A Quick Word

I’m sitting here, waiting for my hair dye to do its think, checking Pinterest on my phone. While looking up pins on budgeting, organizing, and getting out of debt, I found a common theme to a good 80% of pins, and it is really starting to piss me off.

Now, let me start by saying that these people who write these articles and make these pins really do mean well. They’re passing on things what really worked well for them, and hoping they’ll work for the rest of us.

That being said, holy tap dancing squirrel turds, these posts are hurting my brain!

“If you want to save money every month, just cut back on your cable bill! Why  pay all that extra for premium packages, when you can just spend a bit more for a good Internet package and stream everything!”

(Well, I already do that. If my current place didn’t have basic cable included in the price, I wouldn’t have it. Haven’t had cable for myself in years.)

“Who needs fancy take-out coffee every day when  you can buy a Keurig! You can make your own coffee and drink it at home instead of spending $5 on a cup of coffee at a coffee shop every afternoon!”

(First off, who the hell is spending at least $25 on coffee each week and wondering why they have no money? I’ve been brewing my own damn coffee for years. Having coffee from a coffee shop is something for first dates and the odd especially crazy day at work. And even then, $5? Hell no! My medium one milk two sweetener is $1.50 at most!”)

“Do you really need a newer vehicle? There are plenty of good, reliable used cars out there! Why not trade yours in, and sink that extra money into your loans?”

(Probably because I can’t afford a used car, let alone a new one to trade in for a used one. I walk, and when I can afford it, I take the bus.  I know that car payments, insurance, gas, and maintenance are expensive, so I don’t have any of those!)

“Set a plan and go big! Sure $100 a month towards your debt seems like a great idea. But what about $1,000? Or $2,000? Or even $5,000? Sounds crazy, but going all in like this is the only way to tackle bigger debts sometimes!”

(Some months, I don’t even make $1,000. How the hell am I going to make $900, but pay $2,000 on one debt? And if I was making enough money that I had an extra $5,000 to throw down on my student loans, I don’t think that loan would be as huge of a problem to me as it is now!)

Are you seeing the trend I’m seeing here?

All of these articles that I’m finding online about paying down your debts seem to think that we are all actually making enough money to do it their way!

Now, I’ll be straight up and honest with all ya’ll. I did 5 years of university, going full year instead of just two semesters, all with student loans. Then when I got out of school, I had a hell of a time finding a job. I lived off my credit cards for a while. Now that I have a job, it doesn’t pay enough to pay all of my bills AND leave me money for things like groceries and bus fair. So I still find myself putting things like groceries and cat food on a credit card. I have so much debt that it feels like I will never get out of it.

That being said, I’ve already made most of the changes these articles are talking about, much like many of you out there have too. We don’t go out buying new cars, and expensive cable packages, and designer clothes. The whole reason we’re reading these articles is to figure out how to do more than we already are doing. We’re already scrimping and saving and living on the bare minimum. We want to know what else to do.

These articles make it all seem so easy too. They have titles like “How I Paid of $60,000 in Debt in A Year” or “I Paid Off $27,000 in 6 Months”. I don’t even make that much in a year, and you’re telling me how easy it is to pay out that much extra in a matter of months?

In the end, I still keep reading these damn articles. If you read them close enough, reading between all of the crap you’re probably already doing, you can still find random little nuggets of hope that you too can work off your debts. Like me, though, you just need to keep in mind that not every suggestion will work for everyone. I couldn’t move back in with my parents, no matter how many times they offer that as a solution to my rent problems, because I’m a 34 year old stubborn woman who just wants to be able to afford her own place. While my current situation is less than ideal, it is still more independent and “grown up” than moving back in to my old bedroom at their house. For someone who lives in an area with horrible internet provider options, or no cable hookups, a satellite may  be your only option for at-home entertainment. And video game systems, while a pretty big expense for we broke-as-hell folk, the hours upon hours upon hours of entertainment some video games and Netflix can provide may be worth the expense.

What I’m trying to say, Sunshine, is you know what I’ve said before: you know what works best for you. While I need my crappy little room in a student rental and a big collection of booze and cheap wine to get me through this crazy little thing we call life and adulthood, your needs may be different. Just be sure your needs are within your means, and you can do this. No buying $40 bottles of wine when you can only afford a $5 bottle; no buying designer threads when you’re on a Goodwill budget. You figure out your best path to a debt-free life, and you work it the best you can.

And whatever you do, NEVER compare yourself to the people who paid off $60,000 in a year. Unless you have that much disposable income to throw down on your debt already, you are in a much different boat than them. And just because their boat is bigger DOESN’T mean they’re better off. Remember: it was the people in those little life boats that survived the sinking of the Titanic, not the people who were still on that massive ship. The size of your ship doesn’t prove your worth.

So keep your heads up, Sunshine! We can all get through this together!

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Living With Someone: When Good Things Go Bad

Well I’ve been absent from my blog for quite a few weeks. Like I said before, I’ve been going through a lot of stuff. One of those things I’m dealing with has been a very strange break-up.

