Archive for ‘finance’

June 5, 2012

May Roundup

by Robyn

My apologies for the new organization of my expenses. As mentioned in my last roundup, I recently changed my expense tracking over to a new app, uSpend. For the record, I’m absolutely in I love with it. I haven’t encountered any calculation issues and it doesn’t freeze like my Lemon app had started to do. Functionality so far as been great. But my expense categories are a little different now than what they used to be.

Automotive: $584.46
Banking: $61.75
Clothing & Jewelry: $36.50
Computers & Office: $0.75
Entertainment: $137.01
Food & Drinks: $147.75
Health & Beauty: $386.38
Household: $565.13
Restaurants: $148.80
Utilities: 165.75
Charity/Donation: $164.00
Investments: $100.00

Month end expenses were $2498.28, over budget by $998.28.

Compared to my spending for April, my spending in May was off the charts. I don’t even have a lot to show for it either. The month started off with a few major dents put into my wallet. The first being my Autopac payment. I missed my payment in April and got slammed with a $70 late fee. So what should have only cost me $354 cost me $430. I’ve got another $354 Autopac payment this month that’s going to drive my expenses up. That being said, instead of a $1500 goal this month, I’ll be moving my budget spending to be under $1854.

My girlfriend of over 20 years got married this month, so I knew those events would put a dent in my spending. The first weekend of May was her bachelorette party. We did pole dancing, went out for dinner at Earl’s and hit up the bar aftewards. That put me back $72.50, money that I otherwise would not have spent. She got married on the 26th. I purchased a new top for the event and gave presentation, so that was another $117.82. So for my girlfriend to marry my ex (that’s not a typo, it’s messed up I know), it cost me $190.32.

my date and I making faces in the reflective elevator door

My Health & Beauty expenses are more than triple what I spent last month. The last time I’d had a hair cut was in September, so it was long overdue, that was $55.13. I also got a massage which, again, was long over due. That was $70. I’ll be recieving a refund on a portion of that this month through my group insurance benefits. In April I’d recieved 2 free electrolysis session because the machine was one the fritz. They’ve since had the machine repaired so I paid for all 3 sessions this month, that cost me $132.83.

Not including the $45 I spent on dinner during my girlfriends bachelorette party, I spent $103.80 on restaurants, which is pretty much on par with the last 3 months.

hunting for wild mushrooms with friends at the cottage

I had a few other expenses drive up my overall spending for the month. Firstly, one of my personal goals for this summer was to get my boating license. I paid the $52.45 to register for the online course and I passed the exam last week with a grade of 88%. I also registered for the Dirty Donkey Mud Run that I’m participating in this summer. Registration cost me $68.00.

Knowing that July has the potential to be an expensive month (I’m going to be on vacation in BC for 8 days) it’s important that I keep my spending this month to a minimum. I expect that my expenses for gasoline will go up this month as I plan on going to my cottage on as many weekends as possible. That being said, I should be able to cut my expenses on food since I’m working more on weeknights so I’m not spending as much on groceries, and on weekends I’ll be sharing food expenses with my family.

I’m never late on bill payments except for my car insurance because it’s not set up for online banking, so I always get late charges. Have you ever had to pay crazy late charges because you simply forgot to pay a bill?

May 4, 2012

April Roundup – Ok, I overspent a little…

by Robyn

As predicted in my March roundup, I wasn’t able to keep my expenses below $1500 for this month. I did however, cross a few things off my shopping list, some of which cost me nothing. I’ll start by breaking down my expenses for the month.

Rent: $547.00
Food & Dining: $314.44
Bills & Utilities:170.90
Auto & Transport: $157.00
Financial: $100.00
Personal Care: $80.64
Taxes: $65.11
Travel: $61.00
Entertainment: $59.00
Gifts & Donations: $44.86
Health & Fitness: $44.75
Shopping: $24.73

At month end, I spent $1669.44, over budget by $169.44.

