Monthly Archives: March 2011

My Tax Refund

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In my first run of my taxes, I determined that I can expect a return of about $1,500 – which is a pretty big chunk of money.  Here’s how I am planning to use it.

Top up my Travel Fund ($143)

I’d like to get my Travel Fund up to $4,000, and then I will stop contributing until I use it.  After I reach my Travel Fund goal, I can funnel the $250 a month I’ve been putting into my Travel Fund into my Emergency Fund.

Top up my Emergency Fund ($500)

I’d like to get my Emergency Fund up to $10,000, and then I will stop contributing until I need to use it.  I just picked $10,000 because it’s a nice round number, and it should last me at least 6 months of living expenses, should anything happen.

Contribute to my Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) ($750)

I’m not sure of what to do with the cash I have in my TFSA.  I need to start doing some research and invest my money.  Ideally in some blue chip dividend paying stocks. That’s one of my goals for this year!

Go for Adventures in the City with BF ($107)

BF and I went on an adventure this Monday – we went for a nice walk to a new Thai restaurant I wanted to try. It’s called Khao San Road, and it’s opened by the same chef at my favourite Thai place in the City – Sokhu Thai. If you’re a Thai food lover – you have to check out their restaurant (Sokhu Thai).  Unfortunately for us, the restaurant was so packed that we didn’t even want to bother waiting (I’m sure it was more than an hour wait), and explored another place.

Even though I know that eating out is expensive, and not healthy, it’s something that BF and I really enjoy doing.  So we try to prioritize it.  So I am going to put a bit of this “windfall” for our adventures :).

Have you figured out how you will be spending your tax refund this year?

Cheers,


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Review: Magic Bullet

Remember how I talked about getting a Magic Bullet in my March Budget?  I’ve actually been thinking about getting it since last November but I kept waiting for it to go on sale.  But since it seems to refuse to, I decided to just fork over the $39.99 + taxes for it.

Why I Wanted One

I am not a morning person.  I have to pack my lunch and my overnight bag (if needed), the night before, because in the mornings, I am a zombie.  Until I have my shower.  And after my shower, I’m out the door.

My breakfasts aren’t the greatest things in the world, is putting it lightly.  Usually it consist of toast and peanut butter.  Not very nutritious, and definitely not very filling.  I am usually hungry by before 11:00am.  I also don’t really eat enough fruits.  And like almost every other North American, I never feel like I have enough time in the morning.

So, I decided a Magic Bullet would be a great addition to my home. I imagined I would prepare my cut fruit and whatever mix is required in a smoothie the night before, and then in the morning after my shower, ZAP ZAP (10 seconds is all I need, right?), and my smoothie is ready.  I don’t need to wash a blender, just put on a lid and go.  (I do rinse the blade right after).

My Magic Bullets

In reality, my first Magic Bullet was defective.  It didn’t even cut a straw berry!!  And then the blade fell off!!  I was fuming.  I spent all that time, cleaning my cups and lids with a huge grin on my face and my Magic Bullet (MB)was a big fail.  The dramatic side of my wanted to bring the magic bullet – failed smoothie and all – back to the store demand a full refund.

The realistic side of me, poured out my unblended smoothie mixture in a cup, and rinsed the MB cup I used, and put everything back in the box.

I listened to my realistic side and exchanged my Magic Bullet – without yelling at anyone.  So, readers, please beware of the possibility of defective ones.  I read about one during my research, but I never thought it would happen to me.  Two of my friends have the Magic Bullet and have no complaints.

Conclusion

I haven’t tried making anything else but smoothies, so I can’t comment too much on anything else.  My new Magic Bullet works great.  It’s just as I imagined, and I have been having much more nutritious breakfasts this week.  I usually have about 2/3 of my smoothie for breakfast, and save the rest for an afternoon pick-me-up.

I highly recommend this Magic Bullet as a great time saver and smoothie maker.  It’s easy to use, easy to clean up, and very efficient.  You only dirty up one cup, and you can use the same cup to prep and drink out of.

Has anyone tried the Magic Bullet?  Any positive or negative experience my readers would like to share?

