Monthly Archives: January 2011

Frugal Dinners: Making Dumplings

One of my big time and money saving tips for food is batch cooking ahead of time.  I usually cook a big, huge meal once a week for the rest of the weekdays.   Then I package them in tupperware (freeze the extra’s, if any), and eat the portions through out the week for lunch and dinners.  This works if you don’t mind eating the same thing the entire week.  If not, then try freezing some portions for next time.

Since my college days, I’ve been a huge fan of dumplings.  Some of my friends’ parents would bring them packages upon packages of the frozen ones from Chinese supermarkets, and I would drool a little inside.

Now that I’ve been working full-time, I find that having these frozen dumplings are a huge time and money saver.  I’ve gone through enough brands to know which ones are the “good” ones.  That is, they have actual meat and are not packed with fat. Yuck.

Usually, when I get them on sale they are 5 packages for $10.  Each package contains 10 dumplings (sometimes, 11).  And one package is usually enough for one meal.  After a long day at work, I just take them out of the freezer and half sear and half steam them.  Then, I dunk them into my home-made sauce of soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and hot sauce.

One time, while grocery shopping with my dad, he noticed how much I was stocking up on these frozen dumplings.  (They were on sale!)  He had valid point, which was it was processed and I had no idea what they really put in it.  Good meat, bad meat, rubbish filler, etc.  So, I put back the 10 packages I grabbed and just got enough to split the deal with my sister.

I didn’t buy any more frozen dumplings after that.  I didn’t want to think about what kind of ingredients the makes might have used – it could be bad stuff.  But since I loved dumplings so much, I decided to try making my own frozen dumplings.  It was easy and fun.

The first time I made the dumplings, I used only ground pork, chives and mushrooms.  This resulted in a slightly dry center.  The second time I made the dumplings, I revised the centers to include more moisture and also mixed in an egg and corn starch (upon recommendations of dumpling making family and friends).  This second time turned out much better and the centers were moist and yummier.

Total cost of ingredients: $8.50
Total dumplings made: 150
Cost per serving (assuming 10 dumplings): $0.57

Much cheaper, and I know exactly what went into these dumplings.  I also don’t measure my ingredients very well, so feel free to adjust accordingly.  I suggest getting just the “normal” ground pork and not the lean option since I like the extra fat for moisture.

Pork and Chives Dumplings

    • 2lb of ground pork
    • Chives finely chopped
    • Napa cabbage finely sliced
    • 2 packages of dumpling wrappers
    • 1 egg
    • 4 cloves chopped garlic
    • 1 tbsp corn starch
    • light soy sauce
    • fish sauce
    • salt & pepper
    • water
  1. Break up raw ground pork with fork.  Add garlic.  Add chives.  Season with soy sauce, fish sauce, salt and pepper.
  2. Mix corn starch with a bit of water.  Beat egg.  Incorporate starch and egg into pork mixture.
  3. In a separate bowl, season napa cabbage with similar seasonings.
  4. Let napa cabbage mixture sit for 10 – 15 minutes and squeeze out excess water by hand.
  5. Mix napa cabbage and pork together.
  6. Use a teaspoon to place pork mixture into the center of dumpling wrapper.
  7. Dab the edge of half the wrapper with water.
  8. Fold wrapper over meat, and voila!  (You may need to experiment a few tries before you get the hang of how much meat mixture you want/need.)
  9. Line the completed dumplings flat on a cookies sheet or tray.  Make sure they don’t stick to one another.
  10. Pop tray into freezer for about 30 – 45 minutes until dumplings have hardened enough that they may be packed away in Ziploc bags (without becoming one big lump).
  11. Repeat until done.

Note: I only have a stainless steel skillet, and I find the easiest way to cook them is to sear them with oil to get the wrappers browned.  Then add water and cover to steam cook until finished.

Update:  A reader asked for clarifications if the meat was raw in the dumplings.  I’ve updated the directions to include that raw meat should be used.  The only time the meat is cooked is when you cook the dumpling to eat.  Or else, it would be too dry.  Hope this helps!

Enjoy!  What are some of your favourite frozen dinners that you’ve attempted?

