Sunday, December 28, 2014

Alone and Happy

I'm supposed to be on my way to the big city right now with Bean to meet up with my mom's family for xmas dinner, but I got a call today saying that my Gramma is sick, and we are postponing to maybe next weekend. She is the reason why we get together so we meet at a restaurant near her condo. Since everyone has to drive in, and one of my cousins is also sick, and another cousin spent christmas with her baby son at Sick Kids Hospital, we will wait to get together.

I spent the morning organizing all my photo files from 2014, which I will transfer over to two separate external hard drives. I also cleaned up my desktop on my laptop. I'm trying to catch up on Feedly, but am almost three weeks behind again on blogs. Maybe I need to go through and delete a bunch, but I don't really want to.

I get a lot of ideas reading other people's blogs, but I rarely come here to flesh them out. I have been meaning to write about my solo home-buying adventure for weeks, but I'm not sure what to say. I did a disappearing act when the previous relationship ended as well. I guess I just hate admitting that I tried again, and failed again.

Both breakups - the 2011 one and the 2014 - were finally determined by lifestyle decisions. In 2011 I was pressuring my sweetheart to settle in the same city as me - any city - and I was hoping he would propose to me but he didn't. It was a painful breakup but I met Partner (ex) immediately and was so distracted by him that I never properly processed the hurt from leaving my sweetheart. Partner (ex) immediately hurt me but I stayed with him anyways. I think I thought I deserved it because of the way I left my sweetheart.

Partner (ex) had a lot of strikes against us from the beginning. The big thing - and it shouldn't have been, but it was - was the age difference. He was ten years younger than me. I spent a lot of time teaching him, mentoring him, influencing him, to get back on financial track, and I resented him a lot for it. After we moved in together I brought in a financial advisor, and two years later we had not implemented any of his suggestions. I felt like I was constantly nagging. It was awful.

One of the final straws was when I decided I wanted to retire at 55, and I needed to start preparing immediately. I was turning 40 and running out of time. Partner (ex), only 29 years old, could not imagine himself retired at 45. He planned to work till 65, take his CPP, etc. I would be 75, waiting for him.

The theme of all my relationships: waiting. I waited for Bean's father for years, I waited for sweetheart, then I found myself waiting for Partner (ex) to grow up, and I grew impatient. I told him to move out, I cashed out my RRSP, and I bought my little house.

Neither sweetheart nor Partner (ex) will talk to me now, and while it bothers me a little, I know it is for the best. When I was 17 years old, I told myself and the world that I was a feminist and I would find my own way in life, and never depend on anyone, and this became a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I'm damn proud of myself for sticking to my principles, even if it does make my journey somewhat difficult and lonely sometimes.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Unbury.me


Thanks to this post on The Simple Dollar, I learned about a site called unbury.me, which gave me something to think about regarding my debt repayments.

I plugged in my minimum amounts:
1) Mortgage - $862/month at 2.94% (paid bi-weekly, but there was no place to show the two months of the year where I pay $1291 - I guess I could have used $933 as the average);
2) Car - $250/month at 1.9%;
3) Student Loans - $144/month at 4% (I guessed, since there are actually four loans with different percentages - the most common one is Prime + 1.5%).

The result told me that I should continue making these minimum payments until March 2021, when the car will be paid off, and that $250 can then go onto my student loan payment. In October 2024 the student loans will be gone, and the combined $250 + $144 goes onto the mortgage, paying it off by October 2030.

This is pretty cool because I have decided I want the mortgage paid off in 15 years so that I can think about early retirement. October 2030 is a month before my 56th birthday. I can take a reduced pension from my job then, or wait four more years till December 1, 2034 and retire at 60 with a full pension.

Not bad for a part-time secretary, eh?

I also have to consider that in ten years my son will be eighteen, which means no more child support or child tax credits, so I will probably have to start charging him rent, or take in a roommate for the remaining five years of my mortgage payments. Either way, I am about to start saving up to renovate the basement so that Bean or Roommate can live downstairs.

Or I can find a better-paying job, but I would probably have to upgrade my skills to do so. I'm pretty much at the top of my scale right now, except for the 7 extra hours I could be working if I were full-time. That 7 hours actually makes a pretty big difference in my gross pay, but also increases my payroll deductions and student loan payments, and decreases my child tax credits.

Anyways, it is a pretty little site to play with. The recommendations were the same for me whether I chose Avalanche or Snowball.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Money Monday - 3 days late

Happy Thursday!

The plumbers returned last week to check the leak on the brand-new hot-water tank, and said it was perfectly fine. They think the leak is coming from the bathtub upstairs. So I didn't need to have the old tank replaced, and I didn't need to sign the five-year contract for the new one. Too late.

The bathtub does not leak when we take daily showers; it only happens when we take baths. I thought maybe we were filling it up too high and the overflow drain had a leak. We had a jacuzzi tub in the last rental house and were spoiled with a big bath. On the weekend I took a bath and was careful not to fill it up too high.

When I checked the basement afterwards it was like a downpour, running across the floor to the drain. Worse than I had seen it before, but before I had not checked immediately after the bath and it may have dried up some. Still, I felt it was lucky that I had spent a few hours in the basement earlier organizing, and nothing got wet.

