Help a Reader: Trying to Get to Early Retirement

The following is an email I received from a reader a couple months ago.

It’s a sad tale on many fronts, but also inspirational because of how much progress she’s made. In fact, it’s quite remarkable IMO.

I had her adjust the story a bit and include more financials so she could get advice from the great readers here at ESI Money. So please read it completely and give her your heartfelt thoughts.

I also sent her a few money books to read in the meantime so she’s already much more educated now than when the email first arrived! 🙂

So with that said, let’s get to the email…


I know you are retired and just blogging now, so I feel slightly guilty bothering you for advice, but I do hope you can help and read my incredibly long detailed email (preferably over tea).

I am very late to the savings game, and have no real market/investment experience. I’m Canadian, so that’s something to consider. I’m late to the savings game because I’ve been on my own since a teen, and struggled through homelessness at one point. I pushed myself to finish high school and even got scholarships for university, but I also needed loans.

I was estranged from my family because of a rough childhood, and just before university my world imploded and I was kidnapped. Yup. That’s right — kidnapped and beaten and threatened by my then partner. I had experienced rape in a few instances as a teen by other men, but never anything that violent or scary.

I was able to finish school, but I needed to work on myself… I still am working on myself… but I worked hard enough on myself to be able to support myself after university. It meant I didn’t work during university because I had a lot of other work to do in other areas of life.

Even though some people wouldn’t see my current job as an assistant being a successful position, I am proud of it and do see it as my success: because of what I survived and how far I’ve come. My coworkers for the most part have no idea, but it takes a lot of work to be as functional as I am. An ongoing battle.

Anyway, I got work out of university, but it wasn’t amazing pay. I realized if I wanted to get out of debt I would need to increase my earning potential, so I worked my way through different offices and temp agencies on short contracts to up my experience quickly.

I moved from 12$ an hour up to where I am now at $56k/year within 8 years. There were periods of funemployment, but I work hard and am happy to do anything requiring skillful attention, planning, or quality assurance for pay.

I’m still working on improving myself so I can increase my earning potential, I’m currently upgrading my math (ie retaking high school maths) in order to learn advanced functions better — the end goal being to be able to understand more big data stats and produce better reports for my office.

The exciting news is that I finally finished paying back all my student loans last month! And that’s why I’m emailing you a long rambling background email for advice…

These loans were not cosigned and were solely my responsibility, and I paid about 65k of them back myself between 2010 and now. I also had to pay off the university between 2007 and 2009 for outstanding tuition for a term (just over 6k), had other credit debts etc., so there was a lot of weight financially on me for a long time.

I did this by keeping my expenses low. Living in Toronto can be hard since it’s so expensive here, but I managed to find an apartment in 2007 that was under 650$/month inclusive…less an apartment, more of like a room with a door. This way even when my income was barely over minimum wage (which was 10.75 at the time) I was able to throw everything I could and all OT at my loans.

Through repairing some family relationships some years ago they helped pay for about 10k of what was owed. Sometimes I wish I had worked during university and not had such large loans, but realistically I couldn’t have handled it all.

I moved into a bigger space a few years ago before the rental market heated up to the insane levels it is at now (thank god), so I’m paying $1200 for a jr 1 bedroom in an apartment with a gym and a pool (saving on gym membership).

I don’t have a car, license, car payments, insurance for a vehicle. I walk to work. I had homeowners insurance for contents, but I cancelled it when things were rough going, definitely thinking I’m going to renew. I have a cat, and do pay for pet insurance every month, which has already paid for itself.

When I increased my expenses my income was slightly higher, I didn’t realize when I became perm at work last year that HR would reset the salary scale and the pension would become required to pay. My best friends have helped me so much during this process, saving me from payday loans when I overestimated how much I could throw at a loan payment and cut myself short.

I definitely treated myself a bit last month…celebrations, eating out a lot, house items I desperately needed and had been putting off like new oven mitts and a laundry hamper without broken handles. I also put a deposit down on a new tattoo being done by my friend who completed her Arts degree and apprenticeship in August (I like to support friends). Blah blah optional unnecessary blah, okay sure…but I did the thing, so I get a tattoo! Thems the rules I don’t make em.

But then the fun begins, I can save like a mad person! 😀

Here’s an overview of my budget, my retirement planning, etc.

*Note that there is no “maxing out” of my pension, it is a set % pulled out based on your salary and no way to make contributions additionally. Everyone gets the same deal.

Without getting into too much detail about pensionable earnings, YMPE and bridging amounts received would be:

  • 29619.94/year until 65 (2468/mo) then 21000/year after 65 (& CPP kicks in and Old Age Security) giving me 3040/mo with retiring after 60 as “normal” for my pension plan rules.
  • The problem is factoring in early retirement hits…assuming I don’t take a hit to CPP or OAS and do not take those early, but do start my pension early, that means -5% per year (-25% overall):
  • 22214.95/year until 65 (1851.24/mo) then 15750/year after 65 (with CPP&OAS) giving me 2602.5/mo. Yikes!

Some questions:

  • How much of a nest egg is advisable to keep on hand (in such an expensive city)?
  • My first 5k will be saved by May 2019, and my first 10k by 2020, what is the best way to invest this money taking into consideration I need early retirement desperately?
  • Are RRSPs even worth it with my income if I intend to retire at 55?

I know I’m late to this game… like super late. I turn 35 next year. But I need to figure this all out and it feels so overwhelming. I read about a couch potato investment portfolio for stocks… not sure if that’s a good idea?

I need early retirement. I mean maybe my job requirements will change, or I will change, but as it stands I’ve lived like 4 lifetimes already. I have a stress disorder from all the bs I survived. I can’t expect any inheritance or help from family ever, and never will I rely on a partner financially (just not my style): so this is all on me, as it always is.

I need to travel, and write, and make art…and not stay chained to my desk until 65/70. There’s no way, I just can’t. I need that time to live, and make up for all the time I was hurt and scared. Even if I will be a poor artist, and take a retirement hit…I need it. So. I must be aggressive.

I just also have had no guidance, no teaching, no knowledge on anything. Hell, I had to figure out taxes on my own at 22 and pay an accountant to help with my back taxes because no one taught me that I needed to file!

Please, please help!


What’s your advice for her?


Originally posted at

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