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  1. When it rains, it pours

    Saturday, August 1, 2015

    To put it mildly, April, May and June were both the best and worst months of my life.

    In April, I was thrown into a provincial election campaign that was 28 consecutive 14-hour work days that culminated in a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

    And, oh yeah, an historic victory. The NDP (the folks I work for) went from being the 4th party in the Alberta legislature (with just 4 seats) to winning a majority government with 53 seats, wiping out a government that had been in power for 44 years. Even if you’re not into politics, I’m sure you realize this is a pretty big deal.

    Rachel Notley
    Rachel Notley and the NDP won the Alberta Election on May 5.
    Photo Credit: Dave Cournoyer

    Then just a few weeks later, my mom passed away. She had beaten breast cancer 10 years ago, but was diagnosed with Stage 4, metastasized to her bones, in October.

    She had just gotten back from Hawaii when the writ dropped in April, and had gone in for some routine tests soon after. Due to a series of unfortunate events (for lack of a better term) she never really left the hospital, and died June 17. It was very sudden and pretty unexpected. As you can imagine my whole family and I are pretty devastated. I have a lot more to say about the amazing person my mom is, but it deserves it's own post (once I'm able to write it).

    And then, my old bosses asked me to join their team in the Premier’s Office, and I received a promotion to what is my dream job. There was a lot of restructuring going on at work, so I was very stressed out about my future. It’s a really funny feeling, having a lot of your worries melt away at the drop of a hat.

    I say this not only as a recap of where I’ve been since my last post at the end of March, but also as a precursor to my next post about my six-month shopping ban, which technically finished at the end of June. Stay tuned....

  2. Shopping Ban - Halfway Already?!

    Saturday, March 28, 2015

    As I was getting ready this morning I did some mental math and realized that the end of March marks my halfway period through my 6-month shopping ban. This rocked me because:

    a) how the hell is it already April
    b) the last three months haven't been as hard as I thought

    So far, my greatest struggles have been with unexpected expenses and with not buying fast food for myself.

    In February, my logic board in my MacBook when kaput, and since I use my laptop for freelance, income, I couldn't not replace the board. So $600 later, I had a new backup drive and logic board (which was still cheaper than a new computer). Thanks to a few other big expenses, like new contacts, I had over $900 in credit card expenses In February. Crud.

    I have broken my fast food rule a number of times, mostly because I haven't had time in the morning to pack myself lunch for work. However, one thing that is helping is bringing in snacks to work to keep there, like yogurt, hummus, crackers etc so even on those days when I don't have a lunch I still have something to eat close at hand and I don't just go a grab a sandwich down the street.

    I admit that I paid $20 to get spicy Thai chicken soup delivered to me when I was sick.
    It was worth every penny.
    I think what makes the shopping ban so easy for me is that fact that I am lazy. Seriously. It takes a lot of effort to coordinate with Ian to have the car, walk, bus or find a Pogo car (local car share) nearby. Depending on what the thing it, its easier just to go without it than to go through a lot of rigamarole to buy it. I have to ask myself: is this really worth investing my time and/or money for this item?

    Take today, for example. I ended up taking a Pogo to the south side of the city to pick up a few allowed cosmetic and sewing items. That meant the clock was running on the car, and I was getting charged for every minute I was in the store. This encouraged me to get in and get out, and to not get pulled in by the fabrics and makeup, even though I would have really loved to browse.

    We live just outside the Pogo zone (where you are allowed to end your car reservation), so whether I'm travelling by bus, by foot, or by Pogo I have to limit myself to what I can carry, which means I won't be over-shopping. Pogo is really great for those times when buses aren't running where or when I need them to, or if I need to bring something that is too unwieldy for the bus.

    So I'm finding the shopping ban easy. But is it working? YES.

    Other things that are worth the rigamarole of coordinating schedules with your husband?
    Long overdue haircuts.
    My original goal of this ban was twofold: to stop using my credit card for purchases that should be paid with cash (unlike internet purchases, donations, Pogo etc), and to pay down my credit card debt.

    In March, I am excited to say that I have put more payments on my credit card than I've put debt on it. While I still have $4,911 on my card, I put on $1,300 in payments on it just this month (and put  $300 of debt), without my chequing account going to $0. Talk about progress! This was the whole point of the shopping ban and I am so excited to see results so quickly - I thought I wouldn't get to this point until the end.

