Archive for June, 2010

Reflecting on June

As June draws to a close, I’m feeling quite reflective on my journey.

All the numbers aren’t in yet, so I can’t give you my June report card, at least not yet. I can tell you that June will end well, on paper.

I think this month I understood that this isn’t just about numbers. It’s not just about balancing the budget and paying off debt. There’s a good bit of self-reflection in this journey – at least there is in my journey. June marks the six month mark of being totally dedicated toward one outcome: retire my line of credit debt by the end of 2010. As I’ve progressed in these last six months, I’ve added two more goals: the need to start an emergency savings, and to resume contributions to my retirement savings. I’ve done all three.

Don’t go thinking I’ve got it all figured out or have it all together. This month I realized just how fragile things/I am.

Seems somehow ironic that at the half-way mark of my initial goal, I had some significant ah-ha moments. Specifically, I truly understood that I:

  • can still view shopping as a recreational activity, which gives me a temporary high;
  • can still see something I don’t need, and invent some justification in my head for why I should have it;
  • am emotionally attached to an expensive little piece of real estate in Toronto we call home;
  • maintain a rental property even though I don’t have a maintenance fund to support it, and my financial position has changed substantially since I initially purchased it;
  • can tell my friends I can’t afford to go out for dinner/lunch/drinks and they can come over;
  • need to stand-up to people who can influence my spending (like the ex-husband, my Mother, the kids, friends);
  • need to maintain the hours I put in through my part-time gig, even when the debt is paid off.

Some of these things were uglier than others.

While I thought I could look at stuff that tempted me and just “say no”, I had a bad case of wanting to just say “here’s my visa card” in June. There were things I really wanted to buy in June, but didn’t. There were a few things I wanted to buy and did. When I updated my Facebook status in mid-June to say I “shouldn’t have tried on that dress at Banana Republic”, most of my friends chimed in about how I should just go get it, how I deserved it, how hard I worked. Yes, I do work hard. What does that have to do with anything? Isn’t that the attitude that has folks in debt have now? Hell, isn’t that the attitude that got me in debt?  Maybe I deserve a hair cut too, but if I can’t pay for it, what’s it matter? Do I deserve a sports car? What’s the difference between a hair cut and a sports car? If you can pay for either, and still maintain your other commitments, why shouldn’t you have them? The ugly part in this is how shallow it all sounds.

You know I didn’t buy that dress, and from today’s perspective, I don’t even want it. But for whatever reason, for a number of days I ached for it. Particularly silly when I admit there is no function, no hot date, no place in mind to actually wear it.

In hindsight, I’m terribly thankful for this silly little dress from Banana Republic. It will be my visual cue in my head to remind me I can be taunted, and I’m not out of the woods. Just because I can be diligent with recording my spending in a spreadsheet and reporting on what percentage I spend on what budget line doesn’t make me bullet-proof to consumerism. What hole in my world did I think this dress would fill?

This month I also came to grips with the cost of maintaining our home. I’ve made a choice to stay in a home that is in a good, familiar neighbourhood. I’ve moved four times since 2001. I’ve purchased four homes, sold three, and lived temporarily in one apartment. This month I realized that I pay a heavy price to be still in the place we have now, and I have to be content with the price tag that comes with that. If I’m not, I’ll have to put a sign on the lawn. Since I’m not prepared to do that, I will accept the high cost of Toronto living.

Similarly, I poured out some money and time to a rental property I purchased five years ago, at a time when my financial picture was very different. It’s hard to believe what’s transpired in five years.

I guess the bottom line is this: just because one makes a decision, doesn’t mean that decision always makes sense as time goes by.

Today I am living with decisions I made two, three and five years ago. I’m paying off debt I’ve been acquiring for the last five years. I’m one weak moment away from being that lady in the mall with too many shopping bags. This month I truly understood that I am in charge. I can make decisions today that create a better perspective for my future self, two, three and five years from now. I’m the one who decides. This month I got a glimpse of a part of myself that I didn’t find that particularly flattering, but at least I’ve seen her, and I hope I’ll know her when she starts to rear her empty head.

Shopping Spree at Shoppers Drug Mart

The haul from SDM

Jolie at Shaking the Money Tree, along with the flyer delivery fella in my neighborhood made sure I knew about the Spend Your Points event at Shoppers Drug Mart this past weekend. I was going to spend them anyway, but Shoppers threw in an extra $25 if I used ’em up on Saturday or Sunday.

The girls were so excited! Each of them got to spend $50 (before taxes). Sunday morning after breakfast we got our little bundle buggy, my Optimum Card, a calculator and toddled up the street to our local Shoppers. Walking there the conversation was “I want to check out those new face washes” or “I need some new body wash” and general excitement about what they were going to buy.

