October was another tough month for me (photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash)
My regular readers may have noticed yet another gap in my posting schedule recently. I’m so sorry for my absence. It definitely was not what this driven and motivated blogger wanted!
The truth is—the last few months have been very challenging for me. While I keep hoping for quieter months ahead, that’s just not realistic. Each month brings new challenges that aren’t always avoidable.
This realization led me to finally admit defeat: I can’t keep up with blogging, podcasting, and life at the pace I’ve set. But don’t worry—I’m not going away. I just need to let go of a few things and make some changes.
I’ll be giving these changes more thought, and will write an update post soon. For now, let’s get to my FI Progress Update for October.
When it rains, it pours
After the busy September I had, I was hoping for an easier October. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. Instead, October 2019 became one of the most stressful months I’ve had in a while. As the saying goes—When it rains, it pours.
Here’s what happened:
More homestay students
At the beginning of October, we hosted two high school Japanese students for a very short, two-night stay. Tetsuya and Yoshiyuki were lovely, and all of us had a great time hosting them. (Especially Mika, who got lots of extra pats and scratches!)
There is one challenge with short-term students, though: it’s hard to say goodbye so soon! Two nights was not enough time with Tetsuya and Yoshiyuki, so we’ve made plans to see them when we visit Japan in March. We can’t wait!
Short-term vs. long-term students
Over our 10+ years hosting students, we’ve mostly preferred long-term students (stays of two months or more). Longer stays mean less disruption for our family and more time to get to know and bond with our students.
But in recent years, we’ve come to enjoy the flexibility and lower commitment of short-term students. With M travelling more often for work and the boys being busier, short-term students are a better fit right now.
If your family is too busy to commit to long-term hosting, give short-term hosting a try! It’s not only easier to squeeze into a busy schedule, but you’ll also earn more per day than with long-term hosting.
Check out The Homestay Series to learn everything you need to start hosting students!
More house guests
I’m an introvert. Yet I keep welcoming house guests into our home! Why do I do this?!
Well, as with our guests last month, we had another former homestay student coming back to visit. (It’s hard to say no to students who are like family to us.)
This time, it was our Korean student, Young (who we visited in Korea earlier this year). During our 24-day visit, she and her husband tasked themselves to be our personal guides.
Despite our pleas for them to go on with their daily lives and leave us to explore on our own, they insisted on spending nearly every day of our trip with us!
Related: Korea Trip Report
Returning the favour
Young and her husband were so generous, and we wanted to repay their kindness. When they said they planned to visit Vancouver in the fall, there was no question that we’d invite them to stay with us.
They accepted our invite, and stayed in our house for twelve nights (minus three nights in the middle when they visited the Rockies).
We packed a lot of fun into their visit! There were several all-day outings, movies in M’s man cave, evening beers and snacks with M, and a big potluck dinner with our families. (Young also grew close to them when she lived with us as a student.)
It was wonderful seeing Young again, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not completely wiped out. My introvert batteries are seriously in need of a long recharge!
More stress: my dad’s medical scare
On the same day that Young and her family arrived, my dad had a serious medical issue. My sister, who lives the closest to him, took him to the ER at 11 pm. After a six-hour wait and a brief checkup, our dad was sent home, but without having all the proper tests done.
At 3 am the next night, he had another scare and called my sister to take him back to the hospital. Thankfully, the issue resolved itself after a few minutes and they were both able to go back to bed.
In the morning, my sister called to tell me what happened. I immediately called M’s brother (who’s a specialist doctor). He advised us to take my dad to another ER to have a more thorough exam and imaging.
Stress upon stress
All this happened as M and I struggled to help Young and her family book a rental car. They’d planned to drive to the Rockies the next morning, and needed a car that evening!
Not only was this very last-minute, but it’s very hard to find rental cars with snow tires in Vancouver. M started phoning rental companies to try and reach the local branches to confirm they had cars with snow tires.
This turned out to be crazy-making. Every company sent him in endless loops in their phone system, with one agent giving completely different info from the next.
All the while, I was on my phone trying to coordinate things with my dad, sister, and M’s brother… while also trying to load the dishwasher and clean up the mess from dinner the night before!
