Use your friends to save you money

In one attempt to save money, I decided I was going to bike everywhere.

And not because I was not imagining myself in a floral maxi dress with a fish-tail side-braid cycling on a dutch-style bike  with a baguette in my front basket, a bottle of Pinot Grigio in my left hand on my way to an afternoon picnic in the park.

Truly, I wasn’t. I lived in Belgium for a year: been there, done that.

Rather then indulging some soft-focus hipster fantasy, it was a practical decision to save money on transportation.

Where I live, an unlimited monthly transit pass is $100 and it costs $3 to take the bus or subway. To me, it’s just not worth it unless I’m going somewhere more than a 40 min walk away. Since I live downtown, in an apartment that is a 6 min. walk to school and a 15 min. walk to work, it’s pointless for me to buy a monthly transit pass since it won’t be cost effective. But sometimes, like when I want to go to the library, or go buy groceries in Chinatown, or go browse at all the lovely boutiques on the west-end of town, it just takes too long to walk there and I end up giving in and taking the streetcar. That’s at least $6 for a round-trip, which I’d rather spend on three coffees, frankly.

That’s where my  bike comes in. I bought it last summer at Canadian Tire for under $150 and it’s been sitting in my parents garage uptown since September. Finally, after weeks of trying to motivating myself to ride it downtown, I did it one evening. I was so happy. Now I could run errands in a faster time AND get fit doing it, all  for FREE. Win-win-win situation.

Of course, the SECOND day it was downtown, locked up to a post outside la apartment,someone tried to steal it. I guess when they were trying to steal it they got caught or something, but they (the bastards!) kicked my fenders in and punctured my wheel as well as stealing one of my locks.

So I had a completely flat tire (so flat it fell of the rim) and was thus unable to even wheel it to a bike repair shop because it wouldn’t roll.

Life sucked.

I also couldn’t drive it to a bike repair shop because I had no money to pay for it to be fixed! “Whatever”, I thought, “I’ll just continue to walk places”.

“Now”, you ask, “Danielle, don’t you know anyone who can fix a freakin tire?”

No, readers, no I do not.

You see, I grew up in a big city, all my friends grew up in a city, my parents grew up in a city, we can’t do things like that. My dad hires pays handyman $80 an hour to change light bulbs in our house practically.

I scrolled through my BlackBerry wondering who I could call. Now would be the perfect time to get  a country-boy boyfriend.

Wait…

A few months ago I met a boy at a bar from the country. We hung out for a bit and he ended up putting up some shelves in my room. But we had lost touch over the last few months and I didn’t want to seem awkward or weird by calling him up to ask him to fix my bike since we hadn’t spoken for about four months.

But I also didn’t have money to fix my bike.

Long story short? I got over it, decided money was more important to me and I should at least just ask. The worst he would say was no.

But he said yes!! (after asking me if I deleted him off BBM..um nooo I just got a new phone..he totally did not buy that, but that’s irrelevant).

Now I have a bike that will save me money because I can ride to No Frills to get cheap groceries, and to the library so I won’t have to buy books, and maybe even to my parents house if I’m feeling super fit adventurous (where they will give me free food and free laundry!) And I saved like $50 by getting him to do it rather then a bike shop.

Moral of this story? Use your friends.

~D

How much is my coffee habit costing me?

Jenn may be a shopo-holic, but I’m a coffee-a-holic. Remember that  caffiene is a legitimate drug and I am legitimately addicted.

It’s not as bad as my university days where  I was taking six fourth-year level classes and trying to get into grad school and justified my two-a-day Grande Iced Americano habit during exams as a “study expense” so I could bill it to my parents (for the record, I did get into grad school so I’m going to continue justifying this).

Now, it’s nothing so bad at that. But it’s still a coffee or two a day.

It’s not the hyperness that concerns me, (I call it bubbly) but rather my financial health.

For a long time I would buy my coffee out every weekday. At between $1.50-$2.00 a pop, that’s about $10 a week. Not too terrible, you say. But that’s $40 a month and $520 a year. And that’s just plain coffee, not including the times where I splurge on $4.00 lattes or $2.50 Americanos (and those times are often). At its minimum therefore, my coffee habit is costing me the approximate equivalent of

  • Five pairs of Lululemons
  • Five months of unlimited yoga
  • Four pairs of heels from Aldo
  • Half of an all-inclusive vacation to Mexico
  • Twenty-one bottles of vodka
  • Eleven Axium manicures
  • 13.4 shares in Starbucks, which would pay me dividends

But I realized this a while ago. That spending money on coffee every day is a giant waste of money, especially since I have no income! Which why I stopped, bought a French Press and some honey-processed-fair-trade-shade-grown-organic coffee beans from Manic Coffee and started to make my own coffee every morning. At $15 for 1 lbs of this gourmet coffee, my spending dropped significantly for the next three months and I was proud of myself for so successfully kicking the habit.

Except then I ran out.

