Archive | December 2011

Reflections: reaching the $10k mark

Today I have reason to smile. Well, everyday I have reason to smile but today in particular is a good, good day. My student loan balance has now passed the $10,000 mark to sit at a healthy $9,800ish. Having started the year with over $25k of debt (line of credit and student loan), I finally feel a sense of calm. I feel like I’m not running towards a finish line that keeps moving further away mockingly. I can see the finish line and it’s closing in on me quickly.

I would love to say I could start slacking now but quite the contrary. I’m going to have to push that much harder in my last 4 months to ensure that I reach my goal on time (May 1), or even earlier! Lucky for me, beginning of the year=tax refund! I have no investments (boo me!) and still tons of unused education credits, so I hope to get back a good chunk o’ change and hopefully retire my debt significantly earlier than planned (read: within 2-3 months, not 4!). Once this is done, I can finally move forward and focus on saving money for the future.

Although I’m not proud of the fact that I got myself into debt, I am proud of the steps I am taking to get myself out. I’ve always been very laid back, laissez-faire if you will, which has sometimes bordered on unmotivated. For that reason, I’m amazed by how far I can get by setting a goal and motivating myself to stick to my goal. This year, I’ve held down two jobs, worked my a$% off, made some sacrifices but also enjoyed myself. I had to learn to say ‘no’ to dinner plans, travel plans, basically any fun plans.I still like to think I made time for the things that mattered though, like seeing my friends, attending weddings and taking a breather once in awhile. All in all, I think I’ve learned and grown more this year than I have in any of my 27 years of life. The great thing about my debt is that it has taught me spending and saving habits that will last me a lifetime. Now that’s something I don’t regret for a second.

Five thousand mark, here I come! Are you proud of what you achieved this year?



My biggest money mistake

Gail Vaz-Oxlade tweeted out a question that got me thinking. That question was: ‘What has been your biggest money mistake?’

I wrote back to Gail and said ‘Not working a retail job while I looked for my first job out of university.’ Gail wrote back with ‘Looking for that perfect job, right?’ I was ecstatic that Gail tweeted back. Gail gets me.

Now that I’m on the road to solid financial health, I often reflect on the things I could’ve done. One thing that always stands out to me is the eight months of job hunting I did after I graduated. It was a definite low point in my life as I spent most of an entire winter and summer unemployed. Back then, I wanted to be an accountant and I was convinced that the perfect job was around the corner. I mean, I went to a good school and did a sensible major. How could I not get a job…right? Month after miserable month passed, slowly but very surely. At the time, my student loan was at its full $24,000. Had I taken a part time job and made even $1,000/month, I would’ve dropped my debt load by a third. I finally ended up taking a temp job and as luck would have it, it was the skills I gained at that job that led me to my full-time job a few months later.

Lessons learned: Swallow your pride. The one piece of advice I would give any student looking for a job in their field would be to not wait for the perfect job. You’ll get there eventually but unfortunately with the economy the way that it is, it might not be right now. Line up any job as soon as possible because you might not get the job of your dreams next week. Whether it be retail, serving or administrative, you will gain some great skills and most importantly get yourself out there. I know first hand that there is nothing more depressing than sitting in an empty house waiting for the perfect opportunity. Having everyday interactions and making some extra cash will tide you over until you find your perfect job. So get out there!

What has been your biggest money mistake?

Shopping across the border, yay!

After a pretty long day of serving yesterday, I am definitely looking forward to heading across the border to shop in Buffalo today. To all you Americans out there, you are so lucky! The States has the best deals and I always find I get more bang for my buck. Everything here is just too pricey that I can’t even justify shopping in Canada when I can simply hop over the border and buy better stuff for less money. So, what’s on my shopping list?

  1. One pair of work pants
  2. Two to three work tops (winter appropriate)
  3. Underwear
  4. Socks
  5. Long yoga pants (maybe)

My budget for all of this is $150. Yikes! I’m hoping not to go over this as this is how much USD I bought. It pained me to trade over my tip money but my new finds will be worth it! It has been ages since I’ve done a big shopping trip and now with my new job coming up, I will definitely be needing some new work duds as my current job is pretty casual and I usually just throw on some jeans and a sweater.

Fingers crossed for a productive trip! Talk soon 🙂


Have I forgotten how to have fun?

Last night I mentioned to my parents that I bought tickets to the Nutcracker. Of course I couldn’t just say this without muttering that they cost a fortune – to which my mother (bless her sweet little soul!) told me to stop stressing about money so much. She told me that I shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying myself. I can argue all I want but I’ve long come to terms with the fact that mummy is always right.

This got me thinking. Have I forgotten how to have fun because I’m so hung up on my finances? For instance, I’ve decided to loosen my purse strings for the month of December because hey, ’tis the season and I really can’t get around gift giving and parties, right? I have a few fun things planned including the Nutcracker, the Christmas Market, a holiday meal with the bf (he’s paying for that, I’m paying for Nutcracker), a Secret Santa with friends, and some shopping across the border. This should sound like a blast – and it does – but I also can’t help but feel guilty. I’ve become so accustomed to frugality in the past several months that doing anything that, well, costs money seems like an overindulgence that I don’t deserve.

Back to work kids. Those future school loans and credit card bills aren't going to pay themselves, are they?

On the plus side (sort of), I gave my boss at the restaurant a bit of increased availability during the last week of December because my office will be closed for the holidays. This will provide me with a bit of extra cash flow that I’m hoping will cancel out the extra spending. I initially told myself I wouldn’t try to take  extra hours that week and just relax, but I think making a few extra bucks will go a long way in helping my feelings of guilt. That’s right, I can’t even relax for a few days without feeling guilty! What have I become?

