Archive for April, 2011

April 30, 2011

Income Tax Return

by Robyn

I received my income tax return in the mail the other day. It was $1000 less than what I was expecting. I’m upset but I am very very close to having my car paid off in full, so I really couldn’t be happier. I have $1201.51 remaining to be paid off on my Pontiac G6 that I bought in Nov 2010.

I have been letting my last few pay cheques sit in my bank account until my credit card statements come in the mail in a few days. Once I pay those off the remaining will go towards my car. It will be tight but I’m still predicting that I have the car paid off by the end of May, then I can put everything towards savings for my big trip.

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April 29, 2011

The Royal Affair

by Robyn

I set my alarm this morning for 3:00am. I must say that I’m thankfull that I hit the snooze button for an hour. I didn’t go to bed until 12:30 and damn am I tired.

I’m not someone who’s obsessed with the Royals, but I look at it this way. A wedding, of this size and “importance” won’t happen again for another 30 years. Yes, I’m sure Prince Harry will eventually get married himself, but sadly, no one will really care.

I remember where I was when 9/11 happened and when MJ died. This event, as silly as it may be, is another one of those worldly events. So when people ask me “did you get up to watch the wedding?” and I will be able to say, “yes I did.”

I dragged my sorry ass out of bed at some ungodly hour of the morning, just in time to see the Britsh Prime Minister David Cameron enter the church, followed by the Beckham’s, and of course the arrival of Prince William and Harry.

If I’m any good at reading lips, I’m pretty sure I caught Harry asking William “are you ready?” as they entered ther church.

I’m not looking forward to work tomorrow because man will I be tired. But enough blogging, now to turn my attentions back to my tv and youtube channel to watch the wedding of the century.

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April 27, 2011

Drowning in Accommodations

by Robyn

Who knew that planning a trip to get tattooed would be so much work? And I haven’t even gotten to the details yet of the actual tattoo. For the past 2 days I’ve been mulling over my options for where to stay on my upcoming trip to Toronto. With my slim budget and my few odd accommodation specifications, it’s been a tiring process and I’ve been repeatedly looking over my top choices again and again, trying to weigh out the pros and the cons.

Do they have 24 hr reception? is breakfast included? is the bathroom private or at least semi-private? are they downtown or have easy access to transit?

I’ve set my budget at under $200 for 3 nights. A reasonable budget and one I can see myself staying within. Now it’s just a matter is deciding where I want to stay. I’ve been looking at hostels, bed & breakfasts, couchsurfing and airbnb (which is a cross between a B&B and couchsurfing), not sure if I’m entirely sold on this idea yet.

Clearly I’m obsessing over this a little and I should probably just phone somewhere and book a room already. But when it comes to the potential discomfort I’ll be experiencing with having my entire back tattooed, I think I have a right to be a little bit anal. It’s unlikely that I’ll couchsurf given that I’ll be sore and tired from having been tattooed for several hours. I know I’ll really want some privacy.

I have sent out one couch request to someone I hosted in the past but I’m not expecting anything, other than maybe an invitation for coffee.

Anyways, these are my top choices thus far, the first 3 places I will only be staying in for the night of my arrival, then I will be moving into cozier accommodations for Friday and Saturday night.

Global Village Backpackers – ($22.00 – 24.50) Breakfast included, 24hr reception

The Only Backpackers Inn – ($23.00 – 24.00) Breakfast included, can negotiate a late check-in

Neill-Wycik Summer Hostel – ($24.00 – 38.00) Breakfast included, 24 hr reception

Cozy Toronto BnB – ($55.00 – 70.00) Continental Breakfast included, 24hr hot showers, tv in room

Downtown Home Inn BnB – ($71.00 – 85.00) Open Buffet Breakfast, tv in room

I’ll probably sit on these options for a few days before I book anything. In the mean time, I’ll finish mapping out my routes to/from the airport and scouting for cheap eats, and something relaxing that I can do on Saturday afternoon to keep me occupied if I’m not able to meet up with anyone.

April 25, 2011

8 Unique Ways to Save

by Robyn

1.Grocery Shop Frequently – especially when looking for fresh produce. Some people (like my boyfriend) get grossed out by it, but buy fruits and veggies off the sale rack. The last 2 weeks I’ve picked up a 1lb box of strawberries for 50% off. I went through them, picked out the odd one that was mushy and froze the rest to make smoothies. If you pick up veggies, use what you bought that day to make dinner that night.