Now, he and I had been dating for a little over 3 1/2 years, and living together for a little over 2 years. Neither one of us is in any sort of financial position to move out of this house (his parents own the house, and it is a REALLY nice house with a really great price for rent and utilities). We both really like this house. He is an Army Reservist and goes to college, and I’m working (VERY) part-time in customer service, so it’s not like either one of us can afford our own apartment at this time. Plus, part of the reason we broke up is so that we can still live together and be friends, without wanting to kill each other.  So we’re trying to make this “not together but still living together” thing work.

Holy crap, is it harder than I thought it would be!

When I moved in with him (he’s the house manager, but his parents have said they’d rather have him move out than me, which makes things a little weird with that), we seriously thought this was going to wind up either a “forever” thing, or at least a “very very many years together” type thing. Neither one of us thought that a little over two years from then, we’d be splitting up. But that’s just what happened. Thankfully (I guess?), towards the end things started to go south. We each had our own bedroom this whole time, and we started sleeping in our own rooms again. We stopped doing things like cuddling on the couch, and having date night together. And we fought, seemingly all the time.

One day, a week before Christmas, we decided mutually that we needed to break up. It was the day that we were going to exchange our Christmas gifts, too, before he left for the holidays to see his family. I went to work that night, and he picked me up afterwards. We had texted a bit while I was working, making sure we were both ok with this break-up. That night, we exchanged gifts (I got him a new sherpa hoodie and the promise of new craft beers from work in the new year; he got me the book 10,000 Drinks and a machete), made our break-up Facebook-official, and set up our new Tinder accounts. To all outward appearances, we were handling this extremely well.

Well let me tell you, this is nowhere near as easy we have been making it seem!

Ok, so we don’t fight like we used to. But there were some things we were fighting about as a couple that directly related to our living situation (cleaning, roommate drama, his tendency to just let his to-do list get bigger and bigger while nothing gets done around here, my tendency to start just doing the things on his list until I get made and scream at him for not doing them months ago, etc….). None of these things have changed for us since we’ve broken up, but how we have to deal with them has. We used to fight, threaten to end our relationship, and then make-up. We can’t exactly do that now. This is forcing us to really look at things that need to get done around here, and who is actually doing them.

We also have to start dealing with the issue of dating. Now, we haven’t been broken up long, but the last year of our relationship was pretty crappy.  A lot of people thought we would’ve broken up long before we did, and a few thought we had already broken up. So we thought the idea of us seeing other people would be pretty damn easy for us to deal with.

Turns out, not so much.

I took it hard when he started texting with girls from Tinder, even though I have this weird flirtation-type-thing going on with a customer at my work. We have no idea how we handle the issue of bringing dates home with us, and try to make jokes about double dating. We’re also still attracted to each other at times, it seems, and are fighting that too. That last part hasn’t been a big issue between us yet, but it is making us question our behaviour together. We’re both cuddly people, and cuddle with friends. Can we cuddle together, or would that be weird? Can we still confide in each other? What about looking for dating advice? How the hell far can we take this friendship with each other?

Truthfully, it’s pretty damn hard living together like this.  I’m working on my resume as we speak, and will be starting a massive resume blast first thing Monday morning. I need to find a second job, and get out of this house. It’s just too damn weird for me.

All this weirdness is killing my creativity, too. Before he came home after the holidays, I was trying to get back into some more creative endeavours: I bought yarn to learn how to arm knit; started using my adult colour postcard book; started mapping out this blog for the year with ideas and themes; I even caught myself doodling in notebooks and writing down story ideas again. But as soon as he came home, that all just seemed to die.

So, I’ll be trying to get back into this blog again soon. Hopefully, I can write away the weird feelings I’m getting right now.

Time to Buy Your Textbooks!

Beginning of every semester, the dreaded textbook list comes out. No matter how interesting the class, how interesting the textbook, how interesting the knowledge is, no one wants to shell out hundreds of dollars on books they will barely ever use. I love books. I collect books. I have a big collection of Stephen King and William Gibson books taking up a whole shelf on one of my bookcases. And I have bought textbooks that cost more than what I spent on that entire shelf.

You don’t have to spend hundreds (or into the thousands, for some people) on textbooks every semester. I didn’t know most of this until my final semester of University, but there are a tonne of ways to save money! Here’s some to help you out.

Check Your Library

At my school, the professor always had one copy of the textbook saved at the library. We weren’t allowed to check it out and take it home, but we could use it in the library. I saved so much money once I figured that out! There will always be those textbooks marked “recommended” on the syllabus that you really don’t want to buy, but often times do. I just went to the library, spent a few hours reading and taking notes, and saved myself $180 on two books we barely used. Check with your professors to see if they do this to. From what I’ve been told, many schools do this.

Thrift Books 

I found this site while looking for a cheap place to buy novels online. I found this place to be usually cheaper than Amazon, and they have a tonne of textbooks! While helping a friend look for a cheaper alternative to her $200 Forensics textbook, I found it on here for $35. That’s a savings of $165!

Textbook Revolution

Now this site is doesn’t have a whole tonne of books on it. But the textbooks on there are free, somewhat. Each textbook link takes you to an outside site to download from. Some are free. Some you have to pay a fee for. While I didn’t find any textbooks that I have used in the past, I did just find a bunch of books on presentations, statistics, and conflict resolution that all linked to the same site. That site has a 30 day free trial if you link to them through this site, which means you can just download everything you need without paying the $3.99 monthly subscription fee.

