Photo credit: Nick Linnen on Unsplash
How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life in Cochrane?
Hello, and welcome to interview #12 in the How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life interview series! Part interview, part spending report, this series will introduce us to FIRE* seekers from all over the world.
They’ll reveal their essential spending and money-saving tips—all to help us learn new ways to save on our own expenses. As a bonus, we’ll also get to discover the unique advantages and challenges of living in different places around the globe.
*FIRE stands for financial independence, retire early. It’s also known as FI—financial independence. For more info, see my FI School series—it’ll teach you everything you need to know about FI (and FIRE).
About the interview series
I created an intro page for this interview series to help explain what it’s about, what’s included (or not) and why. I’ll also link to all the interviews from the intro page—so check back there to see the entire collection.
Jump to the series intro: How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life? (The Interview Series)
Interview #12: Court in Cochrane, Alberta
In today’s interview, we’ll meet Court from the blog Modern FImily. I previously introduced her in a post I shared about my interview on her blog, but in case you missed that, I’ll repost that same intro here (with some updates):
Court and her wife Nic live in Cochrane, Alberta with their adorable daughter Finn and brand-new baby boy, Parker. Court is an energy trader and Nic is, like me, a stay-at-home mom. They constantly amaze me with their frugality and optimization skills.
Some may find it hard to believe, but Court and Nic spend less than $20,000 per year on their core expenses (which doesn’t include travel, investments or mortgage). And yet, they live a very full and happy life, with absolutely no deprivation—as evidenced on her Instagram feed!
Court and Nic prove that it’s definitely possible to reach FIRE at a young age, with a kid, on one income. (Sound familiar? 😉)
About Modern FImily
At Modern FImily, Court shares all her FIRE numbers, plans, and tactics. (Unlike me, she doesn’t hide any of her numbers!) Court is a numbers nerd and way better with math and complex calculations than I am.
If you haven’t checked out Modern FImily yet, I highly recommend that you do. You’ll find a wealth of detailed, helpful posts to inspire and motivate you on your path to FIRE. 🔥
Note: While Court’s family is now a family of four, her interview is categorized for a family of three. That’s because the expenses in her interview don’t include their baby, Parker (who just joined the family)!
Part 1: Getting to know you
Tell us about you and your family
Hi! We are Court, Nic, Finn, and new baby Parker (that just arrived!) and blog over at Modern FImily. We are a family of four who reached FI in our early 30s. We call ourselves valuists in that we focus on, well, as the name implies, things we value, and cut out the fluff. We like to think of it as a mix of frugality, mindfulness, and minimalism.
We started off with a combined total of $110,000 in student loan debt and crossed the million dollar net worth mark nine years later. Our combined average annual income over the years has been ~$110,000 between the two of us.
We learned early on that a happy life does not need to be an expensive life as there are so many ways to gamify life while keeping enjoyment levels to the max. We house hacked by renting out rooms in our townhome and lived with roommates during our 20s.
We also travel hack, which has allowed us to visit 25+ countries and still have over 1,000,000 points in our “travel bank”. We DIY as many things as possible (thanks internet!). And we understand that kids really don’t have to be expensive.
Nic retired from her nursing job when Finn was born in 2018 and I shifted to part-time shift-work in 2019 as we slowly transition to FIRE. Right now I’m off on parental leave for 61 weeks (~a year and 2 months), thanks to the generous benefits from the Government of Canada, as a test into the FIRE life. We will see if I decide to return to work or not once this is up in September 2022.
We currently spend around $25,000–$30,000 per year as a family. Most people would immediately think a family of four spending this low of a figure must not be happy and are depriving themselves. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
We are able to keep our expenses low mainly thanks to house hacking, buying used, reliable, low mileage vehicles, cooking most of our meals at home, travel hacking, utilizing many free resources around our town, and letting nature be our therapist.
We are all about focusing on reducing our larger ongoing expenses and then going out to enjoy that latte with a friend (figuratively speaking as COVID has put a damper on all that!). Figure out what it is that you value and cut out the fluff.
Where are you in your journey to FIRE?
We reached our family of three FI number in 2018. We have since upped that number to $1,000,000 of liquid investments (i.e. not including our home, car, etc.) as our family of four FIRE number (which we reached in Q1 2021).
Our ultimate goal is to reach $1,250,000 in liquid investments (stocks, bonds, cash) which is what we consider our Fat FIRE number which adds in quite a bit more hedging. Then our CARDIAC ARREST FIRE goal is to have a $1,250,000 liquid portfolio of stocks and bonds (mostly stocks) along with 3–5 years of cash on the sidelines.
What type of FIRE are you aiming for? (FIRE, Lean FIRE, or Fat FIRE*)
How Chrissy defines FIRE, Lean FIRE, and Fat FIRE
Some people define Lean FIRE as under $40k in annual spending; FIRE as $40–$100k in annual spending; and Fat FIRE as $100k+ in annual spending.
