Friday, December 30, 2011

Last Post of the Year

My loyal readers, thank you again for all the support over 2011. I really feel like this has been my year. There are so many great things that I have accomplished. My biggest achievement was finding a permanent job that includes a great pension and benefits package that will keep me less at risk to getting into further financial trouble in the future. Not only that, I now get paid to be on vacation, which is a first for me in my entire working life. It feels great to be writing this blog post in sunny, snowy, Saskatoon while getting the opportunity to relax with my family and friends without worrying about my finances. I can't think of a better way to wrap up the year!


Being back home really reminds me how lucky I am. Not only have I come back to Saskatoon for the second time this year and I have taken trips to Halifax and Las Vegas while managing to stay right on track with my debt repayment - have you seen the numbers? It is so incredible to think that I am not far from being halfway finished my goal of paying off my debt and that I will not have any debt left on my credit card. 


All this being said, I didn't manage to do one thing which I had set out to do at the beginning of this year, and that was to make sure that I write one blog post per week. I got pretty close though, this will be the fiftieth! For someone with a demanding schedule like mine, I think I did pretty good, and my readership numbers have proven it! I'm now close to having 9000 reads which lets me know that it's more than just my friends and family who are reading about my challenge and my struggle to pay this all off in such a quick amount of time. 


The new year is going to present its own challenges for me. As soon as I get back home, I start on full-time French training! This could end up being something incredible for me since I will be one step closer to being bilingual, or I could end up feeling really high strung. I'm hoping that this will feel like a bit of a break for me though and I think it will help me get back on track with my budget because I won't have such a wonky schedule. Not only that, this should give me more opportunities to do yoga consistently again.  I know that we all make resolutions to be in better shape or to exercise more, but I'm taking this one seriously. I want to try to do yoga at least 3 times a week. I think that can be completely possible. When you undertake something stressful like debt repayment, your physical health will help you to keep focussed and deal with stress more than if you are not taking care of yourself. 


2011 was a great year for me for a lot of reasons which you can read about in my past blog entries. Taking control of your finances helps you to take control of your life. If you are thinking about what to do for your new years resolution, I highly recommend that you do this process. Not only is it possible, but you will have my support to see it through as a success. I look forward to getting back on track in the new year and sharing some new pearls of wisdom with you all! 


Happy New Year Everyone!


xo


John

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Shopping Day!




Nice Package!
I woke up today to a loud bang followed by a shaking feeling thinking that a bomb had gone off, which I think was my body’s way of putting me into flight mode. Why? Because today was my big Christmas spending shopping day! Without giving away too many details, I think I may have gone a little bit overboard, but I did pretty damn good too! It’s not really a big deal that I overspent in my mind though, because I still managed to pay down a huge chunk of debt and maintain a certain level of sanity at the same time (always a plus in my book). Overall the shopping experience wasn’t too bad with a few exceptions of ridiculous shoppers and obnoxious sales staff. I do have to sympathize for people who work at a mall during the holiday season though. Usually it’s a bunch of students who are already stressed out with exams and projects to finish on top of having to be friendly with stressed out people at the same time so I wasn’t surprised when I got into a discussion about whether the colour of the item I was looking at was not black but rather a navy blue, to which she tried to tell me that navy blue is just another form of black. You’re not pulling a fast one on me girlfriend, okay?

In terms of the budget for my family get-togethers, I have done well so far. The first gift is perfect, but I’m worried that it won’t be something that everyone wants. I guess that is what makes a Secret Santa without names a little difficult. I don’t want to buy something that only the girls will like, and I don’t want to buy something that only the boys will like either. Decisions, decisions! All I have left to find is another $25 gift. I saw a few things that I know will be good, but now I need to decide which will be the best of them.  There were some other things that I wanted to get but I knew that I would be able to find them cheaper online, so I have been sleuthing around the internet and I think I found the perfect thing for the perfect price. Now it’s just a matter of whether or not I can get the item to my place in time before I leave! I hope I’ll figure it out before Christmas!

Aka, Negative Nancy
I am being faced with another little problem though. My mom emailed me and asked what my boyfriend wants for Christmas and now I feel like I need to buy something for my parents, which is not something I had planned. I don’t like being hit with unexpected surprises in my budget, but I guess that’s why Gail is always stressing that I have an emergency fund! So if I end up buying something for my parents, that’s going to add (give or take) another $100 to my spending for the holidays. Realistically that isn’t so bad, but I would rather have the money to be able to go out for dinner with my parents instead of getting them something they won’t use or remember, or even worse, return it for a god awful baby-blue-and-neon-pink sweater. Seriously, I did not approve that purchase Mom! If I do decide to go out and spend on my parents, then I will make sure to keep it smart, unlike the person I overheard at the mall saying that he had to spend at least $100 on a pair of gloves. Are you effing kidding me? I can’t believe that I used to be that person. I remember spending almost $300 on a sweater. I love that sweater to death and get complimented on it every time I wear it, but man I would gladly trade it for 6 equally nice $50 sweaters right about now.

Umm... Boney M?
Now without sounding like Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer, I am getting really excited for the holidays! There are so many frustrating moments leading up to the holidays, but maybe the past couple Christmas parties I have attended are getting me in the mood to celebrate. All I need is a little Boney M Christmas and some Christmas drinks and I am good to go. It also helps that my family has started to message me and tell me how happy they are that I am coming back to visit. A big part of me really wants to just let go of my budget while I am on vacation, and I think that I will simply because I have achieved so much over this past year. I will still stay away from credit, but I will maybe put a little less toward my debt repayment and a little more on myself. I know, I know, it’s not the best thing to do, but at this point it just feels right. Alright, I only have 4-5 more Christmas celebrations to go now! Wish me luck everyone, and see you next week!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Scare Tactics


Scare tactics are effective on the elderly

One of the most remarkable things about writing a financial blog is how open people become when talking to me about their own financial struggles. Listening to other people’s challenges and successes gives me a lot of reassurance as well as tons of hope that I can continue to get ahead with this process. A common theme in the discussions I have with people who still carry debt is that most don’t have any idea how they can get their debt paid off. Fortunately I have tons of ideas to help them out. The part that usually baffles me though is how long people are willing to wait to pay off their debt in full.

