Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Wedding Planning :S

So, it begins! The biggest money challenge of my life thus far! Getting out of school debt was one thing, but staying out and planning a wedding is another totally different beast! After the highs of announcing our engagement, it's now time to pound the pavement and do the research to pull this thing off! With the average Canadian wedding cost at approximately $30, 000, I'm determined to get the biggest bang out of my buck!

First, I've listed our must haves:
- Tea Ceremony
- Chinese Menu
- Photo booth
- Clean and nice venue
- Photographer
- Decent quality alcohol
- Dessert Table

At the moment, I've been doing a ton of online searches for venues in the area that can accommodate our guest and are able to cater a Chinese menu. There is surprisingly not much selection in the downtown area that's meet our standards. We've been visiting the conventional large restaurants, banquet halls, hotels and other local venues. Even stretching to the more Chinese dense areas of Markham and Richmond Hill. Pretty much anywhere that can host a wedding! We've driven out for appointments, casually dropped into local venues, asked friends and family about their experiences. I know dropping in is a bit frowned upon but it's the best. During appointments everything is more staged for us and we don't like that. At a drop in, we can see the place the way it truly is everyday.

What I've learned so far:
- No two venues are the same
- Find out what the venue's gratuity is. It can make a big difference and so far I've been quoted anywhere from 12-17 percent! Which is a S*&% ton when you are talking in the tens of thousands.
- Landmark and rental fees are BS
- Some places allow you to bring your own alcohol or do open bar (do the math to see if it's worth it!)
- Spreadsheets are your friend
- Married friends are a great source of advice
- Friends are a great source for hook ups
- Pinterest and Instagram is great for ideas but everything nice cost a crap load of money
- Deciding to invite or not invite kids, or invite some and not others is a touchy and hard subject.  Chinese weddings do not have a children's menu. Each person is considered a head and will be charged as a full adult and receive all the same courses and portions. Chinese banquets are also about 10 courses long.
- Not inviting certain people is ok, you are bound to insult a ton of people from food choices to location to even not being invited! But for the sake of your sanity and wallet stick to what you want and just don't worry about it. Your mom's friend's friend's date and her not so close co-worker is not worth it. Neither is your friend's date, who's whom they've been dating for a week. To me, I think about two major things. Will they be in my life in ten years? Real life and not Facebook friends. And am I willing to spend the cost of hosting them regardless of receiving lucky money? If not, then no and cut. I'm a bit ruthless that way. However, I do take into special consideration my parents brothers and sisters. I may not know them all very well and I'll be fine without their attendance, however they are all getting older and this would be a great reason for them to travel here and all be together.
- Avoid the w word. Anything with wedding in it for some reason cost considerably more.

I've also put out a bunch of feelers out there and asking friends and even work associates for recommendations on everything. And sometimes, we get really lucky when someone says they know a guy who can do something we are looking for, or they know a girl who does this as a hobby. Venue and location is pretty much going to take the bulk of your budget and it requires the proper time and effort to research it properly. Once that is settled, it should be much easier to book and scout everything else out once a date and place is set. Or so, I'm hoping so!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Cost of Commuting Home

Hi Guys!

This will be short and sweet! I don't know what compelled me to figure out my cost of commuting but I was interested to see what my cost vs. savings has been for the last few years. I love that Toronto Bike Share tracks each trip with date, duration and bike stops picked up and dropped off.

Some things to note before I begin.

I usually renew the bike share pass anywhere from late January to late February. Yes, I ride during the winter months. I'd also say at least 99% of my trips are made from work to home (I walk to work) and this year my pass expired earlier than Winton's, so I just used his pass until it expired before I renewed my key.

Let's get to the deets!

