Monday, February 28, 2011

Vacation or Staycation?

Public Speaking is not for Everyone

First off, I apologize for the lateness of this entry. For some stupid reason I decided to sit through 3 painful hours of James Franco trying to be funny at the Academy Awards. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great actor, but his hosting was as awkward and uncomfortable as hearing your in-laws doing it in the room next to you. The second thing I should apologize for is this entry in general – it’s kind of all over the place and to me seems like a total pile de merde, but maybe it’s just me. I’ve hit a rut today and just feel like a total $het-bag. Whether is was the incredibly huge dump of snow that we had today, or looking through my brother and sister-in-law’s awesome pictures from their trip to Mexico, the daily frustrations I sometimes feel at work, the fact that we don’t get another holiday until the end of April, or maybe just a case of the Mondays, I’m beginning to crave some real time off. I haven’t had a paid vacation in seven, yes seven, years and let me tell you, it sucks the biggest balls you’ve ever seen. So what do you do when you’re like me and vacations are completely paid for out of your own pocket? You improvise and save like a gangsta!
Look at this stupid phoque.

Have you ever heard the term “Staycation” before? If you have, then you know it’s a combination of vacationing and staying local for your holidays. This is a great way for you to seriously cut back on your annual vacation bill, while still getting to enjoy some much deserved time off. In the past, I have used my credit card to foot the bill for all of my vacation time over the past 7 years. Yes, this is the reason why I was covered in over $14,000 worth of credit card $hit-debt. I used my card to cover my flights, hotel bills, and worst (or maybe best) of all, liquor bills. We all have the intention of paying back our credit card bills, but when we’re out on a holiday, it’s so easy to get into that mentality of “Phoque it! I’m on vacation and I deserve this.” Then we get the bill and $hit our pants wondering how to pay it all back. I’m not going to argue that we are all worth splurging on, especially while lying on a beach soaking up the sunburn and guzzling several dozen beers. The big catch though is that you need to seriously plan ahead save up the money for a trip first, and then budget what you want to spend while you’re on vacation. 

Now, back to the magic of staycations. Most cities that we live in (or nearby) have all sorts of festivals, attractions, parks, pools, hotels, and so on that are within easy access. The key having an amazing staycation is to get creative and use these resources to find fun things to do with your loved ones on the cheap. For example, there might be a local festival that you can take the kids to on a certain day where kids can go for free. If you bring them along with some lunches, you can save tons on money and we all know kids to care one bit about whether they have restaurant food or a delicious peanut butter sandwich. After that, stay for a night in a local hotel when it’s on sale and if there’s a waterslide for the kids to go on, they will have a great time. If you’re looking for a nice romantic night with your snugglebum, plan a weekend at a friend’s cottage or plan to try something new like kayaking together while grandma watches the little rug rats.  Kids won’t care if they’re in Mexico or in Taco Time, as long as they’re having fun! 

Everyone deserves a break which is why KitKat was invented. Although Kitkats were made for those quick breaks where you supposedly only eat one of the wafers and you eat is slow and savor it, but in reality we all inhale them in under a minute. Not much of a break at all. Mind you, if you can substitute taking a holiday with eating a KitKat, then you are way ahead of me in the thriftyness game and you can stop reading the blog right here.  So staycations are totally not for you and you have to go on a vacation instead, this is the part of the blog for you. My brother is getting married in August, which means that I have not one, but two trips to take this year. The first is a trip to Las Vegas for his stag party and the second is his wedding! My brother asked me to be in his wedding party so I feel incredibly obligated to go to his stag party. Yes, I get the irony of a man who is trying to save his money and pay off his debt and going to Vegas. This week I was researching flights to Las Vegas and I was amazed at all the different tools out there to help me find an affordable flight without having to go through a travel agency.