For example, when I look at my current “repayment plan” for my student loans, my lender projects that I still have another 89 months (7 years and 5 months) of minimum payments to go before I will pay this off entirely. Not only that, the amount of interest I will end up paying is $1,837.78. I hate dumping any of my hard earned money onto interest payments so when I hear about people being comfortable with paying off a small amount of debt over such a long amount of time, I want to smack them over the head and tell them to wake up. I get it, we all feel entitled to the best of the best, and since we work hard, we should be rewarded. The problem is that if you keep resorting to credit to buy everything you want, you could end up with nothing when the debt gets quickly out of control.

If you were like I was, teetering on the brink of financial disaster, you need to stop and take control of your situation before it gets unmanageable. There are some major signs that you should be weary of such as: not being able to make more than the minimum payments on your bills; not knowing how much debt you have; living paycheck to paycheck; having no savings; creditors constantly call you for payments; you remortgage your house every other year; and the list goes on. I recently read an article (I’m sorry I can’t remember where) where most financial advisors said they wished that people would have come and seen them sooner to deal with their finances rather than later because most of the time, they are too far gone to be helped and they have to file for bankruptcy. This couldn’t be any truer. If you are like I was with my money, look for something that will motivate or inspire you to get your debt repaid. For me, I can think of a lot of things I would rather do with $1,800 other than use it for interest (like a mini vacation), and not to mention how less stressed I get as the debt numbers go down. Debt repayment is work, but when you build a strong support system like I have, it is completely possible to do.
  
Canada's Debt Clock!
Ok, so you may be wondering what is with the scare tactics/pep talk? In one of the conversations I had recently with someone who I don’t even really know, she told me about Canada’s debt clock at debtclock.ca. This site has a scary tracker of Canada’s ever-rising debt total. The site claims that by March, 2012, Canada’s debt will have skyrocketed to over $585 BILLION dollars. According to the site, “That’s $61,454 per minute, $3.7-million per hour, or $88.5-million every day!” Right now that means that on average, every Canadian is carrying $16,000 of debt. Now, with spending projections this holiday season, we can only expect this increase to rise even further.

But what can we do to reduce this number, right? We can’t be responsible for other people’s neglectful spending, but we can certainly do our part to encourage others to start spending money smarter, especially over the holidays. In a country where we buy everything we want on credit, I find it surprising that people have anything left to buy for each other at Christmas that they don’t already have! Just like last year, I want to emphasize that there are so many ways that you can save money this year during the holidays.

Make a shopping list like Santa!!
When you are out shopping, be like Santa and make a list. Making a list when you shop will help keep you on track with what you want to buy for your loved ones. Try to keep the list as specific as possible, and write down the items that you want to buy even for the stores where you know what you want to buy and put a price limit on how much you want to spend. If you want to go the extra mile, look for deals online for items that you want to buy and save yourself even more money (as long as the shipping isn’t ridiculous). If you can stick to a list, you will have an easier time staying on budget.

Leave the credit card at home. This is a general rule for me everyday, but it’s even better to put into practice during the holidays. You shouldn’t have to go into debt just to buy everyone you know a gift, and nor should they. Don’t ever feel bad about giving a friend a card or simply asking your family to do a gift exchange instead of buying each of them a gift. And if you’re doing a gift exchange with friends, think doing what my friend Gigi does and have everyone re-gift something that they don’t use! This idea is not only a great way to recycle, but it is also a hilarious way to spend time with your friends during the holidays!

Be thoughtful with your gift giving. Can you think back to 5 Christmases ago and remember everything you got? Even better, can you remember all the things that you bought for your loved ones? I find that the gifts I remember the most are the ones that were made by someone.  I remember one year when my brother blew up a picture of us as kids working with my Dad. He was so moved by that photo, which it really made the whole day a wonderful and memorable experience for us all (and no, it wasn’t even Christmas day). I can’t tell you what I got for the past few years other than maybe some money but I don’t even remember the amounts. What I do remember are the fun times that I had with my family which I guess is why I go back home year after year.

The holidays can be the most stressful time of the year, or they can be the most exciting and memorable. With the debt counter climbing higher, take time to stop and think of ways that you can contribute to reducing your debt instead of augmenting it this season. The holidays will become less stressful if you plan ahead and use your own money, not the banks’. If you’re reading this and thinking, “well $hit John, it’s too late now”, then perhaps you should make it your new year’s resolution to put $25 a week into a special “Christmas Savings” account and by this time next year, you will have $1,200 to spend ‘til your heart’s content. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Old Habits Die Hard


Yes, I look this sexy when I'm sick

You may be wondering what took me so long to write my latest blog post and the answer is simple; I was sick and avoiding having to write another fail blog. Being sick is one of the most annoying and time-wasting things, but I think getting a cold was my body’s way of telling me to slow… down. These days I have been stretching myself thin with work and French classes.

When I started this debt repayment process, I was stuck in a lot of habits like using my debit card for everything, eating out, not saving, not planning and lately I find that I have gotten back into some of my old habits that got me into debt. In my typical fashion, the week started out with really good intentions; I was ready to make a meal plan and figure out how I was going to find ways to cut my outside-of-the-budget spending. The problem is that I never got around to making that meal plan. Not only did I not do the plan, I took out my weekly allowance and still used my debit card to go out and buy $60 worth of records (I’m a sucker for Florence + the Machine).