And now  I find myself off the wagon, walking into Starbucks before work. Walking downstairs to the cafeteria and buying some subsidized-but-tastes-like-water Aramark Coffee. Saturday mornings going to the coffeeshop I live above (DID I MENTION I LIVE ABOVE A COFFEE SHOP? That’s like putting an alcoholic above the LCBO) and ordering a cappuccino  with my Globe and Mail.

“It’s just $2” I tell myself. But $2 every day adds up.

“But I’m so tired today,” I tell myself.  Then stop downloading TrueBlood before bed.

“I need that kick the morning,” I tell myself. Then stop  being such a lazy bum and walk to Manic Coffee after work and buy some coffee! (I’m picky with my coffee, can’t just get it from No Frills. Yuck)

“I’m too rushed in the morning to make coffee,” I tell myself. Then stop using your BlackBerry as an alarm and get up earlier.

Basically, I’m lazy, I need to go BUY some coffee, MAKE it in the morning, get a trendy ceramic cup to TAKE it to work. Otherwise I’m just drinking my money away.

~Danielle

Financial Failure

Hi, my name is Jenn and I’m a shopaholic.

I sighed as I was writing the title to this post.  I’m weak sometimes. Some people smoke, some people drink, and I … shop. I’d like to blame it on genetics. As a child, the closet in my room was filled with not mine, but my mother’s clothing. As was her closet, her chest of drawers, and an entire room in our old house.

Sometimes I actually believe that buying this or that will actually change my life. Like a pair of jeans will somehow pay my bills, do my dishes and clean my apartment. A lipstick will actually make me look like Kat Von D. I…must…have… (insert newest obsession). Just the other day, I had the discussion with Danielle about how I need to stop thinking about how good of deal something is, if I don’t have the money for it, I just won’t buy it.

And then I hit the mall. (To return something, I swear!)

Now, to rationalize my purchases a bit, I did include a clothes budget for myself every month. And then not only did I find the jacket I had been wanting last fall for less than half the price of what I was going to pay for it, I also found the boots I had been unsuccessful in finding (yes, I’m aware it’s summer, which brings my shopping addiction to a new low). I think my purchases through and I know that I would actually make use of these items, but then I stumbled across a cute top… and well, I’m sure you know how this story ends.

I would love to end this post with some kind of epiphany or something that would wrap this story up in a positive way to my financial future. But no, there was none of that.

There is just happiness as I look down at my new boots… And hunt for a second job.

Financial Fun Fridays!

I love saving money.

I consider shopping an Olympic sport, and snagging a good deal is like winning gold. So its only natural that after sitting down with my dad  on a Friday to make a budget, I was looking at ways to lower my expenses.

1. I pay around ten dollars a month for bank fees to CIBC. To get rid of this, I re-opened my PC Financial debit card, which has no fees.

2. I opened a PC Financial Mastercard. It has no fees, and offers an introductory rate of .97% interest rate on transfers, which will save me around $60.00 a month on interest for the 6-months that it is available.

3. I called Rogers and found a better plan, which actually gives me unlimited minutes and texting along with my who-called feature back, for five dollars less a month.

I should also mention that when you open a PC Mastercard, you get a $20 gift card, so it’s really money back in my pocket. If there was something better than winning gold, this would be it.

Is my hair worth it too?

I usually freeze my credit card.

Literally.

I put it in a ziplock bag, fill it with water and put it in the freezer.  That way, I have to reallllly think about if I want something before I unfreeze it. This strategy has worked really well for me. I used to always be in credit debt, between $500-$1500, and it was always from shopping, Starbucks, vacation–basically fun stuff I couldn’t afford.

I decided I was sick of being in debt and the anxiety that went along with it, so paid it off and stuck my card in the freezer for months. Since then I have been successfully living off cash.

A few weeks ago I decided that I had reformed my ways enough to unfreeze my credit card. It sat on my dresser for a week, before moving into my wallet. I figured I could handle it.

Well, I learnt, I can’t.

The other day , I decided I wanted  a clampless curling iron. I’ve wanted one for a while, but since I already have 2 conair curling irons and NATURALLY CURLY HAIR, I’ve restrained myself. But the other day, something came over me, like a woman in the throes of PMS who walks a mile to get a chocolate bar, and I logged on to Folica.com and bought a curling iron.

I do not make impulsive decisions. I think things out. I research things. I read reviews. I deliberate for months, sometimes.  And yet, for some unknown reason, I decided I wanted shiny, loose, Victoria Secret waves that would last all day and that buying a $119 curling iron (USD), was the only way to get me there. Something went through my mind, probably thanks to five decades of L’oreal marketing convincing me that, dammit, I AM worth it!  I deserve curls that take 25 min to create but look like I just had rough sex!

