Archive for October, 2010

What went right this week?

Zoe, Moo and Gus

As I sit and sip my coffee this morning, I feel overwhelmingly good. I don’t think it’s just the freshly brewed coffee!

Despite a significant set back that occupied my head space for most of the week, and more time fixing it than I would have liked, I’m just feeling on top of the world.

The month is almost over, and the grocery envelope has just enough to get us milk and hallowe’en candy to get us through the weekend.

The fridge is stocked with a huge pot of ham and vegetable soup that I made earlier this week. Never in my life have I boiled a ham bone and then attempted to make soup.  Am I ever glad I tried it now!  The soup is yummy, hearty and cheap! Want to come over for lunch?

Last night I started my new role with my part-time gig. I was totally terrified and nervous, but felt like a rock star when it was all over.  I get to do it all over again tomorrow morning. Aren’t I the luckiest?

The full-time gig is ramping way up, and I’m excited for the challenges ahead.

Maybe there’s something in this coffee?

I thought I’d introduce you to my new dependants up there. They’re the cause of my little financial disaster this week, and the cause of endless laughter and smiles too. Zoe, who is two years old, is totally in her happy place with the kittens.  She’s particularly fond ot snuggle time, but seems to totally take to bathing the kittens too. The kittens will be four months old next week. How time flies when you’re scratching the sofa.

Despite more lean months ahead, I’m still confident that I’m doing what needs doing in order to reach my goals of being debt free. The more I listen to advice from folks dispensing it at a basic level, the more I tune out. I’ve got the message and I’m on board. I’m the choir you’re singing to. What took me a long time to drive home is the patience I need in order to keep earning, and paying down debt and boosting various savings. I didn’t rack it up in a year, so I shouldn’t expect that 12 months would be sufficient to get it to zero.

Maybe I’m just content that it’s Friday, and I get to see little kids dressed up in super cute costumes in a couple of days. Perhaps I’m just proud of my eldest who’s working her socks off at her new full-time job. She’s so busy she can barely spend it – which is good.  The youngest has just completed making her own pirate costume (thank you YouTube) with stuff from the thrift store. And she’s back at school and catching up on what she’s missed while she was sick.

Yep, I’m feeling content. Hope you find lots of great things in your week as you reflect.  Have a safe Hallowe’en.

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The MacBook is dead. Long live the MacBook Pro.

Well friends, it’s official.  My two-year old MacBook was laid to rest yesterday.

Most of my friends and colleagues are amazed that a small bit of liquid, entering in through the side ports would do so much damage.  If any of you read my comment to Jane yesterday, the logic board was “heavily corroded” said the repair technician, and the display connector was also “severely damaged“. He said he could repair them, but a new machine would be much cheaper.

I’ve noticed something about myself over the last seven years, when chronic illness and medical uncertainty entered  my household.  When the chips are WAY down, I get really logical and calm. I’m not sure if it’s self-protection or if I’ve learned to accept that some things are not within my control, and you can either roll with them and do what needs to be done, or allow them to destroy your psyche.

It seems I’ve made an unconscious decision to roll with it. The technician at Apple said “you’re taking this unusually well...” Yeah, I’ve heard that before.

After I had received the news about the passing of the MacBook, I wandered back down to my neighbourhood Apple store to review my options again. Despite my constant use and reliance on a computer, I’m not the computer geek some people think I am.  My last two years with my MacBook have proven to be useful in terms of considering what my current and future needs may be.

I opted for a slightly bigger/faster MacBook Pro.

The good news out of these recent events is that my hard-drive was pristine. In addition, I have a Time Capsule, which is Apple’s solution to the perpetual back-up, via WiFi. My data was protected – twice. This is outstanding news.  The nice repair technician is putting my old hard-drive in a case, which will give me a mega external hard-drive, should I ever need it. Cool.

He’s also transferring all my data/software/files to the new machine with my old hard-drive. I pick it up this morning, it should be ready to just plug in and get back to work.

I pondered, for a millisecond, purchasing a second-hand machine. Because I am not a computer geek, and would find it overwhelmingly frustrating to copy all my software/files/data on to my new machine, I opted for new. This is my livelihood. I can’t spend days on end trying to set up a machine and wonder if it’s a lemon or not.  The new one gives me the assurance that I’ll have the support (for a period of time) and that Apple will hand it over looking just like my old one.

