Oh pinky pink! A look at the Lipstick Effect of 2015

It gives me a high. The little black bullet-shaped tube encasing a shiny new gorgeous shade of purple, pink or red. I can’t wait to try it on and prance around as a newer, better, brighter version of myself.

What am I talking about? Lipstick, of course.

My recent influx of lipstick purchases got me thinking about something called the Lipstick Effect. Sounds like a dumbed-down title of an episode of Big Bang Theory, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s a very real economic indicator, defined by Investopedia as:

A theory that states that during periods of recession or economic downturn, consumers will eschew purchases of big-ticket luxury items and seek material solace in smaller indulgences, such as premium lipstick.

Bingo! In my case, 2015 was a year of lower portfolio returns and unemployment. It led me to really scrimp on purchases and effectively go on an unofficial shopping ban. What was one of the few items I purchased, though? Lipstick.

The psychology of lipstick and other small luxuries

I can definitely attest to this theory after experiencing it first-hand. During a downturn or any point in which your finances have fallen out of favour, something as simple as a lipstick can be enough to lift your spirits. For me, a beautiful, bright pink almost makes me feel like I’ve received a great new makeover, without having to spend a fortune on new clothing.

The after effect

For most people, there probably is none. Ten to twenty dollars (or more depending how fancy you’re willing to get) on one item barely makes a dent on the monthly statement. I got to thinking though, and have experienced a bit of lipstick-regret. I now have every hue of pink under the sun, and a few of them serve the same purpose. How do I even know which one to reach for? I don’t. As such, the Lipstick Effect of 2015 has resulted in the Lipstick Ban of 2016.

I’ve spent about $75 in lipstick in the past year, which is not a life-changing amount, but it is an amount I could’ve tucked away for a rainy day and been none the wiser. I’m not losing sleep over it, but I now have more than enough pinky pinks to last me through the year.

So what?

Okay, so we don’t all love lipstick – I’m looking at you, gents and low maintenance ladies! The Lipstick Effect doesn’t have to be all about lipstick. Everyone has their vice. It could be superhero figurines, costume jewelry, or nail polish. Any cheap thrill that gets you through the trying financial times in your life.

So what? Should you stop? Should you keep making small, frivolous purchases? What’s my point? At the end of the day, I don’t think this is a make or break, and recommend tracking your ‘lipstick’ through the year and keeping a small budget of say, $100. Sure, spending $0 is even better, but if your ‘lipstick’ makes you happy and deters more substantial spending, then I say let them eat cake.

How we reached our goal of selling $1,000 of items on Kijiji

When we found out we were having a baby, I started thinking about how much money we’d need for gear (just google the cost of a stroller!) and how much space we’d need for it too. My solution to both of these issues? Find stuff to get rid of on Kijiji. I took it one step further and created an arbitrary goal of $1,00o of Kijiji income between the hubs and I, and had no idea if this would even be possible. After all, I’d never sold a thing online before. What could go wrong?

The results

Yesterday I sat down with a calculator and tallied all our sales and lo and behold – exactly $1,000 of stuff has been sold to date!

Here is an exact breakdown of what we sold and for how much:

  • EB Games gift card – $120
  • Swarovski jewelry – $85
  • DSLR camera – $450
  • Samsung Galaxy 3 – $100
  • Video games – $245

We’re pretty happy with the results so far, but they are a bit deceiving. Yes, anyone can sell stuff online and make money, but here’s a confession – both the camera and phone were sold because we got new ones. This didn’t exactly fulfill the purpose of saving money and getting rid of stuff, but we’ve included it anyway and were happy to help subsidize new purchases with the sale of old items.

What did we learn?

  1. Price higher than what you expect to receive. People will try to lowball, and you want to be ready to either accept what they offer because it’s fair, or at least meet in the middle. In all cases above, we priced slightly higher than the amounts shown, and sure enough, people typically offered the reserve price we had in mind.
  2. Think twice about how low you want to sell a gift card. They’re basically cash and you’re giving up cash by pricing too low. At the moment, I’m trying to sell a Pottery Barn gift card worth $113 for $90 minimum, and people are trying to offer as low as $70. I won’t take less than $90 because at that point, I’d rather just use the gift card and receive its full value.
  3. This is a given but I’ll mention it anyway – meet in a public area! I know many people will just meet at home when items are too cheap to warrant making a trip, but seriously, I just don’t want randoms to know where I live.
  4. Do regular purges, and think twice about each item you own, and whether it has any resale value. For instance, designer purses you no longer use could be hot commodities and so can many electronics.
  5. A note for the ladies – always keep authenticity tags and dust bags for any designer purses that you may plan to sell at some point, as I learned the hard way that they are very difficult to sell without them.

Overall, this was a fun experiment and we’re going to continue looking for old items to sell. It’s a great way to create some extra income, while ridding your home of things you don’t need – especially when you need to make space for new things for new little people!

Have you ever sold anything online? How was the experience?

Gifts are a minimalist’s worst nightmare

We’re well into 2016, and with a new baby on the way (!!), I’ve been in mad-purging-mode. This might be a controversial statement, but here goes…

This means getting rid of a ton of gifts

Should I feel bad? Probably. Do I feel bad? Not really. As I grow older and apparently more ornery, I’ve really been questioning the whole gift-giving system, and feel like there are better ways to celebrate occasions than to guess what your loved ones might want and add to their clutter. Yes, I’m completely aware that this is a #firstworldproblem and not a real struggle in any sort of way, but I also wonder if the motives behind gifts are purely virtuous or simply an obligation that result from a cycle of gift-giving?

Here’s an example. The hubs and I were instructed by his mother to purchase and hand out gift cards to relatives at a function we were hosting. Her justification was that we’d be receiving gifts from said relatives. This seemed highly unnecessary, but I didn’t want to seem like the Grinch that Stole Christmas, so I agreed politely and ta-da, we were out $200! Go figure, these relatives did not get us gifts, and while I didn’t mind, they did. It surely created an uncomfortable future obligation for them, and voila, the awkward cycle continues. In this case, I feel like hosting lunch to celebrate the holidays with family should have been enough – no gifts given, no gifts received.

Secret Santas are kind of the worst. I understand they’re just for fun, but now I’m stuck with weird things like Bananagrams and oil dispensers that I could care less to have. I know people love Secret Santas, so I should probably just calm down and accept my Bananagrams with a smile…

I’ve seen children’s birthday parties where the child is given a giant pile of gifts to add to an already mounting pile of toys. Is another train set necessary? Don’t think so.

By now you’re thinking, alright Grumpy McSmarta$#, what do you expect we do instead? Well…here are a few ideas:

  • For the holidays, have a standing agreement with relatives to just not do gifts. It beats the guesswork, and sharing a nice meal is celebration enough, methinks.
  • Take a friend out for dinner instead of purchasing a gift – they’ll appreciate the time you’ve taken to celebrate an occasion.
  • Secret Santas – all complaining aside – are actually a great way to prevent clutter because you end up with one gift versus several. In fact, if family insists on gift giving, suggest one of these instead.
  • For a child’s party, I think it would be fantastic to encourage guests to donate to a toy drive instead, and explain to your child the importance of giving.

At the moment, I’m on a selling binge, and this includes selling gifts I’ve received. I admit I feel badly, because I know I’m getting less than the gift-er paid for it thereby making me feel like I’ve wasted their hard-earned cash. Alas, however, if it’s simply collecting dust in my drawer, then better to purge.

I’m not sure we can ever break the gifting cycle, but in many cases, I’d sure like to try. After all, isn’t spending time with friends and family the best gift?

Full disclosure: I recently had a baby shower held for me where I received a ton of gifts, and it was all great stuff, so perhaps I’m being a bit hypocritical. To me, helping loved ones start a new life (i.e. wedding, baby) with items they need falls into a separate category than random gifting.

Do you love giving and/or receiving gifts? Think it’s a worthwhile practice or should it go the way of the dinosaurs? Let me know!

Everything you need to know about employment insurance in Canada

2016 was a year of firsts, not the least of which was the first time I’ve used employment insurance (EI). It’s something I’ve paid into (on and off) since I was 18, and at 30 I finally had a need for it when I moved to another city for my husband’s new job.

Over the last several months of receiving EI, I’ve learned quite a bit about the nuances, and a lot of it is information I just wasn’t able to find online. I didn’t find the Service Canada resources very clear, and it’s also really hard to get a hold of them over the phone. Overall, it has been a positive experience, as I’ve been able to actively look for work while having some of the financial burden lifted from both my husband and me. While I don’t always agree with the rules and decisions I’ve been subjected to, I understand that the system is imperfect, and blanket solutions aren’t always fair. When I get frustrated, I tell myself it’s a small price to pay for my (modest) financial cushion.

Without further ado, here are a few of my learnings this year when it comes to EI. I hope they’re as useful to you as they would’ve been to me a few months ago!

To receive payment, you must remain in Canada

This is something I knew off the bat, so when it came time to take three ‘working days’ off to head to the States for a family wedding, I made sure to notify Service Canada. You must notify them because they do cross check with border security and there are serious penalties for not reporting absence. For the days you are out of country, you do not get paid. In my case, I filled out the forms saying I was still reachable while away and that I was still ready to come back within 48 hours should an opportunity arise (I knew this was highly unlikely as I went from a Wednesday to Friday). I thought an exception would be made, but alas I lost three days of claim. It’s hardly a big deal but I did try to contest because I was corresponding with job prospects while on my trip via email, and even landed a freelance gig while away. I sent this evidence but got a call back telling me that the rules are fairly black and white so regardless of my evidence and reasoning, the fact that I was away essentially meant I wasn’t available to work.

Learning: Stay in Canada, or be prepared to pay.

You can work part time or freelance, but you’re basically volunteering

Midway through my claim, I decided that while pursuing full time opportunities, freelance work would be a great solution to supplement my income. After quite a bit of digging, I learned that I was welcome to do this, but that my EI would be reduced by 50 cents for every dollar earned. For example, if I made an extra $1,000 in a month, my EI was reduced by $500 – so the net effect is a $500 increase in income. Is it worth all the time and effort? In my case I decided it was, for the contacts I’d make, the portfolio I’d build, and the gap in my resume I was able to successfully fill by becoming an entrepreneur.

Additionally, the first time I claimed income, I had to speak to a ‘self employment specialist’ over the phone to explain my situation, the nature of my work, and the hours I spent. I didn’t learn until the end of the call, but the purpose of the call was to ensure my self-employment wasn’t hindering my search for a full time job. So…basically they didn’t want me to be doing it?

Learning: EI doesn’t seem to encourage self-employment or part-time work, as they see it as detracting from a job search. Check.

Become pregnant on EI? You may be entitled to additional weeks of entitlement

Alas, it happened. I started growing a human inside me while still on my claim. It made things weird, to say the least, and made the job search a bit trickier – it’s the reason I chose the freelance work alternative. During my latest call with EI, I was informed that while my total claim was 38 weeks long, I had a total of 52 weeks within which I could use the claim. This is an important distinction, as initially I thought I had a total of 52 weeks of payments.

Because I became pregnant during my claim, I was informed that my 38 weeks could be extended to include 14 weeks of maternity benefits, taking my claim up until the 52-week maximum allotment. I’m able to switch from regular benefits to maternity two months before my due date, so once I do that, my benefits get extended by 14 weeks. This was a huge relief to me, as it means I’ll at least have payment for a bit of time post-baby.

Learning: If your life circumstances change, be sure to look into all your options as you may be entitled to additional coverage. 

You cannot go on two claims back to back

For instance, as much as I’d love to take my full regular EI and then another full year of mat leave EI, it just isn’t feasible. What’s funny to me, though, is that you need something like 600 hours (the equivalent of about four months of work) to qualify for another full year, yet working thousands of hours over the last few years doesn’t qualify you for multiple years. I again found this frustrating, but understand that many would abuse the system if this were allowed!

Learning: If you think you’ll need a second EI claim, try your hardest to secure work for a few months – due to something legitimate, of course, don’t abuse the system!

There you have it, folks. These are my key learnings from being on EI. It’s a love-hate relationship, but mostly love. After all, I’m lucky to live in a country with a social security net that allowed me to support my husband on a move, and also continues to support  me while pregnant. Don’t even get me started on the States and their idea of ‘maternity leave.’

If you have any other questions about EI, how to qualify, and what it entails, please drop me an email and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Thank you for reading!

The kids are all right: The cost of being a double income family in Canada

Part one of a two-part series comparing and contrasting the cost of being working versus stay at home parents in Canada

Two stripes. Plus sign. Smile face.

Regardless of the visuals attached to the joyous news, pregnancy and parenthood are sure to fill first-time parents with an overwhelming array of thoughts and emotions. If you’re anything like me, one of your first thoughts might be,

Are we financially prepared?