I wholeheartedly disagree with this! After all, $100k could be Fat FIRE in a small Canadian town but Lean FIRE in San Francisco. Instead, I define each category more loosely:
- Lean FIRE: The essentials with little or no discretionary spending.
- FIRE: The essentials plus a comfortable amount of discretionary spending.
- Fat FIRE: The essentials plus a luxurious amount of discretionary spending.
We’ve already reached our FIRE number for our family of four ($1,000,000) and are upping that figure to our Fat FIRE goal of $1,250,000. This annual increase of $10,000 ($40,000 versus $50,000 if using the “4% rule”) may not sound like much but this is our extra cushion for any extra unknown expenses that may come up over the years.
Many people would look at an annual spend of $50,000 for a family of four and think this is on the lower end and not “fat”. But for us, this is almost double our average annual spend and provides more than enough breathing room for additional future expenses.
Chrissy, like you, we do not view a certain set numerical range to define Lean, FIRE, or Fat for everyone. This is way too broad of a thought process as everyone’s situation is different! For example, a couple could be living large in say Thailand for $30,000/year but feel like they are stretching thin with that same spend in San Francisco.
For us, our Fat FIRE number bakes in additional hedges into our plans. For example, it includes additional one-off home repair estimates, medical expenses, and a more robust travel fund, and an ongoing new car fund (well new-to-us used car but you know what I mean).
It also includes increased figures in various categories such as utilities, food, car insurance, car repairs, supplemental medical insurance, miscellaneous items, and kid activities. It also includes monthly expenses for hot tub maintenance. Essentially, unforeseeable future one-off expenses that may be higher than what we are currently estimating.
Additionally, we also think your withdrawal rate should factor in if you’re in the “Lean”, “Regular”, or “Fat” FIRE camp. Those with a more aggressive withdrawal rate of say 4.5–6% would be in the lean category, 4% would be regular, and sub 3.5% would be fat.
Meaning, if there is a market downturn, having a lower withdrawal rate likely means you can keep living life as is without much worry. Whereas if you were withdrawing 4+% and there was a dip at the beginning of your FIRE life, you’d likely be cutting out some expenses due to sequence of returns risk.
We base our withdrawals off a 4% withdrawal rate but know it is very likely we will be much lower than that. We do not count any future federal/provincial benefits coming our way into our plans. While our kids are young, this will be to the tune of $15,000–$17,000/year for the first ~15 years due to receiving Canada Child Benefit (CCB) which will greatly lower the amount we withdraw (which is just mind-blowing to us)!
It also does not include any CPP/OAS, pension, HSA (Health Savings Account from when I was working in the States) or the favourable USD/CAD exchange rate (~75% of our portfolio is in USD) but we plan to live in Canada and spend in CAD), etc. that we keep behind the scenes.
We also are very flexible and able to adjust our spending if need be. It also assumes we will bring in no additional income once we FIRE, which we know is likely not the case at all (calling all internet retirement police!).
Nic is already pondering about a part-time gig once the kids are in school and I started being a financial coach on the side to help others along their FI journey. All this to say, we are ultra-conservative and likely will be withdrawing less than 2% each year.
Our FIRE plans also include contributing $2,500/year to each of our kids’ RESPs to get the 20% government match. The Fat FIRE figure also incorporates opening an informal trust account for each of them with $10,000.
Hopefully, some of the money lessons we pass on rub off and they understand the power of compound interest and opt to not touch this account until they are much older. If they each let this initial $10,000 ride in a low-fee equity ETF earning 8% on average annually, they will each have over $1,000,000 when they turn 60.
Tell us about your living situation
In October 2020, we moved to a detached single-family home that was built in the 1970s and fully renovated in 2014. It is a single-story bungalow style with ~1,000 square feet above ground with a 1,000 square feet finished basement below.
There are a total of five bedrooms (three above, two below) and 2.5 baths. The large deck/yard, mature trees, and private well landscaped yard were the selling features for us.
We live in a town called Cochrane, just west of Calgary (population ~35,000 vs ~1,600,000 in Calgary) so we are in a great middle-ground where it takes us 35 minutes to downtown Calgary and 40 minutes to our favourite mountain town of Canmore (next to Banff).
We are in the central part of our town and can easily walk to walking paths, multiple parks/playgrounds, the library, grocery stores, the river, the forest, etc. We are also a short six-minute walk to the kiddos’ future elementary school which was another selling feature.
While it is very walkable within our town, we try to get out to the Canadian Rockies as much as possible, head into Calgary to visit friends and family, and head out to Nic’s family cabin as much as possible in the summer (five-hour drive to Saskatchewan) so a car is still a must-have item for us.
