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November 09, 2003



Rob, I've been enjoying your writing immensely these past weeks -- just haven't had the time or energy to participate properly. You're so on the right track here.

One question about your downshifting from investment banking to consulting in PEI -- wasn't that transition enabled by your relative wealth when you realized you had to make the change? I ask because I'm at the other end of my career path looking "up" and seeing that I may never make enough money to downshift to anything but poverty.

We're making all kinds of decisions to choose time, relationships and recreation over work and income, but we don't have anything to fall back on either -- we don't see any way that we'll own any home in the near future (never mind all the other American Dream imagery shared by most).

robert paterson

You are right - I had the benefit of making some wealth. Downshifting is not so bad if you have had the benefit of having a place to downshift from. Simply being poor is the pits.

What can I say?

Can we have a life and still make enough to live on in the world that we live in? In BC the price of housing is prohibitive. I was talking to a new friend here this week - a blogger and an entertainer. She and her husband bought a very simple house 20 years ago. They are still there. She was a stay at home mum. Their costs have been held right down. Now compared to their friends - who have kept trading up - they are well off in that they have such low daily costs. Hence they are free. The kids have grown up - they are great kids. Cyn can afford to be an actor on PEI - not one of the great paying jobs but is a genuine local celebrity.
So one way forward is not to keep increasing your cost base. Another is really simple. None of my investments have really done well. BUT I did save in a forced way for 20 years. I spent all my income as we all do. But these savings paid for my kids' university so they were able to graduate not with no debt debt but with a few bucks.

Only in retrospect have I recognized the power of putting $100 dollars away a month over a long time.

So "Rob's Advice" Is keep your run rate down and your forced saving up.


Wise advice, Rob. Simple, yet harder to do than it sounds. I don't know if our real estate is that much more than in any of the big cities in Canada, but in a smaller center like Kelowna, the wages don't really keep up with the cost of living. We joke about the "sunshine tax" because the Okanagan has a great climate and people work for peanuts here just to stay.

Right now a small entry-level house in an ok neighbourhood is around $160,000. Not outrageous, but with one middle-class income and no downpayment help, we're priced out. But you've touched on some of this in your post -- in contrast to the norm these days, we're going the single-income route (and a reduced one at that). If Tannis was going to work full-time, we could put the kids in daycare and make enough to manage the mortgage on that house, but what about the quality of life issues? Not that I'm whining...we love our just doesn't seem to fit into the system very well.


I think it's dangerous to expect that life can be all about recreation and relationships. Unfortunately, it does involve work. And sometimes work isn't thrilling and inspiring the way we (educated, able to dream of recreation and housing of the likes we're talking about here) think it should be. (Hey imagine having to work at Tim Hortons 40 hours a week so that you can buy formula and diapers). There has to be a middle of the road. Life should not be all about work, but then, it's also selfish of us and hard on our relationships and our children to be needlessly poor.
And as a woman, I agree that there has been a shift away from community at work, but although I have managed to climb (a little) up the corporate ladder, I have found community and other woman (even those very high up the ladder) who enjoy sitting around talking about our kids and life at each position I hold. I just don't let it bother me what the other might think if I have to leave early because my care provider called to say my child has the sniffles and would be happier at home with Mom.
You seem to be seeing only the drastic solutions to your problems here. Move away, have both parents at home, remain poor so that you have time to ski, and travel but not own a home. How about take your job for what it is, be the one who makes it into a community. The sleel worker Dad was probably happier, at least in part because of perspective and expectations. Be excellent in the work place, but be home by 4:00. And if that prevents you from being a big shot in your company, being ackowledged as the BEST by being the most IMPROTANT, tell yourself that although you're not a VP and don't own a giant house (and maybe don't ski and travel as much as you'd like) you have a great love with whom you take your kids and walk in the leaves just as the sun is setting, you have the most beautiful kids in the world (who are thriving at public school, especially considering you spend time helping them with their homwork) and you have the knowledge that although you're not Top Man at the company, you're excellent at what you do (be it collating binders, teaching kids, serving coffee, assessing financial reports) you have a spouse who's sharing your life and you're a damn good mom.
And if you can't make a go of it in Kelowna where a small house is 160,000, I have a friend who bought a beautiful little home in Winnipeg for about half that, and another in PEI (outside of Charlottetown) who did the same.

robert paterson

Visit here any time Lynna


Lynna, I think it's dangerous to downplay the importance of recreation and relationships, especially in the realm of ideals (where I assume most of this discussion is taking place). I know too many middle-aged folk who have this vague sense that they haven't chosen the right priorities -- I was agreeing with Robert's point about integrating work on our own terms and trying to achieve balance in career, family and self-actualization. Perhaps it's just my unrealistic Gen-X idealism shining through, and maybe you can't actually have it both ways, but wouldn't it be a worthy goal?

I may be overreacting to your "quit-your-whining" tone, but the scenarios you're advising don't seem very attractive. We obviously have different value systems, which is fine. It sounds like you'd have me appreciating my work-a-day life more (which I already do) and basically just sucking it up. I love my work and do a great job, and my family life is excellent. We're talking about optimization. I have no urge to have a giant house or be a VP in any company, but I'd like (and most other people as well, I assume) more time to do the things I enjoy more than work, and spend more time with my family. I agree with Robert's theory that the problems we're seeing with kids today are rooted in the misguided priortities of their parents.

