Monthly Archives: August 2011

Link Love (Powered by a walk in the rain)

Some of my favourite posts  🙂

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Personal Finance

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East Coast Canada Vacation Budget Recap

If you want to skip the number crunching and just look at some pretty pictures, check out my sneak peak post here.  For the numbers, read on.

PF Confession: I admit that I don’t usually budget for vacations.

I mean, I kinda know how much they cost, but I haven’t really sat down to crunch the numbers with BF before a vacation.  This time, I did a back-of-napkin rough calculation for our 10 day trip, and I was a little appalled at how even a domestic trip can be so expensive.

Luckily, BF and I came under budget but there is definitely room for improvement. Let’s take a look at the numbers. These numbers are my part of the trip only.

Actual Vacation Expense $1,704.34

Flights

The Airlines were having a 30% off sale at the time we were traveling.  Unfortunately, we missed the 40% off sale by one day.  Drats!  Train tickets were also on sale when we booked them for 50% off.  Score!

Taking the train was really nice and a highlight of our trip.  BF and I got to do some reading while enjoying the scenery, and we also had a nice lunch on the dining car.  It felt very fancy and historical – like we stepped back to the 1920’s.  Definitely recommend this.

Accommodations

We stayed 10 nights.  Two nights were “free” since BF paid with reward points.  One night, we stayed in a university dorm room.  The rest were a combination of B&B and Inns which ranged between $110 to $120 a night.

I tried to use my Entertainment book to get some savings, but I don’t think there was too much out east that had deals.  I’m thinking if we had booked our hotels ahead of time, we may have been able to score some deals.  However, since we only stayed a couple nights in each place, it’s hard to say.

Food

BF and I ate out a lot. A. Lot.  It’s something that we both enjoy doing and we really take advantage of it during vacations.

We had too much a lot of great seafood for lunch and dinner (at times).  We also started our obsession with lobster in the most expensive city of Halifax (~$40 for 1.5lb) and ended our journey in the cheapest town of Alma (~$7/lb).

However, it is difficult to cook in B&B’s and certain hotels.  Next time, we may try to stay in a place with a kitchenette and stay longer.  That way we can cook more of our meals.  We definitely could have saved some cash by planning and making  our lunches.

Attractions

I had budgeted for a fair amount of bicycle rental and attractions, but we actually ended up doing very little of either.  Most days were pretty gloomy, wet and cold, so we ended up walking or driving.

This included our tickets for the Alexander Keith Brewery tour and admission to Bay of Fundy’s Hopewell Rocks.   Luckily for us, we visited Green Gables and the beach on “Park Day”, and didn’t have to pay for any admission tickets (~$35).

Car Rental & Gas

Car rental was pretty expensive.  Since BF and I were renting the car from the airport location, we paid a premium (+16%).  Since we were not returning the car to the airport, we paid another $50 for drop-off fee. Ouch.

Looking back, we didn’t really need our car for the 2 days we spent in Halifax.  Most attractions around the city are within walking distance of our hotel, so we could have saved almost 2 days worth of rental and the stupid airport fees (~$170) – ouch.

Oh well, live and learn, right?

Gifts

I bought Anne dolls for my sisters, a bottle of wild blue berry juice for my parents and a post card for myself.

Conclusion

I was able to spend less than I originally anticipated – which is great, but we spent more than what BF had in mind.

BF and I agreed that there were things we could have done to save money and would not have affected the enjoyment of our trip too much.  We could have done a bit more planning for accommodations and meals, and of course, our car rental.

It was a vacation, after all, so I am trying not to beat myself up over it.  I am glad we had a little recap so that we can better plan our next vacation in a way that is both enjoyable for us and our wallets.

How much do you plan and budget for vacations?  What are some tips or suggestions you have for me and BF?

Cheers,

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My Experience with Acne

Acne happens when hair follicles get blocked and sebum that usually drains to the surface of the skin is blocked and bacteria begins to grow.  Acne can be in the form of whiteheads, blackheads, nodules or cysts and usually occur at the face, back, chest and even shoulders.