Prior to this home, we house hacked our original townhouse in Florida where we rented out rooms to roommates while we were living there from 2012–2015. This allowed us to pay off the mortgage in 2.5 years as the rental income was substantially more than our mortgage.
We then rented it out to a family for two years after moving up to Canada before ultimately selling it. The proceeds from the sale were enough to purchase our brand-new Canadian townhouse. We decided to hold off on paying for it in cash as our mortgage rate was lower than the interest rate we were receiving by parking that money in a high-interest savings account.
We have since paid off the mortgage on our Canadian townhouse (in 2020) and are renting it out for another year or two. Once we sell the townhouse, the proceeds will pay off the remaining mortgage on our current home. We will be mortgage-free once we FIRE.
In the meantime, our current mortgage is nearly offset by the rental income from the townhouse—which is why our mortgage number is so low. The numbers can get a bit confusing, so we wrote a few posts about our house hacking experience that we cover later on in this interview if you’d like to check them out.
Why did you choose to live in Cochrane?
As mentioned above, we love the proximity to both the city and the mountains. While we are not big city people at all, we do love being close to the zoo, science centre, international airport, IKEA, etc. and all the wonderful cultures that a big city attracts.
Our town has everything we need, yet it’s small enough to feel like you’re part of a community. There are tons of pathway systems in place which allow us to get out and really enjoy nature. We also both love skiing, so being close to the Canadian Rockies for world-class skiing is amazing.
The summers here are absolutely breathtaking. While we do have long winters, we are located in one of the sunniest parts of Canada. Having all those blue sky days really provides great positive energy. (And no humidity—which is a huge benefit as I grew up in sticky Florida.)
The cost of living here is also generally low when compared to other larger Canadian metropolises. Our home cost $400,000 and would easily be in the $1.5+ million range if we bought the same thing in Toronto or Vancouver.
The Alberta Choose FI group is quite large and active, and I think part of it has to do with the relatively high incomes, low(er) taxes, and low cost of living here compared to other provinces.
Part 2: The expenses
In this section, Court shares her essential expenses and best money-saving tips. But before we get started, let’s review some important notes:
Important notes about the numbers
- Only essential expenses are included.
- Discretionary expenses (e.g. travel, gifts, etc.) are not included.
- Expenses are rounded to the nearest dollar.
- Expenses are displayed in the interviewee’s home currency.
- In this interview, the home currency is Canadian dollars.
- For your convenience, I’ve included a currency converter for each expense.
1. How much does housing cost in Cochrane?
Mortgage ($144/month; $1,728/year)
Note: this is the net difference from our house hacking (net income from renting paid off townhouse out versus mortgage on our home). This number will be zero once we sell the townhouse in 1–2 years and pay off the mortgage completely, prior to FIRE.
As noted previously, we are big fans of house hacking. House hacking can entail renting out rooms to roommates, renting out a basement suite, having an RV or tiny home on your property to rent out, having a duplex/fourplex and living in one unit while renting out the others, etc.
Thanks to house hacking, our mortgage line item has been nearly non-existent thanks to other people paying for our mortgage for us. This one hack alone has supercharged our FI journey.
Related: Chrissy’s favourite form of house hacking is hosting international homestay students.
If we did not have tenants in our townhouse paying for the majority of our housing costs, our out-of-pocket on the mortgage would be $1,344/month. But thanks to the rental income, we are only paying for a fraction of that.
There is so much to dig into this topic alone, so rather than dig into the nitty-gritty details here, you can read our previous posts on this topic:
Property tax ($233/month; $2,796/year)
Similar to Chrissy’s hack here—we use that same credit card for 1% back by paying for our property taxes in full each year. Super easy extra step which pretty much gets us a free oil change each year.
Chrissy note: reach out to me for more info on this card! I try not to share it too publicly as I worry it’ll get too popular (which could then result in the rewards being downgraded).
Strata/HOA fees ($0)
Now that we are in a single family home, we have no strata/HOA fees. In the past, we were paying $185/month in HOAs at our Canadian townhouse (which mainly was for minimal landscaping, snow removal right up to our doorsteps which was quite nice, all exterior including roof, and reserves).
We were paying $406/month in HOAs at our Florida townhouse which is just insane. This mainly covered landscaping, two community pools, exterior including roof, and reserves.
Home insurance ($81/month; $972/year)
Like Chrissy, we too made the switch to Square One and have been extremely happy. We have not had to use them for anything yet, so I cannot speak to that side of things, but once we got our policy underway, the onboarding process was fantastic.
The selling feature for sure was actually being able to customize our coverage! We went from paying $1,300 with Aviva to $972 with Square One for more customized coverage that better fit our needs. Our landlord insurance for our rental is also significantly less costly with Square One too.
Chrissy’s note: I cut our home insurance costs in half by switching to Square One Insurance—use my referral link for a $25 bonus!
