Friday, December 31, 2010

My Top 10 Moments in 2010

Here are my favourite moments in 2010:

10. Seeing Gail Vaz-Oxlade at the "Picnic in the Park". Talking with her is a sheer pleasure.

9. Having hubby's bank account come out of overdraft, and seeing black instead of red.

8.Paying off the Green Monster, a.k.a. TD Visa.

7. Hubby's Grandmother's 90th birthday party. It's wonderful to know someone who is enjoying their retirement to the max.

6. Driving across Confederation Bridge into Prince Edward Island for the very first time. What a sight!

5. Helping hubby pay off an insane loan that was taken our before we got together. It was a mess, but we paid that sucker off!

4. Watching my RRSP grow to over $1000 that I personally saved.

3. My oldest daughter coming to me with pen and paper in hand and asking, "Mom, can you help me to budget for my new full-time pay?"

2. My youngest Daughter saying, "It's ok, Mom. I can pay for my own video game. I saved up for it."

1. When an unexpected bill came in to the tune of $5500, we took a look at everything financial, and within 5 days, we had the money to pay the bill. Savings took a hit, sure, but we *DID NOT* use credit.


Some things I would like to put more focus on this year:

~ Buying Canadian made products. I believe in supporting the home economy as much as possible, and the positive trickle down effects it could cause for my neighbours.

~ Regular usage of my crockpot, breadmaker, stand mixer and freezer. Banking meals to reduce our dining out expenses would make a positive change for us.

~ Finding more things for us to do as a family that are free or cost little.

~ Saving, as in not spending. Being able to leave the money in the bank and not have to use it for anything.

~ Decluttering, getting rid of stuff we don't need, maybe selling stuff to increase money in savings.

~ Making our home a more comfortable place to be, by decluttering, and keeping it tidier.

~ Keeping up with business and personal paperwork. This will help me to reduce stress when bills are due.

~ Having a spending plan. I found things went much more smoothly when I knew there was $X avaialble for groceries, gas, fun money. I still overspent, but at least I tried. I did manage to stay within my limits for some categories. =)

~ Making time for myself to read and to write. The idea of a novel has been bouncing around in my brain for years. I'll like to get it out and into my computer to make room for some other stuff.

~ Start up a knitting class in my end of the city. This will take a lot of my time to begin with, but once it's up and runnng, I'm sure things will run more smoothly.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

100 Things That Make Me Happy

These are in random order. I wrote them down as I thought of them.

100. A good song on the radio. I spend a lot of time in my vehicle for work purposes, so when a really good song comes on, other drivers see me singing away and bouncing around in my seat.

99. Facebook; for a multitude of reasons, including reconnecting with family and friends I've lost touch with and playing games.

98. Plain, old fashioned doughnuts from Tim Horton's, heated up. Yum!

97. Hearing my son learn a new word. His speech isn't perfected yet, so he often mispronounces words. It's cute.

96. A good cup of coffee.

95. Knitting things for loved ones, friends and strangers.

94. A blank journal, waiting for me to write in it.

93. Getting a hug from a client family after I've helped them after the death of a loved one.

92. Getting an actual letter in the mail. This hardly happens anymore, and I love to read letters from friends and family.

91. Blogging. Being able to sort out my thoughts about my life journey and sharing them here with you really is a wonderful thing.

90. Sushi. A healthy, good tasting foodstuff that I am going to learn to make on my own.

89. Dancing in the kitchen with my little boy.

87. Getting a back massage from my spouse.

86. Giving a back massage to my spouse.

85. Long, hot baths.

84. Hearing my little girl sing a new song she's learning, and knowing the words when she forgets.

83. Taking my daughter and son to the library.

82. Having a warm, clean home.

81. My expensive pillowtop mattress.

80. Being in a profession that makes me feel like I'm making a difference to someone.

79. Yarn shops. All those colourful displays of different types of yarn are beautiful to see, and hold so much potential.

78. Picking up a new book and getting lost in the story.

77. Hearing my little boy ask for oatmeal or any other food. With his medical condition, his diet is very important to his overall health.

76. Getting an unexpected text message from my friend who just wanted to say Good Morning.

75. Learning how to deal with our money so that we no longer worry and stress about financial matters.

74. Remembering good times with my Mom, my Dad, or my Father.

73. Icing fights during a family birthday party.

72. When my eldest daughter has us over to her apartment, and makes us dinner.

71. Hearing my children's friends say, "You've got the coolest Mom ever!".

70. When my little boy sleeps in, giving me some time to myself in the mornings.

69. Having a spouse who understands the nature of my work, and knows that I sometimes have to make it a priority.

68. Making doughnuts from my grandmother's recipe, written in my mother's handwriting.

67. Knowing that my life experiences make me a unique individual. Not many other people my age have firsthand knowledge of what moving an outhouse entails.

66. Medical advancement and research that allowed us to know about our son's medical condition so that it can be managed, instead of losing him.

65. My spouse's grandmother, who will be 91 in January. She still lives in her own home, and has family over every Sunday for a meal.

64. The internet. Being able to 'google' something that I want to learn about or learn how to do.

63. Fellow bloggers. Reading about the lives of others with whom I share interests, and some I don't, make my day.

62. Our best friends, A & P, who are a great couple. It's a rare thing to find two couples who are able to interact with one another in the way that the four of us can.

