Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Golden Handcuffs

Every time that the seasons change, I feel like I need to make a change to some aspect of my life, and I’m not really sure why this is. Yesterday I was a huge sack of $hit towards my partner about stupid things that really don’t matter (at least not in the grand scheme of things) but the main focus of my discontent was money. OSAP (Student loans) still hasn’t come through for my partner due to an error on their part and it has left me covering the shortfall for my partner and I. Of course when the loan comes in, I will get all the money I’ve lent back again, but I really hate not being able to be aggressive with my debt payments. I also hate seeing him getting frustrated that he cannot contribute the way he wants to and struggling to find a job while I am able to have two jobs.

What’s important is that I am not holding back and helping my partner get all the things that he needs for school and keeping his tummy full of delicious foodstuffs. After all, this is a partnership and when you love someone (and are dating them) you shouldn’t leave them hanging and feeling stressed out about how they are going to eat dinner. He is loving his program and it seems to be going really well for him, it’s just $hitty that he needs a job. If you’ve ever been in school and looking for a job at the same time, you can sympathize with how much time it takes to find something and remain focused on your studies. Fortunately we both understand that this is temporary and it will be over before we know it. Additionally, he is being a very smart cookie and looking into getting a couple bursaries that will help him with his education.

Find me at Moksha Yoga Ottawa!
My job at the yoga studio is becoming so much more than just a receptionist at the front desk, I am now the man in charge of the very same volunteer program that I started doing almost 2 years ago. I really am enjoying being the manager of the program and working with the volunteers to keep the program organized and moving smoothly. You could say that it’s making me rethink what it is that I want to do with my career. If I didn’t have the golden handcuffs on me which come with being a public servant, and the ball and chain that is my debt, I think I would have taken a huge leap onto a completely different path by now. I fully acknowledge that I will not be in the jobs that I am now when I retire, so I have been thinking about a lot of questions about what the next chapter in my life will be.

There are very few people who know this, but there is a very good chance that I will be moving within the next year or two. With my partner being back in school, he may need to move to Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver (all great options) to do the next part of his schooling for a couple years and I need to start planning how I am going to get there with him (if this all ends up happening). It’s a big change that I know I can handle, but all that really runs through my mind is the “how the heck am I going to be able to afford this” question. Of course I think about other things as well, mainly missing friends, and the auxiliary annoyances of packing, and all that other craziness, but for me, it all comes back to the money. There is nothing I would hate more than to be right back in this debt situation again, but I guess that would be lucky for you all since I would still have to keep this blog running and the good news for me is that I am building a reference guide to remind myself to stay the heck out of this situation!

Certainly I have proven that I know how to make a budget and my skill set has been expanded to new limits, so now I need to think about what I can do to get myself setup for a job that I will love in another city where competition is fierce and rent is high. Obviously I seem to have found my “what’s next” for when my debt is paid off – I need to start saving for some kind a big change. I can say that I am happy with the way that things are going overall, but at the same time, I get these feelings that I am becoming stagnant and need to do something to shake things up in my life. Again, this really isn’t the case, but it’s just how I feel. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Radio Star

 LISTEN TO THE WHOLE INTERVIEW HERE - fast forward to 70:00 to hear me and Gail!

Look out Radio! John is on the rise!
There was so much build-up to my big interview with my idol, Gail Vaz-Oxlade, and yet, somehow I feel like it didn’t live up to all the hype that I had envisioned in my mind (us celebrities can be so fickle). Don’t get me wrong, I think that it went well for the most part, but there were moments where I felt that I was a bit inaudible and maybe mumbly. This is completely contradictory to all the feedback that I got from everyone though. 

Bon Iver with a Kittay!! 
What really annoyed me is that the caller before me wasted so much of my airtime and I felt that I had a lot to say in my interview (which I waited THREE months to do and missed a Bon Iver concert for) that really got cut off. I could hear him rambling on and on and then when I finally got on the show, I wasn’t able to really share the big picture of what I had been doing to get the debt paid off. When I got on the air finally, I really wanted to make a joke about how that guy took forever to shut up and how if I were the bank teller, I wouldn’t want to serve him either (if you’ve heard the interview, you’ll get the joke) but I kept composed and got to talk my financial hero!

While I was on the call, all I could think about was making sure that I stayed positive and not become another one of those people who looks back on their financial situation and become as depressing as a puppy with face cancer. My heart really was racing whenever Gail said anything, especially my name. I swear that throughout the months leading up to the call I had had several Gail-themed dreams (yes we were fully clothed, get your minds out of the gutter people, jeez) to prepare me for the moment when I would actually talk to her. Not only did I take the dreams as a sign that I would be ok on the call, my Grandma had won a CAR that same morning, so I really felt like the stars were all aligned for this to be a great day for an interview.

