They’ve got a combined income of $125,000. Did the pandemic alter their spending habits?

They’ve got a combined income of $125,000. Did the pandemic alter their spending habits?

Who: Amy Ding, 31, founder of Requity Homes, a real estate start-up; and Christopher Villegas-Cho, 29, research manager at RBC
Where they live: A two-bedroom East Bayfront condo
Combined income: $125,000, from Christopher’s salary and Amy’s income properties

In 2010, Amy moved from China to Toronto to pursue a master’s degree in management and accounting at U of T. After graduating, she started a career in financial services, eventually landing a job at RBC. In 2013, she bought a Harbourfront condo for $330,000.

Christopher moved from Montreal to Toronto in 2014 for a master’s degree in global affairs at U of T. After that, he took on a handful of research positions—first with U of T, then with the Canadian government. He met Amy on the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel in 2016, and moved into her Bay Street apartment shortly after.

2019 was a big year for the couple. Christopher took a senior manager position at RBC, making $105,000 per year, while Amy planned to leave her position at RBC to start a business. They bought a two-bedroom East Bayfront condo for $710,000, giving Amy the opportunity to rent out her Bay Street condo for $2,250 a month. Amy also purchased an income unit in Montreal and began renting it out for $1,350 a month. After covering mortgages and condo fees on the rental properties, their combined income equals roughly $125,000 a year. 

All of that happened while they prepared for two wedding ceremonies in 2020—one for Christopher’s family in Montreal, the other for Amy’s family in China. “My grandparents are relatively old and they can’t take airplanes, and it didn’t make sense to fly hundreds of my family members to Canada,” says Amy. The couple estimate that they put down $25,000 for their Montreal nuptials. Meanwhile, Amy’s parents have covered the cost of their Chinese ceremony and stayed mum about the price tag. 

Christopher’s salary and Amy’s rental income, combined with some investment earnings, allow the couple to live comfortably. They have enough room in their budget for plenty of travelling and dining out. “We really want to build up as much passive income as possible to have the flexibility to do what we want,” says Christopher. “If the right price and opportunity came along, we’d for sure be open to purchasing another rental property.”

Pre-pandemic monthly expenses

Mortgage: $2,296 per month, for their two-bedroom East Bayfront condo.

Condo fees: $662 a month, for Internet, gym and pool access, building security and a parking spot. “That price is calculated based on the square footage of our unit,” says Christopher. “It’s on the larger side, for sure.”

Utilities: $150 a month, for hydro and water.

Public transit: $60 a month, for TTC fares. Amy and Christopher took a pay-as-you-go approach to Presto, choosing to top up their cards occasionally instead of shelling out for a monthly pass. “We did a lot of walking, because we don’t have a car and we’re close to everything we need, like work, stores and restaurants,” says Christopher.

Transport: $70 a month, for Uber or Lyft. The couple typically used them for grocery runs or dinners out.

Cellphone: $100 a month, with Rogers. Amy and Christopher each use a $50 corporate plan, which comes with five gigs, unlimited texting and free Canada-wide calling. 

Groceries: $225 a month, at Lucky Moose Food Mart in Chinatown. “We don’t cook that often, so our grocery bills are not super high,” says Amy. Their grocery list usually includes pork belly, ground beef, vegetables, eggs and milk. 

Coffee: $150 a month, from Tim Hortons. Amy would order steeped tea, while Christopher got a regular coffee. “We couldn’t start the day without our morning drinks,” says Christopher.

Eating out: $500 a month, for at-work lunches and dinners out. “There’s a whole bunch of restaurants in Chinatown I like,” says Amy. “Simmer Huang, Dim Sum King and Spicy Mafia are our favourites.”

Gym membership: $25 a month, for Amy’s hip-hop dance classes at the Underground Dance Centre. “They have a lot of classes throughout the day, so it worked with my busy schedule,” says Amy.

Subscriptions: $55 a month for Netflix, the Globe and Mail, Google Music and Buzzsprout, a podcast hosting service. “The Globe is our go-to paper when reading up on Canadian news. They have pretty broad coverage at a national level, along with a decent business section,” says Christopher. The couple recently finished bingeing Better Call Saul, Modern Family and Money Heist.

Entertainment: $25 a month, for Christopher’s movie budget. “I probably go out to a movie with friends once every three months,” says Christopher. In the last year, he watched Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars: Episode IX, and Joker.

Haircuts: $90 a year. “When I’m back in China, which is about once a year, I usually get a $50 haircut from my stylist there,” says Amy. Christopher typically went to a cheap haircut place, wherever he could find one, a few times a year. 

Savings: $900 a month, into a high-interest account for short-term savings, and a tax-free account for long-term savings. They deposited the amount left over from their paycheques after expenses were covered. 

Pension: $800 a month for Christopher, whose employer, RBC, takes contributions out of his paycheque through a matching program. “It makes a difference for sure, in terms of kind of relieving some pressure from me when it comes to retirement savings,” says Christopher.

Travel: $4,800 a year, for three long trips. “We like to see and experience new places. Getting bogged down in work on a consistent basis can be very draining, so it’s nice to have a reset and refresh to get distance from your day-to-day life,” says Christopher. They try to visit China at least once a year to see Amy’s family, and go to Montreal every few months to visit Christopher’s family. Otherwise, they travel to international destinations like Singapore, Florida or Morocco.

