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Firefighter, 29, earning $90,000 worries about the health of his pension




Name: John*

Age: 29

Annual income: $90,000

Savings: $3,000 in savings account; $8,000 in TFSAs; $5,500 in index fund

Debt: $210,000 mortgage; $23,000 car loan

What he does: firefighter; partner in tech startup

Where he lives: Rothesay, N.B.

Top financial concern: “There’s part of me that’s worried that I’m paying into a pension and it will be like what happened at Sears,” he says. “My goal is financial stability – putting enough aside for retirement. Hopefully, there will be enough for me to live on.”

John always knew he wanted to be a firefighter. After studying for a few years at the University of New Brunswick, the now 29-year-old couldn’t wait to fulfil his dream, getting his fire school diploma in 2008 from Holland College in Prince Edward Island.

For seven years John worked full time in St. John in a junior firefighting role that came with considerably less pay than a senior one. Earning $55,000 a year, he repaid his $7,000 student loan in five years. He has since been promoted and now pulls in $90,000 before taxes. He also gets vacation pay and has a shared risk plan, also known as a Target Benefit Plan, which is essentially a hybrid of a defined benefit pension plan and defined contribution plan.

“It’s the best job in the world,” says John, who works four days on and four days off, for a total of 48 hours a week. He currently wants to upgrade to a firetruck driver/hose operator. But he worries about his prospects in New Brunswick, which has seen an exodus of residents in recent years. “It’s struggling,” he says.

John is also concerned about his future pension. “There’s part of me that’s worried that I’m paying into a pension and it will be like what happened at Sears,” he says, referring to the bankruptcy of the Canadian retailer last year and word that its pension is underfunded, , leaving its former staffers with significantly fewer retirement benefits that what they are entitled to. Unlinke a  DB pension plan in which which both employer and employees contribute a certain amount and the employer – rather than the employee – bears the investment risk, if a shared risk plan becomes underfunded, the benefits to employees are allowed to be reduced, as opposed to having the deficit paid by the employer.

To that end, he’s building up his equity, having bought a house in 2017 with his wife for $270,000. And he’s building his wealth, belonging to two investing clubs, investing $120 a month primarily in blue-chip stocks. Buying marijuana stocks has also yielded dividends. “In one club, I’ve had a 65 per cent return and in the other club a 45 per cent return,” he says. In total he has made $7,000 over the past three years. John also has investments in his TFSA, which he handles himself through a direct investing account.

Plus, in a move he hopes will yield profits down the road, he’s a partner in a tech startup – a self-serve kiosk service that prints lift tickets for ski hills. For now “it’s a pastime,” he says. “Although the company is profitable, I take no salary in order to reinvest the money to further growth.”

With his high salary and no debt, John is now enjoying a comfortable yet conservative lifestyle. He cuts his own hair. He bought a home gym for his basement to avoid paying gym fees. He eats out a few times a month. And though he travels many times a year – be it Nantucket Island in New England or Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, with his wife and his or her parents – each trip costs him $600, on average, as his parents or in-laws cover accommodation. “Because our parents are close to retirement and enjoying life, we’re able to reap some benefits of that,” says John

Then there is the recent purchase of a 2017 Honda CRV, which comes with a $23,000 loan. “Cars have been my weak point,” he admits.

For now, John is planning a trip to Europe. He wants to start a family in five years. And he hopes to retire at 55 or 60. “I don’t want to take on debt,” he says. “My goal is financial stability – putting enough aside for retirement. Hopefully, there will be enough for me to live on.”

His typical monthly expenses:

$1,090 on mortgage. “We bought our house in July, 2017, for $270,000. I have a $210,000 mortgage.”

$259 on property tax.

$160 cable and internet.

$285 for electricity. “We have electric baseboards. I do have a propane fireplace but I don’t use it much.”

$100 in home insurance.

$30 in hydro.

$75 for home emergency fund. “This is for home maintenance.”

$680 on groceries.

$200 on eating out. “We go out two times a month. We’re not big on fast food. There’s a place [we like] called Italian by Night – it’s kind of expensive.”

$240 on alcohol. “I enjoy having some beers – I spend about $60 a week. Generally, the people I hang out with are my childhood friends. I’ll have a couple of craft beers and some wings.”

$75 on cellphone. “I brought my own phone to Koodo from Rogers.”

$450 for car. “I just bought a 2017 black Honda CRV in October. I paid $16,000 down and the loan is $23,000. I went for the safe bet.”

$150 on gas. “My commute is 10-15 minutes.”

$100 on car insurance. “You have to shop it around.”

$120 in investments. “I’m a part of two investment clubs. I allocate a certain amount each year to invest. We plan to do this for the next 20 years.”

$0 on hair. “I cut my own hair most of the time. I shaved my head for years but my wife wanted me to grow it out.”

$25.00 in banking/investment fees. “My monthly regular banking fees are $15 a month. Direct investing fees are $25 quarterly and $10 per trade.”

$10 for apps. “I subscribe to Apple iTunes.”

$100 on dog. “He’s a golden doodle. I just bought three weeks of dog food for $70. In the spring, summer and fall, I also buy a heartworm and tick medication for him because there are many ticks out here. It’s $200 for the vet once a year.”

$30 in clothes. “I’m not one to buy clothes. I wear the same pair of jeans every day.”

$155 on sports. “I play in a basketball league once a week. It’s $60 a year. We bought two paddle boards in July – they were $900 each. We like to go for hikes.”

$0 on gym fees. “I had a gym membership but I cancelled it. I went out and spent $1,500 on gym equipment and put it in my basement. I now work out five to six times a week.”

$2,900 per year on holidays/trips. “We have the advantage of going on vacation and not paying for accommodation – we wouldn’t be able to do this without my parents or my wife’s parents. We are going to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine in a couple of weeks. My wife’s dad is a part of a private fly fishing club – we go there once a year. My family used to go to Nantucket Island for a week – the last time was in 2016. And we went to Florida–Anna Maria Island – for my wife’s parents’ anniversary. That was $600. We didn’t have to pay for the flight, accommodation or rental car. We’re saving to go to Europe now – maybe the south of France.”

* John’s real name has been withheld to protect his privacy.

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