Finances Personal

I am So DONE (With Student Loans)

money, Robert Fairchild, student loans, debt, financial freedom

In the fall of 2009 I was sitting at my family’s kitchen table in tears.

My brother was sitting with me, calmly walking my through the letter I had received from the National Student Loan Service Centre. It’s not like I hadn’t known this was coming. Years earlier I had come to terms with the fact that my post-secondary education was going to have to be primarily funded by student loans. If I wanted to go to school, that was the reality I had to accept. I’d pay them off one day.

That didn’t make the $35,858.00 I now had to start paying back any easier to swallow. Nor did the fact that, if I followed the 10-year repayment option I had been presented with, I would have paid more than $40,000 when it was all said and done. Oh, and by that point I’d be in my mid-thirties.

I hadn’t had a lot of options when it came to paying for school. I had a bit of (extremely appreciated) help from family, I worked in the summers, and I spent my third and fourth years of university as a don (U of T’s slightly more intense version of a residence assistant) to help cover my room and board (if I hadn’t gotten that position I probably would have had to take some time off in the middle of my studies), but student loans still needed to cover the bulk of what I needed. Biting the bullet was made easier knowing that my education was a worthy investment.

But I hated – absolutely loathed – the idea of having to wait until I was in my mid-thirties to be clear of the burden of those debts. While $36,000 may not sound like a sum worth getting worked up about in comparison to the cost of things like grad school or tuition in other countries, it was (and still is) a lot to me.

But it was what it was, so I dutifully set up my repayment plan and settled in for the long haul.

I only paid my minimum payment for three months. Those ten long years were constantly weighing on my  mind. While I wasn’t making a whole lot of money at the time, I reasoned that I could at least afford to toss a bit more at my loans than what was being asked of me at the time. So I rounded it up and never looked back.

I bumped up my payments again when I got a new, better paying job in my field. Maybe it wouldn’t make a huge difference in the long run, but it made me feel more in control to contribute more.

Then, a few years ago, I found myself making some truly adult choices like getting myself into RRSPs and life insurance. I was feeling more empowered but as I crunched the numbers I still couldn’t imagine myself as the “responsible” 20-something that all the financial professionals I spoke to praised me as being. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t making smart choices and being fairly good with my money: it was because of the student loan, still casting its shadow over every financial choice I made.

People always tell you not to feel bad or guilty about student debt, and I see where they’re coming from. But I’m just not that kind of person. I couldn’t stand the debt when I said okay to it, and my sentiments hadn’t changed even after making a respectable dent into it. I was so done.

One night around that same time I sat down and spent hours cranking out pages and pages of numbers and budgets. I knew I could afford to do more to tackle my student debt, so what was stopping me? If it made me that unhappy then it was time to fix the problem. I eventually came up with a monthly budget that allowed me significantly pump up my payments without completely disregarding my savings. It mean some sacrifices and that I had to be being diligent with my budgets, but I didn’t care. I had a new goal: get my student loan paid off by the time I turned 30.

Fast-forward to last Sunday, January 18th, 2015. Kyle and I were sitting around my computer and I was holding my breath as I clicked the “confirm payment” button glowing on my screen.

It was done.

I had just finished paying off my student loan, four months out from my 30th birthday and over four years earlier than I was supposed to be finished.

Now, I have a confession to make: I did a bad thing. I did something that all my personal finance blogger friends and financial role models tell you not to do… I took the final payment out of my savings. I only had three months left before the loan would have been paid off in full, but I couldn’t wait. I could not stand the idea of seeing the earnings of yet another year go toward this ghost that had been haunting me for years. I was ready to move forward, I had new plans and goals, and this time I was determined not to have the shadow of my student debt looming over top of them.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows: Over the last year I foolishly let my line of credit creep up. It’s nothing unmanageable, but I am disappointed in myself. I could be completely debt free right now if I had been more diligent. I had also envisioned having more in savings when I reached this point, regardless of whether I had used some of the money to help with the loan or not. I’m not in bad shape (my RRSPs are coming along), I’m just not where I wanted to be.

But I’m not going to let those little set-backs bring me down for long. I’ve already refocused all of my freshly freed-up income toward those two areas: bulking up my savings and paying off my line of credit as quickly (and responsibly) as possible.

More than anything though, I’m just so relieved to be done with this chapter of my life. I’m also really proud that I was able to achieve my goal in the process. It’s refreshing and even a little exciting to know that I’ll be starting the next decade with a fairly clean financial slate with at least one burden firmly in the past and the others more firmly under control.