A family member suggested it might be the sealant (or lack of) around the tub drain, so I went to Canadian Tire and spent less than $5.00 for a tube of clear sealant. I made a nice mess with that and left it for 24 hours, and then tested it out with another bath. No leak!!!

My first DIY fix was a success!!

Yesterday for fun I looked online at dishwasher prices. A portable dishwasher is about twice the price as one installed. I'm not sure I have the cupboard space to install a dishwasher. I will think about it for a couple of months while my savings account is replenished.

The carport is still embarrassing, but I'm not sure what to do with it. I could just take the whole thing down but that would admit defeat. I will see how much time I have this weekend and decide then.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Money Monday - a new car port

OK, it's Tuesday, so I'm only a day late for Money Monday. I'm trying me best here eh? :D

Better than 2012, when I didn't post at all!!!

During the offer and counter-offer part of the house sale, I made sure that the car port and shed behind the house would be included, and they were. After a couple of weeks of waiting, waiting (it felt like months), I received a call from my agent saying there was a problem. He received a call from the sellers' agent saying that a complaint had been filed to the city back in 2005 about the car port. Apparently it was too close to the property line. It was implied that it was to be dealt with before the sale was finalized. I was disappointed that, if the sellers had to take it down, I would have another winter of scraping snow and ice off my car, which had not yet lived a winter in my care.

In the end,  the car port stayed up, and I had to sign a letter with my lawyer saying I was aware of the complaint. Since there was no work order issued by the city, I decided that I would leave it up and deal with it in the spring.

Last week we got a good dump of snow, and it was so heavy on my car port that it tore through both layers of canvas and tarp. If I had thought about it prior I might have been able to prevent it by poking underneath with a broom handle, but I honestly didn't think about it until it was too late, and the snow was too heavy and frozen.

It looks terrible and I want to fix it as soon as possible. I have three options:

1) Purchase new canvas and tarp and cover the existing poles;
2) Purchase a whole new car port kit;
3) Take the whole thing down and wait until the spring.

If I choose # 2 I also have to choose if I am going to buy a similar type of car port (like this one) or invest in something sturdier and more permanent (something like this).

Also, to follow up from last week's Money Monday, the new tank was installed, and I discovered today that it too was sitting in a tray of water this morning. I called the utilities company, and they are sending the guys back this afternoon to take a look and/or replace the tank. Again!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Money Monday - the hot water tank

We have been in the house less than three weeks and we are ecstatic. Bean's new favourite word is "Newhouse."

On the weekend I noticed the tray under the hot water tank is full of water, and slowly starting to leak onto the concrete basement floor. I put newspapers around it, and they dried, and Baxter (the kitten) decided to take them skating around. The basement seems to be his domain, because his litter box is down there.

I called the utilities company, and they are sending a plumber this afternoon to replace the tank. Before the old one is removed, I will have to sign a five-year contract for the new tank.

I balked at the commitment. The rental is $12.35 (10.93 + HST) per month on my hydro bill. In five years the cost of the rental will be over $3200, if the price does not increase. I could probably have three tanks purchased and installed for that price, but then I would be on the hook for all the repairs.

I spoke to the plumber, and he assured me that renting is the way to go, because the city puts treatments into the water that could compromise the tank, and that he sees heating elements go all the time which are costly to replace. These are only two things that the utilities company would pay for if they happen to our tank.

He also told me that he is supposed to install a $150 thermostat to moderate the water temperature between the 140 degrees (Celcius) that it needs to be to avoid Legionnaire's, and the 120 degrees maximum that it is allowed to come out of the tap. I am going to forgo that expense, knowing that if I change my mind, I will have to pay at least $200 later on to have it installed.

I decided to go with the rental for five years, and in that time, I am also going to match the rental payment into my emergency fund. That way, at the end of the contract, I will have the funds to purchase a new tank if I decide that is what I want, and I will also have five years experience as a homeowner to know if I am making the right decision.

Because right now I have no idea what I am doing, and I have only about five hours to make a decision about this hot water tank.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

So I bought myself a house

This week I turn 40 years old. Last week I became a house owner.

I am sore, grumpy, and slightly overwhelmed, but I am also proud and ecstatic.

I had two goals to reach by my 40th birthday:
1) to get married;
2) to buy a house.

I reached goal # 2 with a week to spare.

I have modified goal # 1 to read:
1) to find a suitable life partner in my 40s;
2) or not.

So, Partner (ex) informed me that he found another place to live about a week into September.
I realized quickly that I had three choices:
1) Keep our rental house and sublet one of the bedrooms (Rent = $1250 + $320 utilities + $57 internet);
2) Move into another rental, hopefully in the same neighbourhood;
3) Cash in $8500 RRSP account and buy a house of our own.

First I went to Kijiji and searched the "room wanted" ads. There were a few single women who had teaching contracts who were looking for a room. I thought this would be ideal; but since Partner (ex) dropped the bomb a week into September, these women had already found their room. I struck up a correspondence with one potential roommate, whom after ten or so days of emailing each other, decided to stay at her parents' house.

I was being picky, since this person would have to share living room, kitchen, bathroom, and laundry with Bean and I.

In the meantime, I looked at a townhouse down the street that seemed to fit my budget (it was $775 to rent, but had electric baseboards, which would cost $100s to run in the winter). It was a bit rundown and it smelled like marijuana, so I didn't fax in the rental application.

