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This mortgage broker makes $150,000 a year. How did the pandemic impact his spending?

This mortgage broker makes $150,000 a year. How did the pandemic impact his spending?

Who: Sean Cooper, 35 What he does: Mortgage broker at MortgagePal and freelance writer for various publications What he makes: $150,000 a year, including commission, rental income and investments Where he lives: The basement of a three-bedroom detached in east Toronto. He owns the home and rents the upstairs to a couple and their two children

Cooper grew up in east Toronto. After high school, he enrolled in Ryerson’s business management program, with plans to work in finance. Cooper graduated in 2009, then took a job at No Frills before landing a job at a pension consulting firm. He stayed there from 2010 to 2018. During that time, Cooper started working in journalism, which married his passions for finance and writing. He wrote a few pieces for the Star, the Globe and the Financial Post.

In 2012, Cooper bought a three-bed, three-bath detached bungalow in Cliffside for $425,000. After watching the TV show Income Property on HGTV, in which a host helps homeowners convert extra rooms into rental spaces, Cooper decided to live in the basement while renting out the upstairs unit. “That arrangement really helped me get ahead financially,” says Cooper.

He paid off his mortgage in 2015, and even had a mortgage-burning party to celebrate with family and friends. Then he wrote a book, aptly titled Burn Your Mortgage, about his journey to financial freedom.

Cooper quit his consulting job in 2018 to start working as a mortgage broker. A lot of people reached out to him for mortgage advice after Burn Your Mortgage got published, and he figured that getting his broker’s licence, which involved reading a manual and passing a test, would allow him to help people firsthand.

In early 2020, Cooper worked during the day as a mortgage broker for MortgagePal, while also writing finance, real estate and mortgage articles. Then the pandemic hit. After that, his work as a mortgage broker stalled because fewer people were buying homes, and his writing opportunities dried up because publications tightened up their freelance budgets. But the pandemic provided a silver lining: Cooper was forced to rethink his finances.

Moving forward, he wants to put away a more sizable emergency fund in case of another global catastrophe. “I will start regularly contributing to my emergency savings so that I have six months’ living expenses in liquid savings,” says Cooper. He plans to travel more often, knowing that life is short. “I’ll never take travel for granted again. I’ll be so happy when I can fly to Europe and everything is open. I’ll probably cry tears of joy,” says Cooper. He also wants to turn his Cliffside property into a full rental unit and purchase a new primary residence when he finds a partner.

In the long term, Cooper wants to have a $1-million investment portfolio by age 40 and travel the world. “I’d like to have visited every continent before I turn 45.”

Regular expenses:

Mortgage: $0 a month. “I was able to pay off my mortgage five years ago,” says Cooper. “I still live in the basement of my house and rent out the upstairs to tenants for $1,425 per month.”

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Utilities: $250 a month.

Internet: $32 a month, with Teksavvy. “My monthly rate jumped $8 during the pandemic, because apparently operating costs increased for my provider,” says Cooper. “It was pretty disappointing.”

Home Insurance: $72 a month, with Square One Insurance.

Cable: $0 a month. “I’ve gone cable-free ever since I moved on my own in 2012 and don’t regret it at all,” says Cooper. “I have my TV set hooked up to my desktop computer as a second monitor and stream free content.”

Phone: $40 per month, for unlimited calling and text messaging in Canada, with Fido. “As a mortgage broker, having a decent phone plan is essential, because I’m on the phone with clients pretty much all day,” says Cooper. “It’s perfect for personal and business needs.”

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Groceries: $150 per month, from No Frills and FreshCo. His grocery list usually includes bagels, lentils, tofu, quinoa, yogurt, apples and peanut butter. “I’m single, so my grocery spending is a lot lower. I’m also a vegetarian, so that helps as well, because veggies are typically cheaper than meat products,” says Cooper. “I try my best to eat healthy, but sometimes I can’t help buying a couple boxes of Chips Ahoy.”

Eating out: $100 a month, at Fresh, Planta Burger and Cibo Wine Bar. “I’ve been eating out lately on patios and at restaurants. Not because I have to, but rather to support local restaurateurs,” says Cooper. “I know times are tough, so I’m trying to help out where I can. It would be a shame to see local spots go out of business.”

Transportation: $25 a month, on public transit. “I’m fortunate to be able to work from home. Normally, I would take Line 2 downtown to meet clients and friends for coffee,” says Cooper. “But I’ve been avoiding public transit as much as possible since the pandemic started. I expect this expense to go up as I start meeting friends and clients again.”

Gym: $40 a month, at Resistance Fitness, a local gym. “It’s a great way to meet people in my neighbourhood and I like supporting a local business. The owner, Mike Arabia, is a good guy,” says Cooper, who returned to the gym in early August. “These days, I’m mostly working on upper body and my core. That means a lot of bench-press and sit-ups. There’s nothing more important than staying physically fit, especially when it’s so easy to sit around the house during the pandemic.”

Savings: $4,000 a month, into an RRSP and a TFSA. “I’m slowly building up my emergency reserve fund, and I’ve got a special account for travel savings.”

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Recent splurges:

Shoes: $200, for New Balance hiking shoes. “My local gym was closed until late July, so to stay in shape, I’ve been running in the Beaches and heading out to Scarborough-Rouge for weekend hiking excursions,” says Cooper.

Bicycle: $1,000, for a Norco Storm 5. “I got 10 years out of my old bicycle, so I figured it was time to buy a new one, with public transit a no-no in the early part of the pandemic,” says Cooper. “I’ve found cycling at the waterfront to be a great way to unwind during Covid.”

Travel: $2,000, for a trip to Washington D.C. and New Orleans, including flights, food and accommodation. “I wanted to see the White House so I flew to Washington in late February. After that, I went down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras right before Covid-19 hit. It was amazing,” says Cooper. “I was planning to go to Italy or Greece this summer. I was just about to book flights and accommodation when the pandemic happened. I’m still hopeful that I can go in the fall. If not, I’ll just travel locally and explore Ottawa and Montreal.”

Spa: $200, for a massage at the Four Seasons in Yorkville. “I treated myself to a spa day in late July because I really needed to relax,” says Cooper. “All the frightening news alerts and time spent alone had me feeling really down. It was nice to make time for some self-care.”

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