Improving your life, your situation, your future…

So, your thinking about improving your life…

A lot of people think about how to upgrade their situation. The problem is a lot of people want it to happen overnight. The reality is almost nothing happens overnight and yet magically and ironically everything begins to happens overnight. What do I mean?

Change has to happen. A little tiny piece of change. At first, it’s just your decision to change, your wanting to improve, your desire to fix or rearrange some things in your life. I’ll be the first to admit that I was never big on the whole “Goal setting” and “Write clear objectives” thing. Being ADHD I didn’t have the time to set goals; I was constantly changing them. I had a thousand ideas a day. I was going to save the world, make it a better place, start my own business, write my book, become a movie star, a stand up comedian a great inventor… you get the idea.

Later on in my life… I did come to realize that setting goals and writing them down was helpful. It was a magic bullet that made things appear out of thin air. It was a constant reminder of what I wanted, where I wanted to be and how I plan to get there. I read it every day, and it pushed me to do something, anything, it was an encouragement to take the smallest little movement or step forward. It didn’t have to be big. Some days it was just reading my goal and thinking about it for a minute or two before I went to work.

But, when I was younger before I learned about goal setting, I could barely hold down a job. I was all over the map all the time. I was constantly bored and unmotivated to actually do something about all those great life changing ideas. So, what do I do? Well I think the turning point was when I found myself sneaking in and out of my dad’s garage. I had asked if I could store my old hide-a-bed in there while I found a place to live… turns out, that was my place to live. I’d go in at night and come out early in the morning. I did that for a few months and realized winter was coming and that it was going to get pretty cold and it was getting pretty lonely. What the fuck am I doing? I thought to myself.

Long story short, I got a job as a dishwasher and found a little place. I got fired, then ended up on welfare until my employment insurance kicked in. It was then I truly realized I had to get out, I had to make a radical change. But how? I decided to make the move. Through a series of chances and weird luck I found myself in Vancouver BC. I was renting a room for $250 bucks a month and my employment benefits were running out, all $400 a month worth.

After a month of being in BC I realized I needed to change, not change who I was… I need to change into who I was. I realized that no one knew me out here. I could be the person I wanted to be. I decided to stop being afraid. I was going to try things I’d never tried before and if I failed… who cares, I’ll try again or try something new. The first thing I did was take my step-father’s advice to heart. He said “When you work for someone, anyone, work as if you own the business. It doesn’t matter what you get paid. Whether you get paid $5 an hour or $100, you have accepted the job and you should respect yourself and the one who is paying you.”

A few weeks later I was working as a busser in a downtown Vancouver restaurant. I asked the waiters tons of questions on how to improve my service to them. “Tell me what you want and I’ll do it. If I mess up let me know how I can fix it.” That was my attitude. I was making over a $100 a day in tips. Are you kidding me? this is back in 1992, I felt like a millionaire. I was doing it, I was making it, I was a huge success.

Six months later I was the bar manager. I had asked the GM of the restaurant if I could train as bar manager after I found out the guy who had the position was leaving. David the GM told me to come in on my own time and train for a few weeks and then he’d let me know. I worked the lunch shift and then behind the bar for the night shift. I chose the night shift because it was much busier and there was more pressure to learn. After about three weeks, David said the job was mine (and he paid me for all the hours I spent training).

To me that was success, I was trying and I was making it on my own. A year earlier I was homeless and on welfare. It was hard to imagine that I was living in Vancouver on my own and making it. Fuck Ya baby.

Soon I met my wife, got married and we tried to start all kinds of businesses… but the problem was we never set goals, we never knew where we were going. There was no finish line, no address, no visible and well described goals.

It wasn’t until I’d been married a while and had children that I realized I needed to set some kind of goal in my life. I needed a finish line.

Let me tell you that in 2005, I was married with two kids. In 1998 my wife and I had lost our first daughter to cancer and let me tell you that took us for a loop. We ended up on welfare and in a depression swirl that lasted over a year. By 2005 we were $30,000.00 in credit card debt.

Sidebar: How bad was it? A year before (2004) we had applied to Habitat for humanity to see if we could get our own house. I was working for the Salvation Army... Blah, blah, blah. At the end of the interview, the lady told us we were too poor to get help. She was apologetic and I told her not to worry. We would do it on our own. I told her, "We'll get our own place in the next year." Of course I was bluffing... but then I realized why not? So we set things in motion and asked for help. I opened my books to the in-laws and with a signature from them we had our little half duplex.