I also emailed a former co-worker of Partner (ex)'s, who is now a real estate agent. We looked at about a dozen houses and I learned that we would have to leave our neighbourhood to find a house I could afford. I didn't want a fixer-upper. Luckily, we found a tiny bungalow (800 square feet) down the hill, in our school zone, so Bean would not have to change schools.

I got the mortgage at 2.94% and decided on bi-weekly payments (even though I still get paid only once a month). Mortgage + property taxes will cost me less than $900 a month. Hopefully bills will be around $250 or less per month. I chose a cheap cable internet package that is $45 a month.

Since I have finally learned to become a saver, I was able to cover the closing costs out of my TFSA, which is still in a healthy state. Next I will replenish the funds and continue adding them, in order to have a house fund to cover replacement expenses. The roof will need to be re-shingled in 7 to 8 years, and the furnace is 10 years old. I would also like to add a bathroom and kitchenette to the basement for Bean to use when he is older.

I have met all the surrounding neighbours, and they are all really friendly. I don't feel out of my element anymore, being the renter on the street of upper-middle-class house owners. I am now one of the (possibly, lower) middle-class house owners, and it feels really good.

Friday, September 19, 2014

How buying a brand-new car has saved my budget

All the Personal Finance blogs tell us not to buy a new car. I never planned to myself, but when I could not find what I wanted used, I took the plunge and made the splurge. I bought a 2014 Hyundai Accent in April 2014.

Not only do I feel safe and secure in my new car, after years of driving hazardous beaters, but I am also in the best financial shape I have ever been, ever.

Before I bought the car I scrutinized my budget spreadsheet for weeks. If you know how often I do this (at least once a day), you would know that this is a big deal, since I had the spreadsheet open for hours each day, moving numbers around. The only way I could afford the payment was to be radical with each category, to make room for the new purchase.

Once I became comfortable with the changes, I bought the car. Since my intention was to pay it off in 3.5 years instead of 7, I stopped spending everywhere else. I still put money in the grocery account, and the gift account (for christmas and birthdays), but I did not go to Sephora, or the shoe store, or go for take-away, and I certainly have not spent any money online since I bought my car.

Instead I squirreled every penny I could into a savings account, with the intention of making extra car payments. Within a few months my savings accounts were greater than they have ever been. I have never saved this much money before, ever.

I could go to the bank today and pay off half of what I owe on the car. Doing so would make my car an asset, since it is worth only about $12 000 since I drove it off the lot.

A couple of weeks ago, this is exactly what I was going to do, but then Partner (now-ex) told me he is moving out at the end of the month. So I have saved my money, because big new plans are in store.

Upcoming posts:
1. Why it is so important to be on the same financial page as your partner before you move in together.
2. How to make two big purchases in one year as a single mom.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Summer Spending

Time seems to speed up when you have a kid, and even more so during the summer. I am already solidifying plans for the first week of September when the students arrive back at the university.

We took our holidays right away, leaving for New York state two days after grade two ended for Bean. I had paid for the retreat with my income tax refund back in March, so we needed U.S. cash only for gas and meals along the way. We decided to leave a day early and break the trip up into two parts, with the first night spent in a pretty cheap motel across the border. I think that was Bean's favourite part of the trip, because he loves hotel swimming pools! I was quite impressed with the scenery along the way south: what a beautiful part of the country!

Once we arrived at our retreat, we parked the car for the entire week. Meals were covered, and were deliciously vegan. We have decided to go vegetarian since our return, which coincides with the need to bring our grocery bill down to $75 a week, making some funds available for the newest member of our family: Kitten! We had friends come over to play with Kitten while we were away, so we did spend some money in the gift shop on a few small things for our friends, to show our appreciation.

Since our return the schedules have been full with work and day camps. I have finally increased my income a bit by accepting a position that gives me a few more hours at work. Day camps were paid for months ago, in order to secure the spots for Bean. He spent three weeks at camps at the university, and for August is attending the day camp at his school (thank you city subsidy, for the assistance).

I was worried that the camp at his school would be "rough" because of the mixed area that we live in, and to be honest, there are quite a few kids there with some behaviour issues. However, there are a lot of skilled staff there, and each day they break into small groups and explore the wonderful free things to do in our city. Sometimes they go to the library, or the park with the wading pool, and once Bean went on a bike ride up to one of our beautiful parks, and caught some crayfish. I appreciate the free play aspect of this camp, not to mention that the snacks and lunches are also provided and paid for.

Partner and I took one other small vacation on the August long weekend to my favourite city, Montreal. Since I paid for the July retreat, he paid for the B and B, which we found on airbnb. I gave myself a budget of $300 for spending and came home with $100 in my wallet! I was so tempted to shop, but instead of walking down to the trendy stores, we walked the opposite direction and hiked up Mont Royal instead. Nowhere to spend on the mountain! Over the three days, I spent about $150 on meals (one dinner with friends was a bit out of budget but we enjoyed the company), and about $50 on vinyl records. We also went to an MLS soccer match, for which Partner bought the tickets months ago. It was a lovely weekend and I hope to return to Montreal soon. Maybe for my big 4-0 in the Fall!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Materialism, Moms, Kids

This morning Bean had a very serious look on his face as he told me that he wished he had kept a friend's birthday gift for himself. As I noticed the hurt look I thought of the friend mentioned, and realized that the gift purchased and given was BACK IN DECEMBER. 2013. It was a Lego set of a type that Bean has recently become quite fanatical about, especially since there is a tie-in cartoon of the Lego series now on Netflix. He has been watching it every day when we get home from work and day camp, while I am making dinner.

