Financial picture

My financial picture was easy to understand back in the day when my only exposure to finance was through the financing I had to do to buy a car, furniture and all those things you require when you're starting out.  As someone with no credit rating and a job that paid $1,000 per month, I had to go to one of those high interest loan companies that will lend money to just about anyone.  "Debt" was my middle name and the thought of "paying myself first" (The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton) was laughable.  Pay myself first?  With what?

I was so poor back in those early days of my radio career that scraping up enough change to buy cream for my coffee was cause for celebration.  Doing my income taxes at the end of the year was a cake walk and knowing where I fiscally stood on any given day was easy; I was mired in the muck of debt.

It sounds terrible but it really wasn't.  I had enough to put food on my table, pay for rent (a 1970's era mobile home with 2 x 2 framed walls), and get back and forth to work.  It is actually my third radio job that comes into my head when thinking about the simpler times - CJAV Port Alberni.  I made the move there from Parksville trading a $100 per month pay cut - now down to $900 every 30 days - for the chance at an afternoon drive show and an assistant program director gig.

As life marched on - marriage (#1), a move to Alberta, divorce, singledom, and several more moves before taking that fated trip up to Fort McMurray for a job interview in 1996 - I slowly began to chip away at the debt to a point where I was able to buy my first house in Drumheller for the stunning price of about $16,000.  I felt privileged and rich beyond measure.

While I was poking my nose in the black for the first time in the 8 years since I had left Mom and Dad, life was simple.  I knew where every penny was going, completely understood my limitations, and moderated my spending to align with my income.

It makes me feel incredibly old to realize that 18 years have passed since turning the key to open that first house.  Since then, and especially after moving to Fort McMurray, I have been incredibly blessed, with a loving wife, two great kids, jobs and opportunities that I probably would never have had anywhere else.  A fiscal picture that was once easy to see and understand has grown incredibly complex.

We had a financial meeting with Russell and Brian from Investors Group the other night.  I'm about 20 years from retirement with a beautiful wife who will be ready to travel the world when I hit that all-important full pension marker.  Getting things in order now to ensure we have enough then is critical.  But, oh boy, getting things in order is a lot more difficult than it was when I didn't have two wooden nickels to rub together - as my father used to say.

Investments, mutual funds, RRSPs, RESPs, RIFs, LIFs, and annuities all flow together into a melange of terms that begin to look like a tangled mess of power cables and patch cords.  "Set it and forget it" are words that I've lived by quite diligently since emerging from the red into the black.  I really do put those contributions and automatic deductions right out of my mind and just let time pass.  It became clear to me the other night that I need to find some time to untangle the cords.

Ironically, my parents are trying to sort things out and understand things, though from a slightly different perspective.  Dad has always been diligent and somewhat draconian about financial prudence.  But as he approaches 80 and Mom gets deeper and deeper into her 70s, they want to have some comfort that when they pass on the government only gets their fair share and nothing more.

Our task is somewhat different, as we try to understand where we are today so that we can begin to see where we'll be tomorrow, when it comes time to retire and live the vagabond life of a couple of aging hipsters.  I feel a mind map coming on - a visual snapshot to makes sense of it all.

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