Cheers,


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Frugal Dinners: Thoughts on Meal Planning

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I’ve been reading quite a few finance /frugal blogs which post their meal plan for the week.

The idea of a meal plan is quite foreign to me.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I live on my own (sharing basement with a room mate), and I usually batch cook for most of the week.  So my “menu plan” usually consists only one or two dishes on repeat.

Of course, most of the bloggers who do post their menu plan may live with a partner, or family, and I can understand how cooking for more than one person (and more than once a week), a plan can come in handy – or indispensable.

After cleaning out and re-organizing my pantry (later post to come), I realized that I could definitely benefit from a menu plan.  I probably have quite a few meals that I can make from my pantry and freezer combined.  And so, I created a nifty little spreadsheet with all my pantry items – categorized and tallied with pretty colours, and then I also made a tab for menu planning.

I really like spreadsheets with pretty colours and nicely organized :).  It’s like it’s calling me to use it!  (Click on the images to enlarge.)

The spreadsheet is still in the works, but I’d like to also add a line item if a certain ingredient needs to be used up so it doesn’t go bad (i.e., my yogurt expires next week), and a quickie grocery list.

I am going to try making and using a menu plan for the next few weeks, and see how it goes.  What I’d like to accomplish from this exercise is better utilization of my pantry items,  being more organized and also eating more healthy.  I would really like to incorporate more legumes into my diet, and as we know, cooking legumes (from dried beans) takes preparation.

Wish me luck!

Readers, do you have any tips for making or using a menu plan?  For readers who don’t currently use a menu plan, what helps you plan your meals?

Cheers,

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Shopping Ban: Temptations

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Like I mentioned in my earlier posts, my number one tip for staying  within my shopping ban is to avoid malls.  I am a total sucker for sales (it’s in my genes, k?) and great bargains.  And for some reason, they always seem to find me when I’m not looking for them.

When my blotting powder was finished last week, I made went straight to the MAC counter asked for my blotting powder (I get medium dark), and got the heck out.  I had my “shopping defense” up, and was determined not to sway from my shopping ban.  I felt pretty darn good.

However, this weekend, when I ventured into the Eaton Centre with my girlfriend, after an amazing lunch of delicious Korean pork bone soup – I almost gave into temptation.  I was an inch from the edge of falling off my shopping ban cliff.  One inch.  *cue melodramatic music, please*

The culprit, you ask?  The Body Shop (TBS).

I think this is mainly due to not having my “shopping defense” up.  (Yes, that is my excuse).  I was browsing for a gift for my co-worker who was on maternity leave.  I wanted to get her an “at home spa basket” so she could enjoy a little “me time” after she has her baby.

There were some great deals the weekend of March 19th & 20th.  TBS was celebrating 30 years or something.  I got my co-worker her gift.  Then, my eyes started to wander…. to the 50% off any one make-up item.

I’ve been using this little kobuki brush I got from a random dollar store, which works fine – but TBS brushes are so soft… and at half off, they are $24 only $12!  My TBS liquid eye liner hadn’t died yet, but I’ve had it for about 2 years…. and at half off, they are $14 only $7.  And just as I was trying to decide which item to keep, the sales associate kindly offered to give me the 50% off both items.  One inch from the edge, I tell you!

But I used my last ounce of strength to put down both items, paid for my friend’s gift, and literally ran out the store.  Then, I explained to my girl friend why I had to stay out of malls.  It’s because I am weak, dear readers.  I am weak.  But, my girl friend is the greatest, because even when I debated going back and begging asking for the deal, she reminded me that I am on a shopping ban, and I did not need a make-up brush.  My friends are awesome :).

For those readers who are currently on shopping bans, have you had any close calls lately?  How do you deal with temptations?

Cheers,


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March Spending Recap (Beta)

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I’ve been being very good with tracking my expenses in my handy dandy FB spreadsheet.  But seeing the spending re-caps of so many bloggers has inspired me to try it out.  So, I started putting all my expenses in my Google Calender on a day-by-day basis too see how many “No Spend” days I could score.  (Click on the picture to enlarge.)

No Spend Days

Just over halfway through this month, and I  only have 2 “No Spend” days!!  Yikes.  It’s a little disappointing because I don’t consider myself a “big spender”.