I try not to get annoyed but I can't help it. The friend who received the toy in question is the kid who seems to have everything. I really like his mom and I always wonder how she gets by as a single mom, with two kids, a mortgage, and under-employment. Every time my kid gets excited about a new toy trend it is because this kid, and a couple of others, brought the toy to school and made it the next big thing. All of these kids have single moms, and I don't know how they do it. Maybe the dads buy the toys out of guilt. I don't know.

When we bought the Lego set for the kid's birthday last year, my son was so proud to give it to him because he said it was "rare." It is really cool to have a "rare" set, and since this kid seems to have everything already, Bean thought it would make this gift special. As it turns out, his friend did not have this set, so it might have been special to him. I don't know for sure. Sometimes the kids get doubles and end up trading half the pieces away anyways.

It really bothers me that my kid is so attached to little bits of plastic. I can't figure out if it is the toy itself, or the status that it gives him amongst his friends that he craves. He is so attached to his friends, and they are pretty good friends, even if they are materialistic.

I wish I could contact the other moms and see if they would be willing to go on a "toy ban" for a few months. It is really hard to teach my kid that material things don't matter when so much of his friendships are based on materialism.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Will a paper route suit?

For a couple of years I have been telling Bean that his first job will be a paper route. Most semi-responsible people I have encountered started their employment history this way, so it seems like a good thing to do. Kind of like what working at McDonalds was when I was much younger (except now anyone under 18 rarely gets to work in food services, since adults moved into that sector when the good jobs disappeared).

I even bought him a wagon for xmas in 2012 to encourage him, and figured we would have a route by his 7th birthday. However by that date I didn't think he was ready and would find it more of a curse than a blessing. Also I'm still a bit hesitant because as kids, my sister had a route but pawned it off on me (without pay!) so I know how much work can be involved.

And I never knew how low the pay is!

The route I have a lead on is for "the free paper" in our town. We will deliver to 27 houses on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and the pay is $22 for two weeks work. My calculator tells me that this works out to be 13.5 cents per house, or $3.65 for (hopefully) an hour's work per night. That includes putting the papers together, walking up to the next neighbourhood with our wagon, and delivering. Rain or shine. And I would probably be doing Fridays on my own since Bean goes to his dad's (in the big city) most weekends and leaves on the bus right after school.

When I worked at a Pizza Hut in the late 1980s I made $3.70 an hour, and that was indoors, so you can see why I might be hesitating again. I currently consider my time valued at $25 an hour, after taxes.

Currently Bean does not get an allowance, because he does not do any chores around the house. I can't think of anything for him to do. When I was a kid I unloaded the dishwasher, cleaned the glass tables with glass cleaner, set the dinner table, and washed the bathroom sink. I think I was 10 or 11 when I took over these chores, but I think I started getting a weekly allowance ($2) when I was 7. I told Bean that if he wants an allowance he must do a few things around the house but we didn't come up with a plan. We don't have a dishwasher and he barely reaches the kitchen sink!

If we take the paper route he would make $7.30 a week (I might take the $3.65 for doing Fridays, and put it in his piggy bank as savings), which is a pretty good amount for an 8 year old. It would be a lot of work (maybe!) for a little bit of money, but it would be his own money. He could decide to save or spend it, a lesson we have already been working on for awhile with his birthday money.

I guess we will do the paper route. I need to find out if there is a contract, just in case we hate it and need to quit.

Side note: We don't have any after-school activities lined up for September. Soccer will be finished, and I am letting him quit karate because he is just not that into it. He finished level 3 in swimming and didn't want to continue on. He wanted to go into basketball but the games are on the weekends and he is usually away at his dad's.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Place on Earth

Re-blogged from Fifty Weeks:

In heaven the beer is Belgian. The bread and cheese are French and the beaches are Brazilian. The waves are from Australia and the landscape from New Zealand. All the prices are Cambodian.

In heaven the soup is Vietnamese but the goulash is Hungarian. The city squares are Czech and the meadows are Irish. The bars are Irish too, but you don’t need to go to heaven to find an Irish bar.

In heaven the wine is Italian and the mountains are Nepalese. Dinner is Indian and lunch is Thai. Breakfast is Spanish and served just before going to bed. Whatever the meal, the steak is from Argentina.

The nights are short in heaven because the days are Swedish and it’s always July. The trains are German and always on time. The drug laws are Dutch.

In heaven the sun is Greek and the rivers Lao. The golf courses are Scottish. The composers are Austrian and the school children are Korean; I didn’t spend long enough in either country to nominate anyone else.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Waiting for a PayPal refund

... or maybe this should be filed under stupid spending mistakes? Read on ...

