Sunday, June 16, 2013


Finally! I can say that I AM DEBT FREE!!

Some of you out there know how that feels, and for those of you who don't, you'll get there eventually; however sooner is better than later!

I've gone back and forth with what I want to do with this blog since my last post in February. Do I continue it or do I push it down the stairs and see if it gets back up again? To be honest, I've written this post about 10 times and none of the entries seem to have the right tone with how I should feel about completing my goal. But how am I supposed to feel other than overjoyed, and why the h-e-double hockey sticks wasn't I feeling that way. I had finally reached the end of the roller coaster and all the thrills and excitement were gone and I didn't want to invest another $40,000 to take the ride again. Some people have asked me what I'm going to do now that the debt is gone and I told them I was going to go on a $40,000 shopping spree now that my credit is all freed up -JOKING of course!!

The main reason that I was hesitant to write a "woohoo I'm debt free post" initially was my income tax bill. In an effort to scramble and get all of my debt paid off, I earned too much money and didn't invest any of it into RRSPs or other tax-deductable expenses. This left me with a $2,600 tax bill. I was really pissed off when I got that bill. It felt like a slap to face and a kick to the balls at the same time. There I was, prepared to have my big moment here on the Internet, but now I was back in debt. To add to that bill, I had already gone out and booked flights home for my sister's wedding and went on a trip to Halifax . Now, I was left with a credit card bill which delayed my payments on my taxes. My focus became making sure that my credit card didn't hold a balance (which it doesn't) and getting this tax bill paid off as soon as possible.

Yesterday, I finally bit the bullet and spent some of my savings to pay off my income tax. It was a hard pill to swallow, especially as I am about to go on vacation for 2 weeks and I was hoping that I would have more cash to spend. But the universe is cruel sometimes, so I just accepted the fact that this debt had to die once and for all, so I threw a punch to the jugular and watched that debt monster crash to floor dead, hopefully for the last time.

It's been several months now since I initially paid off my debt and tweeted back and forth with Gail about it, so people have been wondering what I have been doing now that I don't have any more debt to tackle. One question I often get is "Why do you still have two jobs?" I've really grown to love the yoga studio and the work that I do there. Yes, it takes up a lot of my time, but I am really getting to know a lot of amazing people with incredible stories of strength and courage which keeps me motivated to strive to be my best. Not only that, I get paid to be there. If you ever think about finding a second job, I highly recommend working in some kind of fitness place. Eventually I know that my second job will have to come to an end, but for now, I'm enjoying the extra income.

The biggest question which I'm not even sure of the answer is: "What is going to happen to this blog?"
Part of me really wants to keep this blog going somehow, and another part of me wants to end it so that something else can be born from it. I have been floating around the idea that I could turn this into a book (with A LOT of editing) or maybe making a new blog that follows how I go about saving my money. What I can see myself doing is becoming a not-for-profit financial advisor. I really like to help people with their money troubles and I know that there are millions of people out there who don't have a clue about what to do to get into the black. I've amassed a lot of knowledge about money and I know in my heart that I need to keep supporting people with their goals.

I remember one of my earlier drafts was heavily focused on how depressed I was about the way that things fizzled out (admittedly due to my own lack of writing and posting). But that wasn't the way that this happy story was supposed to end. When I met Gail Vaz-Oxlade, I hoped for something that was going to take me to another level and maybe turn this blog into something that was read by the masses. I think that I had set the expectations for myself really high. The reality is, that's the attitude that carried me to the end of my goal in record time. I aimed for the moon and settled for nothing less.

There's something that I have learned from all of this. Debt never goes away. There will always be someone that you need to pay back, whether it's $20 from a friend for a meal, or income tax, even just bank fees. The trick is to stay one step ahead. Know your enemy. Debt isn't designed to be easy to get rid of. It takes a lot of personal strength and the right attitude to beat it.   

When I started doing this journey, I had no idea how big an impact it would have on my life. Before I started, I was seriously anxious and depressed about my future. I didn't want to become another one of those people who was trapped without any way to escape their debt. Being open and honest with my friends and family has brought me closer to them. There was an outpouring of love and respect that I never imagined. Admittedly, I had my doubts about whether or not I could do this. I went from being the guy who bought a $300 sweater to being the guy who hadn't bought a pair of shoes in 3 years. I learned that a brunch cooked at home with your loved ones will bring you so much closer together than an $100 meal or $200 bar tab. The question is, can you make those sacrifices to get you that big reward?

