A Money Coach in Canada

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I haven’t been planning to purchase a place here anytime soon, in part because I want to see how I handle this winter.  I’m giving myself full permission to return to Vancouver with my daschunds if we need to thaw out and can’t handle the ongoing cold and snow.

I was minding my own business on Thursday evening, greeting friends via facebook, when the ad appeared on the right.

Never did I think I’d consider a mobile home as a domicile, but, I mean look at those pictures!  In Yellowknife, either because we’ve had lame developers or in combo with difficult conditions (cold, isolation) for building, mobile homes are a-Plenty here and don’t have the connotations of The Boys.


1. It has the look and feel, nearly precisely, that I would want

  • laminate
  • wood stove
  • soaker tub
  • warm wood and white walls
  • crown moulding
  • stainless steel appliances (oh, to have a dishwasher again.  handwashing begone!)
  • yard that does not require upkeep
  • special bonuses:  the entertainment system (on my to-buy list, right down to the Bose audio system) and the persian rug runner down the length.  Seriously, it’s so.totally.me.
  • 1.5 minutes away from Yellowknife’s best trail and lake
  • close to the Co-op where I shop

2.  The monthly payments are only a couple hundred more than I’m paying for rent

3.  Unlike many people, I’m still gloomy about the long-term prognosis for the economy, and have been debating investing in real estate rather than stocks.  My hunch is that the north is going to continue to quietly boom and that real estate here is a good investment.

4.  I’ll verify this with an inspection (only 1 inspector up here apparently!  grrrrr) but it appears to be in good condition, including a 2007 furnace, a new fibreglass oil tank, and some kind of relatively new pvc (?) piping = not as likely to freeze.

5.  I estimate that in 3 years I’ll have built up about $20K in equity.

6.  It’s affordable.


1.  I hadn’t planned on this, at least right now, and don’t want to be rushed on at $250K choice.  The deadline, for reasons I won’t go into, is Tuesday (day after tomorrow).

2.  I’m not sure I can pull all my various funds together in time to get my down payment.

3.  The ceiling is rather low.

4.  I don’t know the market up here very well yet.   I suspect mobile homes don’t appreciate the way stick-built do.

5.  One huge, major issue.   The condo corp. is responsible for the roads and pipes and apparently they are well past the due-date for replacement, but the corp does not have the, oh, $20M or so needed.   Each person on the strata could well be on the hook for up to $50K, although then the equity would be higher as well – plus, their may be some federal funding available.

6.  My monthly costs will go up because I’ll now be paying heat, hot water and internet (currently included in my rent)

6.  And last, I’m just not sure I want to commit to a place yet.

Thanks to the fabulous Realtor in Vancouver, Urbanista, for some really great pointers on the real estate angle (like, lenders look at mobile homes differently).

Readers, any comments?  Ideas?  Objective thoughts? YIIIIKKKES! 😉

Squawkfox? Krystal? Canajun Finance? Four Pillars? – opinions?


1581395559_8c6386f382Photo Credit: Isaac Valle

“How,” I wondered, “is it possible that this lovely, sophisticated, smart summer student actually goes .. goes .. Fishing?”   An expression of horror registered on my face, and said student asked about it.

“How can you kill a fish?”  I stammered.   She burst out laughing and replied, “It’s a fish, Nancy!  A fish!”.

“Yes,”  I replied, “but it was a live fish and when you’re done with it, it will be a dead fish.”

Colleagues chimed in with the obvious about What Did I Think I Was Eating When I Went Grocery Shopping, yada yada yada.

They had irrefutable points, but I guess in the back of my mind I’ve always subconsciously prided myself on being several steps removed from the ugliness of slaughtering the food I eat.

Until last Wednesday.

Last Wednesday, I saw the documentary, Food Inc. And like Martha Stewart, I think anyone who eats needs to see it!

While it’s not gruesome, it is a very stark account of the corporatization of food.

