It's not often Canadians hit the news for their crazy spending, but this week proved an exception with a Vancouver-area couple that spawned their own hashtag: #EricandIlsa If you missed it, here's a quick summary: The Globe and Mail kicked off an Internet kerfuffle with its Financial Facelift column last weekend advising a couple identified as Eric and Ilsa. The couple makes a combined $25,000 a month, and yet spends $25,600 a month – and their fixed expenses include a mortgage on an $800,000 lot on which they want to build a million dollar home, private-school tuition and a full-time nanny for their five children although Ilsa is on maternity leave. The original column stated that Eric, a physician, makes $300,000 a year working one day a week in a clinic, and an additional $100,000 a year teaching one day a week. The story was later updated to reflect Eric's actual hours, which he states can be up to 80 a week. The advisor recommended that Eric work another day a week in the clinic to boost their income. The rest of Canada, and even US-based website Gawker were, to quote several commenters, "gobsmacked." How can a couple making $25,000 a month end up with no savings and no ability to borrow for a mortgage except from their parents? We asked Canada's favourite financial guru and reality-check specialist, Gail Vaz-Oxlade for her take on both the story and the couple's situation.
How might The Globe and Mail have gotten the details of Eric's number of working hours so wrong? Gail's answer: How naive would a person have to be to think a doctor in Canada could make that much money working that little amount of time. As much as anything, this is a reflection on the lack of experience of the writer. What's your take on this couple's situation? Gail's answer: My first question would be why are they spending $10,000 a month on the children? Really? Because in what world is that sustainable? The adviser says this is their most expensive time, but it isn't. Those kids are going to grow, eat more, wear more clothes, demand more and the parents who started at $10,000 will only have UP on their scale. As for the brouhaha over the price of the property/house build, have you seen the Vancouver market? The issue isn't that the house is expensive, it's that these people have no sense of priority. You can't have it all at once, and they are trying. By the way, where's all the money they should have been saving while living rent free? That's what I want to know.That seems to be what everyone wants to know. Eric and Ilsa's question has spawned a parody Twitter account and lots of discussion about income inequality. But as Rob Carrick, also over at The Globe and Mail, stated, spending beyond our means may be an issue that could actually unite Canadians…even if Eric and Ilsa's particular situation isn't getting much sympathy. It's not only this crazy couple who spend too much on their kids. The Toronto Star ran a piece in November looking at what parents spend on sports and music programmes, vs. saving for post-secondary education. In her quest to help Canadians become more financially literate, Vaz-Oxlade is running a challenge she's dubbed The Hardest Ever to Win Contest. One lucky – and, more importantly, truly committed – family will win $5,000. Details right here. Maybe Eric and Ilsa should sign up. Looking for some financial know-how? Check out our Smart family's guide to money. Photo: iStockphoto.com/Devonyu