My personal motto
Now without being too offensive to the people with kids and spouses, why is every financial book geared towards you guys? Don’t these financial planners know that I am perfectly capable of effing up my finances without a family and a mortgage? The majority of all the meal plans and recipes that I find are for families, which has pros and cons. The pro is that the meals you make will stretch out for a long time. The con is that it’s easy to get sick of something when you eat 6 portions of it. I remember seeing one meal planner for couples on someone else’s blog where she talked about going through flyers and looking at what was on sale and making a plan based on that. That is all well and good, but for me, that’s a lot of work and I don’t keep any flyer of any kind. She did have a good idea or two, which I will now steal and add into my own planning.

Anyway, I have decided to use this blog post to make my meal plan for the week. Now I have no excuses, sigh. I did do some research and I found a couple of interesting ideas from other blogs. This time of year it is more important to implement a meal plan what with all the holiday parties, pot-lucks, work lunches and so on that keep coming up, or maybe that’s even more of a good reason to be having a meal plan? The first thing to do is to get a program to make a list or spreadsheet. Certainly, it pays to plan ahead and it will save you time in the long run when you are out grocery shopping or doing something similar.

I want my meal plans to start on Wednesdays because that’s when I get paid and I find that people tend to overcrowd the grocery stores on the weekends so when I shop on a Wednesday I can avoid the clutter and find more selection. I worked at a grocery store for 4 years so I know that major grocery chains get new stock in every day, but it runs out when there are more people around and when there are sales - obviously. Usually when something runs out it’s because everyone has ordered a lot of it and they don’t have enough to distribute or else the person who does the ordering is incompetent. Imported items take longer to restock because of where they come from, so you might have better odds finding everything you are looking for if you go on a weekday. 

The ultimate time saver!
Start your list by putting in the days of the week (duh). Next, add in all of the meals that you are going to have to make. For example, each day should have breakfast (if you eat breakfast), lunch, dinner, and 2 snacks because let’s get serious; most of us have a little afternoon craving for chocolate or some other delicious food most afternoons at work. If you’re sharing groceries with a partner, then add them into your plan as well. If you know that you are going to be really busy one day, then don’t choose to do a complicated meal where you end up eating at 10:00 pm after an 11 hour day. I have had days like that where we want to kill each other over how hungry we are. So, make sure that when you plan your recipes that you look at the cooking plans or choose recipes that can be cooked in a Crockpot.

Here’s an example of how my week could look (the J is for me, the R is for my partner):

Wednesday
Breakfast: J: Oatmeal; R: Cereal (Kashi);
Snack 1: J: Banana, yogurt; R: off
Lunch: J&R: Tuesday Dinner Leftovers
Snack 2: J: Carrot Sticks with dip; R; off
Dinner: J&R: Rosemary Chicken Skillet with Potatoes (Recipe)

Thursday
Breakfast: J: Cereal; R: Toast with Peanut Butter and Honey
Snack 1: J: 2 Mandarin oranges; R: off
Lunch: J&R: Leftover Chicken Salad Sandwich
Snack 2: J: Cliff Bar; R; off
Dinner: J&R: Thai Red Curry Shrimp with Jasmine Rice

Friday
Breakfast: J: Oatmeal; R: Cereal (Kashi)
Snack 1: J: Banana and Yogurt; R: Cliff Bar
Lunch: J: Lunch with Cafeteria with coworker; R: Leftover Curry Shrimp
Snack 2: J: Banana; R; Almonds
Dinner: J&R: Butter Chicken with rice

Saturday
Breakfast: J: Oatmeal (PC Blue Menu); R: Cereal (Kashi)
Snack 1: J: off; R: Cliff Bar
Lunch: J&R: Friday night leftovers
Snack 2: R; Almonds
Dinner: J&R: Lasagna

Sunday
Breakfast: R: Oatmeal, smoothie
Brunch: J: Bacon, eggs, toast, orange juice
Lunch: R: Leftover Lasagna
Dinner: Potluck Dinner: J making Roast Turkey and Stuffing

Monday
Breakfast: J: Oatmeal (PC Blue Menu); R: Cereal (Kashi)
Snack 1: J: Bagel with Cream Cheese; R: Cliff Bar
Lunch: J&R: Leftover Turkey Sandwiches
Snack 2: J: Almonds; R; Banana
Dinner: J&R: Leftovers

Tuesday
Breakfast: J&R: Cereal (Kashi)
Snack 1: J: Oatmeal; R; Orange and Cliff Bar
Lunch: J&R: Chicken Salad Sandwich
Snack 2: J: Carrot Sticks; R: Protein Shake
Dinner: J&R: Whole Wheat Pasta with Tomato Sauce

Now you’ll notice that I don’t include drinks on weekdays in here. I have a coffee club at work, so we all just buy some coffee every month and contribute that way instead of buying a coffee out every day and the ol' balls and chain works at a restaurant, so he can get his coffee or tea there. This plan not only saves us money, but time as well. I also bought a water jug for the office so that I can have filtered water on hand to drink everyday instead of having to buy bottled water or something like that. The oatmeal is the instant kind that I bring to work. It’s really that simple, so just get it together and you can be well on your way to being a successful debt destroyer like me!

On a side tangent,
I have now paid off $15,000 worth of debt!
Isn’t that incredible?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Progress Report - NIL



This is the battle inside my brain.
Here we are, half way through November and I don’t really have a lot more progress to report on. Actually, all I can report on is the lack of progress I have made this week! Not a day goes by when I don’t consider myself lucky for all that I have (love, job, health, friends, family, stability, home, freedom, etc) but for some reason the debt constantly remains on my mind and adds that tiny bit of stress in my life. I cannot wait to have officially banished this debt once and for all but at the same time I certainly did some counterproductive activities these past few weeks that leave me feeling a little hypocritical. I really wonder if all these financial gurus ever experience the same problem or if these problems are what made them into the strong financial leaders that we have today and if perhaps one day I may become one of them. I have always had a strong desire to help people work out solutions to their problems so I guess I should never say it isn’t a possibility in the future. This blog definitely makes me feel as though I am contributing something valuable to help my readers with their debt problems.  