It should come as no shock that with the high cost of daycare, particularly in urban centres like Toronto and Vancouver, having one stay-at-home parent has become an attractive option for many new parents. Dual income families, however, still make up over half of Canada’s population. In fact, according to a study by Statistics Canada, 69 per cent of couple families with at least one child under 16 were dual income earner families in 2014 – a number that’s up from 36 per cent in 1976.

So, with the high cost of daycare, why do both mom and dad continue to work? There are a number of reasons.

  • Unless you make less than the average daycare cost ($1,676 for an infant in Toronto), there are still savings to be banked by continuing the daily grind.
  • You may save daycare costs by staying home in the short run, but it can be detrimental to career progression in the long run to take yourself out of the game.
  • Going to work is a welcome ‘break’ from home duties and allows you to exercise your intellectual juices.

The picture gets fuzzier with two kids, with your monthly cost potentially running upwards of $3,000 per month. Still worth it? For many, yes, as points #2 and #3 above still stand.

Running the numbers

With the assumption that one parent takes maternity leave for one year, there are four years prior to kindergarten in which a child may be put in day care.

Infant care (1-2 years) – $1,676 * 24 months = $40, 224

Toddler care (2-3)- $1,324*12 = $15,888

Preschool care (3-5) – $998*24 = $23, 952

Total cost of daycare over four years: $80,064 

This means that if you live in an expensive city like Toronto, you’re spending on average about $20k per year on daycare. It’s manageable for many, but double that to two children and it’s a different story. In a given year you may be spending up to $40k of your after tax income on child care.

What does it all mean? 

There are a few things to take away from the discussion around parenting costs.

  1. Think long and hard before deciding to have a child. You’re not entitled to one unless you can adequately care for him/her.
  1. Think you’re ready for parenthood? If so, you better have your financial house in order. Create a budget with measurable goals and timelines. If there’s absolutely no wiggle room in that budget, it might not be time for a little one. They’re expensive, after all.
  1. Consider the cost of raising a family in your city and whether you might want to relocate to somewhere with lower daycare costs, stable housing market, etc. See here for a comparison of daycare affordability across Canada.
  1. Compare, compare, compare, and only get what you need. Yes, parenthood is expensive but there are so many people that make it more expensive than it needs to be. For instance, do you need the Rolls Royce of strollers? What about cloth versus disposable diapers? Shop around and check forums to find out what you need versus what’s avoidable.
  1. Shop around for daycares. Compare prices but also quality and location and pick the one that’s right for you.

 Final note

 Becoming a new parent is a truly exciting time, and not one in which you want to be bogged down by the numbers. That being said, ensuring that you have a solid financial footing will allow you to truly enjoy the special moments without having to constantly answer the nagging voice in your head asking ‘are we okay?’ 

You don’t need a blog to become a successful freelancer

I love having a blog. From a personal perspective, it’s a great outlet to voice your opinions and also a way to hold yourself accountable for whatever goals you might have. From a professional perspective, it’s a way to showcase your work to potential employers, prospective clients, and so forth. In my case, my former employer liked the fact that I had a blog and I suspect it helped me stand out and get the job. I’ve sent out my link to prospective clients and they like the fact that I write consistently and have my own corner of the web.

…but you don’t NEED to be a BlogStar

Let me clarify. I see so many established bloggers make the shift to freelance work, and I think wow! They’re living the dream! They’re big famous bloggers that now make enough money to become entrepreneurs! I better hustle and become a big-time blogger too so I can be one of them!

Therein lies the misconception. 

For the past several months (years even?) I’ve adhered to the notion that I can’t become a successful freelancer until I have an established blog. I need a modest if not large following to even deem myself a credible writer or consultant. Lies! It’s all lies! These aren’t lies that I’ve been told, but lies I’ve told myself.

I’ve held myself up to a certain standard, and I’ve failed to launch as a result. 

But no more. If you read my long-winded post on Monday, you know that I’ve successfully launched a freelance career. By ‘successfully’ I don’t mean that I’m making mad cash, but simply that I’ve launched and have clients. This is something I never thought was possible at this stage in the game. I thought I’d have to establish myself online first and wait for the offers to roll in.

Don’t wait

Enough was enough, and I decided that I wanted to test the waters in freelance work. As such, I networked like crazy and told people I was now a freelancer and started asking for contacts. No one is going to know you’re available to do work unless you tell them. This is half the battle. I’ve come to realize that I don’t need to be an established personality online to bring in business. I need to be a capable professional with strong skills in the areas in which I choose to work. When you have a solid network of contacts that can vouch for both of these qualities, it does wonders to your potential for freelance opportunities.

As such, I’ve realized that I was missing the point. If you can hustle the old-fashioned way and prove your value, the opportunities will come.

…but being a BlogStar doesn’t hurt 

All that said, it certainly doesn’t hurt to run a high-traffic site, be deemed an ‘influencer’ and have brands come to you. I haven’t lost grasp of that reality, but I’m not sure when and if I’ll ever get to that level and I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I’ll be making my own opportunities my own way.

So, to anyone thinking of taking the plunge into self-employment, don’t wait until you’re famous. It may happen, it may not, and chances are it will take years. In the meantime, create a great pitch, contact your networks, and create a strong online portfolio or ‘About Me’ landing page online to highlight your qualifications (I’m still working on it!). These things alone will help you gain traction and build your confidence.

Good luck!

Have you been frugal-shamed?

There has been so much in the news lately about fat-shaming, thin-shaming, and even sweat-shaming (I am completely against the former two, but the latter sounds like attention-seeking to me), that it got me thinking…what about frugal-shaming? Are you too embarrassed to practice your frugal habits in public? There have certainly been instances where I have felt really awkward about making frugal choices, sometimes even opting out of them altogether.

Splitting the bill

We’ve all been there. You’re eating at a restaurant and you’ve ordered a small salad while the guest to your right got the catch of the day. Bill time comes around and you wonder if you should ask for it to be separated or bite the bullet and see how your friends handle the situation. If they suggest splitting it evenly, should you be the Debbie Downer that tries to split by item?

Solution: In order to avoid an awkward frugal-shaming situation, it’s often less awkward to tell your waiter at the start of your meal to please split the bill. You can mutter something about only having credit, if it makes you feel better. In fact, sometimes when a waiter sees that you’re a group of friends dining out, they’ll ask if you’d like the bill separated, which makes it even easier!

Ordering a drink

Sticking to my restaurant example, I often don’t order a drink because it tacks on an extra $7 to $10 to my bill and makes absolutely no difference to my level of enjoyment. I’m not a huge drinker and frankly, I don’t want to drink for the sake of drinking. While some frugal-shaming is brought on myself, in this case I feel frugal-shamed by my peers! Ordering no drink often results in strange looks and of course the inevitable ‘are you pregnant?’ After all, clearly only pregnant people don’t drink…?

Solution: None, there is no solution! I’ll have a drink when I feel like it and if I don’t, well, deal with it.🙂

Taking a cab

I typically don’t take cabs. I prefer to take the subway if it’s accessible, and walk if it’s close enough. To me, it’s just an unnecessary expense so I can probably count how many times I’ve taken a cab in any given year. That being said, not everyone is the same way. People love taking cabs for their convenience and especially when it comes to something like a night out, a cab is the obvious solution for getting from point A to point B. Sometimes it seems silly when our destination is a 15 minute walk away, but in large groups the scenario is typically ‘oh f*& we’re late!’ and a quick cab-ride ensues.

Solution: I just do it. Splitting a cab with a few people is generally not a huge expense and not something worth frugal-shaming myself over. At most, it will end up costing $40 to $50 split amongst a few people, and best case scenario is a few dollars per person. Hardly worth making a big fuss about or taking the subway/walking by myself.

Opting out of a big trip

It’s so tough. On the one hand there’s your student debt, car payment, rent, etc. etc. and on the other hand there’s YOLO. What is one to do? Should you tell your friends you simply can’t afford a trip because of X, Y and Z reason or should you bite the bullet and go along for the sake of FOMO, YOLO, ABCDEO….

Solution: If you’re in debt, I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t be taking trips. I haven’t been consistent with this school of thought in the past, as I’ve been to Europe (a few times…) on borrowed bucks and don’t really regret it. This one is a judgement call. It’s probably bad financial advice to say leverage your trip, but trips I took when I was younger (and had no money) were fun in a what that wouldn’t happen now that I’m older (and have more money). Can we say toga parties in Greece? There were a few trips I said ‘yes’ to that I regretted saying yes to after the fact, and as I got older I learned to say no. It’s perfectly fine to politely tell someone that it doesn’t quite fit into your budget at the moment.

Overall, social pressures can deem one to be frugal-shamed in a number of circumstances. While it’s important to enjoy experiences, it’s also important to stick to a budget and save, because saving is sexy. At the end of the day, it’s about making the call on what you value. Save on the things you don’t value (like drinking in my case) and splurge on the things you do (like traveling in my case). And never be frugal-shamed!

Have you ever felt ashamed of your frugal choices? 

Life update and a career shift

There have been quite a few dramatic changes happening over the last little while. As many of you know, I made the move from Toronto to Ottawa back in the spring, and things have been…evolving. At the moment, the future is unclear in terms of our permanent home and that has led me to take a cold, hard look at my career in the near-term and how I want it to look. More specifically, life changes have forced me to evaluate an alternative option that has been brewing in my mind for some time: freelancing.

It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time, and just didn’t know where or how to start. It seemed like an abyss of income uncertainty but also an opportunity for better work-life balance, location independence, and unlimited earnings potential. I’m also fortunate enough to be in a career (writing/public relations) that is fairly conducive to freelancing, and many of my peers do it with reasonable success.

Taking the plunge

A shift like this obviously comes with the fear of failure, but at the current moment I’m in the best possible position to try it out. I’ve moved to a new city where full-time prospects are limited, and I have time.  In other words, I’m not sacrificing a full-time income to try something risky. My plunge has been slow, but with a bit of networking (which I’ll talk about in a separate post) I’ve managed to land a few clients. This is huge for me, as it has indicated that this crazy idea might not actually be so crazy. I’m also in love with the idea that the more clients I find, the more my income will increase. Did I have that much control over my income working full-time? Not a chance.

My growing to-do list 

I’ve quickly realized that becoming an entrepreneur isn’t as easy as a snap of the finger. It means establishing myself as a serious business person. For starters, I need to do a complete overhaul of this blog. This means reviewing all of my content to ensure I only include the posts that best represent me, updating the design, and most importantly completely redoing my ‘About’ page and adding a ‘Hire Me’ tab. Blogging has always been an on-and-off hobby for me, but I’m looking forward to taking it more seriously and ensuring that my page is a professional representation of me, as it will be the first thing my prospective clients will see.

I need to learn the ins and outs of administration. I’m going to have to start invoicing clients soon, and for that I need to create an invoice template. I’ll need an organized way to log my hours, and I’ll need to put together sample project proposals to generate new leads. So many things!

Financial considerations

Making this decision of course means making a few investments in my business. Thankfully the capital outlay isn’t relatively huge, but there is certainly a cost attached to establishing myself as a serious entrepreneur.

Here are a few items I’ve either spent money on or plan to spend money on in the short-term:

  • Business cards – $30 including shipping from Vistaprint
  • Canadian Personal Finance Conference – $150 (I’m really looking forward to this as a great networking opportunity!)
  •  Website redesign – approx. $100 depending on the WordPress template I end up choosing
  • Email domain – approx. $80 per year if I decide to go this route and purchase my name or blog name for email

I’m not looking forward to discovering even more costs, but I understand that it’s all part of the cost of doing business.

But why?

I’m a fan of a full-time salary. I like going into work, seeing my colleagues, and having a general idea of when I’ll go home. I like benefits. I like knowing how much I’ll bring in each month. Did I mention I like benefits?

Dental plan! Pira needs braces. 

This decision would be a lot more scary if I weren’t married. Having one set income allows me some wiggle room in terms of income fluctuation, and I also have the perk of benefits through my husband’s work. It’s a luxury I don’t take for granted. The reason self-employment has always been appealing to me is probably similar to why it’s appealing to so many people. It’s the freedom that comes with controlling my career and everything related to it. This means controlling my salary through the work I bring in. It means controlling my hours and figuring out when I work best. It means eliminating my really crappy commute. Most importantly, it means giving myself flexibility when my family grows. It doesn’t mean working less, it means working smarter and working around my obligations. Sure, I won’t be able to completely separate my work from my life like I might be able to do at a typical 9-5, but I won’t be constricted by that very rigid work day.

All that said, I don’t know if it will work for me long-term. But now is the time to try. The worst case scenario is that it’s not for me and I go back to full-time employment with something to show for the gap in my resume. The best case scenario is that I’ve found a path that really and truly suits my life. And that’s something worth shooting for.

Onwards and upwards!

Are you self-employed? What has and hasn’t worked for you so far? 

Want to save money? Learn to do things yourself

Today is your lucky day. I’m about to share with you the only thing you need to know about frugality, and it will potentially save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars per year, depending on how extreme you choose to go. I’m not anywhere near where I need to be to really maximize on this idea, but here goes:

In order to save money, learn to do things yourself. 

