Canadian Personal Finance Celebrity Series: Gail Vaz Oxlade

Gail Vaz-Oxlade is a Canadian personal finance author, speaker, and TV host. She has published numerous books on budgeting, saving, and investing, and I’ve always been a fan of her no-nonsense approach to financial management. You can read more from Gail on her website, or purchase her books here. Below, she answer four questions I posed about millennials and money. Read on!

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1. Most Millennials can’t afford to support themselves until their 30’s. What’s the biggest thing holding them back from independence? 

It’s hard growing up with privilege and then coming to the realization that all that good stuff costs lots’n lotsa money. I remember the first time I pointed to a pile of fire wood (we had a country home and heated with wood) and said to to then 11-year old daughter, Alex, “How much?” She didn’t have a clue. I let her guess. And guess. And guess. Wowza… big surprise. I started sharing what things cost, not to beat into her how privileged she was but to educate her on what things would cost when she took on those bills herself. This is perhaps the easiest and least taken path to raising young’uns who understand their privilege. And before people rush into, “I’m not really privileged,” I’d like to point out that if you had a roof over your head and good food in your belly, if you had at least one present on your birthday or for Christmas, if you were driven anywhere, you’re privileged. So the big thing holding Millennials back may be their expectations. What’s a roof? Is it clean and without holes or does it have to sit on 3,600 square feet of hardwood, granite and marble? What’s a good car? Does it reliably get you from point a to point b or does it have to have swag?

2. The biggest complaint from new grads is crippling student loan debt. What’s the secret to paying it off before grey hairs come in? 

Most people default to the payment the student loan system give you, sometimes even less. That’s a sure way to stay in debt for a decade or more and to pay double your cost of education. If you want to be out of debt, pick an end date, calculate the payment that will get you there and then do whatever it takes. I don’t care if you have to work two or three jobs, if you want to be debt-free, that’s how you do it.

3. 20-somethings tell me the stock market is scary — what investing tip would you give them to overcome their fears? 

Start by using an indexed investment that mirrors the market so you’re not worried about having to “stock pick.” Be prepared to stay in the market for a minimum of 15 years, so that can’t be money you’re planning to use to further your education, buy a home, or have a family. Educate yourself. Learn at least 12 new things about investing every year. Start a ‘pretend’ portfolio and watch how you do. Tweak. Learn. Get competent.

4. There’s lots of articles about what millennials are doing wrong with their money, but is there anything they are doing right with their money that we’re not giving them enough credit for? 

Millennials are extremely concerned about doing good with their money even as they’re figuring out how to live well. I applaud their social conscience. Perhaps more than any ‘young’ generation before, they understand that their own pleasure should not come at the expense of another, be it a person in a sweatshop, a critter, or Mother Earth. I think too many people of my generation have put the Mighty Dollar before those that are impacted by their desire for profit. Millennials are showing us that with careful consideration and attention to detail they will hold their suppliers accountable whether those suppliers are using the services of a worker in the third world, sourcing energy or looking for palm oil. Keep it up!

Financial Black Swans: Why Your Financial Future is Never in Your Control

Caution: Post contains Masterchef spoilers if you haven’t watched the season finale from this Monday yet!

If you’ve read “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” by Nassim Nicolas Taleb, you can already guess where this post is going. For those of you that haven’t, I highly recommend it.

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It’s one of those books that will change your perception about your life — given you can get over the author’s hilarious arrogant academic overtones. I really enjoyed reading Taleb because he’s pompous, but seems obliviously so — he’s just really, really smart and it makes the rest of us normal people feel very dumb. But what is a black swan? (not the Natalie Portman ballerina version)

black swan

noun
  1. an unpredictable or unforeseen event, typically one with extreme consequences.

The concept of black swans is that the fate of something (your financial health, for example) is more likely to be determined by single extreme events rather than a series of small efforts.

This means that your financial success or failure is more likely to be determined by a major event rather than your day-to-day habits.

How is this possible? The Personal Finance community (myself included) will tell you it’s the day-to-day effort of saving, living frugally, and avoiding debt that will determine your financial health. And truly, when you examine your life daily, it will look like these are what adds up to your current net worth picture — but chances are if you accept firstly, that you genuinely have no clue whatsoever what the future holds, and secondly, examine your past with a critical eye, you’ll be able to find some black swans lurking in your financial history.