What really makes doing this challenge such a, um, challenge, is that I am a very social person by nature so I always find it difficult to avoid spending money on fun social events. Lately I have not really been the best example for my friends and I think that they have been paying the price inadvertently. I don’t ask them for money per se but I have been consistently bailed out by friends here and there. Ok, well not really bailed out since most of the time they will offer me a drink or a snack, or whatever, but the reality is that I should just learn to say no every now and then. Really, I ate poutine 4 times this week, which is just beyond stupid and I wonder why my waistline is expanding and why I am down to $20 in my bank account before payday.

Ugly Christmas Budget
Despite all of this, it’s worth mentioning that I have been having a lot of fun lately doing all these uncharacteristically ‘expensive’ things with wonderful friends, but now I’m feeling like I hit that point where I need to just stop and try to find fun activities that don’t cost me anything and that are a little bit more healthy for me and most importantly, activities that don’t leave others spending money on me! I like to do cheap and easy things because I am cheap and easy enjoy activities that keep me on my debt repayment path. However, what is beginning to scare me lately is that the pressure to spend seems to be rising and I think I know why – Christmas. I have gotten at least 5 invitations to Christmas parties that involve me having to buy some kind of gift or tacky Christmas sweater, or contribute to a potluck, or whatever. The point is that they all involve spending. I really don’t want to have to go out and spend anything and I’m sure I’m going to get creative and find a way to save some money by making gifts or something, but there’s always that added bit of pressure to spend.

If you take today for example, I woke up with the wrong attitude and I paid the price throughout the day and here I am writing a less than funny entry in my blog. On the flipside, if I were to approach my struggles with a positive attitude and look for opportunities to learn from my mistakes instead beating myself up over stupid and insignificant things, I will resort less to spending money on eating out or overindulging on “weekend super happy funtime” spending to cope with my stress. I’m going to really push myself this week to take some time to clear my to do list and end the week with a strong feeling of accomplishment, and if I don’t manage to do that, then I will step back and look at what it was that I did wrong.

Tonight I got home from my regular 11 hour day and ordered a pizza. Not because I really wanted pizza, but I wanted something that was convenient. I still have not sat down and made a real meal plan despite 2 of my friends sending me links to some weekly meal preparation websites. I also lived with my Aunt who spends her Sundays preparing meals for the entire week so that when she comes home from work, all she needs to do is throw the food in the oven and she is ready to go for the week. Mind you, she doesn’t really have a budget for food because she has done very well with her finances and isn’t carrying debt anymore, but it’s still a brilliant idea nonetheless.

So, it’s time that I start getting on the meal plan bandwagon, but I am going to give myself the gift of one meal out per week – I more than deserve it. Once I figure out how to get this right and make it work for me, I will report back to you on how it goes and hopefully it will help you save some money too! AND if I’m really really really good, I’ll try to get you some figures on what I spent on groceries so that you know how much this weekly meal plan ends up costing me.

Now just some random side notes about general goings on in my life. First, yesterday was my amazing Dad’s birthday! Happy birthday again Daddio! Also I am now both an iPhone AND BlackBerry user. Not exactly excited about this but I must say I still love my iPhone 1000x more than the BB. On the weekend I participated in an amazing acrobatics yoga workshop and did a shoulder-stand off some random’s lap. And finally, there was a little bit of sad news last week. My beloved Fishy has gone to the golden toilet in the sky. I had that beautiful fish for 4 ½ years too little.
He sleeps with the fishes now. 

RIP my sweet Fishy.  xo

John

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lordy Lordy, Look who's Forty (Percent Paid off)




Whoo! I'm cruising along!
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very happy to announce that I have managed to pay off almost 40% of my debt now! Isn’t that incredible? It’s barely been a year! Not only that, I have paid off more than $11,000 in credit card debt! I am unbelievably happy about the way things are going with my repayment plan. Now that the interest payments are getting massacred, I am paying off more and more principle so MasterCard doesn’t know what hit them. What makes me even happier is that I bought 2 plane tickets home for the holidays for $700 each AND gave $100 to charity and despite having purchased $1,400 worth of stuff; I still managed to reduce my card to $3,558! Finally I am feeling more like one of the converted.

During this economic meltdown, I am becoming quite grateful that I started this process when I did. I can’t imagine what some people out there must be feeling with debt like I have and the possibility of losing their jobs looming over their heads. I think the message is becoming ever clearer: we need to plan better. Not everyone is going to agree with everything I say, but I think it’s about time some of us got a debt enema and cleansed out some of this $hit. I read an interview with my besty, Gail Vaz-Oxlade where she talks about getting rid of credit scores and eliminating credit card debt. She describes a generation out students that got duped into signing up for credit cards with high maximums and embarrassing interest rates.

Inspiration!
To make matters worse, the government’s student loan program has ridiculous interest rates and students are paying the price. To add to the frustration, it is getting harder for graduates to find a good enough job to even start to pay back their loans properly other than with just the minimum payment. The repayment plan is so lousy that they have people paying off their student debt for 10 years and accumulating thousands of dollars in interest. It’s no wonder this generation is not learning any positive lessons about credit. Now don’t go thinking that I’m going to be sitting in some tent somewhere protesting about the world’s inequalities and all the problems that causes (believe me, the list is huge), but I really just want to shake some sense into some people who think that it is sustainable to live the way they do and rack everything up on credit. Why do we always try to keep up with the Joneses when they are probably in just as much (or more) debt than us?

