Sunday, June 26, 2011

Revisiting my Goals

Last week when I was doing my budget analysis worksheet, I noticed the list of goals/wants from when I first started this process which I had completely forgotten about. One of Gail’s most important exercises in the debt repayment process is to make a list of the goals that you have in order to keep your eyes on the prize and learn how to plan your spending instead of just throwing away your cash on a whim. I had made a list of things that I wanted which really ranged from smaller material things like records and furniture to bigger and broader goals like a condo and a big fat emergency fund. Back in the old days, I would hardly think about my purchases and just go out to buy the latest album I wanted and walk out of the store with 3 albums and a $65 bill. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have an addiction to purchasing music. I have easily accumulated 500+ CDs and another 100 records. I don’t even have a working record player and my computer is so old that I can’t even use my CD or DVD drives! Some of the titles are pretty embarrassing too – yes I’m talking about you Nickelback. I know. Now, it’s not wrong to pay money for music and support artists (unless it’s Nickelback), but when you have $38,000 worth of debt, it’s pretty stupid to spend at least $65 a week ($3,380 per year) on music. You don’t even have time to really sit back and listen to the albums and appreciate them or ask yourself why you wasted your money on this $hitty piece of Nickelback. Thanks to my incredible will power, I’ve not stepped into a music store since I started this process.

Learn to sew and even
 you can look this sexy.
Certainly, this process has finally been beat into my brain with a sledgehammer and now I have much more spending restraint than I used to have. There are some things on my list that I did avoid buying, but there are things that I still went out and purchased, but I did a good job doing it by keeping the costs at a fraction of what I had originally intended to pay. For example, I had a sewing machine on my list of things to purchase because back when I was starting the debt repayment, I was taking sewing lessons from this cah-razy sewing teacher, Peggy Lee, with my friend Caitlin. She told us that she had her son’s girlfriend saved in her phone as “$lut” – way too much information. I was looking at sewing machines in little boutiques that ranged in price from $300 - $500. Now these were some high-quality machines and I really wanted them, but I had to remind myself that I had a $15,000 credit card bill that needed to be paid off and that $400 a month (the cost of the sewing machine) was coming off my checks just to pay for the interest. I remember the MasterCard statements had a line on the bottom of them that said something like if you continue to only make your minimum payments you will pay of your credit card in 30+ years! Needless to say, I was able to avoid buying an expensive machine and found a vintage machine for $25 and even had it delivered for free. It really is a great machine – but I’ve NEVER used it yet! How ridiculous is that? I’ve had buying sewing supplies on my list of things to buy for quite some time but I’ve never wanted to go outside my budget. I’m also afraid that if I start up a new hobby I will throw myself off my budget. This just proves that sometimes the things I really want can be a complete waste of my money. Anyway, I guess what is important is that I never went overboard on my spending on wants in the past 8 months.

When I looked past all of my material wants, I got to the root of what really mattered to me. Here’s where it gets a bit more “real.” What I REALLY want out of this process is: retirement savings, an emergency fund, a sizeable down payment on a condo, more time to take care of my health, more time with my family, friends, and my partner, and most important, to be debt free. My debt really weighed me down back before this process began and I would avoid it ignoring my bills and telling myself I would get to it later. My favourite release was retail therapy – especially in home décor stores. I have spent money on things that really were not worth it.

Make a list backwards on glass, that works best.
In order to get to my number one goal of being debt free, I had to work out a real plan. Here’s what I wrote back in October, 2010:

Goal: To Be Debt Free
-        I want to pay my debt off because I want to use my money for savings and clean up my credit history.
-        I want to have all my debt paid off in 3 years or less.

What do I have to do to achieve this goal?

-        I will cut my spending on restaurants and alcohol and other "stuff" that I don't really need.
-        I will stop bringing my credit and debit cards with me to bail me to prevent me from resorting to credit.
-        I will commit myself to paying more than the minimum payments on my debt.
-        I will do this by sticking to my budget, learning to say no to eating out unless it is a very special occasion.
-        I may need help from my family.
-        I need my friends to be supportive of my decision not to spend as much and not encourage me to spend my money on non-essentials.
-        I need my partner to help me stay focused and be supportive of my choice to cut my debt.