The impact on the budget is obviously significant. The hit will come in December, when the VISA bill arrives for payment.  What can I do about it? Nothing.

I can keep my nose to the grindstone and be particularly vigilant about my expenses. I can stop leaving partial cups of coffee around. As I was thinking about it last night (with a glass of wine), I chuckled and thought this is why I didn’t buy an electric bike, this is why I don’t own a Vespa, this is why I didn’t buy a car. Imagine if I had done any of those things? I can recover from this little set-back. It wasn’t in the plans, but few things in life are, it seems.

Today I’ll focus on the positive.  As soon as the Apple store opens, I get a new computer!!

 

The dog ate my homework, and other unlikely stories

Sorry I didn’t drop by yesterday.  I was trying to deal with a little misadventure we had around here on Sunday.

Since I don’t have a dog, I can tell you that no dog ate my homework. I do, however, have three cats. Two of them kittens. When I left my third of a cup of cold coffee on the kitchen table, with my closed/powered off laptop to go for a walk on Sunday, I didn’t expect what would happen.

Sunday was a gorgeous day here. The kids were elsewhere, and it was one of those rare, all to myself, afternoons. I decided to go for a walk. When I got back home, the coffee cup (that I had forgot about) was overturned, and the contents were all over the table, the chair, the floor, etc. My laptop was sitting in a puddle of cold coffee.

My initial thought was “thank goodness it was closed and off!”. After I cleaned up the mess, and scrubbed the floor, I tried to power on my laptop. No go.

I inverted it, thinking some coffee may have snuck into the ports on the side. Tried in a couple of hours to power it on. No go.

Eventually, the laptop fan came on and ran for many, many hours. Still, no sign of life.

My laptop (a two-year old MacBook) is how I get to work every day. My files are on there, all my settings, bookmarks, etc. It’s where I blog from.  Luckily, I have an older desktop PC, which I keep around for the girls to surf on, and for a back-up in the event we need two computers going at once.

After searching on the PC for some thoughts about my MacBook, I decided to take it into my neighbourhood Apple Store. That’s where it remains. The longer it stays there, the bigger the bill is that I’m imagining.

Suddenly, the kittens are a bit less charming. I anticipated extra expense for cat food, cat litter and vet bills, but laptop repair?

I spent the weekend thinking about my budget and what little goals I’d set for myself in order to finish the year strong. Perhaps I need to accept that “life happens” and regardless of my goal posts, I’ll keep moving them.

I’m not giving in. Just waiting on that call from the Apple Store to see what the diagnosis is. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

 

Need some serious, short term goals

The end of the year is in sight, and I need some serious, short term goals in order to position myself to be able to eliminate my consumer debt by February 2011.

October is finishing with a great, big thud. It’s not any prettier than September, when I finished in the red. I see a bunch of red again. Having said that, I’m still confident that my longer term results will be outstanding, and I’m trying to focus on that.

In order to not sabotage myself (any further) for the remainder of 2010, I have to set some goals along the way. I’ve always found this strategy helps keep me on the straight and narrow. It’s like putting a little flag on a twisted path. Helps me verify that I’m going the right way.

As I review my spreadsheet for 2010, I see that my discipline has relaxed a bit over the last few months. That isn’t the entire reason for finishing a couple of months in the red, but it sure doesn’t help matters.

I suspect that the Bank of Canada will hold the rate steady for the remainder of 2010, so I’m going to presume that my interest rate for mortgages and my line of credit won’t change. My full-time income won’t change, but I can continue to look for opportunities to fill-in for colleagues at my part-time gig. This isn’t a ton of money, but it’s something.

Christmas is coming, and I have to really focus on staying in budget here. I’ve budgeted $400 for gifts. What the heck was I thinking?

November’s medical expenses are already just under $1900. Only about $1000 of that is reimbursable. That doesn’t make the task easy.

The wee fur babies need one more immunization booster, and they’re due for a spay and neuter in mid-December.  The “fixing” part expense won’t land until January, so I can put that aside for now.

Over the weekend, I’ll do a little strategizing with myself, to try and nail down some measureable, achievable goals for the next two months. I’m very motivated to have a strong finish in 2010, an put myself in a winning position for January 1, 2011. If you have any tips for me, of course I’m all ears!

Meanwhile, on Saturday I’m going to hop in a rented car (yeah me!) and go give my step-Mom a second set of eyes on her financial picture. (See, I really don’t need to own a car to do that!).  Have a great and safe weekend!

