Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Car talk-- making lemonade

Part of the reason I'm in debt now is because about 5 years ago (maybe more) I bought my first All-Mine Car. I engaged my friend Andrew to come with me, and we headed out to used-car-lot land, out by Sackville. We visited six or more lots in the run of an afternoon, ending at Cars 'R' Us, and there I found a reasonably-priced Mazda. Now, I have little to no car knowledge, but I'd owned an Escort that had proven reliable (tie rods notwithstanding), and I knew this car had the same kind of engine. It was in my price range -- $3500 -- and not too old. It didn't have a frightening number of kms on it, either. PERFECT.

I didn't jump that fast, though. I did the wise thing. I both test-drove it and I took it to a nearby mechanic that had been recommended by a friend. They looked at it -- granted I didn't pay them for a full inspection, I wasn't that wise -- but said it looked like a good, tight little car.

The horn broke when I drove it off the lot. That was just a forerunner, though, of all the things that would go wrong in short order with that car. Over a year and a half, I invested almost what I paid for the car in repairs -- new brakes, new piston, rebuilt engine -- the car was a lemon. The mechanic I finally settled on (not the original ones, who I'd gone back to for the horn, only to see the fella that had sold me the car coming in, greeting them all by name and chatting with them like old chums, as he dropped off another car from the lot), my mechanic Steve, told me that the car had been ill-used by the last owner, obviously. Eventually, after a year and a half, when the transmission went, he bought the car from me for $1000, because he was sick of fixing it. Thus ended my brief spell of car ownership.

I may soon re-enter that world, and experiences like this one make me consider leasing a new vehicle. However, this article may change my mind:


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Penny Wise, Rewards Foolish

Are 5% Rewards BS? 

Part of taking charge of your financial life is actually reading and understanding the terms of service on the financial products you use. Like, for instance, credit cards! Now the latest marketing sensation in the credit card universe seems to the 5% Cash Back Rewards cards. Wise Bread, my new favourite source of financial wisdom, has a terrific post calling BS on these 'reward cards'. How often do you actually get 5% back? Nearly never:

Interchange fees (or "swipe fees") in the U.S. are generally around 2-2.5%, so credit card companies would actually lose money on every transaction if they paid out more than 2-2.5% to you in the form of rewards.

Whether it's air miles or introductory rate or other rewards, KNOW what you're really signing up for.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Home budget tools

I've experimented with lots of the online home budget calculators. Gail Vaz-Oxlade's was great (her redesigned site is awesome, visit it!) But the best one I've found (for me) is the one on the CUA site. And I'm NOT just saying that it because I work at the CU Central. I was actually kind of surprised, but it kicks butt.

Budget Progress
This month has been on target budget-wise EXCEPT ... for Maddie's birthday. I had offered to purchase a friend's computer for $250 a while ago, specifically for Maddie. This is attempt number three at getting a usable computer for her... hopefully this one takes. I got a monitor that work was going to throw out (a bad row of pixels). Meanwhile, I also spent a budgetted $50 on her (actually gave it to her and we did a value learning day at the mall with it).

Debt Update
So the $250 is a bit scary. It may mean I have to borrow from credit to cover, but I can defer to the end of month to see how much I can pare out of budget otherwise. Meanwhile, I flipped $1300 free from my credit line (4.75% interest) to my Visa (16.9% interest). This means there's no space left in the LoC (just under $18,000), and the Visa is down to about $9000 (tosses confetti!!). AMAZINGLY, Visa dropped my limit from $11,000 to $10,500. DROPPED THE LIMIT. AUTOMATICALLY. Bizarre, eh? But good. Next month I call and ask them to drop the limit to $9000. I will need to then pay down enough by late July that I can rent a car if need be (but pay it right off!)

Service charges dropped!
I have gotten my RBC account package dropped to $4 / month (from nearly $14) -- no more overdraft! So I'm living in the cash world as much as I can. Give me a month or three of living this way. I can do this.

Next post -- I have a friend who's actually going through bankruptcy (there but for the grace of god and CUCNS go I). Do you know anyone who's gone through it?

Monday, May 3, 2010


No, I haven't been ignoring my finances while I was away. Doing my taxes (at somewhat the last minute) gave me renewed optimism, since I'm due for a refund of $198. Hooray!