Cheers,

photo source: http://www.asian-central.com/stuffasianpeoplelike/2008/05/19/75-dumplings/

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My Luxeries

(Photo source)

Most of us can agree that the basic necessities include: shelter, food, clothing and transportation.  However, I’m sure that we can all agree that even the most basic necessities can come in the form of luxury.  Think McMansions, McBenz, McGucci, McMichelin restauants.

I am not judging anyone who has a McMansion, McBenz or a McGucci, but it is very clear that what can be defined as a luxury or basic necessity is different for everyone.

In one of my previous posts, I discussed my $1,000 monthly budget which included my bare bones basic needs and a little bit of luxury.   I didn’t really expand on what my “luxury” items were, but I did mention travel, volleyball, haircuts and eating out.  I try to be careful to allow myself some indulgences every now and then, but I always like to check in semi-annually just to make sure that I’m not going over board and fall prey to lifestyle inflation.

I will elaborate a bit more about the luxuries I allow myself each year.

Travel ($3,000 – $5,000 a year)

I love to travel. Growing up, we could not afford the luxury of travel.  Most summer vacations were spent camping at national parks, and a trip to the Canadian Exhibition with out free passes from school.  To be clear, I never felt deprived of any fun in my child hood, but when I had the opportunity to see the world outside of the City, I was like a freed bird.

I worked in the beautiful city of Boston for a few months at an internship.  I went on an exchange term for few months abroad in Singapore and during my time there, I traveled through various places in Southeast Asia, including visiting the countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia.  After graduation, I went to Germany and Egypt with a couple girlfriends.  Luckily, BF traveled a lot for work, which allowed me the opportunity to visit him in Norway, France and Venezuela.  I have been very blessed with these opportunities.

I hope to see and experience more of the world!

Restaurants ($1,500 to $2,500 a year)

BF and I love exploring and eating our way around the City.  We have a favourite nook for Thai food, Japanese noodle soups, Chinese food: dim sum, Chinses food: dumplings, Chinese Vegetarian food, Italian pasta, Korean pork bone soup, crepes, and of course, steak.

We also cook more, and try to go for food that tastes better than what we make.

Once I get my Entertainment Book, I am also going to find some deals so we don’t have to pay full price for a dinner out.   I hope to get my eating out spending down to $100 to $150 a month.

Volleyball (~$350 a year)

I have been playing volleyball consistently for about 3 years now.  I love it.  I play in a league in the City, and it’s a lot of fun and I do get some exercise in, as well.  I’m not a huge gym fan, though I do like to swim, the occasional run, aerobics class.  I would also like to take up yoga.  I do need to get in more exercise.

For now, I’m sticking with volleyball once a week, and walking around the City on weekends.

Hair cuts ($320 a year)

I love getting my haircut at my favourite salon by my favourite stylist, and I know this is a splurge.  I’m super lazy when it comes to my hair, and only for a wash-and-go style.  No styling, no blow drying.  Just combing and out the door.  I also found that a medium short cut is most flattery for my face, so it requires more maintenance than someone with long hair.

My stylist is awesome and his cuts always last me at least 3 – 4 months, without looking grown out and flat.  If my mom found out how much I pay for a haircut, she might freak.  In my defense, he is the most experienced stylist at the salon (he’s the owner), and I pay about $80  including tax and tip.  For reference, some of the other salons around the City have junior stylist rates starting close $50 before tax and tip (about $65 including tax and tip).

So that’s about it for my luxuries.  If I were to be unemployed or needed to save more aggressively, these items would be the first to be put on hold, downgraded or deleted from my budget.

Personal finance is personal, so I don’t expect everyone to agree with how I spend my money, though I hope comments will be polite and constructive.  I was inspired to do this exercise after writing about my basic budget, and reading the splurges of some of my favorite PF bloggers, Red from Girl with the Red Balloon and Fig from Figuring Money Out. Everyone has their own priorities and how you spend your money is your prerogative.

What are your luxury or splurge items?  How much do you allot to luxury or splurges in your budget?

Note: Just to be clear, I would never buy a diamond encrusted mouse.