I did not try to group my purchases, to make this experience more “real”.  From this experience, I realize I spend money almost every day.

My Comments

This month has also been a very expensive eventful month.  I went to visit my sister for a weekend trip in Hamilton and we did hot yoga and went out for dinner.  I have also visited the spa twice for massages, supported my friend’s aspiration for the CN Tower stair climb benefiting the United Way, donated to the crisis in Japan, visited my dermatologist and refilled my prescriptions, gifts and outings for a co-worker going on maternity leave, renewed my lottery pool for the year, and my usual weakness for eating out.  So, in short – life happened.

If you saw the 😦 face on March 8th, it’s because that was a last minute dinner – which is the type of eating out I try to avoid. The annoying thing was that I had food (a sandwiche), but my co-worker wanted to stop for pub food (which I loathe!), before our volleyball game, so I obliged.  Then, after the game, my team went out for drinks.  These things add up!

Anyway, I will update this at the end of the month and see how many “No Spend” days I end up with.  I still haven’t spent any money on clothes, accessories or make-up (except refilling my MAC blotting powder).

Do you track your No Spend Days?  How many days a month do you think you don’t spend any money?

Cheers,


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Frugal Dinners: Last Minute Noodles

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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.

I’ve shared some meal ideas about making dumplings, roasting a chicken, saute carrotsspinach lasagna, and potatoe & leek soup.  Planning ahead has saved my wallet so many times, and is much healthier than buying lunches and fast food.  But what I don’t talk about is that I never make just the right amount of food.  It’s hard to figure out exactly how much rice I need, or how many servings each dish will turn out to be.  I may just be short by a little bit, but enough that the meal is no longer complete.

In most cases for me, to make another dish might be too much, and I will end up wasting food instead (since I am usually not home on weekends).  So instead, I stretch my food by having some handy items ready.  And even though a stocked pantry helps, my secret is having some Udon (Japanese) noodles on hand.  I buy the pre-packaged ones from Asian super markets, and I just cook them for a quick side (with whatever is left from my meals), or cook it with some veggies (fresh or frozen) with some broth for a whole meal.

Here are two of my favourite ways to have Udon:

Udon Noodle Soup

  • 1 package of udon noodles
  • 1 cup of chicken broth (or whatever broth you like)
  • 1 fried egg (optional)
  • some cooked meat (optional)
  • veggies you have on hand (I like mushrooms and baby bok choy)
  • seasonings

Bring the broth to a boil, and add in meats, veggies and udon noodles.  Fry the egg in a skillet and place on top of noodle soup.

Dry Mix Udon Noodle

  • 1 package of udon noodles
  • 1/4 tsp of bbq sauce
  • 1 tsp of olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp of sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp of soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp of “Tian Jin” preserved vegetable
  • 1/4 tsp of oyster sauce
  • salt and pepper

Feel free to substitute any of the above seasonings as you wish.  It is very flexible.  I just use whatever I have on hand.

First boil water and cook udon noodles.  Drain.  First mix with olive oil to prevent sticking, then add remaining seasonings to taste.

You can have this noodle as-is, or you may have it as a side.

What are some last minute ideas you have when your meal planning doesn’t quite stretch it?

Cheers,


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Review: Body Blitz Spa

Body Blitz is a women-only spa which incorporates water treatments prior to the massage itself.  It’s located in downtown Toronto.  Please refer to this link here for their water circuit, this link for their health benefits, and this link for their FAQ’s.

According to their website, the therapeutic waters maintains the age-old tradition of communal bathing, where women come together.

I’ve been to about 5 spa’s in the past 3 years, and I haven’t really thought to do a review, but this one was different.  Body blitz was a sanctuary and a really great experience.  Without a doubt, I will be returning.  Here are my thoughts.

Disclosure:  I was not endorsed or compensated by Body Blitz for this review.  I decided to do this review to share with my readers my experience, which I paid for.  These are my personal opinions.

The Environment

The spa environment was really relaxing, and felt like a getaway in the middle of the city.  The set-up of the spa has a common locker/change area, vanity room, washrooms, (many) shower stalls, the pool circuit area (more on that later), sauna, steam room and the massage area.  The facilities are kept clean and tidy with their team of friendly staff.

