Monday, September 26, 2011

My 30-Day Challenge!!

Aren't pearl necklaces wonderful?
Where do I begin? I just finished an amazing weekend of debauchery and now I am a sleepy boy who is not feeling like this blog entry will be the crème de la crème which it usually is because I went crazy and killed a few brain cells! Regardless, I will persevere to write you something both captivating and informative and you will come back to me wanting more and more blog entries and more pearl necklaces of wisdom.

Before I started on this entry, I spent a few minutes with Gail, listening to her shoot the $hit with some 40-year-old Prince$$ about how she had no savings and no plan for her future. It was a scary idea to me to think that if I hadn’t done anything about my debt now that I would have been right in the same place that that woman was. The idea of retiring in my 60s sounds awful. I mean how often do we hear about people dying shortly after retirement; for me, it’s more often than I would like and that keeps me motivated to try and retire in my 50s. Yes, I realize that I will probably be paying off the debt of the baby boomer generation until I am rolling in my grave, but I certainly don’t want to be paying off anything stupid like a mortgage well into my 70s. But anyway, I feel like my retirement savings will be taking a seat on the backburner for another couple years until I have this ridiculous debt paid off in full. Although, the icing on the cake is that I am beginning to become really confident that I will be able to say “I have no debt” even sooner than I had planned.

There are a couple of things that I wanted to talk to you about in this blog. The first is that a friend of mine has hit the milestone of paying off all of their consumer debt. You can see how happy he is talking about how he has gotten it all paid off and it really inspires me to continue on this journey and get to that point too. He tells me that he even has coworkers asking him to do up a budget for them so that they can also get onto the road to financial recovery! Which brings me to my first point; if you don’t think that you can make a budget and get out of debt, you’re wrong.

It is not completely hopeless and it’s actually much more rewarding than just having no debt. Since I have started this process, it’s not just my finances that have improved, but my relationship seems simpler, my stress is lower, my health is improving, I’m making and saving more money, I make smarter decisions, and list goes on. I guess what it boils down to is that I have learned to take control of my life again. I’m not lying when I say that I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that I had $14,581.45 in debt and that was ONLY ON MY MASTERCARD! Not only was that balance ridiculous, but the interest rate was 19.5% and at the rate I was going, there was absolutely no possible way that I would have had that all paid off anytime soon (MasterCard told me it would take more than 30 years if I only made minimum payments). Now, it’s been almost 11 full months since I started this process and I have paid that card down to an astonishing balance of $5,814.57! I am a couple checks away from being under $5,000 on that card. I think I will probably break down and cry tears of joy when that balance is gone. Not only did I get this paid down rapidly, I did it without taking out a consolidation loan. I see people on Gail’s show making double my total income (they’re couples after all) and not paying this off as quickly as me – and it makes me feel overjoyed to know that I am doing this all by myself; well, all by myself in terms of payment, but with a lot of social and emotional support from my loved ones.

30 Days and I could have that sexy mustache!
Now the other and less sappy part of my blog entry; my major 30 day challenge! As I have mentioned in past issues of my blog, I do volunteer work at a yoga studio in exchange for unlimited free yoga (and the savings are substantial). The studio is challenging its volunteers, yogis, and yoginis, to eliminate one bad habit from their life and add a new positive activity in their lives. I know that I have an incredible amount of willpower because I have quit everything from coffee, alcohol, and biting my nails just for the heck of it, so I wanted to challenge myself to do something that I know will push me to a new limit – not eating out for 30 days! That means NO coffee, NO desserts, NO dinners, well, you get the point. There were other things I had thought about doing like, cutting out drinking, or caffeine, but as I said before, I’ve done that before and for much much longer than 30 days, so I figured it would be a smart idea to do something that will not only get me saving money, but living healthier as well, and not to mention how freaking delicious homemade meals are! If you haven’t cooked yourself something at home in while, you really should, it’s the stuff that health is made of! 