Home maintenance ($100/month; $1,200/year)
This category includes: home maintenance, repairs, cleaning, and improvements; household goods and supplies; furniture; and appliances.
This $100 in our expenses really is a ballpark estimate at this point. In the past, our maintenance was much lower, maybe $10/month? Now that we are in a larger/older home we are anticipating this to jump to the $100/month range even though the entire home was recently renovated. (Conservative Clancy here!)
We love using the app Varage Sale to find second-hand items around our town. We ended up with a rake, lawnmower, sprinklers, hoses, weed whipper, watering cans, shovel, patio furniture, teeter-totter, sandbox, kiddie pool, light fixtures, cabinets, and too many furniture items to list all for free, thanks to others in our community looking to get rid of items. Facebook Marketplace is a good resource too, but our town definitely favours Varage Sale.
Our library also has a tool & gardening lending system where we rented a power washer and belt sander for our deck this past Spring for free to spruce up our deck.
We clean the house ourselves (I’m OCD when it comes to tidiness!) and Nic is very handy and loves going to YouTube to fix things herself. In the past, she has installed a vanity, fixed some plumbing issues, fixed a clicking issue with our refrigerator, replaced weather stripping on our doors, replaced cabinet knobs, etc herself.
We always paint walls ourselves and have built some of our own furniture. Nic’s dad is a carpenter by trade and is a great help as well. Having some handmade items in our home gives us a great sense of pride.
So really, this $100/month figure is likely too high but we will keep it for now and update accordingly over the years.
OPTIONAL: Home equity opportunity cost ($20,000/year)
We currently own two properties. Our townhouse is 100% paid off and valued at around $300,000. We also have around $100,000 of home equity in our home. As noted above, once we sell the townhouse in a few years, the profits will go straight to paying off the remainder on our mortgage, so we will be mortgage-free in our post-FIRE life.
We rent our townhouse out for $1,750/month which nets us around $1,200/month of additional income after all expenses—which we pour into our mortgage. This allows our housing costs to remain low.
So with the $400,000 in home equity, we could assume we’d receive $20,000/year if instead invested earning 5% (400,000 * 0.05 = 20,000) versus the $14,400 we’re getting each year from the rental income.
$400,000 x 5% = $20,000 in opportunity cost after one year of investing.
About the home equity opportunity cost ‘expense’
This is an optional expense category, suggested by The Economist from FI Garage. The intention for sharing this is to calculate the opportunity cost of home ownership versus renting.
That is: if you invested the amount that’s tied up in your home equity, how much would that be worth after one year of investing (calculated using a conservative return of 5%)?
Some of my interviewees aren’t comfortable sharing this, which is why this expense is optional. In addition, there are other factors (appreciation, rent savings, other home ownership costs) which could make this number less useful.
Still, I think it’s an interesting number to consider, so I’ve decided to include it. 😉
2. How much does transportation cost in Cochrane?
Vehicle insurance ($122/month; $1,466/year)
After I switched to my part-time role (which entails working two night shifts, then off for eight days) we tested things out by putting one of our vehicles in minimal parking/garage status to see if only having one car insured would work for us.
It’s been well over a year now, and it’s been working well. Rather than downsize to a single car, we decided to keep the Toyota Corolla insured in the summer months since it is great on gas and have the Subaru Legacy insured in the winter months since it has amazing winter tires, AWD, remote start, and heated seats.
This saves us from having to switch out tires a few times a year and we are able to maximize the best times of year to utilize each vehicle. Some would likely argue that this is silly, and most days I do agree that paying $100/year to have a car sit in our driveway is ridiculous.
Some days, we talk about selling both and buying a used smaller SUV to be done with this nonsense but the value of these two cars is less than the SUV we’d like to switch to and we’d get more kilometres out of the two vehicles vs just one so we’re holding on for now. Once these cars reach their max life we will transition to a one-car household.
We did score a free Thule Summit which does provide us with quite a bit more storage space given the size of our vehicles for skis in the winter and kids sporting equipment to take out to the cabin in the summers.
We shop around each year for the most competitive rates and unfortunately, when our province switched governments two years ago, our policies shot up. What was costing us $1,600 to insure both vehicles would now cost us over $2,500 for the same vehicles (which now are older and have more mileage on them)!
Gas ($120/month; $1,440/year)
We try to only fill-up at gas stations connected to No Frills so we can get PC points at each fill up. (Similar idea if we had a Superstore/Esso by us.)
I am a “grandma driver” in that I love going slow and play a game where I try to coast into as many red lights as possible without having to use the brakes before turning green again (I’m sure the people behind me just love it).
Vehicle maintenance ($60/month; $720/year)
We purposely buy used cars that are known to be very reliable. Typically, we spend around $500/year between both cars on random maintenance items, tires, batteries, and oil & filter changes.