OMG, talk about stress.
After two hours, we finally got everything dealt with, and I took off to pick up my dad. I spent the rest of the day driving him to and from the hospital while M took our boys, Young, and her family out. (Thank goodness for my helpful, understanding husband!)
Bad, but good news
A week and a few tests later, we learned the cause of my dad’s worrisome symptoms—he has bladder cancer. Thankfully, it’s at a very early stage, and bladder cancers generally don’t spread. So it’s bad, but good news.
My dad will undergo surgery to have the tumour removed later this month, with a follow-up in December. His urologist is quite confident that removing the tumour will take care of the cancer for good. Thankfully, that means it’s unlikely that my dad will need CT scans or any further treatment.
Needless to say, it’s been an emotional couple of weeks. Having already lost our mom to lung cancer ten years ago, all the worries and fears came rushing back. While awaiting my dad’s test results, our thoughts jumped to the worst.
A wake up call
As we considered the worst-case scenario, we realized this was an important wake up call. It prompted M, my sister, and I to start planning for how to handle things if my dad ends up needing more of our help.
Fortunately, M and I are aligned on just about everything. This includes the desire to care for our parents when they need us. He’s fully on board to do everything we need to care for my dad, even if it means he needs to move in with us.
As for my sister, I know without a shadow of a doubt that she’ll be there to help. We’re both fully prepared to support our dad and each other—no matter what.
We’re also fortunate to have other wonderful family members to count on: my brother and his wife, M’s mom, and M’s brother (who drops everything to help when a family member has a medical issue).
I can rest easy, knowing that if worse comes to worst, we’ll all be there to support each other.
Our Dad’s just fine
Thankfully, my dad isn’t in any pain and feels completely healthy and normal. In fact, at nearly 70 years old, he’s fitter than many 20-somethings! (He walked the entire Camino de Santiago a couple of years ago. And he rides and/or hikes at least 20 kilometres every day!)
I suspect this cancer diagnosis will just be a small blip in his life, and that he’ll be kicking around well into his 100s.
Caring for our parents
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. FIREfly for Explore FI Canada. (Episode to drop in the next couple of months). She’s an excellent writer, and if you haven’t yet discovered her blog, I urge you to check it out!
In one of her recent posts, FIRE Considerations—Health and Help, she writes about caring for our parents (or ourselves) in old age and how we may need or want to factor this into our FI plans.
It’s an excellent read, and something I hadn’t previously considered. Even if your parents are still young and healthy, it’s never too early to get prepared.
A thrifty costume
M and Kid 2 spent a few weeks working on a Marshmello costume (which was made entirely from upcycled or thrifted items):
- The helmet was an old paint bucket that M cleaned and cut down. He then trimmed out eye and mouth holes and left Kid 2 to sand down the rough edges.
- Next, M covered the eye and mouth openings with leftover window tinting that he applied to clear plastic salad boxes. (We would’ve just recycled the boxes, so it was nice to give them another life.)
- Inside the helmet is an old bike helmet (which was necessary to keep it steady on Kid 2’s head). The helmet is attached to the bucket with some Velcro we had lying around.
- The white hoodie was purchased for $2 from a thrift store and the pants are part of a karate uniform that the boys were no longer using.
- Since the karate pants were too wide for the Marshmello ‘look’ I took them in with a few loose stitches. When Kid 2’s done with the costume, I can easily remove the stitches so the pants can be worn as karate pants again.
- That meant I didn’t have to cut and ruin a good pair of karate pants just for one night of trick-or-treating—a frugal and eco win!
A busy, fun night
Kid 2 had a blast going out as Marshmello, and we had a lot of fun giving Young and her family a real[note]Halloween is gaining popularity in Korea, but it’s mostly limited to children in costumes at school.[/note] Halloween experience! (We still do the old-school house-to-house trick-or-treating through our neighbourhood.)
Kid 2’s friend and the parents of Kid 1’s best friend also came along, which made for a rather large group of adults with only three kids! Kid 1, who’s a little too old for trick-or-treating, stayed in to watch movies with his friends.
At the end of the night, we all returned to our house for dessert and beers. It was a fun, enjoyable Halloween… but also a late night with school/work the next day—yikes!