Year   Number of Trips    Cost of One year Membership                Cost Per Ride (Rounded Up)          
2012           157                               $50 (Groupon)                               32 cents
2013           155                                   $92.35*                                      60 cents
2014           151                                   $94.61*                                      63 cents
2015           198                               $50 (Groupon)                               25 cents
2016            35                                    $86.70*                                     $2.48 (this will go way down)

*Includes Live Green Discount of $15 off (you don't need to prove anything to qualify)

Total cost of the Bike Share key is $373.66 to date Vs. cost of TTC (trips averaging $3 per trip) is $2088. With a savings of $1713.34 and average bike ride (not including 2016) cost is 45 cents. I work four days a week in the office, so if I work every week of the year it would max out at 208 rides, so hitting almost 200 last year is amazing! I'm super happy to see this and I feel so healthy! Especially, since there are holidays, vacation, and sick days I take off during the year. I also can't consider a metropass as I don't use the transit enough to warrant such a high monthly cost.

The best part of this, not just the savings is the exercise and de-stressing from sitting at a desk all day. It's nice to get out there and burn some pent up energy and office frustrations. I get a decent 15-20 minute work out riding home, bypassing traffic and the large groups of grumpy (and some crazy) people rammed into streetcars during rush hour. I love enjoying the beautiful and or miserable weather biking home. I feel more in control of my commute than to rely solely on the unreliable TTC to get me home. And not to mention the legs! I have muscles I've never had before hahaha! I also learned I missed riding a bike as an adult! One of my favourite past times in my childhood was discovering the neighbourhood with friends on our bmx's.

I've had people mention to me about purchasing a bike for further savings but I don't quite agree! First of all, I have no space! Downtown living means, I'd have to park it in our condo (Oooh precious space) or pay for a bike parking space. Parking in the building is a b*&%#, you need to go down a garage to whatever level and physically lift your bike off the ground and place it on a wall mount. I'm not interested in lifting and securing a bike on a wall or riding up and down a parking structure each day just to get my bike. The bike share location is just outside our building across the street or a two minute walk from the office. Secondly, the maintenance! I don't know how to fix or do anything but ride the bike, and if the Bike Share is broken I can easily switch out the bike at the next stop and hit the repair button to notify maintenance. Third, what is someone stole my bike? I see damaged bikes and stolen parts all the time when I'm walking in the city. I really don't want to risk it, knowing I'd probably want a nice bike. I've even considered an e-bike that's like a moped or even the folding ones, but they are so expensive and really heavy. I also work in a two story walk up, so dragging it up and down the stairs each day just sounds so much fun! *eye's rolling*

I hope this gives you guys an idea of what you can save and do by just switching out your mode of transportation. It can be as costly or as cheap as you want. That extra money looks like a nice vacation to me or even a nice boost in my retirement savings. It's all up to you!

Eros And Pookie

Friday, 8 April 2016

What's in Your Wallet?

Good afternoon, financial independence chasers!

What's in your wallet and how do you make it work for you? Are you solely a debit or credit user? Some people love the old fashioned cash only. It really depends on your personality. I'm going to breakdown these four categories and give you the low down on each type and who they are best for.

- Cash is king! For most of the world, this statement is very true! Most businesses where you can barter would be willing to give you a cash discount. This is great if you have cash in hand and willing to part with it on the spot. It saves the business on merchant fees they have to kick back to say Visa or MasterCard for your convenience of using your card. Hey, it's better for you to get say a 2% discount then for them to pay 2% to the credit care companies. For most of my daily expenses, they aren't very barter-able. I can't go to No Frills and ask for a discount on groceries because I want to pay in cash versus my credit or debit card. Most people also don't feel comfortable walking around with wads of cash in their pocket for safety concerns.
- Cash is best for people you need to see and feel the pain of parting with cold hard cash. If you're on a strict budget and trying to keep yourself honest, cash in hand is the best route to go. You allocate how much you have to spend each week and once it's gone, it's gone. There is no extra leeway to spend more because you physically don't have anymore money to spend. It makes you very accountable for your spending! This is the best when you have very little self control and need to work your way out of debt.

