Pique n yer interest 

Afford this town

The first three years I lived in Whistler I always spent slightly more money than I brought in, despite the fact I had two jobs for most of that time and was paying just $300 in rent to live in a front room that was all of 48 square feet.

It was difficult to think of myself as poor because I had food and beer in the fridge, money was always coming in, and I could afford to make the minimum payments on my student loan and credit cards.

But I never really planned ahead for the big expenses, like trips home to visit family and new gear purchases. These expenses always wound up on my credit card, bumping me ever closer to my credit limit (which the bank unhelpfully kept extending). And I never really added up the small expenses, so I didn’t think too much about buying lunches, going out for dinners, and coming home with the groceries I wanted rather than the groceries I needed. I didn’t think anything of going into the village to party once or twice a week, or apres ski celebrations. To me these expenses were just the cost of living and I wanted to live… for today, anyway.

Then one day I decided to take stock of all my debts and to start keeping track of where my money was going. It was a staggering revelation. I didn’t have enough money to make much more than the minimum payment on my debts, which means I was throwing most of my money away on interest. Despite my best efforts to reign in expenses, I couldn’t save any money or make a dent in my debts.

Then I got lucky and lost my debit card in Toronto. I went into a bank to get a new card, and the agent I talked to let me know I actually had good credit because I never missed a payment. I had qualified for a low interest line of credit, as well as that banks’ lowest interest credit card. I do most of my banking electronically, and this was the first bank agent I spoke to in years.

For me it was a new lease on life. I paid off my credit card with the line of credit and cut it up after cashing in the points. I kept the low interest credit card — 12.5 per cent is considered low — for big purchases, and resolved to pay the balance every month.

Suddenly I was paying two-thirds less interest on my debts, and was able to pay off the principle a lot faster.

I also took a good look at my expenses and made some tough changes. I started bringing sandwiches for lunch every single day, saving around $35 every week. I made dinners with less expensive ingredients, and cut my grocery bill in half. I cut down on the partying, and instead tried to have friends in as much as possible. I didn’t buy anything — clothes, gear, electronics — unless it was on sale and I knew it was going to last.

All the little things I did started to add up. I was finally spending less than I was bringing in and could both pay off my debts and save a little extra every month for the future.

Last week I participated in a Whistler Forum discussion on affordability in the resort, and the impact of the higher prices we pay for goods and services to live here. While there was no shortage of ideas how to make resort life cheaper for residents and seasonal employees, one of the themes that kept coming up was personal responsibility — the cost of the poor choices we make, and how little we actually understand about money. I learned those lessons the hard way, but maybe we can teach residents not to make the same mistakes.

Whistler has been called the most expensive town in Canada, but I really don’t find it to be that much worse than Vancouver when it comes to paying rent and utilities. Buying into market housing isn’t possible for most of us, but Whistler Housing Authority properties are actually less expensive than comparable properties in the city. Transportation costs about the same as Vancouver, but can be cheaper if you commute by bike and bus. And our groceries, while expensive, are no more expensive than what you pay at boutique grocery stores in the city.

Our biggest Whistler-specific expense is recreation — bikes, skis, snowboards, all-weather clothing — and a legitimate need to have the best of everything. Considering that recreation is the reason most of us are here in the first place, those expenses are easy to justify.

In a lot of ways it’s never been more affordable to be a local, as the local economy of recent years has resulted in more discount stores, more sales at grocery stores and retail outlets, more events like the Turkey Sale, cheaper food and beer at restaurants, lots of locals-only and seasonal deals, and viable second-hand options like the Re-Use-It Centre, Fine Line, the bike swap, and the ski swap. Nobody I know pays full price for anything.

With a little budgeting and restraint, anybody can afford to live here.

It’s a matter of priorities. I live in Whistler for the quality of life, despite the higher cost-of-living. If cost-of-living was my first priority, I’d move to the suburbs to be close to all the big box stores. And I’d be miserable.

Readers also liked…

Latest in Whistler

More by Andrew Mitchell

© 1994-2019 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation