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Monday, 26 June 2017

Unexpected Windfalls - what to do with that money



Imagine you were just handed a cheque for $3500.

What do you do?

This happened to me on Friday. The government made an error on my tax return and refunded me a surprising amount of money. After I had read the letter for the tenth time to make sure I wasn’t seeing things (I wasn’t) then checking to make sure the cheque was real (it was), I immediately started thinking about what should be done with the surprise cash that was soon to appear in our bank account. Automatically, my mind went to tropical breezes and sitting with a drink in my hand, but reality does catch up and I decided (with husband) how to best approach this surprise surplus. This money can do us a lot more good if we invest it in ourselves rather than putting it toward something more frivolous (and probably more fun).

Thanks, Canada!


Half of the money went to pay down the Fiat (always pay down the debt with the highest interest rate first) and the other half went into the savings/emergency fund. It was almost painful moving the cash, knowing what fun we could have with the money, but I also know how much good it can do when it comes to our bottom line. Other than our house and our car, Husband and I are lucky enough to be essentially debt free. It’s taking those extra few pennies and putting them toward what debt we do have that keeps us out of trouble.

I love that little car...


While we may not get to play with this cash, it will pay off in dividends later. With debt, every cent you pay off ahead of schedule is less overall interest. With savings, every penny equals an investment in your future. As jobs security and pensions start slipping away, that little bit extra in the bank will be appreciated later.

I know it’s tempting to go wild when you get a chunk of money handed to you free and clear, but paying off those debts is going to do so much more for you in the long run. Save yourself from temptation and get that cash out of your account as soon as possible.

~A

Friday, 23 June 2017

W is for Weekend – and Wine – Cheap and Cheerful Edition

Happy Friday everyone!

It’s time to kick off your work shoes and relax on the patio (remember, we are on a bologna budget here)! It’s time to have a nice glass of wine. 



I am the first to admit that a very good glass of wine is one of my go-to indulgences. If you look at my wine collection (Husband says I’m just hoarding at this point), you will see a lot of wines sitting, waiting to be drunk… in about 5 to 10 years. I’ve also been known to pick up a bottle or two that, for the cost, make people curious if I’m serious about saving at all (I have had one or two friends say “you spent how much on that?” in my time). Well, I am, and I have found ways to have my occasional indulgence while still keeping my bank account well-padded.

I have multiple ways that I minimise the impact of my wine habit – buying quality over quantity, not drinking often, keeping it to the weekends when I decide to have a drink and most importantly, having a couple of good wines that are well-drinking but won’t break the bank.

The “cheap and cheerful” bottle, if you will.

Now, I’m not saying you have to drink some sort of bathtub plonk. It is amazing how many great wines you can buy for under $20 (For my international friends, that pricing is not uncommon for wine here. The taxes on our booze can be quite high). These wines may not be top shelf, but with a little bit of TLC, some of them can definitely drink that way.

I was challenged by a friend to find a couple of worthwhile bottles under $15. For a white wine, that isn’t too challenging, but most half-decent reds, where I live, generally start at $16. He knows that. Regardless, I picked up the gauntlet and I have two wines, one red and one white, that will be both great on the palate and the pocketbook.



Source: LCBO Website


First, the white. I decided to go with an Ontario wine, and there is a good reason for this choice. Here in Canada, we know that good (and even great) wines are being made in Ontario but because they tend to be lesser known, some of the more interesting wines can hold a lower price tag, getting you great value for money. One great winery to look out for is Chateau des Charmes. My pick for this post was the 2016 sauvignon blanc. With a price of $14.95, I am cutting it close to my limit, but this wine is just too good to pass up. This is a summer wine at its finest. It is crisp, citrusy and a little grassy with hints of gooseberry. I don’t find it as tropical as some other sauvignons (which I like) but it is perfect with fish, salads, mild, tangy cheese (of course) and summer vegetables like asparagus. It is also a great drinking wine, one to take out to the patio on any given evening. This wine is worth a lot more than you are paying for it and should be enjoyed before others catch on and the price goes up. 


Source: LCBO Website





When it came to the red, I was originally worried that I was going to have a hard time finding a unique wine that would fit the parameters of my challenge – then I remembered I had an ace up my sleeve. Beso de Vino’s Seleccion, a blend of syrah and garnacha wines. I am absolutely mad for this wine. Give it about 20-30 minutes to breathe and you will have a wine that tastes like you spent three times as much. American wine critic Stephen Tanzer has rated many vintages of this wine, all of them coming out in the 89-90/100 range. This Spanish wine is extremely fruity with a lot of cherry and blackberry notes holding undertones of tobacco, anisette and pepper. It was oaked just long enough to smooth out rough edges and drinks beautifully. While this wine is a little heavier than, say, a more “summery” gamay or pinot noir (reds that can be drunk slightly chilled), it is just too good to relegate to a season. On a slightly cooler evening? I will reach for this wine almost every time. The best part? It only costs $9.95. Food-wise, pair it with a nice steak and salad or a meaty red sauce and you’re golden.