61. Becoming a grandmother. (Almost.)

60. Air conditioning, when it is unbearably hot in the summer.

59. My neices, nephews, great-neices, and great-nephews. They make my life more interesting.

58. The smell of fresh baked bread coming from the breadmaker.

57. Having my spouse come home early from work and bring me a coffe from Timmie's.

56. Looking through pictures from years past.

55. Knowing that my eldest daughter, although an adult, still needs me in her life, for advice and guidance.

54. Being a business owner, making me my own boss, sort of.

53. Planning a trip to somewhere warm in February.

52. Getting kisses and hugs from my little boy without any prompting.

51. Memories from our trip to Prince Edward Island this past summer.

50. Making homemade tacos with my youngest daughter.

49. After having made a home-cooked meal, hearing someone say,: "That was the best meal ever!"

48. Doing word find puzzles with my daughter.

47. Rereading a favourite book.

46. Finding new ways to spend less on the things we normally buy.

45. Making and meeting goals for myself, my family and my finances.

46. Seeing our debt going down in amount.

45. Reconnecting with family that I haven't talked to in awhile.

44. Watching my two youngest playing around in a bubble bath.

43. Clearing my desk of items that need my attention, giving me room to breathe and just be in my work space.

42. Planning ahead for meals using the oven or crockpot, that are not too labour intensive, making less work for myself on busier days.

41. Staying up late into the night, reading, blogging, and enjoying the quiet.

40. Being available to a certain friend, when that person ahs no one else to talk to about the struggles they are having.

39. Getting impromptu hugs from my kids.

38. Stockpiling (on a very small scale) items on sale to get us through until the next sale cycle.

37. Zombie movies and books.

36. Stephen King novels. I am collecting them all.

35. Scented dishsoap.

34. Feeling confident in myself enough to voice my own opinion.

33. Walking through the parks in nice weather, feeding ducks and geese with my family.

32. Chocolate Orange body wash.

31. Feather down duvet and pillows that make my bed the most comfy spot in my home.

30. Coming home to a tidied house when my MIL watches the little guy when I have to work.

29. Knowing that my arthritis has not advanced enough yet to limit my mobility.

28. Chocolate.

27. Having a college education, which opened many opportunities I might not otherwise have.

26. When electronic devices actually work for me.

25. Writing the occassional fiction story that pops into my head.

24. Finding personal finance books at the thrift store and being able to buy them at a fraction of their original price.

23. Listening to the Oshweken radio station on my tv during the hour that they play traditional Smokedance music.

22. Seeing how my business has evolved over the last five years, and facing the future with new opportunities.

21. Reading Gail Vaz-Oxlade's blog daily helping me to keep focused on what I want to achieve financially.

20. Having conversations that don't revolve around death, with people I just met.

19. Trying a new food or meal that I have never had before.

18. Having a spouse who understands me, and loves me in spite (or maybe because of) my little quirks.

17. The teller at the bank I deal with, who automatically finds the crispest bills, and puts them in order, from largest to smallest, with all the heads facing the same way, for me. And giggles while she does it, knowing that if she doesn't, I'll huff and puff while I do it myself.

16. My doodle-thug. (My nickname for my youngest daughter.)

15. My Clone. (My nickname for my oldest daughter.)

14. My Bug-less. (My nickname for my son.)

13. Knowing that through hard work and diligence, my hubby and I were able to keep us from filing for bankruptcy, from being homeless, and from the unimaginable horrors that would accompany those circumstances.

12. Holding a newborn baby, and inhaling the unique smell that one has.

11. Being part of a knitting class/group. Sharing and learning together with some fantastic women.

10. Volunteering. Giving of myself to others who are in need makes me feel good.

9. Doing a random act of kindness, like paying for the coffee of the person in line behind me at the drive-thru at Tim Horton's.

8. Watching someone's face light up when they open up a gift that I've made for them.

7. Having the ability and means to help others in my family.

6. Knowing every teller by first name at the bank branch that I deal with frequently.

5. Treating myself with a pedicure and waxing.

4. The feeling of accomplishment and pride for a job well done.

3. Worry-free days.

2. My hubby. I love him more than I could ever express in words.

1. Having my family close, and just enjoying their company.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eating Chocolate and Swearing

Today I am trying to get caught up in one of the mundane tasks that I rather strongly dislike as a business owner. I am preparing my receipts to file my HST report. Of course, because I am a chronic procrastinator, I am behind in these reports. But only by one reporting period (July 1, 2010 - September 30, 2010). In my defense, I am preparing the receipts for the fourth quarter reporting period at the same time, so I may be ahead of the game for once.

In order to get me through it, I have already had two snacks, umpteen cigarettes, a light lunch, and am now into a Godiva chocolate bar that I got for Christmas. I am trying very hard to refrain from swearing and vulgarity, But the words "Go eff a goat" have been muttered under my breath at least once. This is a phrase I picked up from my eldest daughter when she was trying to fill out income tax forms one time. It's sort of a family joke now. (For the record, I actually say "EFF" instead of the f-word. I do have a two year old parrot disguised as a toddler.)

I have spent the better part of two hours sorting through receipts, and am ready to set fire to the whole mess of papers.

At least the apartment might warm up if I did that.

Personal Finance and Friendships

Do you talk openly and honestly with others in your life about your finances? Do you talk to your parents, siblings, friends, or co-workers about it? Sometime ago, hubby and I decided that we would be honest with anyone who seemed interested in our financial well being, and those who we thought could benefit from our experiences.

At our last Gail Club meeting, we touched on this subject a bit. We discussed sharing our personal info with complete strangers (like those at Gail Club meetings) who were likely in the same boat as we were/are. After the meeting, hubby and I talked about this in much further detail.