Debit Cards
- There are pretty much like using cash that's in your bank. Funds are immediately taken out when you go shopping. When the funds are drained in the account, then you can no longer use the card. Unless you pay those ghastly over draft fees. The banks like to call it "protection," but really its a smart way to market and cash in on a people's bad habit. If you have overdraft, you will less likely worry about going over what's in the account and it makes it really easy for people to just live in overdraft.
- Those who use debit enjoy the accountability of cash without the worry of carry it around. It's like a safety barrier, where one can access the cash but also keep it safe at the same time. It gets slippery when you opt in for the overdraft protection. It can be useful if you forget about an automatic payment that is debited and you don't want to get dinged for non-sufficient funds and the hassle that comes with. You can easily set up your own free overdraft protection and leave a small amount floating in your account. Say $100 is your float, when you have $100 you count your account balance as having $0. Anything above $100 if what you can use and play with. It's one of the best decisions I've made and done for myself! Sometimes, I forget about an upcoming payment where I need to transfer funds immediately but at the same time I am unable to head to the bank late at night to do a deposit or wait to transfer in money from elsewhere. It just makes a nice buffer between you and a fml situation.

Credit Cards
- Credit is simple to use! It's like out of sight, out of mind. You want something, you grab your card, tap it on the machine and you're on your way. No need to worry if you have the money in the bank or not. And you don't have to worry about it until the next billing cycle which is usually about 21 days away. What you can spend is dependent on your limit granted by a credit card company, but most places will give you more than you really need in hopes of you using up your limit and paying them an abhorrent amount of interest. I find most credit card interest hovering around 20%. TWENTY PER-F-EN-CENT! Using credit without self control can get you into a lot of debt really quickly. If you don't pay on time, that item you just bought cost a fifth more and counting until you pay it all off. It's similar with debit, if you're living in overdraft fees. This is what gets most people in trouble and credit card companies start targeting and marketing towards naive young people still in school. It's like they train you for a life of debt. Most adults get their first card at university and don't really grasp the consequences of debt until they graduate from school and have to make credit card payments on top of OSAP payments (i.e. story of my life)! It also opens you up for possible fraudulent charges or people could take out credit in your name and ruin your credit score. Also, most online shopping requires a credit card. Actually, most of life requires you to have a credit card. You can't even book a hotel without one.
- These cards are terrible for people who lack self control and want instant gratification. I'm super strong willed and quite meticulous with my budget and this still gets me from time to time. Where I'm just like WTF did I spend all this money on and I have to pull from other funds to cover the bill. If you know how to play the game you can make credit cards work for you. If you pay everything on time, you can work with certain cards who give you rewards for things you really want (i.e. free groceries). You're going to spend the money anyways, might as well get something in return for using it, as long as you don't get carried away.

What I use
I use a mix of cash and credit cards, with a huge preference for credit cards. I actually rarely use cash and usually never have any on me, but I can't seem to escape it. Sometimes, I need small change for the parking meter, tipping the delivery guy or a snack like a donut. I don't want to be the weirdo who puts a $1 donut on my credit card. And Dollarama doesn't take credit!

I love my credit cards because I love my points and my cash backs, and I'm very on top of my charges. I check every couple of days to ensure my charges are correct and to pay off my ENTIRE balance. I'm the type of person that if I waited for my credit card statement, that I would freak out at the end of the month and panic on how I will pay it. Even though, I have money in the bank I just flip out over any sort of debt! I swear I hate it with a passion now! I see my credit cards as a source of great convenience and rewards. With one card, I get free credit that goes towards groceries or even gift cards and I usually blow the amount on food for a small Christmas get together. With my other newer card, I get straight cash back into a specific account I'm trying to grow for my future family. It cost me NOTHING in fees and interest to use these cards, in fact they are PAYING me!