Back to 2005, a week after we moved in I quit my job and started a new part-time job that paid $2 over the minimum wage I had been making at the Salvation Army. My plan was to get in and get as many hours as possible. I had a plan. Work my way up to top rate, get out of debt and get the in-laws off the title (so they wouldn’t have to worry about us defaulting) pay off the house as quickly as possible.

Goals, clear and concise. Yes, it was just a dream. At least to begin with. But at least we had a destination.

Within 2 years I was a supervisor and was bumped up to top rate. Most employees would take the long route to top rate. That was 7 years of work. Once you got their, you would get two bonuses a year, but I didn’t want to wait that long. I wanted full time work and top rate as soon as possible. Our goal was to live on the wages I was making before I hit top rate and put the rest on debt. One of the things that jumped out at me when I made supervisor was the amount of people who were upset with me and who trashed talked me for jumping the line so to speak. They were upset that it took them seven years to make it to top rate and I had only been there less two years and I was making more than they were. It wasn’t easy but I did win most of them over. I also made a few improvements to the way things were run and by the time I left those things were still in place.

Think about it, I went from working for the Salvation army at minimum wage and within two years making triple that amount. All this time we were a one income family and that didn’t change for years. Our first priority was always raising our children. We personally did not believe in putting our kids in daycare. Our modo was “No will take a bullet for our kids.” meaning no one could give them more love than us. Was it easy? Fuck no! When our oldest was in Kindergarten, my wife used to go out with our youngest and pick bottles and had an 800 newspaper route three days a week. I was working 7 days a week, on my days off work I would help my wife with the papers so that we could spend more time together.

Things were going pretty good. Every year for the first five years we would “raise our rent”; we’d increase our mortgage payment by 3% every year and we slowly chipped away at the credit cards.

In 2010 with the kids in school, my wife started working mornings at Costco. She would leave for work at 4:30am and I would get the kids off to school. She would be back home by 11, have a nap and be ready when the kids got home. We had different days off which sucked because we didn’t get to spend a lot of time together, although we took advantage of every moment we did have.

What were we going to do with all this new found money? Well, we started making plans for our retirement. What, where, when and how were we going to do it. We started with these three things. 1. We increased our RRSP contributions. 2. We increased our credit card payments. 3. We increase our mortgage payments.

By 2015 we were out of credit card debt. I remember making the final payment. I was like, “Never again!” We made the decision to always pay off in total what ever we used on the credit card. Never to pay interest again. (We used the credit cards just for points and cash back bonuses.)

So, what to do with all that freed up money? You guessed it. We increased our RRSP contribution. My wife’s entire paycheck was now going into saving. We were still living off one income. Then came our biggest move. We moved our mortgage into a line of credit… by moving our mortgage into an easy-to-manage account. We were able to deposit all our money into our account and pay less in interest charges—and this resulted in paying off our mortgage much faster.

Sidebar: This is a good idea only and I emphasize ONLY if you are a good budgeter. Because you have access to 80% of the equity in your home, you may be tempted to take a trip or spend on things you don't need.

When I became a supervisor we began buying (through payroll, which means no fees) stocks in the company (lucky for us we were getting an average return of about 15% per year over the fifteen plus years of buying) and banking my wife’s entire paycheck into an RRSP. By 2021 we were mortgage free and we had enough savings to quit our jobs and well… do this right here. That is write, do art, podcast and make fun little Youtube videos.

We continue to invest and we’re always asking questions about what’s next. Are we rich? That all depends on what you think rich is. We have friends who are in debt thousands and thousands of dollars and we have friends who are worth well over 30 million dollars. We have enough money to get by. We live a modest lifestyle. We have one car, we don’t eat out, we don’t buy a lot of stuff… we do like our concerts though and helping the kids out when we can. We live on less than $30,000.00 a year. We’re happy and in love (even after 27 years of marriage.)

So ya, I guess we are rich.

So what’s the point of all this? Set your goals, write them down. Make them clear… set GPS to your destination. Work at it everyday, a little bit at a time. It’s not always going to be easy, but at least you know where you want to go.

Thanks for being here.

Love, Chip and Honey Toodee

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