Experiences Personal Projects The Let's Go Ladies

Daydreaming About Warmer Days in Kaua’i

Author’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared on The Let’s Go Ladies! on January 14th, 2015. 

Last month Kyle and I got to spend a beautiful and perfectly relaxing week in Kaua’i, Hawai’i. It was the sort of place I never really thought I’d ever get the chance to visit, and I didn’t really believe it was happening until we were actually there.

Kaua’i (pronounced kah-wa-ee, not koo-why as I had originally thought. Those apostrophes make a significant difference!) is the oldest island in the Hawai’ian archipelago. It’s affectionately referred to as “The Garden Island” and it’s not difficult to see why; the place is a small, lush, green paradise plopped right in the sunny middle of the Pacific Ocean.

I don’t have any experiences with other Hawai’ian islands to be able to compare Kaua’i with, but according to Kyle and his family, the island is much greener, less commercialized, and a lot quieter than, say, Maui (expect for the chickens and rooster that you’ll find anywhere and everywhere!) which makes it right up my alley. The locals were as friendly and laid back as I had always heard they were and it took me no time at all to fall into step with their “no worries” attitude toward life.

beach, palm trees, waves, ocean, blue sky, Poipu, Hawaii, Hawai'i, Kauai, Kaua'i
Po’ipū Beach on Kaua’i’s South shore.

We stayed at a place called Nihi Kai Villas (a comfortable and reasonable alternative to staying in a resort hotel) in the village of Po’ipū on the island’s South shore where we were never more than a four minute walk from the beach. Every morning Kyle and I would walk down the road and watch the sea turtles riding the surf in the lava rock shore before stopping at Brennecke’s Beach Broiler or Kao Kea’s Red Salt restaurant for breakfast. The rest of our days were generally spent with a drink or two in tow at Po’ipū Beach. When I wasn’t napping in the sun I was swimming in the ocean (which was actually a brand new experience for me! Seriously, I had never been swimming in the ocean before this trip) and/or “snorkeling” (quotation marks because I only ever used my goggles) around looking at the many schools of tropical fish around my ankles (it never got old).

But lest you think I spent the entirety of my vacation as a beach bum (although what would be wrong with that?) we did manage to get out at explore the island. Here are some of my recommendations:

Fave places to eat (aside from the above):

  • Da Crack (Po’ipū) – The very definition of a “hole in the wall”, you order your food at a pick-up window and take it to go. The food reminded me of Chipotle only much, much, better!
  • Makai Sushi (Po’ipū) – You’ve got to go into the Kukui’la Food Market next to Da Crack to find this sushi counter. Prepare to pay a little more than you normally might but expect to be blown away by what you get!
  • Bubba Burgers (Po’ipū, Hanalaei and Kapa’a) – Quirky and fun, this is a classic burger joint. I had never considered putting teriyaki on a burger and now it’s all I want! Their tag-line, “We cheat tourists, drunks, and attorneys!” instantly landed them a special place in my heart.
sushi, Hawaii, Hawai'i, Kauai, Kaua'i, Poi'pū, Poipu, food, delicious
Ahi, ono, salmon – Chef Matt’s Gorilla Poki is to die for!

Road trip worthy:

  • Hanalei – This little surf town is right along the North shore of the island. We drove up on our first full day in Kaua’i and spent the whole afternoon at beach at Hanalei Bay. If you visit, make sure you stop by the caves that are close by!
  • Kilauae Point National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse – We only stopped by along our way to Hanalei but you can actually get in and visit this classic lighthouse for a small fee. The view is great from wherever you happen to be though!
  • Waimea Canyon – We saw this natural wonder from the air but you can also get to the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by car and hike along a number of trails for an up-close and personal experience.
Hanalei Bay Beach Park, North shore, Kauai, Kaua'i, Hawaii, Hawai'i, ocean, mountains, waves, pier, beautiful
The famous pier at Hanalei Bay Beach Park.

Worth every penny:

  • Kōloa Rum Company – This distillery and their award winning rum have roots in Kaua’i’s sugar cane history. You can tour around the beautiful plantation and stop in for a tasting (don’t forget to tip your bartender!) The tastings are free but you’re going to want to hit the gift shop before you leave so don’t forget your wallet!
  • Safari Helicopter Tours – They say that about 80% (!!!) of Kaua’i is inaccessible by car. It may be one of the more expensive things you do while you’re there but the best way to see the island – including the famous and gorgeous Nā Pali Coast – is by helicopter. There are lots of companies that will take you, but after a bit of research we settled on Safari and we’re so glad we did. Safari is operated by great people who care about safety and offer respectable prices for their tours. One of the coolest things we’ve ever done! (Seeing the waterfall from Jurassic Park completed me as a human being.)
beach, cliffs, Hawaii, Hawai'i, Kauai, Kaua'i, helicopter, ocean
The incredible Nā Pali Coast as seen from the air.

