Wednesday, April 27, 2011

From Spendy Weekend to Savey Weekend

C'mon Irene!!!

Where have I been all week? Oh yeah, I was enjoying an amazingly laid-back long weekend and then got wrapped up in watching the Biggest Loser last night which made me completely skip my blog writing for the evening! Yes, it’s true, I am one of those skinny ba$tards that sits around and eats pizza and cupcakes while watching people who can’t eat those kinds of foods try to lose 50% or more of their body weight. Don’t get me wrong, those people are inspiring me to not become a lazy sack of $hit for sure, but something about that show makes me want to binge on junk food – perhaps part of me wants to be a contestant on that show. It didn’t help that the episode was super short, but thank goodness they got rid of that annoying Kaylee! And Rulon, do we really need an Olympic gold medalist to win a weight-loss competition – adios! Irene for the win!! After that I got wrapped up in TWO hours of “The Voice” which was “meh”. But c’mon, another singing show? Meanwhile my friends are travelling the world and I am contemplating the fate of reality TV losers.  Anyway, I am getting completely off topic here. The point of this blog is kind of about redemption from my spending fiasco that was last weekend.

My seductive debit card!!
I’ve got to say it, I loved my time in Halifax, but it definitely distracted me from keeping my eyes on the prize – which is getting all this stupid debt paid off.  This weekend was a great time for me to buckle down and get my budget back on track; start saving up my pennies again; and get my repayments back in line. Since I knew I was going to be away for the weekend in Halifax, I never bothered to stock up on groceries, which left me eating lunches out for the past 2 days. I know you’re thinking, big whoop. But it is a big whoop! When I eat out for lunch, I get reminded of all my bad habits, like going to the delicious Thai restaurant across the street, or getting some delicious Indian food from the cafeteria downstairs – that’s about $20 for 2 lunches out of my $60 per week that I have allocated toward food.  Worst of all, I have been using my dastardly debt card which makes me completely lose sight of how quickly my budget disappears from my wallet. I think I have that seven-month itch and my debit card is calling to me from the pocket on my right butt-cheek: “Joooooohn, why don’t you hold me like you used to? Remember all the good times we had at all those stores? Or the way you would swipe me, firm and fast, in those interac machines and I would give you all your heart’s desires?”

That stupid debit card, seducing me with its lies! Luckily, I set a trap for myself in the event that something like this would happen. I’ve been using TD bank since I was 5 years old. Some days I really question why it is that I am still with them, but I digress. TD has this great feature on my debit card that whenever I use my debit card, money is automatically taken from my chequing account and placed into my savings account. You can set this amount from 50 cents up to $5.00. Being the reformed conservative spender that I am, I set this amount to $5.00  so that for every time I am tempted to whip it out and slap it down on the counter – um, my debit card that is, I get dinged for it. In the course of ONE week, I automatically moved $100 into my savings account – that’s TWENTY debit transactions for those of you who are mathematically challenged - ridiculous. Not to mention that I put $150 every 2 weeks into my savings account already. So, if you remember, back in January, I pi$$ed away all of my savings when I went without a paycheck. I am happy to say that now my savings account is at a wonderful $1,741.08! That’s more than 10 times what my savings was back in October of last year! Holy moley guacamole!

The long weekend really helped me reflect about my poor spending habits (both past and present). I realize that I think about my debt way more that any sane person should, however, in order for this process to work, it is imperative that I keep my mind on the money (and my money on my mind) – and maintain a positive attitude about it too. So what do you do when you’re in a situation like mine and you want to keep the spending to a minimum? Let me tell you. I was faced with a number of choices this past weekend, I could have gone out to the bar on more than one occasion, but instead I would buy a case of beer and share it with friends. It’s quite a simple decision for me nowadays. Heck, I even had some left over to take to “the crack park” and drink on the bench, yeah, I’m classy like that. On Thursday night, I had a friend over for some wine, made my own delicious and impressive veggie tray (if you thought I was going to say make my own wine, you are grossly mistaken – yuck) that was not only beautiful, but so healthy too! I even had plenty of leftovers to take to my volunteer job at the yoga studio the next day!

Which leads me to my next thrifty weekend point – find a way to do something you love that doesn’t cost you a thing! All the free hot yoga I am getting is certainly helping me (h)eat my time and lets me exercise for free, but since we don’t all have the time to volunteer and get free yoga, think about doing some other free physical activity. Spring is full of ways to get out and have fun without spending a dime and now’s the time to start searching the internet for local festivals, pack a lunch, and go have a great time in your hometown.