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Courtney of Masterchef going from “here” to HERE as her $250,000 Masterchef prize — a financial black swan! — swoops in and takes her out of the gentleman’s club and into a culinary career

One of the main examples Taleb uses in the book is the life of a turkey: for one thousand days, the turkey leads a normal life in its pen. It expects the following 1000 days to proceed exactly the same way, totally uneventful. Instead, it’s head gets chopped off so the bird can be eaten for Thanksgiving dinner. Drastic, unexpected, and life-altering.

Taleb even argues that the longer you go without experiencing a black swan, the more like it is that you’ll encounter one. In other words, just because nothing has happened yet is exactly why you should believe something is about to happen.

But don’t be fooled by the ominous name, not all black swans are negative — some are tremendously positive. But we have a tendency to take credit for the positive black swans in our life and claim bad luck as the culprit of the bad ones. Truthfully, you have no control over which black swans you’ll experience in your lifetime — but they’ll drastically alter your financial picture.

Positive Financial Black Swans:

  • receiving an unexpected inheritance
  • winning a lottery
  • receiving a settlement
  • getting an unexpected major promotion or job opportunity

Negative Financial Black Swans:

  • suffering a debilitating illness or disability
  • having an unplanned child
  • going through a divorce
  • getting fired or laid off from a secure job

By nature the black swans are described as “major”, but how major they really are is in context of your own life. For some people receiving an extra $10,000 is a life-changing event, for others $50,000 or $100,000 won’t make any real difference in their lifestyle. Regardless, this money can come from anywhere, whether you play online Casino games or not — it doesn’t have to be a gamble.

What are my financial black swans?

I can’t think of any off the top of my head. My first stocks doubling in the first few years I owned them, receiving a big entrance scholarship to my MBA program, creating a profitable website…  but chances are my major financial black swans haven’t arrived yet. My adult life has barely started, and more likely than not, there are some financial black swans lurking in my future worth tens of thousands dollars (possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars) that will drastically alter my financial picture — for better or for worse.

Can you protect yourself against black swans?

Yes and no. Stock and housing market ups & downs are outside your control, but a collections agency hounding to pay your debts are not. An emergency fund won’t stop you from getting laid off from your job, but it will help you cope until you find a new one. Planning for retirement isn’t necessary if you’re going to win the lottery, but you don’t actually know if you’re going to win the lottery so it’s best to err on the side of caution.

What you can do is understand that no matter what you do, you can’t plan your whole life in a spreadsheet. You need to be flexible and resilient to deal with dramatic events that drastically alter your financial picture. At any point in time, your life can be dramatically, irrevocably altered by circumstances beyond your control.

Have you been hit with any dramatic unexpected events that changed your finances for the better or worse?

Flash Clothing Sale – I’m cleaning out my closet, want to buy these pre-loved dresses?

I just spent today uncluttering my dresser + closet and putting my summer clothes away. I’ve decided to part with a few items — some I’m giving right to my sister, but a few I was going to take to consignment. I’ve had success selling some clothing on the blog before, so I thought I’d give it a shot again.

All of these items are listed price + $10 shipping (Canada) or $15 shipping (USA – sorry, postal service is super expensive up north)

Will discount shipping if you buy more than 1 item.

I will accept PayPal, and ship your purchase out to you within 24hours.

Prices are in Canadian dollars.

If you’re interested, please email me at bridget@moneyaftergraduation.com. First come, first served — I only have one of each (obvs) so if something catches your fancy please email me now!

1. Navy blue jumpsuit size small (fits ~size 4) $20

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I purchased this in Paris, France in 2012. It’s beautiful and in like-new condition. It’s strapless with shorts, and has a blue ribbon that ties around the waist. It is 100% polyester.

2. White floral H&M dress size 6 (fits small, more like a size 4) $30

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I purchased this dress in Paris, France as well. I love it it. The only reason I’m giving it up is it’s my go-to dress as a guest at weddings, and I have now been photographed in it at about nine weddings… so I have to let it go. It is 100% polyester shell, with a 45% cotton/55% polyester lining. The dress has some wiring in the bodice to give it shape.