My Struggle

I have struggled with acne for more than half my life – since 6th grade. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep my acne fairly under control with my a combination of eating & sleeping habits, medication, and skin care products.

My skin still flares up from time to time, but overall, I am able to treat it and I am grateful for that.  I wanted to share costs associated with treatment/medication/make-up and some helpful tips that I’ve picked up over the years.

Disclaimer: Please note these are from my experience only and you should always consult your doctor, dermatologist or health care provider before trying new medication or products on your skin.

Costs Acne Treatment

I have had various treatments over the past 15 years; however, in this post, I will  only discuss my current costs.

The Acne Clinic

The Acne Clinic was recommended to me by a friend during my last year of my undergraduate studies.  Since then, I have been seeing my dermatologist for almost 3 years and I have been fairly happy with the results.

My dermatologist was able to help me calm my flare ups and get my skin under control.  I was only comfortable using topical lotions (no antibiotic pills), and so this was the treatment method my dermatologist used.

In my experience, it is very important to see your dermatologist more when you just start the treatment (about every 2 weeks), until your dermatologist figures out what works best with your skin.  Following that, you and your dermatologist can work out a schedule that works best for your needs.  Right now, I’ve been seeing my dermatologist every 3 -4 months, depending on my skin.

At this clinic, each visit costs $30 and includes injections for active nodules/cysts.  My dermatologist gave me sample sizes of medication to try prior to prescribing full sized medication, which I found really useful.  My medication costs approximately $180 every 3 months.

My health benefits cover 80% of the costs, but this can be expensive for anyone without extended health benefits.

Pure and Simple (P&S)

Earlier this year, my face started flaring up again and it started to get super dry (then super oily).  No matter what my dermatologist tried, it seemed to just keep getting worse.

I read about P&S through a FB’s blog review, and decided to try it.  After my first consultation and first facial with P&S, my skin started to look much better than it had in months.  P&S is really good with educating their clients, and I learned that the medication I was putting on my skin were really harsh and dehydrated my skin.

I know a lot of spas tell you a bunch of crap to get you to buy their products, so I was wary.  After 2 weeks of using (free) samples provided by P&S and following their “rules”, I saw a big difference in the skin.  My skin felt less oily, less tight and my complexion was better.  I still got a few pimples but overall, my skin looked a lot better.

I knew my problem couldn’t be fixed with one facial, so I bought a package of 5 Clear Complexion Facial ($595 + tax, ouch!).  I went once a month for my first 3 facials and could see the improvement in my complexion.  Ideally, I would like to go for 4 – 5 facials a year, if I can afford it.

P&S product line is reasonably priced and they use natural products.  I always try their products, first – they are great about giving their clients samples to try.  I bought their Algae serum ($20) and Oily skin sunscreen ($15), and have slowly been building a small collection of their products in my bathroom.

Nothing is covered under my health benefits, so this option for acne treatment can be very expensive.

Skin Care Regime and Products

I try to keep my skin routine as simple as possible.

In the evenings, I remove my make-up, then wash my face with a gentle cleanser (I like SpectroJel – $15), and then I apply my serum, moisturizer and eye cream (sometimes). In the mornings, I do the same thing but skip the eye cream and use sunscreen (SPF 15-30), instead.

Once or twice a week, I would use a mask or another one of my home-made toiletries concoctions for deep cleaning or moisturizing .

Daily Make-Up

I try not to wear heavy make-up, which clogs my pores, and would like to try more natural make-up, as well (after my shopping ban is over, of course).

On any given day, I use a bit of concealer for spot treatments and blotting powder to reduce shine at my T-zone, eye liner and blush.  I’ve been using MAC products for the past 3 years and it hasn’t broken me out.  I would estimate my make-up costs about $150, and lasts me about 6 months to 1 year.

Acne Affects Self Esteem

Acne is not just about looking “pretty”, acne has a huge impact on self esteem. Without self esteem, it’s hard to have the confidence to move forward in life, whether it be acing that test, going into an interview, asking for that promotion, meeting new people or getting control of your finances.  It’s a big deal.