My food and dining expenses were really high this month. My restaurant expenses ($100.04 this month) were just below what I spent last month ($110.07). Not a big improvement, but by no means a failure. I only bought dinner at work 5 times this month compared to 8 times last month. Groceries were more than double what I spent last month, but I stocked up on quite a few things, like a $50 purchase at the Dutch Meat Market. This should help me keep my food expenses down for May.

I spent significantly less on personal care this past month, but that’s more of a stroke of luck. I had two electrolysis sessions where the machine started to malfunction. As a result, I had those two 30 minute sessions for free.

My entertainment expenses were about double compare to last month, but I got up to a lot more this month as well. I went to the Norman Rockwell Exhibit at the art gallery, as well as went to 3 concerts. It pays to know people in the music “scene” since I got into most of the concerts for free or at a discounted price. I purchased a few cd’s which bumped up my expenses.

One expense I excluded from my expense log was my flight to Vancouver at the end of June. That set me back $536.86 for a RT flight. I was choked about the cost but at the end of the month I got my income tax back and they did a reassessment for a refund of $505.67. Less the $65.11 I thought I’d owed, I only really have to pay $96.30 for my flight. I also purchased my travel insurance for $61.00.

As for the no spend challenge, this month I was successful. I completed the month with 10 no spend days. I think what made this month easier was that I’ve been concentrating on cooking at home more. In doing so, I’ve planned out my meals further in advance so I can stock up more on my grocery shopping days.

When putting this post together, I encountered an issue with my much-loved Lemon app, which I use to categorize my spending in detail. It’s ability to do basic math pretty much stopped working. I don’t know if entries aren’t linking properly or what, but I found that several month end category totals were wrong, and I had totals for categories with no actually transactions associated with them. After a rather frustrating morning, and testing of about half a dozen free apps, I’ve settled on and painstakingly transferred my expenses over to uSpend. I hoping I don’t encounter any major issues with app. I’ve never purchased an app before and if this app has any major flaws I may be forced to do just that. I’m really wary about purchasing apps because most don’t give you the option to test them out first and I don’t want to spend $5 on something I’ll never use.

Have you ever loved an app for a few months only to have it stop working?

April 2, 2012

Results of the “No Spend” Challenge

by Robyn

On March 6, Krystal from GMBMFB tweeted about her 10 no spend days challenge. My February budget was blown out of the water with my trip to Ottawa and my shopping trip to Grand Forks, so March was my month to keep my expenses low. So for the month of March I challenged myself to keep my spending below $1500 and to have 10 No Spend days.

Sadly, I failed at both challenges. But I didn’t fail terribly, so for that I’m still giving myself a congratulatory pat on the back.

I ended the month having achieved 9 out of 10 no spend days, and I very likely would have completed the challenge if I had started it on the 1st instead of the 6th. As for keeping my expenses under $1500, month end I spent $1561.20, including all fixed expenses. Here is how it breaks down.

Rent: $547.00
Personal Care: $219.07
Food & Dining: $185.80
Bills & Utilities: $164.63
Auto & Transport: $145.80
Financial: $100.00 (transferred into savings)
Health & Fitness: $90.76
Gifts & Donations: $40.40
Shopping: $37.47
Entertainment: $30.25

Personal care is pretty high up there, but I’ve told myself, even if I break my budget because of “beauty,” it’s allowed. I don’t blow my money on getting my hair and nails done. The last time I had my nails done was over a year ago, and I last cut my hair in October.  Almost 75% of what was spent on personal care this month was for electrolysis, and I have no problem justifying spending that money.

Food & Dining is also pretty high. In detail, I spent $116.06 on eating out, and $69.73 on groceries. Nearly 50% of my ‘eating out’ expenses were from buying dinner at the restaurant where I work. I need to start bringing more stacks with me to tide me over during some of those longer shifts.

Auto & Transport was within budget. I spent $101.00 on gas and $44.79 on an oil change.

I’m challenging myself this month to do the same. Spend less than $1500 and have 10 no spend days. I have a few things on my “shopping” list this month, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge. Since the weather has been so nice I’m planning on getting a pair of new runners, which I might try to pick up at Value Village if I can find anything in good condition. I’m also in desperate need of a hair cut, as I mentioned earlier, the last time I had a hair cut was in October, and I’ve got a $25 Amazon gift certificate that I’m itching to use.