I chose the top rated one on the site, the Sedu curling iron, because it was “BRAND NEW! The New Sedu Revolution Clipless Curling Iron takes curling to a new level.” And I figured, I  might as well get the best. I didn’t listen to Jenn when she told me she bought her curling iron at the mall for $99. No, No. Instead I decided that I wanted ” long lasting curls and voluminous waves that are frizz-free, shiny and long lasting,” and this particular curling iron must just be that much better. I’m pretty sure hers is just as good though. Maybe it doesn’t have auto-shut off though…(ooo maybe this iron will one-day save my appt from burning down?? Then it would have been worth it)

So, convinced by all the marketing, that seemed to speak directly to my hair soul, I entered my credit card number, agreed to an extra $19 in shipping, and hit “buy”. Why oh why?

It arrived today at my work, and I had to pay an extra $10 in “broker” fee (wtf is that anyways?) and 13%HST. For a grand total of $166.

My curls better be freakin awesome– and I’m putting my credit card back in the freezer tonight.

How to save on being a wedding guest

Wedding season is upon us. Rosy-cheeked brides, nervous grooms, the smell of  thousands of dollars worth of floral arrangements is in the air.  But forget how much the couple is spending, we’re more concerned about your finances.

If you’re invited to tones of weddings this summer, don’t let it blow your budget.

Going to weddings can be expensive. Therefore, the first step in saving money as a wedding guest if you’re on a tight budget is…don’t be a yes person. You don’t have to go to your mailman’s daughter’s wedding. Really, you don’t. You should, yes, and  you’ll probably have a great time, but if you’re super strapped for cash and invited to five weddings this summer, sometimes, you’re just going to have to say “no” to one of the people who don’t mean as much to you. So if you feel comfortable doing so,  RSVP in the negative for those people to whom you aren’t so close.

For the weddings you do decide to attend, remember that the wedding itself isn’t the only party these days. Oh no, there’s all the parties leading up to the wedding including the engagement party, the wedding shower, and bachelor/bachelorette party. If you don’t feel comfortable saying no to the wedding, consider not attending at least one of the pre-parties. It will save you transportation and also having to buy a gift and contribute towards entertainment.

For example, I’m invited to a bachelorette party this weekend. The bridesmaid is renting a hotel room in downtown Toronto, going to dinner at a Summerlicious restaurant, buying t-shirts for all of us, going to a night out at a bar, buying the bride a gift card to a clothing store, and having brunch the next morning.

Oy vey!

That is some serious cash! I can’t afford all of it, so I told the bridesmaid that I would only be able to attend the night out at the bar, buy a t-shirt and contribute some to the gift card, but would have to skip the rest of the festivities. Thankfully, she’s not a bridesmaidzilla, and she completely understood.

Me at my friend's wedding last weekend–wearing a BCBG dress I bought on sale for $112 down from $350!!

For the actual event, the wedding itself, a gift can be the largest expenditure of the night. If giving a cash gift will put too much stress on your budget, consider buying something from the registry that is slightly cheaper. You could also buy one of the more inexpensive items on the registry, like a nice salad bowl, and then supplement it by adding in kitchen items, like wooden spoons and forks, that you find at a discount kitchen store, like HomeSense. You could also try adding a homemade gift.  For example, if you buy an inexpensive handheld mixer off the registry, you could add in two, beautifully decorated jars of homemade cake mix with instructions on how to bake it. You can find great homemade gift ideas on the Martha Stewart website.

Another way to save on attending a wedding is by transportation. Although you want to have a good time, taking a cab to and from the event might not be worth it. If you can carpool, and if not, assign your partner as a designated driver so that you can take your own vehicle.

And finally, although this may be a no-brainer…you do not, not, need that new $465 dress from BCBG (unless you can afford it). You can make one work all wedding season, especially if it’s in a neutral colour, by adding a blazer, making it strapless, adding a belt, switching shoes, and pairing it with bright accessories.

When is buying the brand name worth it?

A major tip that personal finance experts give is “don’t buy brand-name food, you’re just paying for the marketing.” And while I largely agree that you’re just throwing your money out the window if you opt for brand-name rice cakes over no-name rice cakes, there is one grocery store item I refuse to save on.

Maybe it’s something about being born in the decade in which it was produced, but I’m mildly addicted and truly believe nothing tastes like the real thing.  I’ve tried President’s Choice diet cola and I’ve tried RC diet cola and I’ve even tried  random European brands of the  brown stuff, but nothing comes close to the authentic stuff.

There’s just something about the refreshing feel of the icy can in my hand. The sound the can make when I crack the tab open with my index finger. The crackling of the carbonation rising to the surface. But all of that can be replicated with any brand. But what can’t be so easily replicated is the crisp taste of the first sip.

I’ll shell out whatever I need to pay to get it and don’t even bother looking at the price of the no-name competitors because it simply isn’t relevant to me–whatever mark-up I’m paying for the name, is 100% worth it to me. I’d rather eliminate the drink entirely (as I have for my $100/month food budget challenge) than bother going cheap.

What’s the one item that you simply can’t buy the no-name version of?