I knew I shouldn't have, but I clicked on the link from Paypal offering me a $25.00 credit from shop.ca. I have never used shop.ca, so I took a look. The selection was overwhelming, so I went to my two favourite lurking categories: wristwatches and handbags. I wasn't thinking when I selected one of each for my cart. The minimum purchase was $75, so I picked a $25 bag and a $50 Timex watch. I clicked through ... order went through ... no $25 credit added.

Oh great, now what have I done? I mindlessly bought two things I don't need, and didn't even get the discount that brought me to the site in the first place. I clicked help, and saw that the order could be cancelled within two hours. So I cancelled it. Goodbye new bag, goodbye new wristwatch. It was a short fling.

Emails came through confirming first the purchase, then the refund. Then an email from Paypal: here is the $25.00 credit! What? That went through? Oh great. Oh well, I don't need new stuff anyways.

Two days later: the purchase price ($89 minus the $25 credit) is debited from my bank account. OK, fine, I will wait for the stupid Paypal refund. Four days after that: nothing. Money still deducted. Sale still cancelled. One phone call, several punches on the "0" key, a man tells me to wait a couple more days for the $64.00 to show up in my Paypal account, and from there I can return it to my chequing account. Bleh.

That's what I get for mindlessly clicking through promotional links. I know better than that.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Mama's vent

Sometimes a mama has just got to vent.

I took a holiday day off yesterday to chaperone my son's class to the local pioneer village. We had not yet gone and were looking forward to it. The teacher gave me a list of five students for my group. I sat with two of them at the back of the school bus going there, while my son sat two seats up with the other two kids. When we got there we had free time for about 45 minutes, so we set out to tour the village. The kids were pretty good at first, but one of them kept complaining that he had already been there three times, and another kid, who had also been there before, was begging to go to the playground. For the first kid I tried to be nice while I asked him why he bothered coming on the trip, and for the second kid I made some kind of compromise that we would get to the playground after lunch.

They ran around and tested me a bit, but I stayed cheerful. At lunch we noticed a snack bar, and I mentioned to another mom that I might want a cup of tea after my bagel. One of the kids heard me (the only girl in the group), and she started whining that she was soooo thirsty. I asked her if her water bottle was in her bag, and she looked at me like a little imp when she replied yes. I realized then that she was about to beg me to buy her something at the snack bar. To shut that down, I hurried the kids with the promise of the playground.

We had to pass by a building that housed a gift shop, and I diverted them in another direction. As we headed to the playground, a group of classmates ran buy with lollipops in their sticky little fists, shouting "candy! candy!" The kids with me started at that second to go insane. We passed by the "General Store," which was closed for lunch, and the kids started begging to go in. I told them that we would go to the playground, as promised, and in half an hour when the Store re-opened, we could take a look. The girl in our group bothered me every two minutes or less to leave and visit the hotel, which was next to the Store.

The playground was next to the one-room schoolhouse, but the kids in my group were not interested at all in going in to check it out. For most of the half-hour, they stayed in a little play hut and played with their Lego guys. I was slightly irritated by this, but I didn't let it get to me. Finally, it was time to check out the hotel, which we did, but the kids got antsy about the Store and ran out before the tour guide was finished. For the hundredth time that day I sheepishly apologized, thanked her, and hurried to catch up with my group. They were waiting on the porch of the General Store, which had not yet opened, but did so a minute later when my kids became louder and complainier about getting in.

As we were waiting, the other mom who had tagged along handed her kid a $2 coin, which made the other kids crazy. The whining escalated to "not fair! he has to share!" I really wish she had kept her money in her pocket. I was partially planning to get the kids some candy but only if they were really nice about it, but when they saw their friend with his own money it was like they were going to go crazy. My own kid saw I was getting frustrated and managed to keep his mouth shut. When we were finally let into the Store, the kids barely sat through the tour, because the only thing they could see were the glass jars with the colorful candy sticks and suckers. As the tour was winding down, the kids became louder and louder, shouting "I want candy!" over and over. The other mom and I each put in a $1 coin and they got to pick a piece each. There was one silent second, and I couldn't help but exclaim, "I don't normally buy candy for whiny kids!" and that shut them up for a bit.

When we got back outside I chastised them a bit for their behaviour and made them say "thank you" to myself and the other mom for paying for their candy. It was awkward amongst us all after that. I couldn't help but be annoyed with the whole bunch of them for the rest of the day. I couldn't believe how rude the kids were, and I worried that my own kid acts like that when I'm not around. He hasn't behaved that way in front of me since he was five years old!

It was after the General Store debacle when their teacher wandered by, and when I noticed that she didn't have a group of kids with her, I realized that she had pawned her entire class of 15 to us three parent volunteers! I realize she has to put up with our little brats every day, but she gets paid a lot to do so, and I was on a vacation day to help her out! If she doesn't like our kids enough to be on the class trip with them, why does she bother teaching at all! It wasn't supposed to be a vacation day for her!

/ vent

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kids and Money

My kid turned eight years old a couple of weeks ago. I booked him an amazing party at the local laser tag place for under $400. He invited eleven friends, and they all showed up! He got a lot of Lego, which he was thrilled with. I got him a new two-wheel bike, because his old one was getting too small. I also bought him new soccer cleats and shin guards, but I would have bought them regardless of his birthday. It was an expensive weekend!