2.Join Group Buying Websites – such as groupon.com, or teambuy.ca. These websites are free to join and are great places for deals over a vast array of products and services. Although I haven’t used it that much, for the times that I have it’s been for a great savings. I paid $25 for $50 worth of prime cuts of beef, pork and poultry. I ended up getting so much food I had to store half of it at my parents house. Other great deals to look out for are restaurant deals. That way you can still dine out from time to time without breaking the bank.

3.Avoid Malls and Thrift Shop Instead– Sometimes you really need to clothes shop, especially if your a girl. Aside from a few sample items I picked up off the sale racks at the mall a few months ago for cheap cheap cheap, I always buy my clothes second hand. I take pride in being able to say that out of any outfit I can put together, each piece likely cost me less than $10-20. I think it would be safe to say that at least 75% of my wardrobe is either a thrift find or was bought on sale. Bottom line, never pay full price for your clothes, because it’s going to be out of style in 6 months anyways. Buy it off the sale rack, or better yet, when thrift shopping, wait until they have 50% sale days like Value Village does in Canada. It’s like a sale on top of a sale. If you can, sign up to be on email lists so you know when stores have promotions and sales coming up.

4. Hide your Clothes – this one may seem weird but it works. After wearing the same few outfits day in and day out, you start to get bored and want to shop for some new outfits. Or at least I do. So hide some pieces for a few months, then trade them up for different outfits down the road. I was living with my boyfriend on weekends over this past summer while I was working at a remote resort the rest of the time. Gradually a good portion of my clothes made it’s way over to his house and never came home with me when I moved back to the city. Now, months later, I’ve finally brought that clothes back to my house and it’s like I have a whole new wardrobe to work with. I haven’t worn these clothes in forever. My desire to shop, for the time being at least, is gone. In my opinion, that’s money in the bank.

5.Stash your Plastic Bags – jackets and purses are usually full of little pockets that never really get used. Take some of your plastic bags, smoothe them out, fold them up and tuck them away into those pockets. Now every time your in line at the grocery store and they ask you if you need a bag, you can say “nope, I’ve got my own.”  This will save you the 2 cents they would have charged you for a plastic bag, and might even make you money because sometimes store will give you a rebate when you bring your own bags. And you don’t have to spend money either now on reusable cloth bags.

6.The Dollar Store is Your Friend – you can buy so many things at the dollar store for a fraction of the price that you will pay at a grocery store. Toothpaste and toothbrushes for example. $1 each at the dollar store, compared to $3+ at the grocery store for the same thing. I bought a lot of my kitchen utensils from the dollar store when I moved out on my own and over three years later, I don’t think anything has broken or been replaced yet.

7.Make it a Game Night – this is something my friends and I did all winter and had a blast. It was never really a money issue, but we did it more just because we were getting bored of the weekly bar scene. We played a lot of board games and would usually switch it up with a different game each week. If you or friends don’t have a lot of board games, go out and buy some or  play card games. Avoid buying board games brand new, as the prices for board games are insane, ranging from $25 to over $100. Rather keep an eye out for finds at local thrift stores and garage sales. You can usually pick them up for a fraction of the retail sale price, and sometimes you can find some really cool classic, vintage, or just plain weird games. Always make sure to peek inside the box to ensure the instructions and all the playing pieces are there.

8.Swap your cash for foreign currency – living a 3 hour drive from the US/Canadian Border, I encounter American currency from time to time, either from serving or through friends and co-workers. Since American and Canadian currency is pretty much on par with one another, I always swap out my Canadian funds with American when the opportunity arises. That way I’m never going to spend that $5 or $20 and I can put it towards future savings, or avoid paying high exchange rates when I make a trip down south.

April 21, 2011

A little goes a long way

by Robyn

As documented in my last few posts, in the last week and a half I have made a few trips to the bank to deposit my tip money that has been gradually accumulating in my tip jars since  late November, early December of last year. Without even trying to save (I was just stashing my tips because I didn’t want to carry large quantities of cash on me) I now have the grand total of my savings.