Cheers,


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Three Cups of Tea:One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace

If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend it.  This book tells the story of Greg Mortenson and his mission to build schools in the most remote villages of Central Asia.  His journey is both heart warming and eye opening.

Greg is a mountaineer and on one of his most challenging expeditions, he fails to make it to the summit.  He is lost and exhausted, and stumbles upon a remote village up on the mountains in Pakistan.  The people of the village nurse him to health even though they have very little themselves.  Greg sees how poor the village is.  But what moves him are the children who study their lessons in their make-shift “school.”  The “school” was nothing more than an open space on the ground where children “scratched in the dirt with sticks they’d brought for that purpose.  The more fortunate ones had slate boards they wrote on with sticks dipped in a mixture of mud and water.”

Can you imagine a group of children with such a fierce desire to learn, they would sit around in a circle to learn their multiplication tables, with no teacher or adult supervision?  Their dedication to education was very touching to me, and certainly reminded me of how lucky I had things growing up.

I know that I am very blessed to grow up in Canada.  And even though I have worked hard to achieve what I have today, it is largely in part to have been given the opportunity to be born in a land of political stability and opportunities.  It is also due to my parents who left their homeland to give my sisters and I this better opportunity, parents who continually encourage and support my sisters and I.  My working hard is part of it, but a smaller part of it in the big picture.

One Dollar

After reading Greg’s book, I saw $1 differently.  $1 can educate a child for an entire month in Pakistan or Afghanistan, $12 can provide education for a child for a year.  Most of Central Asia Institutes (CAI) schools are built in remote villages where the Pakistan or Afghanistan governments’ money fail to reach.  CAI funds goes to building these schools, school supplies and teachers’ salaries.

One of my 2011 goals is to give more to charity.  And this charity supports women’s rights, education and children.

Education to Fight for Peace

During Greg’s time in Central Asia, on September 11th, 2001, one of the most senseless acts of terrorism of my lifetime occurred.  And there has been many controversial debates as to extremists and those who believe in a peaceful religion.  One of the key points I took away from Greg’s book is that the people who commit those acts may not be bad people but they may be desperate people.  Their livelihoods were destroyed, their homes were destroyed, their children dead.

I read about madrassas (religious schools) and how they were often religious school for extremist teachings.  Parents and families would send their children to these schools because there was no alternative.  There was little money and little food.  These religious schools fed and clothed their children, but also taught them to hate certain people.

More violence is not the answer.  Blowing up these villages or schools and harming innocent children will not help anyone.  But educating them, and giving them an opportunity for a better future can help everyone.

“We’ve launched 114 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan so far.  Now take the cost of one of those missiles tipped with a Raytheon guidance system, which I think is about $840,000.  For that much money, you could build dozens of schools that could provide tens of thousands of students with a balanced nonextremist education over the course of a generation.  Which do you think will make us more secure?”

Giving to CAI

Supporting women’s rights, education and rights of children is something important to me.  I encourage you to read Greg’s book, and to learn more about CAI efforts.  Please check out reviews on their charity and decide for yourself if this is a cause you’d like to support.  From Well Heeled’s blog, she lists the following charity ratings websites you may want to check out.  It seems there is some issues concerning the transparency of CAI’s fund allocation, since it is mainly Greg who is running the show and doing most of the work.  I will also continue to monitor the reviews, but for now I am comfortable giving to CAI.

Cheers,

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Costco Kinda Saves Me Money

I live on my own, so I didn’t think that Costco was the most cost effective place for me to shop.  However, I thought that I would be able to stock up on essentials that have a longer shelf life (such as face wash and sanitary napkins) at Costco and save myself some money and the extra trips out during the year.  This past holiday, I borrowed my parents’ Costco membership card, and I learned Costco kind of saves me money.  Here’s why.

What I Bought

Face wash- Spectro jel
Cost $15.99 for 900mL (unit cost $1.78/100mL)

Cotton pads
Cost $9.99 for 8 100-pack (unit cost $.125 per 100 pack)

Sanitary napkins
Cost $14.99 for 2 96-pack (unit cost $3.90 per 50 napkins)

For comparison, I’ve summarized the unit prices (using the same units as above) I’ve encountered in the table below.