This is the part where I challenge you. In Gail’s interview, she is challenging everyone to live without using their credit cards for the week of November 13 to 19. Just one simple week and it’s so much easier than you think (believe me; I go months at a time). If you are one of the people who is automatically thinking, “no effing way John, I can’t live without my credit card, especially during black Friday”, then you probably really need to try this exercise. Really, calculate how much money you are spending every year on interest. On a card with 19.9% interest, your $100 item becomes a $119.90 item in a year. You buy a $1,000 item and that jumps to $1,199.00 for that item. In my case, my interest rate was 18.9%. I carried a $14,581.45 balance, which means that in one year, I would pay $2,755.85 in interest! It’s no wonder the credit card company kept increasing my limit; they wanted me to be able to carry more money on my card!

I think the sign is self explanitory
So here’s where I challenge you (see what I did there, it’s called role reversal); try to go a week without using your credit card, or better yet, go the entire month. Leave your card in the freezer, throw it behind a heavy piece of furniture, and just learn to leave the house without it. For those of you who are feeling extra ambitious, go the extra mile and calculate how to get rid of the balance on it once and for all.  There is a great debt repayment tool on CNN that allows you to enter as many of your debts that you have and it tells you exactly how much you will need to pay on each one of your debts. You can then set it the time you want to pay it off in and it will adjust the figures accordingly. Give it a go! You really can pay of the debt, it just takes a bit of focus but it is certainly possible.

Good luck with your challenge everyone!

John

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween Havoc


I love Halloween!

Don’t panic everyone, I’m still alive and well. Yes, I know it has been over a week since my last amazing and awe inspiring blog entry, but I here I am starting of year number 2 with a poor rapport with blog writing so it’s time for me to jump back on the bandwagon. Well, it’s not just the blog writing I’m struggling with, but there are couple other things as well that I’ve fallen behind on. Do you every have those days when a number of stupid little things grind your gears and everything just seems frustrating? Well that was certainly me yesterday. I really wanted to write my blog entry but I was in no mood to do anything other than eat and sleep (in that order).

Those who know me in real life and not just on this blog, know that I am generally a very lighthearted person and when you want to be around someone positive, normally I am the guy to go to. However, there are some days where I just want to say “eff it” and just go home and crawl into bed. Those kinds of days are pretty rare, but every now and then, I really need to step back and not put anyone ahead of me but myself. Truth be told, that still is one of the life lessons that I struggle to wrap my head around. Where I find the most difficulty is just being completely selfish. There’s a tendency for me to put others first but sometimes those people don’t reciprocate and I get frustrated. It’s also a huge source of why I (and others) get into debt.

In any case, I’m feeling better today and a little less strung out so I think that everything is going to work out just fine. What is at the core of my stress is my bank account. I love Halloween so much, but I went overboard on my spending again this year. I had a Halloween party at my place on the weekend and it was lots of fun and well decorated, but I certainly blew the budget. To top it off, with Christmas around the corner, my savings account got a swift kick to the chestnuts and it’s drained back down to under $500. Not really impressive in my opinion, but what’s done is done and I cannot wait to see my family again in less than 2 months! The best part is that I finally (FINALLY) get a paid Christmas vacation. Do you know how hard it is to pay bills, fly home, and buy gifts when you lose 2 weeks of salary? It’s a lot like listening to U2’s music – awful.

But there’s no point in complaining right? With all the knowledge I have, I can certainly get back up and rebuild my savings and get the debt repayment back on track. In a lot of ways, I’m really starting out year two with the same kind of problems that I had before. I have been eating like garbage, I’m not getting as much exercise as I was before, and my meal plan and fallen deep into the toilet and I have to find some extra long rubber gloves to fish it out.

Last month I finished my 30 day challenge with flying colours. I didn’t spend any money outside of the grocery store, but I think that made me go a little crazy with my spending at Halloween. My new challenge over the next couple months is going to be to save up some spending money while I am in Saskatoon, get better at making a meal plan, and find ways to stay as positive as possible while surviving the holiday season somehow - wish me luck!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Year of Progress - My Journey 1 Year Later


35% paid! Holey Moley!


This year has truly been transformational for me. Can you believe that a year ago, I began this incredible challenge to reduce nearly $40,000 worth of debt down to nothing? Admittedly, I was very skeptical about the outcome of this challenge and there were a few cynical responses from friends and family when I first started. But those responses were certainly justified if you look back at the way I was spending money. Right after finishing university and racking up a bunch of student debt, I quickly turned to my credit to start racking up my consumer debt. It was so easy to do, and it felt completely justifiable because I was no longer a student, so why worry about paying off debt, I was making so much more money!

Before I started out on this adventure, I never imagined that I would get this far ahead in my debt repayment and I really felt kind of hopeless about the whole situation. My debt left me feeling really stressed out and I was always living paycheck to paycheck. I don’t think I really remembered what it was like to not have to wait every two weeks for a check to come in, and now, I can go days after I receive my paychecks before dipping in and taking out some money from my chequing account. I often found myself frustrated that I wasn’t getting anywhere and that my debt was constantly climbing even though I wasn’t using my credit card. But this really shouldn’t have come as a surprise because I never even opened my bills! My debt was making me being to feel hopeless and uncertain about my future because I had nothing in my savings account and didn’t seem to be anyway for things to turn around for me.

Gail's loving every moment!
Then along came Gail Vaz-Oxlade. I know that I talk about her a lot in my blog, but it was thanks to her book, Debt Free Forever, that I was able to actually get this process in motion. My budget became the key to my success and it has made it simple for me to see what it is that I need to do to get ahead and be happy. Not only did Gail teach me about making a budget, she taught me the importance of setting goals. Do you remember a time when you were a child and you had to save up for something you wanted? Whether it was an album or clothes, or maybe a toy or something? It was always so rewarding once you finally got to have it. It’s the exact same principle now, but on a different and grander scale. Things that we want now are going to cost us a lot more money (e.g. school, car, house) so it’s important to try and make realistic goals for when we will pay these things off and reduce the amount of money we waste on interest charges.