Dollar bills stuffed into my Coca-Cola mug = $740.00

Loose change collected in my coin jar = $386.00 (not including the remaining change that cannot be rolled)

In total I managed to save $1126.00 in tips from serving WITHOUT EVEN TRYING!

In that last 30 days, without depositing any additional money that I have earned from pay cheques, I have been able to deposit $1221.25 into my travel savings account (I got a GST cheque for $95.25 that I deposited last week).

How does that even happen? Over $1000!!!

Having not realized that I had this much money just sitting my bedroom waiting to be counted and banked is such a weight lifted off me. The loose change that I just deposited is enough to cover the cost of my round trip ticket to Toronto in the next few weeks. A cost I was rather upset about because I had never originally planned to pay out of pocket for, instead I was going to use credit card loyalty points. From saving my tips last year (my tip jar then having been dubbed the tattoo fund), the cost of my tattoo is already covered. The only expenditures now that I have to concern myself  with is setting a realistic budget for food and accommodations while in the city.

Next week will mark less than 3 weeks until I’m in Toronto so it’ll be the perfect time to start making phone calls to find out where I’ll be staying.

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April 16, 2011

A servers tip jar

by Robyn

My original plan was to take my tip jar to the bank and get them to do the work of sorting my change. However, I’m impatient and the banks hours suck. I work 9 – 5:30, so getting to the bank when they are open is difficult. Especially when the bank that has one of those change counting machines is a 20 minute drive. And the one day they were open late this week, I had to get to my part-time job by 6.  So that didn’t really leave time for a cash count detour. So since I did absolutely nothing last night except for sleep on the couch, I’m well rested, got up early this morning and was anxious to keep my hands busy. So I poured out the change jar in the middle of the floor and started rolling.

Less than a half hour later, I’ve sorted and rolled about 90% of the jars contents. I need 2 more loonie rollers to complete all that can be rolled. I’ve done a rough count and I have just over $380.00!!!! That’s $80 more than I had guessed a few days ago. I’m going to be really happy taking this to the bank and depositing it into my savings.

Do you put your spare change into a “change jar”?

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April 15, 2011

Addressing the Workplace

by Robyn

I have, in one form or anther been working in the service industry since I was 15. I started off working in a restaurant kitchen, then at deli counter, followed by a grocery store, and for the last four years, I have busted my balls for a little company known at Boston Pizza.

This company, according to profilecanada.com has sales that range between $500 Million and $1 Billion, and employs over 16,000 people. I am one of them. Now I don’t know how accurate the information on profilecanada.com is, nor can I say that it’s a reliable source, but I do know that Boston Pizza earns lots of money. They are one of the most popular chain restaurants out there. They put Pizza Hut practically out of business in a matter of a few short years. With even the most basic knowledge of the money they earn, it’s easy to conclude some of they things they can afford. One of those is putting money into outsourcing proper training programs to teach their managers how to communicate with their staff. Too bad, they haven’t made that investment yet.

I don’t serve because I love the work. I serve because I have amazing co-workers, and we’re all there for the same reason – to make a quick buck.

If I was to be summed up on one word, it would probably be opinionated. I always have an opinion about something, and in many cases I’m rather vocal about it. I try not to be crude, or crass, or outright mean to people’s faces, but yes, it happens from time to time. Never in my life, until now have I done this. I’m more prone to bitching, complaining, whining and stomping my feet with the faint hope that someone will take notice and make some sort of change. Of course, no matter how much I make a stink about things in the workplace, things don’t change, and yesterday was the final straw that broke the camels back.

So this morning, I picked up the phone and called Boston Pizza Head Office to make a formal complaint about communication issues at my store. Or rather, lack of communication?

It’s sad to know that I can count, for every shift that I have worked in probably the last 2-3 weeks where something was not properly communicated by management to myself as well as co-workers. This has caused stress & confusion amongst staff, which results in poor customer service and me making no money.

I was yelled at last night for not attending to a table after they had been sitting, unattended to, in the restaurant for over 15 minutes. The reason I didn’t go to them was because they had been seated in my co-workers section. Too bad, my co-worker had been cut for the evening and management had just forgotten to tell me this. Just like they forgot write me into the floor plan for that evening and left my co-worker to get upset thinking the closer wasn’t coming in. Just like they forgot to tell me my relief wasn’t coming a few weeks ago and I missed the first 2 hours of a staff appreciate party, which I ended up ditching because I was so upset over the whole thing. Just like I got screwed into working an 11 hours shift because they forgot to tell the closing supervisor I was working a split.