The sky is the limit with this one. In my case, this meant learning to do a great decent job with my own hair and makeup for weddings when I had quite a few to attend. So many people outsource these tasks to the experts and can end up spending upwards of $100, but to me it’s an easy and fun one to practice and DIY.

For a recent wedding, I learned to do the following undo. It’s hard to see because my hair is black, but it ended up being a fancy-looking bun that only took about 15 minutes. The secret? Tons of bobby pins.

hair

Last year I had a few consecutive weddings to attend, so I decided to invest in Urban Decay’s Naked Palette. This wasn’t cheap, but has been the best makeup purchase I’ve made to date! I use it for just about every occasion (and would use it daily except I don’t wear eye shadow daily) and since it’s neutral I can do any lip shade with it. It’s such a great palette that it can make any novice look like a pro. To me, investing in a few great products trumps paying for a professional each and every time you have an event.

makeup

I apologize for the awkward selfie – but not bad, right?

What else can you DIY?

Like I said, the sky is the limit but I like to start small.

  • Alterations – Right now my mother is my seamstress, and I’ve managed to save quite a bit this way. In fact, she recently shortened a formal gown that the actual seamstress quoted $120 for! I’ll eventually have to learn to do hemming myself in order to save time and money.
  • Waxing – I once taught a friend how to wax her own legs (sorry for the TMI, gents) because she was paying through the roof at the salon and they didn’t always do a great job. This is an easy one, and I can’t imagine why anyone would pay for it.
  • Taxes – Many people have straight forward tax information, and can easily skip the accountant or H&R Block and file our taxes at home. There are tons of programs like TurboTax that help simplify the process and allow people to save quite a bit of dough.
  • Financial advice – There is certainly value in advice, and many people need it. If you have an interest in budgeting and investing though, I’m of the belief that you can do it yourself and map your own financial plan. Investing in the markets can be tricky if you don’t want to go in blindly (and I suggest you don’t!), but the extra effort and research is certainly worth it if you have the time.
  • Food – You all know it, but doesn’t mean I can’t remind you! Making your own lunch can save you so much money.

That being said…

There are a few areas where I’ve thrown in the towel and just cannot be bothered to DIY. After all, personal finance is about choice, right?

  • Eyebrows – See the sweet-looking pair of brows up there? That wasn’t me. I gave up doing my own eyebrows about a year ago, when I realized a lady named Mary does it so much better than I do. I spend about $10 each time and it’s worth every penny.
  • Exterminator – Just no. As a poor student, we bought traps for a few bucks. As a self-respecting adult, I will call an exterminator every time. Mice? NO.
  • Web design – As much as I wish I was good at this stuff, I’m not. When I eventually get around to updating this blog’s theme, I will certainly be enlisting help in the form of a designer or template theme. Good times!

There you have it. Over the years I’ve figured out what I can do myself and what I just can’t be bothered with. I’m continuing to learn, and I’m hoping as the years go by, I’ll have an impressive roster of skills ranging from sewing to car maintenance. We’ll see how that goes…

Have you saved money by learning to do things yourself? What are you willing to pay for? 

Save as if you’ll stop earning tomorrow

I came to a very interesting realization this week.

My earnings have steadily decreased for the last year and a half. 

This was not exactly the most welcome revelation, but it’s the reality of my world today. How did it happen? Easy. I got married in May 2014, and decided at that point to quit my side gig. I wanted to enjoy my weekends, and my side gig was quite far from the area we moved to. I was happy with the decision, but effectively took a 30% pay cut. This past May, I moved to Ottawa for my husband’s job – this time taking another large hit by giving up my full-time income and going on EI. As such, I’m now bringing in about half the amount I once did. I hope to change that soon, of course, but for the time being I need to work with what I have. Thankfully, two incomes is better than one.

There are a few things I’m glad I did over the past several years, and really feel that these actions have softened the blow of a truncated income.

Always be saving

The last few months haven’t been easy, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to fiercely save when your earnings are high and your costs are low. For many people, including myself, this is during your 20s when you likely don’t have the added burden of mortgages, childcare costs, etc. Your 20s are also a great time to take on a side hustle, thereby increasing your income even further. At the time, I felt like I was stuck on a giant hamster wheel, working day in and day out without a moment to spare. It was worth it in the end.

I saved as if I might stop working at any moment. The reason I did this was simply because I could. I’d sometimes take on an extra shift on the weekend, wondering if I was in my right mind to work even more hours. But I knew there was an end in sight, and that every little bit I did in that moment would set me up for future success.

Pay down your loans before taking on additional commitments

I often get down on myself because I’m not making as much as I once did. To help myself snap back into reality, I remember the hard work I put into paying down my debt and putting together a solid savings buffer. These are things that I feel are essential before taking on any sort of commitment, whether it be marriage, children, or even pet ownership. After all, if you haven’t taken care of yourself, how are you supposed to form a partnership with or take care of another human (or fur baby)?

Grow your wealth

What good is accumulated wealth if you don’t plan to grow it? Putting 10k in your chequing account is the equivalent of stuffing 10k under your pillow (granted you have a really big pillow that fits 10k under it). If you don’t have an immediate need for the 10k, learn how to grow it and manage it through a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, mutual funds and/or ETFs. You’ll see your savings grow (hello, dividends!) and that will help you rest at night if you’re ever in a situation where you can’t rely on your income from work.

Don’t spend on things that don’t matter

I could be a Fendi bag lady with a shiny wardrobe full of high-end clothing and designer shoes. But does any of that matter if I’m flat out broke? Sure, I enjoy the odd designer piece but I can honestly say I don’t remember any of the items I coveted in my 20s. They don’t matter. Having a solid savings account matters. This isn’t to say I didn’t buy a nice item or two or take any trips, but the nice items are things I still have and value and the trips provided memories I will always value. Of course there was a time when I spent quite a bit on things that didn’t matter, and looking back I’d rather have banked the money. Live and learn! Some of the nicer things I do have, I plan to sell on eBay. Simplify, simplify, simplify…

I truly believe that our greatest asset is our ability to work and earn money, but I’ve also learned to never take that money for granted. A great number of circumstances can cause that well to run dry (layoff, illness, personal move – just to name a few) and it’s important to be prepared.

Enjoy the fruits of your labour, but don’t squander. Abolish all debt. Don’t just save your money, grow your money. And have a glass of wine, on me.

Tripping on a dime: a mother’s guide to frugal travel

The following is a guest post from my good friend Trish, who shares her tips for keeping vacation costs under control. It can be tough with a family, but judging from all the traveling she has done this year she clearly makes it work! 

Ah summer and the vacationing is easy, or is it? Taking time off work is essential but it can be tricky to make the most of that time out of the office if you are on a budget. Let’s face it, staycations are great and all, but sometimes you just want to get away.

As a divorced mom, raising two teenage girls can be EXPENSIVE to say the least, so I have to be careful with my vacation choices but I do still want to build great family memories with them.

When my 15-year-old daughter suggested a hiking trip in the mountains I originally balked at the potential cost, especially since we already had our vacations planned and budgeted. But once I calculated some things, I realized it could be done more economically than I had originally thought.

We ended up going to Banff National Park and hiked into the backcountry for three nights/four days to get up close and personal with wildlife and the mountains. The trip was amazing and surprisingly didn’t set me back as much as you might expect. A lot of credit goes to good planning and some solid budgeting strategies.

Here are my top tips for keeping vacation costs under control:

Book your flight early and choose the “firm” option: Once we knew we were going, I checked out all my airline options for flights from Toronto to Calgary. If you take flights at less popular times of the day and are even willing to do a stop-over, you can cut costs dramatically.

Be flexible on rental car places: You don’t have to choose a name brand rental car agency. In Calgary there are about four of the popular, more costly options that are located directly in the airport but if you are willing to go off-site (and use the free shuttle service the rental agency offers), then you can save up to 30 per cent off the cost of a rental car. Even cheaper? Use public transportation, there are lots of buses that go right into Banff and Lake Louise.

Consider camping for accommodation: Nothing is more economical than being willing to sleep in a tent. Since we were going to have our gear, I choose to book us into a campground near Lake Louise for the night before we started our big backcountry hike. With hotel costs in the area upwards of $400 for high season, the $41 a night cost for the campground was an incredible bargain.

Take advantage of children under 16: My daughter is 15 so that allowed me to book the backcountry site for her at no charge. With only myself to pay for, it cost only $41 for three nights in the backcountry. If I had stayed at any hotel, those three nights would cost upwards of a thousand dollars. WOW.

Use the grocery store: Obviously when we were backcountry camping/hiking we had to rely on the food on our backs, there aren’t restaurants in bear territory! But even in town we utilized local grocery stores for snack, breakfasts and lunches. And with the money we saved on not eating out, we indulged in a somewhat fancier meal on our last night. Salmon, yum.

Buy used: Sure you need lots of camping gear for a trip like this, but that’s where Craigslist and garage sales can be your best friends. Lots of people are always off-loading used camping equipment so there are bargains to be found. But start early, it can take a few months of looking to find exactly what you need. And be sure to check the equipment and even try on backpacks to check fit before you make the transaction. Want to do it even cheaper? Borrow equipment from a friend!

There’s no doubt a camping vacation isn’t for everyone but for us, it was a wonderful memory-filled trip of a lifetime. It may have been over and above our regularly planned trips for the year, but thanks to some good planning, it didn’t push the budget too far over the edge. And I think I lost a pound or two hiking up those hills! #winwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On being cheap

Note: I’ll be slowly migrating some of the content from my previous blog over here, as I don’t want to lose some of the really fun (if I do say so myself) content I had built up over some time. This is a piece that was previously posted in 2013. 

It has been discussed time and time again, but recently it has been bugging me: being cheap.  Here in the PF community, I like to think we’re a frugal bunch – not a cheap bunch. This is why it bugs me when people can’t make the distinction and plague society with their flat-out cheapness. Wtf?

Just don’t.

…on going out to eat

At the restaurant where I used to waitress on weekends, there was a young family of four that came in every Saturday. I always get stuck with this group and I hate them for a few reasons:

  • Our receipts had a survey link at the bottom that you can fill out for a free appetizer on your next visit. This is fine and a great way to enjoy a free app, but they do it EVERY SINGLE VISIT. The point of the survey was for us to assess the quality of our food, service, etc. Having the same people critique the same food and the same service every week did us no benefit beyond the first, I don’t know, 100 times? This is purely exploitative of the system, I think.
  • They order three waters and one pop. The pop is bottomless. Enough said?
  • They order one kid’s meal for TWO KIDS. The kid’s meal is tiny. Why are they making the poor kids share one?
  • The woman worked for the same chain of restaurants so she used her discount card, which gave her 20% off. Of course this was fine as that’s what it was meant to be used for. But between exploiting the survey and using a discount card, a meal that would easily be $45 ended up being $25.

I don’t know about you, but when I use any sort of discount at a restaurant (coupon, group deal, etc.) I make sure to tip on the entire amount. I think it’s embarrassing to go into a restaurant, exploit every type of discount, and tip a whopping $4 for a table of 4. I understand that some people don’t have an abundance of disposable income, but if I don’t feel like I can afford to go out and enjoy a meal, then I don’t go out and enjoy a meal.

Of course having worked in a restaurant for over three years, I can write a whole blog post (or book) on cheapness in restaurants but I’ll leave it at that for now!

…on shopping

I love me a good sale!

I love me a good sale!

I know a few people that do this, but to me buying a dress and wearing it to a party and returning it the next day is cheap. (Update: Since writing this post, I did this once. I had to go to an impromptu event after work and I was wearing jeans. I really didn’t have a need for a new dress, but had to get one. I chose a simple black dress and ended up returning it. Excuse me while I go hang my head in shame.)

A coworker of mine told me that her mother uses appliances from department stores until they’re completely worn down and then exchanges them for new ones. She gets away with it. This is cheap.

Bargain hunting (even if it takes you hours!) is frugal. It doesn’t involve wasting people’s time, scamming the system, or generally being a burden to the world in order to save a few bucks.

…on being social

Going to a potluck and bringing a bag of chips when everyone else has made extravagant salads, dips, pastas, etc. is cheap. There is nothing wrong with bringing snacks but I try to ensure that the price will roughly match what everyone else is bringing (i.e. a bag of chips with a homemade taco dip…yum!)

Going to a potluck and bringing nothing. Ummm! Cheap and awkward.

Allowing a friend to cover a meal and never reciprocating. Cheap.

I invited a friend of mine over for dinner and she insisted on contributing to groceries. I did not allow this because to me, inviting someone over for dinner means I’m treating him or her to dinner. Allowing her to bring groceries would have been cheap in my opinion!

Overall, I think the distinction between cheap and frugal is tact. I am all for going on a coffee date instead of a dinner date to be frugal. I am all for waiting for a dress to go on sale before buying it. I use group buy coupons. I walk instead of taking a bus or cab. None of these activities are exploitative or tactless. They don’t make a mockery of the system and they aren’t disrespectful to the people you care about. That’s where I draw the line.