LOL, Google image search for "sexy brownie"
Not at all what I was implying! 
It’s no secret that I am a big fan of coffee shops, and there’s nothing I love more than to grab a book and get lost in it while sipping on a delicious latte at my local caffeination station, however, now that I’m a saver and not a spender, I have learned to avoid coffee shops like the plague. I know that I will easily spend $5 on coffee and probably buy that sexy brownie flashing its fudgy frosting like a 2-bit hooker on nickel night in a heartbeat.  To reduce the temptation and save my money, I got my own little reading nook that I can escape to with a cup of coffee and spend a wonderful rainy afternoon with my book. I don’t care if I look like a nerd or seem antisocial, part of this process is to learn that you can do things that you love without always going out and spending on yet another dinner out that really loses it luster when it becomes routine. I really challenge you to have a friend over for dinner, cook for them, and see how fun it actually is! Even if it turns out to resemble dog $hit on a plate, you’ll end up with a memory between friends that will last for a long time.

Oh, just one more thing, I got my credit card paid down to $9,972.84 today! I know that balance still sounds insane, but you have no idea how much this debt repayment journey is changing my life. I can finally look my debt in the face and tell it to go straight to hell! If you ever need someone to help you get on track with your debt repayment, I would be so happy to help you. That’s it for this week ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for reading!


Monday, April 18, 2011

To Halifax, With Love

John and Kate minus all the effing children!

I’m not gonna lie to you, like a drunk sorority girl at a fraternity party, I was out of control (with my spending this week). On Wednesday, I headed east to the Halifax (aka Hali, or HFX) for a business trip, followed by a weekend of local beer and seafood – and it was freaking delicious.  Hate to say it, but I strayed far from the budget in a few ways so I think it would be best to go over the reasons for my financial fudge-up in order for you to learn from my mistakes.
The beginning of my financial demise is that I had been depriving myself of shopping and spending on me for far too long, which leads me to my first point – everyone breaks at one point or another. Like a fat kid deprived of candy for a few hours, as soon as I saw that sweet temptation, I filled my hands with the sweet sweet satisfaction of shopping. Can you believe that it has been since the end of October since I bought myself ANY clothing? Now, those of you who know me, know that I am the kind of guy who has a lot of clothes; perhaps too many. I’ve taken the time to count up some of the numbers just so you can understand how unnecessary it is for me to go shopping. I have:

20 Dress shirts
18 pairs of pants
20 pairs of shorts (including gym shorts)
9 scarves
15 jackets
14 non dressy button-up shirts
5 sport jackets
6 hoodies (or bunnyhugs for all you Saskatchewanians)
80 shirts (sweaters and cardigans included)
Oodles of underpants
Stacks of socks
Piles of Pajamas
Bundles of belts
Too many ties
And the list goes on

So as you can see, I really don’t need to buy anything else for myself as far as clothing is concerned, but I have been depriving myself of the rush of how good it feels to put on and buy a new piece of clothing. This is where I have run into a problem. For 6 months, I have been away from shopping malls and clothing stores for month because I know that if I remove the temptation, I won’t be tempted, however by not ever treating myself, when the temptation is there, I am shopping as if everything is 90% off!

The second factor in my overspending evaluation was being on travel status with work. Admittedly, I am new to this whole travelling with an expense account process and since I was allowed almost $90 per day (whoo!) to spend on meals and incidentals compared to my usual $120 for an entire week of living, so I quickly got used to spending like one of those insane couponers on TLC. I was right back into eating out, drinking too much, and buying any odd thing that I “needed” because I knew it was covered (very much like those crazy couponing ba$tards). This spendy spenderson mentality seemed to stay with me after I was off my work travel status and into my personal weekend of fun! I kept spending as if it was all covered by some magic money wand that would automagically fill my wallet with cash. The problem was that every morning when I opened my wallet, that $100, $200, or even $300 that I had in it, disappeared. Had my money turned into food, and my wallet Rita MacNeil’s mouth?

Donairs in Halifax are EPIC!
Alcohol is my worst friend when it comes to making logical spending decisions and believe you-me I drank a lot more of it than I usually do while I was in Halifax! With every great meal, you need to have a great glass of wine (I tell myself that it brings out the flavour). See Alcohol is happy to point out that the server is hot and they deserve a 20% tip for being hot, or that cab driver let you bring a leaking donair into the back of his cab, so he deserves a $10 bill for a $5 cab fare, or sure I can spend more money on booze, that’s why I took it out of my bank account, right? Oh Al, you get me every time!