It’s been one thing after another, and it happens on every shift. And if I’m not working several hours beyond what I should be, I’m usually being yelled at for something that isn’t my fault. Something that could have been avoided with communication. Some people have told me to quit, or transfer to a different store. My boyfriend really wants me to quit (he’s the one who has to listen to my end of shift rants).

I’ve dedicated over 4 years of my life to this company. It’s allowed me to survive living on my own while still in school, financed several trips, given me valuable work experience, and I’ve gained some really good friends and work references. I’m hoping that by having made the call, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Get your shit together or I’m jumping ship. If things don’t change, I’m leaving and finding something else, where they will treat me like a human being, and not a gypsy mind reader.

The gratification of making that few extra bucks is nothing when you feel like a mistreated animal half the time.

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April 12, 2011

The Big Money Drop

by Robyn

One of the best things about being a server is the tips. It’s the tips that make serving, I feel, such a hard industry to get out of. Not only do you make, on average, double your hourly wage, but you also have cash on hand all the time. The downside with having cash on hand all the time however, it that it’s always there for you to spend.

I’m not a hardcore saver, but I think I manage pretty well. Many adopt the habit of never carrying change, EVER. I find this difficult, however, a great adaptation of this habit, is to never keep your change, in the form of tips, and never carry more than $20 cash on you.

After every serving shift I take all my tips and them put them into my tip jars, less the $20 I keep in my wallet. If you can, always change your bills to larger ones, like $50’s. I’m always less likely to spend a $50 bill over a $20.

I keep my tip jar tucked away so that it’s out of sight, out of mind. The back corner of the cubby of my night table. I rarely see it, and almost never count the money in the jar. Until a few days ago. Holy Crap! Somehow I managed to save $740 cash in just a few short months. And that’s just in dollar bills. I haven’t even counted my coin jar. So this afternoon during my lunch break I zipped around to RBC and deposited the money into my savings account. It’s a little scary realizing that you’ve got that much cash just sitting in your apartment and not locked away safely in your bank account. I also got my GST cheque in the mail too.

My change jar is near overflowing so I’ll be stopping in at the credit union later this week to have that money counted, sorted, rolled and deposited. It’s always so satisfying tossing money into a jar for weeks on end because you never know what that collecting will amount too. This jar, I’m guessing at least $300. I’ve got a lot of loonies and toonies in there.

I’ll give you the grand total once it’s been counted. A good portion of this money will be going towards paying off my plane ticket to Toronto and some spending money while I’m in the city, but in the end I’m still up a few hundred.

April 8, 2011

Damn you VISA points

by Robyn

The ticket is purchased, the date is set and appointment made! I’m going on a trip….TO….*drum roll*…Toronto! Not exactly the westerly direction that I’m aiming for in the long run, however, this trip shall treat me just fine. Actually? It probably won’t. It’s going to be horrendously painful, uncomfortable, and expensive. Thank you VISA, for you have saved me $300! So it’s all worth it.

Wait a minute?….no, VISA, actually you didn’t save me $300. You actually cost me $300 because you haven’t arrived in the mail yet. Therefor I had to no VISA card with which to purchase my ticket. Mastercard, you’ve come to my rescue, and probably earned me 18 Airmiles, but VISA, you’ve disappointment me.

In my efforts to organize my finances better and cut costs, I felt it was necessary that I cancel my VISA CLASSIC II card. I haven’t used it in months, and the annual renewal fee was just money down the drain. So I cut up my VISA, and changed back to the VISA CLASSIC rewards card. Annual fee, $0. This I did, two months ago. Where the HELL is my replacement card? It never came. So I ordered it a second time, this time reporting it as lost, and I’m still waiting.

I have 31,677 CLASSIC points, which is equal to $316.77. If my card had come in the mail on time, weeks ago, like it was supposed to, my round-trip ticket to Toronto would have cost me less than $63.

Now it’s costing me 6X that.  =(

But what’s done it done. That’s pennies compared to the money I will be spending while in Toronto. On my glorious, solo trip, to hand over my body for 6+ hours to get this gorgeous masterpiece forever etched into my body!

