Sunday, November 30, 2008

Joy and Gratitude

I used to have a lot of days where I felt down and out, and pitied myself for my hardships and tribulations. Then I began a program of recovery that encouraged me to write a gratitude list whenever things felt too overwhelming for me. At times I would feel so bad that all I could come up with was "a roof over my head." It can be a really difficult exercise if you're not used to doing it.

My original intention was to write three things on my gratitude list each day. That lasted for about three days, so what I've decided to do is write three things each week. Today my gratitude list includes:

1) my employment situation: I make union wages at a part-time job and I pretty much set my own hours. I have daycare at my work so I am never far from my son. I have relative job security thanks to union membership, and full health benefits. My employer deducts 6.5% of my gross pay and matches it in a pension plan. I also have use of an employee assistance program, which includes personal and financial counselling and legal services.

2) my good health and vitality: I feel so fortunate to be healthy and mostly free from pain. While I am grateful for my medical benefits I am equally grateful that I don't have to use them very much.

3) my capacity for awareness: this may sound egotistical, but I am so grateful that I am smart and that I have a good head on my shoulders. Financially I have made some mistakes but I am aware of them and am willing to make some serious amends. I have a sincere love for knowledge that gets me through good times and bad, and I really feel like I am finally growing into my own skin.

How about you? What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Adding my two cents to two common financial goals

For months now I have been reading many many personal finance blogs, and I have learned so much. It seems as though there is a real swing towards frugality, saving, and reducing debt. I have been so inspired that I now have a plan of my own, and over the next few weeks will unfold it here.

Two popular discussion items in personal finance blogs are
1) Increasing income and
2) Reducing expenses

My personal plan is to start with item #2 and work my way into item #1.

How have I been reducing my expenses?
I have always been a shopper and my weaknesses are handbags and shoes. I have made several purges of my stash but it never seems to make a difference, I always have quite a selection of purses, shoes and boots to choose from. I have three or four pairs of sandals. I mean, c'mon, sandals?!

I began to observe that I would head to Winner's or other similar store at least a couple of times a month, usually when I was feeling stressed or especially after dropping my son off with his dad. I have also struggled with a pretty bad addiction to ebay, and I can spend hours scouring the listings for that obscure perfect item that would lift my spirits so temporarily. The last time I purchased a handbag on ebay was in the spring, after learning that I was to receive a rather generous income tax refund. Hey, I deserved it, right? I watched the bag for the duration of the listing, and when it ended, I told myself that I would buy it if it was re-listed. It was, and I did, and it felt good, but by the time the bag had arrived at my house the buzz was gone, and here was another blasted handbag! I felt silly enough this time around that I hung it on a hook, tag still on, and couldn't bring myself to use it for at least a couple of weeks. I couldn't even tell anyone that I had bought it. I was not proud. But I finally learned something, and I haven't purchased a handbag (or a pair of shoes) on ebay since.

However I am still as obsessed as ever but I now observe myself whenever I start staring at other people's bags and boots, and I don't beat myself up for it. In fact, a couple of times recently I have allowed myself to wander through the bag section at Winner's but found that I was picky enough about the selection that I didn't just walk out with anything because it was a great deal. I actually walked out with nothing, both times!

After purging two van loads of STUFF from my basement this summer, I finally realized how easy it is to accumulate when you have the space for it. One of the reasons why I'm looking forward to our big move to the little apartment is because it will keep me inspired to keep STUFF out of our space. This will save me a lot of money and make me use and appreciate what I already have.

I followed a common recommendation to track my spending for a few months. I did this for the first few months of 2008. I kept a spreadsheet in Excel, and a notebook and pen in my pocket. The best part about this exercise is that it made me really think about what I was doing with my money each day, and where it was really going. I learned that I spend about $15.00 a week on my coffee and muffin combo in the school cafeteria, and that I had replaced my handbag and shoe addiction with runs to the grocery store. It's so easy to spend a lot at the grocery store, especially when they sell so much more than groceries! I was going to the grocery store at least three times a week, and it was getting to be a little much. It took a few months but now I go once a week at the most, and only because there are some fresh things that we cannot live without, such as bananas, carrots, and fresh rice milk. I try to run in and out quickly and not dawdle in the candy or toy aisles.

My next food-related goal is to start cooking more in bulk and freezing the results, which is going to be a challenge in the new place because the fridge and freezer is way smaller than what we have now. I may look around on kijiji for a used deep freezer. This will be good, in fact in the past few weeks I have spent about half of what I normally spend on groceries because I have been forcing myself to use up what I already have. I already had a ton of rice and pasta in the cupboards, and three or four frozen baggies of pasta sauce in the freezer, which kept really well. The one time I went to the grocery store I picked up one of those cheap, pre-cooked chickens, which I somehow stretched out for several lunches and dinners, by stripping off the meat and boiling the bones to make a yummy soup (note of guilt: I was a vegetarian for several years, so it still freaks me out when I do this).

I have still not managed to kick my morning coffee and muffin habit at the cafeteria, but I have budgeted myself $20.00 a week to do whatever I want with. I can spend it all before Friday or I can save it for the weekend and go out for breakfast. It's my choice, and it's getting easier to make it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Somebody took all our furniture off the porch

Early this morning I looked out my living room window and saw that all the furniture had been removed from my front porch. All that remained of the two chairs, small table, and two shelves were one of the shelves and a moldy straw mat that I left out by accident. Even the two-legged kitchen table was removed from my front lawn, and the other two legs that were left on the small table were gone as well.

I was excited.

A good friend of mine is shooting a film about 45 minutes from here and needed old furniture to fill up her set, and I offered everything on my porch, and the poor broken kitchen table that had been living in my shed for over a year. One of the legs was already broken and the second one broke off when I dragged the table through the snow, down the driveway, to the front of my house. I hope my friend's set designer will be able to attach them back on, and that all this old stuff will be useful for once.

I barely even used the front porch of this house in the fourteen months that we've been living here. Bean preferred to play on the driveway or in the backyard on his slides playset so I usually parked myself in a camping chair on the back porch. We are sure going to miss all this playspace come spring when we will be in our smaller apartment.

But there is a bike path right in front of the building, and Bean will be able to take his tricycle out and go for miles. I'll just have to jog along behind him.

Which makes me think about another goal I would like to set: how about one hour a day at the gym ... starting in January.