Friday, December 30, 2011

Last Post of the Year

My loyal readers, thank you again for all the support over 2011. I really feel like this has been my year. There are so many great things that I have accomplished. My biggest achievement was finding a permanent job that includes a great pension and benefits package that will keep me less at risk to getting into further financial trouble in the future. Not only that, I now get paid to be on vacation, which is a first for me in my entire working life. It feels great to be writing this blog post in sunny, snowy, Saskatoon while getting the opportunity to relax with my family and friends without worrying about my finances. I can't think of a better way to wrap up the year!

Being back home really reminds me how lucky I am. Not only have I come back to Saskatoon for the second time this year and I have taken trips to Halifax and Las Vegas while managing to stay right on track with my debt repayment - have you seen the numbers? It is so incredible to think that I am not far from being halfway finished my goal of paying off my debt and that I will not have any debt left on my credit card. 

All this being said, I didn't manage to do one thing which I had set out to do at the beginning of this year, and that was to make sure that I write one blog post per week. I got pretty close though, this will be the fiftieth! For someone with a demanding schedule like mine, I think I did pretty good, and my readership numbers have proven it! I'm now close to having 9000 reads which lets me know that it's more than just my friends and family who are reading about my challenge and my struggle to pay this all off in such a quick amount of time. 

The new year is going to present its own challenges for me. As soon as I get back home, I start on full-time French training! This could end up being something incredible for me since I will be one step closer to being bilingual, or I could end up feeling really high strung. I'm hoping that this will feel like a bit of a break for me though and I think it will help me get back on track with my budget because I won't have such a wonky schedule. Not only that, this should give me more opportunities to do yoga consistently again.  I know that we all make resolutions to be in better shape or to exercise more, but I'm taking this one seriously. I want to try to do yoga at least 3 times a week. I think that can be completely possible. When you undertake something stressful like debt repayment, your physical health will help you to keep focussed and deal with stress more than if you are not taking care of yourself. 

2011 was a great year for me for a lot of reasons which you can read about in my past blog entries. Taking control of your finances helps you to take control of your life. If you are thinking about what to do for your new years resolution, I highly recommend that you do this process. Not only is it possible, but you will have my support to see it through as a success. I look forward to getting back on track in the new year and sharing some new pearls of wisdom with you all! 

Happy New Year Everyone!



Sunday, December 11, 2011

Shopping Day!

Nice Package!
I woke up today to a loud bang followed by a shaking feeling thinking that a bomb had gone off, which I think was my body’s way of putting me into flight mode. Why? Because today was my big Christmas spending shopping day! Without giving away too many details, I think I may have gone a little bit overboard, but I did pretty damn good too! It’s not really a big deal that I overspent in my mind though, because I still managed to pay down a huge chunk of debt and maintain a certain level of sanity at the same time (always a plus in my book). Overall the shopping experience wasn’t too bad with a few exceptions of ridiculous shoppers and obnoxious sales staff. I do have to sympathize for people who work at a mall during the holiday season though. Usually it’s a bunch of students who are already stressed out with exams and projects to finish on top of having to be friendly with stressed out people at the same time so I wasn’t surprised when I got into a discussion about whether the colour of the item I was looking at was not black but rather a navy blue, to which she tried to tell me that navy blue is just another form of black. You’re not pulling a fast one on me girlfriend, okay?

In terms of the budget for my family get-togethers, I have done well so far. The first gift is perfect, but I’m worried that it won’t be something that everyone wants. I guess that is what makes a Secret Santa without names a little difficult. I don’t want to buy something that only the girls will like, and I don’t want to buy something that only the boys will like either. Decisions, decisions! All I have left to find is another $25 gift. I saw a few things that I know will be good, but now I need to decide which will be the best of them.  There were some other things that I wanted to get but I knew that I would be able to find them cheaper online, so I have been sleuthing around the internet and I think I found the perfect thing for the perfect price. Now it’s just a matter of whether or not I can get the item to my place in time before I leave! I hope I’ll figure it out before Christmas!

Aka, Negative Nancy
I am being faced with another little problem though. My mom emailed me and asked what my boyfriend wants for Christmas and now I feel like I need to buy something for my parents, which is not something I had planned. I don’t like being hit with unexpected surprises in my budget, but I guess that’s why Gail is always stressing that I have an emergency fund! So if I end up buying something for my parents, that’s going to add (give or take) another $100 to my spending for the holidays. Realistically that isn’t so bad, but I would rather have the money to be able to go out for dinner with my parents instead of getting them something they won’t use or remember, or even worse, return it for a god awful baby-blue-and-neon-pink sweater. Seriously, I did not approve that purchase Mom! If I do decide to go out and spend on my parents, then I will make sure to keep it smart, unlike the person I overheard at the mall saying that he had to spend at least $100 on a pair of gloves. Are you effing kidding me? I can’t believe that I used to be that person. I remember spending almost $300 on a sweater. I love that sweater to death and get complimented on it every time I wear it, but man I would gladly trade it for 6 equally nice $50 sweaters right about now.