When I struggled with acne, my self esteem was pretty low. I would loathe taking pictures, dressing up, and generally shied away from people, dances, parties at school and kept to myself.  I was very sensitive about my skin, and teenagers can be so cruel.

Today, my self esteem is a lot healthier.  I enjoy getting out and meeting people, dressing up, and I feel more comfortable going au naturel.  Most of all, I feel more confident.

Conclusion

I hope that in sharing my experience with acne, I was able to help some of my readers figure out what type of treatment is available and bring a bit of pf into the topic.  Always talk to your family doctor about your options, first before trying new treatments.

Update: I’ve almost used up my 5 facials from P&S, and this method is too expensive for me to maintain.  I also get “scolded” for not getting facials more often by the estheticians (i.e., one every 4 weeks max), and I feel pressured to get them more often.  I’m sure that my skin would be better if I went more often, but I can’t afford it, and will be returning to see my dermatologist.

I also started reading the book “Skin Type Solution” by Dr. Leslie Baumann (dermatologist and scientist).  Basically, it’s a book that guides you to categorize your skin type and suggests skin care regimes and products that work for your skin.

It sounds promising, and I love always educating myself about my skin. I will do a separate review and summary of the book in a another post. In the meantime, please wish me luck as I once again battle my acne.

Readers, have you struggled with acne?  Please share some of the ways you have dealt with your struggles in the comments.

Cheers,

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Review: Helpful iPod/iPhone Apps

Ever since BF got me my iPod Touch in April, we have been inseparable.  (My iPod and I, that is.) 🙂

Why I love my iPod

I use it as my mini-computer to check my e-mail, read and approve comments, Twitter (although, I still don’t really get Twitter), read all my RSS feeds, update my personal calender, write down random lists/notes to myself, and play useless mind games (like Angry Birds).

I really prefer having the iPod Touch vs the iPhone because I don’t have to worry about battery life for a phone.  The iPod Touch has so many great features, but battery life is not one of them.

Now, onto those apps!

Awesome Notes ($3.99 USD)

After reading Everyday Minimalist’s fabulous review on this, I had to try it out for myself.

It’s like having an old school agenda on you, that’s squeezed into a little icon.

I make lists, write down random ideas/information.  I can sort my notes into different folders with various security settings. I can view all my notes in calender view or each separately.

I can have different types of notes (to do, general notes, tasks with deadlines, etc), and choose different backgrounds for my notes, too.

I used to write down my purchases in the calender mode (to be transferred to my budget spreadsheet), until I recently discovered…

Piggie (free)

My nickname for this app is miss Piggie because this app is co cute!

I use this to input my expenses right away and then transfer the information to my overall budget spreadsheet.  The interface is super easy to use, you enter the amount you spent, pick you category, date and any notes.  You also get to choose cute emoticons for your category shortcuts.

This app will also allow you to compare your day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month spending.  My favourite part of the app is the bar charts and pie charts it puts together for you!

Mobile RSS (free)

I’ve tried a few other readers, and this one if my favourite.

The interface looks very similar to the Google Reader interface, and sorts your feeds into the same folders and tags (starred items, shared items, comment view, etc).

When you read individual posts, the app allows you the same capabilities in Google Reader, as well.  You can: like, star, keep as unread, share, add a note, retweet, share on Facebook, Delicious, Evernote, ReaditLater or Instapaper.  You also get the full article, and images.

I like to update my feeds and then read them when I don’t have Wifi.  Their most recent update allow you to view images in articles even without access to Wifi (after you have already “downloaded” your feeds).

Talkatone (free)

I’ve only used this app on occasion that my cell phone has died since the quality of the call is unreliable.

Basically, this app connects via GMail and you are able to make calls from an iPod or iPhone through Wifi.  You are also able to receive and send text messages through it.  Although, I thought it was a bit sketchy that they changed my GMail status to “Message me at LINK”, which was how I found about the texting capability.

I’m not sure how this will change if calls are not free (within Canada) through GMail, anymore.

WordPress (free)

If you blog through WordPress, this app is great for moderating comments, replying to comments and checking your stats.