Since I am such a huge nerd that know how to use those internets for good AND evil, I started with ‘the Google’ to do some incredibly mind-blowing research on flights by typing “(Name of your city) to Las Vegas” and I was directed to a pile of websites for flights. The key thing to know is that you need to search lots of different websites and don’t just look at one thinking that it has the best price like you’re some kind of person with a horseshoe up their derriere. Imagine shopping for flights as if you were standing in a grocery store and comparing toilet paper (or as my Dad called it, “a$$ wipe”) – would you just buy the first one that you see and not look at the price, or would you check to see if one was on sale?  When I started to look for legitimate travel websites, I recalled reading another person’s blog about travelling on a dime and I saw that someone had mentioned, so I checked out that one first. The results were plentiful, but they didn’t include the totals for the flights with tax. At first I had thought I could go with their website and only pay $319 for a return flight; which would have been $hit-my-pants-incredible! However, upon closer inspection, when you go to book the flight you find that they add in all the taxes and fees at the end right before you’re about to book which is something I’ve always had issues with. Really, why not tell us how much the flight will be right from the beginning? It’s not like we’re shopping for the Airport Improvement Fee separately! Oh no! I can’t afford to go through Toronto, their airport improvement fee is $3 more than Halifax! Puh-lease.

To my own surprise, I ended up going with Expedia to book my flights. They put the estimated grand total right in the costs when you’re booking so there are no surprises at the end. The overall cost of the flights was actually cheaper than Flightnetwork and they were the exact same flights. Once I was able to see which flights were on sale, I went to the airlines’ websites to make sure I wasn’t having the wool pulled over my eyes and sure enough, the quotes on Expedia were actually cheaper than the airlines actual listed prices.  Now was the difficult part for me – having to use my credit card. I had to find it first since I threw it into my closet to prevent me from using it! Once I found it and wiped the dust off of it, I was ready to go. I have worked so hard to not use my credit card over the past 5 months and so far this was the only time I had to – so that felt pretty darn good. $535 (taxes and fees in) I had my flight to Las Vegas booked! This is really exciting for me because I have never been to Sin City and I think that I am overdue to have a vacation that isn’t revolving around a winter holiday!  

There are some key things to remember when you are flying anywhere:
  1. Book your flights early to get the best deals (3 months in advance of your flight will usually get you the best deal);
  2. Fly midweek for cheaper flights (Tuesday to Thursday);
  3. Compare as many airlines as you can by using different travel websites;
  4. Sign up for airline newsletters to get advance information about seat sales and other deals;
  5. Fly to locations in the off season for awesome savings; and
  6. Marry someone who is a pilot or airline employee to get free flights

Spandex makes everything hilarious.
Finding a place to stay is the next biggest expense on your trip and sometimes more expensive than your flight. Lucky for me, my hotel is paid for in Vegas because of how incredibly sexy I look in spandex. When planning a vacation, plan to go to places where you know someone and you can crash with them, or just like with the flights, you can do a hotel search. Sometimes the flight sites will have links to partner hotels that will offer you a deal and even include a ride to the hotel from the airport. A great site to find hotels is They have a great detailed breakdown of all the hotels from bed and breakfast locations to 5 star hotels. For those of you who are more risk-taking, try out (it will even do a comparison to This site will randomly place you in a hotel at an incredibly discounted rate in the general area you want to be, but you might not end up somewhere you want to be. Most of the time though, I end up in an awesome hotel and if you’re only going there for a vacation anyway, it doesn’t really matter where you sleep because you will be out and about enjoying the sights anyway! Those of you looking for the really cheap rates, there are hostels all over the world that can save you a ton of cash, or you can even try (but this could be a little sketchy).

Ok, so you’re all set to go on your awesome trip and come back to post all the pictures of you online in the same pose in different locations around the world. This is where it’s crucial: save some money! Try to have a vacation where you do not need to pull out your credit to cover the costs and start putting a couple hundred dollars a month toward your expenses in the destination you are going to. Figure out the average cost of food for where you will be and make sure to set a cap on your spending for each day, and you can come back from your holiday without the stress of wondering how many months it will take you to pay for your two week vacay! Budgets work just as well in real life as they do in vacation life. Look for ways to save and you will have more money to put towards amazing vacations in the future.

Thank you for all the emails and kudos that you send me. You inspire me more than I inspire you and it helps me every day to see this goal out to the bitter end.



Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bills Bills Bills

Gail - Frustrated with a touch of Awesome

As Destiny’s Child used to say; “Can you pay my bills? Can you pay my telephone bill? Can you pay my automo-bill?” They bring up a great point – can you pay your bills? I read a disturbing article on CBC news about how debt for Canadians has reached an all-time high of 150%! This means that for every $1,000 that you make, you owe $1,500! Isn’t that ridiculous? And this is just the average! That means that there tons of people out there who are terrible with their money. Admittedly I was happy to hear that I am on the lower end of this average (and quickly becoming well below average – whoo!) but I finally got the same feeling that I’m sure Gail feels everyday of her life – frustrated (with a touch of awesome). There are so many people who need a lot of help getting their debt together. The CBC article was followed by another story about how credit card debt is actually on the decline! Wow, are people are finally using their brains and stopping all the overuse of their plastic? You want to believe that this is happening for a good reason, but the real reason is actually incredibly stupid.  The article described how credit card is on the decline due to the rise of lines of credit which are being used to pay off the credit card companies. Isn’t that the dumbest thing ever? Using credit to pay off credit? I think that people get really confused and forget that their line of credit is not actually their money!

I’ve brought up parts of what I’m going to tell you in this blog entry in past issues (yeah, yeah, I’m being repetitive - it’s been a slow week), but sometimes we need a bit of a refresher about why it is so ridiculous to use credit to pay credit. Rule number one that I was always told by Gail is that if you can’t afford something, you shouldn’t use someone else’s money (i.e. the bank) to pay for it.  The other important point from Gail is that a line of credit should never be used as your emergency fund – it’s a scam. Banks have gotten wise to consumer hatred for high interest credit cards, so now they are offering (so-called) low-interest lines of credit, which unlike credit cards, don’t offer you any reward programs. Banks act like a line of credit is a great safety net that will help bail you out of the debt toilet. Here’s the thing, if you just started your own emergency fund or even just sat down and did a proper budget, you wouldn’t need to rely on the line of credit at all. The first thing I plan to do when I have my lines of credit paid off is to get rid of them entirely! I suggest that you start saving up the equivalent of the line of credit in savings to make a real safety net, and then ditch the line of credit altogether.  We rely so much on a line of credit, but what reward does it give us other than another interest payment to make?

Let’s do some recapping, I have two lines of credit: my regular line of credit with a 10.25% interest rate and is sitting at about $4,500 (you think that’s not much, but it’s almost maxed out). Using the magic compound interest calculator, if I only pay this off in 5 years, I will have paid a whopping $2,830.03 in interest! In 10 years, the interest skyrockets to $7,439.84! This is why it is so important that you avoid taking on more credit than you need. When you get to the point in your life that you are looking to get more credit so that you can pay your bills, that’s when you sit down and make a budget.  Now, there are ways to avoid getting to the point where you are have to use credit to pay for credit, and that’s why I’m here to help. Let me tell you how to pay your bills.
Get yourself a sexy calendar?!

Get yourself a calendar. I don’t give a $hit if it’s an old school paper calendar, firefighters calender, playboy calendar, a whiteboard, or even a fancy schmancy electronic calendar. Just get any kind that will grab your attention and keep you on track. The next thing you’re going to have to do is open your bills as soon as you get them – I know that this can be difficult and the risk of paper cuts is high, but believe me I have been there and I’ve survived. Most bills all come around the same time of the month so if you’re missing one, call the bill collector (yes, most will still charge you interest whether you get your bill or not). Or alternatively, get the applications for your bills on your smartphone! Yes, they have those! On each bill, look at what the expected payment is and make note of it. Next, look at the part of the bill that says when the payment is due. With your calendar handy, write down the payment amount 3 days before the bill is due on your calendar. That’s when you need to make sure the bill is paid because it allows time for processing, saves you from paying late fees, and it will make your credit rating shine! If you notice that all your bills are due in the same week and you don’t trust yourself to keep all your money until the week that they are due, pay off what you can as soon as possible. I am definitely the kind of person who likes to use the internet to pay my bills because it’s so full of instant gratification and I highly recommend you do the same. When you make an online payment, the money is auto-magic-ally taken out of your account and it prevents you from running out of cash at the end of the month to pay your bills. The other positive to this is that it keeps your bank balance in the back of your mind so that you always know how much expendable cash is leftover for the month.

