035: Financial Superpowers | Cici from Toronto

Cici is a lawyer and mom of three who lives near Downtown Toronto. She and her husband are on the path to “I don’t fit into my last year’s clothes FIRE”. We discuss her financial superpowers, real estate investments, and more! We hope you enjoy Cici’s inspirational, down-to-earth story.

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Money Mechanic
Hello, listeners. Welcome to Explore FI Canada, where we sit at the roundtable with Canadians, and share their thoughts, ideas and personal journeys to financial independence.

Thanks to Matt McKeever for sponsoring Explore FI Canada. Matt is a Canadian investor, CPA, entrepreneur, and real estate expert who achieved FIRE at age 31. Do us a favour and check out his YouTube channel by searching Matt McKeever or using the link in our show notes.

Well, here we are back on Explore FI Canada. Chrissy, how’s things?

Chrissy
Okay, how are you doing?

Money Mechanic
I’m doing well. I’m doing well. Summer’s been okay, so far. I actually had to go back to work for a while, which was a nice little break from being home. I actually enjoyed it.

Chrissy
Mm hmm. Yes, it is nice to break that monotony.

Money Mechanic
And we’ve got a guest with us on the show today. You and I have both had some communication. We have some interesting topics to talk about with Cici. Welcome to the show Cici.

Cici
Hi, I’m so happy to be here.

Chrissy
Yeah, we’re excited. We, as Money Mechanic mentioned, we’ve had conversations on and off for a while. So it’s nice to finally chat with you here on the show.

Cici
Thank you. It’s my first podcast interview. So I feel like a very, very minor celebrity.

Money Mechanic
Well, you know, that’s part of what Explore FI Canada is all about is these these unique stories from across Canada and we get to say we were the first introduced the new podcast celebrities. Yes. So starting your celebrity journey into the podcasting world. Tell us a little bit about yourself where you are in Canada, and just a little background for the listeners so they can relate to you.

Cici
Sure. Sure. So I live in downtown Toronto with my husband and three kids. They’re 14, 11 and eight. And I was introduced to the idea of FI quite a long time ago when I first started working as a lawyer, I had taken my time kind of getting into full time work. So I was about 30 years old and very quickly realized that that full time schedule for decades was going to be hard. So I started to look up ideas about how not to do that. And I came across Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. And that was the first time that I sort of saw an actual plan that could kind of work. So I introduced it to my husband, he was receptive. And from early on, we just just made a concerted effort to live below our means, which came quite naturally to us. We weren’t big spenders anyway, but now we kind of had this concrete idea. And as time went on, while we quite quickly I got pregnant and after having our first son, the idea of arranging outside outside childcare seemed difficult. So my husband and I early on made arrangements for one of us to stay home while we were raising our young kids.

Chrissy
So Cici, you mentioned that you and your husband were concerned about child care. And in our conversations, you’ve mentioned that you’ve basically tag teamed with your husband over the years and managed to have one parent at home all the time. And I think that’s a really unusual arrangement. Can you tell us a little more about how you manage to do that?

Cici
Yeah, as I mentioned, I live in Toronto and trying to get childcare spots is actually a whole obstacle course in and of itself. So I had put my name on a couple of lists for daycares. And I only did that six months in advance, which I later found out was entirely inadequate. And I also found out later that in order to get a spot you had to call and advocate for yourself and try to try to like jockey your way up to the list, which just the whole thing made me crazy that a waiting list wasn’t really a waiting list and that there was all this insider knowledge that I was too much of an outsider to understand. Plus, like I just had it some base level of discomfort with sending my child somewhere else that I just didn’t really understand, and I was kind of into attachment parenting, so it was just it was hard for us. And it just seemed really complicated. And it also was extremely expensive. And so my husband and I just decided to tag team, I did go back to work after my very first son and I had a friend from a parent group take care of our son that first year. And after that we didn’t do it again. My husband stayed home after we had our second son. And then I stayed home for four years after we had our daughter. And we just took it on ourselves. You know, there are pros and cons to that my husband would have liked more outside help because it’s a heavy load, you know, having kids and especially if you’re not kind of natural parents, which, you know, I don’t think we really were but I think overall it was really nice to have the time with our kids and to have the flexibility in our careers to be able to kind of move in and outside of our roles at work without a lot of penalty. That was something that I thought I thought we we were successful at. And I think overall it was good.

Money Mechanic
Now, did you find that because you made those decisions, that your timeline to financial independence was changed a lot? Did you factor that in? Or was it kind of offset by not having those daycare costs? And using maternity leave if you had, that it really didn’t change your trajectory? Did you find that at all with your journey to financial independence?

My initial reaction is yes, I think that it took longer because we were down to one income, of course, and we had reasonably high paying jobs. So I think it would have been accelerated. Had we both worked full time. That’s my knee jerk reaction, right? But I don’t know if it’s actually entirely true. Like if I unravel that a little bit once I deduct the childcare expenses, and the other expenses that just necessarily come with to people outside of the home, and the stresses that come along with that, and the conveniences that you buy to deal with those stresses. I don’t know if it’s entirely true. And what I also don’t know is true. You know, one of the main ways that we’ve pursued FI is that we paid our mortgage off quickly, you know, in approximately six years, and then we use the equity in our home to purchase real estate. And the nice thing about well, I guess any investment, but it’s certainly true for real estate is that that property appreciated while we were slow fighting, you know, like all that time that we were spending at home, the market in Toronto was appreciating and kind of doing its work that way. So I think it was slower, but I think it was great.