WikiBooks

Be careful with what you find on here. WikiBooks, while a great resource, is just like Wikipedia: anyone can create an account and edit its content. There also isn’t a whole tonne of content on here. That being said, this is a great site for those times you don’t understand a concept, and just need extra clarification

BookBoon

This site is almost completely lacking in Arts & Social Science books, but they still have a tonne of great textbooks. Everything in their “Textbook” section is free, thanks to their sponsors. And everything in their “Business” section has a small cost. From what I saw while poking around, they have a monthly fee you can pay to get all the business books you need for less than $5. That might be worth it for some people out there.

Free Book Spot

Now, I’m addicted to this site even though I’m not in school any more. The amount of textbooks they have on topics I had wanted to study in school but couldn’t find a class for is just huge! Just clicking on the “Sociology” section brought up three or four books on serial crimes (a major topic of research for) that I couldn’t find in the libraries in my city! This site is fantastic, and is definitely worth looking through if you want to find textbooks online.

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg has an online catalogue of more than 50,000 books. Most of them are not textbooks, but this is still a fantastic resource. I used this my final semester when looking for literature in a few English classes. Just bare careful, this site tends to be a huge time suck, trapping you in its clutches for hours while you look through lists of related books. Browse at your own risk!

eBookee

I find this site bizarre and can’t seem to close the tab it’s in right now. It has a real old-school look and feel to it. I haven’t found any useful textbooks on it yet, but I did find a whole bunch of books that I’ve heard of and possibly wanted to read at some point. This site may take a while to get used to before I can figure out just how useful it is.

Renting Your Textbooks

Now this is one thing I could never bring myself to do. I tended to be quite hard on my textbooks sometimes, and some sites have strict policies on damages and penalties. This is great is you don’t transport your books to class much, can keep them safe, and don’t mind not being able to write or highlight in your books.

  • Textbook Rentals has a huge selection, and categories that make it easier to find what you’re looking for. This is the first site I’ve seen with an easy to find Criminology section, which also had textbooks that I actually used.
  • Cheapest Textbooks is very easy to navigate if you have the book list in front of you. It also has options to buy or sell your books, and FAQ pages to help you figure out if renting or buying is the best option for you.
  • Book Renter seems to have a pretty big selection too, and has the same navigation options as Cheapest Textbooks, letting you search for books my name, author, or ISBN. The browsable categories at the bottom were really weird to move through, and didn’t have all the options I needed.

Second Hand/Used Textbooks

If you don’t want to give out credit card information online, or don’t have a credit card to purchase or rent your books with, then there are other ways you can still buy second hand textbooks.

  • Many schools have a used book store, or certain days when they have used book sales. Just make sure you are getting an edition of your textbook that you can use. Many people get rid of old textbooks after the professor has announced they are switching to a newer edition.
  • Facebook groups are awesome once you find the ones you’re looking for. I found three groups for people looking to buy and sell their textbooks. A lot of times, they even threw in their old notes, or had advice about the class or professor.
  • Online buy and sell sites like Kijiji often have people on them looking to sell their books. For some reason, I’ve always found that the books on there are more expensive than the other Used Textbook options.
  • Check with friends and classmates to see if they’re willing to part with their old books. Again, if they took the class before you, they may have some advice on how to get through it best. And it helps to know who you can go to when you need help understanding something, too.

Well, that’s all I can think of for now. Does anyone else have a great resource for saving money on textbooks? I love hearing from you all, sunshine!

Professional Wardrobe Basics for Women

After the first month of first year, no one dresses up for classes anymore. It’s all just sweats, jeans, sweatshirts, and anything comfortable you can get your hands on. So half of your wardrobe ended up being full of the most comfortable clothes you could find.

The other half of your wardrobe ended up being the more “speciality” stuff. You had your clothes for going out drinking with friends. You had your party clothes. You had your one nice outfit to wear to events with your family. There were dresses for formal events, dresses for sorority events, your one nice pair of dress pants for presentations and job interviews, costumes for Halloween and themed parties, a onesie to wear to sleepovers for girls night, and every free t-shirt you’d collected since starting school.

Now, from all of this, what can you wear in a professional setting?

Yes, you have your interview outfit. You may even have two or three office appropriate outfits you can wear. But what happens when you land an internship, or get an interview for a job you really want, or get a position in student government that requires formal meetings with officials from other schools? If you’re not prepared, you wind up making a mad dash to the mall, buying whatever you can find that will work, and usually spending way too much.

And even if you wind up avoiding all of this while you’re a student, what happens when you’re looking for a job after graduation? No matter if you’re applying to be a secretary, or a graduate student, or a pipe fitter, or a human resources manager, you need clothes for interviews and office settings.

So what are the basics you should grab?

Where To Spend

First off, look at what you will get the most use out of. It makes more sense to spend more on items that will last longer if they are things you can wear for years. A few pairs of good dress pants in black, grey, brown and/or navy blue will last you quite a while.

Blazers are another thing you can spend a bit more on. Stay away from anything too trendy (shoulder pads, giant glittery buttons, bright contrasting lapels, etc). If you want a trendy blazer, then buy it cheap or used. A good classic black blazer can make almost anything look professional.