Also the process wasn't that hard. So then Friday I took a day off and spent part of it watching Gail Vaz-Oxlade -- ALWAYS inspiring. I CAN DO THIS.

I went in to my credit union Friday to see about a consolidation loan. Got to see my credit report -- it's not great, but it's not horrible, either. She didn't laugh me out of the office.

Thing is, as I re-discovered today, I have pretty decent interest now. I was only looking to consolidate my Visa (16.9%) and Line of Credit (4.75%)... for some reason i was thinking the LoC was 10%. Duh.

When I discovered this tonight, I whipped the available $1300 of credit on the LoC over onto the Visa. Now the Visa is down to about $9000. Whew. My goal is to have the limit collapsed to $5000 by the end of 2011. Get it gone, then I'll work on the LoC.

Meanwhile, no sign of Bell. But wayward debts never go away.... that one will blow up on me eventually. So sometime by the end of July, I will send them a cheque for the $550 or whatever the back payment was, and hope they pardon the account payout part. Sigh.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Where does the time go? Paydays come and paydays go and the money just goes and goes. I've almost managed two months of staying out of overdraft ($15 in last month). I STILL haven't gotten to the bank, but I have another chore to add to what I must do there, and that is cancel & trace a mysterious $5 / month payment which is NOT my EAC membership.

I was feeling good about current budget ($300 for two weeks of groceries, entertainment and incidentals) until I took Maddie to a movie (ran late, bought lunch there OMG $$$) - so we spent $20 there, less her Empire Theatre cards. Then to the bookstore, where I decided to buy Gail Vaz-Oxlade's book ($18.00ish) and Maddie wanted an Oak Island book ($17.00 but a difficult read, and I can't resist the kid wanting a grown up book!). She had Chapters cards... which we forgot to use. Ouch. Then we went to Claire's, and the slippery slope was steep by then, so I got earrings and fingerless gloves and the kid got gloves and a bag and a few other things and THAT came to $42.00 (less her $20 Claire's card). Then today I got bc pills again and three months' worth were $43. Less than film or sponges, to be sure, but a bite all at once like that.

TRACK SPENDING needs to become CURB SPENDING. Maybe I should commit to noting in this little blog everything I spend for a week. Hm. That's an interesting project. I'm such an exhibitionist, it may work!

Ok, today I bought coffee & a muffin - $4.45 (Daily Grind) and my pills - $43.00 (Lawtons). Forgot my Air Miles card too. Grrrrr.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Discipline, as Barbie once said about math, is HARD. I need to set up a system that doesn't rely much at all on my will power. The cutting up of the Visa has been a godsend more than once in the last month.

So here is what I need to do now, that I've been slack about doing thus far:
Talk to the Royal bank about cutting my banking fees--don't need an overdraft (ulp) or a safety deposit box I don't use, especially not at $14 / month and $35 / year respectively.
Make a budget. I mean it. MAKE A BUDGET and stick to it.

Currently, I have the unforeseen expenses of getting a passport and SIN card, but once those are paid I'm on track.

Must check bank accounts biweekly as well. NO SURPRISES. Track spending and stop using debit.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My more-than-week away

Busy social life this week = money spent. Last night was an especially bad example, winding up with a cab home, something I'd sworn off. This Thursday I get a 'real' pay and so I will move on setting up a reasonable budget. Tonight I made this list of topics to cover in the next while. I'm open to suggestions, too, so feel free to leave some in the comments!

I know that the key for me is going to be monitoring spending. How do we feel about tracking that? What's better, saving receipts or jotting in a notebook? I have a hard time sticking to either system, just as I have a hard time with food diarying.

Any thoughts on best systems? I think I'll do some interviews for my next post.

  • Controlling expenses
  • Writing a budget
  • Talking to a debt counsellor
  • Budget tools
  • Saving money on entertainment
  • Food
  • Music
  • “Wants” – Tattoos, clothes, hair...
  • Deciding how to deal with RRSP withdrawal (tax implications)
  • Emotional spending
  • Five years from now: Dreaming
  • Travel
  • Gym vs working out at home
  • Making more money: focus on Freelance (starting march)
  • part time job