Tuesday, January 22, 2013


This past weekend was not one of my favourites, but in the end I learned a lot of things about myself and reaffirmed the values that I have held onto so dearly over my lifetime.

Let’s start back at the beginning. On Saturday, I attended the funeral of my partner’s boss/mentor.  This man, David, meant a lot to Rob and me because he really took Rob under his wing at a time when job prospects seemed to be getting bleaker by the day.  Being a man looking for work in the serving industry is difficult and it’s hard to find employers who are willing to give you a chance when most restaurants want to hire pretty young women to do the majority of the serving positions.  David was the one who gave my partner a chance.  Rob and I were elated when he found a job in Ottawa’s night-life district and now things were certainly looking up for both of us. This simple opportunity restored us with a new-found optimism and saved Rob from having to work in the land of no tips and terrible bosses. Eventually that restaurant closed and Rob moved on to one of David’s other restaurants, again all thanks to David.

This is about the size of the bouquet
Needless to say, David’s passing hit Rob hard, so he and his fellow co-workers wanted to make a strong gesture of support for David’s family, and they worked hard to make a gorgeous bouquet.  On the morning of the funeral, we grabbed a cab on a terribly snowy/rainy day and swung by Rob’s friend’s place to pick up the bouquet.  I stepped out of the taxi into a nice little snow bank that was just high enough to get into my dress shoes and about a foot up my pants.

“No worries, just put on a smiley face for Rob and his friend and carry on.” I thought.  “They need you to be strong.”

While Rob got the cabbie to move the van around back, I followed his friend to the top floor of her apartment building and grabbed the massive bouquet, weighing well over 50 pounds. My arms were placed cumbersomely around the base of this massive pot and waddled my way down 3 flights of stairs holding this gargantuan creation.

It didn’t take many steps to realize that one of the reasons the floral arrangement was so heavy was because it was filled with water - water that proceeded to spill ALL over the front of my pants, particularly in the crotch area. There is no question that it looked like I had thoroughly soiled myself. 

Putting on a brave face for Rob and his friend, I brushed it off and thought again: “Don’t get pi$$ed off John, they worked really hard on this and didn’t think that the water would fall all over your crotch and if you would have just carried it with Rob as originally planned, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place.” Thus, I kept my composure and got down to the van.

While I waited (semi)patiently for the driver to open the hatch, the pot started to get heavier.  As soon as that door opened, I bent my knees, squatted to set the flowers down, and heard the worst sound you ever want to hear 20 minutes from your home and 15 minutes from a funeral – the ripping out of the butt in your pants. Yes, that’s right, as I set the bouquet down, the a$$ off my pants ripped from the top, ALL the way down to the bottom.

This is EXACTLY what happened. 
Panic swept across my face while some much needed laughter poured out of my partner and his friend.  We really needed a laugh, and I was glad to be there as the “butt” of the joke. I really hope you’re all laughing at this point, because we sure were!  Add in the fact that I was wearing the most colourful pair of underwear that I own to the mix, and it was painfully obvious that I had a huge rip in my trousers.

Now, Rob and his friend on the best of days, do not do very well in these kinds of situations, and when you add in the factor that they are 15 minutes away from going to celebrate the life of someone very near and dear to them, this couldn’t have come at a worse time.  However, after a little quick thinking, we found a needle and thread and we were off to the memorial service. 

The good news was that I was wearing a long peacoat, so no one had any idea that there was a full moon happening right next to them, so when we arrived, I was able to sneak past everyone into the nearest bathroom stall I could find.  Of course, when I finally found a stall, there was someone occupying the only other stall next to me, taking one of the rankest poops my nostrils had ever been subjected to.  To add to that, they were a nervous poo-er so instead of just getting it over with, flushing that down and moving on, he sat there while I had to take off my wet, ripped pants and start stitching up my butt crack. 

Meanwhile, as I am trying to move things along (keep in mind that the service was starting any minute) a line-up started to form outside of the stalls. Apparently pooping before church is the “thing to do” these days.  With the added pressure of people waiting, I ran out of thread and said to myself “F* it! Good enough!” and proceeded to get re-dressed.

After that entire ordeal, I only managed to get halfway done sewing up the seat of my pants. I guess you could say that I did the job “half-a$$ed”.  I had no choice but to keep my heavy winter coat on through the entire service, but I must say, being able to show a select few people (including David’s daughter) that I had blown the a$$ out of my pants, provided a much needed laugh on that sombre day.