Eros and Pookie

Friday, 26 February 2016

Progress Report on The Recently Improved Budget

For the past five years, I've been converted to and a huge believer of the Church of Budgeting! It's crazy how much my life has changed in the last few years with a budget. I still have my super archaic budgets from the previous years and it's funny to see how much I've progressed from them. I started out like most people who graduate university with a shiny new degree and specialized certificate, super enthusiastic and ready to take on the real world. What no one really tells you is that you also graduate with the huge OSAP loan you took out to go to school and now have to start making the payments. Not to mention, I went to Italy to study abroad and started to rack up credit card debt. With reality crashing in, life seemed so bleak and caused so many sleepless nights. Feeling helpless with just a weekend job to barely pay for rent, some groceries, a phone bill, so many numbers clumped together on my OSAP loan and with my credit card debt at 19.99% interest, I was pretty sure I was seriously f*%$ed! I figured this must be the way life is and all my peers I knew were in the same situation and most adults I knew were always worried about money and had some form of debt. It was very discouraging, until one day I decided to do something about it. I didn't know where to start but I knew I had to just start anywhere because I was going down a path I was just not happy about. I feel like this is where school really started for me. I found Gail Vaz Oxalate's tv shows, read everything I could get my hands on at the public library, scoured the internet and asked people around me for advice. Little did I know that most people knew nothing of personal finance, not even my parents! It's funny how our whole lives we believe our parents know EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING! The realization that your parents don't know everything and pretty much winged everything is pretty astonishing!

From the day I decided to take charge of my life I've always had a budget, it's numero uno in my eyes with regards to money. I refer to it at least once a day and use one detailed budget throughout the year. It helps me keep track of hours work, when I'm paid, for what projects, dates I paid to funds and confirmation codes for those payments etc. Regardless of income, without a budget you can't see where exactly your money is going and how to plan for your future goals. It helps keep you accountable. You can clearly see if you paid into your funds weekly or monthly (however you set it up, ideally should be timed to when you are paid), when you've paid your bills and all that. People think budgets are set in stone and that once you make one you can't keep it cause it's not workable. But budgets are fluid, they change and grow as you do. If it doesn't work you can change it or get rid of the unworkable section all together. It's so personalized, that you make it work how you see fit. It's taken me years to figure out what to add and take away in my budget, what works and what does not? How many columns do I need? If I should highlight sections? What text colours I should use to denote incoming and out going amounts? In the last couple months, I've changed my work schedule and took on some extra gigs and left behind some more stressful ones. I'm trying to focus on working efficiently with my time than just working to make money. The extra hours are crappy as they are during the week on top of my day job but the pay is more and it's both less work and stress. So, at the end of the day it made sense to me to forgo a few hours of sleep for a nice bump up in savings.

Lately, my issue was getting a little frustrated that I had focused most of my attention saving for a downpayment and other things. That one of my top, if not the top priority, my retirement was getting neglected. So, I sat down one evening and rejigged my entire budget to properly reflect what I wanted to accomplish. It was too skewed to save for the present and short term future items (next 5 years), that I was totally neglecting saving for the long term. The 67+ year old Julie! Possibly the early retired Julie! I knew this meant cutting back on things I really enjoyed right now, like eating out and splurging on little miscellaneous purchases but after two months I don't miss it as much! I've gotten really creative about it! Fruits have been incredibly expensive lately, that I've started to snack on frozen cherries at work! They were free from my mom's cherry tree that I pitted and froze from last summer. I still have the food tax implemented and it's doing quite well. I've only eaten out a handful of times since the year began and have paid the equivalent into the fund every time. Being honest with myself with out cheating on my budget makes me feel so good about it. It makes me think twice about how much I really want to have a nice dinner out for $30 because I'm now paying a total of $60 for that same plate of food! I haven't decided what I'd do with the extra money at the end of the year but it's nice to know that money is growing if I do hit up a restaurant. It's also nice to know to find out what the exact dollar amount I spent eating fast food and restaurants would be too! Ask anyone, I hate and can't do math to save my life but for some reason when it comes to money I love calculating and figuring out everything! I want to find out as much info as possible and track everything! I don't know why but it's so much fun for me! I love seeing the progress!