Yeah, I think that’s really interesting because the tendency and it happened to me as well as when a lot of people sort of find out about FIRE or start this journey to FI. It’s like, I can’t wait to get there. Right. Everyone wants just get there really quickly, I’m really looking forward to this end. And I’ve been finding it as I chat with more people that have been on this journey for more years than just, you know, the first you know, Chrissy and I, you and I talked about sort of like the first year the honeymoon phase of FIRE and then once you kind of taking a little bit of slower path, and I definitely think as people get a little bit older, that time with your kids, whether it’s stay at home or the time to take mini retirements or whether it’s slow travel or whatever it is having that slower timeline maybe improves your your lifestyle. Right and getting to that finish line isn’t doesn’t become the most important thing is I guess what I’m rambling around to try and say.

Cici
Yeah, I totally agree with that. I mean, I remember you know, I’m familiar with Mr. Money Mustache‘s journey, and I know that he managed to reach FIRE before he had a kid. I mean, more power to you, but I’m pretty sure he started working when he was like 21 years old or something. And so when, you know, I graduated from my under grad I was already 22. And then I took a year off. And then I went to law school. And then I took another year off. And then I did a, you know, human rights internships and I did some travel. And so, you know, I kind of took a meandering path to work probably because I had such misgivings about working for fun. So, you know, I think for some people having that really ambitious, I’m just going to go hardcore for a short period of time and get it done. I think that can be really motivating for some people. But that wasn’t available to me. I was 30. By the time I really entered the workforce. And it’s interesting because I remember when I first that sort of the honeymoon phase that you and Chrissy are talking about when I first read Your Money or Your Life, I remember my husband and I going to a bank, to a financial guy there who wasn’t trying to sell us anything. I told him what I thought was true based on what I had learned in the book that if we kept our expenses down to this level, it was very low at that time, it was just my husband and I. And you know, it just kind of teased it out until we were sitting 65, you know, and he assumed that we would need that we could then just, I guess, collect our CPP and OAS. But he was kind of stunned to find that our reasoning was kind of accurate. And he kind of looked with amazement at the numbers. And he said, At this rate, like you could stop working when you’re 43, which was only 13 years, you know, of being in the workforce. But for me, instead of that being really galvanizing and exciting, like I thought, oh my god, like 13 years, ah, God, it just felt like a life sentence. And that that made me just kind of an indictment of maybe the path I had taken. I kind of knew that law wasn’t really my, you know, dream career path, but I took it for other reasons, including financial security. But what’s interesting is now when my husband and I are now towards the end of our journey, I shouldn’t say end of life, right? We’re, you know, we’re getting pretty close to being financially independent, and kind of figuring out just how to actually make that exit sort of cycle. Logically, as well as logistically, when I count the years that I’ve actually been working, because I’ve taken so much time off in between, it’s under 13 years, it’s under 13. It’s just been sort of spread out over a longer period of time. So, you know, to your point, it didn’t really take, it didn’t really take longer. It just we just did it in a different way.

Chrissy
So would you say, looking back now, as you’re nearing the finish line, would you change things? Because, yes, you you weren’t totally happy in your job, but you also took it a bit slower so that you could have more time with your kids and do the things that you really enjoy in life. Would you prefer to have had a shorter career where you went full blast, or do you? Do you like the way that it’s turned out?

Cici
I love the way that it’s turned out if I had had to work at my career. Without the breaks that I took, which ended up being kind of like regular sabbaticals. I don’t think I would have lasted as long and maybe my philosophical self can debate that. pros and cons of that maybe I would have found my, you know, second calling or next great thing sooner. But I actually have a huge appreciation for my job, even though it wasn’t my dream career, I think that was firstly, the people that I work with are amazing. So there’s nothing toxic about that place, it’s just not the right fit for me. So I love the place, they had so much respect for me trying to do things a different way because there weren’t that many people at work trying to do what I was doing. And they were very respectful of that. So I really have only gratitude there. And the nice thing about coming in and out for my personalities, I like change. So it was nice to kind of like be at home for a while and be just kind of immersed in that and then to, you know, put on a collar and like, you know, get on the fancy elevator and go up to your office, you know, where you didn’t have to change a diaper or whatever. Like I like that kind of change of pace and it was nice. And in terms of weather. You know, I’m not a believer that there’s one way to do things but I will say this in spite of it. everything, including my young children, like asking to go to daycare because daycare had better toys. Yeah, that was like a high point. But one of the nice things is when I look back, you know, I definitely can be nostalgic looking back at my kids lives and as I say, you know, my oldest is 14, he’s taller than me all that sort of, you know, traditional kind of surprise that you have when your kids get older. But I don’t have the feeling that a lot of people that I hear a lot which is a you know, like the time flew. I don’t have a feeling that the time I mean, the time passed, and you know, it’s when I look back on it in the compressed way it can amaze with the time pass, but I felt like I was there for it, you know?

Chrissy
Yeah, you don’t have regrets.

Cici
That’s right. That’s right. It gives me some satisfaction to to not have that regret to kind of feel like because I’m someone who second guesses a lot and I can sometimes live too much in my head. So it’s nice for some of the big life decisions to feel like I have some peace with those decisions, and I was glad that I was there for those kids, you know, and they were there for me because I think I made the decision to stay at home also for myself.

Chrissy
Yeah, for sure. So I don’t think you could have done all that I don’t think you could have made all these decisions that you’ve made that were in benefit of your lifestyle, if you did not have FI in the background, or just in your mind as the goal and sort of the mindset that you approach life with. And you mentioned that you have some financial superpowers that helped you get there. Can you tell us more about these financial superpowers?