Take some time to really look at yourself. You can do this to! You are not alone, and you can be debt free. When I met Gail, I thanked her for helping me get out of debt and for all that she had done for me. Gail frankly said to me "I didn't do anything. You did all the work, I simply gave you the tools to get there."

Thank you for all the love and support over the years. I know that I will be back here again, but only time will tell what's next.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Meeting Gail Vaz-Oxlade

I finally met Gail! 
I cannot believe all the good things that have been happening lately! I am officially only $1,200 (yes 12 HUNDRED, not thousand) away from paying off the last of my debt! That means that I am 8 months ahead of schedule and saving tons of money in interest charges.  I'm not going to lie to you and say that this process has been easy, in fact it has been a lot of work. This took a lot of fundamental changes in my life to get me to the point where I am today, but holy $hit, it feels incredible. As of this Wednesday, I will make my very last payment on my debt. That means in two days, I'm not going to know what to do with myself. What am I going to write about? Will people still read my blog? Looking at my latest statistics, I have now had over 21,000 views of my musings, and I'm averaging over 1000 reads per month. The best part is that I am hardly even writing anything and people are still tuning in and finding me and (hopefully) their own inspiration!

Speaking of inspiration, those of you who follow this blog will know that I follow the teachings of the lovely Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Canada's #1 financial guru, author of several best-selling books, star of a handful of TV shows, and host of her very own radio show on NewsTalk1010 (which she interviewed me on). Getting to talk to Gail was an absolute dream come true, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to finally MEET my favourite person in real life! Gail was in town two weeks ago to give a lecture at my alma mater, OttawaU and while she was killing time, she stopped to sign her new book "Money Rules". Obviously I took the entire day off to make sure that I would not miss an opportunity to pick up her new book, get it signed, AND meet her in person.

Gail is just like how she is in the media: personable, friendly, hilarious, and gorgeous; much like myself. When Gail arrived at the bookstore, I got goose bumps. There I was, mere footsteps away from my hero and I mere moments from peeing myself with excitement. Gail sat down and greeted the crowd and started signing the books. When it was my turn in line, I turned into a pile of nerves, standing with my boyfriend's gigantic camera and looking like some kind of obsessed paparazzo.  Gail said hello to me and then my mouth suddenly started pouring out all sorts of verbal diarrhea as I blathered on about my blog AND how she interviewed me on her radio show AND how she changed my life, blah blah blah, then amidst the crazy talk I somehow managed to half-throw my glove at my book as she was signing it. Yes, I made myself look like a huge creepo weirdo with Gail. I felt like I was not at my best that day and you can tell from the slightly awkward smile on Gail's face that she didn't quite know what to make of me.

In the end, Gail was fabulous. When I thanked her for all the valuable lessons she taught me, she said to me that I need to make sure to thank myself because I did all of the work and she merely gave me the tools to make it happen, and as usual, she was right. I had one of the staff members take our photo with my boyfriend's giant SLR camera and out of concern that I didn't get a good shot Gail even offered to retake the photo. She really was a class act, and I felt like the longer I was there, the more awkward and weird I would come across, so I didn't want to oblige her to take another photo and said my good-bye. Gail and I shared a final glance as she said "Take care".

Just like that, it was over. I had a whirlwind encounter with a person that I owe so much too. As I walked away, I could hear Gail's laughter fade with each step toward that neon EXIT sign. I stepped out the door into the rain and began my walk home. I felt like I had hit the highest point I ever was going to get to in this whole process and it really felt like a dream. I talked to Gail, I touched Gail, and I had my whole world flipped upside down by this Jamaican wonder woman. As I trekked through the icy streets, I stopped and grabbed some takeout because I know, I fackin' earned it!  

Thank you Gail! I will continue to spread the word! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


This past weekend was not one of my favourites, but in the end I learned a lot of things about myself and reaffirmed the values that I have held onto so dearly over my lifetime.