Another great tip I can give you about paying bills is to set up automatic payments with your bank. Some bill collectors will give you the option to have all your bills get charged to your credit card – which is fine as long as you are paying off the full balance every month. However, I’m guessing that if you’re reading my blog, you need to learn not to use the credit card. Did you know that you can change the times that bills are due as well? This is an awesomely smart thing to do if you are paid monthly. It can save you from having all the bills needing to be paid at the same time or make sure that you have money in your account which in turn will prevent you from wanting to dip your fingers in the line of credit honey pot. I’ve set it up with my bank so that all my line of credit payments come out on the 1st of the month because I find that day easy to remember, and all my other bills such as my cell phone, hydro, and internet are paid as soon as I get them.

It’s super important to follow up and make sure that your payments are being received as well. All those ba$tard bill collectors that I have encountered have online sites where you can check to see how much you owe, when the payment is due, and when they’ve received your payment. We’ve all heard of someone getting someone else’s money deposited into their account or the bill collectors have received payments from someone else by mistake, so be thorough and check if the bill was paid – if your bill was paid by someone else – cha-ching!! I remember I had a friend who once had $50,000 accidentally deposited into his bank account - I think I would $hit my diaper if that happened to me! They eventually corrected the mistake and took the money back – fyi.

Now, about those credit cards; are you paying off your creditors and noticing that you never seem to be getting ahead? That’s because you’re not paying enough Ms. Stinkypants. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC is the acronym and it sounds like eff-co¢k in my mind teehee) has a sweet-a$$ tool that helps you figure out how to get your bills paid off in a smart way, and shows you how much money you will save, and how long it will take you to pay it off at your current rates. Credit card bills are special kinds of evil (I have my credit card listed as “the Devil” in my online banking) so don't sit around picking your bum and waiting for that glorious day that your credit card bill arrives. Make payments early in the month and as often as possible to reduce your interest charges. This information is all broken down further on the FCAC website so check out their tool and actually use it! Remember, you can always call your credit card company and talk to them about lowering your interest rate. If they won’t, shop around for another company and do a balance transfer to a lower rate – yes this is possible.

Do you have a phone, cell phone, internet, and cable bills that you’re paying off every month? Were you aware that if you have the same service provider for all these services that you can bundle that $hit? What the bundle are you talking about you ask? Bundling is something that saves you muchos deniro. I have my internet and cell phone bundled now which saves me 5% off each bill every month. The savings are significant and they get even greater when you have more services combined. Look into the different ways that you can save with your bills. Some of them will even offer you credits on your bill for switching to a paperless invoice – good for you AND the environment. 

So now you’ve got a routine down, your bills are getting paid off, and you’re not paying for unnecessary charges; this is a good time to take a moment to really review all the services that you are paying for. Do you really need to have a $90 cell phone bill every month? Is that $70 ‘porn plus’ cable package really needed? Are you always overusing your internet downloading porn every month and paying extra charges? Make the adjustments to your plans to match your lifestyle. Like any kind of shopping, make sure that you pay for something that is valuable to you and don’t let the monthly bills get on your nerves, make you depressed and want to lie in the tub getting all pruney with depressing albums playing on repeat.  Keep it up and your bills will disappear from your mind like a fart in a tornado.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Single Person Awareness Day

Consumerism takes its full monster form on Valentine’s Day and shakes it many heads at us telling us to spend on chocolates, love bears, diamonds, prophylactics, and a plethora of other things that we throw in the garbage a week later. It’s also the perfect time of year to alienate our single friends and shun them from all activities on V-Day forcing them into the dark holes that they live in. “Sorry Beverly, you can’t come skating with us, we’re going to be too busy holding hands and/or making out.” It’s a common fact Valentines encourages a ton of spending, but don’t let that mother tucker pull you into the consumer suck hole. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but the more money you spend on someone doesn't make them love you more – ask any hooker or stripper and they will confirm this.  Let’s review some important facts about Valentine’s Day. First of all, the chocolates; yes they are delicious and package in those cute little heart-shaped boxes, but for some reason, come February 15, they are all half price. It’s called mark-ups people; and you can expect this in restaurants and any other place that is vomit-inducing and lovey-dovey. Also, Valentines colours are red and pink – which we all know look atrocious together – what kind of holiday is this?