Did I already mention how exhausted I was in October?!
We mostly spent less in October, but there were a couple of areas where we spent more…
What we spent more on
M’s car insurance
Our biggest October expense was M’s car insurance at $1,826. (Yes—car insurance is ridiculously expensive where we live.) It gets more costly every year, even though our cars are getting older. That doesn’t seem fair!
Roof and gutter maintenance
Another area where we spent more than usual was home maintenance. We paid $250 to have a roofing company install diverters on our roof and reattach our gutters where they were loose.
While work like this can be costly, we try to save money by teaming up with our neighbour. His house is an identical mirror image of ours, so almost everything that one house needs is also needed by the other.
We always try to get at least three quotes, then pick the best-value quote from the bunch. Next, we ask for a discount for doing the work on both houses at once. Our contractors are usually happy to give us a discount since it also saves them time and money. It’s a win-win for everyone.
What we spent less on
Groceries and eating out
Despite having house guests, we managed to spend less on groceries ($440 vs. $550) and eating out ($90 vs. $190).
It helped that we were able to cook most meals at home for Young and her family. It also helped that they treated us to a nice lunch in Steveston and bought groceries to cook two delicious Korean meals for us!
Learning how to cook new dishes is one of our favourite things about hosting international students and house guests.
I was surprised that we spent the same amount as we usually do on gas ($250) despite driving Young and family around a lot. I’m not sure how this happened since gas was averaging $1.50/litre in October!
We spent less than usual on entertainment in October ($90 vs. $190) since we were able to do lots of free or low-cost activities. One of the free activities (which is normally very expensive) was visiting the Vancouver Aquarium.
We were very lucky that a friend of M’s Uncle Danny works there and gave us free tickets. To show our appreciation, I bought them some treats from a fancy bakery.
While the treats weren’t cheap ($42) they didn’t even come close to what the Aquarium tickets would’ve cost ($195). It’s also nice to see friends’ faces light up when you bring them a box of yummy baked goods!
obsessive detailed in YNAB
I usually categorize bakery spending as ‘Eating Out’ in YNAB. But I put the baking for Uncle Danny and his friend under ‘Entertainment’. This is because it was really for admission to the Aquarium, not for our own consumption.
I also do this hyper-detailed categorization for other expenses—like parking or alcohol. For example, if we paid for parking to eat at a restaurant, I categorize it as ‘Eating Out’. Or if M buys a bottle of liquor as a gift for a friend, I categorize it under ‘Gift’ not ‘Alcohol’.
Some might say this is too detailed and a waste of time. But what gets measured gets managed, right? Also, small expenses add up over time. (Yes, I do believe in the dreaded Latte Factor)!
In my opinion, detailed spend tracking is a worthwhile and important task on the path to FI.
- The chart displays the total value of our retirement investments. Our RESP, cash holdings, and home equity aren’t included.
- The huge jump in February 2018 was due to us refinancing our home and investing the funds. (This leveraged investing strategy cut our time to FI by four years.)
- The percentage at the bottom represents the growth/drop in our investments compared to the previous month. This includes investment growth/losses and any additions we made to our accounts.
It was another month of not adding to our investments and another month of ho-hum investment returns (down 0.9% from last month). But the good news is: we’re still up 12.7%* for the year!
*My calculations also include our contributions, so our actual gain is less than this.
Blogging and podcasting update
It wasn’t just my personal life that was busy in October! There was also a flurry of activity here at Eat Sleep Breathe FI and at Explore FI Canada.
There’s too much to include in this already-long update, so I’ve moved the blog and podcast updates to their own post: Blog & Podcast Update: October 2019.
In the post, I’ll update you on everything that happened at the blog and podcast in October. Fellow bloggers may find some of the back-end things I did at ESBFI to be useful, so be sure to check out the post next week!
*I’m considering permanently separating the blog/podcast updates from my FI progress updates—let me know in the comments what you think of this change.
And that’s a wrap!
October was another incredibly busy, stressful month for me. I keep thinking there’ll be quieter months ahead, but it seems my life has a life of its own!
What about you? How was your October? I’d love to hear about it—especially if it was less hectic than mine!
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