 

I’m listening, Mr. Carney

Bank of Canada Governor, Mark Carney, has been trying to send a message to Canadians for some time now. I guess he thinks we’re not listening.

Yesterday, he warned us again that things weren’t just as rosey as one may think. Some experts tell us that Canadian’s are not only still racking up debt, they’re actually doing it at a faster pace than our neighbours to the south. No wonder Mr. Carney keeps sending us a message. Despite the overnight lending rate being hiked three times this year, interest rates are still unnaturally low. Many of us (myself included) cringe a little every time the rate goes up one-quarter of one percent.

Across the pond in Britain, their government slashed hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs, and other government spending. Their streets exploded with protests, anger and dismay. Check out some pics online if you didn’t see the news. Something similar can happen just about anywhere, even here.

Seems Mr. Carney is quite concerned that we’re not getting the message.  Imagine the challenges he faces when making the decision around the overnight lending rate? On one hand, he wants to keep interest rates low enough to continue to fuel the economy, allow jobs to be created, allow Canadians to stay the course.  On the other hand, as long as he keeps the rates low, some of us have lulled ourselves into a sense of thinking it’ll always be that way. If that wasn’t true, why are we continuing to dig our debt holes deeper, and at an aggressive rate?

Some of us have a short memory, right? I still wince after the first couple of weeks of snow.  I should know by now (after 47 winters) that snow comes and stays for a few months. But there’s still some notion in the back of my mind that maybe this year we’ll get away without it. To my credit, there really wasn’t much snow in Toronto last year. I almost did get away with it!  What are the odds of it being a mild winter again?  In my experience, 47 to 1.

I recall negotiating the mortgage when my ex-husband and I purchased our second house. I was so elated at the time that the interest rate was just under 10%.  Man, in those days, anything under 10% was brilliant! Now, all of my mortgage products are under 5%. I’d have some hardship if the rates were actually back where they were in the late 1980’s, back at that sweet sub-10% rate.

When I talk about my goal to pay off my debt, I specifically mean my consumer debt — the balance that’s currently sitting on my line of credit, which is NOT below 5% interest. Once that’s paid off, Mr. Carney will still be looking at me along with all those other Canadians and fretting. Once the line of credit is gone, I’ll still be sitting on a lot of mortgage debt. As a Canadian with four mortgage products, two at variable rate, I need to listen to Mark Carney very carefully.

My biggest mortgage loan is up for renewal in February 2012. It’s hard for me to imagine what the landscape will look like then. Presumably, as a country, we’ll be in a reasonable recovery period. But who’s to say? I may not be able to secure a loan under 5% by 2012. Since I’m pretty fond of living here, I’d better continue to listen to Mr. Carney.

 

 

A big, sincere thanks…

Wow. When you ask your girlfriends to pull up a chair and lend an ear, they really come through for you. Big thanks to Jane, Momofthree and Everydayminimalist for chiming in with my plea for rational advice last week.  Special thanks to Jacq who gave me her thoughts, cared enough to keep pondering the issue during the day, and came back in for a second cup of advice.

First, let me tell you that I didn’t buy a car this weekend.

Second, let me say I (hope) that I’ve explored this idea enough that it’s off my agenda for a reasonably long term. Long term meaning more than one year.

The last couple of weeks have really shown me how easy it is for people to get off the rails of their financial plan. I don’t consider myself to be like most people. I actually think that I’m more disciplined, more organized and more patient than most of the population. I wasn’t always this way, but over the years and through various experiences, I’ve learned these traits have served me well.

I can be a bit impulsive too. Impulsive can be fun. It can also be pretty destructive, depending on how it manifests itself in your world. I wouldn’t say that a car purchase for me was strictly impulsive, it is something I think about often. But the way it got under my skin and wouldn’t let go was pretty dramatic.

If I’m reasonably disciplined and organized and rational and it was that hard for me, how hard is it for somebody who isn’t as stubborn as I am?

Your good advice, combined with a few more thoughts from friends and family have certainly helped me to see clearly a situation that I had difficulty seeing clearly on my own. At least while I was behind the wheel of a nice little car, the clarity got a bit murky.

