This 28-year-old tech worker makes $75,000 — but she’s $30,000 in debt and gives 10% of her income to her church. Can she still enjoy life?

In our new Smart Money series, #MilliennialMoney, we ask people living in the Greater Toronto Area to record every penny they spend in a typical week. Then, using tips from a financial adviser, we challenge them to cut their spending the following week so they can save more money. Will they fail or succeed?

How does a millennial pay off $ 30,000 in student debt while still enjoying her life? That’s the question 28-year-old Jenn is hoping to find the answer to. As an account manager at a Toronto tech company, she knows her $ 75,000 salary is nothing to scoff at. Yet, she feels disorganized when it comes to paying off debts.

“I know I have to pay down my Visa, but treating myself to trips has been more of a priority than saving up for a down payment (on a house),” she says. She does contribute a monthly payment towards her OSAP loan, but with a debt in the tens of thousands of dollars it feels like it taking forever to pay off. Small wins, like a minivacation, are more worth it.

Of all her recurring monthly expenses, one she doesn’t feel bad about is the tithe to her church — she gives around 10 per cent of her annual income. “My charitable giving is non-negotiable and I don’t feel guilty about it at all.”

Part of the problem is the long work hours she works — she often does overtime at her 9-to-5, along with a few shifts part-time on the weekend. She knows cooking at home and meal-prepping for lunch would help her save more, but she has no time. She believes that she spends $ 25 a week on groceries, but it’s probably more — she often makes additional purchases at the market near her workplace.

Between work and errands, she feels it’s important to find time for herself. That could mean a splurge on dinner with family or friends once or twice a month. Sometimes that trickles into her weekdays — if she’s having a bad day at work, she says she’ll buy a substantial lunch or grab a snack or latte with co-workers for a quick chat. “Even though I get lux coffee offerings at work, I still treat myself at my fave spots.”

As a consumer, one thing that’s really important to Jenn is to make environmentally friendly choices — which could mean spending more money on natural, organic products. “It’s totally a myth that all-natural, green stuff is too expensive, you just gotta shop around and think of the value. Well.ca always sends me a 10% off coupon and I just load up on my necessity.”

We asked Jenn to record all her savings for a week. This is what she bought:

The expert: Janet Gray, a financial adviser at Money Coaches Canada, notes that “most of Jenn’s weekly spending is on food and groceries.” She advises that Jenn make the following changes if she wants to save more:

  • Always prepare a grocery list before you go shopping — and don’t buy it if it’s not on the list (it’s the best way to resist temptation).
  • Keep food basics on hand at home so you can quickly and easily prepare meals for tonight and tomorrow lunch.
  • An oldie but a goodie: Never shop for groceries when you are hungry!

Result: Success! Spending in week one: $ 261.62. Spending in week two: $ 125.70.

What she thought: Jenn found the advice — and results — a little flat. “If I didn’t stay in on the weekend and if my boyfriend didn’t pay for my food, my spending would pretty much be the same (both weeks).” She says she attempted to stick to a prepared list when she went out to buy groceries in week two, but because of her abnormally long and inconsistent work hours — something she feels that she shares with her millennial peers — it was impossible to cook all the food and stay organized.

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Take-aways: Jenn says that after completing the challenge, she feel like she should focus more on time management and the money management will follow. “I don’t spend that much per week, and I think it’s mostly trying to figure out how to change my situation at work or organize my time better.”

This year, she’s also taken on selling her old clothes on Depop, a peer-to-peer shopping based app, to make a few bucks here and there to spend on grooming or clothing.

In addition, Jenn says that she realizes after this exercise that she makes “emotional impulse purchases” — she’s more focused on the now than long-term goals like saving up for the down payment on her first home. She also feels that the millennial generation has a different view of success — for some it’s travelling, for others it’s buying property.

“I feel the regular stress of not saving enough and having Visa debt, but I guess I’m comfortable,” Jenn says. “I can always make changes to reduce my personal spending, but I feel like I work hard to upkeep elements of my lifestyle. I enjoy that.”

Are you a millennial living in Toronto or the GTA and need help with saving your money? Be a part of #MillennialMoney and email ekwong@thestar.ca

Correction — December 10, 2019 – Income tax has been added to the first graphic for Jenn’s monthly recurring expenses.

Evelyn Kwong

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What are some other ways Jenn can save more and pay off her student debt?

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