So what does that translate into dollar amounts John? Well, let’s see, without factoring in my meals and incidentals:


$50 for swim trunks from American Apparel

Fancy new clothes from H&M ($36 for the shirt and cardi)
Did you know that employees at the Halifax American Apparel are actually helpful and not pretentious d-bags? I didn’t know that was possible. Usually you get eye rolls for asking for something on the top shelf. And why swim trunks you ask, well I wanted to go swimming in my hotel, and of course when I did, I lost a contact lens and there were annoying children in the pool who never actually swam, but preferred to throw a ball around my head while I was trying to relax in the hot tub.

$20 for a case of beer (to share with my friend, and an attempt at trying to get people to want to hang out with me in my hotel room (I ended up drinking 4 on my own – sad face).

Friday (gotta get down on Friday since everyone is looking forward to the weekend):

$244 at H&M. Now to my credit I made out very well; with this money I bought 1 pair of pants, 3 pairs of shorts, 1 cardigan, 4 t-shirts, and 15 pairs of socks.
$50 on supper – but it was the best duck confit and pizza I can remember having in the past forever.
My awesome owl art print!!! 
$30 to see Hey Rosetta!
I was so drunk I didn’t realize that they were on stage and then ended up meeting the bass player at another bar afterward – so ridiculous.
$75 on beers throughout the night
$5 for the best donair I ever ate
$10 for a drunk taxi ride home


$40 for yummy in my tummy food at the Market.
$15 for an art print of a kicka$$ owl!
$15 for more beers to go with my amazing supper made by the loveliest hostess ever - Kate.

For a grand total of: $554 on a really fun trip. Obviously I need to learn to get a little better with my money when I’m travelling or only take out a limited amount of cash when I’m hammered, but honestly, I feel like I needed to reward myself for all the hard work I have been doing. It doesn’t look like I am going to be getting wooden Catan soon, but I have learned a valuable lesson for when I travel – make a plan and stick to it! If you’re ever planning on going to Halifax, I highly recommend going – the people, scenery, and food are all marvelous!

Monday, April 11, 2011

I Get Around - On a Bike that is...

What's with her face!?

Gail recommends that we put 15% of our income toward the cost of transportation. This figure covers maintenance, insurance, licensing, gas, parking, and whatever the he££ else you’re spending on your car. Perhaps some of those fuzzy dice or maybe some air freshener or one of those hula girls that shake their hips when you hit a pothole – I don’t judge. The 15% would also cover the costs of taking public transit for all you people saying “but I don’t drive, John!” - you guys can be so whiny sometimes. Recently I got driven around by a friend and noticed the cost of gas was at $1.26 per litre and I couldn’t believe my eyes or the smell coming from my freshly $hat pants. When you don’t drive anywhere and never have to pay for gas, you stop thinking about the cost of fuel – and it’s a great feeling to stop caring about that $hit.

Currently I have a mere <1% of my weekly budget allocated to transportation. How do I manage to live on $6.00 or less per week for transportation when that won’t even by 5 litres of gas you ask? Well that’s simple. Fortunately, I live within walking distance of my work. In fact, I only live a 3 minute walk from where I work. What is really surprising is that I still manage to show up 2 minutes late at least once per week – sorry boss (yes my boss reads my blog). Also, all my friends live within a 30 minute walking radius from where I live so I never spend money going to see them – if they don’t live near me, odds are I see them about once a year or I take that six dollars and use it for some bus tickets to take a trip out to the, *eye-roll*, suburbs and visit them. So for those reasons, I have not found any need to be a car owner.

Kathy, or Katherine when she was a B....
Now I do know how convenient it is to have a car because at one point in my life, I did own a one. She was a Shiny, silver, mint condition, lady-driven, Dodge Aries, K-car… Okay, so my car was a total $hit box, but she was incredibly cheap to drive and to fix and for all intensive purposes, she served me well. Her name was Kathy when she was being bad-a$$, or Katherine when she was being a butt sniffer – apologies in advance the seventy-five Katherines, Catherines, and Kathryns I know, I needed a name that started with K back then and most of you all go by Kate anyway! We met in the summer of 2000 and for the steal of a deal price of $1,000, she was mine. I really got used to having a car, but when the time came that I decided to move myself across the country, I sold her for maybe $200? I can’t remember, but I’m sure that was overpriced and someone was cursing my name.

