Monthly Archives: September 2011

PF Confession: My September Budget was shot to Hell

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Before I even tally up my expenses and net worth update, let me preface by saying my budget for this month was shot to hell.  To be honest, I don’t feel great about it, but I also don’t feel super guilty about it either.  It is what it is.

I will be a breakdown of what I spend in my September budget (still a few more painful days to go), but I wanted to do another post and a rundown of the budget killers.

Automobile Repairs ($750)

As we all know, a car is great for getting to places more conveniently (when one is not part of traffic), but it is a such a money sink.

My car had been making strange rumbling noises and felt weird the past couple months.  It would be fine (making me question if I imagined the sounds in the first place), and then the rumbling would start again.  Usually it happened when I was driving on a highway going between 110km/h to 120km/h.

I took it to my mechanic (twice), and $750 later, I had new calipers, new (front) brake discs, new brake fluids and my brakes services.

This was the first major repair that I did to our 2002 Toyota Corolla, which I think is pretty reasonable given her age.  But still.  $750.  Ouch!

Skin care and Make-up ($320)

In my previous post, I shared my struggle with acne.  Usually, if I find a skin routine that works, I stick to it like super glue on crack :).  No need to fix something that ain’t broken, right?

Unfortunately, my skin has been really fussy lately.  My skin routine that worked great for the past 3 years, wasn’t working any more.  My skin got super oily and felt super dry and it kept going in spouts of getting better, and then worse, then better, then worse.

Right now, it’s in the “worse” stage.  Part of it has to do with my diet.  But another part is also my skincare routine.  I’ve found a new line of products that work great with my skin, and I stocked up during their annual sale.

And even though it might be better to go make-up free, I feel very self-conscious when I go out without make-up with breakouts on my face.  Maybe it’s the high school kid in me that remembers taunts from mean classmates about not washing my face, but I usually cover up when I leave the house.  Not like a blanket of make-up, just enough to camaflouge the redness.

So, in addition to stocking up on skincare products, I also got some foundation make-up – I didn’t have any for every day wear.   I know it’s breaking my shopping ban, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  And I was am desperate. (On the bright side, I can do a thorough review of all the products that I’ve tried!).

Le sigh.  Vanity.  I know.  And this doesn’t include what I spent last month.  Can we stop talking about it now? 😦

And as some of you may know of from Twitter, I broke my shopping ban (more on that in another post – with pictures!).

Clothes ($135)

Yep, I broke my shopping ban with the always stylish and fabulous enabler Serena/FB from Every Minimalist/Fabulously Broke in the City.

The original plan was for Serena to help me figure out my personal style (via my style board from Pinterest), and then we would go “window shopping”  and try on stuff that would work with me.

Let’s just say that after our shopping trip, I was “fabulously broke”, as well 😉  I kid, I kid.

Serena helped me find some really great pieces and at very reasonable prices.  I will share details in a post shortly.   I’m thinking of calling it “Rules are meant to be Broken.” 🙂

Conclusion

Sometimes I moan, groan and stress over money matters a bit too much.  This is my way of taking a step back, evaluating and generally thinking out loud.  To be fair, I did budget about $150 for skin care stock up. Though nothing else on the list above.

On the plus side, I’m pretty sure I stayed under budget for eating out!  That’s my usual budget killer.  Yay, for small victories 🙂

Anything crazy happen in September that you need to get off your chest?  Feel free to share in the comments!   I hope I’m not the only failure…

Cheers,

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Frugal Parents: Dial Up Internet

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This is a series I put together to share my parents’ frugal habits. My family grew up poor, but it never felt like it to my sisters and I. It was only when I grew older that I realized how much my parents had to scrimp and save, in order to give my sisters and I the life we have now. Some of these stories are funny, some sad and I hope that some may also warm your heart.

In my parents’ household, my father had dial up internet up until June 2010, when my sister moved back in with my parents and decided that she would pay for high speed internet before she went bonkers. (Remember those whirring sounds? Yep.)

$2.95 + tax

Years ago (circa 2000), my father found a dial up internet service via the Toronto Star for $2.95 per month for unlimited use. The service was reliable and it had no ads! My father was sold and was a loyal customer for the next 10 years.

See, my father used internet mostly to read his e-mail and for minor reading of news websites. Remember back in the late 1990’s when everyone was forwarding chain letter e-mails? That’s the stage my father is in now. 🙂

The Routine

My father also had a routine he perfected with his dial up internet.

He long ago figured out the maximum download speed during “off” hours. On average a 2mb file attachment would take approximately 15 minutes to download, and a 5mb file attachment, approximately 30 minutes.