After your experience in the waters, and your massage, there is a vanity area equipped with blow dryers and body lotions for your use.  I thought this was thoughtful and very homey.

The Experience

Each locker has 2 towels, a robe, slippers, and a laminated sheet detailing the water circuit treatmeant.  There are plenty of showers, as there are several times within the water circuit that calls for a shower. (More on the water circuit below.)  After the circuit, one waits for their name to be called for the massage itself.  I had a 30 minute therapeutic massage.

The Water Circuit

The water circuit takes approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete and consists of the following:

  • Dead sea salt water pool soak (5-10min)
  • Steam room (5 – 10min)
  • Shower
  • Cold water plunge (1 min)
  • Sauna (5 – 10min)
  • Shower
  • Cold water plunge (1 min)
  • Hot green tea soak (5 – 10min)
  • Shower
  • Cold water plunge (1 min)
  • Massage

My first time taking the cold water plunge was awful, but it got easier with each plunge.  I suggest you go quickly, as opposed to tip-toeing your way in.  The sea salt pool and the green tea soak was amazing, and really really relaxing.  I’m not sure if it was due to the contrast to the cold water plunge, though.

Recommendations

I suggest the ladies who want to check this out to go early.  You really want to relax and spend time exploring the water circuit.

I also suggest you follow the circuit all the way through the first time, and adjust accordingly after your first run through.

Bring your own slippers.  They do provide them, but they aren’t the most comfortable (and I got my toes snagged a couple times).

Be prepared for nudity.

My Conclusion

I am definitely going back with a girl friend, and would recommend this to anyone with a big of wiggle room in their budget or have massages as part of their health benefits.  It was also nice to experience everything myself, first, but it would also be nice to have some girl chats.

I felt really relaxed after the water circuit and massage, and even my skin looked like it was glowing (it could have been the lighting).

A half hour therapeutic massage costs $90 before taxes, so it’s fairly pricey, and my insurance does not cover all of it.  However, if you factor in the time in the water circuits, then I think it’s worth it.  I definitely recommend going early and soaking it all it (literally).

Body Blitz also sells products which I hadn’t tried.  If any of my readers have tried them, please share your thoughts and recommendations.

I hope this was helpful for my Toronto readers.

Cheers,

All photographs are from the Body Blitz website.

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Filed under Health, Review

If I had a Million Dollars…

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You know that song by the Bare Naked Ladies?  Google/Youtube it.  How can you not like a song that talks about dijon ketchup, right?  Now, that’s going to be stuck in my head the entire day!

I’ve been reading quite a few posts from my fellow pf bloggers of what they would do if they won a million dollars.  So, I’ thought that I’d give this a stab.  A girl can always dream, right?

Keep in mind this is what I would do if I WON a million dollars.  Not if I saved up for it.  I’m not that generous.  I guess it’s goes without saying that a million dollars isn’t what it used to be.  I’m sure that I would need to still work, but I’d have a lot more options and financial stability.

Long term investments $250,000

I would hire a financial planner to help me divy up my portfolio for moderate growth.  I’m not sure if I should dip into the income generated from this stash.  Will have to do some math to figure out how much money is “safe” to use from the earnings.

My for my parent’s retirement $200,000

My parents have worked really hard for their entire lives.  I really want them to be able to relax and get to do things, like travel, while they are still young-ish.  I think this amount should be enough for their travels and a little nest egg, in addition to the one they already have.

Each of my sisters $50,000

I would love for my sisters to be able to enjoy the money with me, and I think that this is enough to get them started on maybe one or two of their dreams.

A small house (in the city?) to fix up $225,000 + $50,000

I’m think that should cover most of it.   I think it would so interesting to fix up an old house!  It could be my project when I take some time off work.

Get my Masters ($60,000)

Not sure what I want to get my Masters in, yet. Maybe a Masters in Public Policy or International Relations, or Business Administration.  Or maybe go to teacher’s college.  I want to keep investing in my education, and what better way that to go back to school

A trip around the world $50,000

I’d love to travel around the world for a year.  I’ll buy an around-the-world pass, where you can get on and off wherever, and the rest if to cover accommodation, transportation, and food.