In the end, I did manage to get about 5 minutes worth of time with Gail, which if you look at her schedule, you can appreciate is a pretty big deal. I guess part of me was hoping that she would want to talk to me for longer for whatever reason, but the reality is that I am yet another one of the many success stories that are the product of Gail. When it was all finished, it felt like I was only on the phone for about 2 seconds, but I remember getting a huge Gail hug (swoon) and a mission from Gail which was to continue to “SPREAD THE WORD” which I will continue to do here on this blog. 

Much love for this lady!
Gail left me feeling rejuvenated and reaffirmed that what I am doing here really is worthwhile. Ever since the interview, I have been approached by many different people who have been sharing debt stories, debating some of the things that I have written, and engaging in conversations about debt – which is exactly what I set out to achieve. After I got off the phone with Gail, someone called in and asked how to be so open about debt. The reality is that putting up the first blog post was nerveracking as heck, but once it was out there, it became easier and easier. Once I showed everyone that I can practice what I preach, they started to really respect the struggle that I have been facing with the debt repayment.

I don’t recommend that everyone go out there and share exact details about what kinds of debt they carry and how much, but I do want to say that, if you share your situation with people, they will be more likely to respect you and where you’re coming from. This goes the other way too; if someone tells you they can’t go out partying with you because they can’t afford it, don’t be an a$$hole and guilt trip them, or pay for all their drinks and expect them to pay you back!

All in all, the majority of the people who listened to the interview thought that I did an amazing job. I’ve been told I really do have a face for radio, and that Gail and I sounded like old friends shooting the financial $hit over the interview. I swear I will get my coffee date or class of wine in with Gail one day when I am in Toronto. I’m starting to think that the only way for that meeting to happen will be to make myself into some kind of Canadian celebrity, which believe me, I’m working on!

In case you get to read this Gail, I really do want to say thank you for taking the time to talk to your obsessed fan, and making me feel like a million dollars. Depite how my ramblings in this post may sound, this was truly a positive experience, which I will never forget.

One last thing, I think that most of the people who listened might not have known that I had 3 months to prepare my answers to the questions that Gail had given me in advance.  Yes, there was a LOT of improvisation in the interview, which I feel is evident from the number of times that I said “absolutely”, but as my bit of redemption for those moments where I don’t think I got my point across, I’m attaching the complete answer section from what I sent to Gail for your reading pleasure.



1.  Where you were:

As a frequent viewer of your show Til Debt Do Us Part, I would sit on my butt watching people who had completely derailed their finances and I would say to myself "these people are insane. How could someone my age have accumulated so much debt in so little time?" I thought, "I will never let my finances get that bad," but the reality was that I had let it get out of control. It wasn't until I actually looked at my bills and added them up that I realized at 28 years old, with no car, no home, no kids, not so much as a pet hamster, that I was almost $40,000 in debt!

I was so shocked that I had let it get so bad. I definitely remember shedding a few tears that I had lost control. I had really bought into the world of credit and consumerism.  I felt depressed and trapped because of my financial situation and I really didn't know what I was going to do to get out of debt.

I had tried to do a consolidation loan and my bank told me that my credit was so bad I would need someone to co-sign the loan with me. Since I'm also a bit stubborn, I didn't want to drag someone else into my mess. So, I decided that I would need to figure out a way to do this on my own.

After my brief little pity party, it hit me, I had all the tools right in front of my nose, I just had to get off my butt and do something about it. I figured if Gail has a TV show, she must have some kind of book about how to apply her debt repayment plan, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to find your book "Debt Free Forever".

2.  What you did:

The first thing I did was read your book and did my financial analysis. That's when I found out I was overspending by $1,100 every month. Some of the worst offenders were Restaurants: $400, Booze: $175, Clothes: $160, and a whopping $314 in interest costs! Of course I had been putting nothing into savings and these figures made it pretty clear where I needed to trim the fat to get my debt paid down.

The next step was figuring out which of my debts were the most expensive (based on their interest rates) and develop a repayment strategy. I had a credit card, line of credit, student line of credit, and a student loan. My credit card was sitting at almost $15,000 and had an interest rate of 19.99 percent, so I knew that I would have to pay that one off first. Using your advice, I called the credit card company and they agreed to lower the interest rate to 12.90 percent (with an annual fee of $25). That instantly saved me a fortune in interest charges.