We’ve never paid for a car wash and rather wash our cars by hand with a simple bucket, rag, and water. Same goes for interior cleanings. We also have a free roadside assistance program with Canadian Tire.
Bike maintenance ($3/month; $36/year)
All of the bikes in our homes were free from other people. Other than buying a bike tire pump years ago, the only maintenance has been replacing the tube in one of Nic’s tires ourselves for $20.
We also have a double bike trailer as well (which cost $75 secondhand) to take the kiddos out for family rides. We just bought a WeeRide bike seat secondhand for the little babes to use next year for $30. We love being able to bike around our town.
Parking and tolls ($0)
Paying for parking and tolls rubs me the wrong way so I avoid it whenever possible. I believe the last time we paid for tolls was our honeymoon in Iceland and Norway in 2015. It’s shocking to me how people will easily pay for parking versus simply driving a few blocks down the road for free.
It’s a win-win—good for your wallet and health. Thankfully Calgary does not have any toll roads and the only paid parking spots are downtown, where I get free parking from my employer.
I wish the public transit system was a bit more robust here. Because of its limited routes, we hardly ever use public transit. Finn really wants to go on a “people train ride” so once we feel comfortable with COVID, we will occasionally take the train to the zoo instead of driving there.
Groceries ($550/month; $6,600/year)
We buy the majority of our food from No Frills. Certain items we prefer from elsewhere, but No Frills makes up 80% of our shopping. We will stock up on items when they go on sale and put them in our deep freeze.
We are very in-tune with the unit price of goods and understand that you likely get better bang for your buck when purchasing the larger-sized option. However, we avoid Costco memberships as we would definitely spend way more than we currently do if we shopped there weekly instead as we can’t keep up with their huge portions on perishable items. We will go a few times a year with a friend to stock up on certain non-perishable items we love.
We eat mostly vegetarian meals. I’d say 100% of our breakfasts are meatless, over 80% of our lunches, and about 60% of our suppers are vegetarian.
We make our own lattes at home. We make our own jellys, jams, and syrups in the summer from fresh-picked berries. We finally are starting a garden out for the first time, which we are very excited for—fingers crossed we actually grow something!
We make our own pizza from scratch. Same goes for pasta and many baked goods and desserts. Sometimes we make our own bread too. Since moving to Canada, I cannot find a good Challah, so Nic figured it out and knocks it out of the park.
I love soup, so chances are there is some sort of soup being made each week in the winter. And when I say we, I definitely mean Nic as she is the cook in the house.
Eating out ($75/month; $900/year)
We really don’t eat out much—about 2–3 times a month. And when we do, the bill is typically around $20–25 for the three of us. We love different ethnic foods and thankfully, they tend to be relatively inexpensive.
For example, we can share a Vietnamese XL spicy peanut beef sate noodle soup + pho beef broth for the little lady (she’s obsessed) for under $25, or world-class Italian sandwiches for under $10 each (no, not Subway!) or a seven-piece order of amazing Korean fried chicken for under $20 that feeds all three of us.
We bring it home and make our own sides to go with it. It really seems silly to me to go out to eat for something we can cook ourselves for a fraction of the price. So whenever we do go out, it’s for something unique that we don’t have the ingredients at home to make ourselves. This allows us to really savour and appreciate the moment.
4. How much do utilities and bills cost in Cochrane?
Natural gas ($50/month; $600/year)
Being in Alberta, we are unfortunately stuck with ~$100/month of fixed costs for transmission and distribution on our monthly energy bills. As someone who works in the power industry, this is just crazy to me, but so be it.
Our average monthly bill (natural gas and electricity combined*) tends to be around $175/month ($100 fixed + $75 usage) where it’s slightly higher in the winters and lower in the summers. We don’t have AC and use cross-ventilation during the warmer months.
In the winter, we leave the thermostat at 20C during the day and 18C at night. We wear layers and slippers inside which really work amazingly well. We have two natural gas fireplaces that we will use at certain points in the day during the winter which also adds a little Hygge to the home.
We switched over to Ambit Energy a few years ago which offers the lowest bills in Alberta, as well as a free energy program once you have 15 referrals. We reached the 15 referrals mark which eliminates the electric/gas usage charges (woohoo!) and brings our bill down to just the fixed costs of ~$100/mo.
A fellow FI friend who works for Ambit as part of her side gig wrote a guest post on Abmit for us for any Albertans interested in more information.
*Our monthly energy bill combines our natural gas and electricity into one, but I’ve separated them for this interview.
Electricity ($60/month; $720/year)
I’m pretty strict with our energy usage as I am passionate about energy conservation. Lights are always off in rooms that are not in use. Window shades are always open during the day for natural light (except when there’s a major heat wave)!
Finn is going through the phase of being afraid of the dark in which she insists on the bathroom light being on ALL the time when we’re home which really hurts my soul. Phone chargers are unplugged immediately after being charged.
