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Lisa Zamparo

I’m a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), business coach and personal finance expert in Toronto who can help you make intentional decisions with your money. My personalized approach to financial planning can help you achieve your goals by aligning your spending with your priorities.

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Aspiring Saver Buried in Debt

For most of my adult life, I’ve been buried in debt – student loan debt, personal lines of credit and credit card debt. I didn’t grow up in a financially supportive family and have been on my own since moving out at 16. I’ve been working full time in a variety of different jobs since then, and I paid my way through college by working full time while studying. Although I’ve always tried to stick to a budget, several setbacks and “reckless” spending (i.e. more than a few shopping sprees) have led me to my current situation – over $60,000 in debt before the age of 30 and no real savings.

I’ve consolidated my debt in the past few years and have started to aggressively pay it down now that I’ve advanced in my career and am making a decent salary. However, I’m not sure how to go about saving (and eventually investing) while I am still in so much debt. I want to do both, but does it make sense to start saving when interest is still accumulating on my debt? Is it better to do one at a time or do both at the same time?

Aware and Awake

I’m in my mid-50s with two teenage daughters and a start-up catering business. Last year, my husband and I decided to get a divorce. During our marriage, I was a stay-at-home mom and managed our day-to-day expenses. But when all the paperwork started to come out through the divorce proceedings, I found out that he had been taking money out against our credit card at 21% interest and that he had refinanced our mortgage to buy stocks. When I realized how much debt we had, the feeling was indescribable. I can remember all the times I signed documents and thought nothing of it; I completely trusted his judgement.

To be fair, he has been very generous with our children. So, as we figure out what’s fair money-wise between us, I do not need to worry about their future. Initially, it was a real concern for me as my eldest doesn’t have great spending habits and my youngest still lives at home. Because my children are taken care of, I’ve recently had the time and energy to focus on understanding financial statements, investments, and properties. I think I’m heading in a good direction.

My question is, how do I make sure I’m financially secure? At this point, I think I’d have to go back to an entry level position since I’ve been out of the workforce for over 21 years (even though I have an economics degree). Although I have my amateur catering business, I’m not sure I can rely on it for a steady source of income. I’m counting on the return I can make from investing my settlement fund as well as using some of it to buy a rental property down south. But will that be enough?

Soon-to-be Savvy Investor

Self-made, single, and fabulous, that's me. I'm a professional with a good, steady income, and recently, I reached the six-figure milestone. Sometimes it's still hard to believe that I've come this far. Along the way, I've learned how to be a seasoned saver and a disciplined budgeter.

A few years ago, I decided to invest in real estate on my own and bought a condo in the Greater Toronto Area, just outside the downtown core. It was an easy decision because the timing, location, and spend level was right. I saw it as a great addition to my portfolio and turned it into a rental unit.

This year, I've decided to purchase a unit in the city for myself. But I have so many questions because I want to make sure I'm setting myself up for long-term success. I fear that I'll feel cash poor for longer than expected.

First, how should I structure my budget? Now that I own two residential properties, should I keep my budgets for each one separate or consider them as one item? Second, are there any tax benefits I can take advantage of?