Cici
Sure, sure. Actually, so here’s the story. When my husband and I were house shopping, we bought our house in 2005, which I know seems very, like antiquated and cute now, but at the time, it seemed like you know, we were shopping at the peak, you know, house prices were soaring for the time and there were like multiple offers on everything. And I remember getting advice from people about how to shop and one of the women at work told me that I should buy absolutely as much as I could possibly afford, that was my adv- that was her. And of course, it was like 100 like 180 from what I thought so I said, Look, why would you do that? And she’s like, Well, you know, you’re you’re probably gonna have kids Your life will grow, you’re gonna get raises, you’re, you know, the mortgage won’t really increase in size, it’s unlikely but mortgage rates will go up, so you might as well just like go for it now, rather than having to move again, and it was gratefully I did not follow that advice. So one of our superpowers was that we bought a house that was to be honest, it seemed more than adequate for my husband and I didn’t think that I was not even clear that this is the thing I didn’t even know that I was going to have kids is super ambivalent about that. So it was it seemed really large for us. It was 1400 square feet and with an unfinished basement and downtown Toronto I thought there was plenty of room and so we bought it and we didn’t max out everything we you know, I didn’t buy it my absolute maximum, I had managed to save down the majority Have a downpayment, myself so that I could avoid those insurance costs for the CMHC. And we didn’t calculate my husband’s income into it at all, because at the time, we weren’t married, so I bought it in my name. We would be married within a year, and he didn’t have any savings at all. So we just bought it on me. But then what happened when we joined forces as his income came and we were able to really, really do a number on the mortgage. Another thing is that when we bought the house people were like, oh, congratulations. It’s so awesome. When are you going to like get it and like, make it super shiny and amazing because we have…

Money Mechanic
New appliances, new everything!

Chrissy
Yeah, new furniture.

Cici
Oh, my new new walls like where are the other bathrooms gonna go all that kind of thing. And I was like, What? I just you know, and it was called like cottage of the city kind of house. I actually really liked that there was wood everywhere. The original structure of the home was there. So it was an open concept kind of and it only had one bathroom, three beds, one bath. And I just really resisted that. And even my husband wanted to make some changes. And I resisted and I think that there was nothing wrong with the house the way it was set up. It just wasn’t modern. And it wasn’t shiny. And I just thought, I don’t know. Like, why throw everything away? And it just didn’t make any sense to me. I think that saved us like a wack ton of money.

Chrissy
Yeah. Yeah.

Cici
Right. Because it’s just like this vicious cycle of like, then it would be crazy.

Chrissy
Well, I keep meaning to write an article about HGTV and how evil it is because it makes us all think that we have to have these shiny, gorgeous modern on trend houses and that our houses constantly have to look that way. And to keep up with the trends you have to remodel every five years. Right. So it’s just unsustainable, it’s expensive, and it’s a dangerous path to go along. If you want to keep up with people that way.

Cici
Totally. I think it’s crazy making and to be it’s just like a financial sinkhole. So I don’t know why you would bother. So we didn’t do that other superpowers, like just just even the fact that we did buy less than we could. So, you know, I’m a lawyer. I mean, like, I’m like, not a great lawyer and that I’ve just managed to make less and less money my entire career because I keep changing jobs to have work that I like better and work part time and then take time off. I am a lawyer. So I know tons of professionals and I don’t live the way that they live.

Chrissy
No, you don’t.

Cici
I do not. And our house doesn’t look the way that their houses look. And our cars, you know, our secondhand used cars don’t look anything like that, apart from the fact that our kids trashed them anyway.

Chrissy
Yeah, they do.

Cici
Yeah, well, you know, I please, I don’t go around thinking of myself as like some superhero. But when I was thinking about this interview, I was thinking about what has helped us get to where we are, and what could help other people get to a similar place where you have more choices and I just think that where you can do something that’s different from the crowd that can save you money. And it’s not hard for you, that’s a superpower. So for me living in a house that wasn’t shiny with the, like, the fancy couches or whatever, like, to me, that was like, so easy. I’m not interested in that. And I don’t care. Like when you come to my house, if you’re if you have some judgment about me, because of the way that looks, I a) don’t care and b) we’re probably better off not being friends. So you know, like, I think that there are some things like that that are that’s helped me along the way. And I should be more clear, like I have a lot of friends who I think are not superficial and who are very deeply caring and all that great stuff. But they do care. And I don’t even know if they realize how much they care because I don’t know how much conscious thought has gone into the choices that we make to feel accepted in the social group we find ourselves in. But I did do some of that thought reflection and I just didn’t want to go there. So that’s helped. Yeah, and I’m like, I’m a great thrift shopper. Like, I’m the real thing like shoes, you know, I can even buy things now. And it doesn’t go through the hot wash and the laundry like, put on that sweater like live large. You know, I can do all that stuff now. And we purposely don’t get the kids everything that they like, I think to be honest that in spite of those efforts, they’re still pretty privileged and spoiled. But yeah, yeah. Like, yeah, like, they’ll ask me for Doc Marten boots that are like 200 bucks. And I’ll be like, I have an idea. Why don’t you pay for it? Out of your birthday month?

Chrissy
And they’ll be like, no, immediately, when it’s their money, they’ll be careful.

Cici
Yeah. And I’m kind of like, well, if it’s not important enough to you to spend your money, why is it important to me? So I’m okay with saying no to the kids and not giving them the the best of everything because I want them to be able to make the most of what they have.