Skirts are another thing you can spend a bit more on, if you buy classic pieces. I like to make sure I have one black pencil skirt, one grey pencil skirt, and a grey flared skirt in my closet.  Any other skirts, I get for cheap.

The last things you should really invest well in are your purse and your shoes. You need things that look put together, not trendy, and that will last. You don’t want to buy a cheap purse, only to have it fall apart in an interview a month later. The same goes for shoes. You need a few pairs (flats and heels), so don’t go too crazy spending on them. But don’t just buy the cheapest ones you can find either.

Basically, anything you will be spending a good chunk of money on needs to be something you can wear again and again. Don’t go out throwing money down on trendy pieces, bright colours, flashy things, or big jewellery. You want things that are classic, that pretty much anyone would wear. You want the basics. Pants, skirts, shoes, blazers, purse, all in neutral muted colours. This way, you’re not dropping money on new pants every few months, and you can mix pretty much anything with basics.

What To Save On

This is where you can have some fun with your look. I worked with a woman who always wore black or navy pants or skirts, but had on the brightest, most patterned blouses I’ve ever seen. It was easy enough for her to throw a cardigan or blazer over the blouse when she needed to tone down her look a bit, but she could also be as bright and shiny as she wanted to.

Blouses and shirts are the first thing you can skimp on and still look damn good. Styles change every year anyway, so it’s best not to spend too much on these items. Just don’t go too out-there, and know your audience. If you’re still applying for jobs and need interview clothes, tone it down a bit. You’ll need a basic white blouse, maybe a black one, and then get some colour that isn’t too loud. I like to stick with jewel-tones (deep purples, burgundy, deep blues, reds…… anything that looks like it could be found on an antique crown).

If you already have a job, or have been hired somewhere, take a look at what everyone else is wearing. You can still look like you, but you need to fit in a bit here too. If the office is more conservative, then tone down the brightness and patterns. Pinstripes are always a safe bet, as is argyle. If your office has a more relaxed vibe to it, then you can start breaking out the plaids, polka-dots, stripes, and more abstract prints.

Another thing you should skimp on a bit is cardigans. This is only because you can never have too many of them! I just did my annual closet cleaning for charity, and thanks to a combination of weight loss, garment damage, and things just being so out of style they can’t be worn in public anymore, I am down to just two cardigans: a roomy grey one, and a more fitted green argyle one.  So on my list (thankfully it’s near Christmas, and we just got a brand new Forever 21 in our local mall, so I can wait until my Christmas gift cards come in) are cardigans in black, grey, burgundy, bright red, and brown. I like to have one for every day of the week, and for every occasion.

And you should always try to save money on anything that goes under your clothes, but over your undergarments. Who needs to spend $80 on a pair of pantyhose? You and I both know they will last maybe a month, if you’re careful, before they rip and run. I found it’s always better to grab pantyhose at the drug store, where they’re not so cheap that they’re super poor quality, but they’re not so fancy that they cost you more than any other part of your outfit. Any sort of under-shirt, tank-top, camisole, or t-shirt that you wear under your blouse or sweater is the same. Unless it’s going to be seen by everyone, don’t spend a lot on it. I always wear a tank top under my blouse, just in case of buttons popping off. I also found a great place that sells tank tops for $3.50 each.

How To Save

This is where planning early comes into play. You need to keep your eye out at all times, but not in an obsessive sort of way. When you’re at the mall, check out stores that sell office attire. There is usually a clearance or sale section somewhere in the back. It’s always a good idea to check back there, see if there’s anything you need. I found a fantastic red dress that reminds me of Mad Men on clearance two years ago, that I still have and love. At 75% off, it was a steal! I like to throw a black cardigan over it, some black tights or pantyhose under it, and cute t-strap heels with it. Pearls (fake ones, of course) can dress up the look, a simple silver necklace with tiny hoops dresses it down, and my red and green bells makes it festive enough for an office Holiday Party!

It’s also good to check places often, like every time you’re at the mall. Let the employees there get to know you. And clearance sections are just the “what’s left” things in the store, so it’s often hard to find things in my size. Checking back often means there’s more of a chance of me finding something as it’s going into that section and there’s still some in my size, as opposed to me finding a rack full of things I can’t fit into but wish I could.

Another place to check out often is the nearest thrift stores and second-hand shops. People give away things that don’t fit them, that just need a little care (sew a seam or button), don’t fit their needs, or they just don’t wear. You can find some high quality pants and skirts there, if you just look. My favourite pair of dress pants are my grey pinstriped ones from Value Village, that were only $3 because the hem fell out of one pant leg!

Find Your Style

I never understood Pinterest until I had to work on my professional wardrobe. Need to know what’s in style? Need to know what to do with a cardigan? Want to wear polka-dots but don’t know how? Just look it up on there! I looked through my closet, found the styles and colours I gravitate to most, and then started looking them up on Pinterest. I have something like 130 pins in my Dream Closet board, most of it being work attire.

Women’s magazines, websites, fashion blogs…. the list of places to find a little inspiration for your style are seemingly endless. It’s all just a matter of finding what works best for you, sunshine.