So there you have it; you don’t have to sacrifice quality when you cut your cost. Sometimes it takes a bit of research, sometimes even a bit of trial and error, but the good stuff is out there. Throw up your heels this Friday and enjoy a nice glass of wine knowing it didn’t cost you an arm and a leg.

(And make sure to hide the expensive bottles!)


~A

The aftermath


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

“Cost versus Convenience?” or “Bathing the cats”



One of the main things you have to keep in mind when you’re trying to live the high life on a dime is how much you are actually willing to spend on any given thing. As I’ve mentioned previously, one of my favourite indulgences is a good bottle of wine. Now, I’m not always reaching for the top-shelf vino (I will be posting a couple cheap and cheerful wines on here Friday), but when I do, I can end up spending my allowance very quickly.

The point is, if I’m going to spend my money on one luxury, I have to decide where I can go without, or, at least, with the less convenient option.

This brings me to Monday morning.

I have two lovely cats, Mariah and Ceili (pronounced with a hard ‘C’). Due to a series of unfortunate events and my own belief that cats aren’t complete ding-dongs (they are), Mariah ate something she shouldn’t and ended up throwing up multiple times. Then, she decided to lie down in it. Then, to add insult to injury, Ceili decided to rub herself across Mariah’s vomit-stained front.

So now I have two cats that need to be bathed. If you’ve ever bathed a cat, you will know where this is going. To take the cats to get groomed professionally would cost somewhere between $100-$150. No way! I decided this was a DIY moment. While I knew the experience would not be pleasant, I also thought that the cost far outweighed the convenience. I went to the local pet shop, picked up some cat shampoo and decided to get down to work.

I will mention my cats are very well-behaved. They don’t bite, scratch or generally fight back if you have to groom them. I also (foolishly) thought that since each cat was relatively small, It wouldn’t be a big deal to get them in the bath, washed and out quickly.

Have you ever tried to hold down a soaking wet, 12-pound bundle of terrified cat that was wildly trying to escape?

In the end, I got both cats washed, but not without them getting me completely soaked, them destroying the bathroom, some noises I have never heard (from both the cats and myself) and all three of us pretty well exhausted from the ordeal.

That is not a happy kitty. Poor Ceili.


So, was it worth it?

Let’s compare:

Professional Groomer

Bathing Cats at Home

+ I don’t have to do it / my bathroom stays dry
+ It is being handled by a professional
- Cost: $100-150 for both cats to be groomed
- Cats would be stressed for days. Stress= vomit
- That cost is the same every time I have to have them groomed

+ Cost: $10 for one bottle of shampoo
+ I didn’t have to make the cats travel (stress)
+ I wasn’t inconvenienced by having to drop off/pick up cats
+ Tonnes of leftover shampoo means if they need to be bathed again, I don’t have to spend more money.
+ after cats got over initial shock of bathing, they went back to being themselves
- Soaking wet bathroom
- Danger of getting scratched (I did once)
- Cat-wrangling in the house while drying

So, while there were the same amount of cons, the pros for home-bathing the cats came out way ahead.

Mar was not much better off.

I am using this situation to highlight a larger idea: when it comes down to convenience versus cost, it is very important to weigh the pros and cons against one another. Taking a moment to think about something can shed light on situations you wouldn’t have thought about before. For example, I know my cats travel poorly. Whenever we have taken my cats to my parents’ house they have been exceedingly distressed. Mariah decides to show this stress by throwing up on every carpeted surface (my father now calls her barf-bag). I didn’t want to distress the cats and I definitely did not want to be cleaning up puddles of kitty puke all over my house.

Also, if you are making a convenience buy, where is the money coming from?

Husband and I went down to wine country on a day trip with my in-laws and spent our allowance on fancy food and drink. If we wanted to do that again in the near future we would have to opt for the slightly more challenging, more cost-effective choice.

 It is fine to do those expensive things as long as you are willing to take other responsibilities into your own hands. Weigh your costs carefully and remember that convenience isn’t always the best choice.

What are your thoughts? What do you take the cost-effective route on?

~A

PS – The cats are fine. One is currently sleeping on my leg and the other is asleep in the chair beside me.

PPS – Husband had nothing to do with the bathing. He was at work when I decided to take matters into my own hands. Lucky bugger.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Dad taught me to work hard and make a trade


Since yesterday was Father's Day, I figured I would talk about the influence my dad has had on my life. My father is from a military family and he worked hard for everything he has. I had the good fortune to learn from his experiences. When it comes to me, comparatively, I have had it very easy.

Mom and Dad at the butterfly conservatory. Rocking it, as usual.


My family was exceedingly supportive when I chose to go away for school. Mom and dad had budgeted and put away money so that they could help me with my tuition. They helped teach me (sometimes the hard way) that I had to provide for myself while I was away. I had to apply for student loans and make sure I wasn't overspending. If I ran out of money, that was my problem. If I wanted more money, I needed to get a job.