We keep nothing in the way of our financial situation from his mother. She has helped us in so many ways, and has told us that she remembers what it was like to not have any money. She is one of several people that I can talk to and bounce ideas off when I need a different perspective.

Our best friends, moved to another city a little over a year ago. They are always interested in how we manage our family life, business life, our relationship, as well as our finances. I simply adore these people because no matter where we stand financially in relation to them, it makes absolutely no difference. Granted, they may be better off financially than we are, but they have never acted like any of the more simplified things that we do are beneath them. As a matter of fact, when P got his promotion, and a substantial raise, we were genuinely happy for them, and told them so. Since then, they have told us that we are two of the very few people who have not changed toward them as friends since they moved upward in the income tax bracket.

Our children are given as much honesty about our financial situation as is possible for their respective ages. We use our experiences in the past few years as a learning tool. We try to keep communication open with them about money, so that they might have healthier attitudes about finances in their futures.

B has given sound advice (read advice we've pilfered from Gail Vaz - Oxlade) to co-workers when advice was sought. Some are serious about wanting change, and others are not. Those who have followed his advice, and educated themselves are already in a better situation for it.

I try to be as honest as possible with my extended family about our financial situation when it comes up in conversation. I also try not to flaunt the fact that we are better off than most of my relatives. I don't give out unsolicited financial advice either. But I don't tell them everything. Those relationships are better off without that sort of information.

Looking back, I have many stories to tell about how we came to be where we are now. In our last Gail Club meeting, it was mentioned that B suffered a serious head injury in 2008. The group was shocked. I had apparently failed to mention the accident, and how it affected our finances leading to our current situation.

I'm going to post some of these experiences over the next little while, and tell you what we've learned from them. Then I will leave it to you readers to give me your perspective on each situation. I know how far we've come in the last two years, and maybe it will help you to know that about us as well.

Monday, December 27, 2010

How did I do on my 2010 Year end goals?

There were a lot of goals that I posted way back in August. I didn't even post my Yearly goals in January like most folks do. Let's see how I've measured up.


1. Have $800 in e-fund account. DONE (3 year goal is $12,000).
~ I did, over the course of the year, manage to put over $1000 into this account. But then, in October, I was no longer bringing in an income, and the bills still needed to be paid. Good note: at least there was some there for us to use so we didn't have to turn to credit. Bad note: most of this money is now gone.

2. Have $1800 in RRSP account.
~My RRSP account is sitting at $1050. It's a little over half way to my year end goal. Good note: I finally started to save for my retirement. Bad note: This money is just sitting in a bank account, earning me next to no interest.

3. To have $1000 buffer in personal chequing account.
~ I did actually achieve this goal. But this money is now also gone. We are likely going to have some lean months ahead until the next contract comes in. Must learn how to use the strategy of living off last month's income.

4. Have $2000 saved in vacation account. (DONE)
~ We did save, and spend this money as planned. Our trip to Prince Edward Island was awesome.

5. Have $1100 in Xmas account.(DONE)
~ We saved and spent this money as planned. Definately going to need to increase this amount for next year. Good note: No credit. Bad note: didn't save enough.

6. Have $2000 in auto repair/replacement fund.
~ While not saved ahead of time, we did spend this amount of money on vehicle repairs this year. It came from our regular budget, so again, no credit used. Have to start savings again for this account to be replenished before the next round of major vehicle repairs is needed.

7. Pay off $1000 of $5600 of credit card debt.
~ I am certain we paid off more than $1000 of debt ($934.85 alone was paid on one debt in December). I am also certain we paid off more than $1000 on the outstanding credit card debt. ($3663.89 paid as of our most recent statements.) We are also continuing to make payments on our other debts. Good note: Our overall debt is decreasing. Bad note: One credit card debt has a very high interest rate, so it's taking longer to pay down.

8. Open saving accounts for both children.
~ Epic fail on my part. I have wanted to do this for awhile, and have yet to do it. There are still 4 days left in the year, so I could still meet this goal.

9. Stay current on monthly bills.
~ So far, so good. However lean months are still coming, and we're out of savings. Hopefully earnings will start increasing to make up for it.

10.Pay $3500 to lawyer and obtain divorce from ex-spouse.
~ Epic fail again on my part. I plan to tackle this head on in the new year. It's rising toward the top of the priority list.

Other things I wanted to work on:
~ switching DD's allowance to 40% into long-term savings; She got a Moonjar for Christmas, so we will be reworking her allowance budget this week while we're reworking our 2011 goals.

~ reading 100 books this year; I stopped counting somewhere around the 25 book mark, and I know I have read many, many more since then. It doesn't really matter to me if I read 100 books, only that I made time for myself to read for enjoyment.

~ keeping up with personal spending plan; Using a spending & saving plan has saved me countless headaches over the course of the year. There weren't that many surprises as we had accounted for mostly everything. But there were one or two things that almost threw us off track.

Overall, I think we haved done well in taking control over our finances in a more tangible and concrete way. We have less diifculties with our money, and a lot less sleepless nights. We have a plan, and although its not as strict as it could be, it seems to be working for us. For the next year, I have set our savings and debt repayment goals higher, so that we feel a bit more restricted with our spending. It will spur me on to find less expensive ways to fufill our needs.

This holiday season has been one of joy and indulgence. Now I'm ready to start tackling the New Year with new goals in mind.