While his download was going, he would finish some chores in the kitchen – sweeping, dishes or general clean up. All the while, keeping an ear out for the sound to indicate the download was finished.

My mom loved all the chores that got done!

High Speed Internet Discovery

My father discovered high speed internet at my uncle’s house. The funny thing is, my uncle never used his internet – he got it for his kids. So, my father would teach him how to use software to write in Chinese, where to find news articles and basically navigate the web. My dad started going to my uncle’s house to teach him, instead of having my uncle come over.

You know how they say, once you have high speed internet, there is no going back? Well, that is true for almost everyone – but not my dad. Instead of getting high speed internet, my father bought several USB sticks and would simply download his e-mail attachments at my uncle’s house and read them over the course of the week at his own house!

I just asked my dad last week whether he could go back to dial up internet, and his answer was YES. If my sister wasn’t paying for it, my dad would go back to dial up in a heartbeat. He said he couldn’t justify paying 20 times the price for “just a bit of speed.”

When was the last time you used dial up internet? Are there any readers out there still using dial up internet?

Cheers,

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Link Love (Powered by Camping and a Good Shower)

I haven’t done this in a while and my Google Reader feeder has quite a backlog of starred items I wanted to share!

Thank you to everyone who commented on my post about tipping. I really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments and I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing a budget and being fair to those working in our service industry. I realize it’s a tough job, but I also work hard for my money and want to keep as much as possible while still being fair.

Now onto some of my favourite posts 🙂

Life

Personal Finance

  • Well-Heeled talks about asking for a price adjustment. I’ve done this several times, and as always, it never hurts to ask! I also think the term “price adjustment” sounds less crude than, “Can I get these for the cheaper price?” 🙂
  • Sandy is fed up with Bank of America. After reading her post, I would be too.
  • Krystal at Give me my Five Bucks Back has got a new look! Love it!
  • Fabulously Broke has a new series on shopping our closet (love it!), and this is her post on mixing and matching colours.

Food

Fashion

  • Hemmed shared a great quote on being petite. When I say I am petite, people usually think I mean I am small – but it really means I am short. Towering at all 5’2-1/2″. There are lots of women who are plus sized petites. It’s all about proportions and not a dress size.
  • Wendy is SO fashionable and I love her pairing of a simple black dress with a torquoise clutch and the skirt underneath. So chic and effortless!
  • Extra Petite shares her new accessory storage find – a belt ring hanger! I think I will need one of these 🙂
  • Look for Less has a beautiful cowl neck sweater. Both options look great to me!
  • This is a great video on how to cover up acne with makeup. I love how the make up artist explains her philosophy on working on illuminating the great skin the person has, and only covering up with is needed, as opposed to putting a blanket of make-up on the person’s face.

If you have some other great reads, you’d like to recommend, please share in the comments! Hope everyone is having a great weekend! 🙂

Cheers,

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PF Confession: Thoughts on Tipping

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Tipping is a huge deal, and as I am more and more aware of where my money is going, I can’t help but question the commonly accepted North American tipping standard (i.e., tipping at least 15% at restaurants and seemingly all “service” industries).

The following services I tip because it is the generally accepted etiquette, but I’ve got a few things to say about them, first!

Restaurants

I think it’s safe to say that the generally acceptable tip is approximately 15% after tax, and people are expected to tip more if they receive good service. Having said that, if I received bad service, I would tip less than 15% and in the rare case – none at all.

But my qualm is why tip at all? Does the advertised price of the food (plus tax) not include the cost of service?

Before you call me a big cheapo, I know that many wait staff have very low wages and depend on tips to supplement their wages. My qualm with that argument is why should the responsibility of ensuring fair compensation fall on the shoulders of the patron? Is it not the responsibility of the employer?

I truly believe that all I owe to the restaurant is the number on the bill (after tax, of course). Tipping is extra, period. If I walk out the door without leaving a tip, I am not breaking any laws and am completely free to do so. (Although I’d probably never set foot in that restaurant again).

To be honest, I almost always tip, but not because I really want to. I do it because it’s what society dictates, and I see it as part of the cost of eating out.

Massages and Facials

I loathe tipping for massages and facials. I don’t understand it and I just see it as a cash grab, honestly. I mean, what else am I paying for??

I am a professional, and when I do my job, I don’t expect my clients to tip me on top of the invoice I am sending them. How is getting a massage or facial any different?

Massages and facials aren’t cheap. And when I pay for it, I damn well expect good service. End of story.