We don’t have a TV to suck up energy and we use our one laptop sparingly so it gets charged maybe once every two weeks. I don’t use the dishwasher—it just acts as a glorified dish rack after hand washing dishes.
We prefer our smaller toaster oven to the conventional oven. We prefer to hang dry most clothes as it helps preserve clothes for a longer period of time.
*Our monthly energy bill combines our natural gas and electricity into one (around $175/month) but I’ve separated them for this interview.
Water ($53/month; $636/year)
Note: this includes our water/sewage base charge ($16) + water/sewer consumption charges (about 1/2 compared to others).
Along the same lines of being passionate about energy conversation, water preservation is right there too.
Most people would say a dishwasher uses less water than hand washing but I truly think it depends on how you wash your dishes. There’s also the energy consumption component of a dishwasher running for two hours.
When it comes to laundry, most people would laugh at how infrequently I wash my clothes. We do laundry about once every 10–14 days for the family and the bulk of it is Nic and Finn’s items.
Same goes for showers. I can’t recall the last time I showered every single day of the week. Instead, I shower once every ~3 days. (Depending on the situation, of course. The days of heavy sweating in a gym are nonexistent for now. Instead, we’d rather we get out for daily walks with the kiddo.) Again, I’m the extreme one in my family and Nic showers every other day and Finn has a bath each evening.
It’s funny/interesting—we still get the water bills from our townhouse sent to us which includes a chart of your monthly consumption. Our tenants (who have a similar family dynamic to us) have consistently used double the amount of water as us and we find it so mind boggling as to how that’s even possible.
Garbage and recycling ($27/month; $324/year)
We love that our compost bin and recycling bin are larger than our garbage bin. Our garbage and eco centre fees are bundled into our monthly bill to the town which also includes water and sewer.
Internet ($35/month; $420/year)
We made the switch from Telus to Lightspeed a few years ago and are definitely happy to be saving money while also having faster internet. Most people don’t know about the smaller independent internet providers out there. We wrote a post digging into many of them in hopes to help save Canadians some money.
Chrissy’s note: I love and use Lightspeed too—enter my customer number ‘18059’ as the referrer for a $10 bonus!
Home phone ($0)
No home phone in the house.
Cell phones ($3/month; $36/year)
I currently have my phone provided and paid for by my employer. Once that’s up, I’m very much looking forward to going back to my old school iPhone 4. Nic just upgraded her six-year-old iPhone to one of the newer SEs second-hand for $450 cash.
People are alwaysssss chasing the latest version of phones for whatever reason so buying a year-old phone in excellent condition was relatively easy to find.
We use Public Mobile for our phone provider which costs us $3/mo for Nic’s plan which includes unlimited messaging and Canada-wide calls and 2.5 GB of data. Yes, $3. Post-FIRE, I don’t expect to see this ever go over $50/month for our family of four.
Chrissy’s note: I love and use Public Mobile too—use my referral code (YR0Z30) for a $10 bonus!
Streaming entertainment ($0)
My brother has a Netflix account he lets us use and Nic’s sister has a Disney+ account she lets us use too. Neither of these are a “must-have” for us so if they ever decide to cancel their subscriptions, no biggie.
I’ll watch a documentary on Netflix maybe once every two months (and chances are I could find the film from our library if I really was THAT interested in it). We let Finn watch two ~20 minute shows each morning, which typically come from these platforms.
There’s also a lot of free entertainment on YouTube if necessary. We use YouTube Music (formerly Google Play) for free music, Duo Kids and Duo ABC for free child education apps, and Google Photos for free photo storage.
We’ve never paid for any streaming services for apps, cloud storage, etc. nor do we ever plan to in the future. We view these as marketing gimmicks from the tech companies. Somehow, we all survived 10 years ago without storing everything on the Cloud.
5. How much do other essentials cost in Cochrane?
Life and disability insurance ($0)
My employer provides life insurance of 55% of my income for no additional cost. Once I leave, this will be gone. Since we’ve reached FI, there’s no need for these types of insurance as our investment portfolio will cover our family needs if something should ever happen to one of us.
Medical insurance ($0)
We’ve opted to be on the lowest coverage plan that my employer offers, so we actually get flex spending each month deposited into my bank account rather than pay for medical insurance. And get this, Americans—the more family members on your plan the more you get paid—not the more you have to pay into the system.
This lower plan covers $400/year per person towards massage/physio/chiro, $500/year per person towards acupuncture/naturopath/dietician/SLP, $125/person for eye exams every 24 months (kids are free in Canada) $4 for generic prescriptions, and 70% coverage for any additional vision or dental needs.
Being in Canada, all routine doctor visits are covered as are any hospital visits through our universal health care system. We’ve paid $0 for four hospital visits since moving up here (major car accident, two childbirths, and meningitis) and I have nothing but positive things to say about the Canadian health system when comparing it to the States.