AKA Sex in a pan

So, in addition to cutting out a bad habit, I also have to add something positive into my life. Luckily for me, this really is the challenge because I feel really good about where I’m at in my life right now! I figured that in keeping up with the no eating out theme, that I would add cooking one delicious (and not too complicated) meal for myself each week. Last night I made this amazing RosemaryChicken Skillet (thanks Gojee) and I got inspired to stop making the same old bland $hit and get creative in the kitchen again. What I enjoyed most about my delicious dish was that it cost a mere $15 to feed two people with completely fresh ingredients. It would have been good for two meals, but we were really hungry, and it was effing mouthgasmic!

There you have it, my challenge for the next 30 days. I will try to come up with some sort of “Gail-themed” chart again so that you can all follow along with my progress! I feel like I need to reward myself somehow though so my deal will be, if I can go 30 days without spending money on eating out, I will give myself $300 to go shopping! I really need new work shoes because they’re looking pretty ghetto – they have freaking holes in them! Also, I’ve wanted to (finally) get some sewing supplies and start working on some sewing projects! For every day that I screw up, I will take away $10 from my shopping budget! I’m really hoping I can save the whole $300 though!

Wish me luck everyone!

Oh yeah, and one more thing, I have to do 5 yoga classes per week and 10 minutes of meditation on the other two days for the entire challenge! Oh boy… 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Liar Liar Pants on Fire

Ok so I lied. I told you all that I would check in again on Wednesday but I forgot that I had committed myself to a cooking class which ran a bit later than I had expected. Which reminds me why I only do one blog entry per week, I don’t have enough time to write 2 entries a week because I have too much of a social life. Also, I’m going to be going back to school to learn French soon, so bring on the burnout yet again.

Anyway, the reason that I’m writing you this short little blurb is to let you know that I completely hit the hammer on the nail and got stayed on budget for the week. On Wednesday morning I had $54 in my wallet out of the $140 that I started with! That means that I was actually able to stay on my OLD budget of $100 per week. The best part is that I was able to use the remainder of the money that I saved to pay for my cooking class that I went to last night, so I got to start this week off with a clean slate.

Phew! I guess that means I get 7 shiny Gail heads out of 7. A huge thanks goes out to everyone who helped me out this week by paying for things, treating me, and just being all around wonderful, especially my better half! xo 

See you Sunday!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Current Status - On Track and Sexier Than Ever

6000 hits on the blog! Hooray!
Can you believe it? I have been told that I should write my blog more than one time a week! The crazy demands that some of my friends have, let me tell you! I was recently flipping through blogger to see what all the other blogs were about and let me tell you, there are a lot of Christian-dog-enthusiast-gardener-baker-moms out there. I mean no offense, but I certainly felt a little bit special knowing that I’m doing something a little bit different from everyone else! Speaking of something a little bit different, I have managed to gather over 6000 hits on my blog! That makes me very happy to know that more than just the people I know are reading my blog. I think in this $hitty economy we all like to look for ways to not be stuck with a butt-load of debt, and hopefully this blog is a place of inspiration for you all!

As promised, I am writing my blog on a Sunday (sorry PostSecret, you’ve got some competition today) which means that I should have some free time to watch me a little “Gail” on the telly tomorrow. But alas, I have agreed to volunteer my time training a bunch of people how to clean a yoga studio so I will most likely miss out on seeing the show, but it might earn me a free meal or something. I know that training people how to clean sounds simple enough, but when you combine my obsessive compulsive behaviour with cleaning, my standards are really hard to achieve, but that studio looks damn sexy after I’ve had my way with it; just ask my latest trainees, right Andy? Look at that, a shout out to someone other than Caitlin!