Spending on my kid now has its own category in my spreadsheet. I track all the expenses in their own categories (daycare/camps; sports; RESP; life insurance - something I would not purchase now but I bought the policy when I was less informed, and it is universal life, so I keep paying for it - only $24 a month; misc - includes birthday party and more frivolous expenses like tiny shopping sprees). I add up all the amounts and apply it against the amount of child support I get each month. If there are any funds leftover they go into his savings account.

I only started doing this in the past couple of months. Prior to that the child support went into my account with my pay and child tax credits and everything came out from the combined funds. When I was budgeting for the new car, I separated the child expenses to ensure myself (and his dad, if he shows up with his guns ablazing), that none of "his" money will go toward my own extravagant expense.

I do use the child tax credits as personal income, because if I did not have a child, I would not have moved into a part-time position, decreasing my pay and putting me into the lower tax bracket that qualifies me for the credits. I look at them as an income supplement, until I go back to a full-time position (increasing my pay and my removing my eligibility for them).

I talk about the value of time and money a lot with my kid, and I know he's listening. The other day for mother's day, he was pleased to let me know that his dad had picked out the smallest and cheapest plant for me, saving money. He even kept the receipt to show me. This made me laugh out loud, because he knows that I don't want anyone spending a lot of money on me. He also took me out for lunch, because he wanted to go to McDs and I told him whomever pays gets to choose. I helped him take all the coins out of his wallet, and he had enough to get himself a happy meal and something each for Partner and I. We chose from the value menu so that he would also have enough to buy himself a kinder egg at the grocery store.

My budget spreadsheet is planned out for 2014, and unless new expenses come up (which I cannot foresee), we will have $200 leftover each month to put into a proper RESP. Currently I am depositing $40 into a group plan - again, something I would not choose to do with the knowledge I now have, but I have been paying into it since he was four months old, so it is worth a little bit now. There should be enough to cover his first year of college or university. Once I get the bank RESP accounts set up we will have a good ten years of investing there to help him out some more. I'm not completely opposed to him having to borrow a bit for student loans, but if we can avoid it, that's better.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Why I am buying a brand-new car



Some financial experts and amateurs tell us that it’s one of the worst things we can do for our budget: buy a brand-new car instead of one that is just gently used. And I myself have subscribed to that belief all along. Even my Partner (who is $1000s in the hole from neglecting his Line of Credit for years) told me just a few weeks ago, new cars are not worth the expense because they depreciate as soon as you drive them off the lot. If a financial emergency comes up and the car needs to be sold in the first year or two, you will not receive the amount that will still owe on the car.

Maybe I am high on the new car smell from the cars that I have been test-driving. Tomorrow I am putting in a credit application for a brand-new car. Not a 2013 model. A 2014, brand-new car. I know, it is a risk. If my financial situation changes in the next year or so (it has only been getting better, so I hope that it continues to), I might be stuck with a debt that I cannot pay. And I am willing to take that risk, for several reasons.

I am sure there are a few entries on this blog complaining about all the car repairs I have had to put on all the beaters I have owned.
-The black 1993 Buick Skylark that I bought in 2003 for $1500, had power windows that would not roll back up after rolling them down, so I had to keep them up all the time. Luckily that car had air conditioning. It also had a wheel that broke off while driving on the 401 highway. Not the safest car. Costly repairs.
-The light blue 1995 Chev Cavalier, purchased in 2006, was only $600. I was lucky to get more than two (probably really unsafe) years out of that car, which I used to get myself and my infant/toddler son to and from work and daycare. I dared not take it on the highway. It finally died (after $1000s of repairs).
- The red 1998 Ford Escort, for which I paid $2000. I loved this car, it was sporty and peppy, but it had a problem with the air conditioning compressor and left me (and once with my son) stranded on the highway, waiting for CAA to take us home. The timing belt went, which I paid $2000 to repair … I put $1000s into this car too to keep it on the road.
- The black 2005 Toyota Echo: only a few months after replacing the timing belt on the Ford, one of the students needed to get rid of her Toyota and I went back into credit card debt to purchase it from her, which I never regretted. Why am I replacing it? Well, I’m not really, Partner’s old Ford died a painful death last September and we have been sharing the Toyota ever since. I was happy to go car-free and get back on public transit, but three months after getting my bus puss, the winter from alternate hell began and made it impossible for me to walk my son to school, then walk to the bus station. I ended up driving the Toyota most days while Partner car-pooled. Then his ride moved out of the city, and the hunt for a second car began. Because my cards and LOC are paid off, I convinced him with little effort to buy the Toyota from me (on an easy, interest-free payment plan), and I would use the money to pad the car line in my budget, and get myself something new.

But brand-new new? Why am I clearly disregarding one of the main rules of responsible personal finance?

Selection
After having owned four used cars in the past eleven years, I know exactly what I want, and after scouring the used car sites for a few weeks, I cannot seem to find it. My list includes: low kilometres, manual transmission, ABS brakes, air conditioning, and a colour that is NOT black, white or silver. I don’t care about all the other bells and whistles, but from that list there, I will not budge. Until I bought my Toyota in 2011, I had never owned a car with less than 200 000 kms. I want manual transmission because it is easier to maintain. I need ABS brakes because they are safest. I want air conditioning because my little black Toyota does not have it, and I cannot bear another summer without it. Plus, I just booked a road trip to NY State for July, and we do not want to have to keep the windows open on the highway, like we had to during last summer’s vacation. I want a red car, or blue, or neon green, because it is visible and safer on the road, especially since I am looking at small cars, and have to compete with all the trucks and SUVs on the road. So far on the used car sites I always have to give up one of my criteria, usually the manual transmission, or the kilometres, or the colour. I do not want to have to budge on any of that criteria.