Chrissy
Yeah, and that teaches them important life lessons as well.

Cici
I think that one of the greatest disservices I could do to my children, is to give them all of these beautiful things that look just like what they see on TV and in the shops and have them think that that’s some kind of strange birthright, and then have them go out into the world and actually sell their time to maintain these things, but I don’t actually think are that fundamental. If they choose to decide that those things are really important to them, then they can go ahead and make those decisions for themselves. But I don’t want to create that baseline for them. The baseline I want to create for them is I want you to have choices in your life. And to the degree that that living to a certain standard or having the latest gadgets so that your friends think you’re cool undermines that. I don’t want to be part of it.

Money Mechanic
Your children are 8, 11 and 14.

Cici
Mm hmm.

Money Mechanic
Glad I got that right.

Cici
Yeah.

Money Mechanic
When are they going to read Your Money or Your Life?

Cici
Oh, this is such an amazing question because I have already tried to put some materials before them. So there’s actually a book my son has gone through my bookshelf and I think I had Warren Buffett, like Management Secrets on there pretty early like my husband and I talk about finances frequently and openly with our children, because we really want to give them the tools and the choices to to broaden their options as they grow up. So, I mean, my best hope for my children, I hope that they find some things that they absolutely love doing. And, you know, this is what I had, I wished for myself if it had happened this way, and would just work on it and naturally expand it and be fairly compensated for it and be able to manage and have the freedom to you know, determine your own lifestyle. But since that’s rare…

Money Mechanic
It’s hard to do.

Cici
Yeah, yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard to do. I want to give them choices. So we talk about it and so and as my son becomes 14, like, I’m in my mind thinking about creating our own little curriculum, kind of like for the kids at their various ages, because I want this to be second nature to them. I really kind of do.

Money Mechanic
And that makes such a big difference if you start with that mindset, like if I had to backtrack, I didn’t learn it until I was in my 30s and I’m like, Okay, now I need to understand all this stuff before it’s too late. So starting off with that baseline learning from your parents, it’s going to be amazing. I mean, I was lucky my mom was frugal but that was out of necessity right there was there was nothing to be had with a single mom and that’s fine I learned the hard way but I learned from a mindset of scarcity not from a mindset of you know how to manage properly and so yeah, I’m trying to think too is what age would I have been able to read that book? I’m thinking it might be like it should almost be like high school reading.

Cici
It should be.

Money Mechanic
High grade, grade 12 reading I think I’m that’s about the time I’m thinking that they should be reading that. I should have read it right before I bought my first used car with all the money I had saved when I was 16.

Chrissy
At least it was used!

Money Mechanic
Every car I’ve always been used, Chrissy.

Chrissy
Good job! I can’t say the same.

Money Mechanic
I guess I’m lucky to be in the decade we’re in with a car.

Chrissy
That’s awesome. That’s a life hack.

Money Mechanic
Yep, which I’m not right now. I’m so far out of my out of the decades. I’ve just barely into the millennium with my cars. Anyway we sidetrack. I love that Yeah, I love that you are living the the true as per the book Millionaire Next Door lifestyle especially in a high cost of living city. One of the things about buying that quote unquote affordable I think most people probably go on Toronto affordable. Now those don’t go together ever. But you chose well, because you chose in a place where you could you know, either take transit ride your bike or even if you want to walk to work, so I’m sure that made a difference. And you know, you mentioned a few of those other things about those are a little bit of our superpowers in the FI community is making those choices that are different from other people, right? And if you want to have a different outcome, you need to make different choices at the beginning.

Cici
I agree. And there are a couple of thoughts I have on that, like another superpower that I had is I really believe in sustainable living I’m worried about I’m worried about the Earth to the degree that buying a new car like you know, it’s very consumptive right renovation, buying new things all the time buying new clothes, fast fashion, all of it. So it’s easy for me to have another reason not to buy those things and to refrain. But to your point, I actually was also raised by single mom. So I was born in Asia. And my father passed away when we were all very, very young. And so my mom was widowed at 35. And she had three kids, and then she came over to Canada. And she was a nurse, you know, we’re where we were from. And she came here and she actually tried to have a full time job as a bookkeeper, which she got through sort of like a family friend connection, because she’d never done anything like that before. Then she tried to go to nursing school at night to get her credentials, upgraded and recognised by Canada, and she was trying to raise a four year old a 10 year old and 12 year old. So even for my mom, who, you know, is a bit of a force she had to let go through nursing school and she wasn’t working nine to five that wasn’t her work ethic at all, she worked tons of hours. So we didn’t have a lot either. And my mom was frugal out of necessity. And, you know, kind of came from a lifestyle where both she and my father were working, they were both medical professionals and there was extra money. And that, you know, there was help around the house to doing everything here by herself, or she didn’t even have her family support network. So I definitely came from a mindset of scarcity at that time. And I do think that that’s one of the reasons why when I graduated from university with an English degree, I decided to do something that, you know, law wasn’t a passion of mine, but I decided to choose something that would give me some security and that’s why I chose it. And so I’m trying to make peace with that because I think that there were really valid reasons why I was doing that. And also just as a person of color, I also felt like, I almost felt like I had a responsibility to take an opportunity that was not available to so many people who should have them. So I kind of I kind of did those things. Now as I have kind of done more reading and sort of educated myself and have these conversations with my husband, he did not grow up, he grew up with more privilege, and a lot more money. So you know, private schools, private camps, that kind of world. So he doesn’t come from a mindset of scarcity at all. So it’s interesting to try to, for me to try to move from that scarcity mindset that had a lot of really great foundational tenets, like simply do not spend more than you earn. It’s not what you earn, it’s what you can keep all that good stuff, but to try to try to move into a framework of more just financial freedom, financial abundance, that it doesn’t have to come from a place of pain. You can have a lot more if you can kind of shift your mindset. So I’ve been working on that.

