finding the balance between living and saving

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When life knocks you over, then kicks you in the teeth

When life knocks you over, then kicks you in the teeth

I fell off the posting wagon because shit hit the fan at the end of March. We didn’t break our no-spend rules, but life sure conspired to break us. On the morning of the 29th, Chris was laid off. On the evening of the 29th, […]

Spending Detox March 11-16

Spending Detox March 11-16

See this post for and introduction to our March spending detox and the accompanying ground rules. Sunday, March 11 We went hiking in the Rockies with a friend today! We’d been intending to snowshoe, but it hasn’t snowed in a while, so the path was […]

Spending Detox March 5-10

Spending Detox March 5-10

See this post for and introduction to our March spending detox and the accompanying ground rules.

Monday, March 5

An Amazon order I made at the end of February arrived – an exercise ball recommended by my physiotherapist to help with posture. Unfortunately the Amazon 55cm is much smaller than the 55cm ball in her office so I can’t use it to sit on in the office. It’s also $10.47 to return the $13.00 item, so it’s not going back. I’ll bring it home and mess around with it there while I hold out for a chair ball I can test in real life.

I spent the evening with my Girl Guide Unit and Chris made dinner. He roasted half (his preference) and slow cooked the rest (my preference) for lunch. Eating out zero times means we are going through groceries at a faster rate than usual, so I started adding stuff to our Click & Collect grocery order for pickup on Wednesday.

If you haven’t tried Click & Collect with Loblaws or a similar service, I definitely recommend trying it. For a $3-$5 fee (depending on time of day), supermarket staff will do your shopping and deliver the order to your vehicle. This saves at least an hour of time, untold amounts of impulse food spending, and probably a decent number of empty calories. However, we’ve made a few orders where the exact item on our list wasn’t available and staff didn’t make make a substitution, even if a substitution was requested. For example, we selected broccoli crowns, which weren’t available, but they didn’t substitute with normal broccoli. This is a pain in the ass and means you may still need to hit the grocery store old-school if you’re counting on a particular ingredient for a recipe.

Total: $0

Tuesday, March 6

The slow cooker chicken and veg turned out great. We also confirmed our grocery order for pickup tomorrow. It gets charged to the credit card on the day of pickup, so technically it’s tomorrow’s spending. In the evening I yoga’d and Chris gym’d. He picked up a 10 pack of Timbits and a coffee on the way home, which I heartily tut-tutted before collecting a 35% donut tax (3.5 Timbits).

In other news, the building management installed a ridiculously bright floodlight right above the bedroom window last month. The light has been driving me insane and our translucent shade is no longer cutting it, so that had to be fixed. I briefly considered hurling a rock at the bulb last night as a temporary and free solution, but ultimately settled on an interior fix. We have one blackout curtain that will do the trick for now, but nothing to hang it with, so I bought a tension rod. Getting to sleep is loads easier and I really should have done it sooner. I think one more curtain panel will help block a bit more light and look better on the window, but ’ll postpone that ‘til next month, because the current setup is working fine.

We ate leftovers for dinner, frozen berries for dessert, then fell asleep watching Frasier. Lifestyle of the rich famous, I know.

Tim’s: $3.79
Gas: $48.86
Tension rod: $13.62
Total: $66.27

Wednesday, March 7

I picked up the groceries this evening then had my hair trimmed. We dropped $33 on hair wax/paste/creme stuff. It’s made of black magic, we both use it daily, and the last pot lasted 11 months. It’s expensive, but we decided to repurchase after cheaping out a couple weeks ago trying to find a more affordable alternative. Alas, we’ve been ruined for drugstore hair wax and were just frustrated by the cheapo version. I won’t count it as a fail because it was accounted for under toiletries, but it’s certainly not a necessity. I normally wouldn’t agonize over a purchase like this, but the scrutiny of the spending detox is proving to be a good reset button for evaluating the small “luxury” purchases that tend to add up.