I must say that all of these statements have remained the case and my debt repayment process really has changed the way I live my life; I have even had some friendships positively affected by this process. I really worried that my friends would think that I was rejecting them when I turned down dinner invites and outings, but the reality is that I was rejecting the spending, not them, and they understood that. At the beginning of the process I really put my guard up because I don’t want to get too caught up in the spending process, but I had to stop and remind myself how important it is to keep my friendships alive because at the end of the day, they are my biggest support in all of this.

Maintaining my goal has been possible because I really had to change my attitude toward spending and just flat-out not go to restaurants, not drink as much, cut my costs, quit using my credit card, and turn to family and friends for support when I want to spend. I’m getting closer and closer to getting rid of all this stupid debt and I am right on track to getting there! Lucky for me as well, this process has helped me achieve other goals too, like taking better care of my heath. If I hadn’t looked for a cheap way to work out, I never would have found the yoga studio where I made lots of friends and have been able to keep my costs down too! My health is better than it’s ever been now! Thanks for following me on my journey keeping me in check! I’ve had 1,000 readers in the last month, so I hope that you’re all learning something and that this amazing gift of taking control of my life is being paid forward a little!



P.S. I bought the Nickelback album back when I was a teenager, we all make mistakes back then! No judging!! lol

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Promotion! Aka: Back to the Books!

If you're seeing this on your eye chart, there may
be something wrong with your eyes, or
you have an awesome optometrist!!

Oh boy. Let me start by saying that my budgeting skills have been on the decline lately. Summer has snuck in leaving me eating takeout (especially pizza), neglecting my yoga practice, drinking more ($80 bill at the pub the other night) and all around not planning for any of my expenses. For example, today I had an optometrist appointment which cost me $80 and I also had to order new contact lenses. They aren’t too expensive ($80 for a one year supply), but now I’ve left my self shortchanged for the essentials like rent! So silly. Now, I have a dentist appointment next week and I’m looking at another $120 for a teeth cleaning that will come out of my pocket. However, I finally have insurance! My benefits package kicked in this week which means I am going to get reimbursed for most of my costs so I guess you could say I planned it a little bit, but since we have a postage strike, my benefits package has not arrived (not to mention all the stolen contents of my wallet) and I’m left footing the bills in the interim. Yeah yeah Complainy Complainerson, what’s your freaking point? I'm getting to it! I promise this isn’t going to be one of those negative blogs again. All my $hitty preparation has left me thinking that it’s time to revisit my budget analysis worksheet and redo the math so that I am not completely screwing myself over when it comes to my day to day spending. But, there is one more variable that I am going to have to include in my new analysis…

Whoo! More money! Less Problems???
This blog post is coming to you later than usual this week because I wanted to write about some news that will affect my financial future greatly but it couldn’t be shared until now. Last week I was offered a promotion and I accepted it! I wasn’t even looking for a new job, this one just seems to have sniffed past all the bull$hit and found the wonderful rose in the garden which is moi! At my new job I will be receiving more money (whoo!) and I’ll be able to pay off my debt while being able to give myself a little spending boost as well. I’ve been learning to live on less for so long that I never even imagined that I would end up making more money to put toward my debt. Now I’m going to be getting almost a 10% increase in my salary – and it can only go up from there. My apologies for my outpouring of happiness during a time when finding work is proving to be more and more challenging for people, but I really did not expect something so wonderful to happen after losing my wallet and having my cards stolen. I suppose my optimism has been rejuvenated. Admittedly, I was already planning a ‘good news’ blog for this week since some of my past entries seem a little blasé.

Now this job is not going to be without its challenges. I have been getting rather comfortable with my routine of coming home at lunchtime and making myself something to eat, but I think I may have to start making my own lunches and bringing them to work which is something I despise doing. Why are most leftovers so nasty? This new position will definitely be more demanding on me and when I get stressed, I do the stupid things like eat take out. This week for example I’m doing the work of 4 people and I think I have eaten every single one of my meals as takeout because I don’t have any time to go home and make something! The worst part of all of this is that I’m not even enjoying the food that I am buying. Even that General Tao chicken I ranted and raved about early on in my blog has left me feeling not satisfied and it just tastes a lot like guilt.