Chrissy
Well, I think you’ve done a good job because you also mentioned some of your non superpowers, how you live. You actually live a very life despite being as frugal as you are and you’re thrift shopper, all those things, you actually have some luxuries that you do spend on that are of value to you. Can you tell us more about those?

Cici
Sure, sure. So I mentioned before, like, I feel like I’m the lawyer who you know, specializes in making as little money as possible. You know, so I started on Bay Street, which is the financial district in Toronto and I started there with you know, kind of just the highest tier usually in terms of income level and then I ended up working at my law school at the university which was like a second tier and then I ended up moving into government which is like the last year and then I ended up working part time and then I took leaves of absences and then I took leave with income averaging like I just anyway, I did not maximize my income potential for sure.

Money Mechanic
So when you’re ready to go to the lowest of pro bono, let me know because I might need some pro bono.

Cici
That’s right, you could there’s always pro bono stuff, good point.

Chrissy
You’ll never run out of work.

Cici
That’s right. That’s right. And probably you know, even more than that, we decided to have three children, you know, children are not not cheap. I mean, and we did it on the cheap like when they were young, we did all of the we did all of the things like everything we you know, we were gratefully accepted secondhand items and because my husband and I were the youngest and both of our families, we got lots of hand me downs from her siblings, I love that. We did cloth diapers we, you know, made all of the food ourselves, all of it like they weren’t expensive when they were young. But now that they’re older, and I’ve seen this sort of come up on threads in you know, ChooseFI Canada and even in the in the one for the States, you know, how do you kind of keep costs low when you have older kids and we haven’t been that good at it, to be honest, like they have some expensive activities, they play some elite sport activities. Gratefully, it’s not like hockey or skiing, which where the equipment is like so expensive, but it’s expensive, like it’s still expensive. Just having, just at that level, it’s expensive. The lessons are expensive. The coaches are expensive. The personal training, like my kids have personal training like, wow, do you know what I’m saying? Like, that’s not a superpower. So we spent a ton of money on that. And also because, you know, we have sent them to overnight camps, which are also very expensive. We’re not fantastic that way. We also have pets, expensive. We live in Toronto self-explanatory. I mean, we have reasons for staying here. Our families are all here, and I really love the diversity of Toronto, and I’ve grown up here, but it’s very costly. I mean, we don’t have to live here. My husband is pretty good in terms of he’s not spendy like he doesn’t need expensive cars. He doesn’t really care about expensive clothing, but he’s just not he’s not attentive to detail as I am. So he might go somewhere. And buy this is classic. Like he’ll go to a store and our kids need skates, let’s say so he’ll buy two pairs of skates or three pairs of It’s like, like the different sizes but then he’ll like forget to return the ones that you know what I mean? So I’m like, we just bought three pairs of skates like why don’t we do that? So we just stuff like that. I hate budgeting. I’ve tried I know YNAB changes everybody’s like you need a budget. Yeah, I don’t know I look at it and I try to fill it out and it makes me mental like I think that for me and I think this is back to sort of like growing up with that sense of scarcity like to me budgeting feels really confining. Like, I don’t want to feel like I can only spend X when I want to spend Y I don’t want to do that. I mean, I think the budgeting is really great for people who want to spend Y on everything but I’m not like that so when I do want to spend something I’m going to do it like I remember reading on Mr. Money Mustache, his blog that you know, before you reach by, it’s really healthy to have conversations about how like, I think he wanted like eggplant bharta or something at a restaurant. He like, decided not to or something because it was like, you know, an additional $14 or something. I just thought I can’t do that. Like I’m not that consistent the way he is like where he’s super efficient like across all the planes like I there’s no perfection like that in my life if I want to spend something, I’m going to spend something. But I’m lucky in that I don’t want to spend, I genuinely don’t have like that many desires that I have to curtail. And the last thing I should mention is that I had this like, had this like failed business idea, like looking back on it. I can’t believe I did it, but I like plowed $20,000 into the idea of opening an eco friendly shop with a friend of mine. And it was just like a total disaster from the get go. Like and I don’t know why we didn’t think or I didn’t think to do things in a more measured Wait, wait, I don’t know why we didn’t think like, let’s test the idea. Before we each lose 20 grand it was both of us. Yeah, like so you know, we rented Anyway, it was just, I look back on it and I just think that’s crazy. So maybe I think to myself, well, I could have renovated the bathroom instead I had a failed entrepreneurial venture. Well, yeah, whatever. It’s done.


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Money Mechanic
When you are FI, will you try your hand at entrepreneurship again?