I knew I didn't want to live like a pauper while I was at school, so I took matters into my own hands. By the time I left university I was holding down two part-time jobs during the school year and worked at a 24-hour slot-and-racetrack over the summer. These jobs were tough and they took a lot out of me. I was yelled at, used as a verbal punching bag and even badly harassed once or twice, but I soldiered on and made sure that I had enough to get through the next school year.

I also learned how to wheel-and-deal. As I mentioned, dad is from a military family - if you don't think trading is a big part of the military, you are very mistaken. My mom may be one of the best hagglers out there, but dad was all about the trade - this was one of the best things I learned as a young adult. I started doing things for my friends in trade. I hit the jackpot in my third year of university. I was the only one of my friends with a car, I didn't drink and I liked to go out and be social on the weekends. This led me to one of my biggest side-hustles in school. I would fill my car every Friday night and go to the designated bar/club. I never paid cover (someone alway offered), I never paid for drinks (designated drivers usually get their drinks for free, and if we were at a place where I didn't, someone usually covered it for me) and everyone always threw some gas money at me the end of the night. This night out, that would have normally cost me up to $50+ was actually paying me $20 per week. I got to go out, spend time with my friends, dance and have enough money in the end to cover my gas for the week. Dad was the one who taught me to look for an opportunity and take it. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement between my friends and me, but I will always say I got the better end of that deal. I mean, seriously - I was Uber before it was cool.

What is the moral of these stories?

Always look for opportunities. A lot of the time you can work them into your day-to-day life and still manage to enjoy the things you like. As I have said here before, caviar tastes don't come cheap. If you want the finer things, sometimes you have to be willing to work for them.

~A

Dad and Cheecho- Dad is the one with the grey hair.



Friday, 16 June 2017

Where to start? Emergency funds



Save your pennies (and nickels and dimes and quarters...)
Hello again,

Everybody has their little indulgences, and we all love to have the luxury of being able to afford these extras.

But what about when the choice is taken away from you and you can’t have those extras? At some point in our lives, almost all of us will run into financial trouble. When that time comes, an emergency fund becomes indispensable.

What do I mean by an emergency fund? Well, an emergency fund is money that you have put aside beyond your personal savings so that if you run into financial trouble you can afford your bare necessities.

How much should you try to keep in your emergency account? A good rule of thumb is three- to six months’ worth of funds for your bare minimum budget so that if you end up in a bad situation where you need cash quickly, you aren’t having to turn to credit or loans. The ultimate goal is to have this fund completely separate from your other savings so that you always know you will be covered if the unforeseen happens.

While most of us feel we can’t live without certain creature comforts such as dinner and drinks out with friends, expensive clothing and top-shelf foods and beverages, in our hearts we know we can. It isn’t always easy, but when the choice is down to going out for drinks or making this month’s bills, the guesswork disappears pretty quickly.

When building your emergency fund, the general rule is that you should try and put away about 10 per cent of your income from each pay. In simple math, that means that $100 of every $1000 you make should go into a separate bank account. Ideally, that account won’t be tied to your primary debit card. If it’s possible, put them in two different banks (I keep to no-fee banks) and don’t carry the emergency card. One of the best things you can do is remove temptation from the equation.

It is always good to have a contingency plan. It’s also a great feeling to know that if something bad happens, while you might not be able to indulge your caviar tastes, you can still live on that bologna budget.

What are your thoughts? Do you have an emergency fund? Please share how you went about savng for your emergency fund in the comments.

~A

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Welcome



Hello!

It’s time for the obligatory “get to know me” post.

Where do I even start?

I guess as Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, [it’s] a very good place to start.”

I’m an underemployed millennial, married with 2 cats, a mortgage, 2 cars and very expensive taste regarding food, drink, and d├ęcor. Now, as I’m sure most of you already know, the terms “underemployed” and “expensive taste” go together just about as well as oil and water.

I can’t even explain where my taste for these luxuries comes from; I was raised in a family that, while by no means was bad off, did not put great expense into the extras, as it were. My parents worked hard and taught me the value of a dollar. We lived comfortably. When I wanted something that was deemed non-essential, I paid for it. My mother, a whiz when it comes to budgeting and money management, could do wonders with a bank book.

Me?

I want pretty things.

I want wild mushroom risotto paired with an Oregon pinot noir.

I want the hand-hewn, wrought iron wall hanging because I I want a unique piece for my house.

In other words, I am a bit of a snob.

I also have relatively little disposable income.

This is where this blog comes into play. While I can be extravagant in my wants, I am still a product of my parents’ upbringing and can be extremely practical (thus being able to budget the house and cars). I have learned that if I want the luxuries while still being able to make my bills and put cash into savings, I have to be willing to make sacrifices in other areas… or, even better, get creative.

This blog is about a couple of things: it is about finding creative solutions to help satisfy your classy cravings, tips and tricks for money saving and management, projects you can do at home to save yourself money and so much more. Essentially, I’m doing the legwork so you don’t have to!

Thank you for coming to visit. I hope that through this blog, we will be able to take a journey that will indulge our caviar tastes on bologna budgets!

~A
Proof and point - here I am not two weeks ago sitting waiting for a winery tour wearing a thrift shop sundress.