Sunday, November 27, 2011

Old Habits Die Hard

Yes, I look this sexy when I'm sick

You may be wondering what took me so long to write my latest blog post and the answer is simple; I was sick and avoiding having to write another fail blog. Being sick is one of the most annoying and time-wasting things, but I think getting a cold was my body’s way of telling me to slow… down. These days I have been stretching myself thin with work and French classes.

When I started this debt repayment process, I was stuck in a lot of habits like using my debit card for everything, eating out, not saving, not planning and lately I find that I have gotten back into some of my old habits that got me into debt. In my typical fashion, the week started out with really good intentions; I was ready to make a meal plan and figure out how I was going to find ways to cut my outside-of-the-budget spending. The problem is that I never got around to making that meal plan. Not only did I not do the plan, I took out my weekly allowance and still used my debit card to go out and buy $60 worth of records (I’m a sucker for Florence + the Machine).

My personal motto
Now without being too offensive to the people with kids and spouses, why is every financial book geared towards you guys? Don’t these financial planners know that I am perfectly capable of effing up my finances without a family and a mortgage? The majority of all the meal plans and recipes that I find are for families, which has pros and cons. The pro is that the meals you make will stretch out for a long time. The con is that it’s easy to get sick of something when you eat 6 portions of it. I remember seeing one meal planner for couples on someone else’s blog where she talked about going through flyers and looking at what was on sale and making a plan based on that. That is all well and good, but for me, that’s a lot of work and I don’t keep any flyer of any kind. She did have a good idea or two, which I will now steal and add into my own planning.

Anyway, I have decided to use this blog post to make my meal plan for the week. Now I have no excuses, sigh. I did do some research and I found a couple of interesting ideas from other blogs. This time of year it is more important to implement a meal plan what with all the holiday parties, pot-lucks, work lunches and so on that keep coming up, or maybe that’s even more of a good reason to be having a meal plan? The first thing to do is to get a program to make a list or spreadsheet. Certainly, it pays to plan ahead and it will save you time in the long run when you are out grocery shopping or doing something similar.

I want my meal plans to start on Wednesdays because that’s when I get paid and I find that people tend to overcrowd the grocery stores on the weekends so when I shop on a Wednesday I can avoid the clutter and find more selection. I worked at a grocery store for 4 years so I know that major grocery chains get new stock in every day, but it runs out when there are more people around and when there are sales - obviously. Usually when something runs out it’s because everyone has ordered a lot of it and they don’t have enough to distribute or else the person who does the ordering is incompetent. Imported items take longer to restock because of where they come from, so you might have better odds finding everything you are looking for if you go on a weekday. 

The ultimate time saver!
Start your list by putting in the days of the week (duh). Next, add in all of the meals that you are going to have to make. For example, each day should have breakfast (if you eat breakfast), lunch, dinner, and 2 snacks because let’s get serious; most of us have a little afternoon craving for chocolate or some other delicious food most afternoons at work. If you’re sharing groceries with a partner, then add them into your plan as well. If you know that you are going to be really busy one day, then don’t choose to do a complicated meal where you end up eating at 10:00 pm after an 11 hour day. I have had days like that where we want to kill each other over how hungry we are. So, make sure that when you plan your recipes that you look at the cooking plans or choose recipes that can be cooked in a Crockpot.

Here’s an example of how my week could look (the J is for me, the R is for my partner):

Breakfast: J: Oatmeal; R: Cereal (Kashi);
Snack 1: J: Banana, yogurt; R: off
Lunch: J&R: Tuesday Dinner Leftovers
Snack 2: J: Carrot Sticks with dip; R; off
Dinner: J&R: Rosemary Chicken Skillet with Potatoes (Recipe)

Breakfast: J: Cereal; R: Toast with Peanut Butter and Honey
Snack 1: J: 2 Mandarin oranges; R: off
Lunch: J&R: Leftover Chicken Salad Sandwich
Snack 2: J: Cliff Bar; R; off
Dinner: J&R: Thai Red Curry Shrimp with Jasmine Rice