I don’t even understand why tipping is even in the equation.

Cabs

I live in the City with one of the most expensive cab fares in the world. Seriously, I am not making this up, there were studies done to show it!

See above.

The cost of the cab ride should include good service. I’m not saying the cabbie should polish my shoes, but he should be taking the most direct route and driving safely. I don’t think that is asking too much.

Alas, I usually do tip my cabbies about 10-15%, depending on the ride. Most appear to be immigrants who are just trying to make a living in a new place. I always imagine that the cabbie (usually a male) would have kids to feed and a family to take care of, and I feel terribly guilty if I don’t tip.

Again, it’s guilt that is tipping, and not belief that tipping should be expected.

What are your thoughts on tipping?

Cheers,

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You Can Have it All…

… just not all at once.

— author unknown

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I’m not sure who that quote came from, but that quote came to me at the right time.

I was finishing up college, and months away from joining the work force (aka  real life).  And I had no idea what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

It seemed that all my life, I’ve worked hard in school for the goal of graduating and getting a good job.  Now that I was finally at the end of the tunnel, staring at the fruits of my labour, it felt … almost anti-climatic.

Entrepreneur Conference

I went to an entrepreneur conference and listened to many amazing speakers for some inspiration.  I was by no means, an entrepreneur but I was curious to learn about other people’s stories. I also didn’t really know what an entrepreneur was.

As a young woman, I often wonder how other women juggle balance their lives.  Work, kids, husband, family, exercise and don’t forget about having some time to ourselves, right?  I was scared because I wasn’t sure how I would even find a job – much less worry about anything and everything else.

Someone opened my eyes

She shared the story of how she built her business.  How she and her husband lived in the city, watching their pennies so they could afford to take the eventual risk.  I remembered her sharing that she and her husband worked downtown, and instead of heading out for lunch, they would pack their sandwiches and enjoy lunch together at the park. Eventually, they saved enough to start a business.  To buy a house.  To have a family.

But they didn’t do it all at once.

Then it hit me…

I didn’t need to have my life all figured out this very instant.

In fact, I just needed to figure out the next step and go from there.  Decide from my next step whether I wanted to continue or change.  Nothing is written in stone, and I didn’t need to be scared to make a mistake.

All I had to do with put one foot in front of the other, look up and re-evaluate every so often.  Decide if I want to keep going, or take a new path.  In fact, there are no mistakes in life, just lessons. (Oh my, aren’t I getting all philosophical?;) )

What are some inspirations quotes or stories that have had a big impact on your life?

Cheers,

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A Letter to 16-year-old me

Dear 16-year old Fab Frugirl,

It’s you, 10 years in the future.  I work as an engineer, and I live in an apartment.  I am an aspiring minimalist and I write a personal finance blog to document my journey to financial freedom.

I am happy.  I am currently on a shopping ban, I can’t buy new clothes, makeup or accessories until the end of the year.  I did allow myself 3 exceptions, though.  Anyway, enough about me, back to you.

Please don’t worry about how you look so much.  Acne and glasses suck.  But eventually, your teenage hormones will  get under control, and you will learn to use face products that work for you and learn the wonders that a bit of makeup (applied correctly) can make.  And glasses, they are so in now.  Thick, plastic frames, too!

Don’t worry about the popular kids.  When you are my age, and you see them hanging out at the mall, you’ll realize how similar they are to you – just kids looking for acceptance.  Sometimes, they can be mean.  And in reality, their lives may be be as great as you imagine.  Ignore their mean comments.  Karma can be a b*tch.  Just saying.

Focus on your strengths and work at them.  In university, you will meet so many like-minded individuals.  And being smart isn’t anything to be ashamed of, despite being called a nerd, geek and a brainer, now.  There will be people who will appreciate your intelligence, one day.  And you will be one of those people.

Don’t worry about the boys.  They will come.  Some are worth your while, and some not so much.  Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference, but with time you will learn.  Don’t be too skeptical, (but a little skepticism is healthy). Be nice to them, and make sure they are nice to you.  You will learn what it’s like to have a broken heart. It’s not fun.

You will finally get to go on a date with a cute boy.  And he will come pick you up in his parent’s car, and you will think it’s the greatest thing ever.  You will keep dating your high school sweet heart until he eventually breaks your heart 5 years later.

You will be bitter, angry and sad for a long time, but it’s okay.  You will get over it and move on, and most of all – learn from it.  You will become a stronger and more compassionate woman.  You will meet someone new and you will love again, and you will once again realize that love is the greatest thing ever.