Let’s start back at the beginning. On Saturday, I attended the funeral of my partner’s boss/mentor.  This man, David, meant a lot to Rob and me because he really took Rob under his wing at a time when job prospects seemed to be getting bleaker by the day.  Being a man looking for work in the serving industry is difficult and it’s hard to find employers who are willing to give you a chance when most restaurants want to hire pretty young women to do the majority of the serving positions.  David was the one who gave my partner a chance.  Rob and I were elated when he found a job in Ottawa’s night-life district and now things were certainly looking up for both of us. This simple opportunity restored us with a new-found optimism and saved Rob from having to work in the land of no tips and terrible bosses. Eventually that restaurant closed and Rob moved on to one of David’s other restaurants, again all thanks to David.

This is about the size of the bouquet
Needless to say, David’s passing hit Rob hard, so he and his fellow co-workers wanted to make a strong gesture of support for David’s family, and they worked hard to make a gorgeous bouquet.  On the morning of the funeral, we grabbed a cab on a terribly snowy/rainy day and swung by Rob’s friend’s place to pick up the bouquet.  I stepped out of the taxi into a nice little snow bank that was just high enough to get into my dress shoes and about a foot up my pants.

“No worries, just put on a smiley face for Rob and his friend and carry on.” I thought.  “They need you to be strong.”

While Rob got the cabbie to move the van around back, I followed his friend to the top floor of her apartment building and grabbed the massive bouquet, weighing well over 50 pounds. My arms were placed cumbersomely around the base of this massive pot and waddled my way down 3 flights of stairs holding this gargantuan creation.

It didn’t take many steps to realize that one of the reasons the floral arrangement was so heavy was because it was filled with water - water that proceeded to spill ALL over the front of my pants, particularly in the crotch area. There is no question that it looked like I had thoroughly soiled myself. 

Putting on a brave face for Rob and his friend, I brushed it off and thought again: “Don’t get pi$$ed off John, they worked really hard on this and didn’t think that the water would fall all over your crotch and if you would have just carried it with Rob as originally planned, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place.” Thus, I kept my composure and got down to the van.

While I waited (semi)patiently for the driver to open the hatch, the pot started to get heavier.  As soon as that door opened, I bent my knees, squatted to set the flowers down, and heard the worst sound you ever want to hear 20 minutes from your home and 15 minutes from a funeral – the ripping out of the butt in your pants. Yes, that’s right, as I set the bouquet down, the a$$ off my pants ripped from the top, ALL the way down to the bottom.

This is EXACTLY what happened. 
Panic swept across my face while some much needed laughter poured out of my partner and his friend.  We really needed a laugh, and I was glad to be there as the “butt” of the joke. I really hope you’re all laughing at this point, because we sure were!  Add in the fact that I was wearing the most colourful pair of underwear that I own to the mix, and it was painfully obvious that I had a huge rip in my trousers.

Now, Rob and his friend on the best of days, do not do very well in these kinds of situations, and when you add in the factor that they are 15 minutes away from going to celebrate the life of someone very near and dear to them, this couldn’t have come at a worse time.  However, after a little quick thinking, we found a needle and thread and we were off to the memorial service. 

The good news was that I was wearing a long peacoat, so no one had any idea that there was a full moon happening right next to them, so when we arrived, I was able to sneak past everyone into the nearest bathroom stall I could find.  Of course, when I finally found a stall, there was someone occupying the only other stall next to me, taking one of the rankest poops my nostrils had ever been subjected to.  To add to that, they were a nervous poo-er so instead of just getting it over with, flushing that down and moving on, he sat there while I had to take off my wet, ripped pants and start stitching up my butt crack. 

Meanwhile, as I am trying to move things along (keep in mind that the service was starting any minute) a line-up started to form outside of the stalls. Apparently pooping before church is the “thing to do” these days.  With the added pressure of people waiting, I ran out of thread and said to myself “F* it! Good enough!” and proceeded to get re-dressed.

After that entire ordeal, I only managed to get halfway done sewing up the seat of my pants. I guess you could say that I did the job “half-a$$ed”.  I had no choice but to keep my heavy winter coat on through the entire service, but I must say, being able to show a select few people (including David’s daughter) that I had blown the a$$ out of my pants, provided a much needed laugh on that sombre day.

Now, you might be asking yourself, what is the point to this story here on a financial blog? Well the answer is simple and it’s one that was part of a common theme found in all the speeches commemorating the life of David, stay positive.  David lived his life with a very infectious optimism that will live on with those he encountered in his life. 