Cici
You know, not like that. Yeah, I mean, it’s exciting to kind of think, you know, it’s kind of a blank canvas, right? Because we’re getting to the place where I think we’ve met Lean FIRE for sure. And I think Fat FIRE seems so like, I don’t know, like so opposite. It’s more like, more like, I don’t fit into my last year’s clothes FIRE like I want. You know, like just a little bit more space and especially for our kids because we do want to support them if we can, depending on what they want to do. So they’ll be able to take their elite sport activities in, you know, their cousin’s old clothes or whatever. But yeah, it is exciting to think about what happens next because I have a million ideas, I don’t really know which one to point my finger in. And this is part of my thought process. And I think the growth of what comes next because what I’ve done so far has been, I mean, how I developed my career actually had some interesting twists. And I actually was able to create a position for myself in government that didn’t exist before, which is no small feat, frankly. So like something happened there for sure. But the process of becoming a lawyer is of course, very regulated, and it’s it didn’t take any creativity at all on my part to figure it out. It was just a grind just took a lot of work. So yeah, in terms of trying to figure out how to do something else that’s maybe for myself or by myself, hopefully to have some benefit to to the world around me is interesting like trying to remember how to be a beginner again, and to be okay with it. And to kind of go from being someone who has some quote unquote status, or at least a title that some people care about, to being someone who’s trying something again, quote unquote, anyone can do, and maybe do it less well than anyone can do is kind of a process for me. So yeah, but maybe maybe we’ll see.

Chrissy
Well, I think you’re already a bit of an entrepreneur, entrepreneur because of all the real estate that you invest in. That takes an entrepreneurial spirit to do that. So can you tell us more because you are quite an accomplished, you and your husband are quite accomplished with your real estate investments?

Cici
Yeah, that’s interesting. I mean, I don’t think of myself that way. But I guess it’s true. I mean, we have done a few investments. So I’ll just give you like a quick history so you can kind of know where we’re at. We bought our first property against the equity of our home in 2011. And we bought a triplex in Toronto in our neighborhood and my husband and I lived this is another superpower I guess, is that we we bought into quote unquote, kind of transitional neighborhood, which I don’t know is maybe code for just mixed incomes. There’s, you know, there’s city housing nearby. There’s when you walk down the street, not everybody looks at exactly the same. So that’s kind of where we live. But it’s kind of gentrified, I guess since then, so we bought a triplex. And at the time we thought we had we had nearly paid off our home at that time, we had no savings that any savings that we had went into the home. So we ended up buying that triplex 100% on equity, although sometimes I think it’s tomato tomahto, because we could have just paid down the mortgage at a regular rate, and then how to turn the saving, so whatever. But we did it. And some people thought we were crazy. And we did it because we thought we could buy a second property with just 5% down. And as it turns out, we really couldn’t we needed 35% down. So at the at the sort of 11th hour we almost didn’t get financing from the bank because my husband didn’t work that year before because it’s her’s… his turn to stay home with the kids. So we didn’t have to strong T4s. We just had one. Anyways, we managed to get financing at the end, but that’s how sometimes what’s that expression like luck is when preparation and opportunity meet. Like it was, it was lucky that we didn’t know. Because if we had known that we had to put 35% down, we probably would have been scared off. But we did it, we bought it. And we gained courage because our parents, both sets of parents, neither of whom would have hesitated to tell us if they thought it was a bad idea. Neither of them thought it was a bad idea. They thought it was a good idea. So we found courage there and we did it. And then a few years later, we bought a commercial residential building, which had sort of seven units in Hamilton. And we did that because Toronto had really scaled up in terms of pricing, and we did not want to buy anything that did not cash flow at the end of the day. And I find people use cash flow in very different ways. My meaning of cash flow is there needs to be money at the end of the month, after everything is paid, the financing, all expenses, everything, and we calculate vacancy rates in those calculations as well so we’re not completely risk averse and that we’re willing to do these things which require some risk, but just To my mind, we try to do it in, in a careful way we try, we try to build in buffers, essentially. So then we, we invested there. And then we actually, we actually invested in Detroit, we bought half of the duplex there with a JV partner, a joint venture partner, and then we ended up investing in Detroit again, to do a flip. And neither of those investments have really done as well as we hoped they would do. Well, for a range of reasons the flip is just completely at a standstill because of COVID. No one can work on the site. So that’s that and the other one just didn’t work as well as we hoped. But because Detroit has a low entry point like it’s it’s so much cheaper there because of the troubles that they’ve had post bankruptcy, it hasn’t. It’s not play money, but it’s not. It’s not really really big and it’s not exactly lost either. There are assets there. They’re just not generating income very well. Sometimes I joke that we would have been better off putting the money in a high interest savings account but whatever. Nothing’s nothing works. out all the time. And then we but we did. We did try again to see but it’s nice because the second JV partner that we worked with in Detroit actually lived in Windsor. So we went to a real estate meetup in Windsor, and, you know, just kind of networked, I guess for lack of a better work. And we ended up meeting our next JV partner with whom we’ve bought something in Windsor, we just bought a triplex in Windsor. And it’s been fantastic so far. So it’s actually generating as much cash flow as the Hamilton property which we bought years ago. And it’s a much lower price point. Windsor is still one of the more affordable cities in Ontario. Yeah, so that’s kind of where we’re at and we’re still kind of looking to expand. I mean, part of it is and I’ll be honest here, part of it is that it’s, it’s much easier to qualify for a mortgage especially once you already have a few properties if you have a T4 so while I’m still at my job, we want to take advantage of that. Documentation so that we can persuade, like a lending institution to loan to us at good rates. And good terms, you know that it’s the same thing like time just helps grow your assets, whether they’re in stocks or whether they’re in real estate. So things are kind of moving up for us. And we can refinance certain properties to potentially purchase more. And this might be another conversation, but my husband also has learned how to do some conservative trades in stock trading. And so that’s generating some income as well. And so it’s just really, it’s, it’s working like the whole point, we just wanted to have enough money to replace my income, but it was just to take pressure off that single primary earning stream, which was my job. And slowly we find that it’s working. We have a couple of other things on the side, too. So yeah, it’s kind of working.