I might even teach English in some foreign countries to cover costs so I can travel longer (and more).

Charity $40,000

I almost forgot about this one.  I would love to support a cause that focuses on women and education.  It’s a topic near and dear to my heart.  I want to write an entire most about this, so more on that later.

Used Luxury Vehicle $25,000 – Big Maybe

I think it would be really cool to own a Lexus. But I’m not sure if I’m ready to commit to this item, yet.  There’s also the cost of premium gas to factor in, and high insurance rates.  So, this might go towards another used vehicle (Honda Fit, ranked best economy card of the year by Consumer Reports).  We will see.

Or I might just buy a used Corolla for $7,000 and use the rest of this for a contingency for stuff like furniture in my new house.

Clothes and make-up$5,000

I’ve always wanted to own a really nice buttery soft leather bag, and a nice pair of shoes.  Oh, and maybe I can finally buy a warm and nice looking jacket (I’ll spend up to $500 on that jacket).

And the rest if for a little shopping spree, after I’ve paired down my closet.

That was fun, and hard work.  I like how I put in all this work for a very hypethical and unlikely situation, but I guess you can never be too prepare, right?  I’ll likely eventually have to work after I win my Million if I spend it in this manner, but at least my financial future is more stable, and I have more flexibility with pursuing my dreams.  OR I can invest all of it and live off the interest/ earnings.

Have you thought of what you would do if you won a million dollars?

Cheers,

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Shopping Ban: February Success!

This year, I decided to embark on a self-imposed shopping ban.  You can read more details about it here, and here and my January update here.  To sum it up, no shopping for clothes, jewelry and make-up for a whole year.  I am allowed 3 exceptions, including a pair of black boots, an iTouch, and a winter jacket.  This challenge is to help me shop my own closet, and be more creative with making items, and re-using items.  I am also allowed to shop at thrift stores with my “reward” money ($25) for staying within my $1,000 monthly budget.  This is my monthly update.

Ladies, this was a success!  I am so glad that February was a short month, having this month under my belt is giving me a lot of confidence.  I stayed away from malls – except to exchange a pair of running shoes I got during Christmas (which kinda felt like shopping, but without spending money.  I hope that’s not cheating.)

I also stayed under my $1,000 monthly budget in February, and so I get rewarded with $25 to spend at a thrift shop.  I haven’t been, yet.  But I’m really excited about it :).  Does anyone have recommendation for thrift shops in the Toronto area?

I’ve also compiled a list of shopping banners, to keep one another motivated.  I’ll link to them in this post, and if you’d like, send me your updates and I can link there here, as well!

Please let me know if I’ve missed anyone, or if you’d like to be added to the list!  Just send me an e-mail or leave a comment.

Pep talk:  Ladies, we can do this!  March is a great time to start re-mixing some of our favourite winter clothes, since it will be a whole two (or three) seasons until we see them again.  It’s also never too early to start thinking about how we can re-mix winter and summer clothes for some creative spring outfits!  We can do it 😉

Cheers,

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Cost of a Break-Up

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The end of a relationship is a difficult time.  We all deal with it in different ways, and different things help each of us cope better.  This post was inspired by Bridget over at Hi That’s my Bike’s post on “I Still Self-Medicate with Shopping.” This blog is mainly about personal finance (and minimalism), so I am going to try to focus on the financial side of things.  This is not to make light of the emotional turmoil of a break-up, because I have been there, and it was a really rough time. This post will focus the pf side of how I coped.

Background:
The ex and I dated for 4.5 years, since high school and into college.  It was my first break-up and one of the most difficult times of my young life.  Like many first serious relationships, I had envisioned us together forever, with a white picket fence – because isn’t that what first loves are?  What I learned from it was so much more.  I learned I was my own person, and that I needed to stop trying to break down a brick wall, and walk away.

We were in an awkward stage the initial break up where we tried to “be friends.” I thought that I would be a bad person if I cut him out of my life.  I learned that guys and girls see this “friends” thing differently.  After a few months of “being friends”, I realized that I needed a clean break.  And I realized it wasn’t selfish, it was  more about starting to take care of myself and stop taking care of him.  (OK, maybe that is a little selfish.  But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.)