A Crash Course in Credit

I once knew a woman, a very smart woman, who got a credit card her first month of University. The credit card people were set up with with a booth in the student centre during all the welcome week activities, during clubs week, and randomly throughout that first entire semester. They had a cute little spiel ready for students, telling them that now that they’re adults they need to learn how to spend like adults. They didn’t ask these students if they had a credit card already, or if they knew how to use credit. They didn’t explain interest rates, or cash back fees, or penalty fees. And they apparently didn’t explain how payments work, either.

Later that year, while hanging out with this woman in the library, her phone rang and she ignored it. She seemed to be ignoring calls quite regularly, actually, so I asked her about it.

“Oh, it’s just the collection agency again. I told them I don’t owe them anything, so they should stop calling, but they don’t.”

After asking her a few dozen times over the next week, she finally told me why they were calling, and why she claimed she didn’t owe them anything.

“I had a credit card, and it got maxed out. But I don’t have the card any more, so I don’t have to pay it. They said that when I got it. It’s not my responsibility, and they can’t keep harassing me.”

Was it stolen? Lost? No, it seems that when she had maxed the card out, she then cut it up and destroyed it. Now, when she had signed up for the card, they had told her that if any charges were made and she didn’t have the card, then she wouldn’t be responsible for any charges made. Of course, they meant that if the card was stolen, and someone else used it, she wouldn’t have to pay for what they bought. That’s not the way she understood it, though, and she never read her paperwork for clarification. She honestly thought that she didn’t owe any money to the credit card people (or the people at collections) because she cut up the card. And no amount of trying to explain that credit card companies do not make money by giving away free money would convince her otherwise.

So here she was, just a year into her post-secondary education, with student loans already mounting, and her credit already being ruined because of this one credit card.

So, how do you avoid this? Well, I may be both the first AND the last person you would ever want financial advice from. I didn’t read my paperwork when I got my student loans, I don’t make enough at my job to pay my rent AND buy groceries, so groceries have been going on a credit card that is almost maxed out. I have multiple cards, with balances, AND a line of credit to help me pay them all off. Basically, I’m financially screwed right now. I also know exactly what I did wrong, and when, and can point out every single mistake I made so that others can avoid them.

So, with that in mind…..

Know Your Interest Rates

There are no interest-free cards out there. Every card has an interest rate, and most start out around 19.99%. That means that, for every purchase you make on your card that you do not pay in full at the end of your billing cycle, you will wind up paying an extra 20% on that purchase. So those jeans you just had to have because they were 30% off? If you don’t pay them off in full at the end of the month, they were only 10% off. And if you don’t pay them off by the end of the NEXT month, you paid an extra 10% on them.

For every purchase you make, you wind up paying interest if you don’t pay off your card in full at the end of your billing cycle. And if you keep carrying a balance, you keep gaining interest. That initial $100 purchase gained $20 after the first month, bringing it up to $120. Now the 19.99% interest is being charged on the $120. So now you’re paying $23.99 in interest that month, making your bill $143.99.  The next month the interest goes up to $28.78, brining your total owed up to $172.77. See how the amount goes up every month? Every time you don’t pay your credit card bill in full, the amount you owe goes up. And then the interest is paid on the total amount you OWE, not the total amount you SPENT. You may have only spent $100, but three months later you’re owing more than $170 because of interest charges.

Fees, Charges, and Penalties

Some cards have an annual fee attached to them. At the moment, I have a card with an unusually high credit limit, which I carry a pretty high balance on. I pay an annual fee of $25 in order to get a lower interest rate (11.99%, as opposed to the 21.99% the card had before). This annual fee means I save roughly $100 a month in interest fees per $1000 in balance on the card. Since this card carries a high balance, which I cannot pay off very quickly, the annual fee makes sense. If I were to be carrying no balance on the card, or a balance so small that the saved interest did not matter, then paying a fee wouldn’t make any sense. So check to see if any card you’re looking into has any sort of annual fee.

Some cards have fees or charges that differ depending on how you use them. A card might have an interest rate of 19.99% for any credit card purchases, but 23.99% for any cash advances. I didn’t know there was a different interest rate just for cash advances in my first year of university, and took out quite a few one semester when my cash flow ran dry. Looking back, that was a completely stupid idea.

There can also be penalties your credit card company will hand down for things like late payments, short payments, or no payments at all. Want a little more incentive to pay your bills on time every month, other than the threat of financial penalties? How about lower interest rates, better loan prospects, high credit ratings, and a much more understanding bank? I was able to get my card switched to a lower rate with an annual fee because, even when money is ridiculously tight, I make sure I make my payments on time every single month. Banks and credit card companies like to reward things like that.

You NEED Good Credit!!!

Credit cards count as “bad credit” when you have your finances assessed. If you carry a lot of credit card debt, don’t make payments, or have things wind up in collections (your credit card company sells your debt to another company, they harass you until you pay everything off, and you get massive black marks on your credit report for years), your entire credit score is effected. Now, I don’t know much about how to read or assess credit scores. I had it explained to me once, but right now I’m too scared to get my credit report. Between the credit cards, line of credit, student loans, and my extremely low income, it can’t be too wonderful. I know it won’t be too awful either, though. My student loan is read as a different type of credit as my cards, and I’ve always been on time with my payments, which are all good things. But right now, with my debt, I can never buy a home, or get an auto loan, or a small business loan.