Even though I selfishly want to keep it an unspoiled little secret, I really can’t recommend Kaua’i enough. If you’ve ever been, be sure to tell me what you thought and what you did in the comments!

Life Personal

Don’t Call it a Resolution

The first full week of 2015 is almost over and what do I have to show for myself?

As far as I’m concerned, a fair bit. I may not be crossing amazing feats and major changes off of a list left and right but I’m feeling pretty good about my direction so far.

I mentioned in my last post that the only resolution I’ve made for this year is learning to skateboard. People think I’m kidding but I’m seriously going to give it an honest shot.

skateboard, skaterboarder, palm trees, unsplash
You never know – I could be THIS good one day

But this isn’t to say that I’m not embracing the new year like the reset button that we treat it like. I’m just not calling the subtle lifestyle tweaks that I’m trying to make “resolutions”. New years resolutions always seem to get a bad rap and I kind of felt like all of that “it’ll all be over by January 2nd anyway!” stuff to be too much bad mojo for me this time around.

So, rather than putting all of the things I want to do and try out there like a checklist of milestones to be accomplished, I’ve been taking the more subtle approach. Ultimately, I just want to live the best life I can in 2015 (and, y’know, hopefully lay the groundwork for living my best life all the time. Baby steps). My most successful new year was probably 2012 – the year I dubbed, “The Year of Better Living“. I liked putting the focus on just living the best way I could and it seemed to work for me. The difference is that this year I’m not making any lists. None. There will be no lofty goals to reach, nor will I allow myself to be filled with a sense of shame when I fail at something I (except maybe when it comes to the skateboarding thing). I’m just going to spend the year actively trying to be and do better.

Take this past week for example: On Monday I woke up early to walk Jasper before work and I went to the first kick-boxing class of the year. High-five, self! Way to be active! I also haven’t eaten a single meal out since I went grocery shopping on Saturday, I’ve been pre-planning all of my meals so that they’re healthy without being restrictive, and I’ve been drinking the recommended amount of water every day! Boo-yah! Not only do I already feel better in a post-holiday-excess world but I’m saving money too! Two birds with one stone!

What other awesomeness can I accomplish next? I don’t know! Let’s find out!

This year comes down to a single simple idea: When there’s a choice to be made I just ask myself, “will doing/not doing this make my life better?” and then I proceed accordingly.

No checklists, no magic numbers; just an honest focus on improving my life (and hopefully consequently the lives of those around me) in ways that leave me feeling good and happy and fulfilled.

Is this a lazy way to tackling a new year? Maybe. But so far it’s working for me.

So, here’s to building positive habits and living a happy and productive life!

What about you? Did you make resolutions for 2015? Tell me about them in the comments!

Life New Years Personal Projects

The End Of The Year, As Told By Lists

Kauai, Hawaii, Poipu, beach, waves, travel, tropical
Kyle took this shot of my on a lava beach on our first morning in Kaua’i.

Things I’ve done since I last blogged:

  1. Finished a fun semester of teaching with a great group of students.
  2. Spent a week relaxing on a beach and getting in touch with my inner aloha in Kaua’I (more on this in the New Year).
  3. Had a lovely multi-day Christmas spent with family, cooking two turkeys in the process.
  4. Started running outside again (winter be damned.)

Yes, it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been busy, I haven’t been feeling the desire to write, and everything but the holidays was pretty much put on hold. But, as the festivities wind down and 2015 looms ever-closer I’ve been feeling the siren song of a blank slate and I’m gingerly starting to dip my toes back into real life a bit.

Generally at this time of year I write a customary rambling post about how much I love the dawning of a new year and outline my plans in great detail. This time, however, I’m just going to write a few more lists. I’ve been writing a lot of them lately and I seem to be pretty good at them.

Best books I read in 2014:

  1. “A Sudden Light” by Garth Stein (read my review!)
  2. “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed (read my review!)
  3. “The Enchanted” by Rene Denfeld (just finished it so no review but honestly it was splendid.)

Favourite places I visited in 2014:

  1. Kaua’i, Hawai’i.
  2. Jasper, Alberta.
  3. The Okanagan and Vancouver, B.C.
kauai, hawaii, poipu, beach, ocean, waves, tropical, sun rise, travel
The sunrise on our last morning in Kaua’i.