Now, you might be asking yourself, what is the point to this story here on a financial blog? Well the answer is simple and it’s one that was part of a common theme found in all the speeches commemorating the life of David, stay positive.  David lived his life with a very infectious optimism that will live on with those he encountered in his life. 

As you go through your debt repayment journey, remember that sometimes things are going to come up that are out of your control and that you need to keep a clear head, make a plan, and stay positive.  Establish an emergency fund so that you’re not stuck struggling to stay afloat and don’t be afraid to reach out for help in a time of crisis. After all, you never know when you’re going to be stuck in the $hit trying to stitch everything back together.

Rest in peace David. You have meant more to Rob and I than you know, and we will be forever grateful. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Too Much Want


Can you enjoy the simpler things in life, or do you need everything to be in excess? There is no questioning that we here in North America have it really freaking good with access to everything that we want at our fingertips. It’s really easy for us to get caught up in a world where we buy things that we really don’t need, and that really don’t add any value to our lives.

The best examples of excess that I can think of in my life are the knickknacks that I buy at home décor stores. There really is no burning need to buy another bird shaped decoration or pretty clock (most often shaped like a bird), but for some reason I get easily suckered into paying upwards of $40 (who am I kidding, more than that) for these sorts of things and they don’t leave me feeling as fulfilled as a concert or a skate on the canal. 

I’m sitting at my dining room table right now, looking at what I like to call, “my cabinet of fun but unnecessary.” In this cabinet you can see that I have about 100 records, 2 dozen board games, a dozen almost finished bottles of obscure alcohols that have probably been there for a good year, and the thing is surrounded by 3 of my 30+ plants and of course, the creepy mannequin head with a Lady Gaga wig and pilot’s hat, just like everyone else has in their homes to keep up with the most trendy hipsters in all existence.

This is the wig, eat your hearts out little monsters. 
These things all have or continue to add some simple joys to my life, but the reality is, if there ever were a fire, I would easily be able to go on living my life as if nothing had happened. Mind you, I would stand out like a sore thumb at the next Lady Gaga themed party, but that’s really not the point. If you are sitting at your computer and reading this and thinking about your own debt and wondering how you can get to the point that I am in a fast time span, this should be a bit of a punch to the junk to tell you that the answer is right in front of you sometimes.

It’s all about reassessing what we have and asking what we can give up in order to get ahead. For me, the hard things to give up were: buying music, buying new clothes, eating out, and going to concerts. These things took up a lot of my budget, but I really felt like I was entitled to have everything that I wanted, but I looked at these things as needs, but wants. I needed to go to that concert so that I could spend time with my friends, I needed to buy that album so that I could support my favourite artists (like they would go out of business if I didn’t), I needed to have new clothes so that I could maintain my sense of style that friends and family raved about. There are so many stories that I could tell myself to justify just about any expense.

My best story was, well, “it’s vintage, so I’m not paying as much as everyone else”, or “it’s on sale”. It doesn’t matter if that t-shirt is on sale, it doesn’t change that fact that you have 50 more in a drawer at home. When you’re on a budget you need to identify these excessive items in your life. If you’re someone who is always wanting to get the latest and greatest music, stop following all of the music blogs, unsubscribe to the music blogs, and learn to dust off that Lauren Hill CD and ride it out until you’re financially stable again. Set limits for the amount that you are allowed to buy as well. Limit yourself to one album per month, and ask for the other albums you want for birthdays or holidays. The same can apply to clothes. Are you hooked on fashion blogs and already stocking up on the latest cool shades of green since orange is so last season? Stop following these trends and start setting your own trends. Learn to embrace what you already have.

The reality is that most people who are in debt, already have everything they need and then some, so giving up these types of things should not be difficult to do. As I approach the end of my debt, the things that I had to give up are getting welcomed back into my life, and the purchases I make are smarter ones. It may seem crazy at the time to stop going to your favourite restaurant every week, but when you’re out of debt in 2 years, you’re going to look like a freaking financial genius.

I used to go for brunch every single Sunday before my debt repayment process. Well today I went to my friends Kate and Caitlin’s place and had a fantastic brunch, stimulating conversation, and a great time with people that I love, which I have come to realize from this process, is worth more than any of the excessive wants that I had filled my home with.  Take some time, figure out what really matters to you, and the rest will all just fall into place. 

Can you believe I have less than $4,000 to go?! Wowsa!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looking back at 2012

Bring on 2013! 