Every little bit of credit you get affects your credit score, which affects how much money banks will be willing to lend you. With a good score, you can buy a house with a decent interest rate, maybe buy a nice car too. With my credit, I might be able to buy a house in a few years, but my interest rate on the mortgage will be pretty high. And for my friend who just cut up her card, she let things get so bad that she can’t even get a mortgage at all now!

Rewards Cards

I got an American Express just because I can collect Airmiles with it. I only use it places where I can already collect Airmiles with my Airmiles card, so I wind up getting double the Airmiles. I’m a very active points collector, though. I save up Airmiles to spend on their website on things I really want, like an expensive straightening iron or a big fancy mixer for the kitchen. I collect Optimum points from Shoppers Drug Mart in an almost obsessive manner. I have almost 3 times the maximum points level right now, and just keep saving. I know that in January, my hours at work will be cut drastically, so I use the points then to buy things I need but can’t afford. I also have a credit cards that collects Optimum points as well.

If you know you will be paying off the card, then go ahead an get a rewards card. Just make sure it’s for something you will actually use. Why collect flight miles if you don’t fly?

 

So that’s just a bit of what I’ve learned over the years, from screwing up my own financial situation so badly. I hope it helps you out, so you don’t wind up like me, sunshine.

Eating on the Run – Snacks vs. Fast Food

I work in a small plaza near the few more small plazas. Normally, my schedule allows me to plan meals around my shifts, so I can eat before and after work. During our busier times though (summer, holidays, any time families are forced to spend time together and therefore drink), my schedule can get a bit hectic. There have been times where I have planned to be there for a 4 hour day shift, only to have it changed to an 8 hour day and closing shift once I get there. Or I’ll have a day off, and get called in at the last minute, meaning I have no time to eat.

In the beginning, I’d just grab something to eat on my breaks. I’d run to Wendy’s and grab a combo, or to Timmie’s for doughnuts. Over time, though, that got expensive. And the amount of money I was spending on last minute food was just ridiculous! At anywhere from $5-$9 for a combo, 2-3 times a week…….. and this is when my monthly food budget was less than $150. I was spending most of my budget on junk that made me feel like crap, made me sluggish at work, and just made me feel tired all the time.

For a little while, I started going to the grocery store in our plaza on my lunch break. I could grab a bag of salad, some bread and peanut butter, and a soda or energy drink if I needed it. Still, though, it was starting to add up. I always have salad fixings in my fridge anyway, so spending $2-$3 for a bag of salad just to eat at work didn’t make much sense. I regularly buy bagged salads anyway, and just add more stuff to them to make them in to gigantic monster salads (spinach, cucumbers, peppers, and alfalfa sprouts are great in a Caeser salad, btw). Having a whole bag just for work seemed…….. wasteful. And I couldn’t just keep my bread at work. Even if I was called in or had my shift extended three days a week, that loaf of bread would go mouldy before I was finished it.

So what can you do when you have an erratic schedule? Or a schedule where there are no real breaks? This is a huge problem for both students and young professionals these days. With the every increasing demands on our time, many people just don’t have time to eat a real meal, or go home for dinner, or have any meals at home some days. Sometimes, it’s not even a whole meal you want. Some days, all you need are a few snacks to get you through the day until you can get home to your kitchen (and your box of wine, if you’re like me).

Fast food and convenience store are, well, convenient for this. The 7-11 off campus was like a second home to me, even after I got my first degree. In addition to the regular convenience store fare (chips, cookies, soda/pop, energy drinks), they also have the grill and hot counter, and a small ready-made section. I could go there for a breakfast sandwich and coffee in the morning, a salad and wrap and coffee for lunch, an afternoon coffee or two (I really love their coffee for some reason), and then grab hot dogs, taquitos, chicken wings, potato wedges, or even a pepperoni pizza for dinner. No one can live like this every day though. Aside from the very obvious strain on your wallet (that day is close to a $30 day just at 7-11), there’s strain on your body. Even getting what looks like a healthy wrap or salad somewhere like this, there is so much extra stuff thrown in there that brings up the not-totally-healthy quota. My usual salad from there is a Caesar salad, which comes with hardboiled eggs, crumbled bacon, a large package of dressing, chicken strips, and grated cheese. There is no way I would put ALL of that on a salad at home!  Don’t get me wrong, I love their food. But after eating enough of it, I just feel sluggish and blah. I can’t concentrate after a few chili-cheese Big Bite hot dogs, and I just want to nap. Not exactly what you want to feel like on a busy day.

So, I started keeping snack-type foods at home. Before leaving for a day shift, or a class, or a meeting that everyone swears will only take half an hour, I throw a few snacks in my bag. That way, if my day goes longer than I had planned, I’m still prepared and won’t be tempted to shove a whole bacon and mushroom pizza into my gluttonous face-hole. When I first started doing this, I had no clue what to bring with me. I tried bringing salads (too bulky), chips (too easily crushed), or leftovers from last night’s dinner (too stinky or needs to be reheated). But I didn’t always need my emergency foods. Sometimes, a 5 hour day shift just stays as a five hour day shift. So, I’ve found some foods I can easily pack, keep in my locker or fridge at work, or even just keep around the house to grab when I’m about to run out the door. Now, everyone’s own choices will differ according to taste, allergies, and budgets. But here’s some suggestions of things you can easily throw in your bag. And remember, you can mix it up each day. Keep a few of these at home, and grab a different combination every time.