Your girl friends (includes sisters & cousins) are your saviors.  Make time for each other and catch up often.  Girl talk is good for the soul.  Be honest, but don’t judge.  As for their advice and really listen to their feedback.  Some will not be a part of your life for a long time, some slip away, some you haven’t even met yet, others you should fight for.

Your family is your rock.  No matter how busy things are, try to make time for them. Call home more and visit more often.  I still don’t do this enough, but I am trying.  You will learn to understand your parents from a new level, and become even more grateful for all that they have tried to provide for you. You may not always agree with each other.  Handle those situations carefully.  Parents get hurt, too.

Always be open to new opportunities, you never know who you will meet and what you can accomplish!  Don’t be afraid of change.  I am still working on this. It is only through hardship that we learn the most.  Don’t follow the crowd.  Question your decisions and make sure they are right for you.  Accept nothing less.

Sincerely,

Your Future Self

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Group Trip Expenses

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I’m sure many of us have taken group trips this summer.  I know that I have!  One of the things that I learned this summer is that paying people back for expenses is key. Remember to pay back your friends on time.

One of my trips this summer, I paid for rental car and gas.  It wasn’t an outrageous amount, I was owed about $100 in total.   But my Visa bill had come and gone and still no cash from my buddies.

Reminders (all 3)

Right after the trip, I sent out an email tallying all parties’ expenses (aka mostly my expenses therefore please pay me 🙂 ).  No response.

After a week, I sent out another reminder and suggested e-mail transfer for ease since I didn’t see these individuals often.  One response that one of the individuals would pay me at a group outing.  Fair enough.  Except they forgot.

After 2 weeks, I sent out (yet another) reminder for payment via e-mail transfer and offered to “eat” their bank fee (i.e., pay me the amount minus bank fee).  I was willing to lose out on $1.50 if I can have my $100 back thankyouverymuch.  Though, I wasn’t super happy with this option (I was hoping people would feel guilty and just pay me!).

Forget about it?

My only fear was that this would pass and since it wasn’t a “huge” amount of money, people would forget.  Except me.  Needless to say, I was a bit peeved at the whole ordeal.  I felt like I had to “beg” for my money back.

These aren’t people I see on a regular basis, and since it’s been forgotten once (when we met up), it’s likely that it can and will be forgotten again – if not entirely.  Maybe I am over reacting, but that was my fear.

Am I over reacting?  I’m sure that in the past, I would have let payments go just because I forget about them or I didn’t want to keep asking.  But this new PF me is getting my money back!

How do you deal with group expenses?  Do you follow up on payments or are you more lassez-faire and figure things will balance out in the end?

Cheers,

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TD Changed their Checking Accounts

If you are banking with TD Canada Trust, make sure you check their updated checking account information.  Starting August 1st, 2011 they have increased the minimum balances (to waive the monthly fee) on ALL their checking accounts and also increased the fee’s associated each account.

You can read all their information here but I’ve also summarized it below. (Isn’t it sneaky the way they don’t include the fees in their summary table?)

Infinity Checking Account
monthly fee $12.95 $14.95
minimum balance to waive monthly fee $3,000 $3,500

Value Plus Checking Account
monthly fee $8.95 $10.95
minimum balance to waive monthly fee $2,000 $2,500

Value Checking Account
monthly fee $3.95
minimum balance to waive monthly fee $1,000 $1,500

If you got dinged with fees this month for not maintaining the new minimum balance, I recommend you fight it.

Call TD and plead your case (nicely), reminding them what a great customer you are and blah blah blah, and if they would be so kind as to waive the fee as a courtesy since didn’t realize the change in accounts.

It never hurts to ask, right? 😉

Note: I am not affiliated with TD Canada Trust.  I used to have the Value Plus Account and have since downgraded to the Value Account after I opened my Thrive Checking Account with ING Direct.  ING has no minimum balance and no fees.  The only reason I kept my TD account was to withdraw cash as their green machines are everywhere.

Cheers,

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Not Moving in Together

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These are my personal opinions and what works for me. In no way do I think they are superior to others’ opinions, nor do I think what works for me will work for everyone, else. I am not judging anyone who has different opinions than me. I just wanted to share my thoughts on this topic as it has been on my mind for quite some time.

My BF is finally moving out of the frat house he’s shared with his college room mates for the last couple of years. His room mates have moved on, and ready to get places of their own or move in with their significant others. The thought of moving in together has no doubt crossed my mind, and BF and I have discussed living together . Of course, it’s a really big step. For us, we’d like to wait until we are “practically” married before crossing that road of our lives.