In general, Costco prices are a better than retail price*, but sale prices are better than Costco prices.

Advantages of Costco

The prices are very comparable to sale prices for what I bought.  It also saves me several trips to the local pharmacy/department store for these pick ups when they are individually on sale.  Which also saves me from seeing something else that I “need” when I go in to pick the items I actually went in for.  Does that happen to you, too?  Or is it just me?

If you know what you want, and don’t mind using the same thing for a long time, Costco is for you.

Costco also has great prices on books, compared to Chapters and Indigo.  I haven’t bought books in a long time, I use the library instead.  But I took a quick peak, and they have a pretty good selection of popular reads.

Disadvantages of Costco

They usually have limited selection on their items.  For instance, I usually like to use Spectro Jel for “Combination skin”; however, at Costco they only had one type of Spectro Jel available (“fragrance-free”).   They also had very limited sizing for underwear socks.  Usually large sizes, socks were 9 – 11 and underwear was M to XL only.

Costco’s things usually come in ginormous packages, so if you get the wrong thing.  You either waste a lot or spend a long time finishing it up.  Think 1L shampoo bottles instead of 300mL.

Since Costco’s items usually come in big packages, if you can easily buy too much.  Coming armed with a list of things and sticking to it, is the best strategy.

Conclusion

For a single girl like me, I would use Costco maybe once or twice a year to stock up, if I could borrow someone’s card (or go with them).  I wouldn’t buy a Costco membership for myself, and I think there are better deals if you wait for things to go on sale at the local pharmacy or super market.  For a family of 4 and more, I think there are potentially some benefits.

What are your experiences with Costco and other wholesale stores?

Cheers,

 

 

 

 

Note*:  The price for sanitary napkins is a guestimate from my memory.

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Question: Home Equity Line of Credit

Question for my readers.

My parents recently went to the bank to open a savings account.  The associate who assisted my parents asked them if they had a mortgage, and my parents said no.  He then asked if they had a home equity line of credit, to which my parents also said no.  He then asked if they would like to open a line of credit with them, to prevent a second mortgage to be taken out under my parents’ property by someone else.

Ummm.  What?!

My parents declined, but when they told me this, it really bugged me.

These are my thoughts:

  • The bank is not making (as much) money off my parents since they don’t have debt (no mortgage, no line of credit, no vehicle financing, nada)
  • The bank is using a scare tactic to get my parents to take out money so they can make money off the interest
  • What kind of a bank allows someone other than the owners take out a mortgage on a property they do not own? Don’t they require proof of ownership?
  • Even when someone signs up for a credit card they need to provide proof of employment – how is this any different than a mortgage (or second mortgage) and proof of ownership?

Readers, does what this associate say have any merit?  Or is he just trying to make a sale by a (pathetic) scare tactic?  Have you had any experience with this?

Thanks for your help.

Update: I’ve had readers question which bank I am referring to.  I am in Canada and the bank is TD Canada Trust.

Cheers,


 

 


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500 Things Challenge: January 1st to 17th

In my journey to a more minimalistic lifestyle, I am embarking on a 500 Things Challenge.  This challenge may eventually become the 1,000 Things Challenge – depending on my de-cluttering itch.  Basically, this year, I will try to get rid of 500 items from my home.  I gift these items to friends, return them to their rightful owners, donate them to charity or trash.  I am keeping a list to be accountable and I will keep adding to this list throughout the year.

500 Things Challenge Item List

  1. skinny, white scarf
  2. kitchen wall clock
  3. black top
  4. jeans
  5. jeans
  6. pajamas pants
  7. nail clippers
  8. “Start Late, Finish Rich” by David Bach
  9. Chinese cd
  10. Chinese cd
  11. Chinese cd
  12. Chinese cd
  13. Chinese cd
  14. Chinese cd
  15. Chinese cd
  16. Chinese cd
  17. Chinese cd
  18. Chinese cd
  19. body pillow
  20. picture frame
  21. green sweater
  22. poker chips set
  23. build-a-bear t-shirt
  24. white tank top
  25. blue flowery tank top
  26. blue cropped cardigan
  27. black & white flowered top
  28. old skinny jeans
  29. black backpack
  30. car
  31. Esprit long winter jacket

How are your new year goals and resoluations coming along?