The truth is, even if somebody gave me a car today, I couldn’t afford to put it on the road. Despite my online insurance quotes that started to make it look a bit more reasonable, when I actually spoke on the phone with the reps, the prices went back to about $250/month again. Even though my average daily commute by car would be 0 kms (yep, that’s no kilometers – I work from home for my FT gig), it’s possible I may, at some point in time, use the car for work. Getting to my PT gig via public transit is sometimes a time hog. Since I couldn’t honestly say I’d never use it for work, the price went up another $80/month.

One of my colleagues, who also lives in Toronto and lives with her husband, two-year old and no car told me how often she took cabs. When I was complaining about walking 7 blocks in the rain to a car rental when you’re all dressed up for a funeral, she said “I’d have taken a cab to the rental for sure.” These are things I just don’t think about. Lesson learned: I can think smarter when the chips are down and I’m fatigued.

Subsequent lesson: don’t be so focussed on the money goal that you deny yourself some small luxury that would simplify your world in that moment – like taking a cab, or renting a car.

My Mother was actually pretty wise on this one.  She advised to give myself a deadline of when I could consider it again, and stop driving myself nuts about it in the interim.

For a moment, while advice was coming in, I had a case of the “what do you know – you have a car?”. Then I had a few moments of “yeah, well you have a partner/husband you can ask to do some things, you’re not steering the ship solo!” Then I realized what a whiner I’d become over this whole thing. Geeze, I hate whiners.

As I got on the bus Sunday morning to go to my full-time gig, I had to smile to myself. For the record, there is no subway service on Sunday morning until 9 a.m. in Toronto.  If you gotta be anywhere earlier, you’re reliant on a late-night bus service. I’m lucky if I can get on the bus at my intersection because it’s usually packed to the rafters by the time it gets to me.  As I squeezed myself on the bus, I chuckled thinking most of these people don’t have cars either. If they had ’em, they’d use them over this sardine can. Sitting directly across from me was a couple, with their two young boys, both in a stroller.  It was so early the boys were sleeping soundly, with their wee heads hanging over the edge of the stroller.  The mom worked tirelessly to keep moving their heads inside the stroller so people wouldn’t bump into them on their way by.

Do you think she was having any fun? Hell no.  Do you think she showed in her face or mannerisms any frustration or impatience? Not one bit. As I left the bus I said “your children are beautiful” and she thanked me. Really, it was her I was thinking was beautiful, but I know any mom covets a complement for their children. She would have thought I was a stalker if I tried to tell her how much I admired what I knew she was going through in order to get wherever she was going with her family.

I have goals for my family and me too. They’d be pretty difficult to achieve if I was paying for a car in the driveway.

My hearty thanks to you for sticking with me through a rough patch of indecision. I hope you know how much I appreciate it. I’m in Vancouver for a couple days, so you may find me quiet tomorrow. Even though I’m quiet, know you’ve made me smile with gratitude.

Wheels won’t stop turning.

Friends, pull up a chair. I need rational people to talk to  🙂

Yesterday, I put another car rental notch in my AMEX card. One of my aunts passed away and I went up north to the funeral. There were no bus options that would allow me to get to the funeral on time. My aunt was 81, and never in exquisite health. It was good to see the rest of my family and catch up over church lady sandwiches, date squares and sweet pickles. (Honestly, who doesn’t love that?)

On my way back to the city, I stopped in at a used car dealership that many of my friends and family have given high praise. It was a damp, drizzling day. Seems I was the only hot blooded potential customer around yesterday. My customer service experience was second to none.

Brad, the young and kinda cute sales rep came out to say hello.  He encouraged me to look around and let him know if I had any questions. I cruised the entire lot.

Let me cut to the chase: I went on four test drives yesterday.  First was a 2002 Jetta ($6995), second was a 2006 Saturn ($7995), then a Kia (I forget the price, hated the drive), finally a 2005 Honda Civic ($7995). For the record, Brad is a super great guy. He didn’t make me feel like a dopey girl who didn’t know squat about cars, and answered all my questions. When he showed me the champagne coloured Saturn he asked me what I knew about Saturns. I said “nothing really“. He took the time to let me know they didn’t make them any more and they had similar engines as some of the GM products. When he asked “how do you like the colour?” I said “well, I’m not keen on it, but I’ll try not to be a princess about it!

He let out a hearty laugh and said “that’s the first time I heard that one!