Groceries $125.00
Trim: $20.00
Hair product: $33.00
Total: $178

Thursday, March 8

Happy International Women’s Day! I attended a wonderful event hosted by the Calgary YWCA. The ticket was purchased last month, so no spending there, but I did realize I don’t have a line item in my budget for charitable donations or functions. I do make donations on a semi-regular basis and will be budgeting for that properly going forward. This is in part because I listened to Jessica Moorhouse’s interview with J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly last week. JD is one of the O.G. personal finance bloggers, and his situation began to really improve when he started treating his personal budget the same way he treated his family business budget, where he worked as CFO. I think this is excellent advice – with the underlying premise being you should always know exactly where your money is coming from and how it’s being spent.

Spending-wise, we picked up cream, milk and butter from the drugstore around the corner.

Groceries: $12.92
Total: $12.92

Friday, March 9

Holy shit, I wanted to stop for an Egg McMuffin and hash browns this morning. This is the first time I was dying for fast food. I drove the long way to work to avoid passing a McDonald’s. I drove the long way home because all-day breakfast is my blessing and my curse. I deleted Uber Eats from my phone so I wouldn’t order breakfast at midnight. I also had a strong desire to go plant shopping because it’s warming up and I’d like more green in my life after a very cold, white winter.

I didn’t buy McMuffins or plants and I feel like a damn saint. We did buy cat food and litter, and we spent $30 USD/each to download a course on coding in Python. This wasn’t explicitly budgeted for this month, but we’ve been meaning to start on this, and figure it’s worthwhile to begin while we’re still spending a lot of time indoors during the (hopefully) last vestiges of the winter from hell.

Learn Python the Hard Way: $60 USD
Cat food & litter: $20
Total: ~$100 after USD/CAD conversion

Saturday, March 10

We both worked out in the morning, then Chris hung out at a friend’s place. I spent a couple hours evaluating funding applications for a committee I sit on, then started tackling some cleaning tasks. I ended up reorganizing the hallway closet so I can stick the cat litter in there behind a closed door. I nearly ordered a swinging cat flap on Amazon, but then I remembered the detox. I still removed the closet door and arranged to borrow a jig saw because I’m an impatient ass, but the rest of this project might have to wait ‘til April.

Total: $0

Spending Detox March 1 – 4

Spending Detox March 1 – 4

See this post for and introduction to our March spending detox and the accompanying ground rules. Thursday, March 1 It’s grocery day and I didn’t have the means to pack a spectacular lunch because there isn’t much food left in the kitchen. I tossed a […]

Mo Money March Spending Detox

Mo Money March Spending Detox

Chris and I are doing a month long spending detox for March, inspired by Cait Flanders’ book, “The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store.” After digging herself […]

5 Ways To Create More Space When You’re Feeling Constricted By Your Life & Finances

5 Ways To Create More Space When You’re Feeling Constricted By Your Life & Finances

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of space, and how I can incorporate more of it into every element of my life. Not NASA space — or perhaps that’s Tesla space now – but room-space. Void-space. Nothingness to expand into (or out of) in day-to-day life. I’ve listed a few realms where adding space — by subtracting obstructions — can assist with our well-being, but there are many other domains where space plays a role in our lives.


1. In our thoughts

Whether we’re dwelling on the past, feeling anxiety about the future, analyzing the world around us, or processing the logistics of our day, our minds quickly become cluttered with thoughts that don’t serve us. Meditation is leaking into the mainstream because the practice forces you to observe your thoughts and emotions, then allows you to let go of what doesn’t serve you. Through meditation we can take stock of what’s holding us back, then channel those observed thoughts and emotions into positive actions.


2. In our bodies

Through stretching or yoga, we can create much needed space in our connective tissues and our trickiest joints – the shoulders and hips. Through breathing we create space in the chest and in the belly. Spending a lot of time in your head causes your shoulders to rise and your neck to tighten, almost as though the body is physically being drawn toward the brain. This can lead to chronic tightness and tension – something many of us don’t realize until we experience the sweet release of space with the aid of a good massage therapist.