To pack up and move to any brand-new place with no jobs, contacts, friends or family doesn't fit most people's lifestyle plans, either, so your advice to find somewhere cheaper seems rather trite. I grew up in Winnipeg -- it's inexpensive because fewer people want to live there. People who value outdoor recreation and a comfortable lifestyle tend to move away from places like Winnipeg. Not that you can't have a fine life there, but it's more difficult if it doesn't match your values.


I apologize. I certainly mean no offence.


No offense taken, Lynna. I like this discussion, despite my defensive tone. It's a limitation of the medium that invites personal response without really knowing people or having the benefit of reading body language or clarifying on the fly.

What types of career/parenting decisions have you made (or plan to make) that have worked out well for you? I feel like I'm operating in a bit of a vacuum sometimes, because everyone else seems to be viewing lifestyle optimization as trying to maximize income...but I don't think that's the point.


OK, so picture that I'm smiling and that the reason I was prompted to comment was that I like what's being said.
I agree, for so many it's all about income and that's certainly not what I'm trying to get at. It's just that it does require some income, so unless you happen to be independantly wealthy (which is unlikely if like us, you're a gen-xer who's trying to make life optamization choices early on...), you're gonna have to work. What I was getting at is that you can still work (like you and I are going to have to) and try and remember that our children are our priority. And in my life anyways, that means that I have to sacrifice some things.
The reality for me is that if I were willing to make my life all about work, I would have more income, but less time. I would love to have more income and more time, but that's just not happening for me. (or many people that I know) For a long time, I was angry about this, and then I decided to be off work for 4 years because really, I prefer being home than working. But in the end, we were so poor that our relationship started to detiorate (worrying about every penny, having no money for any sort of recreation is hard on a relationship), I was stressed out, the kind of quality time I had for my kids was limited by my mind set, and truly, being at home with no car, money to go out and do anything was not all one might think it is.
So I chose to go back to work again. And I felt guilty because in my heart I thought it was best to be home. And I was immediately frustrated that I was limited in the workforce as to what projects I could land because I had to pick my kids up at a certain time. And I hated the world, thought everything should change and was even more depressed than ever. I had far less time to do all the things I dreamt I would do with the money I would make.
Finally one day, a very successful woman I know (both in her career and in her life) told me to get over myself. That I wasn't going to change the world over night and that all this self-obssession was detrimental to my kids. (she used those words). And I thought about it, and she was right. She pointed out that gen-xers were raised to think we could acheive anything, but not really told how hard it would be to get there. That I would have to choose the one thing that was most important to me in the end, and that, forgetting that I deserve everything, I would have to make sacrifices.
So after much raging at her awefulness and not understanding, that's what I did. My work isn't as challenging as it was 5 years ago, but by being excellent at what I do and remembering that it's a means to an end, (Unfortunately, neither my partner nor I have the life experience, or skill to have someone pay us for our thoughts on education or parenting or women in the work force)I've been truly happy. We can't afford the recreation we would like to have but we can afford to order in pizza. I can go to Zellers and pick up a pair of stretch pants for my daughter without a 3 hours justification of the expense. We're planning on going skiing for a week this winter with our kids (who are too little to ski, but will enjoy being somewhere different and having all our time). And, maybe I'm not the-contributing-to-the-way-the-world-works-person I dreamt I would be when I was younger, but I'm happy, I have great kids and I feel I have chosen what is best for them.

I agree with you that optamization of life is something we would all like to do. But I find if I concentrate on how fortunate I am in my life as it is, I'm just happy.

Now I know we probably don't share the same values, and that you might have this hidden-but super-money-making skill that will allow you to make the money you need to have both time and recreation, but I don't. So I've had to made a small choice. My original intent was trying to say that the culture of the world and the work place may have changed, but if so it's because we've made those choices. I've decided to have a personal culture that means I have a community at work (because I make it that way), I have a neighbourhood where community is important, and I have a life where my children are my priority (even if that means sacrificing all those other things I think I deserve).

robert paterson

It's such a gift for me to have you both use my place to have this conversation.

I think I agree with you both - our culture makes it so hard to avoid a major commitment to the economic sphere. Most of what we need to have to get by costs so much money. Robin has just returned for 3 weeks in London. It's all about money now. When I grew up there in the 50's and 60's, we were all "poor". Housing in particular was the ame price as it had been 100 years previous. My parents first place in a now very smart part of kensington costs 300 pounds a year to rent. Our first London house that they bought in 1962 cost 14,000 pounds. It last sold as for more than 3 million pounds.

Jeremy you mentioned housing as a core item and it is. In global cities like Vancouver you are exposed to pricing pressures that have little to do with normal markets. As Lynna reminded us, in places like PEI or Winnipeg or even Austin Texas, housing is not too far off what people earn without being investment bankers or drug dealers. BUT life is very slow here and there is not a easy job market.

Lynna has told us how hard it is to give up one salary for a long time. All one's friends have so much more. We lived like that for some time and it was a huge strain being relatively (everything is relative) poorer than our contemporaries or their kids.

Maybe in the end we just have to ask ourselves what is important things or people? We can't change Vancouver house prices and we can't alter the fact that if we choose people we don't have the stuff that everyone else has.

In closing - my cousin has all the stuff. They are so busy that they sometimes forget to feed their kids. The kids are already in huge trouble and act out constantly. "But at least I have a nice car" he says So maybe we are all at choice here. It's a really hard choice because society says that we must all be consumers of things.

I promise you both that when your kids are 20 plus and you have done the work and and made the sacrifices that you wont regret it

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