Have you ever stuck to and completed a personal finance challenge?

February 29, 2012

Why I love my iPhone

by Robyn

I’ve had a personal cell phone for 9 years, and in that 9 years, only once have I paid for my phone. That was for my last contracted phone. I grudgingly paid the $100 for an LG Rumor because I didn’t like any of the free phones they offered. I’ve been putting off getting a new phone for over a year. My contract expired in February 2011 and I refused to sign another 2 year contract knowing that I might have to buy out of it if I travelled before my contract was up.

After a lot of research and “justification,” I’ve finally given in and purchased an iphone. Knowing that, fingers crossed, I’ll be travelling in just over a year, I opted not to sign into a new contract and paid full price for an 8G White iPhone 4.

So how have I justified spending $630 on a cell phone? Almost $100 more than what I pay in rent? An iPhone is clearly more than just a phone. It can do so much more that what my LG Razor could ever do for me. Here are some of my favourite apps that I use on a daily basis.

MyFitnessPal: I love this app and I use it everyday, multiple times a day. I want to be healthier and this app is helping me do that. I can track what I eat, how many calories I’m consuming, how many calories I’m burning, and whether or not I’m getting my recommended daily vitamins and nutrients. Without this app, I would never have known that I don’t get nearly the amount of daily iron I should be. With the help of this app I’ve been able to adjust my eating habits to lower my calorie intake and I’ve started taking vitamin suppliments so that I get all my daily nutrients.

Spendings: I’ve actively used the MyFinancialTracker feature of RBC since it was first introduced a few years ago, and this app is another excellent way for me to track my spending. It’s simple and easy to use. I track everything I spend my money on from groceries, trips to the salon, drinks with friends, even what I spend on postage. The disadvantage to RBC’s MyFinancialTracker is that it only tracks debit/credit purchases. With this app I can track all of my income/expenses, regardless of the form of payment.

HoursTracker: I work 2 jobs, one of them being a serving job, where technically I get paid down to the minute, so every minute counts. I’ve always kept my weekly timecard but usually just looked at what is deposited into my account and figured “that looks about right.” I’ve only been using this app for a month and noticed on my last paycheck I was shorted almost 10 hours in pay. That’s just shy of $100 that they neglected to pay me. When you work in an industry where you work random hours and split shifts, tracking your hours is a must. This app allows me to track the hours that I work, my breaks, make notes on shifts and it tells me how much money I have earned after every shift. At the end of every week, I email my hours to myself so that I always have a quick reference of my weekly earnings.

P Tracker Lite: This little app is pretty self explainatory. It’s a period tracker. I haven’t been on the pill in a few years, therefor am not as regular as I used to to be. Or at least I don’t have a pill pack to tell me if I’m regular or not. This App allows me to track my period, how long it lasts, when I’m fertile (not that I care – no babies for me), and it’ll predict my next period. Other features include the ability to track symptoms, moods, weight, and best of all, you can set the App up to be password protected.

UrbanSpoon: I can’t help but love this App. It was an amazing tool to have on my recent trip to Ottawa. You can find reviews and pictures for almost any and every restaurant in any given city. It use it constantly to find new places to eat in my own hometown and to find affordable, new places to eat when I’m on vacation.

Rage Comics: This App is a great way for some good laughs and an excellent way to kill some time. The comics that people create from real life are so funny, and there are always new comics.

Some of my other favourite Apps include Twitter, instagram, facebook, DataMan & Shazam. I’m becoming a bit of a phone addict but how can I not? It’s everything, phone, texting, camera, music, social networking, all wrapped into a $630 piece of awesomeness, and when I’m travelling, I’ll just drop my phone plan. Unlike every other phone I’ve ever had, it won’t become a paper weight.