The space created by just the right manipulation of the muscles is deeply satisfying – sometimes to the point of emotional overflow. I’ve experienced deep satisfaction in a stretch, quickly followed by a rush of guilt that I’d been living in a state of tension that is so easily solved with a simple movement. We learn with the body the same as we do with the mind – by using it, playing within it, and challenging it. Allow yourself space in the day to spend time with your body – stretching, moving, and playing.


3. In our homes

Clutter is stressful. Most of us have way too much stuff. Stuff you don’t love or use is clutter, and clutter is a poor use of space. We all know we should live within our means in terms of a budget, but I think it’s also important to live within the means of our accommodations, even if those accommodations are small. This means only bringing home things if you comfortably have the space for them.

Jamming another shirt into an already cramped closet makes for complicated mornings. Adding another figurine to a dusty bookshelf complicates cleaning. Choose the things that matter to you and don’t force them to compete for valuable space with things that don’t matter. Do you really need 25 mugs clanging around in the cupboard, or will your favourite 8 mugs serve you just as well? What about 20 pairs of shoes? All those trinkets from vacation?

Decluttering to free up space in your home is an extremely satisfying activity for most folks. There are several methodologies for decluttering, the most popular being the ‘KonMari method’ espoused by Marie Kondo in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Granted, Kondo is a little woo-woo about tidying, but much like a closet cleanout, take just what you need from her and toss the rest.


4. In our schedules

This is something I really need to work on. I chronically over-schedule myself. I’ll do things like book a flight home from vacation that lands at 11:58PM on Sunday, then go to work in the morning. Speaking of flights, I’m frequently the last one to board because I wait ’til the last possible minute to go to the gate. There are nights when I go to meetings for two or three separate volunteer commitments. Many mornings are a disaster for me routine-wise. As a result, I’ll end up at the gym at 10PM in order to squeeze the last few drops out of the day. Needless to say, it is not a good look.

Earlier in my twenties, I revelled in being a night owl. Doing groceries at midnight was awesome. Meeting friends for 2 AM poutine? I was THERE. I also said yes to nearly every opportunity, request for help, and volunteer commitment that came my way. I don’t regret any of it, but as I get older I’m coming to realize that fewest hours slept, most packed schedule, and highest number of coffees consumed are not badges of honour. I’m slowly getting choosier about how I spend my time, but I also need to go to bed and wake up earlier. Baby steps.


5. In our budgets

By not buying the stuff we think we need, we create more space in our budgets for the stuff we actually need, and the stuff that brings us happiness. Most non-essential goods and services are purchased because we assume they will bring us some form of happiness or convenience. We need food, shelter, basic clothing, basic household goods, and community. Everything else is gravy. Your gravy should make you happy.

What brings you true happiness? Are you sure it’s real happiness and not just what you think should make you happy? This isn’t limited to consumer goods. It can also be experiences. A good friend once told me she stopped travelling frequently because it didn’t bring her the fulfillment she thought it would. She assumed that seeing new places and bouncing from hostel to hostel would make her truly happy. She’s an adventurous person and it’s an attractive prospect to be the girl with all the fun travel stories. But in practice she discovered she was more at peace when she had a firm home base, a sense of belonging, and local friends to rely on.

So ask yourself: Am I spending this money because I think the purchase will make me happy, or does the purchase actually make me happy? This shouldn’t be mixed up with value judgements around whether a purchase is shallow or not. If you’ve got the budget and owning a good designer bag you’ll use all the time makes you happy, then hell yeah, you should buy it. If driving blisses you out and you’ve got the cash to drop on the car you’ve been dreaming about since childhood, then hell yeah, buy the car. The key is being choosy in order to free up enough space in your budget to reach those goals.

You may notice some connections here. By avoiding unnecessary purchases, we create space in our homes and our budgets. By creating space in our minds and our schedules, we make room to explore the space in our bodies through movement. Leave room in all things for growth and serendipity, and you may surprise yourself with what you find.

Where else can we create space?