1. For one thing, we’re not getting real food much anymore, folks.  It looks like food, tastes like food and maybe smells like food, but really, it’s bordering on food substitute.  Think of it:  When food becomes a commodity, the corporate discussion centers around making the most food, the most cheaply, for the most profit.   I’m guessing there’s not a lot of, “but, by altering food this way, what health impacts does it have on people?”

2. And if you don’t think there are health impacts from the food in the supermarkets, do a quick google search on diabetes 2.

3. Last, although the film avoided gratuitous violence, anyone with half a heart for animals will be disgusted by the conditions of the life and slaughter of livestock in the corporate supply chain.   In my not humble opinion, we dehumanize ourselves by numbing ourselves to how livestock is treated.

Up here in Yellowknife, I have an opportunity to make meat choices that are better for me, and for the animals.

I’ve been converted.   I think it would be healthy for me to learn to fish – to become intimate with the entire process of life, death, and consumption.   The student has agreed to take me with her, and is prepared that I will probably cry at some point in the process.  (I said, healthy, not easy)

I simply cannot bear the thought of hunting, but there are a lot of people who hunt here, and I plan to acquire the ability to eat game – cariboo, moose, bison.

After seeing how beef and pigs and chicken are treated, it is clear to me that hunting and fishing are so much more civilized and humane.   The fish has had a good fish life – swimming in the good clean lakes up here, eating whatever fish eat.  The bison have had a good bison life – eating grass, drinking fresh water, roaming freely.  No antibiotics.  No force-feeding of corn.  No horror-show cramping into tiny spaces.   And with any luck, a quick, merciful death.

Wish me luck, readers.  I want to do this;  I know it’s the right thing;  but it’s hard to confront the brutal reality that I kill another living thing in order to sustain my own life.

I’m here at the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife, which has wifi! (and offers wild goose pate – but isn’t that a contradiction in terms?)

Peter Victor authored the book Managing without Growth in which he “challenges the priority that rich countries continue to give to economic growth as an over-arching objective of economic policy”.  Peter is an economics professor in Environmental Studies at York University.  As a green party member, I’m very interested in ecological economics.   Here’s the liveblog, ftw!

Last minute disclaimer:  I’m not an economist;  the information was fast and furious;  please construe this liveblog as my inept attempt to capture the evening – double check everything below in his book!



One way of understanding why we’re not taking good care of our home, the globe, is to understand how we “do” economics.

Economics is:  Firms provides goods and services to Households, who provide land, labour and capital.  If that’s all there is to it, it’s easy to imagine an economy that could grow and grow.  Hard to imagine we would ever question growth as an objective.  Here’s a diagram of this.

Missing:  The Environment.  First thing we have to do is add in the Environment.  Let’s include Natural Inputs – flows of materials and energy from Sources and Environmental Service.    How will these Natural Inputs re-emerge in the economy?  as Waste Outputs.  (Side: the only thing that goes and comes from the earth is Energy.)

Most of the information we rely on to make decisions is PRICE.  But our information is becoming less and less reliable re: Price.

Background #2 re: technology

1820 Population 1.1 billion;  1940 population 2.4 billion; 2009,  6.8 billion.

This population, of course, is not equally catered to.  Most of the wealthy are in NA and Europe.

Geek-out moment:  he’s showing slides of computers from 1946 to present, and also slides of phones.

Note: ironically, miniaturization allows us to build and design much larger machines – they can be computerized.  Eg. world’s largest container ship carries 11,000 containers and only employs 13 people.  So technology can work in many different directions.


Thesis:  Growth is not possible over the long term.  In fact, growth is disappointing.

Despite reduction in energy intensity,  global primary energy consumption is rising.  (ie. individual units are more efficient, but the scale is increasing).  Same with resource extraction – we’re getting better at using less material when extracting, but the net effect is still an increase of using energy.  Peak Oil:  (money coach shudders)  Production started to exceed discovery in 1990.