December 1, 2011

Going from Flab to Fit

by Robyn

I have officially been a member of SNAP Fitness for a solid month now. In the last 30 days, I went to the gym over 13 times, and worked out a minimum of 30 minutes each time. I am extremely proud of my commitment so far, and I can without-a-doubt say I would not have gone nearly as often if it weren’t for them being open 24hrs. 

Over the weekends the past two weeks I’ve hit the gym after midnight. Not only is it quiet that late at night, but you are completely alone so you don’t have to feel self-conscious about trying new things. I have also joined a twice weekly fitness bootcamp with one of the personal trainers, so I’ve been doing intense cardio and strength training for an hour on Monday’s and Wednesday’s. I’m not expecting to see results right away, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to feel a difference by the end of my class on my 25th birthday later this month.

My savings in the past month has pretty much come to a standstill. Getting a $241.00 speeding ticket really put a dent in things. I’m also holding out right now for a seat sale from Winnipeg to Ottawa in February for the wedding of a family friend. I was tossing around the idea of taking a full week off work and flying to Vegas for a few days after the wedding but have decided against it. I’m hoping I can get a round-trip ticket to Ottawa for around $500. I could have re-routed my flights Winnipeg to Ottawa to Vegas to Winnipeg for an extra $400, but decided I can’t justify spending the extra money just for 2 days in Vegas, and another two days in transit.

So instead I’ll be taking two vacation days to attend the wedding then use my remaining vacation days for sometime next year. I recently helped a friend pack up his entire apartment to move back to B.C. so I’ve got an open invitation to spend time with him there in the future. So perhaps a summer vacation in the mountains is in order for 2012.

November 4, 2011

Hashing out my SNAP contract

by Robyn

At the beginning of the week I went into SNAP fitness and spoke to the manager about the contract I signed. He told me that the pre-paid amount for the 6 month contract was based off the “month-to-month” rate. So “technically” it gives you a free month, but not really. I told him the way they sell their memberships is deceptive and misleading. Looking at the membership rate breakdown that they use as a tool to sell membership plans to people I clearly pointed out to him that it was disceptive, misleading and in some ways, false advertising as it fails to state that the pre-paid amount is based off the month-to-month rate. He didn’t really offer me anything. He just said that those were the rates as determined by corporate.

I knew I wasn’t really going to be able to get much out of him, but it was worth a try. In the end I opted for a full refund on my initial $285.29 pre-paid membership and resigned on a 6-month contract, where I’ll pay monthly at the rate of $35.96. Instead of being locked into a 7-month contract, I’m only locked into 6 months and free to end my membership in May 2012.

I’m a little less bitter now and really just happy to get on with it and start working out on a regular basis. I need to tighten up my jiggly thighs and work on getting rid of my little gut.

In other news I made a quick visit to the bank today to deposit $2769.67 worth of Canada Savings Bonds that had matured. I’ll be contacting my bank branch next week to arrange an appointment to speak to someone to decide on how to reinvest that money.

I also took out $200USD ($208.36CAD). I’m heading down to Grand Forks, ND tomorrow to spend the day shopping for some new clothes. Excited to get out of the city for a day. I haven’t been to Grand Forks for over a year.

October 28, 2011

I just paid you in full for my “FREE” month

by Robyn

After packing on a few pounds over the summer, I decided it was time I re-joined a gym. I spent a few days looking at the different facilities. Near work and near home. What would work best for my lifestyle and my wallet.

I wanted to find the best deal I could. I wanted a gym near where I work, close to my house if possible, flexible hours. So I decided on SNAP Fitness. They are open 24/7, although limited they do offer classes, they have personal trainers available to you, there is one close to my work as well as my house, they have a low membership fee and reasonable monthy rates. Or so I thought.

I am feeling really stupid today, because I got scammed. I didn’t want to sign a 12-month contract, nor do a month-to-month, so I decided on a 6-month contract. That way, I’m only locked in over the winter months and I can have the summers off. Depending on which location I joined, a 6-month contract monthly rate would be in the range of $35-36.00. That I can do.

A new SNAP gym down the street from my house opened at the beginning of the month. I got a voucher in the mail the would waive my enrollement membership fee if I joined before October 31.