Anyway, back to the budget. Lately, I’ve noticed that my paychecks were averaging out lower than when I first started my analysis and that my expenses have actually gone down since I started my Fight For Financial Freedom (see what I did there), however due to unexpected variables my average monthly salary is about $400 more than I was making last year (this doesn’t include that $hit month I had in January where my income was $0). While this may make no sense to anyone, The key to my increase has been that for the first time in seven years, my income is consistent so I had one month where I received 3 paychecks! What a spoiled bit¢h I am! Ok I should also point out that all my checks from January were delayed, but I remember putting a lot of that money back into savings.

Mmmmmm Number Crunching!
This is where I get all nerdy and start crunching numbers like I did back when I started the budget, so for those of you who don’t give a $hit about how I do my budget and only read my blog for the sheer pleasure of hearing my sexy blog voice, you may want to skip this part, but I assure you, humour will be coming to the party. My debt repayment is actually right on par with where it should be based on my old budget, the problem is that now I make more money that I did back when I first did so I really want to kick my debt when it’s down and show it what’s what. I did a comparison of my figures from October, 2010.

Here is what I was spending pre budget:
  • Savings: 0%
  • Debt: 25%
  • Transportation: 1%
  • Life: 87%
  • Housing: 25%

Yes, that adds up to more than 100%, remember, I was financially handicapped so I overspent by 38% each month.

What I have been spending post budget:
  • Savings: 10%
  • Debt: 50%
  • Transportation: 1%
  • Life: 19%
  • Housing: 20%
Not too shabby, but not too fun either.  

What I plan to start spending as of July:
  • Savings: 15%
  • Debt: 45%
  • Transportation: 1%
  • Life: 20.5%
  • Housing: 18.5%
You may be asking, if my debt repayment strategy isn’t broken, then why mess with a good thing? Well the answer is pretty simple to me. I have been pushing myself so hard lately and I hit that seven month itch. If I were dating this budget plan, it would have probably dumped it’s cheap a$$ by now. This will still keep me right on track to paying off my debt in less than three years, but I will still be getting to enjoy some of the fun things with my cash when I’m young. There’s no reason for me to bend over and take it from my budget since I don’t have any major responsibilities like kids, a mortgage, medical problems, and so on. The key to this budget is to make me as aggressive with my savings as I am with my debt repayment. Now that I am going to be making more money, all these amounts will increase and I’ll get to enjoy a better quality of life. Yes, one and half percent added to my life spending might not seem like much, but having just a couple more bucks to enjoy a night out at a concert or buy a couple bottles of wine can make a huge difference in the life of a privileged Westerner who has deprived himself of minor bits of joy over the past few months. And hey, if this doesn’t work, then I can always come back and revisit my budget plan later. 

Yay Promotion!!! 

Monday, June 13, 2011

I Lost My Wallet!!!

RIP wallet! No one knew my right butt cheek quite like you!

This weekend my wallet went missing. It’s a rare occurrence when I lose anything, and if I do, I always seem to get it right back. Sure, I’ve lost my phone 2 times in the 7 years that I’ve had a cell phone, but on both occasions I had them returned to me. That’s where losing a cell phone versus losing a wallet is completely different, you can call your cell phone, but not your wallet! Hmm, maybe I should invent a cell phone/wallet; mind you I’m sure iPhone is already working on it.

The first time I lost my cell phone I couldn’t believe it; I mean the freaking thing was practically merged with my right thigh, which is why I knew right away that it was missing because it was a bulky flip phone that always bulged out of my pocket – yes, that’s my cell phone bulging, so watch the elevator eyes!  When I noticed it was gone only about 5 minutes had passed so, I went right back to the place that I knew I lost it – at the giant puddle I had jumped across on the way to the bakery. I thought for sure it had fallen in the puddle, but it hadn’t! That was a gross experience I don’t want to relive; looking through a puddle on a city street; probably a good way to get hepatitis and/or Super AIDS.