I find it difficult to write a post (limited editing tools) in this app, so I don’t use it for that much.  I prefer to make my headings bold and add images, which is difficult to do in their app.

Sephora (free)

I haven’t played around with this app much, but I love browsing the “sale” section.  I never see this kind of sale in Sephora, and would love to shop here (after my shopping ban, of course!).

I have to limit my browsing around on this app, so not to tempt myself.  You can browse their items, and save things in your cart.  Super user friendly. You can also browse tutorials, virtually try on nail polish (not sure about other make-up), and everything looks so pretty!

Free shipping in Canada after $50 purchase?  Yes, please.

I’m surprised I haven’t cheated on my shopping ban with this app! Really, I haven’t. 🙂

That’s it for me

Those are the apps I use on a regular basis and I love them!

Do you have any app suggestions?  Please share in the comments.

Cheers,

Note: All photos above are stock photos taken from the iTune app store, with the exception of the Awesome Notes taken from the app website.

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Shopping Ban: Half-way Update

This year, I decided to embark on a self-imposed shopping ban.  You can read more details about it here, and here and my past updates 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 and gentlemen, I can’t believe that I have passed the halfway mark of my shopping ban!  Hooray!  🙂

I have been meaning to update my blog to reflect the status of my shopping ban and how I have been faring.  I’ve also slipped up a few times, and I do need to confess.  Let’s get to the updates, and I will start with the good news.

iPod Touch Birthday Gift

My BF bought me an iPod Touch as a birthday gift (love it!), so I will take that off my list and allow myself one article of clothing in its place.   And I already know what that piece would have to be…

A Staple Cardigan

I have a handful of cardigans that are not very good quality but look okay.  All of them have shown wear after just one season, and I realize that I do need to pay more attention to the quality of clothes that I buy (hence the shopping ban!).

I’ve had my eye on this cardigan since last winter and could never find it anywhere in my size!  My friend knew I was obsessed really liked it, and she sent me a text while I was in the Maritimes that she found my cardigan in my size for 40% off. (For those curious, it’s  by Line Knitwear $90 $55).

At first I stood my ground, and reminded her about my shopping ban.  But when she asked, “Are you sure??” I caved and asked her to get it for me.  I am weak, I know.

That cardigan will have to be another one of the three exceptions I allow myself.  Only one exception item left!  Yikes!

Joe Fresh Matte Lipstick

Last confession, I promise. I hope you all don’t think I am a complete failure.

Usually, I have my shopping ban “shield” up when I enter a mall or store (usually to pick up a make-up refill) so I stay focused on the task at hand, and not break my shopping ban.

Unfortunately, my shopping ban “shield” was down when I went grocery shopping at the Canadian Superstore.  I wandered over to their Joe Fresh aisles and found their make-up line.  And then I remembered seeing GlitterGeek’s rave review on their Fuchsia matte lipstick.

So, I picked up a tube of fuchsia – last one!  And clay (a neutral colour).  But they were only $6 each!  And they feel fabulous! 🙂

I digress.  I know I completely cheated on this one.  I paid for it with my reward points, so I didn’t actually spend any out of pocket money.  But this doesn’t mean that I can go around spending reward points while on my shopping ban.  That would be unacceptable and it would defeat the purpose of my shopping ban.

From now on, I will have my shopping ban “shield” up when I go grocery shopping, especially at the Canadian Superstore.

Conclusion

I may have faltered a bit, but I plan to see my shopping ban through!

At the beginning of my shopping ban, I allowed myself three exception and I still plan to stick to it.  I’ve used up two so far, and my last one planned is a nice winter coat.  I may not actually get a nice winter coat – I spent too much time looking for one last year and couldn’t find something I loved.

We will see – it’s hard to think about winter coats in August! 🙂

Wish me luck.

Links!

It’s been a while, but I still have the links to previous shopping banners I’ve compiled.

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.

Cheers,

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Link Love (powered by Nickelback and Pineapple buns)

I always thought it was so cute to see the “powered by” done by the lovely eemusings, so I’m going to copy her style!  Hope she doesn’t mind 🙂

Now, onto some of my favourite posts this week!