Where do you draw the line between cheap and frugal? Do you have any cheapo stories? I’d love to know!

My biggest money mistake

Just let it out. You’ll feel so much better. Think of this blog as your secular haven and me as your non-religious figurehead. What has been your biggest money mistake?

I’ve always known what mine has been. Back in 2007, I graduated from a good school and thought I’d get a great job right away. I searched and searched – in retrospect not the right way as I did absolutely no networking and really never changed out of my pj’s – with no luck. I had a pile of student debt that was only piling higher with interest and no prospects. So, where does the money mistake come into play? I ended up out of work for about seven months, and I only got out of it by taking on a low-paying contract position with a large company. The seven months were some of the worst I’ve ever experienced, and in retrospect I should’ve taken something, anything, to get myself out of the house and start paying off my loans. It was only years later that I realized the beauty of the extra income that came with my waitressing gig, and imagine I had realized it earlier? I would have been out of debt significantly faster and I would’ve started building a positive net worth in my early/mid 20s rather than my late 20s. At the time I thought I was entitled to a high-paying professional job, and I wasn’t. As a fresh grad with no experience, I wasn’t entitled to anything and I should’ve hustled until something came along. The contract position I took was not ideal, but guess what? It led me to my first full-time position due to the transferrable skills I was able to demonstrate.

I share this lesson with anyone in their early 20s or even teens that is willing to listen. I envy them because they have the luxury of time on their side, and this is huge if it isn’t squandered away. Coming out of school, you might think the world is your oyster. You might think your dream job will descend upon you like a beautiful golden veil once you graduate. For a lucky few this might be the case. Most of us need to hustle hard and that includes being open to anything. It means getting rid of the mindset that waiting tables or bagging groceries or folding clothes is beneath us. It means doing whatever it takes to vanquish debt because debt is evil and needs to be vanquished quickly.

There you have it. We’ve all made mistakes, and while it would be just lovely to turn back time and unmake those mistakes, they are what shape us, right?

What has been your biggest money mistake?

 

How we knocked $300 off our credit card balance

As frugalistas and frugalistos, we all try to get the most bang for our buck when it comes to shopping. Whether it be groceries, electronics, clothing or anything else we might need, many of us will spend the time to comparison shop, clip our coupons and find the best deal.

But what about after the purchase? Do you continue to monitor the items you’ve already purchased? My guess is no, and I certainly never did – until now. Thanks to a super-frugal hubs and a stroke of serendipity, we managed to knock $300 off our credit card bill and it hardly took any work at all.

 The case of the fancy shoes

Hubs bought some fancy shoes at Nordstrom. He spent a few ‘bills’ on them and saw them as a one-time purchase that would benefit him for weddings, graduations, and other formal events for years to come. They made a dent in the credit card statement, but the dent was quickly forgotten. Then, one fateful Canada Day we decided to stroll into Nordstrom because it was raining, and lo and behold, what do we see marked down by 40 per cent? The fancy shoes. We decided it was worth asking whether we could get a price adjustment even though they were about two months old at that point and already worn. I can now vouch for Nordstrom’s world-class customer service, as the manager asked us to simply bring in the receipt and he’d do a price adjustment. I went in a few days later with the receipt, and sure enough with a few clicks of a mouse $200 got credited back to us. I was floored by how easy it was.

Big TV, big savings

Furnishing a new place is expensive. There’s no way around it, and when it came to purchasing a TV we decided to get a nice LG Smart TV from Costco. We got it at a great price, but about two months later hubs saw it marked down by $100 and asked for a price adjustment. Sadly, Costco’s policy states that a price adjustment can only be done within a month, but that returns can be done within two months, meaning we’d basically have to bring back the TV and repurchase it. Pardon? Hubs would have done this, but the price went back up quickly. After a bit of online price comparison shopping, we saw that the TV was in fact about $100 cheaper at Walmart, but knew that Costco wouldn’t price match with a different retailer. I came up with the idea of taking advantage of our credit card’s price protection feature, which essentially meant filling out a form and sending proof of the lower price. It took awhile (about a month) – but we recently received our cheque for the $100 difference!

Overall, we were really happy with the savings on both of these items, as it meant extra money to stash away into savings. This experience has taught me to always keep an eye on prices, even post-purchase because it could mean significant savings. Make sure you know the retailer’s price matching policies, and look for alternatives like credit card price protection if you aren’t able to seal the deal with the retailer. Most importantly, have no shame. I’m generally super awkward about asking for discounts, but there’s no shame in getting a great deal and banking extra cash.

Are you an avid price matcher? Know any other tricks for getting a great deal? I want to know!

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Travel diary and an important lesson in money: Peru 2015

We’ve all heard it. Travel is the one thing we spend money on that actually makes us richer.

Like many, I’m a huge fan of travel and see it as a life investment that makes me a better, more well-rounded person. I did quite a  bit of travelling in my early 20s, and toned it down significantly over the last few years in order to focus on debt repayment. I still took some really fun trips within North America, but in 2015, I was itching to experience something completely different again. I wanted to immerse myself in a world that was different from my own because to me, that’s the best type of travel. When the stars finally aligned and I found myself with the opportunity, I jumped at the chance to take my ultimate trip: a trek through Peru.

Peru in a nutshell

It wasn’t the most expensive trip I’ve taken but it certainly wasn’t the cheapest. In total I spent about $3,000 for flights and tour. Thanks to a generous Flight Centre gift card, I was able to get this down to $2,600. Aside from this, I allotted about $500 USD spending and only ended up using about half of it. In total, I came in at just under $3,000. In terms of spending, this could have been a cheaper trip, but since I was doing it alone I wanted to make sure I went with a reputable tour operator, even though that meant paying a premium. I ended up picking G Adventures and save for a little itinerary confusion near the beginning of our trip, they were well-run and our tour guide took great care of us all the way through.

Peru is a gorgeous country filled with rich history and some of the kindest, most humble people you’ll ever meet. Shopping in the markets is just an incredible feast for the eyes and quite friendly on the wallet too. I had the chance to chat with friendly shop owners and pick up beautiful textiles and crafts to bring home to my family and friends.

A few photos from the journey….

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Gorgeous Andes, can you see the llamas?

Mercado San Pedro in Cusco

Mercado San Pedro in Cusco

Machu Picchu...no words

Machu Picchu…no words


An important money lesson

After our first day settling into Cusco, we packed a separate bag to take on our four-day trek. I separated out my cash as I didn’t want to take too much with me, and ended up taking about 200 sols as that was the recommended amount. I didn’t take my credit or debit cards either, and I’ll chalk that up to paranoia, although in this case it was a fine line between over cautiousness and sheer carelessness – what was I thinking? I figured if we were going to be in the mountains for four days, my money should be more than enough, right? Yes and no. In the mountains, I didn’t need cash. Post-mountains, still away from my beloved wallet, I did. I needed cash for some meals that weren’t included in my tour, tips for the staff that helped us through our journey, and souvenirs if I chose to purchase them. I burned through my 200 sols in a heartbeat. I was back to absolute basics sans cards and had to pinch each and every penny. It was absolutely stressful and really put a damper on the last few days of my journey.

  • Money lesson #1 – Asking for cash is shameful but somehow borrowing from a card is not. It’s funny how on any given day we have the luxury of pulling out a credit card if we run out of cash. It isn’t a shameful experience and we figure we’ll pay it back someday. Having no credit card meant no back up plan. Of course once I ran out of cash, I did need money for certain things, and I had to rely on some friendly fellow tour members to lend a helping hand. It was incredibly uncomfortable for me to ask for a loan. Imagine how much less debt Canadians would have if we always had to awkwardly ask a friend for cash instead of pulling out some trusty nameless faceless plastic?
  • Money lesson #2 – Determine a want from a need as if you’re stuck in the mountains without a dollar to your name. Just do it. It made me realize I didn’t really need a drink with dinner. Or I didn’t need an extra scarf. Ask me if I miss any of the things I denied myself in those few cashless days. I dare you!
  • Money lesson #3 – You can be happy living on less. I’m going to digress a bit from my wallet story, and make an observation after visiting a few countries (including my country of origin, Sri Lanka) where a simple life is a norm. I’ve come to realize that oftentimes, it’s the people that live in simple villages at the ends of the earth that seem the happiest and most carefree. We bog ourselves down with stuff and we’re still not happy. Maybe we’re missing the point?

Do you love to travel? What was your most recent trip? 

A life update: knowing your limits and playing outside them

Productivity: it’s my enemy at the moment, and I need it to be my best friend. But how?

As some of you may know, I left my job in May to move to Ottawa, and I’ve just completed my second month here. While this isn’t a dauntingly large amount of time, I often struggle with inner turmoil about what I need to achieve and what I need to do to propel my career forward. I’m often conflicted between the ever-accumulating pile of job postings I must apply to (mind numbingly boring) and the omnipresent desire for self-employment. Should I move forward with drumming up freelancing business? Or should I focus on a traditional job search? Should I do both? In the end I sometimes do neither.

What my typical day looks like

Typical day

 

What I want my typical day to look like

Vision

This is a very rough approximation as each day isn’t exactly the same, but laying it out visually really shows me that I’m not using my days in a completely optimal way. I tell my friends that I haven’t been as productive as I’d like to be, and they tell me that I should just relax because I won’t always have an abundance of time. This is true, but it’s just not in me to be unproductive and let’s face it, time is money. Heck, up until a year ago I worked two jobs and though I was exhausted, I felt the utter satisfaction of knowing that I couldn’t possibly be doing more to increase my productive and income short of not sleeping.  At the moment, I feel like I’ve gone from 60 to 0. I’ve come to realize that while I’m an ultra-hard worker, I need structure and end results in order to remain productive. These are things I get when I go to work. I know what my end goal is on any given day, and I can structure my day around those end goals.

Does this mean I need a traditional full-time job in order to function productively? It appears to be the case, and it’s something I need to seriously tackle.

Building out my ideal day

It has taken me a long time to understand why I’m a voracious shark in certain situations and a floundering flounder in others. Unfortunately, circumstances dictate that I can’t always be in the shark tank kicking a$$. As such, I must implement tactics to my days in order to simulate the appearance of structure, and there are a few ways I plan to do that:

  • Daily/weekly goals – Upon perusing around the interwebs, I’ve found some great apps that will help me track my goals. This is a bit more fun than a simple list, and I’m hoping that helps my cause.
  • Schedule – At work, I didn’t always have a set schedule but I did have a reasonable idea of the layout of each day based on my Outlook calendar. Moving forward, I will create a calendar for myself each day that includes a time allotment for each activity on my pie chart.
  • Accountability – This blog! I started my first incarnation of this blog a few years ago to remain accountable to myself as I paid off my debt. Those days have come and gone (yay!) and my goals are quite different today.
    • I’d like to have a certain amount of money saved by mid next year
    • I’d like to find a job in my new city that challenges me
    • I’d like to take up a side gig to bring in extra income (or my only income if goal #2 doesn’t pan out)

That’s my story as it stands today. Have you ever experienced lapses in productivity? How have you overcome them? I want to know!

How a side gig changed my life

There is quite a bit of chatter about side gigs in the personal finance community, and rightfully so. Cutting spending is one way to save money, but making more money is an even better way. I mean let’s face it, there are only so many social activities and lipsticks I’m willing to cut out! My side gig came about as a result of my life situation in 2010, and I’m very thankful for the way it all played out. If you want to learn more, grab a glass of wine and settle in (hint: long post ahead).

From the beginning…

In the summer of 2010, my life was a big ol’ sticky mess. My personal life was in shambles, I was absolutely miserable at my full-time job, and generally at a crossroads in life. I decided to quit my job with nothing else lined up, but I did have acceptance into a PR program in the fall (three months away). I took the summer to just generally be awesome and enjoy life. Come July, I had to make a decision. It had been a lifelong dream of mine to visit Paris for an extended period of time and improve my French skills. With a pile of debt on my plate, no income in the foreseeable future and tuition fees to pay, it wasn’t a fiscally responsible decision. On the other hand, I had time on my side. I had a full month until school started, and really as a grown up, when does that ever happen? It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I basically told myself that if I chose to go to Paris and deplete my very modest savings account, I’d need to take a part-time job during the school year to sustain myself and not go further into debt. If I didn’t go to Paris, I’d use the savings account to sustain myself. Responsible, right? Little did I know that taking the part-time job would do so much more than simply sustain me during the school year. In turn, aside from the obvious reasons of beauty, culture and language – Paris was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

The side gig

I guess at this point it wasn’t a side gig but simply a gig. I should have mentioned that when I decided that taking on a part-time job was an option, I knew with some certainty that I’d be able to get one through a connection. I had always wanted to waitress and as luck would have it, I had an old friend that worked at a restaurant near my home. She was willing to pass along my application and within a few days I had a job. With no waitressing experience under my belt, I started as a host. This actually worked really well with my school schedule because the hours were short (about three to four hours a night), the job was low-stress and I only worked a few nights a week. At minimum wage the pay wasn’t anything to write home about, but it provided me with some income each month so I didn’t need to take on more debt. I made friends and had a lot of fun. About eight months into the job I felt fairly comfortable in the role and asked if I could take on some waitressing shifts.