Alas, my phone was not there so I rushed home to use my roommate’s phone and call my number right away! Of course, no answer; so I kept calling every 30 minutes with the hope that someone would pick up my phone. That’s the problem with cell phones, your battery is only good for so long, so sometimes there’s a very short window for you to find it. Finally, several hours later, a woman answered my phone. She sounded annoyed as if I was interrupting something important, but she did confirm that my phone was alive and well. I got her to tell me where she was so that I could meet her and pick up my phone. Since I was new to the city, I had no idea that she was a good 30 minute walk away from my place. As I ran down the street to meet her, I got further and further away, and ended up outside a “pay by the hour” establishment. I went inside and there was a little booth where a ‘concierge’ would normally be, but alas, there was no one to be seen. It turns out that the lady who found my phone was “at work”. My roommate let me take his phone with me, so I called her up and I could definitely hear my phone ring from behind one of the doors, but no one was answering. Judging by my surroundings I figured it would be in my best interests to leave the building and get my phone back from the prostitute phone-finder at a better time. The next day I went to her home and a gap-toothed, slightly rotund lady handed the phone back to me and told me “I was lucky” to get my phone back. Lucky my foot! After that ordeal, I was happy to never have to deal with that woman again and vowed never to lose my phone again! But that didn’t happen. Another time I lost my white iPhone in the snow which is a whole other story (but not nearly as interesting) but needless to say, it got returned to me, and then I smashed the screen on it. I’m starting to think I shouldn’t be around pricey items.

Wear pants in order to save your wallet!!
You’re probably wondering how someone who is obsessed with money manages to lose their wallet. On Saturday, I participated in an event known as The Underwear Affair which is a 5K walk or 10K run in your underwear.  Needless to say I was not wearing pants (where I normally keep my wallet) and it probably fell out of my bunnyhug (that’s a hoodie for all you non-Saskatchewan people). My wallet was lost for a good couple hours before I realized it was gone around 1:00 a.m. when I needed to take a cab home in the rain – with no money. I was convinced I left my wallet in my friend’s car or in my other friend’s house so I just waited out the night expecting to get a call from someone telling me they found it, but after nobody was able to retrieve it, I called my credit card company. Talking to MasterCard is always a little infuriating. I was informed that someone had been trying to use my MasterCard and they got blocked out after mis-entering my PIN too many times. After that they started going to PayPass machines to buy easy “no signature” transactions like coffee shops. I caught them in time I guess because MasterCard told me they wouldn’t be charging me for any of the attempted purchases on my card. That was all well and good, but then the bastards asked if I wanted to increase my credit limit by another $2,000 and that I needed to “act now” because “this offer is only for a limited time”. I couldn’t believe how freaking stupid that was! My card was stolen and then they want me to increase my limit! Why? So they can charge even more to my account? Stupid. Anyway, I was told I would have my new credit card in a month. How ironic since I actually need to use my credit card to book a flight for my brother’s wedding. It’s also funny that I would even carry my credit card since normally I never take it with me anywhere but I had forgot to take it out after my trip to Las Vegas.

After all that drama, I went to my bank this morning and got a replacement debit card. These sorts of things aren’t easy to do without any ID, which is why I’m glad that I have a passport. Even if you don’t travel, I would recommend getting some other form of ID so that you have a way to retrieve your stolen property. No damage done there either. After that it was off to apply for a replacement health card and drivers licence.  In Ontario, it’s free to replace your health card and the driver’s licence is ten bucks. Not too bad all-in-all. The lady who helped me get back my ID cards also told me to call Equifax and TransUnion and put a notice on my account to call me if anyone tries to apply for credit in my name. The lady told me how someone had tried to apply for a credit card 2 months after someone had stolen her wallet so I thought she had made a pretty good point.

Shortly after leaving the service office, I got a text from my roommate telling me the police stopped by my apartment to drop off some “items retrieved from a stranger” on the street that belonged to me. He gave back my (now cancelled) health card and one of my debit cards (also cancelled). There were also some old membership cards in my wallet that were given back too. None of the things that I wanted back, but I am hopeful that the police are holding onto the rest of my stuff pending an investigation or something. So finally, there was some good news about my missing wallet. Now the downside is that the things that I wanted back are most likely spent and long gone and the key pieces for damaging my credit (my credit card and ID) are not back yet. Once I had this tidbit of information, I called the police and filled out a police report. It’s really important to do this in order to protect yourself from fraud and it will help the cops catch any fraudulent activity on your accounts. The woman I spoke to on the phone also told me that I should call Equifax and TransUnion to place an alert on my file in case someone tries to open credit in my name.