3. Purple (looks blue in the photo but is a dark indigo) Talula dress from Aritzia size 4 $35

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I purchased this last year and wore it ONE TIME. Like new condition. Has been hidden in the bottom of a box of my closet ever since. Dress is a hi-lo or “mullet” dress so it’s shorter in the front. 100% polyester.

If nobody buys, they’re just going to consignment, donation, or to my sisters so no loss =)

MAG Presents: The Canadian Personal Finance Celebrity Series

I have something special for you guys — particularly Canadians! I’ve collaborated with some cool voices in the Canadian Personal Finance community to bring you The Canadian Personal Finance Celebrity Series:

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note: I am not a celebrity but I thought the circle looked bare with only 4 pics

I posed 4 questions about millennial money issues to each of the celebs pictured, and they shared their wisdom!

Every Thursday for the next 4 weeks, I’ll be sharing a post from one of the above with their answers.

On the last week, I’ll share my own thoughts on the questions I posed. There’s some amazing content here so make sure you check back, follow on bloglovin, or subscribe Money After Graduation by email (just enter your email in the box in the sidebar and click subscribe) so you don’t miss out! Don’t recognize one of the celebs pictured above? That’s just another reason to tune in!

Opting Out of My Student Health & Dental Plan

One of the first things I did when going back to school this year was opt out of my graduate student health plan. At $500 per academic year, the student health & dental plan provides semi- or full coverage for services not covered under Alberta healthcare.

For my American readers, note that Canada’s universal healthcare system means I never pay to see a doctor or receive care, but I DO have to pay for things like vision tests, glasses/contact lenses, prescriptions, non-essential medical treatments (ie. massage or acupuncture, travel health insurance) and dental care. For students, these extra healthcare costs can get pretty pricey, so student health & dental plans are awesome to help students with limited budgets.

I took advantage of my student health plan last term, but since moving in with my boyfriend (read about our joint chequing account and joint savings account!), I’m lucky to be covered under his plan from his employer. I thought this was unusual — I had been expecting we’d need to live together for at least  a year or get married in order to enjoy any spousal benefits, but lucky for me that wasn’t the case. Because his employer plan is about 3957297x better than my student one, I made the decision to opt out of my student plan.

Result? +$500 in my pocket!

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Sweet. The only downside now is they said I wouldn’t receive my opt-out money until the end of November… but that comes just in time to put it towards next semester’s bill. My tuition next term is going to be about $3,500 so with this $500 boost plus the $150 I accidentally overpaid this term,  I only have $2,850 to come up with in the next 4 months. No prob. This unexpected $500 really helped!

(I can’t believe I am only $2,850 away from having an MBA. This degree is the most expensive purchase I’ve ever made!) 

Should you opt out of your student health plan?

If you have other coverage, YES! Some students don’t even KNOW opting out is an option, which leads to many Canadian families paying for health & dental insurance twice. If you’re covered by your parents’ or spouse’s plan, chances are it offers you better coverage than what the school is providing. The UofC gave me the option to opt out of just the health plan, just the dental plan, or both. I chose both, but if your insurance provider gives you good health coverage but bad dental or vice versa, drop the one you don’t need and keep the other so you’re fully covered.

What do you need to opt out?

Proof of your other coverage. Mine was easy — when my health insurance card from my boyfriend’s insurance provider came in the mail, I simply scanned it and submitted it directly to the school health insurance company. It contained my name and policy number, so they can verify the coverage. Other acceptable proof of coverage includes a confirmation letter from the employer or insurance provider, a recent claim statement, or a web page print out of your coverage.

When should you opt out?

Most universities require you to opt out before the fee deadline. At the University of Calgary, this is September 26th. I did it before my academic load became to heavy. I definitely don’t want to lose $500 to laziness and procrastination! More likely than not, I’ll forget about the $500 by the time it’s finally delivered to me in November, so it will be a happy surprise.

 What if I want to opt out but I don’t have alternative coverage?

Chances are you’re out of luck. The only way schools can provide low-cost health insurance to students is by making everyone buy in. Consequently, you can’t go without. What can you do? Maximize your benefits by using as much as you can! Don’t pass up free money by failing to use the resources you’ve paid for. 

Does your school offer a subsidized insurance plan? Do you opt in or out?