To get the total I would put toward my debt, I used the percentages you recommend in your book and tweaked them to suit my lifestyle. I put 15% of my income immediately into savings to have money in case of emergencies and to keep me from being tempted to reach for my credit card.

Not having to rely on a car saved me a ton of money. I only needed less than 1% to go to transportation because I live within walking distance of work. 

I learned that having roommates really pays off because my housing costs are only 18.5%.

And since I spent so much money on clothing in the past, I had no need to buy anymore stuff and was able to cut my "Life" category to only 20.5% of my income!

That left me with 45% of my earnings to put toward debt repayment.

I know that this seems a bit crazy to only have 20.5% of my income for the life category, but I needed the debt repayment number to be high in order to get all of my debt paid off in less than 3 years. This still gave me $130 per week to live on, which after a bit of practice, it became quite reasonable.

I started my debt repayment by paying off the credit card. I snowballed the majority of my debt repayment amount toward paying it off while I made only the minimum payments on all the rest of the debt. This was really effective, but it was tough to kind of "neglect" the smaller debts because I am from the generation that wants everything happen "right now"! So paying off a lower debt, gets you a bit of that instant gratification that we want. However I stuck to my guns and within 16 months I got the credit card debt completely eliminated and threw a "Screw You Credit Card Party"!  the last thing I had bought on my Credit Card was a bottle of expensive vodka, which I didn't allow myself to open until I got all my credit card debt paid off. It was really fun to get everyone together to celebrate my achievements along the way.

The funny thing about the credit card company as well was, when I finished paying off the card, I called them to lower the credit limit to $5,000 because I didn't want to ever get $15,000 of debt back on that card again. The agent that I spoke to told me that she had a flag on my file to offer me a new limit of $20,000 on my credit card, and I told her about how I just paid off a lot of debt and how I did it, and she told me I was smart to lower the limit and congratulated me on getting it all paid off! 

3.  Where you are now:

Today I am ahead of schedule in my debt repayment and I only have about $13,000 to go! My credit card is still at zero and I've completely paid off and closed my line of credit. Now I am chipping away at my Student Loan and my Student Line of Credit. Since the interest rates are low and I only have 2 debtors to pay, I am paying these off really fast!

This year has been phenomenal and now I feel completely in control of my not only my finances, but my life as well. I have a restored sense of optimism and I know that I will be able to take care of myself and my loved ones for the rest of my life.

I really have to thank you from the bottom of my heart Gail. I was in such a bad place and you really helped me get back on track. Lord knows where I would be right now if it weren't for you. You have changed my life, and have become my hero and inspiration. For you to be talking to me on your radio show makes me feel like a million dollars and this is truly a dream come true.

4.  One tip you have for listeners:

The best advice I can give listeners is to be open and honest about your financial situation.

I went a little bit crazy with my disclosure and started a blog to tell EVERYBODY about where I was with my debt. I shared how much I owed, down to the last penny, and my readers knew exactly how bad the situation I had put myself in was.

When I told people I was almost $40,000 in debt, some people were pretty surprised, but my friends who also paid for school on their own were able to relate to me. Going to school is certainly good debt, but after you've been living like a poor student for 4 years, you want to indulge in a few things like a trip or something to celebrate.  And that sort of lifestyle continues like a chain reaction. Once everyone knew about my debt, they were understanding when I would say no to things or if I decided I wasn't drinking with them because I needed to get rid of this debt. In fact, they all started saving money because I wasn't the spending monster that I used to be!

The other thing my blog does is show where my progress is at and it holds me accountable to my friends and family.  People were skeptical at first, but now that I am doing it, I have inspired other people to change their financial situation and that feels incredible.

Monday, September 10, 2012

John on the Radio - TONIGHT!!

Gail Vaz-Oxlade, host of the TV shows Til Debt Do Us Part, and Prince$$ is mentioned a lot in my blog. She has been my Financial Guru and it’s her tools that I applied to get me out of the red. Last September, Gail “tweeted” about my blog which I had no idea about since I didn’t use Twitter! My friend Inez tweeted back to Gail that she should have me on her show, and now I have been asked to be a featured guest in her “success stories” portion of her radio show.

All this happens tonight on Toronto’s Newstalk 1010 at 10:25 EST tonight! You can listen to the whole thing live by clicking here (http://www.newstalk1010.com/) and then clicking on the Red Square that says “Listen Live”. You might want to test this out beforehand to make sure you don't need to install flash or something like that.

Don’t worry if you miss it, the whole thing will be recorded and posted (commercial free) by tomorrow morning.

Thanks for the support!