  3. How I slashed $250+ from my monthly spending

    Wednesday, February 11, 2015

    As I alluded to in my previous post, Ian and I have made some financial changes to pay off our debt sooner while at the same time trying to make decisions that will work for us not just now, but several years in the future.

    So we did something that, on the surface, totally looks like we violated the shopping ban: We bought an SUV, and will soon be a single-car household (once Ian sells his Civic). It's a pre-owned (but barely!) 2015 Subaru Forester. It has great cargo space, great reliability ratings while at the same time has been an easy transition for me - someone who has been used to driving small vehicles - to get used to.

    So how does this not violate my shopping ban?
    • Since Ian and I are splitting the payments, I am actually saving $113 a month on car payments. We decided that since Ian will do the bulk of the driving, and can claim the payments (and 90% of the gas) for work, he will pay 2/3 of the payments, while I pay 1/3 since I won’t be driving it as much as him, and I have to pay for a transit pass.
    • In the same vein, we will now be splitting insurance payments, which will slightly lower than what I was paying by myself for my old car. That’s $100 in savings for the both of us! Ian was actually worried that his insurance would go up, since he’s splitting with someone under 25, but it turns out that his insurance company gave him a great rate (another rant for another is the fact that we even have to shop around for insurance instead of having publicly-funded insurance, but I digress...)

    Old Budget New Budget
    $155 - Student Loan
    $50 - TFSA
    $200 - Sears Card
    $0 - House fund
    $90 - Transit
    $550 - Rent
    $250 - Groceries
    $150 - Utilities
    $300  - MC
    $41 - Union Dues
    $180 - Insurance
    $280 - Car
    $90 - Cell phone
    $2,321 (93%)
    $155 - Student Loan
    $50 - TFSA
    $0 - Sears Card
    $150 - House fund
    $90 - Transit
    $550 - Rent
    $250 - Groceries
    $150 - Utilities
    $300 - MC
    $41 - Union Dues
    $165 - Car
    $80 - Insurance
    $40 - Cell phone
    $2,021 (78%)

    My monthly budget is down $300

    Originally, the plan was to wait until April 2016, when my car was paid off, to privately sell both our cars (Ian’s has been paid off for a while) and buy one new-to-us SUV. However, having two cars that are too small for our lifestyle - big dog, camera gear, road trips to Calgary and Saskatchewan and eventually kids - were becoming more and more a pain in the ass.

    We briefly toyed with the idea of Ian taking over my car, it just wasn’t ideal. My Pontiac G5 Coupe was a great little car when I was 19 and fresh out of journalism school. It was not, however, that great once I married someone who was 6’3” with a German Shepard and tons of camera gear (fact - Ian’s gear can’t even fit in my car thanks to a small trunk opening).

    I am excited about being a single-car household, because not being able to dash out whenever I please to the mall or grocery store will really help rein in my spending.

    It will take a lot more effort (but less money) for me to go somewhere, meaning I will be making more conscious decisions about where and how I’m spending my money. It will also mean that I will explore my neighbourhood a little bit more, and will be walking (and, once summer comes, riding my bike) around Edmonton more and more, since it's easier for me to walk or catch a bus to Whyte Ave, but it's more work to get one to West Edmonton Mall.  I think it's kind of funny that my mom is worried that I'll be totally housebound now - clearly she forgets that when I first moved to Edmonton for university I didn't have a car!

    I also changed my personal cell phone plan, seeing as I have a work phone that I use most of the time. I would cancel it completely, but 1) I am locked into a plan and it would cost $200 and 2) I don't really want to lose loyalty and/or having a phone in case I leave my job (which I don't plan on doing any time soon, but, you know.)

  4. Shopping Ban - Month One

    Sunday, February 1, 2015

    I can’t believe it’s already been a month of my shopping ban, and so far I am feeling really good about my challenge!

    So far, these are the items I have purchased on my approved shopping list:
    • Sugar scrub: $10
    • Sleeping Cap, nail foils, among other allowed cosmetics: $29.57
    • Buttons & extra yarn for my cardigan: $18.85*
    • Yarn for Baby Brolund’s Blanket (I’m going to be an auntieeeee!): $20.15*
    • Home/Office stuff (mainly little containers to hold baking ingredients and a microwave cover for the office): $13*
    • Shoe Repair (I forgot to put this one on my approved shopping list, but I had 3 pairs of shoes, including my winter boots, I needed to get fixed): $59.85
    Approved shopping this month: $151.42

    A lot of my approved shopping I wanted to get out of the way early, mostly because I had run out of what I needed. That $10 sugar scrub is going to last me a whole year, so no love lost. I also picked up a few other allowed cosmetics at the beginning of the year, because they all seem to run out at the same time.