4 ways to reduce the temptation to spend by changing the ads you see

4 ways to reduce the temptation to spend by changing the ads you see

  Ever find yourself pining for something or making an impulse purchase based on a promo e-mail or well placed ad on social media? We’ve all been there. With the amount of time we spend on our screens, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to insulate ourselves […]

A bunch of shit I don’t need, and you may not either

A bunch of shit I don’t need, and you may not either

We all have our spending vices. Apparently one of mine is Crappy Tire. I got a call from the Canadian Tire credit department the other day informing me I’ve spent $1200 there in the past year and wouldn’t it be great if I had an […]

Negotiate a better interest rate on your credit card

Negotiate a better interest rate on your credit card

It has come to my attention that some folks aren’t aware that you can get your credit card issuer to lower your interest rate. This is especially true of twenty-somethings I’ve chatted with. Chances are your financial situation has improved since you were approved for your first credit card, and so should your interest rate.

If you’re into your early to mid-twenties (or older, for that matter) and have used a credit card for a few years now, there is ZERO reason you should be paying the standard issue 18%+ interest rate. The first time I switched cards, my rate dropped from 18% to 12.5%. The second time, to prime + 5%.

First, let’s do some reflecting on your credit history. Do you pay your bills on time? Have you ever missed a payment on something? If you carry a balance on your credit card, what percentage of your available credit does that balance represent? Basically, have you demonstrated to lenders that you’re a reliable human who pays their damn bills on time? To be certain, you can request a copy of your consumer disclosure report for free. In Canada, you can request your report from TransUnion online (instantly) or from Equifax by snail mail (obviously not instantly). This report doesn’t contain your magic 3 digit credit score, but it’s still a good document to review and reflect on. You should also be reviewing this once every year or two in order to catch any fraudulent or erroneous activity.

If your borrowing and billing history is alright, then chances are your credit score is a-okay and you should be on your way to a lower interest rate. You can also pay TransUnion or Equifax for online access to your credit score and monthly monitoring. In my opinion, it’s helpful to get a baseline idea of where you’re starting out, but quite unnecessary to shell out for the monthly subscriptions they’re hawking. The first time I learned my credit score was when a lender let it slip in the process of consolidating some debt. This is technically not permitted, but exhibiting a little healthy curiousity may work in your favour next time you’re sitting across the desk from a lender.

From here you’re ready to shop around. You can loosely determine whether you’ll be eligible for a card advertising an attractive rate with RateHub, especially if you know your credit score. Now you have a little negotiating leverage. So get your card out. Phone the number on the back, and repeat after me:

“I’ve had ______ card with ______ bank for______years. I’m shopping around for better interest rates, but I’d like to stay with ______bank if possible. ______ bank is offering ______ rate and/or I’ve been pre-approved for ______ rate with _______bank. What’s the lowest you can offer me?”

That’s it. Be polite. The customer service agents talk to dickheads all day long, so being a breath of fresh air certainly doesn’t hurt. If there’s nothing they can do for you, ask to be transferred to someone else who can. The worst they can say is “no” and you’re no worse off than where you started.

If you do get a “no,” or there are offers out there which suit you better than what your current bank could offer, it’s time to consider getting a new card. If you happen to carry a balance, you will probably be eligible a balance transfer. Many promotions feature even lower rates on the amount of your initial balance transfer to sweeten the incentive to switch. Remember that if you do get a new card, you don’t necessarily need to close your old one out. Your credit score takes into account your total credit utilization. Having multiple cards increases your available credit, and decreases your credit utilization, leading to a higher score. The key is keeping utilization low, regardless of how many open cards you have.

Badda bing, badda boom, you just hustled yourself into a lower interest rate. How’s that for some adulting?

Embrace the Wisdom of the Gecko (or How I Saved $743 with 1 email)

Embrace the Wisdom of the Gecko (or How I Saved $743 with 1 email)

That cheeky lizard bugger has been right all along. A few months back I received a renewal notice from my auto insurer informing me my rate would be rising from $1560 to $1919. …Da fuck? I hadn’t been in any accidents, received any tickets, or […]