A Week In Toronto, ON, On $10,000 Severance

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Today: an unemployed advertising producer collecting $10,000 in severance pay who spends some of her money this week on an Obusforme pillow.

Occupation: Unemployed Producer
Industry: Advertising
Age: 27
Location: Toronto, ON
Salary: $0 (It was $85,000 until I was laid off this past June. My company restructured in response to the pandemic, and several employees lost their jobs.)
Net Worth: $55,900 (My assets include $380,000 in equity for a two-bedroom, one-and-half-bathroom, 900-square-foot condo downtown. Although my parents and I contribute roughly equally to the payment of the condo, my percentage of the title is higher for tax purposes, and this amount reflects my legally owned share of the condo. I also have $22,000 between my chequing and high-interest savings accounts, $32,000 in a TFSA, $5,600 in an RRSP, and $1,300 in non-registered investments.
Debt: $385,000 (mortgage)
Severance Amount (2x/month): $2,500 (I negotiated $10,000 in severance over two months. I only have one more week left.
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: My mortgage is $2,400 a month, but my parents cover it. On top of their contribution, I save up and make lump-sum payments of about $10,000 every three to four months.
Condo Fees: $600
Property Tax: $230
Condo Insurance: $30
HVAC Equipment Rental: $70
Utilities: $65
Internet: $40
Phone: $15 (I downgraded after I got a work phone. Now that work is no more, I'm considering upgrading.)
Streaming Services: $0 (I get one-off subscriptions to watch specific shows, like The Handmaid's Tale, and cancel before the free trial is up.)
TFSA & RRSP: I've paused my automatic withdrawals and am currently moving anything extra to a high-interest savings account for the liquidity as I reevaluate my financial situation.
Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
Yes and yes. I completed a bachelor's degree, but my parents hoped for more. I got scholarships, grants, and OSAP, and my parents covered the rest. I worked throughout university and paid off the OSAP loan shortly after graduation, before any interest could accumulate.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents came from a generation that necessitated frugality, which I inherited. As a result, I'm probably the least-materialistic person you'll ever meet. I live minimally, and I'm not motivated by money alone. When I was in middle school, my dad enlisted me to help do my parents' taxes by hand, because there was no Simple Tax back then. I was genuinely happy to be involved and learned so much in the process. I still do their taxes, though it's easier now thanks to good software that does most of the heavy lifting. My family operates on an unspoken what's-mine-is-yours philosophy. It goes both ways, no one keeps track, and no one takes advantage. I contributed several thousand dollars towards the house they live in now. They didn't ask me to, but I felt that it was the best use of my money at the time, and I fully intend to support them in their old age. One thing I didn't learn from my parents is how to invest. They are very risk-averse and don't believe in investing in anything except real estate. They also don't do much charitable giving. I support friends' fundraisers, although the WE Charity scandal makes me skeptical of the kinds of organizations that I usually want to support.

What was your first job?
During university, I worked the front desk at campus residence buildings, checking in guests in the evenings. That first work experience led to a live-in residence advisor position in my second and third years, a summer job as an administrator at a camp, and eventually to my first job in the real world. I learned transferable skills and gained confidence that made me unafraid of going after progressively challenging and better-paying positions. I knew I was capable of anything I put my mind to and became good at articulating that on paper and in interviews.

Did you worry about money growing up?
I knew that my parents didn't make a lot of money, and we didn't have much when we first came to Canada, but I also knew that they were frugal and avid savers. I participated in extracurriculars, school trips, summer camps, and I didn't want for anything.

Do you worry about money now?
In general, no. Right at this moment, yes. I worry about how long this bout of unemployment will last and how much it will affect my long-term goals. I also worry about getting back to the salary I was making before I got laid off. But between severance, savings, CERB, and EI, I know I'll be okay.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I consider myself financially independent since age 22, when I graduated, but I'm sure readers will disagree in the comments. I lived away from home for school and moved back afterward to live rent-free. I spent three hours a day commuting from the suburbs to downtown Toronto for four years while saving and investing a huge portion of my income. At first, I was making a below-average, entry-level salary, which made it imprudent to live closer to work. I worked hard and did extensive research on industry salaries as well as negotiation tactics to successfully earn several raises, promotions, and new job offers. After four years, it made sense for my parents and I to purchase a place downtown with an extra bedroom to rent out, which is still the plan once it's safer to do so. Joining forces with my parents allowed us to buy a better place with greater potential for appreciation, while securing a mortgage with better terms than if I'd bought on my own. I currently have enough savings to keep me going for a long time as well as investments that I can liquidate if it comes to that. My financial safety net also includes the income potential of my condo, because I always have the option of moving back with my parents to rent it out. I fully appreciate the immense sense of security that the parental option provides and recognize that not everyone has this at their disposal.