Favourite Gumption posts I wrote in 2014:

  1. Please Stop Pretending My Career Doesn’t Exist
  2. Why Studying Abroad Was The Best Decision I Ever Made
  3. Photo Friday: Back From BC
  4. Airing Out The Empty Nest
  5. No Way To Get There? Create Your Own Path
  6. Posts About Moms: Not Just For Mother’s Day
  7. 5 Things Being a Part-Time College Instructor Has Taught Me About Life
  8. On Loss, Grief, And Trying To Figure It All Out
  9. Notes On Starting A Brand New Chapter (Because Everyone Likes Surprises, Right?)
  10. This Is A Story About Anger
  11. How Not To Feel Like A Failure Most Of The Time And Start Appreciating The Small Things

Things I’m looking forward to in 2015:

  1. Watching the Habs beat the Leafs in Montreal on Valentine’s Day.
  2. Paying off my student loan (March, baby!)
  3. Going to Iceland.
  4. Turning 30 in Iceland (Which is better than turning 30 on its own.)
  5. Every new and exciting thing life throws my way.

My single, solitary New Years Resolution:

  1. Learn to skateboard.
unsplash, skateboard

That’s it! Now, tell me about your 2014 and what you’re looking forward to the most about 2015!

Photo Fridays Projects

Photo Friday: Oh, Christmas Tree

Christmas tree, holidays, festive, pretty, family
The 2014 Hamil-Harms Christmas tree.

I had this nice, introspective post written about change and growing up and such and just before I hit publish I thought, “Nah.”

So instead, have this photo of our 2014 Christmas tree.

Life Personal

What Day Is It?

Wow, have I really not updated since Halloween? Yikes.

November has just been one of those non-stop months and December is shaping up to be much of the same. Which is pretty much par for the course really, but still…

The month started with a truly honest attempt at tackling NaNoWriMo. I loved my novel idea and was making some really great headway meeting my daily writing goals. But I truly have to wonder why the creators of National Novel Writing Month chose November as *the* month to do this. Personally, the only worse time to try and crack out 50,000 words in 30-ish days would be December. Needless to say my novel got pushed so far to the back burner that in inevitably fell right off the stove. Still, I did have fun and I liked the idea. Maybe I’ll choose a month in the future that works better for me and just do my own NoWriMo…

books, novels, writing, nanowrimo, ghosts, spooky
This is the cover for my novel. I was dedicated enough to design a cover but not enough to, y’know, finish writing the novel itself… Oof.

And what usurped my novel writing (and also apparently blog writing) aspirations, you ask? A bit of work (we’re rapidly coming into year-end which means I’ve had a lot on my plate trying to get everything squared away before the holidays), a bit of teaching (the semester is coming to a close, which means there’s been a big focus on grading and prep for my students’ client project), and a bit of life (a visit from a brother here, multiple trips to Toronto there… You know how it goes).

basketball, Toronto, Raptors, ACC, Air Canada Centre, NBA
Sorry, can’t write a novel right now. Too busy watching the Raps dominate. As one does.

I’m in a bit of shock over the fact that November is actually just days away from being over. December is going to be a whirlwind. The first week and a half will be nothing but grading and wrapping up my office to-do list before Kyle and I jump on a plane and head to Hawaii for a week (my first tropical I’m-just-here-to-relax vacation ever). We get back four days before Christmas. It’s going to be nuts.

Christmas, holidays, Hawaii, chalkboard art, advent calendars, countdowns
Countdowns on top of countdowns.

In this post I see a number of themes that pretty much sum up 2014: whirlwind, busy, nuts. This has been SUCH a big year that I can hardly imagine what 2015 is going to be like (bigger, better, busier?)  Regardless, it looks like the year is going to be ending with a bang!

Photo Fridays Projects

Photo Friday: This is Halloween

Jack Skellington, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Halloween, costume, onesie



Happy Halloween, my darlings! Get your spooky on!


Please Stop Pretending My Career Doesn’t Exist

careers, job, livelihood, work, passion

This past weekend I took Perry the Pontiac in for an oil change. Making small talk, my mechanic asked me about teaching at the College. He had spotted my faculty parking passes and he was curious (I get this a lot. I imagine the braces throw some people off) so I told him about teaching a course there once a week while continuing to work full time at Quinte Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

“So, I guess you’re just working the other job until something full time comes up at the school then?” He asked.

It was an innocent assumption. You often hear about teachers at the elementary and secondary level taking substitute positions to get their foot in the door for when a more permanent position becomes available. But it’s also an assumption that I’ve heard often when the subject of my career comes up. Just a couple of weeks ago I had to update my information at my bank because they had my instructing role listed as my full time employment (“What do you mean this payment is from your employer? It says here you work at Loyalist!” – I’ve been banking there my whole adult life, folks). There was no mention of the fact that I actually work full time as a director of communications, even though they definitely have been told so in the past.