The side gig

Joy to the world! The timing couldn’t have been better. At this point in life, I had finished school and started a barely paid internship at a digital agency. The job was downtown, so there’s no way I could’ve done my weeknight shifts as a host, and someone already had dibs on the weekend hosting shifts. Thankfully as a new server, I was able to take the weekend shifts serving and made so much more than I did as a host. I worked at a casual eatery, and I’m sure I’d make more at a fancy downtown restaurant but I was happy bringing home $50-100 a night in tips. When I worked full weekend days I’d sometimes take home $200 but it was hard work. Oftentimes I’d work full days both Saturday and Sunday and end up making at least $500 including wages and tips. I kept telling myself I would leave, as working full weekends was absolutely draining, but I just couldn’t walk away from the money. I eventually landed my first full-time job and continued waitressing. At this point, my side gig still net me about 30 per cent of my overall salary. Nothing to shrug about. My full-time salary was entry level and fairly modest, so I knew I wouldn’t have been able to save anything sizeable on that alone. Everything I made waitressing went straight to the bank. I’d often make $1,000 a month and sometimes up to $1,500 – working two days a week. I made the most during the holiday season and it was a great way to offset some of my holiday spending.

The pros of my side gig

  • First and foremost, the savings. Adding approximately $12k to my income for four years enabled me to save quite a bit and pay for my own wedding. At the moment I have a healthy bank account and I know that a huge reason for that is my part-time job. For that, I’m forever grateful.
  • The future value of money. Not only was I able to save an extra grand a month, but much of that extra haul was invested and I was able to take advantage of a few really great stock market years.
  • The curbed spending. One thing that people don’t always think about is the fact that if you have two jobs, you really don’t have time to spend money. Shopping often stems from boredom, so spending your time working instead of well, spending, is a very effective way to increase your net worth.
  • The change of scenery. The experience went beyond the dollars and cents. Spending time interacting with customers and running around multi-tasking made me better at my day job and provided a welcome change of scenery from my day-to-day life in an office. Some days were stressful, but I loved the comfort of knowing I could leave at anytime if it wasn’t right for me anymore.
  • ‘Sorry, I’m working.’ It’s a great excuse to get out of anything you don’t want to do. Seriously.

The cons of my side gig

  • Loss of the weekend. I really didn’t have time to do anything. This was somewhat curbed by the fact that I could easily book off any dates that were important to me for weddings, trips, etc.
  • The physical strain. Waitressing is gruelling. You’re often balancing several glasses or dishes, you’re expected to do ‘side duties’ that involve clearing very heavy washed plates and dishes, and you’re running around all day. I’d often find myself absolutely drained by the time I got home.
  • Time away from the bf. This part was hard. He was very understanding about it and obviously it worked out okay because he’s the hubs now.

Clearly the pros outweighed the cons, and that’s why I found it so hard to leave. As my wedding crept up last spring, I decided it was the right time to leave. We were moving further away from the restaurant, and frankly I wanted to spend the summer with my new hubs. I’m glad I left when I did, but I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities I was afforded thanks to my side gig.

Have you ever had a side gig? Did you love it? Hate it?

Top five friend date ideas that won’t break the bank

Anyone that has friends and likes to see said friends on a regular basis knows that keeping a busy social calendar can not only be incredibly hectic but also very expensive. When I lived in Toronto, it wasn’t unusual to have two to four dinner dates lined up in any given week. Based on a (very) conservative estimate of two $20 meals per week, this amounts to over $2,000 per year. Pardon?

It got to the point where I’d dread the moment someone suggested dinner as the default date option, and I’d even hesitate about reconnecting with an old friend because I’d know it would ultimately lead to additional spending. Thankfully, I came to my senses and bit the bullet when it came to being honest. Oftentimes we’re embarrassed to just say ‘I can’t afford it,’ but these are the very words that will save you money. I found that when I was finally honest, my friends were incredibly understanding and accommodating. I’m sure many of you frugalistas and frugalistos have experienced a similar conundrum occassionally, and so I’ve put together a list of frugal date ideas that are either free or very close to it. Please note that I’m not just yankin’ your chain – I’ve done all of the below and they’ve all made for super fun times!

Workout buddies

Setting a regular date each week is a great way to catch up with a friend while working toward your fitness goals. Multitasking FTW! If you both have a gym membership, this could be a fun class, or if not there is always an abundance of great deals on group buying websites. Want to keep it absolutely cost-free? Take a long walk or jog on a nice day!

Coffee date

This is an obvious one, and like I previously mentioned, it just takes some honesty. It now comes very naturally for me to say something like ‘Look, I’ve been spending a lot lately so do you mind if we do a coffee date instead of dinner?’ After all, it’s the catch up with a good friend that you’re making time for, not the food. A good friend will understand – I promise.

Free gallery/museum nights

If your city has an art gallery and/or museum, look into the weekly promotions. Often there will be one night of the week with free admission to help encourage attendance. This is a great way to take in some culture while catching up.

Picnic in the park

If there are a few of you, why not do a cute picnic in the park? Each person could be responsible for a snack or beverage or just split the cost of a few items. This is a lovely way to spend an entire afternoon of bonding without spending more than a few bucks each.

Tuesday movies

Anyone that knows me knows that I LOVE cheap Tuesdays. If you haven’t heard of cheap Tuesdays, we’re not friends. We just aren’t. Or we could become friends, but it requires coming to cheap Tuesdays with me. For those of you that don’t know, most theatres offer discounted admission on Tuesdays. If you aren’t sure if your local theatre does it, give them a quick call to double check. I love heading to the movies on Tuesdays with friends and sneaking in a quick gossip session before and/or after.

There you have it – tried, tested and true.

Do you have any suggestions for fun, frugal friend date options? Let me know!

Price Match Guarantee

How to Price Match Like a Pro

 

 

Price Match Guarantee

The following is a guest post from our frugal friend Jini, grocery shopping aficianado .

Price matching, where have you been all my life?

At the grocery store, I have been noticing customers in the check-out line partaking in price matching. They bring flyers from competing grocery stores and the cashier overrides the price with the sale price from the other store. Pira mentioned this phenomenon known as price matching in one of her earlier posts as a way to save HUGE on your grocery bills.

I shop at Superstore which is owned by Loblaws and I love shopping there for the low prices and the variety. Food Basics has low prices but their variety is subpar. Sobey’s has a fancy store, but it is maze-like and the prices are way too high. FreschCo has no room to manoeuvre and I am always hitting people with my cart. Whoops….sorry!

All of these stores do have some great deals from time to time. Now, due to price matching I can shop all the deals without having to actually go to the stores.

Here are my price matching strategies that will help save you time, frustration and most importantly money at the check-out:

  • Be organized at check-out. Have all your flyers ready with the sales you want to match. I prefer to separate my price matched items from my regular priced items because it takes time to peruse my flyers and for the check-out employee to override the price.
  • Price match same or similar items. It’s easier to price match items with the same description than those items which say “selected varieties only”. It takes out the guessing and reduces time at the register.
  • Have a game plan. Knowing exactly what items you want to buy will save you time at the store. Circle the sales in the flyer before you head to the store. I also like to organize items by department – produce, dairy, etc. – to minimize my wandering time.
  • Know the policies. I know that Superstore doesn’t price match specials like “Buy one get one free” or “2 for $5”. Price matching only applies to lower pricing on single items – the sale price is $2 instead of the regular price of $5. However,  you can purchase multiple items at the sale price resulting in big savings.
  • Print flyers online. I don’t get flyers delivered to my house which I now realize is both a blessing and a curse. Superstore does accept printed flyers from the Interweb. A good site to print flyers from is Smart Canucks.

Last but not least, have fun and enjoy the savings! Although price matching takes more work, it can result in big savings. I estimate I saved about $20 a week due to price matching on items I would have bought anyways at the regular price. If you grocery shop once a week for a year, that adds up to over $1000 in savings! My plan is to use the savings to go on a well-deserved vacation with my hubby!

Do you price match? What are your strategies? Let us know in the comments below.

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I’ve joined the Yakezie Challenge

c-125-yakezie-01Alright. It had to happen eventually, and here’s the reason. As someone that has been blogging on and off for several years now, it’s obvious I’m afraid of commitment when it comes to achieving goals. I have no problem dreaming up big dreams, but when it comes to execution, I get absolutely petrified of the unknown and I essentially fail to launch. Blogging is a perfect example of this. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with this fact, but now that I have, it’s not something I plan to accept. It’s something I want to face head on, determine why and forge ahead.

Of course that’s an issue for a whole other post. For now, I thought the Yakezie Challenge would be one of the first steps in keeping myself accountable. For those of you that don’t know, Yakezie is an awesome network of lifestyle and personal finance bloggers, and in order to join I need to write regularly and get my Alexa Ranking to under 200,000 within six months.

At the moment, I’m at 13,277,291. Yikes. I have a ways to go. I’m looking forward to the challenge and meeting all of the awesome bloggers in the network.

To the races!

 

Thought I was exaggerating?

Gift cards: love ’em or lose ’em?

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Me with very little cash and an abundance of gift cards

 

After going through my George Costanza wallet, I realized that I have nine gift cards totalling over $400. Yes, you read it here. My name is Pira and I am a gift card hoarder. I don’t begrudge my friends of the kindly act of gifting me these gift cards, but I’m on the fence about how I feel about them. I’ve become more and more selective of what I spend my money on and where I choose to spend it, and I can’t bring myself to spending money (even free money) on things I don’t need. Take that, consumerist culture. While I’m by no means a minimalist, the daunting task of ridding myself of debt did a huge number on my spending habits, and gift cards seem to be pressuring me to regress to past ways. For instance, $20 at Banana Republic may buy me half a top, and in the end I spend money I wouldn’t have spent otherwise.

As a result, I constantly carry over $400 in the form of gift cards in my wallet, and it’s money I can’t bank and watch grow. It’s money that simply screams spend, spend, spend! What should I do?

Thought I was exaggerating?

Thought I was exaggerating?

Gift card swap 

I recently discovered cardswap.ca which will actually buy your gift cards from you. Great, right? I thought so until I entered the retailer and value of a few of my cards only to find that I would lose a lot of the value of my cards. For instance, my $150 Pottery Barn/Williams Sonoma card would get me a cool $105. No thank you. That being said, cards to more sought after (?) stores such as the Gap or Apple will snag you about 85 per cent of card value. This isn’t a terrible deal, and you can offset some of the loss in value by purchasing cards for products/services you’ll definitely use, such as gas or groceries!

Regift

I’m generally not a fan of re-gifting because why would I want to give someone something that I don’t like myself? In this case, however, the gift isn’t a product but simply cash toward a product. I don’t think this is a terrible idea. Alternately, why not purchase gifts with the gift cards? Does that count as re-gifting?

Just use them

I could just go on a shopping spree to Pottery Barn, Indigo, LCBO, and so on. Right? I’ve tried this – believe me I’ve tried! I…I just can’t.

Because I’ve gotten myself to this desperate point in my life where I am bogged down with gift cards (#firstworldproblems I realize) I want to get your take on them. Do you love them? Hate them? Wish people would just give you some cold hard cash? Wish people would give you nothing at all?

Opinion: How to recession-proof your portfolio

The first half of 2015 saw sharply lower oil prices and contracted GDP, so it’s no surprise that many pundits have stated that Canada is now in recession territory. It’s certainly not a positive thought, and may raise red flags for those with high exposure to domestic investments. Is it time to sell? Buy? Just stay out of the market altogether? As a DIY investor, these are the questions that run through my head on a daily basis, and below I’ve outlined a few of the ways I attempt to deal with uncertainty.

Take a long-term approach

It’s a known fact that stock market returns increase over the long run, but this means taking a long-term approach (i.e. 10+ years) and being able to stomach short-term fluctuations. If this simply isn’t possible based on your risk tolerance, it may be wise to look into investments with guaranteed returns such as GICs or bonds, and at the very least keep a good chunk of cash on hand in a high-interest savings account. If the bulk of your savings are for purchases within the next few years, it may be wise to reduce exposure to the markets and keep your money where you can see it and control it.

Dollar-cost averaging

There are arguments for and against dollar-cost averaging, which basically means consistently putting money into your investments over time versus in one lump sum. For those of us that are squeamish, I think it’s a sound way to mitigate risk by taking advantage of low prices during slumps, while not feeling too bad for purchasing high. The markets right now may present some attractive buying opportunities for those that are brave.