As you go through your debt repayment journey, remember that sometimes things are going to come up that are out of your control and that you need to keep a clear head, make a plan, and stay positive.  Establish an emergency fund so that you’re not stuck struggling to stay afloat and don’t be afraid to reach out for help in a time of crisis. After all, you never know when you’re going to be stuck in the $hit trying to stitch everything back together.

Rest in peace David. You have meant more to Rob and I than you know, and we will be forever grateful. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Too Much Want


Can you enjoy the simpler things in life, or do you need everything to be in excess? There is no questioning that we here in North America have it really freaking good with access to everything that we want at our fingertips. It’s really easy for us to get caught up in a world where we buy things that we really don’t need, and that really don’t add any value to our lives.

The best examples of excess that I can think of in my life are the knickknacks that I buy at home décor stores. There really is no burning need to buy another bird shaped decoration or pretty clock (most often shaped like a bird), but for some reason I get easily suckered into paying upwards of $40 (who am I kidding, more than that) for these sorts of things and they don’t leave me feeling as fulfilled as a concert or a skate on the canal. 

I’m sitting at my dining room table right now, looking at what I like to call, “my cabinet of fun but unnecessary.” In this cabinet you can see that I have about 100 records, 2 dozen board games, a dozen almost finished bottles of obscure alcohols that have probably been there for a good year, and the thing is surrounded by 3 of my 30+ plants and of course, the creepy mannequin head with a Lady Gaga wig and pilot’s hat, just like everyone else has in their homes to keep up with the most trendy hipsters in all existence.

This is the wig, eat your hearts out little monsters. 
These things all have or continue to add some simple joys to my life, but the reality is, if there ever were a fire, I would easily be able to go on living my life as if nothing had happened. Mind you, I would stand out like a sore thumb at the next Lady Gaga themed party, but that’s really not the point. If you are sitting at your computer and reading this and thinking about your own debt and wondering how you can get to the point that I am in a fast time span, this should be a bit of a punch to the junk to tell you that the answer is right in front of you sometimes.

It’s all about reassessing what we have and asking what we can give up in order to get ahead. For me, the hard things to give up were: buying music, buying new clothes, eating out, and going to concerts. These things took up a lot of my budget, but I really felt like I was entitled to have everything that I wanted, but I looked at these things as needs, but wants. I needed to go to that concert so that I could spend time with my friends, I needed to buy that album so that I could support my favourite artists (like they would go out of business if I didn’t), I needed to have new clothes so that I could maintain my sense of style that friends and family raved about. There are so many stories that I could tell myself to justify just about any expense.

My best story was, well, “it’s vintage, so I’m not paying as much as everyone else”, or “it’s on sale”. It doesn’t matter if that t-shirt is on sale, it doesn’t change that fact that you have 50 more in a drawer at home. When you’re on a budget you need to identify these excessive items in your life. If you’re someone who is always wanting to get the latest and greatest music, stop following all of the music blogs, unsubscribe to the music blogs, and learn to dust off that Lauren Hill CD and ride it out until you’re financially stable again. Set limits for the amount that you are allowed to buy as well. Limit yourself to one album per month, and ask for the other albums you want for birthdays or holidays. The same can apply to clothes. Are you hooked on fashion blogs and already stocking up on the latest cool shades of green since orange is so last season? Stop following these trends and start setting your own trends. Learn to embrace what you already have.

The reality is that most people who are in debt, already have everything they need and then some, so giving up these types of things should not be difficult to do. As I approach the end of my debt, the things that I had to give up are getting welcomed back into my life, and the purchases I make are smarter ones. It may seem crazy at the time to stop going to your favourite restaurant every week, but when you’re out of debt in 2 years, you’re going to look like a freaking financial genius.

I used to go for brunch every single Sunday before my debt repayment process. Well today I went to my friends Kate and Caitlin’s place and had a fantastic brunch, stimulating conversation, and a great time with people that I love, which I have come to realize from this process, is worth more than any of the excessive wants that I had filled my home with.  Take some time, figure out what really matters to you, and the rest will all just fall into place. 

Can you believe I have less than $4,000 to go?! Wowsa!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looking back at 2012

Bring on 2013! 

Looking back at 2012, I have to say that I feel really good about how my year has turned out. It feels like I have my life on track and moving in the right direction. There were certainly some ups and downs, but in the end, I still came out on top. One aspect that I really wished I had done better at, was contributing to my blog a little more. There were so many times that I would read an article, or be out shopping for something, and think to myself; “this would make a great topic for a post” and then life would come up and leave me unable to really sit down and move the words from my brain to the screen. The good news is that I have already put a lot of great knowledge up here for your reading pleasure, so I know that you didn’t miss me too much!