This can earn you a free meal!
As mentioned in my last riveting blog entry, this week I have been challenging myself to stay on budget and not go overboard on my spending, and let me tell you, I feel like this week has been a little bit easy for me to stay on track. I needed to get this challenge on the go because I have definitely been a piece of $hit will my spending skills in the last month so let me tell how it’s been going thus far. Now remember, I start out my budget on Wednesdays. The week started off great because I didn’t even have to take out any cash which I normally do. No cash in hand means no spending for me! On Tuesday night, I worked and slaved on an apron for my boss. Every year, there is a charitable campaign that my work does to collect money for thousands of charities and each sector head serves food at a department-wide BBQ in an apron that represents their sector. Well let me tell you, I worked so hard on that mother-trucking apron until it looked phenomenal in comparison to the rest. I was able to decorate the thing with nothing but items I already had and a couple little things from the dollar store. With the risk of this turning into a craft blog (which there are bazillions of) I will stop here and tell you, my boss loved it. She loved it so much in fact that she bought me a ticket to the BBQ. Day one, free lunch; needless to say I was starting this process off perfectly. Later that evening I had my meal paid for me again by my partner. It’s looking really good for me so far!

Thursday was the day that I had to go and take out some more cash and really get the spending on the go. I didn’t bring a lunch as I had originally planned to do, so I ended up hitting up the local Thai restaurant for some of my favorite guilty pleasure. It was delicious of course, but I did feel a little bit guilty. It was no matter though because in the meantime, I helped organize a surprise party for my boss and it went off without a hitch! She was most definitely surprised and for an easy contribution of $10, I got to indulge myself in lots of delicious treats at work! There was cake, chips, and all that delicious birthday stuff. I ate so much that I didn’t even need to eat any supper; another successful spending day to add to the books.

Now Friday was a little bit cah-razy. So much so that I won’t go into too much detail, but I ended up with another free food day, sort of. Friday at lunch, I like to spoil myself, so I decided to grab some god awful sushi from the local sushi chain (why are all the non-independent sushi places garbage) and enjoyed lots of leftovers from the birthday party of the night before. After work was finished, I went to a happy hour party after work, which as usual, turned to be a bit out of control, but the food and booze was supplied, and it was really delicious. I always feel completely spoiled at those events!

Those Ikea instructions are impossible!
Yesterday, I crawled out of bed and made my way over to my volunteer shift and trained two new employees on how to clean a studio. Because I woke up so late and rushed to my training shift, I didn’t leave myself much time to eat anything substantial, so I settled for a scone and a coffee (not exactly nutritious) but it was under $5 so it seemed like a pretty good deal for brunch.  Again, cleaning isn’t rocket appliances, so the training went well with the exception that one of the trainees (Andy) was an hour late! After that, I caved and went with Andy (wow, 3 shout outs already) and got me some delicious and super inexpensive food at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant. I think the whole meal was under $20 for dinner, so no complaints here! After that, Andy (4) and I went back to his place and I helped him unpack and assemble all his $hitty Ikea furniture. Not to say that his furniture didn’t look good, but the thing with Ikea stuff is that you can never take it apart otherwise it never goes back together properly again! The rest of my evening turned out to be really inexpensive because I just had my beautiful friends Isha and Sam come over for some board/card games which doesn’t cost a thing, well with the exception that I bought a $10 walk in special large pizza (as usual). That pizza is always so freaking delicious.

Which takes me to today; Andy (5 shout outs Andy, what more do you want) was feeling thankful and treated me to a delicious brunch at one of our old haunts. The meal was fantastic with the exception of the pineapple garnish having mould on it (but for $5.75 who cares) so the waitress comp’d our coffees which was incredibly nice because I didn’t ask for anything, I just mentioned to watch the pineapple because it looked like hairy a$$. And now it’s supper time and here I sit with $70 still in my wallet out of my $140 budget that I started on Wednesday. The money that I have spent it was almost entirely used for food. In reality I feel like I should have spent on groceries and doing a bit of meal planning, but really, that’s almost 5 days of living and only spending $70 total! Imagine the possibilities for debt repayment or even savings if you are able to live on so little!