Are you ready for the New Year and new goals?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from Our Home to Yours

Merry Christmas everyone. We are busy playing with our new Imaginarium Train Table, Call of Duty Black Ops, and the new DSiXL. We're having breakfast and dinner with family, and spending time with loved ones as much as possible.

Seeing as tomorrow is hubby's birthday, we'll be home all day making merry, and enjoying all of our newly acquired thing-a-ma-jiggers. I should probably make a birthday cake.

The grandbaby hasn't made his debut yet, so we wait and wait and wait. On a good note, for the first time in my life, I finished knitting the baby blanket *before* the baby is even born! *blush* (My 11 year old still doesn't have her baby blanket yet.)

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and may the holidays be spent with loved ones, in joy, peace and happiness.

I'll be back with regular posts in a few days.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

E-fund Vs. Debt Snowball

Personal finance authors and bloggers have all written their version of E-Fund Vs. Debt Snowball. And each one of them has their own recommendation of which to focus on. Saying you have an unexpected lump sum, or some magic jar money left over, would you be more likely to deposit it in your e-fund or apply it to your debt snowball?

Each of these methods have merit.

Emergency funds are an important part of personal finance. It's your safety net when ka-ka hits the fan, like an unxpected fender bender in the mall parking lot. Your insurance will likely cover the repairs and maybe a rental, but you have to come up with the deductible. You haven't put that in your monthly spending plan. So you turn to your E-fund. Problem solved easily.

You could be getting a layoff notice from your place of employment. It could take months before you are offered another job that is comparable to your last one. But your rent still needs to be paid, as do the utilities, and you still have to put food on the table. Again, you turn to your emergency fund. There should be enough money in there to last you for several months with your regular expenses. If you tighten your belts and cut down to the bare bones budget, perhaps there will be enough to last you for maybe even a year.

Some folks, like Ramsey, endorse having a 'baby' Emergency fund of $1000. Somehow, having only a thousand dollars should cover some, most or all of an emergency that arises. I guess knowing the difference between a real emergency and a spending emeregency helps too.

Snowballing your debt payments is a method largely endorsed by Dave Ramsey. To use this method, one would list their debts by amount, smallest to largest. Making only minimum payments on all other debts, focusing on the smallest debt first. Aggresively pay that one off, and them apply the payments toward debt #2. It works for folks who need to see that their efforts are making a difference.

Another 'snowballing' method that is endorsed by Gail Vaz-Oxlade (and others) is to attack your highest interest-rate debt first. By applying all your 'extra' money to the debt with the highest interest-rate, and maintaining minimum payments on all the rest, you reduce the overall amount you have to pay out. Mathematically, this would be the better choice to use.

For most of us, we fall somewhere in the middle. We don't have a fully funded Emergency Fund yet, and we still have debt to pay off. For our household, we find our balance somwhere in the middle. Before we spend any money on anything, we put 'something' into our Emergency Fund, even if it's only $20. Then we pay our living expenses and debt payments. After that, we put money into our various saving pots: RRSP, Vacation, Xmas, E-fund (again), Kids College funds, Automobile savings, etc. Some of the numbers we are dealing with are overwhelming, like amount to save for retirement and E-fund. Others are more specific and manageable, like Xmas account. But we try to put some in each one every month.

In our house, we also follow the advice of paying down the highest interest-rate debt first. This has been our focus. All debt is not created equal, and in some circumstances, it's more important to pay down one debt over another, due to terms and such. Not all of our debt is consumer debt. Some is taxes owing, which is in a whole different realm altogether.

We are seeing the difference our efforts are making. Every month, the balances go down, and occassionaly we get a 'win' by being able to completely focus on one debt to pay it off. This past year, our debt has risen again, due to unforseen bills (completely our fault), and owing income tax (which I should have known about,but didn't). Hopefully, in the coming year, an increase in business income should help us to really make a dent in our debt. Now just to keep it down.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Learning an Old Craft

Anyone who knows me knows that I like to knit. I'm not really good at it either. When I was younger and was learning, I could only make the standard, full of holes scarf, using just one basic stitch back and forth. Over time, I learned another stitch, then another, and made scarves that weren't full of holes (unless I planned them that way), with basic patterns in them.

I was given a knitted dishcloth one year, and loved it. My former m-i-l told me they were really simple to make, but to use cotton yarn. I did buy some, and the right sized needles, and began making my own dishcloths. I usually manage every year to make enough of these things that I can share with friends and family. They are truly easy to make, and I can make one up in the matter of a few hours while watching television.

A few months back, I got involved with a charity that provides knitted items to homeless folks to help them keep warm during our harsh winter. The charity provides free knitting classes, knitting needles, yarn and support to those who wish to learn to knit, or expand their knowledge. In exchange, they ask that you make something for the charity to sell or give away.

I've been to a few classes, and have been learning to read a pattern. I've also learned a few new stitches. But mostly I've learned confidence in myself when it comes to knitting. I'm pretty much self-taught, working my way through mistakes when I've made them. I never tried more difficult patterms before because I lacked the knowledge. The ladies in this group have been more than willing to teach me how to do things I've never tried before with my knitting. I am most grateful to know these extremely wonderful women.

In the next year, I'm hoping to expand our knitting classes into another part of our city, and be the leader of a new class group. In the south end of the city where I live, I see lots of women knitting in public, and have overheard others stating they wish they knew how to knit. In an era where there seems to be a newfound respect for the frugality of quality hand-made items, I think this may be a nice fit. A knitting class could provide some camaraderie for women (and maybe some men too) from all walks of life, all ages, all skill levels.