Life really was pretty exciting and busy for me last year. I picked up a second job, and a second language. Learning French was really challenging and took up a lot of my time and energy. I think that while I was doing the language training, I was getting really exhausted and by the end of the day, I didn’t want to have anything to do with writing, or using my brain in general. But, somehow, I managed to become bilingual. Oui, c’est vrai, je parle français, and it’s pretty freaking cool.

My second job working at the yoga studio has helped remind me about other talents that I have which I haven’t been putting into practice for a while now. I really have a knack at interacting with people and I never thought of that talent as something that I could get paid to use. More than ever I get to see people who are working toward their fitness goals, and leaving feeling good about themselves for what they have done to make a positive change in their lives. Getting to interact with these people opens my eyes to a world of smiles which we sometimes don’t always get to see in our working lives and that leaves me feeling inspired to keep working at this goal so that I can reach my own contentment. 

I’m starting to see that there are a lot of other possibilities out there for me where I can work in an environment that I enjoy and work with people that I like to be around. If I really put my mind to something, the possibilities can be limitless. The best part about working for a small business is that I am coming to realization that I could probably run a business of my own someday. The owners of the studio are around my age and they seem to be very successful and happy. Yes, they are working their butts off everyday, but you really get that hands on love from their dedication to something they believe in which inspires me to start thinking of ways that I could make a little money of my own doing something I love on the side. 

Without a doubt though, my favourite part about last year was finally getting to talk to Gail Vaz-Oxlade on her radio show. Gail’s methods have been a tremendous help in getting me closer and closer into the black and out of the red. I remember how incredibly nervous and excited I was when her assistant emailed me and told me that she booked me for her radio show. The months leading up to the interview really encouraged me to go a little more public with my debt repayment strategy and helped create a dialogue among my friends and colleagues about this very real and very common debt problem we all have. The result of all that was an amazing influx of readership on my blog and now more people come up to me to talk about finances with them. It is almost as if that conversation with Gail gave me some more credibility and that validation I seemed to be seeking from someone who seems to have it so together, but is so relatable and human at the same time.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade really became my life coach more than anything. Which makes me think about getting into a career where I can coach people with their debt repayment, maybe work for a non-profit organization, or even do some pro bono work on the side to help friends and family put together a realistic debt repayment strategy that is customized for them.

Last year wasn’t entirely sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns though. I read so many articles about how much consumer debt that Canadians continue to take on. It really is such an easy situation to get oneself into. A few swipes of plastic and the next thing you know, you owe the bank more money and you find yourself in a hole that is too big to climb your way out of. Now that I have progressed in this process and I see how possible it is to get out of debt, I want to really shake some people and ask them why they haven’t woken up yet. Do we really need all the stuff that we have? Is there anything that you have used to decorate your home that you absolutely couldn’t live without? Can you spend a week only going shopping at the grocery store and nowhere else? Getting out of debt doesn’t need to be complicated, so if you’re in need of some help, sit down with someone and really talk to them about what they did to get out of the hole instead of asking them for a handout.  Trust me, it is a really great motivation tool and you have so much to gain.

Usually, by this time of year, I have made a decision about what my New Years Resolution will be and then write about it for the whole world to read. For some reason though, I have found it incredibly difficult to pinpoint what aspect of my life that I want to improve on. What is really fantastic is my newfound access to money again. All of a sudden I will have all this income that I can spend on personal improvements. There seem to be a few different things that I want to focus on but I think first thing’s first, getting this debt eliminated, once and for all!

When I reflect and look back at my blog, I can't help but notice how much it has really has been focused so much on the money that I feel like I lost sight of one of the biggest objectives of this challenge – for me to be free again. My debt has served as a metaphorical ball and chain that was weighing me down and keeping me from doing so many extracurricular activities. Now, if I want to learn more about being a financial planner, I will have the money to pay for the courses upfront. If I want to work on my hobbies more, such as taking more sewing courses, or learning another language, or even just taking a day for myself at the spa, I can do that. My freedom from having to make payments all the time feels so freaking amazing and 2013 is going to prove to be an amazing year for me.