We need to make a fundamental energy transition.  We’ve done that in the past:  wood – coal – oil/gas, electricity.  We’ve increased our use of energy by over 20 times in the past 200 years.  In the past, it was not hard to switch because it had more readily apparent benefits – cheaper, better, more powerful.  Renewable options now do not have these characteristics.

If you want to freak out a little (money coach’s words), check out the Stern Review. It delineates the impact of each degree centigrade of average temperatures.

Services from planet earth

Approximately 60% of the ecosystem services examined are being degraded or used unsustainably, for example:

World Grain Production per person: peaked in early 1980’s. In decline ever since.

Canada:  collapse of Atlantic Cod (result of big factory ships – made possible by technology)

Rising evidence that growth does not make us any happier.

Gross Domestic Product v. Genuine Progress Indicator Until 1970, gdp and gpi moved together.  After that, gdp keeps rising, but gpi stayed nearly flat.

Since 1975, real income per person has increased, but percentage stating they were “very happy” stayed flat (money coach loves these kinds of stats).

Canada’s substantial economic growth from 1976 – 2006 – our gdp per person grew by 70%, but:

  • Never had full employment in that period
  • Had more unemployed people in real numbers
  • Reduced percentage on low income, but more in real numbers (now 3.4 million)
  • Increased inequality in incomes and wealth

How slowing the rate of growth could help climate change:

1990:  $950,000 GDP, and 592 mt (metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions) in Canada.  US, about 10 times this.

Green Growth means starting at 592mt and moving towards less.

Canada now:  747 mt.   We need an 87% reduction by mid-century.   We can achieve that in various ways:

  • reduce energy per output down to 13% of current if we don’t grow our economy at all.
  • if we have 3% economic growth, we have to get down to 0% (I think I got that right?)

Dilemma – if we don’t spend enough money, more people unemployed.  What makes an economy grow?

  • what we spend money on (consumption)
  • new equipment
  • gov’t expenditure
  • trade
  • what we produce

If we do business as usual to 2035, what would happen?  Gov’t debt goes doen, gdp per capita goes up, green house emissions go up, poverty goes up (yes, goes up).

What if we eliminate all growth? Disaster:  unemployment, poverty, stabilized gdp per person, gov’t debt becomes unmanageable.

The real issue is whether its possible to challenge the “growth at any cost model”.

A better model is low/no growth scenario.  poverty comes down, gdp goes up, unemployment goes down.   How?  (nerd moment coming up)  Macro demand (C,I,G,X-M) and supply (K,L,t)  stabilized;  Carbon price; Shorter work year;  More generous anti-poverty programs.  What would change:  new meanings and measures of success;  limits on materials, energy, wastes and land use; more meaningful prices; more durable, repairable products; fewer status goods, more public goods; more local, less global; education for life not just work; reduced inequality.

(interesting sidenote of interest to this money coach  about status – it’s a zero-sum game.  One person purchases for status, then another does, so original person back to where they started, so they buy again)
We must knock economic growth off its pedestal.

(Nobel Prize winner) Robert Solo’s endorsement:  “It’s possible that the US and Europe will find that either continued growth will be too destructive to the environment and they are too dependent on scarce natural resources, or that they would rather use increasing productivity in the form of leisure”

Can our universities adapt fast enough to this way of thinking?

Can our religious institutions adapt fast enough to this way of thinking?

Can our legal systems adapt?

Will it take disaster to make it happen, or could we look and think ahead?

Dr. M. Elizabeth Snow
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Why I Bought A Smart Car

I am a thoroughly cheap frugal person. I’m sure it comes from the many, many years I spent as a starving student1. So when I got a car that required me to have a car, “how much is a car going to cost me?” was one of the first things I wanted to find out. The two3 main things I considered were: (a) how much the actual car would cost and (b) how much gas would cost me.