I like taking a look at the knitting projects that others are working on, and watching a project grow to completion. Seeing the pride of self from someone who has tackled a knitting project, and finished the job is truly an amazing sight.

Do you knit? Crochet? Cross-stitch? Quilt? Are you interested in any sort of the old crafts?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Credit Card Company Should be Ashamed

I have an account with Capital One. There have been times that I've been less than happy with their customer service when talking to them about trying to make payments when I have been behind. I know my credit at the time was less than stellar, and continued its downward spiral. They came to an agreement with me for a 'hardship' program where they reduced the interest rate to 0%, and I continued to make monthly payments in the amount of $140 for five years. Thsi would bring my balance to zero, and afterward, the account would be closed.

Although Capital One was not the worst company I had to deal with while we were struggling by far, they certainly did not make it any easier. I couldn't imagine that they would give credit to someone who certainly did not qualify for it. But it seems that they did. They continued to increase my credit amount, without my consent, and before long, I was in a hole (that I dug myself) that I didn't know how to get out of.

Let me know what you think after you have read the article.

On a side note, things are super busy for me today, and likely will be for the remainder of the week. I'll do my best to keep posting throughout the craziness, but I may end up disappearing for a few days at a time.

Thanks to all of you who posted comments to let me know that you like my blog for what it is, and the encouragement to keep writing. It helps to know that someone actually cares what I write. Thanks, you guys are the best!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Direction of My Blog

I read several blogs daily. I like taking a peek into the lives of others, some of whom I know personally, most of whom I don't. Lately, several boggers have talked about what they think their blog should be about, and if they should change things up a bit.

Since I started writing this blog, I've had a couple of false starts. I'd write a post or two, then not write anything for a long time. Some days I would sit in front of the computer screen, and have no idea what to write.To help combat this, I have a monthly list of possible blog titles that I can wrtie about. I just pick one in the morning, and started banging away on the keyboard.

Lately though, I keep thinking that all 4 of you regular readers are probably getting bored of reading about my boring life. Ok, not boring, but it is non-exciting. I've reached out to other bloggers in an attempt to get some fresh ideas of things I could write about, and for more readers. Not sure that it's working so much, but I am trying.

This blog is part personal finance, part frugal living, part regular day to day life for Auntie Eboo. I can't talk about my work too much, and that's most of what I think is important in my life. I can talk about my kids, but I get creeped out about the idea of some weirdo reading about my lovely children. Am I losing my sense of direction with my blog, or did I even have one in the first place?
Please let me know what you think. I need some help in deciding what to write about. Let me know what you like to read, or don't like.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Write Your Life Story

Back in 2001, when my mom was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer, I began thinking about her life. She had at that point, lived to the ripe young age of 61, had given birth to seven children, had adopted one child, and fostered and/or step-parented several others. She had married three times (I think), and had divorced three times also. She finally settled down into a great relationship with her sweetheart from her teenage years. She had worked as native courtworker for many years for N'Amerind, helping folks steer their way through the justice system at a time when there were many language and cultural barriers for the average Aboriginal person.

For Mother's Day, in 2002, as a gift for us both, I had given her a blank journal book, and a beautiful pen, with a handwritten note asking her to tell her grandchildren her life story. I wanted her to tell us things about her life that we otherwise wouldn't have known. Like what her favourite things were when she was growing up, and fond memories she had of her parents and grandparents. She thanked me for the idea of writing to her granchildren, so that they could know about her someday.

Mom died in June of 2002. A mere month after my request.

In the days after her funeral, I was taking charge of the task of going through her belongings, and giving them away, as per our religious custom.

I found the journal in her dresser drawer.

I was excited to find it, full of wonder at what it may contain. Surley there would be happy memories, and perhaps a few not so happy ones. I wondered if she talked about her childhood. Maybe she professed her love to children, something she had trouble doing throughout her life.

I opened the journal.

And found it blank. Just the way I had given it to her.

Several years have past since then, and I wonder what she would have written. What would she have wanted us to know about her past? What would she have wanted us to never know about? All those things went with her the day she died. I will never know if she had a childhood pet, or if it was her mother or grandmother who taught her to knit.

I was fortunate enough to know some things about her childhood, stories that I treasure. Like the story about the time my grandmother and her waited for grandpa and her brothers to return home from hunting. They were very late for supper. The dog came back without the boys. When they finally returned home after dark, my grandmother chased my grandfather around the house with a broom, furious with him for making her worry that something had happened to them. My mother sat in the corner, as a very young girl, giggling to see my grandmother act in such a way.

But there are so many other stories that have been lost with her passing, and with the passing of many of my other relatives. I can never get those stories back. But I wish with all of my heart that I will be able to pass down what I do know to my children and grandchildren, along with some stories of my own. I will write these stories, the old-fashioned way, with ink and paper, for my daughters and son to find some day. So that they will know my life story. So that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren might know me a little.

Friday, December 10, 2010

RRSP & Tax Reduction

It was explained to me a long time ago, that putting funds into a Registered Retirement Savings Plan will reduce your income dollar for dollar, also reducing your tax liability at the same time.

If I make $50,000 in a calendar year, and put $1000 of it into an RRSP, I will only be taxed on $49,000 of income that year. It's like that $1000 doesn't exsist.

The $1000 can grow inside a sheltered account or investment, and I do not have to pay tax on the $1000 of income or the growth until I take it out of the RRSP.

Simple, right?