Cheers,


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2011 Shopping Ban

I had been toying with the idea of a shopping ban in 2010, and was able to go 5 months without shopping for clothes or jewelry (not consecutively).  I stocked up on essentials, such as under garments and socks this year, and am ready to take the plunge for 2011.

Why a Shopping Ban?

I decided to do this Shopping Ban so that I can challenge myself to be creative with my closet and style.  I don’t have a huge closet or a lot of clothes, but I don’t think I am using my closet most efficiently.  By limiting my clothes to what I currently own, I plan to re-mix my closet and re-discover my favourite clothes.

I used to watch The Learning Channel’s (TLC) “What Not to Wear”, and I would shocked that people would get rid of their entire wardrobe only to be left with maybe 40 new articles of clothes that work for their figure.  But, the thing was, these people looked a million times better in their new “steam lined” clothes than they did with their closet full of ill-fitting clothes.  It was about quality, not quantity.

The objective of this Shopping Ban is not to deprive myself of new clothes, but to be more creative with what I have and more resourceful with what I may be lacking.

2011 Shopping Ban Rules

I briefly discussed the rules of my shopping ban in this post.  To summarize, I am not allowed to buy new clothes, new jewelry and no new make-up.

Exceptions: I am allowed to buy items to replenish old items that have been finished (i.e., I can buy a new compact of blotting powder when I run out, but I am not allowed to buy a new colour of eye shadow.)  I can also spend money to fix or alter an existing item.  I can also buy used items with “bonus” money**.

I am allowed 3 freebie items: a pair of black flat leather boots, a long down winter jacket*, and an iTouch*.  Each item needs to be $200* or  less before tax.  (Note*: Updated from my previous post.)

Just because I am limiting myself from shopping for clothes doesn’t mean that I get to go crazy buying bath towels, though.  I will be discussing my planned purchases for 2011 in a separate post, including fixing up my apartment.

Bonus Money**

I work well with incentives.  I give myself a small reward at the end of each month when I stay within my budget.  Of course, what better way to reward myself than with cold, hard cash?  🙂  Since I haven’t explored the options of thrift shopping, or making my own things (i.e., knitting), I am allowing bonus money to be spent on these clothing items.

Before people start throwing up their arms and pointing out that my Shopping Ban is full of holes, please re-read my objective for doing this in the first place.  It’s to challenge myself to be more creative and resourceful.  I think I am doing just that!

A year is certainly a very long time, so why now try a no-spend month challenge?  Any readers joining me? 🙂

Cheers,

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2011 Goals

Last year was the first year that I wrote down my goals and was able to find them at the end of the year to review how I did.  Thank you internet.

I love the beginning of a new year because it is full of possibilities.  Sometimes, I can get carried away with this sense of potential that I set many ambitious goals.  Sometimes, too many.  Sometimes too many.  As mentioned in my 2010 Goal Recap post, I really liked the S-M-A-R-T acronym for goals I read from Young and Thrifty’s blog.  Simplify.  Measurable.  Attainable.  Realistic.  Timely.

Personal Finance

I see money as a tool to reaching my life goals.  Money is not happiness, but it can be a tool to find happiness.  For me, traveling, returning to school, and owning a home are long term goals I want to achieve by using money.  But this year, I’d like to accomplish the following.

  • Making more money: I am aiming to get a 10% raise this year, and would like to boost my annual income to gross $60,000.  So far, I do not have any side income.  I’d like to explore possibilities and opportunities for a side hustle.
  • Investing money: I have most of my investments in Index Funds, and few stocks.  I’d like to start investing in dividend paying stocks.  I’d also like to learn how the tax benefits work for dividend income.
  • Saving money: I am still aiming to save at least 50% of my income.  Savings include contribution to my RRSP’s, TFSA, Emergency Fund, Travel, General Savings, and Investments.
  • Shopping ban 2011: In short, no shopping for clothes, jewelery or new make-up this year.  I have allowed myself 3 freebies of planned purchases.  More details to follow in a separate post.
  • $1,000 monthly budget: I will track my expenses every month and aim to stick to my monthly budget of $1,000.