Holding myself accountable to you all has also been a tremendous success for me. If I mess up, you guys know about it, and now I can look back on the past year and know where I have been spending my money and when I spent it. Improving on my communication with my friends and family has worked exponentially well because they now understand the situation that I am in and understand when I say, I can’t go out for dinner tonight, or I can only go to one concert this month because I don’t have the cash to go out that often. It took a bit of training for some of my friends, but once everyone realized how serious I was, it got better and better, and even they got on track to being as nifty and thrifty as me.

You know, you never going to be able to get aggressive on paying down debt until you are able to acknowledge the things that you spend you money on and find ways to cut back where it’s possible. My gym membership was one of the first things to get kicked to the curb, and I began to start cooking more meals at home, and that saved me a fortune. Can you believe I was spending about $2,000 a year just on eating lunches? That seems like a bit much since that much money would pay for about 20 weeks of meals now.  I had to cut out other toxins in my life also. Drinking was something I did excessively almost every weekend, but now cut back and don’t go to bars near as much as I did (which is great because I like house parties more). Now that I don’t use my MasterCard and my debit card as much too, I am able to save all the money I wasted on bank fees.

The Amazing Seane Corn
Without a doubt though, I have to say that volunteering my time at a yoga studio has been a great way to keep me healthy and keep me from spending so much. I have been really fortunate to find this opportunity and I really feel as though the studio is karmic in the sense that I am getting everything that I put into in back out in the form of less stress and more focus. This weekend I was incredibly fortunate to participate in a workshop by the fabulous Seane Corn, a renowned yoga instructor who gave an amazing detoxifying workshop. I was able to physically and mentally drain my system and really get a clear focus for the path ahead and it left me feeling incredibly humbled and appreciative that I get to enjoy the luxury of living where I do and having what I have. I really hope that one day I will be able to give back all that I have learned to others in order for them to find ways out of the debt dungeon.

All this to be said, my actions certainly were instrumental in getting my finances in order, but there are other elements that I needed to make this function; first of all, you need to be disciplined. My will power is tested around the clock and I know better than anyone that we are creatures of habit. It is so easy to get into the routine of buying a coffee on the way to work, or picking up a lunch down at the food court, stopping by the mall once a week to buy something that you want, but the reality is that those habits are what can get us into situations like $40,000 of debt in the first place. The key was to identify the things that were holding me down and make a conscious decision to change. It is so easy for us to get into the habit of being miserable or lazy, but it takes a realization that sometimes we need to light a fire under us and do something about it. If you feel like you are stuck in a rut, ask yourself why you’re putting yourself in that rut. All the information you need to succeed and get onto your life path is available for the taking, you just have to want to go and get it. But this isn’t always something that you can take on all by yourself, which is why I strongly encourage people to talk about your change with your friends and family and they will be there to support you along the way. Sometimes your choices will actually end up influencing their decisions and in the end, your relationships with these people can only get stronger.

Truly, I can say that I see change in my relationships. I spend less time hiding behind my stuff and I feel more like myself again, and I think that has been evident to my friends. Money is still the centre of my life right now, but it is positive now, because I know that I can tackle this challenge. I now have more than 35% of my debt paid off, which means that I am ahead of the goal and there is a very good chance I will have all my debt paid off in less than 3 years, which feels so incredible. I can even say that now I have a savings account with more than just a couple of bucks in it, so I can use that money to pay for trips home, or help me out in times of need, like when my computer died during the last time I wrote this entry!

Happy and healthy, this year has been so good! Can you believe that through all of this I have flown home three times and had a vacation in Las Vegas and somehow I still have my debt getting paid off? I can’t wait to see what this next year will hold for me. At this point next year, I vow to have 75% of my debt paid off! I feel like there’s no stopping me at this point! Thanks again for all the reads and all the support, you all help me through this so much more than you know!

Xoxo

John


Friday, October 21, 2011

One Year Blogiversary!


Can you believe that it has been one year since I started this process? 

Expect a very special post this weekend. 

Thank you for love and support this past year. 

XO

John

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Return of Mr. Fran├žais



Another memorable trip to Ikea!
Things have gotten, well, interesting again now that I am back in French classes 3 times every week. I fell like my brain is slowly turning into a croissant. Normally, I am quite good at managing stress levels, but being back in school while working full time is certainly elevating my stress. It’s taking me back to the time in my life when I was a full-time student and full-time worker. I was always strung out (which I’m now realizing probably had something to do with why I was single most of the time while I was in school). Lately I have gotten used to being able to do yoga whenever I wanted and when I left work, and the part that I loved is that I was actually leaving work instead of going to do 3 hours of even more work. Yes, yes, I know this is all for the greater good in the long haul and one day I’ll be completely bisexual bilingual, but I sure have my doubts about whether or not I can manage this all the time. I suppose that as long as I continue to work hard at this, there shouldn’t be any problem getting my French up to par and then sailing through my career and onward toward more money. Honestly though, I think that because I am unable to go and do yoga as much as I want, I’m truly depriving myself of the one thing that I have been using to manage my stress levels.

Delicious Pad Thai by John! 
The time is quickly approaching for day 21 of my 30 day challenge and I must say that it is going really well for the financial part, the yoga on the other hand; well let’s just say I have cancelled my class tonight in order to write you this blog entry. Anyone who reads my blog knows that when I put my mind to something I can achieve anything, so why wouldn’t I be able to not buy any food outside of the grocery store? Certainly I have had a little helping hand along the way from my friends who will grab me a cup of coffee (which I haven’t asked for) or share some of their Ikea meatballs (thanks Jess), but if I really don’t want something, then I can say no. The main thing I am learning is that I can make myself meals everyday that taste effing delicious and don’t cost me more than $5 per serving. For example, last week I made an amazing vegetable curry with lemon-ginger rice. It cost me about $40 for the ingredients, but since I didn’t use all of them (i.e. the spices) it worked out to about $20 for 8 servings! That’s right, only $2.50 per serving. A couple nights ago I made myself a roast (to my vegetarian roommate’s horror – “is that cooked? Do people actually eat that?”) for about $2.00 a serving and today I made a tofu Pad Thai (to my vegetarian roommate’s delight “mmm, I love tofu”) for about $2.25 per serving. It’s really incredible how far you can stretch your money when you cook at home!

