Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

We just put Season Six of the Stress Test personal finance podcast to bed with a look at how young adults are affected by the latest developments in the housing market.

Stress Test is resonating with listeners – we recently hit Number Five on Apple’s list of top business podcasts. But there’s sad news, too. Zahra Khozema, our ace chase producer, has taken a new job as associate producer for a pair of National Observer podcasts, Hot Politics and Maxed Out.

For the past few seasons, Zahra led our efforts to find the real people who share their stories on Stress Test. She’s the one who found Youssef, who in a Season Six episode on dating in an era of inflation told us about a date who ordered four main courses. And it was their first meeting.

Zahra is 26, which means she’s part of the young adult target audience for Stress Test. To mark her departure, I asked her to do an e-mail Q&A on what she learned about personal finance and making Stress Test. Here’s our exchange, including some comments about the idea of home ownership:

Q: What were the topics we covered in Stress Test that resonated most with you personally as a Gen Z?

A: You know that feeling when you learn a new word and it starts to follow you around? Well, Stress Test topics had a way of working in a similar pattern. In Season 4, we started getting into inflation. I’d just moved out, so I was tracking every grocery run and bubble tea splurge on an excel budget sheet to ensure that I had enough for rent at the end of each month. I still feel the topic resonates today as we continue to tackle it in Season 6 with the rising cost of rent, especially in big cities like Toronto.

Q: You did tremendous work finding real people for us to talk to about their financial challenges. How raw did some of the conversations get?

A: Personal finance is personal. It always amazes me how open and honest folks are about sharing the details of their lives with journalists. Often, in the first five minutes of a phone call, people felt comfortable telling us how much they earn, the amount of debt they have, or even the big sums of money they’ve lost due to things like crypto scams. The two interviews that really stick out are Irina, who talked to me about money shame, and Lamees, who spoke about delaying having kids as everything gets more and more expensive. Irina described what it was like dealing with financial abuse from her husband, which added to the trauma around money she already experienced growing up. Lamees was an incredible storyteller who gave me goosebumps when she talked about how much she wanted kids. She said she felt like she couldn’t have them now because she could not give them the ideal life she wanted for them.

Q: What do you and your friends talk about when you talk about money?

A: Right now, my friends are most concerned with their jobs – everything from asking for a raise to finding something better. With the holidays (which can get pricey) and a weird recession fog on the horizon, they want to know that they will be able to pay the bills.

Q: Who was your favourite interview for Stress Test?

A: Anyone that can make me laugh is a favourite in my book. The cost of dating episode really stands out here. Youssef told us that one of his dates ordered FOUR mains on their first meeting, and my jaw fell on the floor. Another interview for the same episode was with Paula, whom I found on TikTok. She talked about her date texting her for a refund for a poutine. I had to mute myself on the call because I couldn’t stop laughing. Everyone needs to listen to it.

Q: What are your personal financial goals for the next few years?

A: My partner and I want to take a year off and move to Chile. We live in a rental and we don’t have kids, so we can just pack up and go. Although we plan on working local jobs there, finding one might take some time. We are aiming to save around $70,000 by 2024. This will help maintain life for the families we’re supporting here, ensure our food and shelter for a couple of months in Chile, and give us a cushion for rent when we return to Canada.

Q: Is home ownership on your radar?

A: Me, no. My partner, whom I married during my time with Stress Test, yes. I’ve lived in a rental my entire life. The feeling of owning a home makes my tummy woozy. We interviewed so many people on Stress Test who have crazy mortgages or sudden renovation costs or the headache of putting together a down payment – I just don’t want to put myself through that. On the other hand, my partner really believes in the Canadian home ownership dream. He wants the extra space to buy bulk paper towels and big mayonnaise jars. He wants an investment he can call his own. We talk (mostly argue) about this all the time. Only time will tell who budges.

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