This new budget meant I didn't have unlimited fun money anymore, that I needed to set amounts for everything I was planning to spend to maximize every dollar that was coming in. Couple of issues I'm having are the grocery budget, fun money and extra income.
- Groceries are so hard to budget for! One week could be hundreds of dollars or the next could be $20 because we decided to eat from our reserves at home. And being a relatively new fund, I don't have any roll over from previous weeks that it sort of balances itself out. So, I end up taking money elsewhere to make up for the different.
- Fun money has just been accumulating and as much as I want to spend it, I'm having a hard time feeling comfortable blowing it all at once. I've read up many blogs and articles about how people feel guilty about spending money when they have all these savings plans/goals. I think I'm one of those people but not quite as bad! I enjoy to spend money here and there but I think I'm trying to somewhat hoard it for more fun times like all the food festivals in the summer we love to go to. I always think that there will be a time where I really need to blow it all, but that time never really comes up. It's good and bad, I suppose. And all the travelling fun money I want to spend on trips! Plus, being that it's winter and cold we've been holed up in our place enjoying Netflixs, craft nights and puzzle time. Not to mention free Yoga in the building! We really need to be more on top of the free activities to still have fun without the money part.
- Extra income also sort of messes up my budgeting. It's a good problem to have, I know! I've done a lot of extra hours at work to cover for a co-workers on vacation or to cover last minute sick people but I'm incredibly lazy to allocate where they extra money goes to and to calculate all the extra hours and money. So, I've sort of brush it over to cover the extra groceries and when we do eat out I pay off the meal and the food tax from this money. I have used a bit left over to top up my TFSA that I'm using as my retirement but then it gets kind of blurry that I probably should be paying off my "debt" that I owe to a couple of funds. As much as I'm on top of my budgeting, I've had my lazy moments too. It can get mentally exhausting have to be an adult all the time about everything and always dealing with money. I would love to grab a big wad of cash and blow it on crap! Bahahaha! Yeah, right! Not very likely going to happen!

Five years later after my first budget, I'd have to say how much a pain in the ass the upkeep can be but the rewards are so amazing! You really get what you put into it! What you could do with your money if you just put a bit of time and effort into it and not mindlessly wander through life is ENDLESS. Like what Gail say's and I'm paraphrasing "you can have everything you want, just not at the same time." And I believe it too! Whoo knew, I'd be able to do what I love, travel the world and have my debt paid off! Life is so different now! I LOVE it! I feel empowered and knowledgeable about my money and you can too! I tackled one of my greatest fears and turned it into my greatest ally. Read a couple articles a day and start today! No joke, I read money articles from about twenty different websites each weekday. Some sites, I can be reading about 10 articles or pages and pages of forums with questions from everyday people. There are tons of bad advice out there as well, but in time you see what works for you and you can easily weed out the crap stuff. See who is writing the article, be skeptical! If it's from a guy who works at one of the five major banks trying to sell you their services, be wary he's working for commission.

Good luck! Hope budgeting brings you as much joy and sense of security as it does me.

Eros and Pookie

Sunday, 24 January 2016

How Much I Spent on Groceries in 2015

Hi Everyone!

     Food prices are soaring and I'm seeing lots of funny memes about taking loans to buy a single cauliflower. The Canadian dollar has been tanking and everyone is starting to worry about how they are going to save money at the grocery store. I kid you not, I'm starting to slightly panic over my grocery bill while trying to hold on to every weak Canadian dollar I have.