The colour-coordinated couple in their East Bayfront condo

When the country went on lockdown in mid-March, RBC gave Christopher and his co-workers the go-ahead to work from home. Amy, who had recently launched Requity Homes, a real estate start-up, also moved all business operations to their East Bayfront condo. “I don’t really have an office per se—a lot of my meetings happened at other people’s offices or coffee shops. So now all my meetings are done virtually from our apartment,” says Amy.

Amy and Christopher have been saving almost double their typical amounts since the pandemic started, primarily because there are fewer opportunities to spend money. They’re still paying their mortgage and condo fees, but they’ve shaved off expenses from entertainment, dining out and taking Uber and Lyft around the city. 

They’ve also continued receiving income from their rental properties. “We’re in a fortunate position that we can passively generate income during the pandemic, and most of our tenants have extended their leases for another year,” says Christopher.

Amy and Christopher are happy to have the extra income, considering the upcoming expenses associated with their Montreal wedding, which got postponed until 2021. Their ceremony in China, however, remains scheduled for October 2020. “We haven’t cancelled it fully, still, because we want to wait until September, but based on what’s happening out there, I think there’s 90 per cent chance we’ll have to cancel,” says Amy. 

Overall, the pandemic taught Amy and Christopher the importance of having a solid baseline of savings. “Especially in times like this, when you just never know when you might need to pay for something or if you might lose a job,” says Christopher. “Having savings gives you a good basis for navigating economic downturns.”

Post-pandemic monthly expenses:

Mortgage, condo fees, utilities: Still a combined $3,108 per month.

Public transit: $0 per month. “We’re not missing the commute at all,” says Christopher. “Though we’re both fortunate that we can usually walk to the office, we’re enjoying the flexibility of working from home.”

Transport: $0 per month. Amy and Christopher have gotten into the habit of walking to grocery stores in lieu of catching rides with Uber or Lyft. “It was tough at first because we weren’t able to carry as much, because it’s 30 to 40 minutes’ walk each way,” says Christopher. “Eventually, we started using our luggage to move food more easily, but more recently we’ve been using grocery delivery services like InstaCart and Hello Tomato, a Chinese grocery delivery app.”

Cellphone: $50 each per month.

Groceries: $270 a month, from Lucky Moose, with an additional $3.99 fee if they use Instacart for delivery. “In February, right before Covid hit Toronto, Amy was very on top of the need to stock up,” says Christopher. “She took it upon herself one weekend and came back with $200 worth of non-perishable groceries and shoved them in our pantry and freezer.” Her initial stock-up items included rice, instant noodles, dumplings and Lysol wipes.

Tea:$10 a month, for packs of tea. Amy prefers black tea, while Christopher likes chamomile. “We tried going cold turkey without caffeine when the pandemic hit, since we couldn’t go to Tim Horton’s. Then we started getting headaches,” says Christopher. “We realized that we needed keep the habit going, so we bought tea in bulk to make sure we had it available each morning.”

Gym membership: $0 per month. “Now that the pool and gym in our building are open, I use them fairly often,” says Christopher. For the first few months of Covid, the couple did living-room workouts with videos on YouTube, and ran up and down the stairwell of their building. 

Subscriptions: Unchanged. “We’re not at restaurants, we’re not going anywhere, we’re just at home keeping each other company, so we’ve been watching a fair amount of Netflix,” says Christopher. 

Dining out: $300 a month, for takeout and delivery from their favourite restaurants, like Kimchi Korea House and Pai. Amy and Christopher usually buy a few days’ worth of food to avoid ordering every night. “We usually order once a week, and there are some apps that give you a 50 percent discount, so that lasts us a couple of days,” says Amy. They like to order two medium pizzas from Domino’s, for $7.99 each. 

Entertainment: $25 for Christopher, who is now regularly attending paid webinars and virtual educational sessions that he finds on Hopin, LinkedIn and Eventbrite. “I moved my entertainment funds toward professional development,” says Christopher. “Some of the webinars are public policy–focused, others are about economics or business resiliency during the pandemic. It just really depends what catches my interest.” 

Haircuts: $0. Neither Amy or Christopher have gotten a haircut since the start of lockdown. “I usually have my hair growing pretty long, but then during Covid, Amy just shaved my head completely,” says Christopher. “I have an electric razor just to shave my beard and face. On the back of it, there’s a little buzzer that’s meant for trimming. The process ended up taking much longer than it would have if I’d just bought a regular razor from Amazon,” he says. “It came as a bit of a surprise to a few of my co-workers on Zoom.” 

Savings: $1,700. The couple took the money they would have regularly spent on transportation and put it toward savings. They don’t have any specific financial goals in mind for the extra funds, but Amy and Christopher take comfort in knowing they have it. “We want to be as liquid as possible, in case we decide to make additional purchases or find deals. The main focus has been accumulating a reserve during this time of uncertainty, then figuring out if we can find opportunities to deploy it,” says Christopher. 

Pension: Unchanged.  

Travel: $0 a month, while travel restrictions are still in place. “We’re really hoping we’ll be able to make it to China for our wedding in the fall,” says Amy.