Chrissy
Can I recap for our listeners, so you have, is it, four rental properties?

Cici
Um…

Chrissy
I know the doors are different, but

Money Mechanic
Yeah, you got to go by doors, Chrissy, come on. We’re gonna get you trained on real estate. It’s doors.

Chrissy
Well, it’s like, there is that one property that has seven doors, right? Yeah.

Cici
So there’s I guess there’s, I think it’s 14 plus the flip in Detroit. That’s kind of you know, it remains to be seen whether or not it will generate any income. I don’t think we’ll lose any money on it. But the idea was that of course, we would earn something on it. Okay.

Chrissy
So it’s 14 doors across, is it four properties or five properties?

Cici
It’s across four properties plus the flip.

Chrissy
Yeah. Okay, got it. Okay, and then your husband is doing a bit of options trading. And do you have any other investments? Do you have any stock market investments and ETFs and things like that?

Cici
We do. So we have some money still in index funds before my husband did the stock trading. I had put all of our money in index funds because I was horrified at how much money we were bleeding to our useless financial advisor. Yeah, so we were in index funds and then again because of the depression in the market due to COVID my husband has moved because he’s familiar with certain stocks. Now, because of stock trading, he moves some of our investments into some good like dividend paying stocks. I bought some bank stocks, but we still have like my children’s RESPs. My mother contributes to those, I don’t want to play there too much. So I have those in index funds. And that’s I think, where they’re going to stay. But yet, we do have some money in index funds. But increasingly, I think we’re tweaking it a little bit as my husband learns more. And I should say, I know that stock options is associated with all kinds of risk. And I think there is all kinds of risk associated with it. But if we were to picture like a buffet table of like stock options trading My husband is he’s like having a white bun and butter stock trading. So the idea is to kind of make it low risk. He’s selling sort of insurance on certain stocks. And in the worst case, if he has to make good on that insurance, he’s purchasing the stock at a lower price and he’s happy to own the stock in the end anyway. So That’s my understanding of it. And it seems to be working out, it’s proven to be another income stream. It’s, it’s so small that it’s, um, it’s one of the things that I’m trying to do like, even on Facebook, like I made myself a challenge to try to sell things like just to make myself feel like even if I leave my work, that we can still bring in money. I feel like the the true paradigm of FI is like, you should just be able to live off of your nest nest egg and truly be free of those bonds of paid work. But I don’t know, I feel like for me, it’s easier to make those transitions if I feel like there are other ways to soften the blow if something goes wrong. Things go wrong. I mean, COVID went wrong. I was supposed to have left my job already, but I gratefully stayed on when COVID hit because I was wondering whether we were going to have to support seven of those 14 tenants. I didn’t know we just didn’t know. And so I like the idea that it’s not the end of The road like money is so loaded. And it’s so powerful, but it can be such a enabler. You know, it can enable you to kind of meet your best potential to explore your own dreams to help create a world that you want to live in. It can do so many things, I just feel like it’s exciting to think that there’s more to be found not because I want to have a new lamp, but because I want other things.

Chrissy
And that’s what FI is about, right? It’s giving you that freedom to choose what you want to do with your time. It’s things that you value. And yeah, you don’t value fancy furniture and all the brand new everything, but you value time with your kids and vacations with them and them being able to do the sports that they want to do. So I think that’s huge to have that power. You’re right money does give you that and it’s not because you’re greedy or that you want more things. It’s because you want those choices.

Cici
It’s true. And I mean, one of the things that we were supposed to do that we had to change also because of just life circumstances, but I still have a lot of family back In Asia, and I want my kids, I’ve already taken them back once, but I want to go back and I want to have them be just really familiar with their relatives, but also with a very different way of life that is going to help them not just know in some intellectual way about the privilege that we’re swimming in every day here in Canada, but to actually like know, it, like to know it kind of in your bones, because it’s hard to It’s hard to explain. It’s and I struggle with this too. When I think about people who struggle in countries like Canada where, you know, there’s a sense that I mean, firstly, like, opportunities are not equally available, and they’re not, you know, there there are there are so many systemic barriers that exist. But at the same time, I guess, just, you know, as an immigrant family and having watched what my mother did, kind of with very little, if you can get a mindset that allows you to kind of work against or if even if you have to work within those barriers for a time, like, you know, you can get yourself into a better position that could have all kinds of rewards down the road. So I tried to think about that too, for my kids.

Money Mechanic
Definitely. I think that’s a great way to sum up your story. I wanted to dig into the options trading, but we should save that for another episode. I’ve been meaning to talk about that on FI Garage for a while. It’s interesting that you’re into that though, but I think what I was getting from what you’re saying is, and we’ve brought this up before, how important having multiple streams of income are, and some of them don’t have to be big like you don’t have to think about as you’re earning thousands of dollars a month. I mean, options trading might bring in $50 a month or $200 a month, it doesn’t matter. It’s just an in addition to everything else. And like you said the paradigm typically with FIRE was save before percent put it all on an index fund and you’re good to go. And if that’s the path, that’s the path, but there’s a lot of other options. You definitely sound with the real estate you’ve gone with like the cash flow type of FI, because that was important for you to replace your income, right, which is perfect. But adding in these other little streams here and there, I think are pretty cool too. And it’s part of the bigger picture. And as people’s journeys, that journey goes deeper in towards FI. A lot of us I know have I’ve had changes where I’ve, instead of just trying to save everything to put into an index index fund, I’m looking for opportunities to put that money to work. A little bit of return on it. So yeah, super interesting story.