Lean on my sisters & girlfriends & family (priceless)

The support of my friends and family was amazing.  I’m not sure how I would have gone through this dark time without them.  No matter how many times, I ranted and discussed how and when everything went wrong, they were always there.

Exchange in Singapore and traveled Southeast Asia ($6,000)

I applied to exchange before the break-up, and I am SO glad that I went.  I visited so many beautiful and wonderful countries and met new friends along the way.  I also met BF on exchange (though we were only friends, then, and didn’t start dating until 2 years later).    I challenged myself in ways I never knew.

I went scuba diving in Thailand, saw beautiful ancient ruins in Cambodia, visited the home town of my father in Vietnam,  and tried the most amazing street food in Singapore and Malaysia.  I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.  (I didn’t include tuition in this because I paid my home university and would have paid anyway – but it’s $6,700 for tuition a semester at my school).

Long distance calls ($65)

Unfortunately, a lot these were phone calls I made to the ex during my time abroad.  We were trying to “be friends” and it was only after my time away that I realized that we needed to break contact so that I could heal and move on.

I also called my parents and sisters.  Then I discovered Skype, and went to heaven (yes, I am slow on technology!).

Salsa class, yoga, volleyball and dodgeball inter murals on campus ($100)

I’m not one to sit still, and I physically needed to be active to not think and mull on the past.  I joined an activity every night of the week, while taking a full course load my first semester back from exchange (after all, I couldn’t just hop a plane to explore another country, now).  It was amazing, and I had never been in better shape!  I learned that I didn’t need to feel shy because I wasn’t an expert or pro – everyone was there to have fun!

Squash lessons & belly dancing class ($200)

I got tired of learning tennis, and chasing the ball from outside the court – so I figured squash might be a good idea.  It was fun, and I want to play more of it now.  It’s an amazing work out.  Belly dancing – let’s just say, that it didn’t work out. At. All.

Dragon boating ($150)

My friend had put together a dragon boating team, and recruited me.  She also told me that since there is a much higher girl:guy ration than most teams (8:12), there are usually guys scoping it out.  So, of course, I joined.  Oh, and it was a great work out, too.

Various shopping trips ($500)

I didn’t go on a huge shopping binge, though I’m sure that my girlfriends and I bought stuff during that time.  No doubt, it would have made me feel a little better at the time.  I was a broke student after all, there is only so much damage Forever 21 can make on my wallet.

Ice cream ($20)

There was lots of ice cream in the house.  I remember making a special trip the night after the break-up, and my cousin, sister and I got a tub, each of Hagan Daaz ice cream.  I’m sure there were many trips during my getting over him stage.

Various dates ($150?)

I usually offer to split the bill on a first date, though I prefer when the guy pays.  It’s just me preference, please don’t pounce on me for that.  After the first or second date, I would definitely split the bill.  I don’t think I went on a tonne of dates, but enough.

Clubs and partying ($200)

I partied about 3 – 4 times a term, which was about 400% more than I had when I was dating my ex.  It was fun.  I’m not sure if it’s sad to say it, but it was a mish mash of all the above (including drunken nights at a club) that made me realize – my life can go on just fine.

Even though I missed what we had, it was in the past, and it could never be the same.  And, the thing was, I realized that I didn’t want it to be the same, because I am a stronger and wiser person, and I want something better.

TOTAL: $7,385

Maybe that’s a little over exaggerated.  I would have gone on exchange whether my ex and I had broke-up or not.  But I included that cost in there, because it was one of my greatest times of growth and maturity.   I learned a lot about myself, and if it took $7,385 to do it, then I think it was money well spent.  Keep in mind this was over a period of almost a year and half.

I’m sure this number will be different for everyone, and I am just lucky that I had saved a big chunk of money for my exchange trip.  I didn’t go into debt, and I think that even though it’s important to allow yourself to grieve in whatever way is right for you – please do not jeopardizing your financial well-being.  Remember to take care of yourself, first.

Have you thought of the cost of your break-up?  How do you cope with them best?

Cheers,


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