Day One

7 a.m. — It's Sunday, and I wake up without an alarm. I developed horrible sleeping and eating habits when work-from-home started earlier this year. Reading Why We Sleep was a huge help in turning things around, and I've largely been able to maintain healthier habits during unemployment.
7:15 a.m. — I go around the apartment and visit all my plants. I returned from a weeks-long stay at my parents' place yesterday, and the plants all fared surprisingly well. A snake plant cutting that I've been propagating for eight months shot up a solid two inches above the soil. My patience paid off, and I can't stop looking at it. I grab a jar of overnight oatmeal with coconut milk and peaches that I made last night, add honey, and eat it on the balcony along with a pastry my mom bought at a local bakery yesterday.
8 a.m. — I should wash up, but instead I open my computer to watch home décor videos. My favourites are The Sorry Girls, Lone Fox, and DIY Danie. I also mentally plan for the week. Until now, I've been selectively applying for dream jobs that I don't quite meet all of the requirements for, because I want to be challenged and grow. With the pandemic, however, I feel like candidate pools are much larger, so why would companies hire someone who will grow into the role when they easily hire someone who ticks all the boxes? I spend time and energy researching each company and customizing each application. So far, I've only had one interview for a short-term contract position, after which I was asked to apply for a shorter-term, lower-paying role. I'm starting to think I need to change my strategy and go quantity over quality for jobs that I'm fully qualified for, even though this approach doesn't feel authentic to my soul. Do I want a career or a job?
10:15 a.m. — I finally get to washing my face and brushing my teeth. I've been using Spectro cleanser since my early teens, and it doubles as a body wash. I swipe on a light layer of a Uriage moisturizer and spot treat with a daytime prescription acne cream. I've had moderate acne since my early teens, and it recently migrated from my forehead and nose down to around my mouth. It's hormonal acne that can be painful. A dermatologist I saw two years ago prescribed two very expensive creams that work great when used consistently, but they're drying, and sometimes I just can't be bothered to apply them. The acne always comes back. I really thought I'd be over this by age 27.
11:50 a.m. — The plan for lunch is a chickpea salad with my mom's homegrown cucumbers topped with a soft-boiled egg, but I should've started cooking the chickpeas much earlier, because they take about 30 minutes in the Instant Pot, and I'm hungry now. I did soak the chickpeas and boil the eggs last night, though. I eat half the cucumbers and a gummy candy while I wait for the chickpeas. Once cooked, I assemble and inhale the salad. And a peach. And a doughnut. The doughnut is a mistake.
1:45 p.m. — An email arrives in response to a job interview I had last week, updating me on a shorter-term position. This is the second email I've received from the manager on a weekend, and I don't see it as a good sign. I send a quick reply, then do laundry and tidy up to work off the doughnut.
3 p.m. — I remember the two cantaloupes my parents insisted on getting for me. They're at peak ripeness. I wonder if I can grow cantaloupes myself next year. That's next in my plant journey: to grow my own food. I aspire to The Martian–level of botany. The cold cantaloupe seems to have completely neutralized the doughnut, so I finish off with a small piece of dark chocolate. I also freeze cantaloupe for smoothies later.
6 p.m. — I make enough rice for the week and cook bacon for egg bites later. I want to make homegrown green beans for dinner but end up eating bacon and another soft-boiled egg on rice with an olive side dish. Since the layoff, I've been cooking all my meals at home. I have plenty of time to cook now, so no excuses.
10:30 p.m. — I take a shower and get ready for bed. My nighttime skin-care routine consists of the Spectro cleanser, a vitamin C serum from The Ordinary, Uriage moisturizer, and spot treatments with one of my prescription acne creams.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