I’m estimating $250/month for insurance plus out-of-pocket expenses once we FIRE for a family of four.
Out-of-pocket medical expenses ($65/month; $780/year)
Really, the only out-of-pocket expenses we pay for are for dental and vision needs. We will buy our Rx glasses/sunglasses for a steep discount online from Eye Buy Direct (starting at $9/pair). For dental, we will pay a few hundred dollars a year for the difference we owe after getting cleanings 2x/year plus any miscellaneous dental needs.
Clothing and footwear ($15/month; $180/year)
Again, Varage Sale for the win here, especially when it comes to kids gear. There are soooo many parents trying to clear up space in their house giving away kids’ items for free so we’ve hardly spent anything for kids’ clothes or footwear. (We spend maybe $50/year on Finn’s clothes.)
We also have a FI friend in our town with a little girl a few years older than Finn who gives us awesome hand-me-downs. We are not into fashion and most of our clothing items are 5+ years old. We take care of our items which allows them to last for years. Same goes for footwear.
I’d say we each purchase maybe two new items of clothing/footwear a year to replace some of the items that are on their way out.
Personal care ($0)
This category includes: haircuts, toiletries and grooming services and supplies.
The spending in this category is lumped into our grocery spend above as we don’t care to separate items this intensely. So the grocery figure above accounts for all household items such as shampoo, soap, tissues, toothpaste. etc.
We’ve been cutting each other’s hair ourselves for years (eight?) so no additional expense here. Finn’s hair has miraculously grown relatively evenly since she was born so we gave her a minor clip of her rat tail when she was about 1.5 years old and just recently Nic gave her her first trim.
We also could care less about makeup or other types of beauty products besides chapstick. You can never have enough chapstick.
Technology ($10/month; $120/year)
This category includes essential technology: software and hardware purchases, upgrades, maintenance, and repairs. Non-essentials (video games and consoles, e-readers, security cameras, etc.) aren’t included.
I honestly do not really understand this category haha. I don’t think there is such a thing as essential technology (thanks to Cal Newport)!
As noted above, we replaced Nic’s six-year-old phone recently for $450 so I guess we could say $75/year to earmark for a new phone.
Our Apple MacBook laptop is over 13 years old. We (Nic) replaced the hardware ourselves a few years ago for ~$100 and expect it to continue to last for years as we hardly use it.
We don’t pay for any apps nor do we pay for desktop applications, software, or upgrades.
We are big fans of taking monthly social media detoxes and weekly phone sabbaths as we feel our society has become WAY too obsessed with smartphones.
Part 3: Adding it all up
Now that we’ve detailed all of Court’s essential expenses, it’s time to add everything up in some nice, organized tables!
Important notes about the numbers
- Only essential expenses are included.
- Discretionary expenses (e.g. travel, gifts, etc.) are not included.
- Expenses are rounded to the nearest dollar.
- Expenses are displayed in the interviewee’s home currency.
- In this interview, the home currency is Canadian dollars.
- For your convenience, I’ve included a currency converter in each section. I hope you find it useful!
How much does it cost to live the FIRE life in Cochrane?
|Expense||Monthly (CAD)||Annual (CAD)|
|TOTAL||$558 (with mortgage)|
$414 (no mortgage)
|$6,696 (with mortgage)
$4,968 (no mortgage)
Home equity opportunity cost: $20,000/year
|Expense||Monthly (CAD)||Annual (CAD)|
|Housing||$558 (with mortgage)|
$414 (no mortgage)
|$6,696 (with mortgage)
$4,968 (no mortgage)
|Utilities and bills||$228||$2,736|
|TOTAL||$1,806 (with mortgage)|
$1,662 (no mortgage)
|$21,674 (with mortgage)
$19,946 (no mortgage)
Part 4: Other expenses
This is a special section that’s just for fun! It’s the place for my interviewees to mention any expenses that they’ve done a really good job of optimizing and/or just want to share.
These expenses won’t be included in the totals (just to keep things as standardized as possible). I hope you find this section interesting and informative. Here are a few additional expenses that Court wanted to share:
We’re big into travel hacking and have been writing a Travel Hacking 101 Series on our blog for anyone interested in learning more about this topic. Travel hacking can seem intimidating and daunting if you’ve never done it and this series is definitely geared towards newbies trying to understand it all to feel comfortable trying it out.
Free and low-cost activities
It’s really crazy to see how little we spend yet we feel like we’re living an incredibly rich life. We have the time to catch up with friends and family whenever they are available. We get outside every day and get fresh air which is incredibly good for you both physically and mentally.
We utilize the amazing resources at the library (not just for books, but also for DVDs, lawn games, tools, garden equipment, camping/hiking equipment, board games, etc. as well as story time classes pre-COVID). There are so many free resources/classes out there for kids. You just need to look for them.