They why the heck haven't I been doing it? For many, many years, I thought that because I was young, I could always catch up on my contributions in the future. And truthfully, retirement seemed so far off, that I didn't really think about it. It was something I knew about, but didn't really internalize.

Now as I'm edging my way to 40 years old, I know I have to get off my rear and get working on this. Seriously working on this. Being self-employed means no grand company pension when my time for the golden handshake comes. I have a rather large goal to set aside money in my RRSP next year. For me, putting away $3600 for something that isn't a vacation is going to be tough.

I opened my RRSP with PC Financial this year. Over the course of the year, I have managed to deposit a measly $1000. But it's a start. It's more than I have ever had put away for retirement before.

For the year of 2011, I am planning on depositing $3600. That translates into $300 per month. Which wouldn't be too hard on us. Except when we have down months, and I'm taking from the savings coffers to pay the regular bills. The winter months are usually very busy with work, but slow for income. So I have to figure out how to carve something, anything from the budget so that I am making a deposit every month.

My RRSP payment schedule will look something like this:

January: $100 (still owing $200)
February: $100 (still owing $400)
March: $200 (still owing $500)
April: $150 (still owing $650)
May: $300 (still owing $650)
June: $500 (still owing $450)
July: $500 (still owing $ 250)
August: $1000 (paid ahead $450)
September: $300 (paid ahead $450)
October: $200 (paid ahead $350)
November: $100 (paid ahead $150)
December: $150 (balance to zero)

I know some months I will be able to put in more than what I have set out for, and other months, finding the money to deposit will be next to impossible. But this is about as close to reality as I can make it. Unless I scheduled no payments at all, and then just dropped in the whole $3600 in June or July.

I have got to get working on opening a mutual fund account so that I can get the dollar-cost averaging thing working for me too. Because having my retirement nest egg (ok, it's just a couple twigs right now) just sitting in a savings account isn't really what I need. I need my little stash of money working hard, like I do.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Looking Toward 2011

I've crunched some numbers and came up with a game plan for 2011. I want to share part of it here with you. these will likely be our financial goals for the upcoming year. Things I have left out are our regular monthly expenses that include rent, groceries, cable, phone, internet, auto fuel & oil.

This is a wroking list, so if you think I've left something out other than what I've already mentioned above, please leave a comment for me. thanks.

2011 Financial Gameplan:

1. Put $6600 into EEE account. This would be about 3 months worth of expenses.
2. Deposit $3600 in my RRSP.
3. Have $1000 in chequing account as a buffer. This should eliminate bank fees.
4. Deposit $1200 into RESP.
5. Summer and winter vacation; $4000 total needed.
6. Christmas Account, $1500 to be saved.
7. Debt 1: $6900 to be paid off in full.
8. Debt 2: $5330 to be paid in full.
9. Debt 3: $4700 to be paid in full.
10. Debt 4: $3500 to be paid in full.
11. Auto repair account: $1200 to be saved.
12. Auto insurances: $4100 to be saved (2 vehicles).
13. Business Insurance: $900 to be saved.
14. Charitable giving: $250 given for the year.
15. 2010 Income Tax owing: $4500 (approximate)

There are other debts that we will still be dealing with but will not be able to pay off during 2011, so I've not included them. We will however, continue to make payments on them throughout the year.

What have I learned this year?

That with careful planning, we can have the life that we want, as long as we are prepared to give up other things for it. I've learned that having money set aside for lean months is crucial to our financial situation. It's similar to using credit, without the interest rates, and it's our own money!

I've learned that teaching our kids the basics of sound financial planning is important. They won't get that kind of an education from anyone else at this point in their lives. I want them to know this BEFORE they ever get into credit card debt.

I've learned that we could be doing more to beat down our debt monster.

I've learned that when stuff happens, we can go with the flow, as our savings keep me from worrying too much. I know we can weather the storm.

I've learned the importance of having illness & disability insurance on myself. Being self-employed, having this insurance gives me peace of mind that things will be okay if I ever got injured or sick.

Ok readers, give me your thoughts. Am I missing anything crucial in our gameplan? I know planning to payoff $20,430 of debt may seem like a lofty goal, but I know we can (and will) do it. Even with putting aside $12,400 into various savings pots and $11,700 into planned spending, and giving away $250 to charity. Add those numbers together, and we have a working total of $44,780. With a combined gross income of approximately $70,000, this should all be doable. I think.

I hope.
I hope, therefore, I plan.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Making a Money Guide

Sometime ago, I mentioned that one of the gifts I was making for my older daughter was a money book. I had the idea that maybe I could help her to find her way through her financial life with some advice, quips and money rules. What better way than to put them into a book? Considering she's actually mature enough to take advice from her 'rents, I want to give her some good ones.

I've been reading personal financial blogs for some time now, following Gail Vaz-Oxlade faithfully on the internet and watching her shows, and reading any and all personal finance books I can get my hands on. If I hear, or read a bit of advice that really strikes me as funny, or otherwise noteworthy, I make sure I write it down. This is the stuff that will go into her book.

My daughter is 21. She's been working since she was 18. She is employed full-time at a job she loves but has just left on maternity leave. She has just learned the basics of budgeting a.k.a. how I prepare a Spending Plan. (She groaned when I said budget, so I used a different name for it. She didn't know any different. Tee hee!)
I hoping to help her learn some good basics before the world decides to take a dump on her.

Most of today will be spent typing up the 'rules' in different colors and fonts to print out. Then I will be cutting them, and gluing them into the pages of a recycled paper notebook that I bought. There will be lots of room to add hand-written explanations or notes for each 'rule'. I'm going to try to add some pictures to it as well, if my printer ink lasts.