Now, since I don’t do enough blog posts (according to some people) I will be checking back in on Wednesday with a full report on how I did for the week including my shining Gail faces. Will I eff it all up and order Chinese food tonight? Will I lose my wallet with all my cash in it again? Or will I manage to save it all and not spend a cent until next Wednesday? Stay tuned ladies and gentlemen for the thrilling conclusion of this week’s episode of My Fight for Financial Freedom!!

P.S. Shout out to Andy! Hooray for Andy!  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Back to the Drawing Board

Gail's Newest Book! 

You know, I have been really kind of silly these past few weeks. Instead of writing my blog on a Sunday, I use my Monday nights to write my blog instead of tuning in a watching my idol, Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s show Til Debt Do Us Part. She now apparently has 4 different shows, one for homes, one for babies, one for “Princesses” and the last is the original. Let me tell you, girlfriend has been busy! It just goes to show, that when you work hard at something, you can achieve a lot and Gail seems to be the shining example of that. Not only is she shooting all these different shows, she also manages her own blog and gives her own musings on a variety of financial subjects and she does so more than once a week. Add in all the books she's written and this woman is out of control! That being said, I am seriously going to start committing to writing my blog on the weekend so that I can start tuning in to Gail on Monday nights!

I like to believe that my blog is a bit more on the ‘real’ side than hers since I am the one who is actually still paying off their debt, whereas Gail is really getting far ahead and doesn’t really have anything new to say that I haven’t heard her say on her shows, but maybe that’s because I can’t go more than a couple of days without talking about her. Who knows, maybe one day Gail and I will be partners in crime, helping people everywhere pay off their debt – and there seems to be more and more of these people everyday. Can you imagine having your debt get so out of control that you need to take another mortgage on your home, or having to sell your home just to stay afloat, or even worse - move back in with your parents? None of those options sound like something that I want to have happen in my life! These sorts of thoughts help keep me in check and on track to paying off my debt, for sure (more so the idea of getting to work with Gail).

It was definitely the worst of times. 
It’s hard to say lately, but although I have been able to maintain my goal of having 33% of my debt paid off within a year, I am letting a number of other things slip between the cracks. For example, I am in a book club and I have had more that 6 weeks to read one simple book, A Tale of Two Cities. Sure it’s a classic and it’s a bit heavy, but really, there is no excuse for me to be on page 20 out of 386 pages and the book club meets in 2 days! Maybe it’s because it got rotten plums all over it, or perhaps the fact that I put some of my commitments to the wayside in order for me to just spend money and ignore commitments. Sure, this isn’t the end of the world, but the reality is, that I feel like I am letting myself fall short on things that I actually get quite a bit of enjoyment from. If I would have just allowed myself 30 minutes a day from the moment that I bought this book up until now, I would not be in this situation.

You know when you live paycheck to paycheck and by the time you get to the day before your next check you don’t even have enough money leftover to make a withdrawal from your account? Well, that’s been me for the past two paychecks. Mind you, I have been dumping a lot of money into my savings account and I have been keeping all my bills paid, but I think that I am putting myself into this situation simply because I am getting way to lax on my planning. Truth be told, I am very happy that I have not yet had to resort to using my credit card or transferring any of my money out of my savings account, but it’s a hard pill to swallow when I look into my checking account and only see $22.02! However, I do know that that’s how much money I have in my account without even having to look it up, so at least I am somewhat responsible, right?