So what do we do on a day that is revolved around spending all our hard-earned cash on hideous red and pink items our well-deserving loved ones? I am one of those disgusting people who are in a relationship, but the pressure to spend on each other is not there. We established years ago that we were cheap ba$tards who were not going to spend crazy amounts of money on a holiday that is really just about spending. First step to saving on VD is to talk this over with your partner long before Valentines comes around so that you don’t look like el-cheapo who won’t pony up the dough for a new snuggle-kitten with kung-fu kitten snuggle grip. If you try to tell your partner the day before Valentines that you aren’t going to buy them anything and they already have bought something for you, you will look like a huge d-bag. If you both still want to go the presents route, do like I do with all consumer-whore holidays – set a limit, or make each other a gift; and when I say make a gift, I don’t mean design your own diamond necklace for them (although anyone who wants to give me diamonds please send me an email and I will give you my shipping address) I mean make them a card, or mixed tape/playlist for all you nerds out there.

Remember back when you were in elementary school and you made Valentine’s cards for each other? Well you can still do that and it is super cheap! Just get yourself a red pen and some paper and get creative! It’s really easy to do. Also, you can send a little love e-card to your snugglebum or friends and friends with benefits over the internet. That Internet; always full of surprises. So you’ve got the love card thing taken care of, now you need to think about the entertainment. Have a nice night and cook a dinner together. The activity will bring you close together and you can make an amazing meal for next to nothing. If you’re looking for inspiration, search the internet for ideas of recipes that you love and do a cost calculation, I’ll bet it comes out much cheaper than any restaurant. Not to mention the wine! For the cost of 2 glasses of wine at a restaurant, you can get a nice box bottle of wine to share! And remember, sex doesn’t cost anything, so feel free to endulge.

Some of you are thinking, eff you John, we don’t all have a partner to spend Single Person Awareness Day with. Well don’t fret my friends, before my current partner I was dumped a few weeks before Valentine’s Day quite often. I think it’s because I was dating students who couldn’t afford presents and they wanted to skip the bill – that or the fact that I have 11 toes and backne (back acne). Just kidding, I don’t have 11 toes. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I have been single on Valentine’s Day before and here are some great tips to surviving this holiday for cheap.

Get all your single friends together and rent a movie that has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day (or get that horror movie about Valentines Day to make you feel glad you’re not one of those couples who gets brutally murdered); this will bring you all together to laugh, share some wine, and maybe even exchange your own “single person awareness day” cards. Get a board game, share some delicious Valentine’s baking, just make sure you avoid all those romantic places where you could run into your ex and throw one of those “romantic candles” across the room at them. Don’t have any single friends around? Plan a day at the spa, or take a nice relaxing bubble bath, maybe even call someone from out of town and catch up on old times. Whatever it is, don’t buy into all this consumerist mumbo jumbo and have a wonderful Valentine’s/Single Person’s Awareness Day!



This blog post is dedicated to my Grandma who was born 97 years ago on Valentine’s Day and passed away last November.  I know you’re watching over all of us with love. xo

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Keep fit and Have fun!

Hal's other hand is on her bum. 

Any Canadian who was alive in the 80’s and to some extent – the 90’s knows exactly who Hal Johnson and Joanne Mcleod are. They were this ridiculously active couple who wore matching jumpsuits and finished every commercial with “Keep fit, and have fun”. Like Rita MacNeil, they were such an inspiration to Canadians everywhere to get their fat a$$e$ off the couch and have fun. Working on my fitness is a definite priority in my life. The benefits to taking care of your health are obvious to everyone – you feel good, you get a cute butt, and you actually can save yourself some money in the long run.  Yes, we’re all going to have cancer, heart attacks, die car accidents or develop crazy mutant superpowers from global warming, but think about the costs of being unhealthy. How much is that medication for your diabetes costing you; those frequent visits to the chiropractor; or a root canal (it’s over $2000 and I don’t have health insurance so yes I did put this on my credit card back in the day)? I’m not even going to touch the mental health side of things – which is a whole other can of worms.