Maximizing annual passes
We also maximize annual passes to lower the unit cost of each. For example, rather than buying an annual pass to the zoo, science centre, petting zoo, corn maze, indoor entertainment centre, etc. etc. each year—we pick one to get the pass for and go as much as we want for the year, which makes the annual fee very cost-effective.
Then, the next year we will switch and get a pass to another place and continue to rotate annually. Same goes for skiing. We buy our passes in the summer for a steep discount price and go as much as possible in the winter (mainly weekdays to avoid crowds).
Same goes for our sports centre pass (pre-COVID). Rather than buy the full annual pass, we buy a monthly pass over the winter for 4 months for the pool, rinks, indoor turf, gymnastics, curling, gym, yoga, etc. when we are looking for indoor activities and then cancel to enjoy time outside once it gets nicer out.
Chrissy’s closing thoughts
Thanks to Court for sharing her family’s expenses! As my regular readers know, Court is a good friend of mine, and we frequently swap money-saving tips with each other. (Yes, we’re total nerds!)
As frugal as I may be, I’m still often struck by how resourceful and frugal she and her wife Nic are. While I aspire to be Mustachian, Court excels at it—she’s 100% Mustachian, through and through! For example:
Other interviewees in this series have also utilized house hacking as a way to drastically reduce their housing costs. However, Court and Nic took it to another level by sharing their home with multiple house mates!
Mr. Money Mustache’s post on house hacking: The Man Who Retired at 27: Why You Should Consider House-Hacking
I LOLd when I read about Court’s ‘game’ of coasting “into as many red lights as possible without having to use the brakes before turning green again”. Yes, I’m sure it drives the people behind her crazy, but it does save gas and wear and tear on the brakes. 👍
Mr. Money Mustache’s post on saving gas: Hypermiling: Expert driving to save 25% on gas
I couldn’t agree more with Court’s observation that most people happily pay for parking when there are usually free spots just a few blocks away. Parking and walking is good for the planet, your wallet and your health—why not give it a try?
Mr. Money Mustache’s post on finding free parking and how doing so can put you in the top 5% of the population: To Reach the Top 5%, You Must Simply Kick the Ass of the Other 95%
This is one area where Court definitely has me beat—she hand washes her dishes instead of using their dishwasher. I’d never considered this before! She’s right: depending on how you wash your dishes, hand washing could save more energy. I may just try it myself!
There’s no Mr. Money Mustache article on this, but here’s an oldie but goodie about energy saving in general: When Energy Saving Becomes an Emergency
This is probably earth-shattering to most people, but Court only showers about every three days. I’ve never admitted this publicly, but I’ll reveal it here: I, too, don’t shower every day! I first read about this on MMM’s blog, and have followed suit for years—with no ill effects.
Mr. Money Mustache discusses his shower schedule in this post: Are You Cleaning Out Your Own Wallet?
Buying/accepting used goods
Court and Nic get an incredible amount of free stuff from Varage Sale, and buy used whenever possible. This helps enormously to keep their discretionary spending low and is better for the planet. As a bonus, when you buy used, you can often resell that item for a similar price!
Mr. Money Mustache’s post on the benefits of buying and selling on Craigslist: Get Rich With.. Craigslist
Living the good life
As you can see, Court’s basically a carbon copy of our beloved FIRE hero, Mr. Money Mustache. 😆 Just like him, she’s living a very full and happy life… with NO deprivation… on a fraction of what most families spend.
I hope you found Court’s interview enlightening and that it encourages you to think outside the box, embrace your inner Mustachian, and get creative with your frugality.
Connect with Court
Share your thoughts
Were you surprised by Court’s essential expenses? Are any of them significantly different from where you live? Share your thoughts in the comments, along with your own money saving tips!
Join the series!
I’d love for everyone to participate—whether you’re a blogger or not! The more FIRE seekers I can interview, the more useful the series will be. If you’re interested, I have three simple requirements:
- You’re at or pursuing FIRE (or FI).
- You track your expenses relatively accurately.
- You’re willing to share your expenses and money-saving tips.
Adam and his wife have already reached FIRE, and are fully enjoying their retirement in Salt Lake City, Utah. Find out how much it costs this young couple to live the FIRE life!
Steve and his wife are a Baby Boomer couple living in Southern Arkansas. They spend more than average (by FIRE standards) but it’s still far less than their Fat FIRE income provides!
Support this blog
If you liked this article and want more content like this, please support this blog by sharing it! Not only does it help spread the FIRE, but it lets me know what content you find most useful. (Which encourages me to write more of it!)
You can also support this blog by visiting my recommendations page and purchasing through the links. Note that not every link is an affiliate link—some are just favourite products and services that I want to share. 🙂
As always, however you show your support for this blog—THANK YOU!