With the 6-month contract, my monthly rate would be $35.96. Or I could pre-pay, and by doing so, I would get 1 free month. I figured, why not, throw it on the credit card, then I don’t have to worry about paying for the next 6-months.

It was only when I got home and did a little bit of math did I realize that I didn’t get 1 month free, instead I just paid them upfront for a 6 month contract that is now actually 7 months.

The pre-paid total is $251.70 + $20 access card x PST. This gave me 6-month pre-paid, plus 1 month free, so in total, 7 months pre-paid. But when you break it down, I just paid for 7 months, at the 6-month contract monthly rate.

If you pay month-to-month, its $41.95.

41.95 x 6 months = 251.70 (which is what I paid! But I didn’t sign up for month-to-month)

If you pay the monthly rate on the 6 month contract, it’s $35.96.

35.96 x 6 months = 215.76

So really, all they did was charge me for 6 months on the month-to-month rate (instead of the 6-month contract rate I signed) and said that I got a “free” month, when really I just paid for 7 month, because if you do the math:

35.96 x 7 months= $251.70, which is what I paid under the illusion I was getting a free month.

Clearly that’s not the case. I’m pissed. I’ll be going in on Monday and calling them out to see if I can get some money refunded or something, valued at $36, for free. Because I never got the “free” that they promised me.

August 30, 2011

Extreme couponing is an extreme waste

by Robyn

I’ll be the first to admit it, I’ve watched Extreme Couponing a few times on TLC. I can’t help myself. I am drawn to nearly every form of your stereotypical bad tv. Wedding shows, design shows, having abnormal quantities of babies shows, weird jobs, hoarding,  addictions, you name it, I probably watch it. I don’t follow these shows regularly but if I can’t find anything else to watch, it’s almost a given I’ll end up watching the newest episode of Hoarding: Buried Alive, or Intervention or what have you.

When is comes to watching Extreme Couponing, I can’t help but be in total awe and disbelief. What these people are able to achieve is without a doubt, impressive. Although these people clearly have compulsion issues (see image below), at least they are channeling these urges into something positive. I guess? Sort of?

Seeing the insane stock piles amassed by these individuals just leaves me stunned. Does any single family household really need hundreds of tooth brushes? Or boxes of deodorant, body lotion, soap, etc? Who needs 40 bottles of relish? 100 cans of soup? 50 bags of chocolate chips?

Beyond bursting at the seams, how much of these massive collection will still be good 5 years?

On a cleaning kick last night I started going through my fridge and pantry, throwing out everything that’s expired. I moved into my apartment in February of 2008, so anything in my apartment, food wise, is no more than 4 years old. Until recently I never knew how quickly, even canned goods went bad.

This is a short list of what I threw out:
butter (I didn’t even know butter could go bad)
4 cans of soup (2 years expired)
3 bottles of salad dressing (1 unopened)
an almost-full bottle of corn syrup
hot sauce
plum sauce
molasses
lime juice
bbq sauce
baking powder

What on earth are these extreme couponers doing hoarding these ridiculous quantities of food products? Is your family of four really going to eat ALL of that food before it expires. Not likely, unless you are going to eat a bowl of soup with instant mr. noodle on the side every day for a year. For a kick of flavour, add some relish? You’ve got 40 bottles. Why not have a bag of chocolate chips for dessert? And just throw your toothbrush away after using it. You’ve got another 1000 to last you for the next 3 years.

I get it, these people “buy” these items in mass quantity because they can. The high. The thrill. The rush they must get knowing their walking out of a store, legally, with hundreds of dollars worth of product that they didn’t pay a cent for. But seriously? Why are you spending 40 hours a week searching for coupon deals so you can stock up on food that will likely expire before you can consume all of it?

