an exciting time of eating food, less reliance on breastfeeding, more mobility, and of course baby starts to get much heavier, but still needs to be carried.
    Personally, I would advise about 2 weeks at the beginning together and then taking turns with childcare. That way you can keep baby home as long as possible before starting daycare.
    Good luck with your studies this fall!

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