So I called Equifax first and let me tell you, it was THE WORST customer service I ever experienced on the phone. I was never able to speak to a real person, no matter how hard I tried. Here’s how a call with Equifax goes:

Robot: “Thank you for calling Equifax, for service in English, please say ‘English’ or press 1.”
Me: “English”
Robot: “I think you said English. If this is correct, please say Yes”
Me: “Yes”
Robot: “I’m sorry, I did not receive your response”
Me: “YES”
Robot: “Thank you. To continue, say ‘Continue.’”
Me: “Continue”
Robot: “I think you said ‘Continue.’ If this is correct, please say “Yes.”
Me: “&$!#”

I’m not even joking. This went on for a good 5 minutes and then brought me to a message that said I needed a valid credit card to pay $6 to add this alert to my file. Number one, I don’t have a freaking credit card! It was stolen you stupid robot! Number 2, I’m already stressed out and pi$$ed off, the last thing I need to do is talk to a robot! When I didn’t get through to a person after 4 tries, I gave up. I’ll try them again tomorrow (maybe).

Good-bye $2 Bill!! :(
Anyway, every time I lose something, it seems to magically find its way back to me, so I guess I had high hopes that my wallet would find its way back to me by now too. Finding out that my card was found and then used by some d-bag after I just completed a charity event really grinds my gears. Fortunately the credit card had that chip in it so it prevented them from using it for any major purchases, with the exception of the pay-pass at a $hitty Tim Hortons. Ironically, in pre-Gail times, I never carried cash so I was never concerned about losing any money. However, since I’m in post-Gail times, some lucky thief made off with $65 in cash, as well as a $2 bill which I held onto for sentimental purposes and a little love note that my partner gave me from when we first started dating (sad face). Not to mention that I just loved my wallet so much! I was so unique and so me. Yes, it only cost me $20, but it was mine. Luckily I think I can order another one online and get it 2 months later (whoo, postal strike).

So what can we learn from this experience? Well there are some obvious things. The first one is that you should only bring with you what is absolutely necessary for the day. When you live on a cash budget, try to only take what is needed and leave the rest at home and safe in their little jars. An emergency fund will help you recoup your losses on the cost of replacement cards, but remember to always have a back up ID or photocopies of your ID handy to make the replacement process a little easier. Never bring your SIN card with you. In fact, do what I do and memorize it. It’s just like memorizing a phone number. If you want, make up a fake contact in your phone that acts as your SIN so you have it with you in a way that is not easy to find for thieves. And don’t forget, as soon as you suspect that your cards or ID are stolen, call you banks, report it to the police, and notify the 2 credit bureaus (Equifux and TransUnion) that your ID has been compromised!

Take care out there! I’ll update you all if there are any shocking revelations!


Equifax Canada: 1-800-465-7166
TransUnion: 1-800-663-9980

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Return from Las Vegas!

I won this aquarium in a poker tournament;
 then lost it a minute later - it was full of poker sharks.
Ho-ly shiznit! Las Vegas was unreal and fortunately for all y’all, I was a good boy so I can share many a great tale! Just a quick recap for all my new readers; last Wednesday I departed for a 3 day journey to Adult Disneyland, with a $1,000 budget to spend and a tiny suitcase for all my shorts, t-shirts and various toiletries. Unfortunately I did have to bring my credit card, although I left it in my hotel room for all the times that I actually would have needed to use it – thank you to my fellow travelers for helping me out in those situations!  Admittedly, I had lowered my expectations for this trip and thought that I would be broke and pissed off after day one, but at the end of the trip, I couldn’t believe how much fun I had.

For me, Vegas can be summarized by one word: overkill. In my normal life, I would spend $1,000 over the course of about 8 weeks. That amount would cover all of my groceries, entertainment, transportation, clothing, basically my life. I say Sin City is overkill because I was able to spend that kind of money in merely 3 days – and that’s not including my flight! All that being said, though, I managed to stay on budget AND I actually came home with $66.66 cents (ooooooOOOHhhhh 666 - spooky) in change, so I did even better than I expected!