  • Fresh fruit. Aside from apples and the occasional summer watermelon, I’m not a big fan of fruit.But for those of you who are, this is a great choice you can keep with you. Apples, oranges, and bananas are the basics that every one of us probably had thrown in our lunchboxes as kids. Expand you palate, see what’s on sale, be a little adventurous. Pear, mangoes, pomegranates, and peaches are great and healthy choices, and tend to go on sale when they’re in season. And that’s a big key to staying in your budget: buy what’s in season!
  • Veggies are another great option. I like to make a bunch of celery and carrot sticks on Sundays, and then portion them out into snack sized zipper lock bags (you can get boxes of these at the dollar store). I keep a jar of peanut butter at work, and can just dip my celery in there for a treat. Peppers and cucumbers are another go-to for me too, but these are softer and usually require a small Tupperware container, which takes up more space.
  • Granola bars, snack bars, energy bars, protein bars…… I’m a big fan of bars. I bought a box of 30 protein bars at Costco once (after reading the labels on every single freaking box there. I’m a nightmare to shop with sometimes), and I love one of these on stock days at work. Just be sure to check the nutritional information from time to time. Some of these bars are just chocolate coated sugar. I’ve actually found some that are nutritiously worse than some candy bars. And some so-called “protein bars” have less protein than a no-name granola bar, but at three times the price! So shop carefully when it comes to these.
  • Individual soup packets. I love my Cup-a-Soup! I keep a large travel mug at work, just for a nice package of vegetable soup after a long walk in to work in the snow. These do require you to have something to put the soup in, and a way to heat the water, so they’re not ideal for everyone. Another option, if you have access to hot water, are those soup cups. They’re basically Styrofoam cups or bowls with noodles and soup mix in them. These are good too, have a lot of flavour options, but the sodium content on most of these is just ridiculous. So if you’re someone who gets sleepy or sluggish after a salty meal, or have health issues that require a low-sodium diet, be careful with these.
  • Cheese strings!! Or those little mini cheese wheels that come in the waxy covering. Or the Laughing Cow cheeses. Or those little individually wrapped mini cheese blocks. Actually, any cheese can work for this. I always keep cheese strings in my fridges at home and at work. If I run low before my next grocery trip, some sliced marble cheese in a zipper lock bag works great too. Just don’t forget these in your bag for too long, especially if you’re in warmer temperatures. Nothing sucks more than reaching your hand into your bag, and pulling it out covered in melted cheese.

These are just a few things we keep at my house, that I would recommend. They are convenient, usually cheap, and can be found in most grocery stores. And there’s many other options out there that I haven’t mentioned here. If you’re lucky enough to be near a grocery store that has an “International” aisle, or even a small international grocers, they seem to keep many different items that are great for throwing in your bag on a busy day. I’ve found a whole new world of ramen noodles (not just your basic Mr. Noodle), and have even started experimenting with ramen soup recipes a friend got from her parents when she went home to Vietnam for a visit.

So, what are some of your favourite convenience items? Have any recommendations you’d like to share with us? Leave a comment, let me know what you like to snack on when your day just doesn’t have enough hours for three square meals. I’m always looking for new foods to try!

Stocking Your Kitchen, Dollar Store Style

It was a joke in my house that I would finally be ready to move out once I had a good cheese grater. I tend to put cheese on  pretty much everything I can. So I figured that once I had that grater, I was good to go. I mean, of course there are other things that are important in a kitchen (like stuff to cook with or eat off of), but I was going to be sharing a house with other people. I’d probably never need to buy any of that stuff!

Oh, how very very wrong I was. While yes, I did have my trusty cheese grater,  I don’t own plates (long story there). I do have wine and Martini glasses, and some Batman cups, but no real drinking glasses. And sometimes, my roommates would be in the same boat as me. Many times in the last 7 years, my roommates and I ended up at the mall, standing in a kitchenware store. Now, this is one of my favourite store today (it has these cocktail shakers with drink recipes right on there, so I can pretend to be fancy and make a Martini), but it was terrifying back then. $25 cutting boards? $150 knife sets? $125 for an ugly dish set?!?! How the hell is a person supposed to afford to actually use their damn kitchen?

Dollar stores, that’s how!
Now, not everything you need for the kitchen can be found there. I mean, you’re not going to find a giant stand-up mixer and food processor there (that’s what kijiji and Facebook buy-sell groups are for). But there are a tonne of things I never thought to go looking for there, that are actually quite awesome, especially for those of us on very tight budgets.

Diningware

Plates, bowls, cutlery, things to drink out of……….. these things are pretty much essential to every kitchen. Most good dollar stores will have plates either for a dollar, or two for a dollar. Same goes for drinkware. Some places I’ve been to have had sets of cutlery for a dollar, meaning you can possibly get four of one thing (forks, knives, spoons) or one of each for that price. Getting a “dining set” (bowls, plates, cutlery, drinking glasses, all X4) can cost more than $100 in some stores. At a dollar store, you can get all of this for as little as $10.