    One of the other things I want to share is what I’m putting on my credit card versus what I’m paying cash for, because I need to stop the habit of using my credit card for everyday things and not being able to pay it off, or only paying off what is “new” that month and not working on the rest of the lump.

    Credit card total:  -$5,899.56  (this is the highest it has ever been)

    So what did I put on it this month?

    Total spent: -$442.31

    Interest Fee: -$74.37

    Public Transport: - $26.71
    Groceries: -$15.85
    Public Transport: -$114.00
    Groceries: -$4.99

    Allowed Spending
    Date Night Dinner: -$21.42
    Parking: -$20.00
    Make-up/Skin care: -$39.57

    Reimbursement: $746.44

    Unusual Spending
    Pharmacy: -$13.05
    Shoe Repair: -$59.85 
    Dentist: -$746.45

    (This isn’t all I spent this month, just what I put on my credit card)

    I had a pretty big expense on my card: $746 for my part of my wisdom tooth surgery. Luckily I have an HSA at work, so it was reimbursed, as you can see. The $13.05 pharmacy cost was for the five different drugs I was on. I am so thankful that I waited until this year to do my surgery, otherwise I would have had to spend $1,500+ on my teeth. Yuck.

    My transportation fee is high this month because I bought multiple bus ticket booklets instead of a January bus pass *and* I bought February’s bus pass, for some odd reason. I think I was on T3s at the time because now looking back I am unsure why I felt the need to put February’s bus pass on my January expense list. Anyway, dumb move, but it means a bit of movement in my February budget, I guess.

    That printing fee of $52.49 was for our wedding thank you cards, and I’m splitting the cost with Ian. Everything else is pretty self explanatory.

    What this means, however, is that when I make my $300 payment at the beginning of February, I’m not really making any real progress on paying off my debt, which is really frustrating. But next month I know that at the very least I won’t be putting my $90 buss pass on my card (because I already have it), so that’s encouraging. My goal for all of this, of course, it to go every month without putting ANYTHING on my card.

    I should explain quickly how Ian and I do out bills since we don’t have joint accounts yet. He pays for most of our groceries, utilities, rent, etc and I reimburse him bi-weekly, when we get paid. It’s nice for me because I am only spending on groceries and utilities bi-monthly, and in cash. It probably seems like a weird system, but for us it works! I might do a full post on it later, but that’s the gist. So when I say groceries above, what I really mean is ice cream, soup and yogurt for me and my toothless mouth.

    So, that’s about a wrap for this month. I thought I did pretty good, but I spent more than I wanted to on getting approved shopping out of the way, which I suppose is the nature of the beast. Ian and I are eyeing a few moves that will help bring our expenses down, so stay tuned!

  5. Wedding Recap! Part Two

    Tuesday, January 27, 2015

    I’m back with the second part of the wedding wrap-up blog, focusing on the fashion of the day!

    Ian and I both knew that we wanted a classic, 1940s style for the wedding clothes, without being too kitschy, expensive or risky.

    While I really wanted to wear one of my Grandmas’ wedding dresses, but neither of them fit right. I contemplated looking for vintage dresses, but I was too scared to order online. What if they didn’t fit? What if there is damage the seller didn’t note? What is it wasn’t “the one”? Etc. And I had really no interest in going wedding dress shopping and paying eleventy-million dollars for something I’d wear once and wouldn’t be 100% me.

    Look at me, trying so hard not to bawl!

    Instead I enlisted the very talented Todoruk Designs to create a wedding dress that brought my favourite elements of both my Grandmas’ dresses together. The princess seams, sweetheart neckline and the light blue were all inspired by my Grandma Marchant’s dress, while my second layer, a white jacquard silk, bore a very strong resemblance to my Grandma C’s dress.

    Underneath, I wore pieces from What Katie Did - specifically the CC09 bra, the CC09 tap pants, the Harlow garter and seamed stockings that I bought 4 years ago or so (but had never worn).

