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This 24-year-old self-employed artist makes $20,000 a year, and has $27,000 in student debt. Living at home, she wants to move out, but is that even possible?

Millennial Money is a weekly submission-based series that provides financial advice to millennials in the GTA. Read the full series here.

Jennifer, 24, is a self-employed artist and creative making $20,000 a year. “It’s impossible to be a creative these days and keep yourself fed,” she said. And in a pandemic year, it’s even harder to manage.

Thankfully, she still lives at home with her parents. That means she doesn’t have to pay much for food, but she still wants to support local with the money she does have.

“It’s not a lot, but I think I should give back as much as I can,” Jennifer said.

Being an artist, there’s never a typical workday. “Each day is different because I have a few jobs. Now under COVID, it’s been a bit different and slower, but I’m still picking up a few gigs here and there.”

What’s been helpful this year is CERB, which helped just cover her expenses as she tries to stay afloat during COVID-19 restrictions. “Without it, I don’t really know how I could make up all the money I lost from the cancelled gigs.”

Whether she’s at a photo shoot or working at a studio, she tries to cut costs by bringing snacks and lunch, but work can go for much longer than expected. “Sometimes I need to buy something if I don’t have time to make anything or if it’s a really long day,” she added.

On a typical weekend, she’s saving more money as a result of less engagements eating dinner with friends. That means spending more time indoors with her partner watching TV shows and hanging out with her family.

Currently, Jennifer has $27,000 in student debt. “This is a cost that’s consistently eating at me,” she said. “It doesn’t help that the jobs I have are all over the place.”

One thing she has realized is her need to find a more stable job, if possible — something in the arts field or even, if necessary, essential work like food delivery or working at a cafe.

Her savings goals are to pay off her Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) debt immediately, and also have enough to move out of her parents’ house. “I realize this will be a lot of savings and behaviour changes. I need to be making enough to afford rent while making all my other payments,” she said.

We asked Jennifer to share a week of spending costs to have an idea of her finances.

The expert: Jason Heath, managing director at Objective Financial Partners Inc., on Jennifer’s situation:

Jennifer is in a tough field where it can be challenging to make a good living. That’s why it’s that much more important for her to watch what she spends.

I can’t help but notice she spent money on eating out, coffees, and drinks on six of seven days. Everyone deserves to live a bit, but Jennifer should do her best to pack lunch and watch her pennies if she wants to save up to move out of her parents’ home.

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I can appreciate how she may want to move out of her parents’ home, but sometimes it’s tough to reconcile what you want to do and what you should do financially.

It’s not my place to tell her how to spend her money but increasing her expenses to pay rent while she has so much debt, a modest income, and we’re in a pandemic-fuelled recession comes with significant risks.

It could be harder to move back into her parents’ home someday than to hang on a little longer now. If she can live rent-free and try to pay down some debt, it could really help her out in the future. Sometimes you need to consider sacrificing certain goals in the short run to be able to achieve more in the long run.

Jennifer’s $27,000 OSAP loan is probably the best place to direct her extra cash flow.

Her income is too low to really benefit from RRSP contributions because she doesn’t pay much tax. Debt repayment can be a good “investment” and I’d say it’s her best one right now to prepare for her future.

Results: She spent less. Week 1 spending: $417.66 Week 2 spending: $215.90

How she thinks she did: “This week I tried really hard to resist buying food and drinks and it shows it did pay off, even if it wasn’t a huge difference,” she said. From doing the exercise, she was able to see that her spending on food costs really did add up — especially buying out six out of seven days.

“When I’m living at home, I have the luxury to get home-cooked food. Also I can try to cook myself,” she added.

This upcoming week, Jennifer says that she’ll be trying some simple recipes she got from friends and making a larger grocery haul. “We are challenging each other to take photos of the dish and share it, so it’s a good incentive for us to make more meals at home.”

Take-aways: For Jennifer, the main goal is a shift in mindset. “I felt pressure moving out because I see other friends live on their own,” she said. “But the COVID-19 pandemic has shown me that I’m lucky to have a spot especially since I don’t have much of a stable job.”

What Jennifer wants to do next is go on the job hunt for something more reliable, perhaps doing some freelance artwork for a brand that she can rely more on for hours. Also, something that she can do working from home.

“I just have to start looking or else I’ll lose motivation,” she said.

For now, she’s hoping to put any extra money from the food savings toward her OSAP. “I think like the adviser said, getting rid of this as soon as I can will let me feel less trapped.”

Are you a millennial living in Toronto or the GTA and need help with saving your money? Be a part of #MillennialMoney and email [email protected]




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