Personal Development

This may seem lengthy, but they were on my list last year, and I haven’t accomplished them.  I really think this is doable, I just need to be organized.  Will be sharing my schedule once I get this all written down on a calender.

  • Professional Engineer License: I need to contact my previous employers regarding proof of previous work experience towards my license.  I also need to study and write the test.  My friends have the study materials and I need to devote 1 week worth of studying to this. Must find out schedule of test and arrange accordingly.
  • Canadian Securities Course: This course covers basics that will help me in my understanding of personal finance on a larger scale, and help in graduate school program applications where a business background is an asset.  My BF has the study materials.  Must find out schedule of the tests and arrange accordingly.
  • GMAT Test: I want to apply to a  Masters in Public Administration or Public Policy.   Many schools and programs require GMAT scores for applications and entrance.  I need to write the GMAT this year before the test format changes.  I have study materials from friends, as well as practice tests.
  • Graduate School Application: I want to apply to programs in the 2012 school year.  Must check deadlines and pre-requisites and start preparing.

Minimalism

Minimalism is about more than just de-cluttering, it’s about adopting the mindset that I have enough.  In fact, I have way more than enough.  I am not aiming to get to a certain number of items, but I am aiming to rid myself of excess stuff I do not need.

  • 500 Things Challenge: I was inspired by this challenge from Fabulissime.  I aim to de-clutter 500 things from my home and donate them to charity.  Depending on how this challenge goes, it may become the 1,000 Things Challenge.  More details to follow in  a separate post.
  • Document de-clutter: I want to de-clutter every room in my apartment and document what is in each room.  Explaining why I must keep something usually gives me a good idea of whether I really need it or not.
  • Remixing my Wardrobe: I want to re-discover my wardrobe and re-mix all my items.  Of course, this is an extension of my shopping ban.

Life and Health:

  • Fitness: Exercise 2-3 times a week in the mornings.  I find exercise most efficient in the mornings, and gives me more energy all day.
  • Fruits: Incorporate fruit at least once a day in my meals.  I’m really bad with eating my fruits, so I’m getting a Magic Bullet to help me with it.  I’ve tried just bringing fruit to work.  It just sits on my desk.  Yummy smoothies scream  “drink me!”
  • Friends: See my girlfriends at least once a month for dinner or spa date to catch up and unwind.  Too often I get caught up with work that my personal life takes a back seat.  Here’s to making plans and keeping them!
  • Family: See my parents every other weekend.  Call my parents at least once a week.  Too often I take for granted that my parents know that I care and love them.  Just checking in with them once a week to see how they are doing is nice.  It also let’s me know how I can help them and what they need.
  • Travel: I want to take a 2-week long trip somewhere this year.  I’m not sure where, yet.  Possibilities are: Peru (Machi Piccu) & Chili or Greece.  I’ve taken several shorter trips in 2010 to Vancouver, Boston and Venezuela, but I miss the unwinding of a long trip.

How are you goals for 2011 coming along?

Cheers,

Photo source: http://lts.sauder.ubc.ca/about-us/lts-goals-and-actions-roadmap/

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2010 Goals Recap

It was super inspiring to read all the new year resolutions from my favourite bloggers.  What I found even more inspiring than the new year resolutions was a review of 2010 resolutions.

I can’t begin to count the number of years which I have made new years resolutions.  Too many.  However, I have never reviewed my previous year’s goals and reflected on how I performed.  In fact, I probably lost the sheet long before the year was over.  Until this year.  I found my list of 2010 goals.

Let’s see how I did, and how I can improve myself and set better goals for 2011.

Professional

Be promoted to the next position and gain more experience in the field. Check! I was promoted in April and got an 18% raise to boot.

Explore different venues of income streams.  Fail! Still just my day job.  I hope to explore the perks of dividend income in 2011.