Go global

Prior to this year, the markets were on quite a bull run, and I thought I was doing great. Little did I know, I had made the mistake of keeping my investments within Canada and as such, missed out on the even higher returns that were happening south of the border. This year in particular, I think it’s wise to look outside of the polar vortex (or sauna these days!) in order to truly keep a diversified portfolio. If you’re like me and don’t really know where to start with global stocks, purchasing ETFs is a great way to hold a diversified basket in any market you want. I’ve done a bit of this and so far, so good.

In whole, recession fears are not a reason to shy away from the markets. I’m of the belief that it’s always better to invest than to stuff money under your pillow. Since creating my stock portfolio back in 2012, and even accounting for the slump of the first half of 2015, I’ve been able to increase my net worth by over 20 per cent, and that’s something that wouldn’t have happened if I never started investing. I’m so thankful for what it has done for my overall savings, and I can assure you I’m not an expert. It just takes time, research, and a lot of patience.

Many friends have asked me how they too can start investing, and I promise to write a series of posts that outlines it from the very beginning.

How are your investments doing? Do you have any tips for weathering market storms? Let me know! 

Our condos in the early days of furnishing

Our big move: why we decided to rent our condo

To buy or not to buy – that is the question:

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous maintenance fees
Or to take arms against a sea of landlord woes
And by opposing end them.

Our condos in the early days of furnishing

Our condos in the early days of furnishing

Rent versus buy. It’s the age-old question (just ask Shakespeare), and one that has been plaguing young Canadians through recent years. As a recently-transplanted Ottawa resident, I was pleased to see that Ottawa home prices appear to be far more stable than Toronto. As a trigger-happy young-ish person, I was also eager to make my first home purchase. It’s the grown up thing to do, right?

Let me backtrack. I made the move to Ottawa in early June after my husband landed a job in the city. We decided to rent a brand-spankin-new condo unit just outside of downtown, and we’ve loved it so far.  While we aren’t directly next to anything, we are within a 20 minute walk of downtown, Chinatown, and other fun areas. Once I found out that units in the same building were going for mid-200s, I decided we had to purchase a unit. I’ve never been a proponent of the idea that renting sucks because you’re paying someone else’s mortgage. In fact, I think it’s naïve. While there is a modicum of truth to the idea, unless you are putting forth a sizeable down payment, it’s not nearly that cut and dry. But that didn’t stop me from potentially going spendy-happy. The proverbial carrot of home ownership was dangled in front of me and I was ready to take the bait like a rabid little rabbit. After doing some critical thinking and bickering discussion with the hubs we decided that it was the worst idea ever, and here are a few reasons why.

Our time horizon is uncertain

Hubs and I love Ottawa so far, but we don’t know if we’ll live here for five years, ten years, or our whole lives just yet. As such, it simply doesn’t make sense to commit to a home purchase. It’s realistic that our rent payments of $1,300 per month could end up being higher than a mortgage payment based on 20 per cent down payment, but taking closing costs and legal fees amortized over (potentially) only a few years, the difference is negligible and likely unfavourable. And don’t even get me started on maintenance fees.

An over supply of condominiums

After doing a bit of digging, it seems as though the condo market is oversaturated with new builds, similar to our Torontonian neighbours. New builds keep cropping up, and there simply isn’t the population growth to support the growing supply. Ottawa home prices are reasonable relative to Toronto, but from my understanding, the housing market has been stable for some time with no real spikes in demand. While initially the price tag seemed sweet to me, I realized that every downtown condo costs a similar amount, and there is no certain promise of large capital gains in the near future.

 Area development

We live in a neighbourhood that only recently started taking development plans seriously – in fact, if you punch our address into Google Maps, a large pit in the ground shows up. Ha! Part of my excitement about owning this property was the promise of growth. I thought that even if we were to sell quickly, we could see some nice price growth based on development in the area. On further consideration, this is an extremely optimistic, best-case-scenario view that may not be realized. While there are multiple bids for things like hockey rinks and grocery stores in the area, we have no idea which ones will get approved and what they will mean for the value of properties. There goes my dream of becoming one of those cool house-flippers on HGTV that make a sh*t ton of money! I also noticed that there are quite a few units in our building that have yet to be sold. If it’s really such a hot commodity, wouldn’t others catch on? Maybe not, but it got me thinking.

Overall, renting is a great option for us right now. Once we settle down and buy a home, we want it to be our long-term home. I can’t help but be woo’d by the idea of owning a place, but it’s certainly important to look at the situation from all angles. If you’re unsure about the dollars and cents of it all, here is a great calculator from the New York Times that can help you make sense of the numbers. In my case, I was right on the cusp of ‘better to rent,’ and that works for me. After all, I could barely commit to getting rid of my coveted 416 area code and I’m still sensing a bit of area-code-regret. Imagine the regret I’d feel from a $200k + purchase if it turned out to be a bad decision? No thank you.

Did you recently take the plunge into home ownership?  Why or why not?     

What are you grateful for?

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Today I was perusing videos on YouTube and happened upon this speech by David Chilton. He is the author of The Wealthy Barber and its sequel The Wealthy Barber Returns. He is also one of the dragons on CBC’s Dragon’s Den. Although he’s not my favourite dragon – that honour goes to Arlene Dickinson – he’s definitely one of my favourite speakers and authors. He’s also a Kitchener-Waterloo resident. Go K-Dub!

In this speech, Chilton tells us that he believes that Canada is a country full of complainers and that complaining is indeed our national pastime. We complain about things like standing in a long line up at Tim Horton’s and also our free – yes, you read that right, free – healthcare system. We complain because we don’t know how good we have it and we take our good fortune for granted.  I highly encourage you to watch his speech as it will change your perspective on life.

Chilton’s speech has certainly given me a lot to reflect on. I know that I can get bogged down in complaints with the best of them. Lately, I have been complaining more about minor inconveniences in my life. So I have decided that I will make more of a concerted effort to be grateful.

Fellow Canadians, I encourage you to do the same. Like Chilton says, we are indeed the lucky ones and instead of complaining, we should show our gratitude. We should also spread our good fortune to those who are less fortunate like those who have been affected by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa or those who are suffering from poverty.

I just read a book entitled Living On A Dollar A Day and discovered that about 2 billion people on earth live on less than two dollars a day. I am truly flabbergasted by this statistic. It makes me feel sad for our society as we are ignoring the large number of people who live in poverty everyday. It also made me realize all of the things I take for granted including electricity, running water, three meals a day and a roof over my head.

However, the book also shows that we can all take action and do our part to alleviate poverty in the world. This year, my husband and I have sponsored a child in India through the organization SOS Children’s Villages. We know that our small contribution every month will have a big impact on her life, allowing her to grow up in a safe environment and pursue an education.

Gratitude makes us kinder, more empathetic, happier and healthier. It makes us appreciate ourselves and others. Complaining makes us bitter and negative. Complaining might feel good for a while, but too much complaining is unhealthy and will drag us down in the end.  So why not raise ourselves up and show some gratitude. We all have a lot to be grateful for as Canadians. Once we realize this, we will be better able to make a lasting impact on the world and our fellow human beings.

What are you grateful for?

Careers 101: Planning for a career change

They say the average person goes through multiple career changes within a lifetime. A shift in career focus can be fuelled by a number of factors ranging from lack of job satisfaction to lack of demand in a chosen field. Whatever the reason, venturing into a new career can be stressful. What are job prospects like? Will I like it? Will I be able to afford going back to school?

Switching careers is a life-altering decision, and one that needs to be thought through with care. The gals of Frugalista Finance have been there and done that, and have compiled this step-by-step checklist to help you make sure you’re on the right track to career bliss.

1. Research salaries

So you’ve decided to make the switch and you have a field in mind. What is the average salary in this field? Do salaries start low and accelerate quickly? Or do they start high and cap at a certain point? Once you have an idea of this, think about your current financial situation and how your new salary will fit in. In my case, I was going into a field that I knew would likely require multiple low-paid internships before landing a full-time gig. At the time, I was living with my parents and knew that while not ideal, I could get by for at least a few months on a very low salary.

2. Research career prospects

You may be comfortable with the salary range of your newfound dream career, but what good is it if you can’t find a job? There are many ways to look into career prospects in your new field, the easiest being a quick search on Monster or other career sites. Another great way to get a firsthand look at a new field is to speak to someone in it. The best way to do this is to tap into your network. If you don’t already know someone in your chosen field, you’ll be shocked by how many of your friends or family members do. Put the feelers out by letting everyone around you know about your new career goal, and I assure you at least one person will be eager to introduce you to their neighbour, uncle, or best friend in the same field. Speaking to someone will not only give you insight into a new field, but will provide you with useful contacts once you graduate and start job hunting. A win win!

Now that you’ve done your research and confirmed you’d like to switch fields, what’s next?

3. Get your financial ducks in a row

If you’re going back to school, how much will it cost? Start earmarking money for school as soon as possible, and create a budget for the year. Do you have rent and house expenses to consider? Student loan payments? Will you need to take on additional loans? Can you afford to take on additional loans?

Spending will need to be curbed significantly in the short run, as you will be taking the double hit of losing a regular stream of income and paying for tuition. Ouch.

4. Get a part-time job

A great way to minimize the income hit is to take on a part-time job. This may mean heading back to the world of retail and hospitality where many of us spent the bulk of our high school years, but have fun with it! A few extra hundred can make a world of difference when it comes to spending and saving during your school year. When I decided to head back to school, I knew I needed to take on a part-time job to continue paying down student loans and not assuming new ones, and it made a huge difference as I not only earned regular income during school, but continued working weekends during my internships to help increase my income.

As we continue to incorporate careers into our content, we’d love to know which areas are of interest. Please let us know via email or in the comments!

These Travel Tips Will Save You Money!

I love travelling! Seeing new places, having new adventures, and meeting new people! What I don’t love is when the credit card bill comes and you realize you’ve spent a fortune on a vacation! In order to minimize the sticker shock, I have some handy dandy tips for saving on flights and accommodation:

  • Book your tickets early. Although you can save money booking last minute, if you want peace of mind, book your flight and hotel early and save money. I find three months before the trip to be the sweet spot for finding the best deals. Before three months, the prices are jacked up and when you are closer to the travel date, flights and hotels become more expensive as they start to reach capacity.
  • Don’t stay close to the city centre. When visiting both London and Chicago, I stayed at hotels in the suburbs and used public transportation to travel to the city core. I still had a great time and was able to experience all that those cities offered, but at a fraction of the cost.

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  • Hotels are not the only way to go. There are so many accommodation alternatives at the touch of your fingertips. Bed and breakfasts are usually much more affordable than hotels and often much more charming. Plus, they provide breakfast! Renting an apartment for the duration of your trip can also save you money since apartment rentals are usually cheaper than hotel rooms and you can save money by cooking your meals instead of eating out all the time. Other alternatives including renting a room in a house on airbandb, couch surfing, and glamping. The possibilities are endless!
  • Find an undiscovered place and save big. When I stayed in Paris, we were able to book a boutique hotel for 99 Euro per night that had fabulous reviews and was in a great location. When I looked into booking there a few years later, the prices had shot up to 300 Euro per night. What was once a hidden gem was not so hidden anymore! So if you’re lucky enough to find out about a place before it becomes mainstream, you’ll usually be able to score a great deal!

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  • Ask for an upgrade. Don’t be shy to ask for an upgrade, especially if you’re celebrating your honeymoon, anniversary or a special occasion. Worst-case scenario is they say no and you get the room you paid for. Best-case scenario is that you are upgraded to a much better room. I find the best time for asking for an upgrade is if you arrive later in the day. This way, the hotel has a better sense of what rooms are available which makes it easier for them to upgrade you if they are under-booked, which leads me to my next point.
  • Travel in the off-season. My husband and I went to Florida for our honeymoon right after summer vacation ended. Because it was the off-season, we got a great deal and the resort we stayed at was less crowded, making amenities like the pool much more enjoyable. Plus, we went to Disney World and because the kids were back at school, the lines were non-existent. A rare sight in the summer months!

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Hopefully, these tips will help you travel better and more often. If you have any travel tips, feel free to leave them in the comments below. Happy travels!

 

Putting the Pro in Professional – My Home Buying Experience

service_buyAs you know, I recently bought a home. I can happily say that my husband and I are out of boxes and are now enjoying everything that our new house has to offer. We have so much more space than we did in our tiny apartment and we finally have some outside space to enjoy the beautiful weather! Home ownership is a lot more responsibility and requires more work to be sure, but so far it has been very fulfilling – although I’m sure I’ll be singing a different tune when something breaks!

Our home buying experience was quite an interesting one. There were three major professionals who each had a part in our house purchase – our realtor, our mortgage broker and our lawyer.

Our realtor – Before I purchased my house, my hobby used to be scouring MLS listings. I had a pretty good idea about what was for sale in our area and which neighbourhoods were most desirable. However, I had NO IDEA how much a realtor could help us with the buying process. Basically, realtors have access to house listings before they go on MLS, so if you really like a property and want to see it when it’s first listed, you better have a realtor as they can make this happen. This is what happened with us. Our house was listed for 2 days before we purchased it…it didn’t even make it onto MLS!