I jumped off of this bad-boy! AmaAAAzzing!
So what cool things did I get to do with $1,000 in Las Vegas? I spent $170 riding the highest rides in the world and jumping off the tallest freefall jump in North America at the Stratosphere! The jump included a video of me jumping off the tower on a hand-held camera which was put onto a DVD for me. The video is 2 minutes long, cost me $30 and it was worth every penny! I finally have bragging rights for life! Yesterday I watched the first episode of Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition (terrible show btw, but for some reason I have an obsession with weight loss TV) and the girl featured in the show bungee jumped off the equivalent of 40 stories or something lame like that. Meanwhile, I jumped 108 stories or 855 feet – so suck on that fatty! That was probably the most memorable experience of the entire trip! It was almost 2 weeks’ worth in living expenses sure, and Gail might not approve, but I could see her making contestants on her show do something like that – it just makes good TV. 

My next most favourite purchase in Las Vegas was a ticket to see Love, performed by Cirque du Soleil. It was magnificent. The show features music by the Beatles and the dancers and acrobats blew me away and made me feel incredibly out of shape! The costumes were incredible, the lighting was amazing, and the stage was changing for each scene leaving me wondering how on Earth they pull this show off 2 times every night! Later in my trip I actually got to meet one of the dancers from the Elvis Cirque show who shared some dance moves and was super friendly to me and my family which leaves me with a great impression of the people involved in the show. All in all, Cirque was one of my favourite parts for sure. I couldn’t believe all the creativity!

Drinking a beer with an ELEPHANT! Only in Vegas!
The rest of the money, well that went to meals, gambling, and booze! But I don’t think that really comes as a surprise to anyone who has been there in the past. All the food was so delicious, and the buffets carry more food and overweight tourists than you can ever imagine. In one buffet they had prime rib, sushi, crab legs, French desserts, veggies of every flavour, and so much more! It was so yummy and it was right in the 3-block-wide hotel. Just remember, no shoes, no service, right Dave? Then there’s the booze; the drinks range in price but they’re usually around what you would pay in a bar in your home town. Beers were about $5, but margaritas could cost you up to $15. I went to a night club where they sold bottles of José Cuervo for $15,000! You can see why it can get a little dangerous in Vegas. The rumours are true though, you can drink your drinks anywhere. I was walking through a kids’ toy store and cracked a beer right next to a stuffed animatronic elephant and it was awesome. Even, my brother was ordering burgers at a McDonalds while drinking a beer – it was pretty priceless.

Delicious Desserts - Yes I ate them all!!!
Now if you want to be el-cheapo like me, I would suggest that you head on down the strip to where they sell beers by the case for only $12 for a dozen. You save a ton of money and you get to carry the case around and drink from it anywhere – even in swanky restaurants! I’m not even kidding, one time we walked into a restaurant with drinks in our hands and sat down with them at the table and the waitress still asked us if we wanted a drink! Another way to get super cheap drinks is to gamble; at every casino I went to, the alcohol was free as long as you were gambling! Such a brilliant idea to sucker people out of their money! The water bottles for only $1 on the street seem like a good deal, but if you buy your own off the strip, they’re less than $10 for two dozen – oh well, everyone has to make a living somehow I suppose; which explains all the hooker escort billboards.

The other way that you can save is to try to buy tickets for a show the day of from the half price vendors. They are legit – ask Sheila from Long Island at Caesar’s Palace. If you want to save even more money, spend a day lying around the pool. It’s worth every minute of it and you get to enjoy the awesome scenery for free if you know what I’m talking about – wowsa! However, bar none, the ultimate way to keep on track with your budget is to only bring in cash what you plan to spend that day (aka, stick to your freaking budget). I carried nothing but cash everywhere and left what I didn’t plan on spending in the hotel safe. It was the smartest thing I did the entire trip. I think that I have learned the hard way that John + Alcohol = Bad Decisions. I would have left with even more money if I hadn’t decided to drop $100 on a roulette table my last day there!

Best trip ever! Whoo!
So there you have it, some great times in Las Vegas were had by all! Not only did I have an amazing time hanging out with my brothers and some of the funniest and kindest people I have hung out with in a while, I managed to stick to my guns and stay under budget! The memories I have are priceless and I don’t regret for one minute dipping into my savings and having a little fun for a change; which makes me wonder; have I learned anything from this experience?

Viva Las Vegas!