Breakfast: J: Oatmeal; R: Cereal (Kashi)
Snack 1: J: Banana and Yogurt; R: Cliff Bar
Lunch: J: Lunch with Cafeteria with coworker; R: Leftover Curry Shrimp
Snack 2: J: Banana; R; Almonds
Dinner: J&R: Butter Chicken with rice

Breakfast: J: Oatmeal (PC Blue Menu); R: Cereal (Kashi)
Snack 1: J: off; R: Cliff Bar
Lunch: J&R: Friday night leftovers
Snack 2: R; Almonds
Dinner: J&R: Lasagna

Breakfast: R: Oatmeal, smoothie
Brunch: J: Bacon, eggs, toast, orange juice
Lunch: R: Leftover Lasagna
Dinner: Potluck Dinner: J making Roast Turkey and Stuffing

Breakfast: J: Oatmeal (PC Blue Menu); R: Cereal (Kashi)
Snack 1: J: Bagel with Cream Cheese; R: Cliff Bar
Lunch: J&R: Leftover Turkey Sandwiches
Snack 2: J: Almonds; R; Banana
Dinner: J&R: Leftovers

Breakfast: J&R: Cereal (Kashi)
Snack 1: J: Oatmeal; R; Orange and Cliff Bar
Lunch: J&R: Chicken Salad Sandwich
Snack 2: J: Carrot Sticks; R: Protein Shake
Dinner: J&R: Whole Wheat Pasta with Tomato Sauce

Now you’ll notice that I don’t include drinks on weekdays in here. I have a coffee club at work, so we all just buy some coffee every month and contribute that way instead of buying a coffee out every day and the ol' balls and chain works at a restaurant, so he can get his coffee or tea there. This plan not only saves us money, but time as well. I also bought a water jug for the office so that I can have filtered water on hand to drink everyday instead of having to buy bottled water or something like that. The oatmeal is the instant kind that I bring to work. It’s really that simple, so just get it together and you can be well on your way to being a successful debt destroyer like me!

On a side tangent,
I have now paid off $15,000 worth of debt!
Isn’t that incredible?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Progress Report - NIL

This is the battle inside my brain.
Here we are, half way through November and I don’t really have a lot more progress to report on. Actually, all I can report on is the lack of progress I have made this week! Not a day goes by when I don’t consider myself lucky for all that I have (love, job, health, friends, family, stability, home, freedom, etc) but for some reason the debt constantly remains on my mind and adds that tiny bit of stress in my life. I cannot wait to have officially banished this debt once and for all but at the same time I certainly did some counterproductive activities these past few weeks that leave me feeling a little hypocritical. I really wonder if all these financial gurus ever experience the same problem or if these problems are what made them into the strong financial leaders that we have today and if perhaps one day I may become one of them. I have always had a strong desire to help people work out solutions to their problems so I guess I should never say it isn’t a possibility in the future. This blog definitely makes me feel as though I am contributing something valuable to help my readers with their debt problems.  

What really makes doing this challenge such a, um, challenge, is that I am a very social person by nature so I always find it difficult to avoid spending money on fun social events. Lately I have not really been the best example for my friends and I think that they have been paying the price inadvertently. I don’t ask them for money per se but I have been consistently bailed out by friends here and there. Ok, well not really bailed out since most of the time they will offer me a drink or a snack, or whatever, but the reality is that I should just learn to say no every now and then. Really, I ate poutine 4 times this week, which is just beyond stupid and I wonder why my waistline is expanding and why I am down to $20 in my bank account before payday.

Ugly Christmas Budget
Despite all of this, it’s worth mentioning that I have been having a lot of fun lately doing all these uncharacteristically ‘expensive’ things with wonderful friends, but now I’m feeling like I hit that point where I need to just stop and try to find fun activities that don’t cost me anything and that are a little bit more healthy for me and most importantly, activities that don’t leave others spending money on me! I like to do cheap and easy things because I am cheap and easy enjoy activities that keep me on my debt repayment path. However, what is beginning to scare me lately is that the pressure to spend seems to be rising and I think I know why – Christmas. I have gotten at least 5 invitations to Christmas parties that involve me having to buy some kind of gift or tacky Christmas sweater, or contribute to a potluck, or whatever. The point is that they all involve spending. I really don’t want to have to go out and spend anything and I’m sure I’m going to get creative and find a way to save some money by making gifts or something, but there’s always that added bit of pressure to spend.