I knew the following things:

  • I will be using the car mainly for driving to work (35 km each way) and then driving around to various sites in the Lower Mainland for meetings. This driving will pretty much all be on my own.
  • The other thing I will use my car for is to drive to hockey, where I’d either be driving on my own or with one other passenger.
  • I don’t need any bells or whistles. Truly, the only requirements I have for the car is that it it fits me and my hockey equipment and has a cup holder for my ever present travel mug of coffee.

a. Cost of the Car

I have long had a crush on the smart. I also loved my old Honda Civic. And being a member of the Car Co-op, I’ve driven all sorts of different cars lately, so I know that I like the way the Toyota Corolla drives, but I hate the Toyota Yaris.

There seems to be a misconception that the smart car is really expensive (perhaps it’s because it’s made by Mercedes Benz?), as evidenced by the countless people who have said to me “Aren’t those EXPENSIVE?” when I say that I’ve bought one. But here’s a quick comparsion4 of the cost of each of the base model with no extra options added for each of these cars (and a few hybrids thrown in for good measure):

Car Cost After Taxes & Other Fees
Toyota Yaris Hatchback (2008) $15,144.45
smart fortwo Pure (2009) $16,227.75
Toyota Corolla (2009) $18,070.85
Honda Civic DX Coupe* $20,792.00
Toyota Prius (2008) $30,591.65
Honda Civic Hybrid* $32,385.80

*Honda doesn’t indicate on its website to what year’s model they are referring.

And not all base models are created equal. For example, the Corolla didn’t include things that the smart fortwo comes with standard, like keyless entry, power windows and a first aid kit and the Toyota website allows you to choose the older model (2008 or 2009) of their cars, which may not still be avaialable, so if you have to go with a 2009 or 2010 instead, the cost would be slightly more than what I’ve listed here.

So, you can see that the smart is a fair bit cheaper than the other cars I’ve considered and significantly cheaper than the hybrids. (The only one that is cheaper is the Yaris Hatchback, which I *hate* driving).

b. Cost of Gas

The other big thing to consider is how much gas is going to run you. So here’s a comparsion of the fuel economy of these cars. The measure of fuel economy is given in litres of gas per 100 km. So the lower the number (i.e., the fewer litres of gas you burn when you drive 100 km, the better). The measure also gives you an easy way to see how much gas is going to cost you – for example, if gas costs $1/litre, then a car that gets 5l/100 km will cost you $5 in gas for every 100 km you drive.

Here is the fuel economy given for each of these cars on their respective websites:

Car Fuel Economy (L per 100 km)
City Highway City & Highway
Toyota Yaris Hatchback (2008) 7.0 5.5 6.3
smart fortwo Pure (2009) 5.9 4.8 5.4
Toyota Corolla (2009) 7.5 5.6 6.7
Honda Civic DX Coupe
(manual transmission)
7.4 5.4 not given
Toyota Prius (2008) 4.0 4.2 4.1
Honda Civic Hybrid 4.7 4.3 not given

You can see from this table that the one cars that get better fuel economy than the smart are the hybrids, which cost almost double what a smart costs to buy. I also noticed that all the cars except the Prius get better fuel economy for highway driving than for city driving – I dont’ know what the signficance of that is, but it kinda jumped out at my when I was compiling the numbers.

And then there’s financing

There are a number of financial incentives to buy the more eco-friendly vehicles. My smart car had no Provincial Sales Tax (P.S.T.) due to a provincial incentive for buying an eco-friendly car and there was a $1250 “spring rebate.” The dealer was offering 3.9% financing, but I chose to go with the Vancity Clean Air Auto Loan, which provides lower loan rates for people who buy fuel efficient cars. Specifically:

Only the smart car, the Prius & the Civic Hybrid fall into that first category. The Civic, the Corolla and the Yaris, along with 13 other cars, get the slightly higher prime + 2% rate. Given that the prime rate is so low (2.25% on the day I got my loan), prime + 1% is a pretty sweet deal!