“Why don’t you just move in together?”

When people (co-workers, or some friends) find out that BF is moving out on his own, into his own pad and I am staying in mine, I get many shocked looks, with the above mentioned question. And maybe I am being sensitive, but it often felt like a “judge-y” question.

I felt like it’s an intrusive question, as if they were questioning my judgement as if our decision was not “normal”. Like it’s expected that all couples just move in together.

Maybe I am being extra sensitive here, but it’s a really personal decision and I don’t think it’s just something that’s expected. At the end of the day, it is a personal decision between the two people who are actually involved.

Learning to Live Together

I know many couples “test drive” living together before marriage to see how/if things work. Even though I was a firm believer of this (when I lived with ex), I’m now a believer in “just making it work”. Learning to live together that is.

I now believe that living together is not so much about “testing it out”, as it is “learning to live together.” To me, living together is about supporting one another, sharing (almost) everything, lots of compromising and, of course, accepting one another. Sometimes, it’s about changing a bit about yourself to accommodate your partner.
(Note: I know many couples fall into this category as opposed to the “test drive” category. Again, these are just observations from my experience).

I mean, look at my parents. They have been married 30 years and they never lived together before marriage. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I truly believe it’s more about making it work than seeing if it works.

I’ve Done it Before

Lived with a significant other, that is. And that experience is one of the main reasons why I don’t want to do it this time.

BF knows this.

I lived with an ex before and even though it was fun and exciting at first, it wore off quickly. I was also young and naive, and just assumed that by living together – everything will remain great. Which, obviously was not the case.

Living together was not the reason we broke up, but after the break-up I decided that living together before marriage wasn’t as important as I once thought that it was. I believe that relationships can work out great whether a couple lives together before marriage or not.

The Math

Of course, the PF side of me knows that the math is in favour of moving in together (usually) – for splitting rent anyway. But, as we all know, relationships are more complicated than numbers, and that should never the be driving factor of such a big life decision. What LC wrote in her Relationships and Money post really rung a bell with me.

My debt is my own. New guy’s debt will be his. And I probably won’t even move in with a guy again, unless there is a ring on my finger. That might sound bitter but part of becoming a more financially-sound woman is being smart with every dollar I have. I hope to attract a partner with similar spending behaviours and financial goals and not one who could eventually pull me back into my old patterns…

Other Personal Reasons

Can I add that even though I love spending time with BF, I also like my down time. My down time can involve cooking, cleaning, reading or blogging. I find it therapeutic. And I’m sure that BF likes his bed to himself once in a while – I’ve seen him sprawled across it when I leave for work ;)!

This might sound silly, but I like having dates with BF. Even if it’s just hanging out and watching a movie, cooking food, or going out for dinner – I like making plans and looking forward to them.

Another reason is that my parents would most likely freak out if we moved in together. They are pretty conservative and I can’t imagine their reaction and disapproval. I also agree with some of the reasons my parents have.

I think that’s it!

Readers, what are your thoughts on co-habition? Would you move in before marriage? And if you already live with your significant other, what are thoughts? I’d love to hear them!

P.S. Am I being too sensitive and taking (perhaps well meaning) questions the wrong way?

Cheers,

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The Personal in my Personal Finance

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LC over at Blonde on  Budget just wrote a great post about the “personal in personal finance”. Check it out here, it’s the inspiration for this post!

In her post, I commented that I was wary, at first of incorporating too many personal stories.  The reason being, the more personal something is in my “pf” life, the more likely it’s going to involved people in my “real life.”  And those people in my “real life” may not care as much about how certain situations affect my “pf” life, or understand how much (or little) something affects me.  Since my blog primarily talks about pf, they might even think that’s all I think about!

But I want this blog to accurately reflect my current thoughts on my relationship with money and trying to live a frugal (but fabulous) life, while meeting my financial (and personal) goals.  And I am not ashamed of anything that I write, if someone from my real life were to find it.  Money is just not something that I talk about often, aside from with BF and my sisters.

I also find that writing something personal comes easier to me than trying to write something “useful”, although I do hope that I am able to write a “useful” article every so often.

Mainly, I hope to share my experience and pf journey with the wonderful community out there.  I really feel like there are virtual high fives all around when a PF blogger reaches a milestone or become debt-free or buys a house with 20% down payment.  And where else would you find that?

So, I am going to have some more personal posts coming up!  I hope that we may learn from one another by sharing our experience, and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!  I always learn so much from everyone!

How do you put the “personal” in personal finance?

Cheers,

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