    I made my own veil - and am still in awe of how well it matches - with tulle and lace from Fabricland. It wasn’t perfect, but I really wanted something handmade and am pleased with how it turned out! I made it out of this Butterick veil pattern, using Look B but ditching the blusher and making it a bit shorter. Originally I was going to have the blusher as a separate piece, but I got really lazy and nixed it completely.

    I stitched it all by hand, because the last thing I wanted after mucking around with that tulle (cutting out tulle and tissue paper at the same time is something I am NEVER EVER repeating) was it getting eaten by my machine. All and all, I think it cost about $20 to make.

    My shoes were Baylee Winter White by BAIT. Now, there was a bit of drama with my shoes. I originally bought different BAIT shoes, which were blue, way back in August 2013, but I came to terms a few weeks before the wedding that while I liked the shoes in generally, they didn’t go with my dress as well as I’d hoped, and that I should buy the shoes I had been lusting over for a whole year.

    I bought the new shoes in my usual 8.5 size, three weeks before the wedding, but to my horror they didn’t fit! I think it was because BAIT used a different lining in this pair than they usually did. So I hastily sent them back and sent a panicked email to the company asking them to expedite the return because it was for my wedding. Generally they can’t send the replacements until they receive the first pair back, but luckily for me they made an exception and sent them to me once I sent the return package tracking information.

    When I got the size 8 shoes, they STILL didn’t really fit, but at this point I had to make do and so I bought a bunch of insoles and stuff that made them fit. In the end they looked beautiful, we very comfortable (I wore them all day and night with a very short breaking-in period) and I didn’t fall on my butt. Actually, I broke the cap off from dancing too hard - which I didn’t notice until I finally unpacked my wedding stuff when we got back from the honeymoon.

    Thanks to the generosity of my family members, I was able to wear the pearl necklace my Grandma Marchant had worn at her wedding, 70 years + one day before, and the earrings my Grandma Callsen wore to her wedding. I actually forgot to put them on, but luckily remembered once I got down to the lobby. Even now I get stressed looking at my getting ready photos and seeing that I’m not wearing them!

    The vintage mink stole and muff I’m wearing in the outdoor photos were borrowed from my maid of honour Bailey. I was very warm wearing these as we walked through the snow, and everyone thought it was hilarious to ask me to stick their hands in my muff to warm up their fingers (myself included).

    Ian and Tom wore the midnight blue suit from Black Lapel, and Ian's shoes were by Ecco. 

    Apparently he had some family members running around for him on the morning of the wedding trying to find him a matching belt. I also gave him a beautiful watch from Fossil that I am in love with and wish there was a women’s version.

    The bridesmaid and groomslady dresses were from 20th Century Foxy, and I thought they were stunning, and I’m told they were very comfortable.

    Nicola, Ian’s groomslady, wore a sash to match the men’s ties. NOTE - if you are planning on ever getting a sash from David’s Bridal, give yourself plenty of time to order it in store. This was a last minute item that wasn’t available in store and had to be bought online, and the shipping cost more than the sash. But it looked amazing, and it’s our fault for not being on the ball.

    So, there's all the fashion stuff! 

  6. My six-month shopping ban

    Saturday, January 10, 2015

    I’ve been thinking about doing this for a few weeks now, and I suppose with a new year getting underway it’s the perfect time to do it.

    As of January 1, I've undergone a six-month shopping ban.

    My shopping ban is inspired by one of my favourite Canadian personal finance bloggers, Cait of Blonde on a Budget, who started her year-long shopping ban in July.

    My mantra for this challenge is: Do I want/need this more than I want a house, or to be out of debt? as those are my two main goals coming out of this. I doubt I will reach either of those goals after six months of a shopping ban, but I know I will be much closer than I would be without the ban.

    When I say ban, I don’t mean I can’t buy anything. But I did take a hard look at my needs versus wants, my shopping habits as well as some gaps in my wardrobe, and I’ve decided that there are a lot of things I can go without buying until July 1 (or longer).

    There’s a few reasons why 2015 is the perfect year for me to do this.

    1) I accomplished a lot of my wardrobe goals in 2014
    Last year at this time, I posted my wardrobe goals for 2014. Luckily I’ve hit on most of them, particularly in the shoe department. I bought a pair of sandals, everyday Oxfords, warm winter boots, and shoes I had been lusting over for more than a year (which I wore to our wedding). I didn’t do as good on the sewing front, except that I did sew up that green blouse. I do have plenty of fabric in my stash to make a few Smooth Sailing blouses, and work-appropriate blouses are in my allowed list.