 

It’s been a long time coming. This beauty was supposed to be started in May of 2010 but was subsequently cancelled  do to a flight rerouting on my way to New Jersey. So now, almost 1 year to the day, we will finally be starting my back piece. Hallelujah!

 

April 6, 2011

365+ days, when will the saving end?

by Robyn

So we shall see if this on and off dream ever comes into fruition. I have 436 days until my tentative departure date. June 15th, 2012. That date sounds pretty darn good to me. That gives me 1 year, 2 months and 9 days to work, save, and sell my belongings. And maybe attending a wedding before I leave…. well see…it’s complicated.

So this my plan. Granted it’s been my “plan” on more than one occasion. Clearly I’ve failed in the past. I think this is attempt #3. Third times the charm right? Things are looking up. This time I’m not fresh out of school, working part-time, in between jobs, or doing a summer term position while trying to pay off debts from spur of the moment trips that I hadn’t adequatly saved or planned for. I’m in one place, working full-time, (working two jobs in fact) with no chance of upcoming vacation time to blow my money on a week long trip to Mexico which I’ve done more than once while working as a part-time server.

Oh the flexibility of working as a server, when you can trade shifts, drop shifts, pick up shifts, and you have loads of tax free cash at your fingertips. It can get you into messy financial situations. Like $4000 worth of debt in a mere 3 months.

One thing that I find frustrating, understandable, however still frustrating is that many travel bloggers are hush hush on what their financial standings are. I want to know HOW you saved up $xxxxx.xx. And not in terms of, instead of going to the movies you watched an old VHS at home. That saved you $20, which will amount 1 meal and a 1 night stay in Thailand. Or the fact that you pinched and saved and scrounged for a year and bingo, you have $23,000 saved at the end of a year. I want to know that along with your full time day job, you worked 15hrs serving over the weekend. You made $100 in tips and it went straight into your trip jar. Play by play! I love that shit. It makes it feel real, and that I can do it too….

Because, this weekend, I did serve for 15 hrs, and I think I made something in the range of $140. All of which has gone into my “money jar.” It will likely pay for my expenses when I fly to Toronto in a few weeks to get tattooed. 60% of of the flight which will be paid for with my RBC points that I’ve collect over the years. Budget travel….only to go and spend probably $1000 on a tattoo I’ve been saving for and waiting to get for over year.

I hope that in my blog, however it may evolve, will give people true insight into how I’ve done it. Friends and co-workers are always blown away by how I do it. Like how have I financed 5, (yes count it) 1, 2, 3, 4, FIVE, WEEK long vacations to destinations like Mexico (twice), New Jersey, Cuba & Montreal working 20 – 30 hours a week as a server at a pizza place. I hope to break it down so that you can do it too.

My current debt amounts to just over $3,000. That’s amazing considering I purchased a previously-loved $10,000 car in November. But with diligence, hard work and the sale of my old Nissan, since making the purchase a mere 5 months ago, I’ve somehow mananged to pay off $7000. With a fat income tax cheque expected in my mail box in the next few weeks, and a $400 autopac cheque enroute, I can expect to be putting money to savings in just over a month.

Having been able to consistantly put $500 – $700 away monthly to pay off my car, I can expect to be able to continue that into savings. Take that times 1 year, 2 months and 9 days, makes for $7000-$9000 put into savings. Add that to my existing $4000 saved in my high interest esavings chequing account fittingly nicknamed “RTW TRIP” and I’ll have somewhere in the range of $11,000 – $13,000 to buy a one way ticket westbound to SE Asia or Australia to live, work and play until I’m broke or dead. Which ever comes first.

Until then, I will feed my obsession with books, blogs, forums and the like. As the date gets closer I’ll be forced to explore details of the trip that can no longer be approached in theory. Like where is the best place to purchase traveller insurance, what are my most affordable banking options, what vaccines to get for the regions I hope to visit, and what I’ll need to pack. I’ll pull out a map and examine where I want to go, what I want to see, and overall, how much a really want to plan. A part of me wants to get the necessary vaccines, buy the longest insurance I can get my hands on GO. It probably won’t happen that way, but until then, I shall BLOG and DREAM.