     For the past few years I always just guessed what I spent each week on groceries. I got so frustrated on guesstimating an amount for that I started tracking how much I spent each week. I tried to stick to about $100 a week for food and $25 a week for house products like toilet paper, tissue boxes, cleaning products etc. I just made up this number but never actually set it aside in an actual fund. This amount included everything bought for food, home and even mini mid-week trips to reload on fresh meat and produce. Basically, everything we bought at No Frills, Walmart, Costco, Chinatown, and Kensington market grocery stores. I have to admit I wasn't as dedicated throughout the year and did my best to take out things like gift items and clothing that would have been included in our receipts but overall I felt like it was a really true and reliable source of info. I'm super dedicated to being totally on top of this this year! Finger's crossed! Any hoo, I created an excel sheet and divided the columns by date (usually Monday's is shopping day), amount spent (on receipt) and my half I personally spent. Sometimes, one person's half was higher if it included something's like clothes, or special junk foods, or just picking up items on behalf of our parents.

     At first, I was surprised to see how many weeks (7 to be exact), we went without buying any groceries at all. This was usually due to birthday weeks, vacations, Christmas or other holiday times where we'd have to eat out several meals with different family members. And even the end of the year where I would redeemed all my PC points for the holidays, so we could host some family and friends over the Christmas break for FREE :) I LOVE free groceries! As you know, what you aren't spending on groceries is what you are paying way more for at a restaurant. I did start tracking our eating out at restaurants as well but I just got lazy and sort of stopped half way through the year. Something to learn from and strive to keep up this year!

The Hard Numbers
My total spent on Groceries in 2015: $2712.19
My weekly total average: $52.16

     I was in complete shocked at how low this amount was overall. Our weekly receipts varied so much!!! The lowest weekly amount I had was $6 and the highest was over $430! As you can see, my $100 a week seemed a pretty reasonable guess at the time. And I hate to admit this but there is quite a bit of waste at the end of the week in fresh produce and meat. I always bring lunch to eat at work, which is usually dinner left overs to try and cut back on the waste. I probably eat out once or twice a year during lunch with co-workers or we'll have a work party where everyone chips in for pizza or sushi at the office. I've been pretty good trying to freeze browned organic bananas to be made into banana bread or freezing meats for use on another day. I kind of suck at freezing stuff cause sometimes I'm forget what's up there or bitch at myself on why I didn't properly take the time to portion it out for easier use. Try separating a pack of 6 chicken breast stuck in a big chunk, when you only wanted to eat 2! The horror! Hahaha!

     Right off the bat, I've decided to generally buy less food, particularly junk food. Not NOT buy it, just buy it less! (I really really love my junk food :S) I really don't think I need to eat as much as I do and if I do it's usually out of boredom. My sort of logic is, if I have less to choose from I will ideally eat less. If I have less food, I would ultimately waste less. I'll update you guys and see how that goes!
     I'm also going to go back to more hard core couponing and being more on top of the price matching. I'm going to create a list of each No Frills and who they price match. I've been kind of laxed on the coupon front and always forgetting them at home. We started buying quality over quantity and usually there are no coupons on the products we want to buy. But, I've committed to a high contribution this year for my retirement savings and I have every intention on keeping it up this year.

     I even rejigged my budget and gave myself a more realistic expense of $75 a week, total for food and home. It's hard starting a new fund from zero and I found myself almost $5 short the last two weeks. This was from a large Costco trip we had at the beginning of the year to stock up on snacks and stuff to save us money overall instead of buying snacks at the convenience store. I also see our food fund going up slightly from last years amount since we committed to eat at home more WAY MORE often. To keep me motivated I've started an "Eating Outside" tax. Essentially, whatever I spent eating at a restaurant, take out, or snacks (coffee, cookies or whatever) the same amount must be put away into a fund. My plan is for it to show me exactly to the dollar how much I spent eating outside of the home this year. So far, I'm happy to say I've only had two trips to a restaurant this year and I've been very mindful how much is spent. I'm optimistic this will be as good for my health as it will be for my wallet!

What are you doing to try and save money on your groceries?

Eros and Pookie