This guy?

I’ve found that this has become habitual of me ever since I became serious about my money. In fact, the two days I had to call in sick for waitressing made me feel unbelievably guilty for not sticking to my budget. So much so that the next time I got sick I sucked it up and went in. This isn’t something I’m proud of and I truly hope I haven’t become so obsessed with my money that I’m willing to let it take over my life. Fact of the matter is, I just paid off $15,000 this year. I seriously need to start cutting myself some slack! Am I alone here or does anyone else obsess about their debt?


New year’s resolutions

I'm perfect! Well...not quite...yet!

I’ve never been a huge fan of new year’s resolutions but with a big year coming up, I think I need to get my thoughts together and come up with some goals for the year. If they’re in writing, I’ll have to stick to them…right?!

My New Year’s Resolutions

1. Pay off my OSAP by May 1, 2012.

2. Contribute $10,000 in RRSP.

3. Save $8,000.

4. Take 2 trips. (NYC? Iceland? Visit friends on the East Coast?)

5. Take French classes and improve French language skills.

That’s about it for now. I know the money goals are a bit lofty and ambitious, but I’m hoping that my new philosophy of goal setting will provide me with the motivation I need to attain them. It looks like I won’t be able to leave my serving job but I’m okay with that. As long as I can take a few days off here and there, I think I can maintain my sanity! The way I see it, I currently gross about $45,000 a year – and that’s while interning at below minimum wage. The only way I can leave my serving job without taking a pay cut is if (and when) I gross that amount at a full time job. I am starting a new job in January but the bad news is that I will start as an intern yet again, on a minimum wage salary. Once my three month internship is complete, I am hoping I will stay on and make a decent full-time wage. We’ll see!

I’ve also recently been toying with the idea of asking for a transfer at my serving job. Right now I work at your typical family restaurant and like I said, I make decent money. BUT what if I could be making more money? There is another restaurant under the same chain as mine that’s a bit more high-end: meaning better tips. This would help me maximize the time I spend working on the weekends and would help me get a jump start on my goals for the year. On the other hand, I’m quite comfortable at my current restaurant, I like my managers and I know my job pretty well. I don’t really want the added stress of getting familiar with a new part-time job so perhaps I should just stay within my comfort zone? So indecisive I am!

Do you have any new year’s resolutions? Do you believe in new year’s resolutions?


Waitressing: The dollars and sense

There have been several instances where people have told me they feel bad that I have to waitress. Comments like this really bother me because I don’t feel bad about it in the least. Although I work in an office by day, I am not beneath waiting tables if it helps me get closer to my goals. And besides that fact, I really love serving.

Let me tell you why you shouldn’t feel bad for me. Working a typical Saturday night, I will work for about five hours and make about $60-$100+ in tips alone. Let’s do the math.

Tips: $60 (to be conservative)

Base pay, net of taxes: $42.50 ($8.50*5 hrs)

Total pay: $102.50

That’s right, even on a slow night, I’m making over $20 an hour. In terms of part time jobs, it doesn’t get much better than that. And best of all, it’s fun. I understand that it takes a certain personality to love it, but if you love money and talking to people then this might just be the job for you! I am incredibly thankful for this job because it has allowed me to make a huge dent in my loan with relatively little time commitment. Gail Vaz-Oxlade, one of my favourite financial gurus has always said that if you don’t make enough to pay down your debt, then make more money. I couldn’t agree more and wish I had taken on this job much, much earlier than I did. Like I’ve said previously, this has been a year of learning and this is just one of the great things I’ve learned this year. If you’re worried about your money situation, I highly recommend taking on another job. It allows you to gain transferrable skills, make some new friends and of course save some money.

Do you have a part time job?

How I’ve kept my monthly credit card bill under $200

Part of my aggressive loan repayment tactic includes forcing myself to keep my monthly credit card bill to approximately $200. As a reformed shopaholic, this has proven challenging. In fact, on more than one occasion I have bought an item only to return it later in the hopes of keeping below my monthly ‘limit’. Here are a few reasons I’ve been able to keep my bill so low:

1. I made the goal. Everyone loves a good challenge, right? Just the simple act of making it my goal to keep under $200 has motivated me to make the necessary changes. The few times I returned something, I felt so satisfied knowing that I was reducing my bill that the actual item didn’t even matter anymore.

2. I limited my restaurant eating. As someone that loves going out and enjoying meals with friends, this was tough and definitely a sacrifice. There have been many times I’ve had to turn down plans because I had already reached my eating out quota. Generally if I can stick to once a week, I’m good. The great thing about this is that I truly look forward to each date because they are so few and far between!

3. I don’t make big ticket purchases. Of course life happens sometimes and you’re forced to buy something. But at this point in time, with no home or car expenses, emergency spending is pretty limited. I’ve (almost) completely stopped shopping for clothes and stick with what I have. With year of accumulated clothing, I have enough to last me for the next little while. When I think about it, buying one item for $50 is already 25% of my monthly budget. To me, it’s just not worth it.

4. Being a server, I have the unique perk of constantly having cash. Every week I try to keep a few dollars of my tip money for everyday small spending i.e. buying my lunch when I need to or grabbing a quick snack. This definitely helps keep my credit card bill low and the amount I give myself weekly fluctuating based on the amount I make in tips from day to day.

And there you have it! How do you keep your credit card bills low?