5 a.m. — I wake from menstrual cramps but stay in bed until 7 a.m.
8 a.m. — Another overnight oatmeal bowl and pastry for breakfast. I eat curled up on the couch, because I'm crampy. I was referred to a company that's hiring, so I need to prep for an introductory call with an in-house recruiter this afternoon. I also need to prep for another interview, which is happening in a couple of days. I hope one of these opportunities works out, because this is my last week of severance. I took the advice of friends and talked to an employment lawyer about my rights. As a lowly non-managerial employee, I was intimidated to meet her, plus her fees were steep, but I learned way more than I expected. With her coaching, I negotiated an additional 33% in severance, which is more than I had realistically expected but less than what she said I was entitled to. After all, the company is in financial trouble, so I was satisfied with the outcome and happily paid her invoice. It was the best $620 I spent this year.
2:09 p.m. — The recruiter is late, but we have a very positive conversation. I'm pleasantly surprised by how knowledgeable she is of the technical aspects of my potential role. We also share a few laughs. I can tell she's good at her job. She asks about salary expectations, which I decline to provide due to a lack of details on the specific role. I have a range in mind that starts below what I was making before, because I'm willing to take a hit right now. However, I know that this company pays well for long hours, and I don't want to shoot myself in the foot. I make a note to do more research on this, and she promises to get back to me by Wednesday.
5 p.m. — I have a call with a neighbour to talk about the goings on in the community. Since the pandemic hit, homeless encampments have popped up in parks across the city, including the one next door. There were info sessions with police officers responsible for our park over the past couple of weeks that I wasn't here to attend, so she fills me in. Sentiments from condo residents range from support and empathy for the homeless to strong NIMBY-ism. The officers weren't able to say much except that we should report needles, fights, fires, etc. This entire situation underscores the desperate need for affordable housing in Toronto, and I wonder what we can personally do to pressure our governments to act. I recognize my immense privilege in being able to choose where I live.
6 p.m. — I distantly hand off aloe and echeveria plants to a friend to lighten my growing plant collection. We catch up outside. I then send a quick thank you email to the recruiter and tell her I think she's great.
7 p.m. — I'm too hungry to make the green beans again, so I have more bacon and egg on rice with an olive side. I also have yogurt and a few pieces of cantaloupe.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — I wake up a bit later than usual and eat an overnight oatmeal and a pastry for breakfast. Then I take a look at all my accounts. An 18-month 3.25% GIC matured, and I check with my dad about putting the $13,000 towards the mortgage. He agrees it's a good idea. I've never fully understood how the mortgage math works, so I'm always pleasantly surprised by the impact pre-payments make. Thanks to my parents being on the title, we were able to leverage their financial history and relationship with the bank to get a great mortgage rate with generous pre-payment terms. My $13,000 lump sum will reduce the amortization period by 33 weeks and save $6,000 in interest over the life of the mortgage.
8:30 a.m. — I call one of my banks about their index-linked GICs and, after many questions, decide to try it out by transferring a $1,500 RRSP that I can't really touch anyway. I wish I were a more confident investor. I feel like all the personal finance information out there is either Money 101 for Absolute Beginners or Advanced Trading for Seasoned Investors. Where's the in-between? I need Money 201 for Those Who Get Mutual Funds But Want to Understand How the Stock Market Really Works. I find the information overwhelming and am afraid that I'll make a terrible mistake.
11:45 a.m. — I finally make the green beans with crab meat and have them over rice. Amazing. I get a message from the recruiter I spoke to yesterday, and she wants to talk again this afternoon!
3:30 p.m. — I have an interview! I love this woman. After some light probing, she gives me more details and a few tips based on my previous work experience. Talking to her really makes me feel productive. I cyber stalk my interviewer and do the salary research I noted yesterday. Damn, this company pays well! The range I would've accepted is too low. They expect long hours, but I'd gladly take this job right now. And, yes, I would see this as just a well-paying job rather than a stellar career move.
5 p.m. — Since the layoff, I've drastically limited my discretionary spending, which has had almost no impact on my life, given that I'm not going out much due to the pandemic. There are a few items I need today, though. There are no hardware stores near me, which has led to a big life discovery: dollar stores carry a wide range of home-improvement and gardening products! I head to my local one for painter's tape to finish trim work, as well as a couple of kitchen organization items, and a reusable shower cap. $11.30
7:30 p.m. — Dinner is the last of my chickpeas with cucumber and egg, followed by a peach.
Daily Total: $11.30

Day Four

7 a.m. — It's day three of my period, and I'm still crampy. This is unusual. It's also a chilly day. I make porridge in the Instant Pot for a hot breakfast. I need to do serious research and prep for the other interview tomorrow. I should be further along on this but, alas, procrastination finds me.
8:30 a.m. — After cleansing my face, I put on an Elizabeth Arden peel-off mask. This is definitely the most expensive skin-care product I use thanks to a deluxe sample I received with another order. As someone who knows the inner workings of the advertising industry, I truly despise it when I fall for strategies like sampling and promotions. It's a really good mask, though.
12 p.m. — I make a BLT sandwich for lunch and finish the first cantaloupe. I start working on my “tell me about yourself” story specific to the position I'm interviewing for tomorrow.
2 p.m. — Wow! I hear back from an entrepreneurship program I applied for weeks ago. The upcoming program is now full, but they want me to interview for the next one! I never realistically saw myself as the entrepreneurship type, though I want to, and this response is such a pleasant surprise. The program application was extensive, and I spent a lot of time writing very honest responses. It feels good to have this bit of external validation — that someone else sees potential in me. After some self-basking, I get back to interview prep.
5 p.m. — I bake bagel bites, potato wedges, and apple peel chips saved from apple sauce I made a few weeks ago.
7:30 p.m. — I talk to my mom while I eat. A squirrel is eating all her sunflowers.
9:30 p.m. — I have to wash my hair today. I'm way overdue for a haircut and washing it has become a chore.
12 a.m. — I can't remember the last time I stayed up this late. I'm feeling good about the interview, though, so I wrap up my prep work to get a good night's sleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