    2) I want 2016 to be the year Ian and I become homeowners
    I am so so so so so sick of living in a rental. I know a lot of people wax poetic about how great it is to rent, how you don’t have to do anything, etc etc but it just doesn’t work for us. For one thing, there are several issues, both cosmetic and structural, with the house that we rent that the landlord has yet to fix in the 2+ years we’ve both been here. Unfortunately, it’s also not easy for us to find another place to rent that will allow two cats and a big German Shepherd dog. So we’ve set our eyes on buying a house - and a real house, not a condo (No offense to those who do own condos, but I’m not keen on being a slave to a condo board and paying condo fees). Now that the wedding is done with, buying a house is the next leap we want/need to do before kidlets come along.

    Anyway, on to my ban rules (which are heavily inspired by Cait’s rules):

    Banned items (not inclusive):
    Books, magazines, etc
    Vinyl albums/online music
    Clothing (except allowed items, listed below)
    Household items
    Take-out coffee, when I have access to a coffee maker.
    Take-out/restaurants, when I have access to a kitchen
    Electronics or appliances

    Allowed items:
    Needs: Housing, groceries, etc
    Toiletry/cosmetic basics
    Transportation expenses (bus pass, insurance, car payments, maintenance, parking up to $270/six months)
    Gifts for others
    Date night out once a month (all the rest have to be $0)

    Approved items - Home:
    New hampers
    Hat organization system
    Weekly flowers
    New Otterbox case for my phone

    Approved items - Clothing:
    Knitting and fabric supplies up to $200, BUT
    I cannot buy anymore yarn until I use up my stash (except gifts for others)
    I cannot buy supplies for new sewing projects until I finish current projects and finish make-do and mend items (except gifts for others)
    3 classic, work appropriate button-up blouses (me-made or ready-made)
    Cardigan (me-made, in progress)
    fleece-lined mittens (me-made)
    2 pairs fleece-lined tights/knee-high socks (ready made)
    1 pair of wool stockings (ready made)

    Approved Items - Beauty:
    Sleeping cap
    Glass nail file
    Sea salt scrub
    Gel nail polish foils

    If I had started this ban 6 months ago, I would have saved $1,196, or 10% of my overall spending* (although some of that was probably allowed spending). I also would have cut down on the $944* I spent on restaurants, fast-food and coffee shops, for a total of $2,140.
    It’s interesting to note that when I look at the year as a whole, I spent $1,810* on shopping and $1,433* on restaurants/coffee/fast food, meaning I did much better in the first half of the year on curbing my shopping habits than in the latter part (and I already took wedding- and gift-related spending out of the equation).
    *as calculated by Mint

    The main reason behind this ban is to lower my credit card debt and try to speed up paying it off. Besides doing the ban, I am also planning on lowering the payment I’m putting on my card each month. That sounds counter-intuitive, but after I make my $500 monthly payment, I have no money left over for other purchases, like a bus pass, groceries, etc, so I have to put all that on my credit card, which is pretty pointless and also racks up what I pay on interest.

    Being the realist that I am, I know this won’t be easy. In particular, the take-out food and coffee will be a big challenge. On hectic mornings, I usually skip breakfast at home and grab a big, cheap breakfast at work that, combined with some snacking, will carry me until supper time. I’m definitely going to miss that, but I plan on buying healthy, easy to take meals to keep at work - like cans of lentil soup, oatmeal, granola bars and nuts to keep at my desk - for those hectic days where I can’t seem to remember my head, let alone pack a lunch. This will be even more challenging since there is a chance we could be thrown into an election.

    There are some things that (I think) will be easier than others. Like I said, I am fairly set with my current wardrobe, outside my list of allowable items, so I don’t think I will hear the siren song to Etsy any time soon. I am pretty frugal as it is and don’t like buying what I know I can get for free, and rarely buy books or magazines anymore - instead I often check them out from the library, or through one of the library’s e-reading services. Ditto for music, although our beautiful and fairly new record player makes this one a little bit harder.

    The 6-month mark is not a hard and fast rule, but merely meant to be a checking in point where I can reevaluate what I need and what I don’t need, and to see where I am in my progress. I hope I have the willpower to extend it all the way until December 2015!