If you take today for example, I woke up with the wrong attitude and I paid the price throughout the day and here I am writing a less than funny entry in my blog. On the flipside, if I were to approach my struggles with a positive attitude and look for opportunities to learn from my mistakes instead beating myself up over stupid and insignificant things, I will resort less to spending money on eating out or overindulging on “weekend super happy funtime” spending to cope with my stress. I’m going to really push myself this week to take some time to clear my to do list and end the week with a strong feeling of accomplishment, and if I don’t manage to do that, then I will step back and look at what it was that I did wrong.

Tonight I got home from my regular 11 hour day and ordered a pizza. Not because I really wanted pizza, but I wanted something that was convenient. I still have not sat down and made a real meal plan despite 2 of my friends sending me links to some weekly meal preparation websites. I also lived with my Aunt who spends her Sundays preparing meals for the entire week so that when she comes home from work, all she needs to do is throw the food in the oven and she is ready to go for the week. Mind you, she doesn’t really have a budget for food because she has done very well with her finances and isn’t carrying debt anymore, but it’s still a brilliant idea nonetheless.

So, it’s time that I start getting on the meal plan bandwagon, but I am going to give myself the gift of one meal out per week – I more than deserve it. Once I figure out how to get this right and make it work for me, I will report back to you on how it goes and hopefully it will help you save some money too! AND if I’m really really really good, I’ll try to get you some figures on what I spent on groceries so that you know how much this weekly meal plan ends up costing me.

Now just some random side notes about general goings on in my life. First, yesterday was my amazing Dad’s birthday! Happy birthday again Daddio! Also I am now both an iPhone AND BlackBerry user. Not exactly excited about this but I must say I still love my iPhone 1000x more than the BB. On the weekend I participated in an amazing acrobatics yoga workshop and did a shoulder-stand off some random’s lap. And finally, there was a little bit of sad news last week. My beloved Fishy has gone to the golden toilet in the sky. I had that beautiful fish for 4 ½ years too little.
He sleeps with the fishes now. 

RIP my sweet Fishy.  xo


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lordy Lordy, Look who's Forty (Percent Paid off)

Whoo! I'm cruising along!
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very happy to announce that I have managed to pay off almost 40% of my debt now! Isn’t that incredible? It’s barely been a year! Not only that, I have paid off more than $11,000 in credit card debt! I am unbelievably happy about the way things are going with my repayment plan. Now that the interest payments are getting massacred, I am paying off more and more principle so MasterCard doesn’t know what hit them. What makes me even happier is that I bought 2 plane tickets home for the holidays for $700 each AND gave $100 to charity and despite having purchased $1,400 worth of stuff; I still managed to reduce my card to $3,558! Finally I am feeling more like one of the converted.

During this economic meltdown, I am becoming quite grateful that I started this process when I did. I can’t imagine what some people out there must be feeling with debt like I have and the possibility of losing their jobs looming over their heads. I think the message is becoming ever clearer: we need to plan better. Not everyone is going to agree with everything I say, but I think it’s about time some of us got a debt enema and cleansed out some of this $hit. I read an interview with my besty, Gail Vaz-Oxlade where she talks about getting rid of credit scores and eliminating credit card debt. She describes a generation out students that got duped into signing up for credit cards with high maximums and embarrassing interest rates.

To make matters worse, the government’s student loan program has ridiculous interest rates and students are paying the price. To add to the frustration, it is getting harder for graduates to find a good enough job to even start to pay back their loans properly other than with just the minimum payment. The repayment plan is so lousy that they have people paying off their student debt for 10 years and accumulating thousands of dollars in interest. It’s no wonder this generation is not learning any positive lessons about credit. Now don’t go thinking that I’m going to be sitting in some tent somewhere protesting about the world’s inequalities and all the problems that causes (believe me, the list is huge), but I really just want to shake some sense into some people who think that it is sustainable to live the way they do and rack everything up on credit. Why do we always try to keep up with the Joneses when they are probably in just as much (or more) debt than us?