Life

  • 3 stages of life shared by Geek in Heels.  I’m not sure what stage I’d prefer to be in…
  • How my Father ended up in the Hospital by Geek in Heels.  I was in tears by the end of her post.  It was terrible what happened to her father – just an honest man trying to run a small business.  I’m so glad that he is recovery and things were not worse.
  • I’m Glad by Cassie.  I loved the short and sweetness of this post.  I can certainly relate.
  • How we do what we do by Molly. Inspiring and so heartfelt and honest.

Finance & Fashion & Food

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The Real Cost of a Road Trip

This summer, I’ve gone on my fair share of road trips.  Between camping, cottages, and my vacation on the west coast, I’ve started thinking about the “real” cost of a road trip and how to split the cost fairly between all parties.

Splitting the Cost of Gas

Usually, if there is a person in the group who has a car, it is not unusual for that person to be driving and all parties splitting the cost of gas.  Just a few weekends ago, I drove my friends up to a beautiful cottage.

Round trip, we drove approximately 500km.  Total cost for gas? $57.

Is that Fair Reimbursement?

Prior to driving a car and maintaining a car, I would have not given this a second thought. I mean, even without this road trip, the driver would have had to pay for insurance and maintenance, anyway, right?

However, after maintaining and driving my (parent’s) car for almost 2 years, I think that by just reimbursing the driver for gas is simply not acknowledging the true cost for transportation.

What about the Overhead Costs?

For those of us who drive, we all pay for insurance, the cost of the car (sometimes, car payments or leases), maintenance (oil change, tune ups, winter tires, etc.), and don’t forget about depreciation.  How much does this all add up to?

There are many ways to go about making this calculation, depending on the gas mileage, the make of car, details about the driver, etc.  Here is one way to calculate it.

When I use my car for business purposes, I get reimbursed $0.50 per kilometer.  Is it fair to use that as a base point for the cost of driving?

Worst Case Scenario

Car accidents are common place, especially during long weekends. The greater the distance you drive, the more chances there is of you getting in an accident or having some damage to your car.

If I got in an accident on the road trip, who would pay for it?  What if my insurance premiums were increased, as a result of the accident?

I think I am a careful driver (oh, don’t we all say that?).   But sh*t happens.

In Favour of Car Rental

That’s why I am always in favour of splitting car rentals, especially now that I have a car.  Since I now know the real cost of driving a car, I think it’s only fair that everyone shares in the true costs of taking a road trip.

Car rental rates include the cost of using a car and have an insurance option (if your credit card does not include it).  Sure, the cost of transportation for the road trip may have increased by a factor of 2 or 3, but I think that truly reflects the cost of transportation.

Exceptions

Maybe if all parties had their own cars and didn’t mind taking turns driving, the costs would be evened out.

How do you split road trip car costs?  Do you prefer driving your own car or renting?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Cheers,

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East Coast Canada Sneak Peak

I haven’t had a chance to go through all of BF’s and my photo’s yet, but here are a few quickies I grabbed from his Google+ account for a sneak peak.

Nova Scotia

We went to see the Alexander Keith’s Brewery in Halifax.  We agreed it was like paying $20 to watch a 45 minute long commercial for the beer.  But it was thoroughly entertaining 🙂

We started our food journey and had seafood every lunch and dinner! Never have I had so much seafood in my life – so fresh and delicious!  We especially loved visiting the fishing villages and eating at the mom and pop restaurants.

We spent about 2.5 days on the Cabot Trail and drove all the way to the northern most point of Cape Breton.  It was so beautiful out here.  We drove along the moutainside next to the coast.  At times, you look over and all you see is a drop straight down to the ocean!  It was both scary and beautiful at the same time.

Prince Edward Island

We spent one day in Charlottetown. We visited a beautiful Gothic church.  The workmanship and detail is extraordinary.  I loved the beautiful high arches and the stained glass is magnificent.

We also visited Province House.  This was when Canada first became a nation  with four province – Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario, known as the four fathers of Confederation.  Province House is still in use today.

