I think it’s pretty well known around here that Mrs. Max OOP is originally from Canada. She grew up in Southern Ontario and moved to the United States for college. Canadians call it “university”. Although all of her siblings live in the United States, she has hinted over the years that she would like to move back to Canada someday. But between my career in healthcare and a few other ambitions, the closest we have been able to get is our current spot in New England. We are approximately two hours from the border and not much farther than that from the highest tides in the world.
But an interesting opportunity has presented itself. These days it is looking like she is going to get her wish after all. But Ontario isn’t the destination, it’s Alberta.
And she is going by herself.
I suppose when work becomes optional, these types of opportunities become a reality.
Ever have a conversation that alters your future course?
Back in November 2017, we were visiting Mrs. Max OOP’s aunt up in Ontario, Canada. Not too far from where she grew up. One morning over breakfast (doused with real Canadian maple syrup of course), we got talking about the family history. One highlight was an old butcher shop Mrs. Max OOP’s grandpa ran when she was a kid. She has vivid memories of visiting the shop when she was growing up. Evidently, the butcher shop was in her family for over a hundred and twenty years. The skill itself came over with her family all the way from Scotland. Unfortunately, it was closed down not too long after her grandpa retired in the ’90s. No one in the family was able to keep it running. The shop was ultimately shut down and the butchering craft was lost forever. Or so the family thought.
At one point during this conversation, someone said in jest, “Wouldn’t it be funny if you moved back to Ontario and re-opened the old shop?”
I can’t remember who said it, but little did we know this joke would light a fire under Mrs. Max OOP. How could a shop and a skill that was in the family for over a hundred years just go up in smoke?
Let’s just say that within two months, Mrs. Max OOP was already working at our local “box” grocery store in the meat department. Think Kroger. She started off working afternoons, nights, and some weekends. It was a pretty amazing turnaround. This was a full year prior to me launching the Max Out of Pocket blog.
Mrs. Max OOP is a high school teacher by trade. A math teacher, to be exact. She has always loved teaching and the kids seem to like her. She is able to connect not only with the AP students but also with the kids who can barely make it to class. It’s a unique skill in itself.
At one point, she was even the department head for the school she worked for down south. But when we moved to New England in 2017, she took a part-time position with only a three-class commitment. At the time she was looking for a full-time job, but the part-time position was all they had. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise and left the afternoons open to work on other things.
So by January 2018, her mornings were filled with teaching math and her evenings were spent in the meat department learning the cuts and some light knife training. Not exactly a full-fledged butcher, but a step in the right direction. She also got paid for her time behind the counter which was an added bonus. We put 75% of every dollar she made into a retirement account. This came out to almost $11,000 during her time there. Whoever said a hobby can’t generate income? Never hurts to try and fill up the standard deduction bucket.
I recently rolled this retirement account over to her IRA.
After about 14 months in the grocery store, it was pretty clear she had maxed out on what she could learn in that setting. She needed to move on. So one day after teaching her math class, she walked right into our local USDA meat processing facility and asked if she could learn to cut meat.
I would call this a medium-sized operation fit to meet the needs of a rural market. It was family-owned and the owner decided to let her in. They handled everything from the slaughter of the animal to the packaging of the meat. A full-blown slaughterhouse with USDA meat inspectors on site. It was the real deal. We even bought a lamb a few months later and Mrs. Max OOP slaughtered it herself. They showed her the entire process. Pretty impressive.
This place was really convenient. It was right on her way home from work and she could basically come and go as she pleased. The owners didn’t formally add her to the payroll, but the meat that got sent home with her over that time period more than covered her time. That’s why a $179 meat freezer hit our 2019 spending.
She worked for this meat processing facility for well over six months and never paid a dime in FICA taxes.
As we all know, 2020 has been a weird year. We went to Ecuador in November 2019 and then spent Christmas in upstate New York. Then our cat got really sick and a pandemic hit. Mrs. Max OOP just happened to stop working at the meat processing plant around that time. There are a few other details around this, but the pandemic would have likely forced her out of the facility for safety reasons.
That didn’t stop the planning, though. One day in January, she was browsing the internet looking for formal training options to learn how to become a butcher. Among the top choices was a 15-week program out of Alberta. She told me about it one day after work. The session she was interested in would run from September – December 2020. Since she had already dedicated more than 18 months to this new hobby, this seemed like a logical next step. On top of everything else, the price of the program was right.
But we were not exactly sure how this would look given the pandemic. We assumed it would clear up by the fall, but what if it didn’t? Would they cancel the program? Would she be able to cross the border? Could I come to visit? She went ahead and applied for the program and was accepted back in June 2020.
She is going. We aren’t going to let a pandemic and an international border closure squash this opportunity. But there were certainly some logistical matters to figure out.
If you are Canadian, you are allowed to cross the Canadian border assuming you follow the quarantine protocol. Additionally, education is considered an essential reason for travel. Mrs. Max OOP checks both of those boxes, but we are going to pull the “Canadian Citizen Card” to keep things simple.
We did go back and forth on some of the other details. Would I take a sabbatical and go with her? Could I even cross the border as an American? Would she live on campus? Would we get an Airbnb for several months?
The pandemic made several of these decisions for us. We think the safest place for her is right on campus. They have put the infrastructure in place to keep everyone safe. Anyone traveling from outside of Canada is legally required to quarantine for 14 days before starting class. She will have a meal plan and will be able to walk to class. She is basically going back to “university” for 15 weeks.
What About Max?
I will be heading out to Alberta with her, but only for the first 16 days to quarantine and help her get set up on campus after quarantine. After all, I have plenty of PTO and I’m quickly approaching my cap of 281 hours.
According to the Canadian Border, since I am the spouse of a Canadian citizen, I am also allowed to cross the border.
I do need to stay in Canada for at least 15 days, otherwise, I get bumped into the “other foreign national” category:
After that, I will return to New England and get back to work through the end of 2020. We have been saving a ton of money this year and we would like that trend to continue. If things open up more, I may make a trip in October or November, but right now that is unlikely. With Mrs. Max OOP out of town, there will be no reason for me to cut down to 32 hours per week anytime soon.
It would have been much easier to inherit these skills directly from the family, but that was never in the cards here. This is the next best option.
Frankly, we have no idea if the old butcher shop will ever be open. Who knows, she may take a hybrid approach, or just keep this as a hobby. But Mrs. Max OOP is taking this one responsible step at a time and I would say this a powerful step in the right direction. I will eventually be able to tie this little trip back into healthcare and personal finance. As you might know, Canada has a decentralized, universal, publicly funded health system called Canadian Medicare.
- Decentralized because the provinces manage it (in this case Alberta).
- Universal because all of their citizens get it.
- Publicly funded because taxes pay for it, kind of like how our FICA system here in the states funds Medicare Part A.
We might even talk about an opportunity for healthcare geo arbitrage and our out of pocket costs for this education. But for now, we will leave it at that. We head off to Canada next Saturday and still have some planning to do. But we will follow the rules, quarantine, and stay safe before moving Mrs. Max OOP on to campus.
Wish us luck at the border.