If you're just joining me for the first time, my name is John, I am 30 years old, I have $4,500 worth of debt and I couldn’t be happier!

p.s. Happy Birthday Amanda! You are my favourite big sister of all time. xoxo

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Future's So Bright

Suck it long, and suck it hard. 

I have officially hit three major milestones in my debt repayment process. The first was that I have just passed my 2 year anniversary for paying off my debt. It is really amazing to see how fast time flies by and I am really excited to have a long blog record of all my progress! The second major milestone that I have achieved is that I have officially paid off my third creditor – Student Loans. I would just like to give a big “SUCK IT HARD!” to student loans. Never in my life have I had to deal with a more inefficient system, so it feels amazing that I will no longer have to make a payment to them again!

My biggest accomplishment however, is that I have hit the $30,000 mark in only two years! Not only did I manage to hit that mark, I blew that son of a witch right out of the ball park. When I first did my projections, I should only have paid off around $22,000 of my debt at this point! Can you believe that I am now $8,000 ahead of schedule and if I can keep this momentum going, I can be debt free by April! That means that I will have officially paid off $37,810.51 in two and a half years! This is surpassing all my wildest expectations.

$30,000! Holy $hit!
Now I am on a brand new high.  I have set realistic goals for myself, and then went above and beyond what I ever imagined. On Wednesday, I made my very last payment of $2,519.10 to my Student Loan, and to top it all off, I paid off the $949 I racked up on my credit card from my shopping trip in Montreal and my trip back home to Saskatoon. Where this new person with all this money came from, I don’t know, but I do know that I have a lot to be proud of. Not only have I paid off so much debt in such a short time, I have been able to maintain a healthy savings account, take 4 trips home to Saskatoon, a trip to Las Vegas, a trip to Halifax, a weekend getaway to Montreal, I purchased a couple thousand dollars worth of clothing, bought presents, costumes, had parties, participated in book clubs, and so many other wonderful things that most people would have never thought I would be able to do while still staying on track.

I posted on Facebook how I had paid off $30,644.44 in two years and I have never seen more traffic and more “likes” about anything I have posted on my page ever! There are some people out there who don’t understand how that it is even possible that I have been this successful so far, and I am promising that from this point forward, I will try to share some practical tips each week (or more frequently) about what I do to stay on budget.

There are a few things that I should state that are fairly obvious ways to demonstrate why I have been so successful though:

  1. I have a great income for someone who just turned 30.
  2. I don’t have a car (or any of the associated expenses that come with owning one)
  3. I have a second job that also pays for my gym membership
  4. I have an amazing support network (seriously, I love my friends and family so much)
  5. My living expenses are inexpensive
  6. I gave up my consumer whore lifestyle
  7. My partner has helped me out every single step of the way

A few months ago, I wrote a blog entry where I questioned exactly what it was that I wanted to get out of this process and where should I start trying to get to financially and I was really stuck without any kind of clear indication where I will go next. Now, when I start to think about the what’s next part of my life, I keep thinking about where I can elevate my life with my partner. Getting rid of this debt means a lot more than just me getting less and less worried about the future, but it is opening my eyes to the kind of future that we could have together. I am learning so many valuable lessons and I hope to continue to share all these experiences with you so that you can find your way out of debt and move on to living a happier life without debt.

Thanks for coming back and tuning in to my blog! The journey on the path that I am on is going to be complete very soon, and I hope that you’ll continue to join me by spreading the word and converting my fellow consumer-debt carrying citizens.

Until next time. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I Be Trippin'

I wrote this while I was on the plane a few weeks ago and completely forgot about it! I will be making more of an effort to write on here, especially since my readership is soaring! Anyway, enjoy! If you think of a topic that you want me to write about, leave me a comment below!

Another trip means another kick to the financial nutsack and yet, here I am going on another trip home at a random time of the year with no real reason. Well, I guess that isn’t entirely true since I was originally heading back to visit my family for a birthday celebration, but that has fallen through so now I get to go and be selfish for a change. I do look forward to meeting my new niece too! My family sure knows how to make cute babies! This will be the first time in over 10 months since I have visited my family and I am sure there are many of us who understand that when you live away from everyone, the costs can add up when you want to go back for a visit. Even if you only live a few hours away, there is so much to factor in especially the travel costs.