So there you have it. In addition to the fact that I’m totally in love with the smart – so cute, fun to drive, less impact on their environment than most other cars, parkable in the tiniest of parking spaces, high safety rating – it’s also a pretty good deal financially speaking.

Also, for the record, this blog posting is not paid for in anyway – I just love my smart and want to share my smart enthusiasm! Actually, I’m becoming something of a smart car evangelist… perhaps I should ask them for commission? 😉

.1People talk about the “ivory tower” of academia, but let me tell you – they must have spent all the money on ivory, because they certainly don’t spend it on grad student salaries2
2Assuming you are getting any salary at all.
3I assumed car insurance would be the same no matter what car I bought, since I knew I wasn’t going to be buying a Ferrari or anything.
4These prices are all taken from the car companies’ respective websites, which conveniently have a “build your own car” tool that allows you to pick whatever options you like and find out how much the car you want will cost after taxes and fees. The price for the smart fortwo is the price that I actually paid.

Dr. Beth in Dr. Car

Dr. Beth in Dr. Car,
originally uploaded by Kalev.

nancy_small2Folks, I’m middle aged. Despite the Norwegian dna which keeps me looking thirty-something, I am not.
I’m a fourty-something.

I recently had a birthday up here in Yellowknife. Because I scarcely know anyone, there were not the usual celebrations, but there was time to reflect on the cost/benefits of my aging. Happily, by my analysis, it’s a massive win on the benefits side: I’d far rather be my age with my experiences than any younger age.

Here are some things I have now which I didn’t have even in my thirties:

  • A hard-won inner sense of security. Some people (can I call them “kids” yet?) seem grounded in their twenties but most of us have insecurities and uncertainties that can send us into real tailspins. That hasn’t happened to me in years, thank God. Having weathered enough of life, there’s not much that causes me self-doubt. Life feels a lot better being grounded, and confident! It gives me a place from which to venture forth, and to risk. Yes to security!
  • Perspective. This can only be attained with the passing of years. For example, as a former conservative it took some life experience of my own to change my point of view – and so now, I hold positions a little less tenaciously, knowing I could again see things differently. It enables me to dialogue and seek creative solutions rather than be choked with frustration and discouragement. Yes to perspective.
  • Hope. I grew up during the cold war, when it was a very real possibility that we’d blow entire countries up and kill the planet. Remember The Day After? Like many of my cohort I understood that annihilation was imminent. Yet here I am. And the Berlin Wall is gone (remember the Pepsi advert that year?). On less catastrophic levels, I’ve seen political change for the better, I’ve seen the green movement really take hold, I’ve seen Apple take market share 🙂 Seriously – hope born of experiencing turn-arounds is energizing and keeps life full of good possibility. Yes to hope!
  • Tried, tested and true friendships. By now I have a handful of friends with whom I have a long history. They’ve seen me through break-ups, through career dramas, and through the vagaries of life. These are friendships with depth, honesty and strong support when needed. This is not to downplay my more recently developed friendships, but it’s those 15-20 year friendships that enabled me to move to Yellowknife, knowing they’ll be there when I return. Yes to long-term friends!
  • A fierce love of life. There’s nothing like shattered dreams and taking a series of personal hits to help you discover that life its very self is worth the living. When I was younger I kept hoping for the life on the commercials – financial security, romance, and some measure of success that would put me somehow in the spotlight. As a middle-aged woman, I’m much more interested in a life deeply lived than externally pleasing circumstances. Yes to life!
  • None of this is to diminish my life in my twenties and thirties. But with these wrinkles (Norwegian dna notwithstanding), and with my mildly arthritic fingers, and knowing I’ll soon lose the ability to have kids, with those costs, comes an ongoing engagement with life, and people, and politics, and love, and learning that has become richer and deeper with the years.

    Can’t wait to turn 50.


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