I can literally see it on the faces of people I’m speaking with: They ask me what I do and I tell them. Then I watch as an uncertain look flickers across their eyes as they attempt to process the title “director of digital media and communications”. What the hell does that even mean?

And then they turn to a friend to introduce me and what comes out is, “This is Sara. She’s a professor at Loyalist”!

Every. Time.

In truth, I get it. “Communications” is already a nebulous enough professional concept for a lot of people. It can mean a lot of different things. Compound that with the “digital media” component and I can absolutely see where the confusion is coming from. This is a career that didn’t exist a handful of years ago. It’s still kind of new and, for some, it’s really bizarre that a person can actually make money, let alone a career, by working with social media and the internet. I mean, I don’t think my own family completely gets what I do for a living (sorry, mom!)

I can see how it would be easier to latch on to the teaching position. Teachers are familiar, their work is straight forward and easy to understand.

Plus, if I’m being honest, it’s impressive to be able to say that you teach at a college. Why wouldn’t a person want to flaunt of a job like that?

But every time a person erases any trace of my full time career, a little piece of me dies on the inside.

Make no mistake: Teaching at the College is an amazing opportunity that I am forever grateful to be able to take part in.

I am proud of it and I never want to make it seem like I take it for granted, because I don’t. Teaching there means that I am constantly learning something new about my industry and about myself. I get to work on skills like public speaking and conflict management, among others that my other position wouldn’t necessarily afford me the chances to practice. Plus I get to meet and work with brilliant people – both students and faculty – all of the time. I am very lucky and I’m very proud.

But I am also very lucky to be a woman in my 20s who has been able to work in the field I studied for. I’ve spent the years since graduation diligently working on building my portfolio and honing my skill set. I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am and, at the risk of laying down some serious humblebrag here, I have been able to accomplish some fairly impressive things in my career. I am very proud of my work.

And when a person brushes all of that hard work and professional pride under the rug in favour of simply focusing on my teaching, well… It kind of stings.

I don’t expect everyone to completely understand my job or how it works. I get that there will always be people whose eyes glaze over when I start talking about reach and engagement and content marketing. It’s cool and I certainly don’t take it personally.

But I’d rather your eyes glaze over than have you dismiss it altogether.

What can I say? I’m just really passionate about what I do. So, the next time I correct you by pointing out that, yes I teach at a local college but I also happen to work full time as a director of digital media and communications at a pediatric practice, I hope you don’t take it personally either.

Life Personal

Happy Met Ya Day

One year ago today, Candice and I arrived in Jasper, Alberta.


Jasper Alberta, Canada, travel, Rocky Mountains, Jasper Dark Sky Festival
Candice and I with Jasper the Bear (no relation to Jasper the Dog), ready and eager to get our Dark Sky Fest on. Photo by Kyle Harms (FORESHADOWING!)

We were there to cover the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. The shuttle dropped us off at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and I did everything in my power not to lose my mind because I was finally back in a place I had loved and missed for years upon years. After what had been a difficult few months (that one in particular), I finally had a sense that things were about to change in a big and awesome way.

As we stood gaping at the beautiful, rustic lobby of the lodge waiting to check in, I happen to cast my eyes to the door just as a young man walked in. The moment I saw him I knew that he was going to be special.

Spoiler alert: It was Kyle.

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Alberta, travel, Canada, Rocky Mountains
Not pictured: Kyle. We didn’t take any selfies during that fateful first meeting so have this picture of me with stuffed bear in the hotel lobby instead.

Further spoilers: I was right.

family portrait, dog, love, nature
There we go. That’s better!

It didn’t happen right away. It would take months of thinking that my feelings were unrequited and maybe just a little creepy (don’t patronize me – I know what I am. #2spooky4) before Kyle would work up the nerve to make a move. It would be another handful of months before he made another move, this time of the literal variety. But if I knew then what I know now… Well, I would have just remained patient because all the waiting has been beyond worth it.

Happy Met Ya Day, babe!

(I don’t normally make a big spectacle like this, especially on my blog, but Kyle’s back in Jasper right now for this year’s Dark Sky Festival. We don’t get celebrate together so WOOPS, BLOGGING MUSHINESS. #sorrynotsorry)

(Also, sorry I haven’t been blogging lately. I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately but I’m over it now. Back to more regularly scheduled drabble next week!)

Photo Fridays Projects

Photo Friday: Hockey’s Back!

Sara Hamil, hockey, Habs, Montreal Canadiens, NHL