Now those are some firm buns!
When I got my new home, I found an instant requirement to drive a car. We lived in such a remote community, there was no transit service (the people in that neighbourhood were so wealthy that they would rather buy their kid a Lexus rather than spend their tax dollars on public transit). My aunt and uncle would let me borrow one of their vehicles in order for me to get around and have a social life, so I would make the 1 hour (2 hours in the rain or snow) drive to downtown everyday. It was costing me $10 per day for gas, and $10 per day for parking – yes I felt automotively-abused.  Once I moved away from there and into downtown, I had absolutely no need for a car. I lived 30 minutes walking distance from where I worked which kept me active and my buns nice and firm. It’s now been six years since I have owned a car.

“Well that was a nice pointless story John” – I know that’s what you’re thinking, but the point I am trying to emphasize is that you can save a lot of money if you can find ways to drive less. When you’re making a budget, one often looks at the amount of money that they can spend on getting around and they instantly think that it is not achievable, but it is. There are so many ways that you can cut your costs on transit. Here are some of the obvious ideas in my mind:

  1. Plan your trips out. Whether it is getting groceries, going to the mall, or any other chores, think about how you can do as many things within the same area without making multiple trips throughout the week – you’ll save on time and on gas.

  1. Carpool. You see the same people on the way for your daily commute everyday, so why not travel together and split the cost on fuel? This applies to your kids’ little league games, road trips, and anything else you can think of where your friends and neighbours would be interested in going with you.

  1. Take the bus or subway. If you’re doing a daily commute everyday, why not use the transit that your taxes are paying for? Think of the immediate benefits – no gas, no traffic, no parking, no added mileage, and the list goes on.

  1. Walk or bike – this is as cheap as it gets and you’ll get healthier too. I’m not kidding when I say that I am in great shape and it’s mostly based on the fact that I am always walking or biking everywhere. I even bought my bike at a bike co-op for only $40 and it was one of the best investments I ever made.

  1. Work from home. If you have a boss that is willing, try working a few days a week at home and only come in when there are important meetings. No commuting for you!

  1. Move closer to where you work. Think about it. Are you paying $100 a month for a bus pass, or $75 per week for parking? Seems a bit ridiculous if you ask me. If you’re renting a place anyway and you think that you can’t afford an extra $100 a month for rent to live closer to where you work, the reality is that you can if you cut out all those transportation costs. Walk around the neighbourhoods where you work and time it out to see how long it would take you to walk or bike to work. Not only do I get to wake up 30 minutes before I start my shift, I also get to come home at lunch everyday and make myself something fresh to eat and it is amazing. I save on transportation and on food costs too! And think about all the time you save – 1 hour commute or 3 minute walk – it’s a no-brainer for me.

  1. Ditch the gas-guzzler. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but driving around in a Hummer makes you look like a giant gas hole. Buy a car with low gas mileage or maybe one of those fancy electric cars, however please don’t get all smug about it. I realize I’m not making a lot of friends by preaching about gas consumption, but let’s not forget the context here, this is a financial blog and financially, I don’t see any added benefit to driving something that eats money as fast as you make it.

So that’s my rant for this week. If you have any ideas on how to save on transportation costs, I would love it if you shared them in the comments section. Thanks for reading!


Sunday, April 3, 2011

6 Months Later...

I love Happy Socks!!

Can you believe that it has been 6 months since the start of my departure toward becoming debt-free forever? I am really amazed at how much I have learned, not only about how to spend my money wisely, but how much I have learned about myself. Okay, yes, there’s that cheesy line that we hear in just about every reality TV show, even from the stupid contestants that get kicked off in the first week: “I learned so much about myself, like how people are threatened by how beautiful I am, and how big my breast implants are…”, but I really do mean what I said, this experience has been eye-opening.

Six months ago, it was actually a challenge for me to go more than a week without spending my money on some kind of “thing” for myself that I really didn’t need. Whether it was a $15 pair of socks (that were really awesome btw) or another new shirt (because it was such a good deal and who cares if I already have 45 other ones) or even just a $6 cup of coffee (which, although delicious, has zero added nutritional benefit), I felt that I was justified in spending that money to reward myself for the hard work I had put in at my job. The reality is that the things I really need are food in my belly, a roof over my head, and friends to share my successes and struggles with.