This is the part where I challenge you. In Gail’s interview, she is challenging everyone to live without using their credit cards for the week of November 13 to 19. Just one simple week and it’s so much easier than you think (believe me; I go months at a time). If you are one of the people who is automatically thinking, “no effing way John, I can’t live without my credit card, especially during black Friday”, then you probably really need to try this exercise. Really, calculate how much money you are spending every year on interest. On a card with 19.9% interest, your $100 item becomes a $119.90 item in a year. You buy a $1,000 item and that jumps to $1,199.00 for that item. In my case, my interest rate was 18.9%. I carried a $14,581.45 balance, which means that in one year, I would pay $2,755.85 in interest! It’s no wonder the credit card company kept increasing my limit; they wanted me to be able to carry more money on my card!

I think the sign is self explanitory
So here’s where I challenge you (see what I did there, it’s called role reversal); try to go a week without using your credit card, or better yet, go the entire month. Leave your card in the freezer, throw it behind a heavy piece of furniture, and just learn to leave the house without it. For those of you who are feeling extra ambitious, go the extra mile and calculate how to get rid of the balance on it once and for all.  There is a great debt repayment tool on CNN that allows you to enter as many of your debts that you have and it tells you exactly how much you will need to pay on each one of your debts. You can then set it the time you want to pay it off in and it will adjust the figures accordingly. Give it a go! You really can pay of the debt, it just takes a bit of focus but it is certainly possible.

Good luck with your challenge everyone!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween Havoc

I love Halloween!

Don’t panic everyone, I’m still alive and well. Yes, I know it has been over a week since my last amazing and awe inspiring blog entry, but I here I am starting of year number 2 with a poor rapport with blog writing so it’s time for me to jump back on the bandwagon. Well, it’s not just the blog writing I’m struggling with, but there are couple other things as well that I’ve fallen behind on. Do you every have those days when a number of stupid little things grind your gears and everything just seems frustrating? Well that was certainly me yesterday. I really wanted to write my blog entry but I was in no mood to do anything other than eat and sleep (in that order).

Those who know me in real life and not just on this blog, know that I am generally a very lighthearted person and when you want to be around someone positive, normally I am the guy to go to. However, there are some days where I just want to say “eff it” and just go home and crawl into bed. Those kinds of days are pretty rare, but every now and then, I really need to step back and not put anyone ahead of me but myself. Truth be told, that still is one of the life lessons that I struggle to wrap my head around. Where I find the most difficulty is just being completely selfish. There’s a tendency for me to put others first but sometimes those people don’t reciprocate and I get frustrated. It’s also a huge source of why I (and others) get into debt.

In any case, I’m feeling better today and a little less strung out so I think that everything is going to work out just fine. What is at the core of my stress is my bank account. I love Halloween so much, but I went overboard on my spending again this year. I had a Halloween party at my place on the weekend and it was lots of fun and well decorated, but I certainly blew the budget. To top it off, with Christmas around the corner, my savings account got a swift kick to the chestnuts and it’s drained back down to under $500. Not really impressive in my opinion, but what’s done is done and I cannot wait to see my family again in less than 2 months! The best part is that I finally (FINALLY) get a paid Christmas vacation. Do you know how hard it is to pay bills, fly home, and buy gifts when you lose 2 weeks of salary? It’s a lot like listening to U2’s music – awful.

But there’s no point in complaining right? With all the knowledge I have, I can certainly get back up and rebuild my savings and get the debt repayment back on track. In a lot of ways, I’m really starting out year two with the same kind of problems that I had before. I have been eating like garbage, I’m not getting as much exercise as I was before, and my meal plan and fallen deep into the toilet and I have to find some extra long rubber gloves to fish it out.

Last month I finished my 30 day challenge with flying colours. I didn’t spend any money outside of the grocery store, but I think that made me go a little crazy with my spending at Halloween. My new challenge over the next couple months is going to be to save up some spending money while I am in Saskatoon, get better at making a meal plan, and find ways to stay as positive as possible while surviving the holiday season somehow - wish me luck!