We also crossed Confederation Bridge.  This bridge was built in 1997, spans 13km long and cost $1 billion to construct.  It is the longest bridge in the world crossing ice-covered water.  It is truly an engineering achievement of the 20th century.

I also visited Green Gables.  Seeing the outside of Green Gables and walking along Lovers Lane was really neat (my favourite part).  I probably built up the house too much in my head, because the inside of Green Gables just looked like an old (but really nicely restored) house.  We also went to the sand dune beach and I had a little nap along the ocean.

This was the closest I got to meeting Anne – she was busy playing Mr. Wolf with the kids. Hi, Anne! *waves*

New Brunswick

We visited the Bay of Fundy. Photographs to come as I learn how to convert RAW files to JPGs 🙂

In Summary

BF and I had an amazing time and we would love to go back.  We are pretty lazy laid back travelers.  This may stem from too many intense back-packing trips when we tried to cram as much sights in as little time as possible during our college years.

We try to have 1 or 2 things at each place we want to see, then we just play it by ear (or stomach).   Our favourite thing to do in each new place is to eat and walk around.  We love exploring on foot – kinda like a playground for big kids like us.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures.  Our budget will be coming up!

What is your travel style?  Do you like to have a set itinerary or see everything?  Or do you prefer to take it easy?

Cheers,

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Link Love

Some of my favourite posts  🙂

Home & Life

Personal Finance

Beauty

  • Smokey Eye Look for Beginners by Extra Petite.  I love this tutorial. Jean makes it so easy to follow her instructions, I only hope that when I attempt this mine can look half as good!

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RRSP Matching and Refusing Free Money

I was inspired to write out my thoughts on this after reading Bridget’s post on Short Term Gain for Long Term Pain.

RRSP Matching at my Workplace

My workplace offers a 100% employer RRSP matching up to varying percentages of one’s salary based on seniority. The matching starts after one year of seniority and the percentage matched increases.

I had all my funds picked and all my paper work filed with HR weeks before my one year mark. Free money? Yes, please 🙂

Now I know that not everyone is as gung ho about personal finance as me. But imagine my shock and horror when I found out that most of my co-workers around me were not contributing to their RRSP’s. Especially when the company matched their contributions, 100%!

Free Money

I was one of the most junior staff members on my team at that time, but some of my co-workers and managers who had more seniority and higher salaries (hence, even more free money) did not contribute to their RRSP through our company. *palm to forehead*

I mean, if someone handed you $1,000 or $2,000 would you refuse it? Hell, no!

I tried to explain to a co-worker that the money she contributes via the company matching is not taxed, so even if she contributed $100 a month, her paycheck would not decrease by $100 since she’s taxed on less money. And even if she didn’t know what to put her money into, she could invest in low risk funds and still get the company match – it’s practically a 100% return. Alas, money can be such a touchy topic, I dared not go further unless she asked me.

Excuses, Excuses

I usually keep my mouth shut about personal finance, but after we got out of a learning session for RRSP, people just started talking about it. I heard comments like, “I have trouble spending less than I earn”, or “I need my entire paycheck, I can’t give up a couple hundred a month”, or “It’s so complicated, I don’t know where to start.”

I am not saying that I am better than these people for taking advantage of my company matching. I just wished they saw what an opportunity they have for money that is already part of their compensation package. Even if they put in just 3%, the company matches it all, and they’ve already contributed 6% to their retirement – easy peasy.

Ignorance

This didn’t happen at work, but I know people refused to contribute to employer matching RRSP since they did not get a tax shelter for the money the employer matched. *palm to forehead*

Yes, free money still counts towards your taxable income. But it’s free!

I digress.

Different Priorities

Maybe we all just have different priorities. Or maybe they want to contribute and just don’t know how to go about doing it. I know that I found it over whelming to start and that’s why I am so thankful I found this wonderful PF community online.

My priority is to reach financial freedom, and I will continue to take advantage of my employee matching (and saving aggressively) to get there.

Does your work place have employee RRSP matching? Do you take advantage of it?

Cheers,

P.S. Are you following me on Twitter @fab_frugirl?

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