Take the Canadian Securities Course.  Fail! Will put this on my 2011 goals.

Take a continuing education course in a Masters program I may pursue in the near future.  Fail! However, I did audit one class.  Unfortunately all the courses were offered only during the day which I cannot attend.  Boo.

Charity

Volunteer for a community program mentoring kids in my neighborhood.  Check! I volunteered with the Big Brothers and Big Sister in my neighborhood from January to September when my Little Sister moved 2 hours away.

Food & Health

Incorporate more fresh vegetables and fruits into my daily meals.  Half check! I need to incorporate more fruits in 2011.

Make myself more aware of the things I am putting in my body.  Half check! I cook most of my own food; however, I’d like to be more aware of chemicals such as pesticides and getting locally grown food.

Minimize the chemical products I use on a daily basis. Check! I’ve switched my shampoo and conditioner to no SLS or parabens.  I’ve also started replacing my moisturizer and conditioner to Jojoba Oil.

Clothing

Minimal clothing budget for this year.  Check! I spent just over $1,000, but I spent them on quality items that I will use for years to come.  A classic trench jacket.  A down jacket.  Amongst others.  This is a big improvement from how I used to buy clothes.

Personal Finance

Track my spending every month. Fail! I only tracked for January, October, November and December.

Stick to a monthly budget of $1000.  Fail! It’s hard to stick to a budget when I am not tracking my expenses.

Save 50% of my take home income. Check! I saved 53% of my take home pay this year!

Family & Friends

Go out for dinner or brunch with friends.  Check! I still need to work on this, but I am meeting up with friends for spa dates, dinners and just plain old hanging out.

Visit my parents two weekends a month.  Half check! I am seeing them more, but during the busy times, I let it slip.  Must work on this in the new year, as well.

Non-goal Achievements

These are things that I achieved even though I didn’t set them out as goals at the beginning of 2010.

Health:

One of my proudest moments this year was running my first half marathon in May.  Even though it wasn’t a resolution, I wanted to prove to myself that I could train for it, and complete it.  I was not very athletic growing up, so I definitely pushed myself physically harder than I ever have in my entire life.  It was a great experience.  Though I probably wouldn’t do it again, running for 20km is not really my thing. 🙂

Personal Finance:

I increased my net worth by 91% this year.  I started off 2010 with a net worth of $32,500 and ended 2010 with $62,065 to my name.  Not quite doubling my net worth, but pretty darn good, if I say so myself.

Minimalism:

I became very interested in this topic and read a lot of blogs on this topic.  I liked how the simplicity of it, and really wanted to enjoy my life more by focusing on what really made me happy and letting go of the rest.  It also helped me to focus on where and how I want to be spending my money.

Summary:

I think I did OK on my goals.  Now, I know what my strengths are and I want to work on next year.

I like Young and Thrifty’s acronym for goals. S-M-A-R-T.  Specific.  Measurable.  Attainable.  Realistic.  Timely.  I will definitely keep these guidelines in mind as I come up with my goals for 2011.   Stay tuned!

How did you do with your 2010 goals?  How are they influencing your 2011 goals?

Cheers,

Photograph source: http://learnthat.com

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Filed under Goals, Personal

2010 Recap & 2011 Budget

I’d like to start off by reminding myself that tracking my expenses is very important.  Without knowing where my money is being spent, it’s easy to over spend.  Very easy.  This year, I tracked my expenses for January, October, November and December.  For the remaining months, I tried to piece together my spending from debit and credit card transactions.  That was a painful processto say the least.

I could only take a stab at where my cash spending went since I had absolutely no desire to go through my massive pile of unsorted receipts.  I divided the unknown cash spending to 25% transportation, 25% groceries and 50% eating out.  It’s shameful, I know.

2010 expense tracking fail!

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, and I vow to do better in 2011.  And the best part, I have the best readers to keep me accountable! ;).

A lovely pie chart of my 2010 expenses.

Please note that I do not include savings, retirement savings, charity, or money to my parents in my expenses.

Below is my best guess at my 2010 expenses and my 2011 budget.

Let’s go through each item one by one.