Amazing Veggie Curry! 
Really though; I know that cooking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really not that difficult and you do save a lot of money. The biggest key to making it successful is to keep it interesting! If you try a dish that you really enjoy, go home and look up the recipe and challenge yourself to make it one night. If you don’t do it properly, or it tastes like congealed donkey testicles, then try something different. Don’t be afraid to ask friends for their recipes either (unless it’s Dana’s lasagna recipe) or better yet, get together and cook with them. In no time you will accumulate a cornucopia of deliciousness. There are other way to find good recipes other than through friends, check out some food blogs, or buy a new cookbook full of recipes of foods you actually enjoy eating. I just bought (with gift cards) a book for my partner’s birthday called “Jamie’s Food Revolution” by Jamie Oliver; it is full of recipes that are just as cheap and easy as he is. 

Great cook book!
Now that I’m on the topic of my partner’s birthday, I should probably mention that my savings account has taken a little bit of a hit and it’s not quite at $2,000 anymore, but what I loved the most about that how I was able to use my savings instead of credit to purchase the present for him. I was a little generous (I got him a new guitar) but it was on sale so I felt it was justified and since we’ve been together for 3 ½ years, it seemed like an okay thing to spend money on. The problem with spending in stores for me though, is that I get the taste for shopping again and I have started to spend when I shouldn’t be. I think I’ll just take the money that I have spent already out of my “prize” at the end of the 30-day challenge. Yesterday I managed to blow through $82.50 at Ikea on 3 new pots, a rug for the foyer, and some candles. A little excessive, yes, but I did say no to a bunch of other stuff (a frame for my art print, a $40 drying rack, a drawer organizer, even more pots, a giant picture in the ‘as is’ section, and even our adorable shopping mascot, Peanut) so that made me feel good that I was actually able to leave Ikea without spending more than $100 (which used to be a huge challenge for me).
  
Ok, that’s the gist of it today. The only other thing that I want to mention is that I have officially paid my MasterCard down to under $5,000 from an original $14,581.45 to a mere $4,684.98! And there’s more to come this month! MasterCard better start getting ready to say good-bye because this cash cow is beginning to run dry!

Monday, October 10, 2011

So Thankful!



Happy Turkey Slaughter Day!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! There is so much that I have to be thankful for. First and most important, I am thankful for my amazing family and friends. It feels so awesome to be loved by so many wonderful people really makes me happy to have all these people in my life. I’m also thankful for my wonderful job that pays well and is getting me further and further in my goal to get my debt reduced to nothing. I’m thankful for this past year! It’s difficult to fully express how much this process has changed my life for the better. I have a feeling of control of my life and my stress levels are so much lower than they have ever been, and I don’t worry about where the money is going to come from, it just happens! But more than anything, I am thankful for my amazing partner and best friend. He has been the biggest support in this whole process so it was no problem for me to dip into my savings and get him a fantastic present which I am sure he will love! Happy Birthday baby! I love you more than ever!

Love
This week has been a really busy and eventful one, so I feel like I have lots to write about, but little time to actually write anything! You see, I went out with some friends last night and went to bed a lot later than I usually do, so I didn’t wake up until around noon (but that felt amazing) and now I need to start getting ready to go to my 4th Thanksgiving dinner this weekend! I know, excessive. I started my Thanksgiving feasting with a potluck, followed by another potluck, followed by another delicious home cooked meal (that I didn’t have to cook for) and now I’m going out to my partner’s parents’ place for a Thanksgiving/Birthday dinner. I have eaten so well over the past few days, I just feel like an incredibly spoiled brat! I think it goes without saying that it has been really easy to avoid eating in restaurants during Thanksgiving. I mean, why eat out when there is so much delicious home cooked food to enjoy all weekend? I’ve had everything from chicken to turkey to beef, so I’m hoping for a ham tonight!

Speaking of the 30 day challenge, I am happy to report that I have been doing really well! I missed yoga yesterday and I will definitely miss it today, but I have the option of doing some at home yoga and meditation so that makes it a little bit easier, so in that regard, I haven’t been perfect. However, what is incredible is that I have not caved and purchased any food outside of the grocery store in almost 2 weeks! That has been a huge feat in itself, and I have saved so much money by not eating out. I’m even finding that making one gourmet meal a week has been a piece of cake. I was at the grocery store the other day and I asked for cash back not realizing that I already had $40 in my wallet! It had been so long since I spent money that I forgot I even had it! That was a fun bonus, like those times you put on a winter coat and find $20 in the pocket, it’s like free money! I’m telling you, if you want to save money quickly, try giving up eating out entirely and you will save a ton!

Not quite what happened in my accident...
In other news, after I wrote my last blog entry, I was in an accident on my bike and scraped up my hand and got a couple of bruises. Nothing serious at all, but it left me feeling pretty shaken up because I almost slid into heavy traffic, so I was happy not to be hurt too badly. Anyway, I was biking to go to the grocery store to pick up ingredients for my gourmet meal and when I got there, I filled up my basket, scanned everything in at the self checkout, and walked out the door – without paying! I didn’t realize until about 2 hours later what I had done. I think I was in a state of shock from my bike accident that had happened only a few minutes before. So, feeling incredibly guilty, I went back to the store and told them what happened and they were totally fine with everything and they appreciated my honesty. It made me feel better knowing that I paid and I hope that will balance out my karma a little bit! Although, this shoplifting thing is a pretty good way to save cash! Ha! But anyway, I better get going to my 4th Thanksgiving dinner – sorry for cutting this entry so short! Thanks for reading again everyone! My readership is up really high lately and I’ve broken the 7000 reads mark thanks to you! 