I’m feeling pretty bummed knowing that I just threw out probably $50 worth of expired food. I don’t have the patience to coupon. Plus it’s a lot harder to coupon to the extreme in Canada because our stores don’t “double up” deals like they do in the states. I will admit since watching this show I have learned some really important things that I can apply to my personal spending habits. Such as, as good of a deal as it may be, don’t stock up on unnecessary quantities of items that have an expiry date. And a LOT of things have expiry dates. Even if it’s free, it always makes me sad knowing something is going to waste.

From now on, I’m going to be more selective when buying items to stock my fridge and pantry. I’ll ask myself  “If I buy this will I use 10% of the product before it goes bad and I have to throw it out?” If the answer is yes, I’ll spend the money to drive out to my parents place to “borrow” some from them. Or I’ll be a little less anti-social and introduce myself to my neighbours to borrow a cup of _______.

Since the debut of this series, these “extreme couponers” have been getting quite a bit of media coverage . You can find a few amusing, and kind of ironic news stories here and here.

August 10, 2011

Surpassing a savings milestone

by Robyn

As soon as my 2006 Pontiac G6 was paid off in mid-May (2 weeks earlier than I expected) I concentrated putting my extra cash into my “RTW TRIP” savings account.

My savings account, an RBC High Interest eSavings account was first opened in March 2010. My starting balance was $4103.49. Apparently I’m really good at pulling money out of thin air, because I don’t know where this money came from. The account number associated with the deposit transfer doesn’t actually match any of my existing bank account numbers. Weird?!

My goal, at the time was to save $10,000 by Christmas, quit my job and travel the world. However, at the time I was already $2300 in debt, with an upcoming 10-day trip 2 months down the line, and I desperately wanted to purchase a new car. My Nissan, to say the least, was a “piece.” Random things would literally fall off of my beloved first car.

In May 2010, I started a new job and went on my 10-day trip to New Jersey. Over the course of the summer and fall, I paid off $2600 worth of debt, and put $2168.06 into a separate savings account for a down payment on a new car.

To say the least, my goal of saving $10,000 by Christmas didn’t happen. By December of 2010, I had saved an additional total of $745.89 towards my big trip.

But with my new car miraculously being paid off in the time frame that it was, I have been able to focus my attention back to saving, rather than paying off debt. Between my two jobs and just being cheap in general, I’ve been able to put away minimum, $500 a month.

Yesterday, I surpassed $7500 in my savings account.

At the present time, I have no official savings goal, other than to save. At first I thought that $10,000 was reasonable. But since I’ve been able to save $2500 in an exceptionally short amount of time, I know I’ll be able to far exceed that amount by this time next year.

I’m taking the summer off from excessive saving (and working). Instead I’ll be enjoying life, taking advantage of summers free festivals, my boyfriends pool, and escaping to the family cottage. I need the practice for when I’m on the road.

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May 19, 2011

Now I’m feelin so fly like a G6, like a G6

by Robyn

Ok, yes, I’m lame. The title is lame, but I am extremely excited. With 2 weeks remaining until the end of May, I have achieved my goal of having my car paid off before the end of the month. I puchased my 2006 Pontiac G6 just days before Halloween to the tune of $13604.64, and now, less than 7 months later, I am debt free. I’m still blown away at how quickly I was able to pay everything off. Here is a rough break-down of how I did it:

Personal Savings: $2168.06

Donation made by my parents: $2000

Sale of previous car: $3300

Income Tax cheque: $1600

MPI Cheque: $471.00

GST Cheque: $95.25

Total: $9634.31

13604.64 – 9634.31 = $3970.33

I was laid off from my summer resort job on November 15th. I then applied for unemployment insurance while I worked part-time at the pizza place I have been working at for several years. I was collecting unemployment insurance cheques from December until approximately the 2nd week of February after I started my current job. 90%, if not more of my income from my unemployment insurance went directly towards paying off my car. The money I was earning from my hourly wage and tips at my part-time job went towards my rent, groceries, etc, etc.

When my umployment cheques stopped in early February, all pay cheques from my part-time serving job went directly towards paying off my car. On average, I was putting between $500 – $700 a month towards paying off my car. One month I managed to deposit just over $900.

In total, I only paid $279.64 in interest, bring the total cost of my car to $13884.28.