This millennial needs to rein his spending to get his Vancouver condo — or does he?

One-time gambler, bartender and now lawyer, Silvio has taken $31,000 stock losses in stride. Now he faces a different challenge — saving

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As a professional gambler-turned-bartender-turned-lawyer, a 32-year-old we’ll call Silvio hasn’t exactly had the most linear career path. Take one look at how he invests and spends his money and it’s quite evident that the jobs he left behind in his 20’s are still defining his habits.

Silvio, who lives in Vancouver, has $36,000 in his TFSA, but it’s maxed out. Think about that — as someone who turned 18 before 2009, he has $69,500 in lifetime contribution room. So what happened to other $33,500? Well, he lost $31,000 on some ill-timed bets on cannabis stocks.

Remember the green wave? It was just two years ago that stocks like Hexo Corp. and Aurora Cannabis Inc. — the two stocks that Silvio put 60 per cent of his portfolio towards — were among the hottest on the market. Everyone knew someone who had cashed in. One friend told me his roommate, who only earned about $40,000 per year, made $40,000 on these stocks.


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And for Silvio, it was no different.

“I had dollar signs in my eyes,” he said.

The problem was he invested only months before cannabis was legalized in Canada and didn’t sell off. Aurora Cannabis was a $162 stock then — even after a recent hot streak it is only worth $14 now.

I couldn’t swallow a $31,000 hit, but it’s no big deal for Silvio. His professional poker career made him comfortable with the idea of being several thousand dollars down.

“None of these are life changing amounts,” said Silvio, who now invests mostly in an S&P 500 ETF but withdrew $8,500 from his TFSA to chase a Canadian tech IPO. “Im not happy about it but it didn’t effect me emotionally. It was more like, ‘Oh, that’s too bad, wish it went the other way.’”

Silvio still doesn’t have a budget and spends as he likes

After he put his chips and sunglasses to the side, Silvio had a multi-year stint as a bartender. He remembers being paid $8 or $9 per hour and making the rest of his income in tips. On some nights, he’d bring home $100 in extra cash and on others, it’d be closer to $400.

Never knowing what his true income would be meant that he could never budget and having the extra cash burning a hole in his pocket only meant that he was more likely to use it.

He’s carried that over to his current spending habits. Silvio still doesn’t have a budget and spends as he likes. For a person earning a salary of $7,807 and renting out the parking space at his space for another $150 per month, that has yet to become a problem for him.

His credit card bill can come in at anywhere between $1,000 and $2,500 on any given month, he said, though in the month I analyzed his spending Silvio did not have a single shopping expense, a new one for me. He was the first to admit that that wasn’t representative of his normal spending habits, which normally land in the $800 to $1,000 range.


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His food and drink expenses were also light, coming in at just above $1,000. Again, this was unusual. Silvio was particularly bogged down at work throughout the month, working several 12-hour days and just didn’t have the time to go out, even at a time when lockdown restrictions allowed it. He’d spend another $500-$1,000 on food and drink alone in a regular month, he said.

Aside from the $2,300 he spends every month in rent, the $165 on bills and the $636 in debt payments, there was very little spending to speak of. That allowed Silvio to pocket $3,775 for savings — an additional $1,775 on top of the amount he puts away into his RRSP each month.

The status quo doesn’t sound bad, even without budgeting. But if Silvio wants to accomplish his goal of buying a condo in downtown Vancouver in the next three years it won’t be enough, according to Align Wealth financial planner Scott Campbell.

Silvio believes he could buy a two-bedroom condo in downtown Vancouver for $750,000 to $800,000. In order to be able to do so, Campbell said he’ll have to come to an understanding of what he values more: a nice condo or being able to spend as he sees fit.

“It comes down to having a good understanding of what your core values are in life,” Campbell said. “For some people having that really expensive house is a really big goal … whereas others are willing to really reduce their living expenses so they have more disposable cash flows because their values might lie in seeing friends and going to fancy restaurants and travelling.”


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If he does decide the condo is more important, the magic monthly number for Silvio is $3,000, Campbell said. Of that sum, $2,500 would go towards a downpayment fund and $500 would continue to be funnelled into his RRSP so that he doesn’t fall behind on retirement savings.

Campbell errs to the side of conservatism when it comes to investing and so he’d suggest that Silvio place the monthly $2,500 portion of his cash into a high-interest savings account that can generate around 1.5 per cent. He’ll need to ensure he doesn’t lose any of the cash if he wants to meet his timeline for the condo, Campbell said, and investing it will always put him at risk.

If Silvio can regularly put away $2,500 for the next three years, he’ll have accumulated $90,000. His goal is to put down a 20 per cent downpayment to avoid having to pay for CMHC insurance and so that means he’ll need to find a way to get to $150,000. Another $25,000 can be covered by the yearly performance bonuses Silvio receives from his law firm. Last year alone, he received $17,000. Saving half of his bonus over the next three years will get him there. The remaining $35,000 can be withdrawn from Silvio’s RRSP tax-free if he takes advantage of the Home Buyer’s Plan. 

That’s the easy part. Now comes the hard ask: To be able to consistently save $3,000, Silvio will have to limit his discretionary spending to $1,600 per month, Campbell said. As far as my categories, that covers food and drink, entertainment, shopping and other, where I only spent a combined $1,072. In most months, Silvio can hit $1,500 on food alone.


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This only works without the splurges, like the $800 he recently dropped on ski equipment. There’s one trick Campbell has picked up over the years to help his clients stay on budget and it’s to have them transition to using pre-paid credit cards. His clients load them at the beginning of the month with their own allotment for discretionary spending. Because there’s a limit on the cards, it forces Campbell’s clients to become more aware of their spending and to keep themselves in-line.

Silvio prefers his American Express Card, although the logic of Campbell’s idea isn’t lost on him. Taking his budget down to $1,600 isn’t a big ask, he said, but it seemed to me that he was still debating on whether he even wanted to give it a shot. He can’t decide on whether he still wants to prioritize fun at this stage or saving for his condo. As he revealed in our second interview, he might not even need to because lawyers in Vancouver typically receive a $10,000 raise each year.

Silvio might very well be in a position where they can have his cake and eat it too.

“I don’t have anything that says I need a condo in exactly three years,” Silvio said. “I don’t see why it can’t be four.”

In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.


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