Arguably, the time with loved ones can’t be measured in money, but what do you do to prepare for a family visit while staying on budget? The purpose of this blog entry is to teach you some of the skills that I put into place when I am going for a visit while trying to stay on track.

We all know that when we are on vacation, we need to do things that we don’t do in our everyday life to really make it feel like a vacation. I’m talking about going out to restaurants more often, maybe seeing a show or two, and with my family, we do a lot of socializing, which usually involves a couple bottles of booze. All of this is important for me in order to really disconnect from the busy life that I have back home, but it can still be done sensibly.

My first point should be fairly obvious: make a budget for while you’re on vacation. In a normal week, I can get by on $140, and since I am going to another Canadian city (that isn’t in the North - have you seen their prices on groceries?!) I should be able to stay thrifty.  At the same time, as I mentioned, this isn’t going to be a typical week, so it’s important that I plan well in advance to have a bigger budget in order to have some fun!

Your travel budget should be made at least 3-6 months in advance so that you can start squirreling away some money to spend on the flight, food, and fun. I realize that making a budget isn’t always simple to do when you’re on vacation, but a good strategy that I find works for me is to simply set a money limit. I like to give myself $500 for a week of vacation time. That will get me a few delicious meals, maybe a few cases of beer, and maybe even a couple shows here and there. There’s no shame being cheap on vacation, especially when you write a preachy financial blog about how thrifty you are, all over the Internet.

Once you know how much money you plan to spend, incorporate savings into your budget for the vacation and get crack-a-lackin’! If your trip is going to cost you $1,000, that’s only $250 per month over 4 months that you need to save. I did this by working some overtime at my one job, and getting a second job. This may be overkill for most of us, so maybe you can look for more ways to cut corners in your current budget. The main idea is that you should never have to go into debt to travel.

When you reach your destination, stick to your guns! Leave the credit card in the hotel safe, or wherever you’re staying. If you have a limit of only $100 per day, then make sure that’s all you bring with you! The best part about only carrying your cash budget for the travel day with you is that you cannot overspend. You also don’t have to worry about replacing your cards if you get pickpocked! This is a foolproof trick that I use in my daily life. Let me give you an example of what happens when I don’t do this.

On Saturday, I went to Montreal, and if you read this blog, you know that city is my financial nemesis. My credit card came along for the ride while I was out suit shopping for my friends Isha and Sam’s wedding. I’m the MC so I have to look seksi, but I don’t have to worry about upstaging them because they are one of the most ridiculously beautiful couples I know. Now, while was in Montreal, as per usual, I went overboard. If would have planned properly and only brought the cash I intended to spend, I wouldn’t have reached into my wallet and grabbed my enemy – my MasterCard. In the end, my intention to spend $200 on a suit, turned into a $560 shopping spree. Yes, I got myself the suit, but I also got 2 sweaters, a dress shirt, a t-shirt, and 3 pairs of pants…  and 5 pairs of socks. You see? If I didn’t have that stupid card with me, I would have had to stay on budget because the access to the credit has really become my problem. 

If you’re staying with friends or family, you have a real advantage to save a lot of money, but make sure that you repay the favour! Opt for a dinner at home where you cook it, grab a bottle of wine instead of going out to a pub. Isn’t the point of staying with friends and family to spend time with them? Why not teach some of the financial lessons that you learned by directly applying them while staying with them? Go do a shared grocery run and plan a meal together, rent a movie, play a board game, go for a walk, check out what kinds of free events are taking place while you’re in town. Be creative and have some affordable fun.  And remember, just because you are a guest in someone’s home doesn’t mean that you are entitled to eat whatever you want or use up all their expensive shampoos.

Now, I know that I have friends out there who are going to argue with me that the experiences are worth the debt, but I have to rebut with the question: How can you relax when you know that you are just piling on more stress with debt? Isn’t a vacation supposed to be about escaping? Doesn’t piling on more debt to travel seem like you’re simply reinforcing the locks in a debt prison? I have friends who have really done the travel thing the right way. They got to a point in their lives where they were saving for a down payment on a home, and came to the quick realization that they would be much happier with a trip around the world for a year and used those savings to get away. I would have gone with them if I had some kind of grip on my debt. Their trip was a real wake-up call for me when they left. I was the same age (ok maybe a couple years older) as them, but I had no savings to even be spoken of (which is arguably the same situation I am in right now). It really ignited the fire under my a$$ to get my debt together.