Montreal·First Person

The future I'm saving up for keeps moving further out of reach

No matter how much I rise and grind, skip the Starbucks order or say no to avocado toast — it seems like there is just no catching up, writes Audrey Meubus.

How do I get ahead in my prime working years as life becomes ever more expensive?

Audrey Meubus is seen working another late night in her home office.
Audrey Meubus works another late night in her home office. (Submitted by Audrey Meubus)

This First Person article is the experience of Audrey Meubus, a content strategist, writer and illustrator in Montreal. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I'm 30 years old and I'm exhausted.

I had imagined that by this time in my life I would reap some of the rewards of my 20s spent chasing down a degree, grinding through corporate jobs and working freelance gigs to make ends meet. But no matter how much I rise and grind, skip the Starbucks order or say no to avocado toast, it seems like there is just no catching up.

I live modestly in my 450-square-foot apartment because it's manageable financially, but also because I believe that taking up only the space and resources you need is a socially and environmentally responsible thing to do. I could live in a larger apartment and have a roommate, but living alone is a luxury that maintains my independence and allows me to build the life I want. That freedom, however, comes at a steep price.

I work two jobs. I'm a content strategist by day and a writer and illustrator by night. From my home office, five days a week, I plug in for eight to 10 hours for my employer after which I come up for air to have dinner. I aspire to exercise most days before diving in again to work on my artistic projects and commissions. I earn a decent living this way and I'm proud of what I've accomplished all on my own. All in a day's work.

However, something doesn't add up. To live well, a person needs a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week, to eat a balanced diet, to have regular access to health care, a minimum of six to eight hours of sleep every night and time to socialize, maintain hobbies and participate in cultural activities.

Audrey's home office, with one desk for her corporate job and another for her art projects.
This is Meubus's workspace. After she finishes a full day of work at her corporate job, she spends her evenings working on illustration projects at another desk a few feet away. (Submitted by Audrey Meubus)

No matter how productive I am, doing all of this on top of a 40- to 80-hour work week is a logistical nightmare. I'm constantly looking for ways to optimize my time, and I'm lucky if my laundry doesn't stay in the hamper longer than 24 hours or I manage to get to bed by midnight. At least sleep is still free.

My goals as a working adult don't reinvent the wheel. I would like to own my home, get married and maybe raise a child. Nothing fancy. But somehow, the goalposts keep moving. The cost of living keeps rising and the workload keeps increasing, while my salary lags behind. No matter how hard I work at earning a living, it is increasingly difficult to accumulate wealth and secure my long-term economic well-being even with dual income streams.

On paper, I did everything right. I am careful with my money, have a rainy-day fund, no debt and I started saving toward my retirement in my early 20s. I made the difficult decision to leave the paycheque-to-paycheque animation industry and reoriented my career to something more financially stable. I worked my way up the ranks and proved myself to people who sometimes made quadruple my salary. And despite all these years of labour and careful planning, affording any kind of property in Montreal is a pipe dream. Even the most uninspiring and isolated suburbs are pricing me out.

Protesters walk down a street in Montreal's Verdun borough holding banners in support of affordable housing and tenant rights.
Protesters demanding affordable housing march in Meubus's Montreal neighbourhood of Verdun in April. (Submitted by Audrey Meubus)

I'm frankly disappointed that this is the direction we're heading in as a society. I've had conversations that really shouldn't be happening in the 21st century. Like the conversation with a friend who is delaying her return to work because she can't get a spot for her kid in an affordable daycare anywhere in the city.

Over a decade ago, I entered the workforce as part of la relève, meaning I was some of the new blood that would eventually replace retiring workers in the city. But I have less and less to look forward to. And it feels like I'm being told: If you don't like it, leave.

I was born and raised in this city. I always pictured my life here. But I thought that by now, I would be able to pass on my still-affordable Verdun apartment to the next young person who's ready to exercise their independence and shape their iteration of a bright future. Instead, I find myself resolved to sit tight here for an undetermined amount of time, waiting for the bubble to burst, the market to crash or wages to increase, whichever comes first. I haven't given up on this city or this province just yet, but I am tired. And from the looks on other workers' faces these days — so is everyone else.

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Audrey Meubus

Freelance contributor

Audrey Meubus is a writer, artist and content strategist living in Montreal. She is writing a book about millennial labour and start-up culture.


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