Rent: My current monthly payment is $335 including $20 for parking.  Once I give my parents back their car, my rent will be $315 a month.  My rent includes all utilities and internet.

Groceries: I buy a lot of my fresh veggies and meat from Chinatown when I visit BF.  Groceries are pretty cheap there.  I also cook for the entire week and freeze any left overs, which should almost eliminate buying lunches because I am unprepared.

Transportation: I have included my estimate for using public transit (including a monthly pass and train tickets for the year) from my Car Cost post.  I am going to stay on my parent’s insurance even though I don’t drive the car normally.  There are two reasons for this 1) I can drive on occasion 2) this will decrease my insurance rates later.

Telephone: My $40 a month plan is up in July. My phone is still in great working condition now; however, my plan leaves something to be desired.  I am going to negotiate a better monthly plan and hope to pay closer to $25 for my monthly plan.  I will still pay for my parent’s $17 monthly cell phone plan.

Entertainment/Recreation: This includes 5 seasons of volleyball fee’s membership (~$85 per season), and $25 a month.  This should cover the occasional movie, musical or symphony.

Medical: I used the same cost as last year.  I think I will be seeing the dermatologist, and getting massages at the same rate as last year.

Eating Out: I am going to try really hard to stick to my budget of $100 a month.  I hope to fully utilize the Entertainment Book with BF when we get a chance.  That’s not to say that we will only eat out at the restaurants – they don’t have dim sum.  But if we can save $15 here and $10 there.  It all adds up.

Bank Fee’s: I am going to keep my minimal balance at $2,000 in my checking account to waive the $8.95 monthly fee.  I am also going to pay off my credit card balance single every month – no late payments.  I’ve set up e-mail sto remind myself of when my Mastercard and Visa is due.  I also need to re-evaluate if the $120 annual fee I pay is worth if for my credit card to collect Aeroplan points.

Toiletries & Grooming: I have budgeted to have my hair cut at my favourite salon 4 times a year.  I’ve also budgeted for replenishing make-up I currently use.  No buying new make-up that’s not a replacement for something that is finished.  More on this when I discuss my “2011 Shopping Ban” in a later post.

Clothing & Shoes: I have allowed myself 2 clothing related freebies in my “2011 Shopping Ban”.  Will discuss more when I write details for my “2011 Shopping Ban” post.

Electronics: I have allowed myself 1 electronic freebie in my “2011 Shopping Ban”.  Will discuss more when I write details for my “2011 Shopping Ban” post.

Gifts: This is pretty similar to to 2010, except that I don’t have the $500 gift to my sister for traveling.  I do plan to finance a trip for my parents this coming year, but I think I will keep that under “Parents”.

Travel: I would like to take a big trip this year.  I would like it to last about 2 weeks.  I’m not sure where I want to go, yet.  Maybe South America to visit the Mayan Ruins.  Maybe somewhere else.  Will update when I plan some more.

Misc: I allot $20 a month just in case, but I don’t like having items under this category.

I like to look at spending on an annual basis because it gives me the bigger picture, and puts things into perspective for me.  For instance, spending $75 on hair a month is a lot of money, but if I only do that 3 or 4 times a year.  To me, that’s more reasonable.

My spending varies from month-to-month.  For instance, I pay my parents car insurance annually upfront, so I usually don’t include it in my monthly recaps.  I also don’t get my hair cut or pay volleyball fee’s every month.  I count travel as a separate item, even though I included it in the chart above.

Generally, my monthly expenses should below $1,000, if I exclude one-time expenses.  One-time expenses include: travel, Visa annual fee, car insurance, freebies from “2011 Shopping Ban.”  As noted before, these expenses do not include savings, charity or money I give to my parents.

There you have it.  Better late than never, right? 🙂  And I will have a post coming up on my 2011 goals and further details regarding my 2011 Shopping Ban and what I hope to accomplish from it (and why I am giving myself freebies).

How were your 2010 expenses?  Did you fall off the bandwagon of tracking them like me?  How did you adjust your 2011 budget from your 2010 budget?

Cheers,

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Filed under Budget, Finance