And don’t forget those little extras. Many stores sell cheap steak knives, wine glasses, Martini glasses, fancy looking drinkware, and anything you can take on a picnic or use outdoors (ie, stuff that won’t break if you drop it, which is essential to have if you have random people using your stuff all the time). As a connoiseur of cheap and boxed wines, have a few wine glasses in the cupboard is an essential to me. I also like to have two martini glasses, for the odd martini or Cosmopolitan (there are some great pre-mixed virgin versions out there. Sometimes, while writing, I like to pour one and pretend I’m some fancy, pretentious writer whose penning what they believe is the next On The Road).

And yes, that non-breakable stuff IS essential. Do you ever plan on having friends over? Throw a small dinner party or BBQ? Don’t want to serve everything on paper plates? I keep about 10 blue plastic plates in the cupboard, for when we have guests here. They all match (so it looks like a real set), they’re sturdy, and if someone drops something there is no sharp glass or ceramic to clean up. These are also great when you have the one friend who is a spilly drunk (we all have one), and they insist on pre-gaming with you, or watching the Oscars with you, or helping you through a bad break-up. These are not the times when you need to be worrying about digging glass out of the soles of peoples’ feet. Having a non-breakable option that you can both use (as not to single them out or make them feel weird) is perfect for these times.

Cooking Basics

Why the hell anyone would ever spend $25 on a measuring cup is beyond me. I mean, it’s a cup that measures things. You can get measuring cups in all sizes at dollar stores. Same goes for measuring spoons. There are basic ones, some with pretty designs, and even some that are part of a larger set of kitchenware. For the last few years, I’ve been helping my parents collect the Betty Crocker collection from Dollarama (they have a thing for red appliances and utensils). They have every size and shape of spatula, mixing spoon, ladle, and those weird slotted spoon things with tines on the side that you use to serve spaghetti.

Need a can opener? Dollar store! Vegetable peeler? Dollar store! One of those screens you put over a pan so you can cook bacon without grease flying everywhere? Dollar store! Just in the last year I’ve bought strainers, knives, canisters, large serving bowls, mixing bowls, and tupperware there. Like to bake? They have baking accessories too!

And for those of you who like to make holiday-specific foods, this place is amazing for that. For Valentines Day, they bust out the heart shape baking pans and cupcake pans. Christmas time is great for cookie cutters and cake pans. And every single holiday somehow has cupcake wrappers and little toothpick things to decorate them with. Why spend a small fortune at some craft store getting baking supplies when you can get them for a fraction of the price at the dollar store. This is also a huge help to anyone who ever gets roped in to doing the obligatory bake sale fundraisers in your school’s student centres.

Groceries

I have a thing for rice crackers. No clue why, they’re just amazing to me. But they’re like $3.50 a package at the nearest grocery store. They’re only $1 at the dollar store next to my work though. And it’s not just snack foods they have there. I’ll pick up canned goods, boxed meals (like off-brand tuna helper or hamburger helper), macaroni and cheese, and even Rice-a-Roni. A can of peas, can of corn, some boxed tuna casserole, a can of tuna……. less than $5 gets you the basics for a meal (just add milk to make the boxed meal). It may not always be the healthiest meals you can make, but you can feed yourself on dollar store groceries.

You don’t have to feed yourself entirely on dollar store foods, but their groceries can seriously help stretch you budget. There are three dollar stores within a short walk of my house (well, discount stores, but most things are around $1. Hell, even Dollarama doesn’t sell everything for $1 these days!). At one, I can load up on cheap spices, boxed meals, and rice crackers. Another has a great canned good section, and cheap candy (I like to keep emergency chocolate bars in the freezer). And the little family owned place near campus is great for a very diverse selection of boxed foods and spices. The owners are from Bangladesh, and like to keep affordable Asian foods on their shelves for students. I can get tandoori spice, powdered chow mein mix, canned hummus, and a whole line of Indian-inspired boxed rice and noodle mixes.

Of course, you should always compare prices before settling on dollar store foods. While the stores near me can’t be beat when it comes to mac’n’cheese and canned mushrooms, bread and noodle mixed (like Sidekicks) are sometimes cheaper at the grocery store just down the plaza.

In The End

Are there things you can’t get at the dollar store that you will need for a kitchen. Definitely. Most of them can be found at discount stores, liquidation stores, or online (try sites like Kijiji, or search for buy and sell groups in your area on Facebook).  Toasters, coffee pots, microwaves, toaster ovens, and any other small appliances can always be bought on sale somewhere. But for the bulk of your kitchen, you can get what you need for very little money.

Now, at times you may need to get a little creative in your buying and usages. You may wind up with mismatched place settings, or a set of serving bowls all in neon orange plastic. But, you can also get creative with your cooking. You can take regular recipes and switch out ingredients for cheaper ones sometimes. And expensive looking chicken dish could actually be made with clearance and discount products. I do this quite regularly, and hope to teach you some of my favourite swaps. Also, while I try things out, I may take you along on my culinary experiments to see how things work out for me. (Warning: it doesn’t always work out well. That’s why they’re just experiments and not masterpieces.)