Umm... Boney M?
Now without sounding like Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer, I am getting really excited for the holidays! There are so many frustrating moments leading up to the holidays, but maybe the past couple Christmas parties I have attended are getting me in the mood to celebrate. All I need is a little Boney M Christmas and some Christmas drinks and I am good to go. It also helps that my family has started to message me and tell me how happy they are that I am coming back to visit. A big part of me really wants to just let go of my budget while I am on vacation, and I think that I will simply because I have achieved so much over this past year. I will still stay away from credit, but I will maybe put a little less toward my debt repayment and a little more on myself. I know, I know, it’s not the best thing to do, but at this point it just feels right. Alright, I only have 4-5 more Christmas celebrations to go now! Wish me luck everyone, and see you next week!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Scare Tactics

Scare tactics are effective on the elderly

One of the most remarkable things about writing a financial blog is how open people become when talking to me about their own financial struggles. Listening to other people’s challenges and successes gives me a lot of reassurance as well as tons of hope that I can continue to get ahead with this process. A common theme in the discussions I have with people who still carry debt is that most don’t have any idea how they can get their debt paid off. Fortunately I have tons of ideas to help them out. The part that usually baffles me though is how long people are willing to wait to pay off their debt in full.

For example, when I look at my current “repayment plan” for my student loans, my lender projects that I still have another 89 months (7 years and 5 months) of minimum payments to go before I will pay this off entirely. Not only that, the amount of interest I will end up paying is $1,837.78. I hate dumping any of my hard earned money onto interest payments so when I hear about people being comfortable with paying off a small amount of debt over such a long amount of time, I want to smack them over the head and tell them to wake up. I get it, we all feel entitled to the best of the best, and since we work hard, we should be rewarded. The problem is that if you keep resorting to credit to buy everything you want, you could end up with nothing when the debt gets quickly out of control.

If you were like I was, teetering on the brink of financial disaster, you need to stop and take control of your situation before it gets unmanageable. There are some major signs that you should be weary of such as: not being able to make more than the minimum payments on your bills; not knowing how much debt you have; living paycheck to paycheck; having no savings; creditors constantly call you for payments; you remortgage your house every other year; and the list goes on. I recently read an article (I’m sorry I can’t remember where) where most financial advisors said they wished that people would have come and seen them sooner to deal with their finances rather than later because most of the time, they are too far gone to be helped and they have to file for bankruptcy. This couldn’t be any truer. If you are like I was with my money, look for something that will motivate or inspire you to get your debt repaid. For me, I can think of a lot of things I would rather do with $1,800 other than use it for interest (like a mini vacation), and not to mention how less stressed I get as the debt numbers go down. Debt repayment is work, but when you build a strong support system like I have, it is completely possible to do.
Canada's Debt Clock!
Ok, so you may be wondering what is with the scare tactics/pep talk? In one of the conversations I had recently with someone who I don’t even really know, she told me about Canada’s debt clock at This site has a scary tracker of Canada’s ever-rising debt total. The site claims that by March, 2012, Canada’s debt will have skyrocketed to over $585 BILLION dollars. According to the site, “That’s $61,454 per minute, $3.7-million per hour, or $88.5-million every day!” Right now that means that on average, every Canadian is carrying $16,000 of debt. Now, with spending projections this holiday season, we can only expect this increase to rise even further.

But what can we do to reduce this number, right? We can’t be responsible for other people’s neglectful spending, but we can certainly do our part to encourage others to start spending money smarter, especially over the holidays. In a country where we buy everything we want on credit, I find it surprising that people have anything left to buy for each other at Christmas that they don’t already have! Just like last year, I want to emphasize that there are so many ways that you can save money this year during the holidays.

Make a shopping list like Santa!!
When you are out shopping, be like Santa and make a list. Making a list when you shop will help keep you on track with what you want to buy for your loved ones. Try to keep the list as specific as possible, and write down the items that you want to buy even for the stores where you know what you want to buy and put a price limit on how much you want to spend. If you want to go the extra mile, look for deals online for items that you want to buy and save yourself even more money (as long as the shipping isn’t ridiculous). If you can stick to a list, you will have an easier time staying on budget.

Leave the credit card at home. This is a general rule for me everyday, but it’s even better to put into practice during the holidays. You shouldn’t have to go into debt just to buy everyone you know a gift, and nor should they. Don’t ever feel bad about giving a friend a card or simply asking your family to do a gift exchange instead of buying each of them a gift. And if you’re doing a gift exchange with friends, think doing what my friend Gigi does and have everyone re-gift something that they don’t use! This idea is not only a great way to recycle, but it is also a hilarious way to spend time with your friends during the holidays!

Be thoughtful with your gift giving. Can you think back to 5 Christmases ago and remember everything you got? Even better, can you remember all the things that you bought for your loved ones? I find that the gifts I remember the most are the ones that were made by someone.  I remember one year when my brother blew up a picture of us as kids working with my Dad. He was so moved by that photo, which it really made the whole day a wonderful and memorable experience for us all (and no, it wasn’t even Christmas day). I can’t tell you what I got for the past few years other than maybe some money but I don’t even remember the amounts. What I do remember are the fun times that I had with my family which I guess is why I go back home year after year.

The holidays can be the most stressful time of the year, or they can be the most exciting and memorable. With the debt counter climbing higher, take time to stop and think of ways that you can contribute to reducing your debt instead of augmenting it this season. The holidays will become less stressful if you plan ahead and use your own money, not the banks’. If you’re reading this and thinking, “well $hit John, it’s too late now”, then perhaps you should make it your new year’s resolution to put $25 a week into a special “Christmas Savings” account and by this time next year, you will have $1,200 to spend ‘til your heart’s content.