We found our realtor at an open house and my husband and I clicked with her instantly. I like to make decisions based on my gut. If I experience the ICK factor when I meet someone, then I probably won’t be working with him or her. Since you’ll be spending lots of time with your realtor checking out houses, it’s essential that you find someone with whom you have a good rapport.

Our mortgage broker – Here is where that ICK factor comes in. We were using a mortgage broker from a big bank and we were just not comfortable with her. She was not listening to our needs and kept pushing us to buy mortgage insurance even though we felt we didn’t need it. She also pushed the bank’s credit cards, bank accounts and lines of credit. If we stuck with her, we would have had a mortgage as well as multiple products we didn’t want or need. ICK!

In the end, we decided to switch our mortgage broker. In doing so, we were able to secure a better mortgage rate. We also have a much better relationship with our new mortgage broker (who wasn’t trying to peddle products on us).

Lawyer – We’re lucky that Greg’s uncle is a lawyer. He helped us understand the paperwork and gave us a discounted rate for his services. Thanks to him, our experience with our paperwork – and there is a lot of paperwork – was quick and painless. No ICK factor here!

When we were first looking for a house, I felt that the home buying process was a bit overwhelming. I even felt like finding good professionals to help us would be overwhelming. However, once you have a good team of professionals on your side, the rest starts falling into place because you can seriously start looking for your dream house (and put in a solid offer when you find it). Although we’re done with home buying for a while, it was definitely a fun experience and it’s an amazing feeling to find out that the seller has accepted your offer! To anyone who is purchasing (or has recently purchased) a home, what steps did you take to find the right professionals?  Share your tips in the comments below!

Grocery spending: The dollars and sense

groceries

 

While getting married and moving into our dream beachfront condo has been great, it has also come with its own set of responsibilities. Constant cleaning (largely due to my long, dark hair constantly shedding on light-coloured flooring), cooking, and of course grocery shopping for two have become part of our regular routine. Domestic bliss, if you will.

Like any fiscally-responsible couple, we’ve been tracking our grocery spending, and found that we spent approximately $350 on groceries in each of our first two months of wedded bliss. I thought this was fine since we rarely eat out and never have to buy lunch at work, but hubby thought it was a bit high. I took to the interwebs to see how we measured up. According to one blogger, $400 is the magic number for a pair, while Mr. CBB budgets $235 a month. I also asked around and came to the conclusion that we were doing pretty well. Nonetheless, I started thinking of ways to cut down.

Meal planning

This is something I’ve done from the onset, and continue to do in order to save money and ensure we use up all of our groceries. It also takes a lot of the stress out of coming home and having to figure out what to eat. I typically do this only for weekdays because weekends tend to be a wildcard, and it’s also important to note that five weekday lunches and five weeknight dinners does not equate to ten different meals. The beauty of meal planning boils down to laziness for me. Making a few things that can be eaten for multiple meals saves money and time. Here are a few of my favourite meals on our rotation:

Sausage stuffed zucchini boats

Crock pot taco chili

Quinoa salad 

Freezing

I can’t stress enough the convenience that comes from freezing meals. You get the satisfaction of a home-cooked meal instantaneously, you can pop one out of the freezer when you don’t have lunch for tomorrow, and it tastes (almost) just as good as when you first made it. I have to admit we don’t do this a lot, but several weeks ago I made crock pot pulled pork and it was just too much pork for two people. I ended up freezing portions and over the weeks we’ve had a quick and easy lunch simply by taking it out of the freezer.  The pork shoulder cost about $10, threw in some spices, and ended up squeezing about eight meals out of it!

Price matching

A few weeks ago, a lady in front of me in line at the Superstore was price matching just about everything in her cart. I probably should have been irritated by how long this was taking, but instead I was fascinated. Is price matching a thing? After speaking to a few people, I’ve come to learn that price matching is a very common practice. So far, we’ve only done it once, but scanning flyers and comparing prices is now a regular Saturday morning routine. We may not be able to extreme coupon in Canada, but we can certainly price match!

Switching grocery stores

I’ve saved the best for last. The single most important factor in cutting down our grocery bill has been switching grocery stores. When we first moved in, Loblaws was the closest store, so we went there by default. Over the past few weeks, we’ve switched to FreshCo and our bills have dropped dramatically. Sure, certain stores have better produce than others, but we haven’t found a material difference in quality as of yet. As an example of the dramatic differences in price between grocery stores, I initially bought limes for a dollar a piece at Valu-Mart. A dollar!  A dinky little lime barely squirts out a dollar worth of juice, so needless to say I’m still bitter about that one. Some value that is, VALU-Mart. I then found them for 50 cents at Longo’s and thought that was a steal and bought copious amounts of limes. Finally, I found them for 10 cents at FreshCo. That’s 1/10 the price they were at Valu-Mart. And don’t even get me started on avocados.

Overall, our efforts have been successful. Midway through July we’re tracking at a modest $120 on groceries. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet, however, is health. I’m a strong advocate for healthy eating, and I won’t compromise our health in order to save money. I won’t stop buying things like quinoa or chia seeds just because they’re pricier than other items. I won’t stop buying vegetables, but I will look for deals on them. The challenge is balancing these two priorities, and we’re still trying to find our balance.

How much does your family spend a month on groceries? Do you have any tips to save money? 

Weddings: Save or splurge?

Jini and I revisited this blog a few days ago and hung our heads in shame as we realized that the last time we posted was December. This was not our intention and we’re sorry! We’ve been a couple of busy bees over the last few months, with weddings, subsequent married life, new jobs, and houses all vying for our time. All good stuff, but now it’s time to refocus.

The good news is, with all these new developments come new blog post ideas. I recently got married in a traditional Hindu ceremony with 300+ guests in attendance. Jaw-dropping for most Westerners but considered ‘small’ in my culture. With the sheer quantity of people, something’s gotta give or we’d be spending upwards of $100k easily. Unfathomable for this frugalista! During the planning stages, hubby and I had to decide where to spend and where to splurge.  The ultimate goal was to keep costs down while ensuring our guests had a great time and didn’t mock us afterwards. Mostly the mocking part.

Save: Centrepieces

Centrepieces were the bane of my existence for a good portion of the year prior to the wedding. I struggled to accept the idea that I needed to order ready-made centrepieces for $50-100 a pop. Since we were planning for 35 tables, we wanted to keep the cost of centrepieces down, as it wasn’t really a priority area. I don’t remember past centrepieces, and the large elaborate kind tend to irritate me because I can’t see across the table. Eventually I settled on purchasing dollar store vases, spray painted them gold, and ordered bundles of red carnations from a local florist to fill them. This worked out great, and while not the most ornate, they did the trick.

Unit cost: $14 ($2 per vase and $12 per bouquet) 

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Splurge: Limo

At a steep $200 price tag to drive me and my posse to the venue, you may not think this was the most practical decision; and you are most likely right. To be very honest, it wasn’t the most fun ride of all time either. Having risen at 4 a.m., I was tired, absolutely starving, and slightly nauseous. If I could do it over again, I would probably still splurge on the limo. It’s my wedding and I can limo if I want to!

Unit cost: $200

Save: Makeup 

Putting my makeup artist in the budget category doesn’t do her justice, but compared to some of the steep price tags I saw, she was a steal. I was referred to Andrea through a friend, and was told she was just starting out and that her prices were reasonable. Given that the first makeup trial I did (with a highly-renowned makeup artist may I add) resulted in me looking like a tranny and a potentially steep price tag, I was open to the idea. My trial with Andrea was amazing and I was happy to go with her for me and my bridesmaids. She did a fantastic job!

Unit cost: $100 (plus $50 per bridesmaid)

Save: Photography

Photography doesn’t come cheap, and everyone always says not to scrimp on it. While we still paid a pretty penny to get a good photographer, we certainly weren’t going to pick anyone upwards of $5,000. It’s important to have great photos, but hubby and I both decided that with the amount of competition out there, we could surely snag ourselves a great photography within our budget. And we did. Steve came recommended through a friend, and he was easy to work with and took great shots. We’re very pleased with the results.

Unit cost: $3,000 (including two photographers, engagement shoot, and album)

Splurge: Shoes

I’ve saved the best for last. Judge if you like, but my shoes may have been my favourite part of this wedding. It’s not everyday I can justify the purchase of gorgeous, sparkly, gold Kate Spade heels, right? I knew I wanted great shoes but also knew I couldn’t afford $800 Louboutins. These puppies were right in my price range and as a bonus, I got them on sale at David’s online. Of course there was the risk of purchasing final sale when I didn’t even know if they would fit but…these were worth the risk. The shoe fit!

Unit cost: $180

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And there you have it. These are just a few insights from my wedding, and I could probably write about ten follow up posts, but for now I’ll stick with this small window into my big fat Hindu wedding. It can be an expensive day, which is why it’s so important to keep a budget and track your expenses. Knowing how much we wanted to spend in each category made it so much easier when we were shopping around. We felt in control every step of the way.

While I’m sure there will be future wedding posts, Jini and I are happy to take any wedding planning questions in the meantime. Just drop us a line!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

buying-a-car

I really want a new car, but can I afford it?!

buying-a-carI just recently bought a house! YAY!!!! This has been a dream of mine since forever so it feels surreal that it has finally happened. This is one of the reasons for the blog hiatus! Stay tuned for some future posts about the process of buying a home and home ownership (P.S. It’s expensive so save your money now!). Another big purchase I have been mulling over is a new car.

Here’s the situation….

One of the main reasons my husband and I decided to split from our rental condo this year is because we couldn’t get a second parking space. Basically, the management was horrible and didn’t even know if there were empty spaces available. Rather than wait for them to get their shit together, we decided it was time for us to make a move ourselves. Because of their incompetence, I couldn’t even entertain the possibility of getting a car.

Also, my new house is a bit further from work than my rental was. In terms of commutes, it’s still incredibly short clocking in at 15-20 minutes depending on traffic. However, I live in a more suburban centre where most families have at least two cars and public transportation isn’t terribly reliable. Plus if I took the bus home from work, it would turn the short commute into an hour bus ride!

So here’s my dilemma…

Cars are freakin’ expensive! They are expensive to purchase and to operate. I just recently read an article in the Globe and Mail titled “The real cost of car ownership” and I realized that I hadn’t even taken into consideration deprecation costs. Apparently, the total costs of car ownership can range from $8,500 to almost $14,000 depending on the car that you buy. That’s a lot of money! Imagine the lovely trips or TFSA/RRSP contributions you can make with that money!

Having my own car will provide me with more flexibility and convenience for sure but it will come at a cost. Right now, my husband works from home and I use the car on the days he is not travelling for business. This means I usually get the car 2-3 times a week. Some days he can drop me off and pick me up from work depending on where he is going and his schedule. However, sometimes I have to rely on taxi rides and public transportation to get home.

I know this doesn’t sound soooo bad, especially to those who take public transportation every day. It’s definitely not bad in the summer when I love being outside and the extra time it takes to get home really doesn’t bother me. But in the winter, when it’s freezing and cold and I’m shivering at the bus stop wishing that I was relaxing in front of my new fireplace, that’s when it hurts the most!

I’m at a crossroads folks. Should I cave and get a new car? Should I try to see how long I can last sharing one car? Are there any other suggestions? I’ve looked into Car Share programs but they are not that budget friendly in the area where I live and their pickup locations are not that convenient either. Advice is appreciated, even if it’s “Suck it up, buttercup!”

Have money? Give it away!

Didn’t see that one coming from a personal finance blog, did you?

Kahlil Gibran once said,

And is there aught you would withhold?

All you have shall some day be given;

Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.

To me, truer words have never been spoken. We work hard to earn money, save money, and invest money. We work hard not to spend money. We should be working just as hard to give away money. In fact, it shouldn’t be work at all.

Before you guys start thinking I’m completely off my rocker, let me explain. Generosity makes us feel good. It makes other people feel good. My people would tell you it gives us good karma, though that’s just a bonus and shouldn’t be the sole purpose for our giving. Studies have even shown that spending money on others increases our long-term happiness levels. Last time I checked, spending money on ourselves provides instant gratification and nothing more.

As Kahlil Gibran so eloquently stated, everything we have will eventually be given. There’s no reason we can’t save and give, and there are far too many of us that do neither. In the new year, make it a rule of thumb to do both.

Cut down on daily coffee runs; take an old friend out for a drink.

Pack lunches for work, and use the savings to support your co-worker’s charity run.

Meal plan to eliminate food wastage and save on groceries; donate to a local food drive.

I’ve talked about making sacrifices, and I think sacrificing in the name of giving is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and for those around us.

This holiday season (and any other time of the year for that matter!) make it a point to give freely.

Give your time.

Give your money.

Give your stuff.