Once we arrived, however, it was a different story entirely! The eldest started off the shopping with a bottle of face wash she uses regularly. In the bundle buggy it went, and I jotted down her subtotal. The youngest went up and down the aisles scouting out her options, and checking out what was and wasn’t on sale.

The eldest handed me another product, and I updated her subtotal. Moments later she said “here, switch that last thing with this one, it’s the same stuff and it’s way cheaper”. Such a good shopper.

After quite some time went by, the youngest hadn’t handed me anything for our cart yet. “How’s it going there sweetie?” I asked her. She gave me a puzzled look and said “this is harder than it looks!” She knew the $50 was a gift, and she wanted to get the best bang for her buck, and she wanted to make sure she got things that were good value/on sale so she could make her $50 go as far as possible.

The first thing she handed me were hair clips. Sadly, I had to say “don’t buy those”. We exchanged a look which let her know she’d be getting them for her birthday next week. Eventually she started loading in her treasures, and they both kept asking for an update on what they’d spent and how much they had left. Nearing the end, they both wanted me to get something, but I assured them this wasn’t my shopping spree, it was theirs.

As generous as that sounds, it was actually quite selfish on my part. They picked up deodorant and razors and a few other things that may otherwise end up in our personal care budget. In actuality, I was being kind to our future cash flow.

I was quite proud of them both during this little shopping spree. They both bought sensible, practical items. Okay, we also bought a couple of little treats too. What girl doesn’t need the odd Kit-Kat bar or box of smarties?

When we got to the cashier, she said “you don’t have $100, it’s only $96.27”. I told them I’d be right back, and I added in three loaves of bread, which I knew would push us to about $101.00. That did the trick, and the girls split the $14.21 that the cashier needed to cover the taxes. We ate the Kit-Kat on the way home.

By the time we got home, they were both pumped with their haul. It was like Hallowe’en! They took out all their stuff, and displayed it on the table like a prized bounty. They should be stocked for a little while on some stuff. We sure had fun spending our points.

Thanks Shoppers for the goodies. We appreciate ’em!

Driver’s Training: $800

My ex-husband propositioned me yesterday. Here’s the pitch: send the girls to driver’s training, and get their license this summer.

The program he has his eye on is in Barrie, where he resides. They spend 20 hours or so in a simulator, then another number of hours in the classroom and they’re expected to spend time on the road as well. The whole session takes a week and promises to position their students in an excellent position to get their license upon completion.

Like any other driver education program, the completion certificate is also a savings with car insurance, even though girls aren’t nearly as expensive to insure as boys are.

If the program didn’t sound good enough, he also reminded me how important it was for girls to have their independence, how some adult women without licenses are isolated, etc. I don’t have to be convinced of any of this. I’ve had my license since I was 17. I was lucky enough to have driver’s education in high school. The cost, if I recall, was about $60.

The closer is this: “I’m happy to have the girls up here, one at a time, enroll them in this program, take them out driving every night and arrange their test if you’ll split the cost with me, it’s $800 each.”

I don’t need any convincing that a driver’s license is an essential asset. Just because we don’t have a car doesn’t mean I don’t drive. I’ve seen my 67 year old mother shy away from driving over the last decade, and it saddens me that she’s shortened her radius of driving comfort. If something ever happened to my step-father, she wouldn’t be driving to Toronto to see me, that’s for sure. That’s not the only issue, it’s simply the freedom to go wherever you wish, when you wish is a great liberty.

When I said to the ex “I don’t know where I’m finding $800” I think he thinks I’m putting him on. Although I just put new floors in the rental property, and I don’t know where that money is coming from either, it was just something that had to be done, so it got done.

So, at some point this week, I’ll have to review the budget and see what’s possible. I don’t think there’s any fat in there at all anymore. I’ve reviewed and revised enough times already this year. If anything, the budget for the remainder of the year is too restrictive in the other direction.

In my past world, I likely would have just said “yeah, that’s an awesome idea, thanks for stick handling all that” and taken it from my line of credit. That’s how I started the year with more than $13K in the hole with my line of credit. While I may do that again, I’m so proud of the way my line of credit statement looks for 2010; only deposits and interest – no transactions in the other direction. (I’m not counting the GIC for the rental mortgage issue).

The only con to this arrangement is the money. It’s a great summer for them both to take this on. They don’t have any big plans to travel. None of them have work commitments, at least not yet. If at such a point in time I do invest in an electric bike, at least they’ll both know how to think like a driver if they ever take it out, which is really important. They’ll get to learn to drive with their Dad, which will (hopefully) be pretty cool.

I pondered putting through the eldest this year, then waiting for the youngest next year. The eldest already has her G1, and it may be set to expire soon. If she lets it expire, it’ll be another $120 to write it again. The youngest is planning (and saving for) a trip to Italy and France next year. I’m doing anything I can to encourage her to go. I’ve never been on a trip like that, and there’s no reason she shouldn’t go. So, thinking about one more big “to do” for the summer of 2011 may be a bit overwhelming.