Yes, even KFC's picture of it looks gross. 
With the risk of writing another blog with no point looming, I’ve decided to take on a challenge, and no, I’m not talking about KFC’s Double-down; I’m talking about a financial challenge. I start my weekly budget on Wednesdays (because that’s the day I get paid) so I want to make sure that I have a solid plan to make my weekly budget of $140 actually last until the next Wednesday. I figure that the best way to do this is to use resources that I already have, as well as throwing in a little bit of something different to spice things up a bit. I recently discovered a website called and let me tell you, I am in love with it so much, that if I spend any more time with it, it could get pregnant. The concept is really simple, you login, tell the website what you are craving, and it gives you a cornucopia of recipes for your perusing pleasure. What is even better, you can tell the website what ingredients you have, and it will find you all sorts of recipes that use ingredients you currently have. Even better, if you have allergies or hate certain types of food (i.e. ketchup or raw apples – disgusting) you can tell Gojee and they’ll leave those ingredients out! Yes Caitlin, there are other websites that do this, but this one is effing sweetest, so in yo’ face! My hope is that this website will really give me a leg up when it comes to planning my grocery list and I can buy items that complement the items I already have and let me shop for things with common ingredients in order to save a fortune!
Even their new logo is awesome!

Another way that I am going to get more organized is to actually start using my agenda in my phone. I have so many different events and things that to do (I know, I know, shut up Mr. Popular) but sometimes I find myself wearing thin both mentally and financially. This way, I am going to check my agenda every week and see what I have committed myself to and how much money I plan on spending there. For example, if I am going to be going to book club, I will probably need to buy some kind of barbecuable (I know that’s not a word) item which I will need to budget for, so let’s say $7.50. Now I know how much more money have left to spend for the rest of the week and that will cover me off for that day. I think what is most important is that I figure out a way to average the same kinds of costs each day and not go overboard when I don’t have to. Now that I think about it, it might be even smarter if I were to look at the month ahead to figure out where I will be spending extra in order to really plan ahead and save up the money for those special events. I have a cooking class coming up on the 21st with my aunt which will be lots of fun, but it will cost me $60 (I think) so it would be in my best interest to take $20 from the next three weeks and put that aside in order to keep my budget in line.

Oh boy, budgeting can be both so challenging and both so boring at the same time! I don’t know how you guys can continue to read all the stuff that I ramble about sometimes. Alright, I am going to take a page out from the book of one of my subscribers. Starting on Wednesday, for each day that I do well and stay on budget, I am going to give myself a gold star, or better yet, a golden Gail face, and put it into a chart at the end of the week. If I do well, I should see nothing but shining happy Gail faces across the board! Wish me lots of luck, because I think I really will need it to re-break my bad habits and get back on my budget track!

p.s. This post is specially dedicated to my blogging friend Caitlin who is going to be “jumping the pond” for a year to study in the UK. All the best Caitlin!

If you are looking for delicious recipes, be sure to check out her blog (with a banner designed by yours truly)!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Birthday on a Dime

Happy Birthday to Me!!
Holey Moley, I have turned 29 and what a fun week it has been! Every year I am always beyond impressed by all of the outpouring of love and kindness I get from my friends and family. If I could have a birthday every week, I would not need this budget at all, because let me tell you, I was a spoiled brat and I barely had to spend a thing! All my cash would be going right to the debt! 

My birthday started out the day before the big day with an amazing dinner paid for by my in-laws. When you don’t go out for dinner regularly you forget how special going out for dinner can be. You know those nights when you go out, have a nice conversation with someone you haven’t seen in a while and just shoot the $hit, it really doesn’t get any better. What adds to the delight of it all is that the service was good, the food was delicious, the company was humorous, and my bill was PAID for! Those of you who go out for dinner all the time, I challenge you to give it up for a month and only go out for a special occasion, because it really does make the evening so much more wonderful and your pocketbook will thank you tremendously! Thank you again for wonderful evening T, K & S!

On the day of my birthday I threw a potluck to celebrate with my friends and it was a blast! I never thought that I would have so many people be able to attend on a Thursday night - the turnout was fantastic. There was food galore and so many amazing food creations that I got to chow down on like a dog at a bacon convention! Seriously, I think I filled my plate (and my gullet) 3 times! And the wine, oh my, was there ever an outpouring of wine – and beers! I’m not even going to lie, when I started writing that line, I was reminded that I had some leftover wine in the fridge to drink, which is the equivalent to writer’s gold! 