Looking back at 2012, I have to say that I feel really good about how my year has turned out. It feels like I have my life on track and moving in the right direction. There were certainly some ups and downs, but in the end, I still came out on top. One aspect that I really wished I had done better at, was contributing to my blog a little more. There were so many times that I would read an article, or be out shopping for something, and think to myself; “this would make a great topic for a post” and then life would come up and leave me unable to really sit down and move the words from my brain to the screen. The good news is that I have already put a lot of great knowledge up here for your reading pleasure, so I know that you didn’t miss me too much!

Life really was pretty exciting and busy for me last year. I picked up a second job, and a second language. Learning French was really challenging and took up a lot of my time and energy. I think that while I was doing the language training, I was getting really exhausted and by the end of the day, I didn’t want to have anything to do with writing, or using my brain in general. But, somehow, I managed to become bilingual. Oui, c’est vrai, je parle français, and it’s pretty freaking cool.

My second job working at the yoga studio has helped remind me about other talents that I have which I haven’t been putting into practice for a while now. I really have a knack at interacting with people and I never thought of that talent as something that I could get paid to use. More than ever I get to see people who are working toward their fitness goals, and leaving feeling good about themselves for what they have done to make a positive change in their lives. Getting to interact with these people opens my eyes to a world of smiles which we sometimes don’t always get to see in our working lives and that leaves me feeling inspired to keep working at this goal so that I can reach my own contentment. 

I’m starting to see that there are a lot of other possibilities out there for me where I can work in an environment that I enjoy and work with people that I like to be around. If I really put my mind to something, the possibilities can be limitless. The best part about working for a small business is that I am coming to realization that I could probably run a business of my own someday. The owners of the studio are around my age and they seem to be very successful and happy. Yes, they are working their butts off everyday, but you really get that hands on love from their dedication to something they believe in which inspires me to start thinking of ways that I could make a little money of my own doing something I love on the side. 

Without a doubt though, my favourite part about last year was finally getting to talk to Gail Vaz-Oxlade on her radio show. Gail’s methods have been a tremendous help in getting me closer and closer into the black and out of the red. I remember how incredibly nervous and excited I was when her assistant emailed me and told me that she booked me for her radio show. The months leading up to the interview really encouraged me to go a little more public with my debt repayment strategy and helped create a dialogue among my friends and colleagues about this very real and very common debt problem we all have. The result of all that was an amazing influx of readership on my blog and now more people come up to me to talk about finances with them. It is almost as if that conversation with Gail gave me some more credibility and that validation I seemed to be seeking from someone who seems to have it so together, but is so relatable and human at the same time.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade really became my life coach more than anything. Which makes me think about getting into a career where I can coach people with their debt repayment, maybe work for a non-profit organization, or even do some pro bono work on the side to help friends and family put together a realistic debt repayment strategy that is customized for them.

Last year wasn’t entirely sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns though. I read so many articles about how much consumer debt that Canadians continue to take on. It really is such an easy situation to get oneself into. A few swipes of plastic and the next thing you know, you owe the bank more money and you find yourself in a hole that is too big to climb your way out of. Now that I have progressed in this process and I see how possible it is to get out of debt, I want to really shake some people and ask them why they haven’t woken up yet. Do we really need all the stuff that we have? Is there anything that you have used to decorate your home that you absolutely couldn’t live without? Can you spend a week only going shopping at the grocery store and nowhere else? Getting out of debt doesn’t need to be complicated, so if you’re in need of some help, sit down with someone and really talk to them about what they did to get out of the hole instead of asking them for a handout.  Trust me, it is a really great motivation tool and you have so much to gain.

Usually, by this time of year, I have made a decision about what my New Years Resolution will be and then write about it for the whole world to read. For some reason though, I have found it incredibly difficult to pinpoint what aspect of my life that I want to improve on. What is really fantastic is my newfound access to money again. All of a sudden I will have all this income that I can spend on personal improvements. There seem to be a few different things that I want to focus on but I think first thing’s first, getting this debt eliminated, once and for all!

When I reflect and look back at my blog, I can't help but notice how much it has really has been focused so much on the money that I feel like I lost sight of one of the biggest objectives of this challenge – for me to be free again. My debt has served as a metaphorical ball and chain that was weighing me down and keeping me from doing so many extracurricular activities. Now, if I want to learn more about being a financial planner, I will have the money to pay for the courses upfront. If I want to work on my hobbies more, such as taking more sewing courses, or learning another language, or even just taking a day for myself at the spa, I can do that. My freedom from having to make payments all the time feels so freaking amazing and 2013 is going to prove to be an amazing year for me.

If you're just joining me for the first time, my name is John, I am 30 years old, I have $4,500 worth of debt and I couldn’t be happier!

p.s. Happy Birthday Amanda! You are my favourite big sister of all time. xoxo