Incorporating a healthy routine is the biggest challenge for me living on this budget – I have cut out my gym membership, recreational sports league, and yoga classes. For the past month I’ve watched my waistline (and buttline) expand and for some reason all my jeans have become ‘skinny’ jeans. I’ve even managed to rip the a$$ out of my favourite pair of jeans – good thing I bought that $40 sewing machine. January was the month of being sick and unhappy because I was living a sedentary lifestyle and scarfing down crappy foods like pizza and beer instead of leading an active lifestyle and eating healthy foods like veggie pizza and light beer.

Oprah and Gayle, not be confused with John and Gail
Just like Oprah, I turn to Gail for guidance – although my Gail is nothing like her Gayle for a couple simple reasons: for one, Oprah’s Gayle isn’t a financial genius and secondly, I’m not having sex with my Gail. My Gail doesn’t encourage you to have a gym membership if you can’t afford it, and unfortunately I am one of those people. I get her voice in my head saying “don’t do it John, you need that $50 a month pay off your debt” and then I tuck my tail between my gorgeous legs and retreat. So what do I do if I can’t go to the gym or pay for Yoga classes anymore? Improvise of course!!

Strip aerobics y'all!
The Internet is full of wonderful things - such as my blog – that can give you a wealth of knowledge about how to do things for cheap in your day to day life. Yoga has been such a great way for me to decompress and clear my head so if I wasn’t going to be able to go to classes anymore, I would have to find a way to practice for cheap. I turned to YouTube and started doing online yoga sequences right in the comfort of my home. YouTube has more than just yoga too – besides all those hilarious autotune remixes, there’s a $hitload of exercise routines and tips at your muscley fingertips. I highly recommend clearing a space in your home to do a few exercises (perhaps some strip aerobics). You can do this for nothing and you don’t even have to leave your home and be seen wearing (shudder) sweatpants.

When you start to become a stir crazy and start collecting your toenail clippings to make a necklace for your imaginary friend Spattchio, that’s when you need to start looking for other options for staying active. There are so many free things to do outside – Frisbee, running, biking, swimming, skating, tobogganing, walking, break-dancing – just get creative and encourage a friend to come along with you.  Many cities and towns have amateur sports leagues that you can join for small fees which are great to join especially if you’re looking to make new friends (or friends with benefits) and have a good time. I joined something called the OSSC last fall and had a great time playing “all sorts of sports” with my team Victorious Secret. We didn’t win any games except for the one time I didn’t show up! Clearly my team worked extra hard when I wasn’t there to win one for me while I was sick – ha!

After all of this, you’re still looking to go to the gym or yoga studio – so what do you do when you have no money to afford it? You have some options; find yourself another source of income to pay for the membership, redo your budget so that you cut some cash out of another part of your life – drinking maybe? Or, you can do what I am currently trying to do and volunteer at the gym or yoga studio in exchange for free classes or time. Lucky for me, I have a great friend who happens to be a yoga teacher and she referred me to her yoga studio to volunteer for 4 hours a week in exchange for unlimited yoga classes each month. This is an instant savings of $160 every month! Fingers crossed that I get this one! There a lots of positives to volunteering at your gym – you get free classes, you get to know the (fit and sexy) staff and they share a ton of (fit and sexy) knowledge with you, you can add the volunteer work to your (fit and sexy) resume, and it could eventually turn into a paid position doing something you love! Check with your local gyms and yoga studios to see about volunteering – it’s a great way to stay active and save you money.

Working on your health is a excellent way to workout your bank accounts in the long term; and staying healthy is one of the best ways to save you high costs for prescriptions, surgery, and doctor’s visits. Exercise is a fantastic way to spend your money entertainment budget; you have fun, spend time with friends, and feel great doing it. Use that stoo-pid Internet for something other than reading amazing blog entries; look for some local sports teams and dabble in something new. Anything to get out of your computer chair and having fun with friends gives you plenty of bang for your buck.

That’s it for today loyal readers! Don’t forget to floss your teeth!! Seriously, $2,100 for an effing root canal.