I just realized after I hit publish that this is my 50th Post! How awesome is that?!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

1/3 of the Way There and My Fear of Apples




Completely useless
Words can’t even describe how incredibly happy I am to announce that I have paid off 1/3 of my debt in under a year! I started this debt repayment journey on October 21, 2010 and here I am, less than a year into it, and ahead of my goal! It won’t be long before I have my MasterCard completely paid off and I will save so much money on interest! Can you believe that I still pay $70 per month in interest just on my credit card? I don’t know why I ever let it get to this point in the first place. The thing is that we all use credit cards, but we don’t all use them in a smart way. If you are a smart credit card user, you make a payment the same day that you buy something and you get a card that does 1% cash back. You can actually make money off of the credit cards. You might be thinking, big deal, what’s a measly 1%, but the reality is that when you take 1% for every $1,500 that you spend, that $15 in your bank account! It’s like getting paid to shop and it’s freaking wonderful. I plan on doing something like that once I have my MasterCard banished into the fires of credit hell because right now I am getting those super useless Airmiles, which if you don’t have thousands of, they’re pretty pointless. So yeah, cash back or some kind of actually good rewards program.

Now enough with that ranting about plans when my credit card will be paid off (which is only a few more months away) and on to my challenge! As you heard from my last post, I started a 30 day challenge to not buy any food outside of the grocery store (including coffee, snacks, poutine) and make one gourmet meal per week. Not to mention I also have to do 5 yoga practices per week and on the other 2 days, I have to do a 10 minute meditation. This challenge started on Wednesday and the results have been completely successful so far! Admittedly, since most people know that I am doing this challenge, they have been extra supportive and not pushing me to eat out. I’ve also had two lovely ladies buy me coffee (from Starbucks no less) when I was looking a little worse for wear. It’s amazing how something as simple as a cup of coffee can really brighten your day!

My worst nightmare
This challenge has proved to be really, well, challenging at times though. There are moments when I come home and really just want to order a pizza, or the other morning I was so tired and I forgot to make myself coffee before I went to the yoga studio every coffee shop seemed to call out to me, enter me John, come inside me and give me your money, but I didn’t give into their seductions. An added challenge for me was when I went and made a purchase for the yoga studio at the local farmers’ market. There were lots of delicious baked treats there that I was so ready to whip my wallet out for, but that wasn’t the real challenge. The biggest challenge was what I had to purchase – apples. Now, you’re thinking, oh yeah, apples are in season right now and they are so delicious – WRONG. Those of you, who know me well, know that I have a hatred and borderline phobia of raw apples. I don’t know what it is, but the (I’m getting anxious just typing this) feeling of peeled raw apples and the sound and texture of them makes me really uncomfortable. I have gotten A LOT better over the years, but buying those apples was the first time I had purchased apples in well over a decade. I’m serious when I say I really hate them. I love apple juice, and anything involving cooked apples, but if that apple is raw (even if it’s a caramel apple) I cannot handle it.

Side tangent – once I went to my friend Maya’s farm to stay there for a weekend and I helped them pick a whole whack of apples; this is something that I did often when I was a kid and I think it has something to do with why I hate them so much now. I hate climbing to heights, and it makes my palms sweat when I think about climbing and potentially falling, so I think that has somehow managed to tie itself to raw apples. Anyway, after the apple picking, I was given a bag full of apples to take home – talk about ironic. Since I don’t eat raw apples, I decided that I was going to make myself an Apple Crisp so I began to peel the apples. It took me at least 20 minutes to peel 4 or 5 apples. I had to set the apples down every time that I would touch the peeled apple parts. What was worse is that when it came time to have to cut the apples, I couldn’t. I hated it so much I had to ask my partner to cut the apples while I went as far away as possible from the sound. I know, I am bat$hit crazy. But the point is that I still did more with apples than I had in a long time. Every now and then I do try to eat a piece of raw apple because I acknowledge that my raw apple problem is completely insane.

So what is the point of that story; well, I guess to teach you that sometimes you need to do something that scares you or that you are worried to do in order to get ahead. If you never try, you’re never going to learn what you need to do to succeed. When I bought those apples, I felt good that I had done something that I would never normally do and I faced my (completely stupid) loathing of raw apples head on. Thank you (and Happy Birthday) Katie for getting me to do something that I wouldn’t normally do and pushing me outside my comfort zone.

As I was saying earlier, the challenge is going very well. I have been maintaining my no eating out goal and making delicious meals for myself. Today I am going to try making Chicken Vindaloo, again, thank you Gojee.com for giving me a great recipe that uses things I already have in my cupboards! I think I’ll start posting links to the recipes I love for you guys to try. I’m not going to turn this into another cooking blog though! This challenge has added in an extra element of exposure for me too. I got to open up and share this process with a number of new people doing the 30-day challenge and the reception to my blog is always heartwarming! I plan to do a weekly Wednesday updates on the challenge so that you can see how I have progressed!

Gorgeous!
In other news, I bought this beautiful print by local artist StephenFrew for only $10 at an art show/concert yesterday! I want to buy the original giant paiting, but I am on this budget so I think I will have to wait a bit before I buy any artwork for the apartment. What was even better was that I got to check out my friend’s new band called Bearshark! What a great name for a band.  The crappy news though is that I am going back to French classes starting on October 11, so I think that I will be extra challenged to do the yoga and cooking that week! It’s so hard to stay in the same room with one person for 3 hours 3 days a week! Oh well, eff it!

See you Wednesday!