Clean tank = happy fishy!!
Yesterday, I tackled a task that I had been putting off for far too long – cleaning out my fish tank. To be honest, I don’t remember the last time I had given it a good cleaning. It didn’t smell bad or anything, but the water was getting a bit murky and I couldn’t stand to see my poor little fishys swimming around in their own toilet water. Those of you who have had fish know that sometimes things can get a little funky with fish tanks, so I took out the filter to reveal what was like the equivalent of 100 dirty fish diapers – that’s right my friends, lots of poo. With a strong stomach, I got all the $hit cleaned up, changed the water and now my fish are swimming in a clear-water paradise.

This got me thinking about how in many ways, my debt had become that filter full of $hit that I had been neglecting for far too long; it got to the point where it was unavoidable. Managing my debt became something that I felt had gotten so out of hand that I was getting to the point of no return. I would let myself believe that by once or twice a year, throwing $1,000 on my credit card was actually accomplishing something, but the reality was that nothing had been changing except how large the problem had become. If I had kept avoiding cleaning my fish tank, I could have ended up with some stinky dead fish and a pile of regret for not having done something sooner.  This is so much like my debt. If I just keep avoiding it and waiting for something to happen in my life to make it go away on its own, then I will get nowhere and feel more hopeless. The only one who can help me out of the debt-hole is me.

So it’s been six months, and I am very pleased to tell you that I am right on track to becoming debt-free within three years! The numbers don’t lie; check out the figures for yourself at the side of my blog. With a sixth of my journey to financial freedom complete, it was time for me reconnect with Gail and have a heart-to-heart. I checked back in with her to make sure that I am following my plan and to remind myself of anything I’ve forgotten along the way in my road to debt-recovery. Gail reminded me that every few months you need to check in and see if your budget is still working for you. There is no reason that you should start alienating your friends and not doing activities you love for the sake of staying on schedule, what you really need to do is change your behaviour and attitude and get there when you get there. When you’re embarking on a financial transformation, you will absolutely feel the pressure of changing your spending habits, which is why you need to review your budget to fit your life.

Don’t get frustrated and give up on yourself simply because you didn’t meet your goal in the timeline that you had set up for yourself. Annoying lines of regret have come out of the mouths of so many of my friends: “when I was 25, I was supposed to have 2 kids” or “I should have a house by now”. Gail has said it best, “you can have it all, just not all at once” which has become more and more evident has I progress in my repayments. It takes a lot of time to get to where you want to be, especially when you’re working with one income. This brings me to another fantastic quote from a former boss. She was in her 40s and had just enrolled to go back and get another university degree. Her friends and colleagues were critical and told her that she was starting too late in life and that by the time she finished she would be 50! To which she replied “who cares? I’m going to turn 50 anyway, at least this way I’ll be 50 and have another degree!” That phrase has stuck with me ever since. Not everything always happens within the timelines we set for ourselves, so why let it stress you out or bother you?

Taking Gail’s advice, I did a little reevaluation of my budget to make sure that it was still working for me. Realistically, living on $100 a week has been pretty freaking difficult sometimes; especially when I have anything to do that falls outside of my typical week (birthdays, repairs, and any other random thing that pops up). The part that I find most difficult is living on only $40 per week for groceries; so I have changed my weekly allowance to $120 per week, making my food budget $60. This has enabled me to add a bit more pizzazz to my meals. For example, now I can add some grilled vegetables to my pasta sauce, or put some sour cream on my perogies and even splurge on some beers every now and then! If I want to go to a restaurant every couple weeks, it is something that I know I can afford to do. The bonus is, since I know that I am capable of living on $40 per week for groceries so that if I ever want to increase my saving for something, I can cut back one week and be just fine!

All the pictures are happy this week!
Doing a reassessment should come every time that you have a change in your financial status as well. For example, if you get a raise, buy a car, gas or food prices increase, your kid joins a little league, and so on, then sit down and re-work it, gurl! It is important to remember that life doesn’t stay constant and neither does your budget. So, go back to your budget and reevaluate what your goals are and whether or not you are on the right path toward achieving them (don’t stress about the timeline). I cannot emphasize enough how important it is not to get stressed out by your budget. Checking in every couple months will reinforce all the great work you are doing and before you know it, another six months will come to pass and you’ll be even closer to your financial freedom!

Thanks again for following me in my financial journey. If you like what you’re reading, share this with a friend and encourage a dialogue on debt. Let’s take ourselves our of consumer debt together!