Get this game! It's amazing AND affordable!
At the end of my potluck we got to play a few rounds of my favourite game, Werewolves (which I’m sure you could make for about 10 cents). Grosso modo (French for all-in-all) it was a great evening and it cost everyone about half of what they would have spent in a restaurant, and I actually got to chat with everyone who attended instead of having to yell across the table in a noisy restaurant. For me, when it comes to big birthday gatherings, parties at a home will outweigh the restaurant if you want to be a bit more social. The best part about going hosting a potluck is the leftovers! I was able to take all the leftover food with me on a 2 day camping trip to the Gatineau hills. It is such a beautiful place to go at any time of the year if you’re looking for something fun and affordable, look no further! 

That’s right folks, the party didn’t stop there! After a long week of work, my coworkers took me out for a nice lunch on them! Talk about a good way to stay on budget! Thanks to my birthday I got 3 meals gifted to me. By the time that this lunch came around, I was feeling like the luckiest boy in town. My budget was right on track and I was getting to have guilt-free meals – amazing!

When I finished up my work for the day, I was off to the big country for some camping! Now let me tell you, I hadn’t been camping in years so I didn’t know what to expect when I went out there, but I knew that as long as I approached it with the right attitude and a great group of friends that I would have a blast and sure enough, I did! The first night we got there (after a couple trips back to my friend’s place because we seemed to keep forgetting something there) we set up the tents, played some card games, and got to relax by the fire with good tunes and great company! It was an epic night of good times and we didn’t even manage to pi$$ off any of the other campers with all of our laughing! Seriously, I think we all loved every minute of it!

Seriously, The Decent is horrifying!!
On day two, the camping journey continued to impress! The weather was perfect. It was hot, but not unbearable, so we went for a little hike to go cave spelunking! I’m not going to lie, I’m a little bit afraid of enclosed spaces, not to the point where I can say I’m entirely claustrophobic, but after seeing The Decent, I am a little afraid that some kind of cave monster is going to come and eat me in the dark. Seriously, that movie scared the $hit out of me! After that it was lots of time spent at the beach, some bocce ball, swimming, splashing, throwing sand and seaweed at each other, you know; all the things a 5 year old would do.

That evening we did the traditional weenie roast and made delicious s’mores followed by the most terrific thunderstorm I have ever experienced outdoors. You couldn’t hear anything but the rain pummeling the tent. Fortunately for me, the inside of my tent stayed nice and dry, but the outside, well not so much. And there were other campers whom I’m sure had their tents washed away in a puddle of rain! It was really intense (pun intended). At the end of the whole camping trip, I only had to spend $87 for all my food, gas, lodging, and entertainment! You can’t even stay for one night at a hotel for that kind of a bargain! The best part is that all of my birthday money more than covered all of the costs which made the camping trip that much more sweet.

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, you can have a birthday that is not over the top, affordable, and lots of fun on a budget! The key is to plan well in advance, have LOTS of amazing friends who love you, and learn to live with less. Now the next step is just to hit that 33% goal by the end of October, which I think I can do since I only have $952.08 of debt to pay until I get there! 

On a side tangent, I read in someone else’s blog that they like to set out all of their goals at the beginning of the year with dollar amounts and a timeline for when they want to have all the money saved up by. For me, I think that the things that I want to save for next are: A trip home for Christmas (about $1,500) followed by a new iPhone (about $750) and then a new computer (about $2,000). I realize that the Apple products are a bit over the top for someone on a budget like mine, but really, this past month has taught me that I do need to reward myself from time to time to avoid from going crazy and to reward myself for all the hard work I have done – the catch is to pay cash for it! I’m thinking of trying this out once I get to October when I am starting another year of debt repayment. What do you think? 

Thanks again to everyone for the gifts, calls, cards, hugs, messages, and love!