What would you do if you were in the driver’s seat?

Word of the week: whirlwinded!

I’m really looking forward to a bit of downtime this weekend.  Wednesday was a crazy day around here, with a wee earthquake, then a tornado touching down in Midland, then more tornado warnings later into Wednesday evening for southern Ontario. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just a bit too old for so much excitement!

Yesterday I felt like I was hit by a truck. When I was trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with me, I knew I got a bit too excited over Wednesday’s events. Things were fine until the 10:30 southern Ontario tornado warning, when a broadcaster announced “significant wind events” were “imminent” and reminded viewers of all the precautionary steps they should take immediately. As I collected kids and cats in the basement, I then realized the broadcaster didn’t remind me of everything we needed. I went back upstairs, got the insulin, the pills, a bunch of bananas, some juice. Then went back up again for the needles and more pills. Sitting on the couch watching the weather alerts for the next hour probably wasn’t the best idea.

Shortly after the girls got their sleeping bags out the warnings were called off. We all toddled off to bed.

When I reflect on June as a whole, it’s been a whirlwind month – or whirlwinded as I’ve now heard since Wednesday.

The mortgage on the rental had to be switched in June, which also means a penalty and cash back. The mortgage now appears in my online banking profile for CIBC, but it’s not live yet, and neither the penalty or cash back have appeared in my chequing account. Only three more business days to go for this thing to land and come to rest.

The rental was vacant, and needed a new tenant and a bit of work to get it ready for its close-up again. There is a new tenant ready to move in, I have first and last month’s rent in the bank, and a contractor is finishing up the stuff I couldn’t manage to do. Now, if Home Depot would only deliver the flooring I ordered on May 31! If they don’t deliver today, I’ll have to get cranky and make a decision. The house will have occupants soon, I’m sure they’d appreciate a floor. There’ll be a bill for the contractor, which will impact July.

In June I battled the urge to shop. Most times my sensible side won, but not every time.

This month I lost a shift at my part-time gig thanks to the G20, but now I’ve picked up two more in its place. Nice!

I’m excited to bring the cash flow spreadsheet up to date this weekend. I hope the CIBC finalizes their business today, it’ll make my job much easier. I’ll be even more excited to see what my picture looks like for the end of June. Wednesday will mark the official halfway point of the year, and hopefully halfway toward being debt free.

Six months has not felt like a long time to keep most of our variable expenses in envelopes. That, combined with a bunch of discipline (most days) has made a big difference to my day-to-day. Seems my body isn’t accustomed to worry anymore, that’s why I felt so rough yesterday after Mother Nature unleashed some whoop-winds. I haven’t worried about money the way I used to for months now. Sure, I’ve still got another six or seven months to be debt free, and then I have to work on my emergency fund, boosting my retirement savings, my home maintenance fund, etc. At least now I see the way. It’s just a long drive!

Happy Friday all.

The economic impact of the G20, for the little guy (and gal)

I keep humming "Don't Fence Me In"

I live a little north and a little east of Toronto’s downtown. Right now, Toronto’s downtown doesn’t look like it normally looks. Last Wednesday I was meeting a colleague for a business lunch. As I came out of Union Station, I had to pause for a moment and remember where I was. Frankly, I felt like I was in another country. Fences, cops, confusion. (Ok, the confusion is normal).

Just outside Union Station I hailed a cab. When I told him my destination he said “hmmm, how am I going to get there?”  Being ever helpful I advised him where it was. To which he said “oh I know Miss, it’s the fences!”  Right, the fences.

As we spoke I felt sorry for the cabbies. Sure, I’ve cursed my share of them, but they’re just folks, most of them really decent folks, who are trying to make a living and support their families. “What have you guys been advised to do on the Saturday and Sunday of the G20?” I asked him. He threw up his hands and said “I dunno, I dunno how we can make a living and pay the mortgage when you can’t drive in the area that pays the mortgage on the busiest two nights of the week.” Wow, that’s rough.

This was a week ago, the police presence is MUCH heavier now

Although I haven’t seen it with my own eyes this week, a neighbor who works downtown confirms it’s a ghost town down there. There’s not even a line-up at Starbucks in the financial district! The cabbies won’t have any drunken patrons to bring home from the clubs because nobody will be going to the clubs this weekend. Imagine the loss to business? Right in the core of the city!

I was told two weeks ago not to go to my Saturday morning shift for my part-time gig. While the location isn’t right inside the red zone, as they call it, it’s close enough that people would have to go through it to get there. It simply isn’t happening. My financial loss, about $35. The cabbies and businesses are much worse off.