Just give.

koala

My love affair with TFSAs

koala

After aggressively hoarding money into my Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) for the past year, I am often left wondering why I didn’t take advantage of this Canadian tax haven earlier. Of course I quickly remember that the reason is I had no money…

Some people might say the best part of being in the green is having money to buy lots of clothes. Others might say it’s the freedom to eat copious amounts of fried chicken. To me, the best part of being in the green is being able to hoard cash and buy stocks within my TFSA. I will save my adventures in stock picking for another post, but right now I’d like to take some time to talk about why I decided to shun Canada’s other tax darling, the RRSP, in favour of the TFSA.

Although I’m sure most of you reading this are well aware of the nuances of both vehicles, a little voice in my head (shut up, voice!) is telling me that I need to at least slightly preface my thoughts with a brief comparison. The little voice is creepy, and kind of sounds like E.T.

  • TFSA contributions are not tax-deductible, but contributions and any gains are not taxed when you withdraw from the account.
  • RRSP contributions are tax-deductible, but when you’re old and gray, they will get taxed.
  • You are able to contribute a maximum of $5,500 per year to your TFSA, up to a maximum of $25,500 in 2013 if you haven’t contributed ever.
  • You may contribute the lower of 18% of your income for the year and the set limit for the year as prescribed by the CRA into your RRSP.

(Example: The limit for 2013 is $23,820, so if you make $40,000 a year, you may contribute $7,200 (0.18*$40,000) because this is the lower of $23,820 and $7,200.)

  • You may park your cash in a variety of instruments with either choice, including GICs, stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.

So, why the TFSA? Both sound pretty sweet.

The short answer: 

My TFSA allows me to save and grow money that can eventually be moved into an RRSP when I am in a high enough tax bracket to warrant it.

The long answer:

If you’re starting out in a new career, you’re likely in a relatively low tax bracket (unless you’re a child pop star), so why bother funneling money away into an RRSP to get back a refund that may or may not be spent on booze and pop tarts, then getting taxed again in your golden years? Squirreling away money is fantastic, but why deal with all the government noise in between only to net out to zero tax benefit? Yeah, thought so.

I am blissfully in love with my TFSA, and each month I cry a little inside (of happiness!) because I’m getting closer and closer to maxing it out, and I’m earning more and more income in stock gains that will never, ever meet the tax man.

What now?

As I progress in my career, my income is increasing slowly but surely. In the meantime, I will max out my TFSA and start contributing to my RRSP. I likely won’t max out my RRSP right away unless a magic money fairy sprinkles me with funds, so maybe I’ll transfer some of my TFSA funds into my RRSP and reap the tax benefits. TFSA withdrawals are allowed and are as easy to do. I can even re-contribute up to my maximum in the following year!

All that being said, both RRSPs and TFSAs are great ways to save for the future, and in a perfect world everyone would take advantage of both. For now, however, I’m a one-account kinda girl and loving it. Just ask the koala.

Do you contribute to a TFSA? RRSP? Both? 

jini bill

Saving Money – One Bill at a Time

jini billHave you ever looked at your monthly bills and thought WTF? Well I am here to tell you that there are several ways to chop these bills and save your money! The Bermuda Triangle that mysteriously inhaled all my cash comprised of my inflated cell phone, internet and cable bills. Luckily I managed to wade the telecom waters and saved over $1500 using a number of simple methods.

My cell phone bill – It seems that during Christmas every year, the phone companies put out their best promotions to lure new customers to switch providers. In most cases, the plans are available to existing customers as well. Last Christmas, I switched my husband to a promotional plan and ended up saving $28 per month. My husband was happy because he had the same amount of minutes and data and I was happy because he had the same plan for a fraction of the cost!

In April, I got a new phone as my old contract had ended. Two months into my new plan, I noticed that my plan had too many minutes and too much data. I didn’t need unlimited daytime minutes as I mostly make my calls in the evenings and I was barely using a third of my data plan. So I switched to a lighter, less expensive plan with free evenings and weekends and less data which is better suited to my needs. This resulted in a savings of $20 per month.

Total Annual Savings: $48*12 = $576

My internet bill – For the past year, my husband and I had a promotion with Rogers for our internet. In October, that promotion ran out and our bill skyrocketed to about $80 per month. I couldn’t believe that we were paying so much for the internet especially since it didn’t feel like it was super fast. I also noticed that we were paying $4 per month to rent our modem – a modem which retailed for about $100 and we had paid for three times over at that point.

After coming to these realizations, it didn’t take us long to make the switch to another internet service provider. I immediately called TekSavvy and found out that we could purchase a $100 modem, pay a $45 dollar activation fee and spend $40 per month for the exact same package with the same amount of bandwidth and speed as I had with Rogers.  After that, my husband immediately called Rogers to cancel our account.

It’s been a month since we’ve made the switch to TekSavvy and my husband and I are very pleased. Installation of the new modem was super easy, all we had to do was attach the existing cable wire to the new modem and we were ready to go. We have also noticed an improvement in our internet speed and reliability which just goes to show you that paying inflated prices doesn’t always guarantee better quality.

Total Annual Savings: $480 – $45 installation fee – $100 modem cost = $335

Not having to deal with Rogers’ horrible customer service = Priceless!

My cable bill – I had a very similar experience with my cable bill as I did with my internet bill. Once the promotion ran out, it seemed like we were paying a ridiculous amount to have the privilege of rotting our brains on reality TV. This time, however, we took a different approach to reducing our cable bill. We cut our cable!

It’s been three years since we cut our cable and I can honestly say that we haven’t regretted the decision.  I used to find that I would watch TV just because I could. Come Dine With Me marathon? Don’t mind if I do! Sex and the City reruns? Yes please!

Without the distraction of TV, I am more productive and have more time to do things I enjoy. Besides, don’t you find that commercials get more screen time than the actual shows these days? Who wants to be influenced by marketers when you can watch shows on Netflix commercial-free? By cutting our cable, we haven’t sacrificed entertainment but now we only watch the shows we truly enjoy without the mindless filler in between!

Total Annual Savings = $50 * 12 = $600 + Numerous Brain Cells

So as you can see, by reducing our recurring expenses I have saved our family over $1500 a year. This is more than one month’s rent! So I urge you to take a closer look at your monthly bills and figure out where you can chop expenses because the savings (in money, brain cells and sanity) are worth it!

What do you value?

Living in Toronto and being surrounded by beautiful, stylish people at any given moment, I’ve come to realize one thing:

I’m not as fashionable as I once was

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and although there are stores like Joe Fresh and H&M that make it easy enough to stay on trend on a budget, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will likely never be as fashionable as I once was. When I was fashionable, I was in debt. This is not to say that I can’t buy a dress or two, but I know that really staying on trend means shopping fairly often.

When I started paying down my debt, one thing I did was cut out shopping almost completely. The funny thing is, once it was finally paid off, the urge to shop did not creep up again. People will show me cute things online, and I don’t feel the pangs of want. People can ask me what I want for my birthday, and I’m hard pressed to think of a single thing. Why?

Scarcity means rethinking your priorities and making sacrifices. 

This means that you can buy a dress or you can tuck that money away in an RRSP. You can splurge on a purse or you can throw money at your student loan. These are the choices we make on a daily basis and don’t even know it.

Need an example? Five hundred dollars can buy you:

A snazzy designer purse

Two Grand Ring tickets to the ballet 

25 10 shares of the hottest IPO

A weekend jaunt (to somewhere not very far!) 

A loan payment worth $814 after 10 years (assuming a 5% interest rate)

$1407 in your RRSP after 35 years (assuming a modest 3% annual growth)

333 small teas at Tim Hortons

I’m not saying that you can’t buy the purse if you value the purse more than you value the savings. If you want your tea, get your tea, but don’t expect to drink it too. Just know that each purchase you make is a missed saving opportunity. And each loan payment is a missed purchasing opportunity.

What do you value?

Financial decisions in your 20s

For many of us, our 20s are a time to have fun and do the things our parents never let us do, see the places we only ever read about in textbooks, and ‘find ourselves’ if you will pardon the cliche. The 20s are often seen as ‘throwaway years’ – an acceptable write-off, a stopgap from the responsibility that will consume the rest of our lives.

Unfortunately for many, this winds up leaving us with a stack of unpaid credit card bills that make us want to hide in a closet and cry (and many of us probably have).

In the following TED Talk, clinical psychologist Meg Jay explains why 30 is not the new 20. Our lives don’t begin in our 30s – they begin in our 20s.

As Meg so poignantly states, our 20s set the stage for the rest of our lives. As I…slowly…approach the tail end of my 20s, I find myself racing to catch up, and trying to form habits that I should’ve formed long ago. As my first post on this blog, I’ve decided to reflect and share all the things I wish I knew when I was younger.

Just because you’ve been approved for a student loan the size of Texas, doesn’t mean you need to use all of it. Receiving $10,000 a year in student loans might seem like winning the lottery, but sadly loans need to be paid back. Not so lucky after all! Budgeting my student loan and picking up a part-time job during school would have seriously reduced the amount I owed coming out of school.

Travelling is a privilege, not a right. You might think that every 20-something deserves to backpack through Europe or hit every continent by 25, but these are privileges that come with saving money. Back in my early 20s, I suffered from serious FOMO and took every opportunity I could to travel. West Coast? Yes please! Europe? Don’t mind if I do. Cuba? Hola! I paid for all my traveling well into my late 20s. Some of my travel experiences have been priceless, but in retrospect I know I could have scaled back drastically.

Budgeting can be boring but not doing it can be dangerous. If I had a budget throughout my 20s, the above points would be moot. Period.

Not finding a ‘career job’ upon graduation doesn’t mean life is over and it also doesn’t mean you can’t start repaying your loans. Ever heard of Swiss Chalet? How about the Gap? You may not get hired at the bank you’d like to work at immediately, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work in the meantime. I learned from my mistake of not picking up a part time job upon university graduation (resulting in several months of destitution) and picked up a waitressing gig during my postgraduate certificate program. I ended up keeping it throughout my various low-paid internships and was able to pay back my second round of loans in no time.

Overall, your 20s are a time to start building your financial foundation. Have fun but on a budget. Cease opportunities to travel, but skip the ones you know you won’t value ten years down the road. Consider the fact that every dollar spent is a dollar not put toward loan repayment, and prioritize. It may sound scary, but there is nothing less scary than securing your financial future!

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Turning 30…Here I Come!

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In a couple of weeks, I will be turning the big 3-0. I will be happily married, living on my own, working a real job, making financial decisions with my husband, and my parents will no longer be a source of seed capital! So I think I can safely say that I am on my way to becoming a full-fledged adult.

As I reflect on my 20s, I think that it was definitely a roller coaster ride in which I made some great decisions, some big mistakes, steered off course, got back on track and got to the end with both a case of whiplash and a big smile on my face. I am hoping that my 30’s will be just as exciting but with a little less turbulence on the track. Here are some of the goals I’d like to accomplish to ensure that the ride is fun and memorable:

1. Purchase a house. Since my hobbies include scouring MLS for new listings and watching House Hunter marathons, this goal revs me up. However, with housing prices as they are, I realize that more and more of our savings will be needed to make this purchase. My husband and I will need to figure out what we can truly afford, not just what the bank thinks we can afford, as I’d like to maintain our lifestyle and not be house poor. I would also like to decide on a must have list before we start searching, as I think I can live without granite countertops and a rain shower (although I’d love to have them!), but a second washroom and a dishwasher (I hate doing dishes by hand!) are a definite must.

2. Travel more. I admit that I am a bit of a control freak, so when it comes to travel I like to have the itinerary meticulously planned and budgeted. However, doing this can often leave no room for flexibility and sap the fun out of a vacation. In order to make the most out of future travel, I’d like to loosen the reins and focus less on the money and more on the experience. Travel has always been a source of growth and enjoyment, and I want to see more of the world as I grow older and wiser.

3. Loosen the purse strings. Being the frugalista that I am, I don’t often make impulse purchases. Almost every purchase has a pros/cons list associated with it. While this makes me good at saving, it can also be terribly exhausting. It shouldn’t take 10 minutes to pick out a facial cleanser and I really don’t have to read the online reviews before I buy a muffin pan. As an economist, I was taught that every decision has an opportunity cost so if I spend money to buy a car, that’s less money that could be growing in my investment portfolio; if I buy a couch now, that’s less money for the down payment, etc. etc. However, every shopping trip should not be followed by a pang of guilt as I assess my purchases afterwards.

4. Invest For Retirement. Sometimes, it’s hard to play the long game, especially when you are young and retirement seems way way into the future. But I remember being younger and thinking that 30 was super old! I’d love to move to a warmer climate during retirement, travel to far off places, and learn new hobbies. I’d also like to be able to fund health issues, live comfortably and not worry about money or having to return to work to make ends meet. I realize that if I want these things for my husband and I, then I will have to lay the plans today while the power of compound interest is still on our side.

Now that I have identified the goals I’d like to achieve, the next step will be to figure out how to make them a reality. Stay tuned for future posts!