On a side note, it's the second snow day in a row that we've had here. We have gotten an incredible amount of snowfall in the last 48 hours or so. More is expected. Schools are closed, community centres are closed, and almost everything else has done the same. Last night, buses were pulled from their routes, and motorists were asked to stay off the roads. The mayor is considering calling a state of emergency. This is by far the largest accumulation of snowfall in a short period of time that the City of London has seen in a very long time. And there is no end in sight.

I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to hibernate, but this wasn't quite what I had in mind. :(

Monday, December 6, 2010

I am Tired

It was a long weekend. It was a tiring weekend. But it was a good weekend. :)

Friday evening, we dropped the little guy off at his big sister's apartment. She had made dinner for us to have there. Biggest sister and her bf take the little guy for the weekend for us every once in awhile so that Daddy & I can have some alone time, to get things done.She's such a good sister!

After we left there, we decided to go do some shopping. Wal-mart is already into their staying open 24 hours stint, so that's where we headed. A very full cart, and a couple hundred bucks later, we are done Christmas shopping. Okay, well the majority of it is done. We only have to get a couple of gift cards, and ingredients to make some gift jar mixes still. But all the gifts are bought.

Knowing that we could be busy with the business over the holidays (we usually are), and expecting the grandbaby during the same time, I wanted to be very prepared this year.

Friday night we stayed up late, and we each did our own thing.
Saturday morning we got up, had some coffee, dressed warmly, and headed out to volunteer some time for the Keeping Kids Warm charity. The $100 challenge went great, and I heard about some great acts of kindness for others. But it was a long, long day. We came home after, watched the news, and just hung out. In the same room, yet both of us doing our own thing. With a glass of rum & coke. :)

Sunday it had started to snow. A lot. We stayed in for most of the day, and got some things done around the house. Almost all the gifts are wrapped. We went through the little guys toys, and cleaned and purged there. I sorted out all of my knitting supplies and various projects I'm working on. We vaccuummed most of the apartment. We were planning on going to get little guy, and going to visit with hubby's family at his Grandmother's house. That's when we got the call.

It was just a hospital transfer, but my goodness, it took a long time. Just clearing the snow off the van took a good 15-20 minutes. In snow up to my knees. Road travel was slow. Reports on the radio mentioned car accidents all over the city. The weather forecast called for another 15-30 cm of snow in each of the next 3 days. We could suddenly get very busy. It's our busiest time of year, so I have to be prepared. Darn, I suddenly remember I haven't put snow tires on the van yet. Crum!

We did the transfer, came home, switched vehicles, drove to the other end of city to get little guy, came home and vegged out. It was late before we got home. The snow about to fall on our city worries me. I want to just stay indoors and hibernate, like a bear. Think anyone would notice if I went to sleep for a few months?

Sleep sounds really good to me right now. Maybe I'll get a nap in today.

How was your weekend?

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Horrors of Debt Collection Agencies

In 2006, I left a bad marriage. For a short while, I camped out on my sister's couch, until I could find an apartment for me and my two girls. I found a place within a month, and moved. I am grateful to my sister.

My sister is in the military. She used to run a Cadet Corps, and there is a lot of military in her career. Back sometime in 2007 or 2008, she got Bell services in her apartment. I'm not even sure what all she had, but I know she had a satellite dish at one point.

Fast forward to 2009. I get a phone call on my business cell from an agent who works for NCO Financial. They are looking for my sister. Apparently, she owes Bell Canada some money. I tell them she doesn't work for my company any longer. They ask me my name. I tell them. Oh, you're a co-user on the account?? A what?!? A co-user. At some point, my sister had added me to the account as a co-user, so that I could take care of her account while she was away, possibly deployed in Afghanistan.

I tell them I didn't agree nor consented to having my name added to this account. No matter, says NCO. You're still on the hook for the bill if your sister doesn't pay. I call my sister. I give her the lowdown, and the toll free number to call them back. She says she'll take care of it. I hang up, not thinking about it anymore.

October of 2010. My home phone rings. It's NCO Financial calling. They are looking for my sister. Good luck, I tell them, I have no idea where she is. I know she moved, and that she lives in London, Ontario, but I don't have an address for them, or a current phone number. They tell me they *NEED* me to find her and have this matter dealt with. I tell them they *NEED* to do their own job and find her.

My phone at home starts ringing at odd hours of the day. Automaticalled generated calls from a collection agency. Seeing as I have taken care of all of my own past due accounts, I doubt the calls are for me.

Automatic message left:
"This is NCO Financial calling for (sound of click where a name should be). This is a very important business matter. Please call us back at xxx-xxx-xxxx."

I call back. I've done this several times. I've been told that I have to talk to Bell Canada to have my name removed from the account. I've done that too. They will add your name to an account without your knowledge or consent, but will not remove your name from an account at your request. Hmm.

I've talked with more agents from NCO Financial than I care to count. I've talked with supervisors. They say they can't take my name off the account, nor can they stop calling me about the account. Even though it's not mine. Because my name is on it as a co-user, they have to do their job.

They have to do their job, I get that. But in dealing with this matter, I've had agents tell me that they think I'm lying to them about not knowing the whereabouts of my sister, and have implied that I may be lying to them about not being her. I've had agents tell me that my credit will be negatively impacted by this matter. I've had them tell me they will continue to escalate the frequency of the calls until the matter is resolved.

What have I done about all this?

