My Canadian debt story

I immigrated to Vancouver in 2006. I landed with a permanent resident visa, 2 pieces of luggage and $ 5 000.

Needless to say, this amount of money didn’t get me very far in this expensive city, particularly when I was starting over, from scratch and by myself. Luckily, I had left additional money in France, about 4K. I had absolutely no debt at the time.

Back then, the economy was very good and I found a job within 6 weeks of arriving. Unfortunately, it was low-paying, I was overqualified, under challenged and I just hated it. And this was the beginning of my professional life over the next 3 years. I just drifted from one low-paying, dead-end job to the next.

Looking back, I see how I was barely surviving and getting by. My salary and expenses did not allow me to set aside enough money to have a solid emergency fund, let alone to plan for items like vacation, going back to school, buy a house or even have an efficient retirement-saving strategy.

This was also the beginning of a series of –costly- financial mistakes such as:

  • Maxing-out my credit card, then applying for a second one
  • Getting a line of credit I didn’t need in the first place, all in the name of “building credit history”
  • Traveling back to France twice when I couldn’t afford it
  • Quitting a job on a whim with nothing else lined up and virtually no savings
  • Using my credit line to pay for living expenses while job searching…job search that took longer than expected
  • Spending $ 400 to $ 500 a month in restaurants and take-out

Did I mention all my savings from France were long gone by then? I used all the 5K plus the additional 4K I had left in my French bank account.

I also had to weather the 2008-2009 economic meltdown…..which I couldn’t. Early 2009, I was unemployed, had absolutely no savings and had pretty much used all my limited, available credit. I had to ask my parents to send me money. This was my lowest point ever.

Obviously, something had to change and to happen…fast! Returning to France was not an option. It turned out I was eligible for a provincial program that offered grants to help people with my profile obtain additional credentials. I applied and was successful. I enrolled in college and obtained a Diploma in Accounting in 2010.

Unfortunately, the amount of the grant was not enough to cover for all my tuition fees and expenses, as I attended a private school. I took student loans totaling 12K. To this day, I do not regret this decision, even if it meant additional debt, as my life drastically improved afterwards.

Subsequently, I finally found a job in Accounting that paid well and offered good benefits. At the end of 2010, I had 25K in debt with little to show for it except my Diploma. I was taking good care of my employer’s money, and it was time to take better care of my own.

I obtained a consolidation loan and closed all the accounts except two credit cards. It allowed me to save more, and combined with smarter spending, I was able to buy a condo. Update: I have sold this condo since. 

My consolidation loan is finally under 10K and repaid on a bi-weekly basis. Its highest peak was 31K.  Update: this loan has been fully paid off in April 2017.

Obviously, buying my home put a huge dent in my savings, which I aim to rebuild. One of my financial goals is to have $ 5 000 in my emergency fund. I currently have $ 1 500. Update: I reached 5K in April 2015 and 10K in December 2016.

I also realized I wanted to learn more about personal finances and share, hence this blog.

Happy reading!


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