As I got in the Saturn, I texted my brother-in-law, Stephen, who’s a pretty fine mechanic. He’s now working for Porsche. I said “what do you know about 2006 Saturns?” He eventually texted back and said “poo poo, too cheap, don’t do it”. So I enjoyed my ride and returned the Saturn.

Stephen then asked “where are you?” and I told him where I was. “Awesome place” he confirmed “you’ll get treated well there”.

Since I had Stephen’s attention, when I returned to the lot I texted him with another query. “What about a 2002 Jetta – 112kms, $6995?” He asked me a few questions to confirm the model of the car, then responded with “bulletproof – sexy ride if you get the windows tinted!”

On the other hand, sales rep Brad wasn’t excited about the Jetta for me. He warned me that Volkswagen has exclusivity on parts, and they’re often twice as much as another car. I’d heard that before, Stephen had mentioned that previously.

As I was talking to Brad about the history of the Jetta, Stephen texts me again after crusing the car lot’s website to tell me there’s a 2005 Honda Civic on the lot.  I see the message in my handbag. I say to Brad “is that Civic still on the lot?” He smacks his palm into his forehead and said “wow, good thing your brother is helping us out here – that’s a great idea, let’s go see it!”

The Civic was a great test-drive. Much cleaner than the Jetta inside, and it’s also a stick-shift. To me, driving a stick is really driving. Makes me feel like a race car driver! Stephen texts me that the Honda is a good car (even with 119,000 kms) and he and his girlfriend just bought one almost the same. Brad pulls up the car history, and it’s just off-lease, and there are no accidents on record. As Brad pointed out, it’s a black exteror and black interior, so one doesn’t have to worry about any princess tendencies.

The Jetta was owned for the last 5 years by a guy in Toronto, so I know it’s been subjected to stop-and-go traffic.  No accidents on record. A grungier interior and exterior is starting to show its age.

I’m still absolutely torn over the idea of buying a car. Actually thought I’d be ill last night thinking about it. Was it the thoughts of the car or that third drink I had trying to figure it all out?

The seven block walk to the car rental yesterday morning, in the pouring rain, didn’t help me want to put off the purchase. After I’d showered, put a nice dress on, straightened my hair nice….just not fun.

I looked up insurance online last night for both vehicles.  The Civic is about $188/month, and the Jetta is a bit less at $169/month. Jetta would cost more to repair, and likely need more repairs due to its age. Since there are so many Civics on the road, I’m told parts are readily available, and much cheaper than Volkswagen. The Civic was prettier. The Civic is a two-door, which is not attractive if you have occassional passengers with some mobility issues (like my daughter).

What the hell is wrong with me? (other than this wee hangover) I hear my trusted friend wisely saying “have compassion for yourself” and I’m wondering if that could mean I can simplify my life by having a car.  My tasks would be simpler, but balancing my books wouldn’t be.

I read Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s blog this morning and she’s wagging her finger saying “spending more money than you make is dumb.  And spending money on STUFF when you haven’t yet earned it is tantamount to committing financial suicide.” Is she following me?

A colleague, who I adore and admire his fiscal prowess, noted this week that he holds me up as an example of how a person can live a full life in the city without a car. Wow, he’s proud of me. If I buy a car, will I disappoint him?  (Yeah, that matters to me). Does he really know how much of a drain it can be at times?

Don’t normal people have cars? Do normal people owe money on cars?

It’s exhausting trying to do the right thing all the time, isn’t it? Trying to be responsible. Geesh, maybe I have a bad dose of debt fatigue. Why do we think the anti-dote is more debt? Ack, I’m a mess.

I have no money set aside for a car purchase. I have enough in my TFSA to buy one ($10,000) or I can put it on my line of credit. Both sound so stupid now that I’ve typed them out. Still, I can’t get the desire out of my head. I’ve come up with a million justifications: I could visit my parents more often, I could help out my step-mother more, I could take the girls on little day trips, we could grocery shop less often, I could drive to my part-time gig saving me a few hours a week. I could go on, but you get the idea.

The overwhelmingly responsible thing to do would be to wait until the end of 2012 or 2013 to make a car purchase. Next year I want to take the girls on a nice trip. That’s my big savings goal. The year after that maybe a car? The house eventually needs new windows upstairs and eaves trough. Maybe that should come before a car? Can I really wait that long? Not likely.

I should really wait until my obligation to clear my consumer debt is completed. Wish you’d all just have a coffee with me and slap me around and help me move on with this issue, one way or another!