When I was still in contact with my sister, I called her and texted her to talk to them. I don't know if she ever did, but the calls did stop for awhile.
I've called Bell Canada. They said my name would be taken off the account, but it never was. I called them again. Was told that time that they would not take my name off the account.
I've emailed a supervisor with NCO Financial, with a statement as to why I think my name was added to the account, along with my request to have my name removed from the account and a request that all further communication from them be in writing only. I've requested in a phone call with another supervisor, that I be sent statements of the account, showing how much was owed, and for what, along with documentation showing that my name is on the account as co-user. I've told an agent on the phone that I'm so sick of them calling me when I owe them no money, as that I was prepared to take this matter to court.

What has been the outcome so far?

Well, I haven't had a phone call in a number of days. However, I expect that the calls will continue at some point. I doubt they will respect my request for further communication to be in writing only. I have yet to receive any documentation from them at all. I'm not holding my breath. I'm keeping a log of the dates and times that I get phone calls, and if I speak to someone, I get their name and employee number for my records.

I've dealt with collection agencies in the past for debts that were mine. I eventually paid when I was able. That part of being in debt is something I can do without, thank you very much. But getting daily phone calls about a debt that I did not incur really bugs me. I'm keeping tabs on my credit report should this monster rear its ugly head there. So far, so good.

I know that the collection agency has rules that they must follow. They can't call before 7 am. NCO has an auto dialer that calls here at precisely 7:10 am. And when I press a button to speak to a live person, I get a machine telling me that their office is not yet open for the day. Hmm. They call to speak to someone about an account, but don't actually have someone available to speak to.

I am at my wit's end with this matter. I'm prepared to contact Ontario Consumer Services Bureau with a formal complaint if things continue this way. Other than paying someone's else's debt, I don't know what else to do to get these people off my back. I've stopped being nice when talking to them. I don't even feel the need to be polite anymore.

By the way, I know someone who is an employee of Bell Canada. I ran the situation by them, and was told that I can't be held liable for the debt, regardless of whatever anyone says.

So readers, what's your take on this? Is there anything else I could be doing that I'm not doing now? I won't hunt down my sister to get contact information for them. Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

$100 Challenge on Saturday

A London Free Press article I read got me thinking about ways to help others in the coming months. Winter can be harsh here in London, especially if you're homeless. (read the article here: )
At one point in my youth, I spent some time living in a shelter, because I had no where else to go (or, at least, I thought I didn't). At another point in my life, I was in a shelter with an infant. It wasn't a great experience, but the folks there sure helped me get my life on track. The kindness and generosity of strangers is what helped me to get back on my feet, find some direction in life, and allowed me to keep some of my dignity.

On Saturday, I will be joining several other Londoners at Jim Bob Ray's on Richmond Street, at noon, to help out with the $100 Challenge. If you have Facebook (and who doesn't anymore?), hop on over to their page (found here: or the world wide page ( found here: ) to see what folks are doing.

This is a grassroots movement started right here in London, Ontario! Let's get behind something that promises to be a big event, that can impact literally thousands of people right here in our own hometown. I haven't felt so passionate about a single charity event in a very long time. As it is the season of giving, what can you give to help others? How creative can you become?

I understand that $100 would be a lot for some folks to just give away. But if you can help in any way, maybe with $20, coupled with someone else's $20, that's $40 of good that can find its way into our beloved Forest City

What can you do? Take the challenge. This is starting to spread to other cities, and other countries. Even if you're not in London, you can still take part. Sign up on the Facebook page, and then go back after to tell of your experiences after the challenge.

The charity I work with, Keeping Kids Warm, will be meeting at the Western Fair Farmer's Market, 500 King Street, at 11 am - 3 pm, on Saturday December 4, 2010.
We will be accepting donations of gently used or new coats and sweaters to distribute to persons in need.
We will also be distributing FREE coffee to everyone, coutesy of Fire Roasted Coffee Co.
If you are in need, or know someone who is, please join us that day. You can take what you need, no charge.
Help us to make this day a great event!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December Goals

Every month I like to set some goals that push me toward fufilling year-end goals, or to help with other aspects of life that I need to focus on.

December 2010 Goals:

1. Get RRSP to next level of $1500. (Unlikely to happen, but I'll never know if I don't try.)

2. Prepare all financial goals in writing for the year of 2011. I don't like waiting until the week between Christmas and New Year's to do this. Makes me feel rushed.

3. Get back on track with monthly spending plans, and tracking. (I need to keep a notebook of where all the money is going.)

4. Break down written goals into quarterly and monthly goals, so I have a plan for the entire year.

5. Prepare Debt Free Plan. Write out what we need to do to get rid of our debt in 18 months. (This is a lofty goal, but I know it can be done, if we tighten the belts a little more.)

6. Get passports for February vacation. Don't know where we're going, but as long as it's somewhere warm, I'm happy. We already have the money saved for this, so now we can focus on the vacation itself.

7. Have business stuff caught up to year end. There's lots to accomplish still, and I want to be as prepared as possible.

8. Go back to November goals and deal with whatever hasn't been dealt with yet. I had some things on my to do list that I never got around to. Time to stop procrastinating!

9. Enjoy the holidays with friends and family. December gets busy, and this one will be no exception. I plan on renewing some familial relationships, and I hope to be able to stay in contact throughout the year.

10. Get the baby blanket finished before the baby comes! It's a race now, which will come first? The baby or the blanket? Ha ha ha! I can't wait to meet my grandson.

Only 24 sleeps until the big holiday. Are you ready?