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“From 40K in debt to condo owner: Advice from a Winnipeg millennial who dug themself out”

As a part of CBC Manitoba’s new series 'Unlocked' reveals housing struggles and solutions facing young Canadians.

By the time I was 25, I was $40,000 in debt. I was feeling exhausted, broke and lost.

It's the last place anyone wants to be.

It took some time, hard choices and lots of saving but now I have a hold of my finances and I have realized one of my biggest dreams: to own my own place.

I'm a millennial. If you believe the stereotypes, we are entitled, lazy and can't afford to buy homes, so people say.

If I were to describe my contemporaries, I would say we are creative, critical-thinkers and ambitious.

We are also facing different challenges than other generations.

It is becoming less common for younger people to work a single career in their life, and more popular do hybrid contract and gig work. For some it allows for flexibility, choice and a chance to be their own boss. I believe for most, however, we do it as a means to afford the rising cost of living and housing prices.

The average worker wages have not kept up to inflation, making it increasingly difficult to afford living and purchasing a home. The pandemic further intensified these realities. Many people have experienced job loss and burnout, and our financial and life stability has been shaken.

I'm sure many people my age can relate to my story.

I was born in 1988 and raised in Winnipeg's North End.

Today I'm an educator, movement artist, DJ and community organizer born, raised and still based in Treaty No. 1 Territory. I perform as Kilusan.

I'm also Filipinx. Family is extremely important to Filipinos. Many of us live with our parents well into adulthood. That's what I did.

I was in my late 20s before I moved out for the first time. Staying at home allowed me to finish my post-secondary education, develop my skills as an artist, earn income and help my parents.

While I worked hard and had several part-time jobs, I wasn't conscious of my financial habits. During my time in post-secondary school and first few years of being a full-time teacher, I spent a lot on my credit cards.

I paid for school, but I also went on shopping sprees, trips and spent money on things that I thought represented success. I was wrong.

I ended up being $40,000 in debt: $25,000 of consumer debt, plus $15,000 of school debt.

When I moved out of my parent's place, I was 28 and I came face-to-face with many hard financial truths.

Had I ever created a budget before I signed the leasing agreement? Nope.

Did I learn quickly after how easy it is to overspend, especially when life hits you with a few surprises? Yes.

Growing up, I didn't learn about financial planning at school or at home. I learned my money lessons by facing hardships and realizing having enough money for rent, bills and food wasn't optional.

And then one day, everything changed. I bumped into a dance friend who was also a financial advisor. He taught me how to budget, prioritize debt payments and save.

Here were the first big steps to getting my finances sorted.

  • I asked for help and advice from someone I trusted.

  • I created a monthly budget, lived within my means and kept track of spending.

  • I set up automatic debt payments and savings contributions each month.

I instantly felt more in control. I started to think about my future. I dreamt of one day buying my own place.

Even with more financial sense, I knew saving for a down payment while renting would be extremely difficult.

So in 2018, I moved back in with my parents. Working as a full-time public school teacher and freelance artist, I kept putting away money. I eventually saved enough for a down payment. My parents helped too. I will be forever grateful to have had their support, and hope to one day reciprocate the gift.

My next step was finding the right home to buy.

As I was still paying off debts, I needed to find an affordable place, so I could still make a significant dent in my debt payments.

For a single home buyer, my options were limited. I know many people feel the same way. The affordable housing divide continues to grow and people like me (a gig worker with multiple jobs) are priced out of the market.

It's upsetting to know that as housing prices continue to rise, the wealth gap in our community continues to widen and more people will live in poverty. Housing is a human right, and financial stability and freedom is only possible through affordable housing and livable wages that adjust accordingly to the cost of living.

In 2019, when I was 31, I was able to afford to buy a one-bedroom condo.

I love it. It's a place where I live comfortably, feel safe, pay my bills and enjoy life. I've worked hard to get to this point but I still wonder about my future, and being able to be financially free.

Throughout the pandemic, I have been blessed to continue working.

I have paid off my car loan, credit lines, established a savings account, while also continuing to pay off my credit card debt and my mortgage.

The cost-of-living keeps rising, job security is shaky, and the work world continues to evolve from a stable single-job career with benefits to a hybrid gig and contract-work economy.

As a millennial gig worker, will I ever attain financial freedom in my lifetime? I've come this far, so anything is possible.

I am the first woman in my family line to ever buy a home on their own. It's a huge accomplishment.

Filipinos have a saying: bayanihan refers to the spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a particular goal.

The truth is, I didn't buy this home on my own. Being able to work as an educator and artist is possible because of my community's support. So to them, salamat, saeaemat gid, thank you.

I have come a long way, made some mistakes, but picked myself up and kept going. I have some advice for my fellow millennials and gen Zs too.

  • Treat others with kindness, respect, and love and you will get support in return.

  • Be dependable and maintain good relationships, so that people want to work with you.

  • Be mindful of your spending. If possible, support your local community and redistribute your wealth to those who need it most.

  • Give back to your community, but remember to prioritise in your wellness and take rest when you can.

  • Celebrate your financial accomplishments, no matter how big or small.

I'm still learning how to talk about money without feeling embarrassed. Facing our financial truths, no matter how hard it may seem, is integral to shedding shame.

That's what I'm doing and one day I know I will be financially free.

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