Warranty
With all my experiences of roadside breakdowns, it will be really nice to have the peace of mind of a five-year warranty, plus roadside assistance for three years. I think I will use the monthly payment from Partner for the Toyota for a separate car emergency fund, since I plan on keeping the car for more than five years.

Longevity
It will be really nice to be the sole owner of a car, knowing exactly where the kms have been. I want to be able to teach my son to drive on this car in eight years. Since I plan on keeping the car indefinitely, it doesn’t matter that it will depreciate within the first couple of years.

Finances
But of course. Even if I buy a used car I will have to finance, unless another student walks in here wanting to sell a car that has all the criteria I demand. Financing a used car means accepting 5% interest over 84 months, while the new car is only 2%, making the payments practically the same amount for vastly different products. I would rather have something new for the same amount of money. Even the insurance payments will be about the same. I don’t plan on making car payments for 84 months, but accepting that term keeps the monthly payment under $250 a month, and I can top it up to pay it off faster – which I plan to do. But the option is there if the budget is tight to make the lower payment.

Convenience
We could probably still get by with only one car, but it is tricky. We work at opposite ends of town and Partner is more easily stranded because there is no public transit at his end of town. I can jump on a bus to get to and from work, but I also have to drop my son off and pick him up from school, which constrains my work schedule. In July, he will be at day camp where I work, and to take him on the bus will cost me $5 a day for 15 days, and it will take about an hour there and back (15 min walk to the station and a 40 min bus ride). The car ride is only 15 minutes. I was going to rent a car for July and found that it will cost around $800, which is totally manageable, but I would rather have something sooner. Like, tomorrow :)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

De-Clutter and Profit!

We finally got around to going through our CDs and DVDs and took them to the pawn shop for fun and profit. Partner made $240 and I made $60. He had a lot more than I did, since I de-cluttered in 2005 before heading to Thailand, in 2008 when my basement was leaking and no good for storage, and again in 2011 when I was readying to house-sit for the summer. As well, as I joked with the store people, most of my CDs were second-hand to begin with, and I was selling them back third-hand. Partner had a few video games and Blu-Rays, things I never bothered to purchase in the first place. Bean and I were still watching hand-me-down videotapes when we met Partner in 2011!

Now we live in a house with a Playstation (which plays Blu-Rays), a new Smart TV, three laptops, several tablets, a DVD player, a VCR, and my old combo DVD/VCR player. Partner insisted on subscribing to a television service, and the compromise was satellite, but after about six months I managed to convince him that we were paying close to $200 to watch mostly the same six channels. We cancelled our home phone and upgraded our mobile plans, and found a small internet company that gives us unlimited streaming for less than $60 a month. We purchased Netflix and Major League Soccer streaming plans.

I had already done this kind of downsizing when I began my debt-free journey in 2008, but this was all new territory for Partner. We both came into the partnership with debt and he is learning now how to pay his down while the interest rates are low. This blog has already told how I paid mine off, racked up (just a bit!) again, and paid it off again. My debt is now "just" student loans, which I somehow compartmentalize into a different kind of debt, compared to credit card and line of credit debt. Partner had been making only minimum payments on his $10 000 line of credit for YEARS and when we decided to move into together he had to promise to make it a priority to pay it off. It has been slow progress though, because he did not know how to budget and his discipline was atrocious.

However, budgeting with a partner is a good topic for next time.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

House Rules

Each year I come up with a personal spending rule for myself, and my partner and I come up with a house rule.

Last year my personal rule was to buy no new clothes. I am permitted new underwear and footwear (hopefully only on a replacement basis: one-in, one-out rule), but shirts, sweaters, skirts, dresses, pants, jeans, coats and jackets, are purchased second-hand only. I can't recall if I followed my personal rule perfectly in 2013, but I might have come very close, especially since a co-worker went on a few closet purges of her own and I became the lucky recipient!

Prior personal rules were to cut out daily take-out coffee and limit take-out lunches. I did succeed with those, and now find the same $20 bill in my wallet for weeks. I now bring snacks and leftovers from home and use the department coffee maker each morning when I get in to the office.

Our house rule for the first year of co-habitation was "no more Wal-mart." This rule became especially important to us as we watched too many local businesses close in our area. We are friendly acquaintances with the owner of the local British-goods shop, and he let his loyal customers know that Wal-mart was selling UK goods at competitive prices. We all knew that if everyone switched to them to save a couple of dollars, that our friend would be out of business, and that was unacceptable to us, so we told each other that we would find other stores for all our household goods. This became more of a challenge when Zellers closed and was replaced with another Wal-mart! But then we looked around our house and realized that we have almost everything we need, so no panic was necessary. We buy most of our foods and drinks from the grocery store, and continue to visit our UK shop for teas and specialty items.

