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I have lived in Ottawa with my family for more than 20 years, but I grew up in Toronto. I rented a few apartments in the city in the later 1980s, and my wife and I bought our first home there in 1992. Unlike today, the cost of housing wasn’t a huge problem back then.

Housing affordability in Toronto, Vancouver and some surrounding areas is a personal-finance emergency. Young people are spending too much of their pay on rent or mortgage payments, or they’re living with parents or roommates. Some are fleeing.

A journalist named Sinead Mulhern recently wrote that it felt like Toronto was “shoving me through its front door and slamming it firmly behind me.” Now she’s living in Ecuador and doubtful that she’ll ever return to a city she loves.

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We know from many surveys that millennials are very keen to own homes in Toronto and elsewhere. What keeps their ownership hopes alive is the possibility of a pullback in house prices. Sales in Toronto fell 16.1 per cent in 2018 versus the previous year and prices fell 4.3 per cent.

But here’s the problem with a weak housing market – it could bring down the broader economy. Houses get more affordable, but we all become more financially fragile. Jason Kirby at Maclean’s explains it all in this recent article.

Ms. Mulhern is in her late 20s. When I was her age, I was building my career as a journalist while renting a cheap bachelor apartment in a nice midtown Toronto neighbourhood near the subway. I was confident about my future in the city in a way that now seems quaint.

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Rob’s personal finance reading list…

The unvarnished truth about retirement

A guy who retired at 50 lists the lessons he’s learned. He has interesting things to say about money, bucket lists and regrets about the past.

The Top 15 cars people hold onto

Toyota and Honda dominate this list of vehicles that provide huge value to their owners.

Considering a deliberate TFSA overcontribution?

The rationale for this kind of a move is that you can make more in gains from buying a stock than you’d pay in overcontribution penalties. The reality: The usual penalties apply to accidental overcontributions. If you contribute too much deliberately, a prohibitively large tax also applies.

Tricks for using balanced ETFs

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You get a fully diversified portfolio in a single package with balanced ETFs. But what if the asset mix in these products doesn’t match your needs? Here are some thoughts on how to personalize a balanced ETF from the Canadian Couch Potato blog.

Today’s financial tool/app

Got a problem with the Canada Revenue Agency that you can’t resolve? Try the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman.

Ask Rob

Q: I’m looking to invest in an exchange-traded fund, and I’ll be using my TFSA. Do you have a suggestion of an ETF that is growth-oriented? I am 11 years away from retirement and will have a good pension.

A: I’ll be updating my ETF Buyer’s Guide later this winter, but the 2018 version is still worth consulting for the type of ETF you’re looking for. Suggest you weigh the options under Canadian, U.S. and international/global ETFs.

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Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can’t answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

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What I’ve been writing about

  • These are the top things you should do in 2019 to reduce your stress about money
  • An investor making 4 per cent asks, ‘Should I be aiming higher?’ (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)
  • I recently did the 2018 update for the Two-Minute Portfolio, an ongoing experiment in building a simple portfolio of blue-chip dividend stocks. This chart helps explain why I keep writing about the 2MP every year and why readers keep asking about it (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)

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If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

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