For the next few days, I’ll be pretty picky about where the girls and I go. We’ll stick around here I think. I should be going up to the rental to finish off some of the items on the “to do” list, but I dare not go on the highway this weekend. There will be lane reductions, and just generally too much to deal with.  My mother even called and suggested we get together. I normally don’t say no to Mom, but this time I told her it wasn’t a great idea.

As it is, a nice fella is coming to have dinner with me on Sunday. I think it’s a date. I reminded him he’d have to navigate some serious traffic disruption in order to get to me. He seems to think it’s not a problem.

From my vantage point a little north east of the action, I’ll be content to watch the drama unfold on TV. Meanwhile, I’ll be thankful that my financial impact isn’t significant, and just lick my wounds as a taxpayer, and hope my portion of that billion dollars in security has already been paid.

Optimum Card?

Just a heads up for those of you who may have an Optimum Card from Shoppers Drug Mart. Their redemption schedule will change July 1. As if the HST wasn’t bad enough?  🙂

So, if you’re sitting on a bundle of points, and you’ve been wondering what to spend them on, you may want to check out the new structure here.  The upside of spending a good bit of coin on some medical supplies is I have an opportunity to collect these points pretty quickly. In the current plan, 75,000 points will get you $150 of free stuff (before taxes). In the new plan, you’ll get $170 for 95,000 points.

Lots of people have a lot to say about these points, good and bad. From my perspective, I’m going to spend money on medical supplies anyway, so if the pharmacy wants to give me some bonus for my expenditures, I’m cool with that. Even thankful.

I was sitting on a lot of points. I have already redeemed some. I’m sending the girls to the drug store this week to share the remaining $75.00 of benefit I have on my optimum card.  We haven’t purchased much in the way of face creams, acne scrubs, etc. This way, they can go have a little spree at SDM with a bit of free money.

Do you have an Optimum Card? If so, do you think it’s better to redeem some points before the plan changes?

Health Insurance options

On Friday, I spent a little time exploring some health insurance options. In case you’re wondering what the end result is, I’ll save you the trouble from scrolling down to the bottom and tell you it’s a no go.

My first call was to the Ontario Drug Benefit program/Trillium. These are the most sensible folks around. I had previously understood that Trillium was only for low-income individuals/families. This isn’t the case. The premiums are based on your net earning from the previous tax year.  For instance, if your income is 100,000 last year, your premium would be 100,000 x 4% = $4,000.  You would pay the $4,000 premium in quarterly installments. During each quarter, you pay for your own drugs until they add up to $1000.00. Once you reach that, your prescriptions cost $2 each. This coverage is for prescriptions only, excluding any dental, hospital, vision, etc.

Based on my 2009 income, the premium cost for me is too high to receive any benefit for my eldest daughter who isn’t covered for prescriptions. If it also covered dental and vision, I’d be considering it.

My second call was to Green Shield. Since daughter number one is a type 1 diabetic, they would not insure her. They would offer me a basic plan that would allow me up to $250 worth of prescriptions per year for her, but they can’t be any prescriptions dealing with pre-existing health conditions. What’s the point?

Third call was to Blue Cross. Once they realized my daughter was diabetic, they offered me their basic plan, for $63.33/month. This would cover 70% of my prescription costs up to $500. It would also cover her supplies (test strips and needles) up to $500/year. Normally, she gets her test strips for free, but we do pay for needles, which are about $60/month. This would also cover her for dental of up to $245/year.

Since my primary pressure point is prescriptions and needles for her, I’m not really sure it’s worth the hassle of paying them about $750 for $1000 in benefit. Sure, I’d come ahead $250, but honestly….

My next call was to Manulife. They offered me prescriptions of up to $504/year and dental of $400/year for a premium of $63.60. The least attractive of all the options.

Finally, I called an agent about SunLife. He said “you don’t want SunLife, they’re terrible.” I presumed he was on commission and he pitched me Manulife again. After advising him I already spoke to Manulife, he suggested I tell Manulife that my eldest was just coming off an employer plan, and that they’d charge me essentially $1,700 in premiums annually for $1,600 in drug coverage plus $500 in dental, plus semi-private hospital, plus $250 every alternate year in vision care. Although he tempted me, I can’t be filling out medical forms and telling lies about our situation. It’s just not in my hard wiring. Plus, this is almost a wash, in terms of the maximum benefit I’d get out of it.

In my research I’ve learned a few things:

  • if you’re coming off a group insurance plan, seek out private coverage within 60 days of it ending. The insurance companies don’t ask too many questions in that time period. They offer a straight transfer, and apparently sweeter deals
  • if you have to get needles through prescription, you just end up paying more in a dispensing fee
  • I’m unlikely to find an opportunity that would greatly benefit us, with pre-existing medical conditions

Next fall, if all goes according to plan, my daughter will be a full-time student again in University, and her father’s medical coverage should bring her back into the fold. This will make a big difference to my bottom line.