Cici
I couldn’t agree more. Well, just if you wanted to, I mean, you’re more than welcome to speak to my husband about it. And he can he can tell you one of the things that we did do, again, in anticipation of me exiting my job fairly soon, is that we refinanced our properties, our house and our triplex. So those are our biggest assets because we bought them farther back. And also they’re in Toronto, so they’re just they’re just more valuable. And so we have these really cushy, really big line of credit. HELOCs on both of them. And so we borrowed off of those lines of credit to put some money into the stock options to like beef them up further. And just to let you know, it’s been a big depending on how much you have it’s as with anything well as with like dividends or just even interest coming off of your nest egg, the bigger the nastic, the bigger that what you can generate. And it’s been a meaningful contribution to our lives like it’s not, it’s not $100 It’s a meaningful stream of income. The smaller amounts are also really important. It’s wonderful to just be able to go to your wallet, rather than go to the ATM and just leave the money in the bank doing its business. Like that’s huge, just to not take from the pot. But it really can be significant. I think, you know, we’re too new at it for us to kind of go around evangelizing about it. We’ve only been doing it for less than a year. But we’ve just gone through like a black swan event or whatever. And so we kind of you know, we’ve had that test so far and just kind of coming out of it. I think it could be meaningful for sure.

Money Mechanic
Well when people find, as I was kind of mentioning to you a little bit earlier was that once you’re FI, or once you’ve achieved that sort of goal, there’ll be things that you’re still interested in doing and trading options is something that’s really enjoyable because it is very interesting. I’ve looked into a fair bit, you know, that’s just one thing you add to your day of the fun things that you want to do, right? Or, or the meaningful life right, or whatever purpose

Cici
Total, and it’s accessible. I mean, as I said, My husband has a background, you know, he’s an athlete, essentially. And here he is, looking at these screens that I don’t even know how to read. And, you know, he’s making money on it. And just as importantly, he’s he’s engaged, like, he’s like, a game. Like if you figure out how to work this, it’s like, it’s like a whole other world has opened up. So if you’re interested in kind of being a lifelong learner, it can just be another another tool in your toolbox.

Money Mechanic
Oh, I find rabbit holes all the time. I just go look, go look up factor financing. I’ll just leave it at that. I just found a 9% return. Factor financing. So I’ll just I’m not even going to say what it is.

Cici
Oh, okay. I’ve not heard of it.

Chrissy
You’re always into these new things.

Money Mechanic
I know. But it’s interesting. Well, we should wrap this up, we’ll do a part two of these sometime Cici because, you know, we didn’t get to talk about private lending. We didn’t talk about rent to owns. But, you know, it’s I love that the real estate you’re into and the joint venture partnerships, and I think the joint venture partnerships is something really important for beginner investors to learn about, and learn how to have a working partner so that they can get away from the thought process that it’s going to be too much work to have a rental.

Cici
I couldn’t agree more. And just on that last note, I mean, people often talk about how they don’t want to have a rental because they’re not handy. My husband and I are not handy. What we did do was we found a good handyman, and so we’ve had an excellent relationship with him. And I think this is something that’s available to anyone, you just find someone that you really like and It might take a little bit of work, we were lucky, we found him early. And he’s been wonderful. But we factored in those costs into the house into our expenses before we bought the house so that we weren’t surprised by any big expenses all of a sudden, you just have to do the math, you have to just carefully go through your spreadsheet the way you would with your when you’re kind of making your other calculations for FI and you do it carefully, and try to have a good team. So someone who will tell you about any defects in the house. It can be done. It’s another skill set for sure. It’s, but I think that carefully done it can be a very powerful tool. It’s been for us a very powerful tool.

Money Mechanic
For sure. Chrissy?

Chrissy
Thank you, Cici. We loved your story. We could go on and on with you. But it’s getting late for you over there in Ontario. So can you tell our listeners, is there any way they can reach you if they want to comment on the show notes? Is that the best way to get in touch with you if they have questions?

Money Mechanic
Leave a comment on the show notes.

Cici
Yeah, that would be great. I think leave a note on the show notes. The only other way I can think of is Maybe if they really have a burning question like I’d be happy to reach out to people individually if they let you know that I can contact them or they can contact me through you. Although I’m maybe putting a burden on you there. I’m not sure.

Money Mechanic
No, we’re a good BS filter.

Chrissy
We have good listeners. We don’t get a lot of that.

Money Mechanic
If they get past me they have to get past Chrissy. So it’s two levels of defense here.

Cici
That’s good, but I love talking about FI I just think it’s so it’s so empowering for lack of a better word. It just really opens up the horizons.

Money Mechanic
Yeah, and it’s just a good message for everybody to hear that there’s there’s the potential is always there and it’s just I really liked your little quote I did you get that from somewhere? The one where what was it preparation and opportunity meet is luck. That was good. That’s quote, quote of the show.

Cici
Yeah, I definitely didn’t come up with that one. I read it somewhere probably in the back of the bathroom stall or something and it stuck with me.

Money Mechanic
Back of the bathroom? Wow. That’s what you see on Bay Street. The stallson Bay Street, they’re profound.

Cici
Funny.

Money Mechanic
Well, thank you so much for being on the Explore FI podcast and I know our listeners will enjoy your story and hearing about that they’ll probably want to know more since we’ve like teased them with options trading. Anyway, it was absolute pleasure. Thanks again for joining us.

Cici
It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

Transcribed by Otter.ai

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