Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Year of Progress - My Journey 1 Year Later

35% paid! Holey Moley!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, October 21, 2011

One Year Blogiversary!

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

Expect a very special post this weekend. 

Thank you for love and support this past year. 



Monday, October 17, 2011

The Return of Mr. Fran├žais

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 10, 2011

So Thankful!

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 2, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you Wednesday!