This year's house rule is "no fast food, unless we are on the road." This means that if we want to eat out while in town, that we have to find a restaurant that is locally owned and managed. This excludes big names that might be franchises; it has to be a "mom and pop" place (except Taco Del Mar, because the guys who own it seem so cool, and their food is much fresher than the Taco Bell down the street). We are allowed to eat Tim Horton's or A&W if we are traveling and have not packed a snack. Sometimes we travel over an hour to visit family, and so may work a take-out into the trip.

I have not yet come up with a specific personal rule for myself for 2014, except the acceleration of my savings, and student loan payments. So far, so good.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Saving and Spending

So far in 2014 I have saved $1000. Go me!

I have spent a little bit too:
- a trip to Build-A-Bear with Bean (I gave him $40 in gift cards for xmas, and I had around $40 left over from January budgeting, so I let him pick a few extra things for his cute cute rainbow bear);
- a trip to Sephora for me ($55 on a new foundation, plus another $60 on an exfoliant, from which I will use house-funds, and share the tube with my partner - see what I did there?);
- and a trip to the Shoe Company for a pair of Pods (fake Bogs) which were 30% off and another $10 off when I used up my points with them (total was about $55 - but I used a credit card where the payment will not be due till end of Feb, thus using March funds - see what I did there?).

I'm not paid to endorse any of the above shops.

I have doubled my student loan payments in the hopes of having the bulk of them paid off in five years.

I am still saving for a mortgage down payment, but I am getting discouraged by what is on the market in my city. Houses here cost still a third of what they are in the big city so I guess I shouldn't complain. I would, honestly, rather rent, but I want to retire in 20 years, and do not want to have half of my meagre pension go towards someone else's mortgage. I would rather have my own paid-off house to live in and more money in my pocket to have a little life for myself. I am used to living without, yet still have so much, so I know it is possible.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

To Save or to Spend?

I already know the answer to this question.

But now that I am not putting my money towards credit card debt, I am antsy to spend. I have been looking at autotrader.ca listings for a new (to me) car.

My criteria are: low kms, manual transmission, and air conditioning. I don't care about the other features.

My current automobile is the little Toyota I purchased from a graduate student in 2011.

I am in a love/hate relationship with this car.

First, last summer was unbearable, what with she having a black exterior and no air conditioning. We had only a couple of weeks of heat-wave, and I was miserable. This summer I hope to drive to NY state for a vacation and I'd really like air conditioning for the highway.

Second, the driver's side lock is finicky, in such a way that sometimes I get locked in, and I have to climb over the stick and out the passenger side door. So frustrating! Slightly embarrassing!

Other than those things, she's a great little car. If I could find one just like her, maybe in red or gold, with low kms, manual transmission, and air conditioning, I would be set.

I have set a timeline to purchase by June, and a budget no higher than $6000. Which means that I have to save $1000 a month, and then re-introduce insurance, gas, and other expenses into my budget. Currently I share those expenses with my partner, whose car died last Fall. I discouraged him from purchasing another car because his line of credit is still over $8000 to be paid. We now get by with sharing/ car-pooling/ public transit. I think it works ok for now, but I still would really like to have something else by the summer.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Debt Free Again

I paid off the last bit of credit card debt (again!) in December. I owed about $500 on a low-interest card; I think it was left over from 2012's yoga teacher training or perhaps it was half of what I paid for 2013's meditation retreat. Either way, it is paid.

I actually paid $900 for debt re-payment last month, since I accidentally sent a $500 payment to one of my student loans instead of to the credit card. Whoops!! I felt stupid when I caught the mistake, but realized it was ok because the student loans also have to be paid. I cashed out my savings for the first payment, and most of my mutual funds for the second payment.

I also contributed $600 to my RRSP savings account, making up for the $50 a month that I used to save, but ceased when I began my debt-free journey back in 2009. In a couple of months I will contribute another $600 to cover the year ahead.

Since I last posted, I took on a few more part-time hours at the university, which I believe has tipped me into the next income tax bracket, since my monthly tax deduction from my pay cheque  has increased five-fold. I hope I will get some of it back when I file all the carry-overs (tuition, fitness credits, taxable donations, etc.) that I have not been able to use in the past few years, since I did not make enough money!

I managed to stay on Interest Relief for my student loans for five years, and moved into the Debt Reduction Repayment plan last year. With the extra income I am finally paying back a portion of my four student loans. I do not yet have a goal to eradicate that debt, but I hope to by next year when I can see how a full year on this income looks in the big picture.

My goal for 2014 is SAVING. I have a strict budget in place, with some pockets for birthdays and holidays so that I don't feel any burnout. I'm already used to making my own coffee and buying second-hand clothes. My biggest challenge is still online shopping. I think last year I spent close to $1000 online, mostly on skincare, which may or may not be an obsession for me. I also buy a lot of gifts online and it adds up, especially when you have to make a minimum purchase to receive free shipping.

I do use Swagbucks for Amazon gift cards and I also use Web Perspectives to slowly earn gift cards for Chapters-Indigo. None of these sites or companies have paid me to mention them.

Near the end of 2014 I will turn forty. My goal is to purchase a house by then, so saving is a priority. I would like to learn how to invest some of my savings, but I am afraid of making wrong decisions and losing my money. So far I only put $100 in an ING fund each month, but I would like to learn to do more.