7:15 a.m. — It's interview day! I grab overnight oatmeal for breakfast and review the notes I prepped last night.
8:30 a.m. — I almost never wear makeup, so I put on Coola tinted sunscreen and lightly fill in my brows. I've seriously thought about being that person that glows up over a summer, but then I think about all the time and energy that would take and…nah. I also put on earrings and a nice top for the first time in months, then check my computer setup, move clutter out of the frame, and add a plant into the background.
10 a.m. — The interview goes well, I think! The conversation flows nicely, and I like both interviewers. When asked for my salary expectations, I don't answer directly because this organization is in a completely different industry, and I'm almost sure that the salary will be lower than what I made before. They say they'll let me know tomorrow whether I make it to the second round of interviews. After we hang up, I realize I have a better response to one of the questions and address this in my thank you email.
12:30 p.m. — After a lunch of bagel bites, potato wedges, and a peach, I feel tired and know I won't get anything done, so I take a nap.
4:45 p.m. — What a glorious nap! I'm going to miss these moments when I have a job again. I clean the toilets, so the afternoon isn't entirely wasted.
6:30 p.m. — My parents call to hear how the interview went, then I have green beans and crab meat on rice topped with an egg for dinner.
8 p.m. — A former coworker texts to see how my job search is going and to say that it hasn't been an enjoyable couple of months at work. A few people are considering leaving, and I'm not at all surprised. He also offers to refer me to a friend who's hiring. I'm sure his friend is great, but I'm not feeling the company. I wonder if I should pursue the opportunity anyway. I might regret not applying if both my current prospects fall through.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

7 a.m. — I wake up, heat up porridge, and scroll through my real-estate apps. It's a habit from house hunting. I like staying on top of the market, getting décor inspo from renovated and staged homes, and looking at fixer uppers with laneway house potential, which will be my next real-estate move, whenever that might happen.
8:30 a.m. — I get a second interview to follow the one I had yesterday! This means back-to-back interviews on Monday, so I have to get my shit together this weekend.
12:30 p.m. — I warm up bagel bites and potato wedges for lunch and complete another report for CERB/EI. Even though I'm still receiving severance, and I tell them so, I've been getting CERB payments. Maybe my overall period of entitlement will be reduced by these advance payments? In any case, I haven't counted these toward my income and have been putting them away in a high-interest savings account until the government asks for them back.
2:30 p.m. — I still have plenty of produce for next week but need staples. I go out to pick up eggs, cheddar cheese, coconut milk, mayo, and a tiny mortar and pestle. I do an extra-long walk for the exercise. Afterwards, I'm tired and sweaty and make a smoothie with banana, cantaloupe, and spinach. I make another smoothie for tomorrow since I hate cleaning out the blender. $21.09
6:30 p.m. — Dinner is tilapia over rice with an olive side. I finish with a peach and yogurt.
9:30 p.m. — I'm exhausted from the grocery outing and fall asleep for about an hour before dragging myself to the shower. Then I go to bed for reals.
Daily Total: $21.09

Day Seven

7:30 a.m. — I wake up with a stiff neck, which happens every now and then for no apparent reason. I see that I got an official interview invite for the short-term contract with the company that emailed me on the weekend. What is it with this company and their off-hour communications? I'm even less enthused about this opportunity now that I have two other solid ones, but I accept the interview anyway, if only for the practice.
8 a.m. — I make pancakes. Afterwards, while listening to a Harry Potter audiobook, I wipe the dust off the leaves of all my plants to maximize their ability to photosynthesize.
11 a.m. — I order an Obusforme cervical pillow. I can't afford for my neck and back to get worse, especially because I no longer have extended health coverage for chiropractic treatments. $25.96
1:30 p.m. — I complete a career clarity exercise I've been putting off and easily come up with a vision statement. I compare my two opportunities against the statement and consider the pros and cons of each position.
6:30 p.m. — Dinner is leftover tilapia and rice with an olive side, plus cantaloupe and yogurt.
12 a.m. — Why do I do this to myself? I hurry to bed. Tomorrow is a big interview prep day.
Daily Total: $25.96
Update: My job hunt is over! I received offers from two of the companies I interviewed with and accepted a position with first one mentioned, the one with the awesome in-house recruiter. I leveraged the two opportunities to arrive at a salary I'm very happy with: $95,000. I started last week and things are going well. It's such a relief to be employed again!
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