The Goal Setting Challenge

Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend has quite a bit of debt. Not as much as me (thanks Student Loans!!), but still quite a bit. When he moved in with me the beginning of the month, we agreed that I would handle all of the finances. Because you know, Criminology majors are known for their fancial prowress??

Considering how much debt I have (but how much effort I’ve put into making all my bill payments and paying some things off in the last few years), this is pretty much like the extremely near sighted leading the blind.  So, I’ve started to do what any responsible failed grown up would do: I’m marathoning Princess and anything else Gail Vaz Oxlade has put out on TV. I’ve got my little pad of paper here, taking notes on things she recommends to help people realize how much debt they’re in, and how they can get out of it.

A lot of it is simple: make a budget, get your credit report, have a resume. I’m good at these things. I’ve been working on a budget with AAB, and am pulling out old resume templates to show him the info I need to put a resume together for him. I even found where we can get our credit reports and scores, and am working on that for both of us.

The one challenge that always  stumps me, though, is the Goal Setting Challenge. The challenge itself is quite simple. Gail has the girls look at their life, and what they are doing to earn money. Quite a few of them have started and dropped out of a few different college programs, some are working the bare minimum amount of hours they can, and others just have absolutely no direction in their lives. So Gail has them sit down and look at what they want for a career, and how to set goals to achieve this. Some of them get to try out a career, others get a kick in the butt to go out and get a new job, and a few have gone on to get the requirements needed to advance in their current jobs.

That is where I get completely lost.

You see, since my goals and dreams fell apart years ago (THAT’S a long story for another day!) I’ve had one hell of a time trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing with my life. That’s pretty much step one of setting a goal for this challenge: knowing what the hell your goal is!

I’ve been putting myself out there with resumes, but as time goes by since graduation it seems like I’m getting fewer and fewer responses. I have no clue what it is I want to do with my life if I could have a dream job. And even if I could figure that out, I have no clue how I could afford to go out and get qualified for anything. The career I’m in at the moment has absolutely no way for me to work harder towards advancement, because about 95% of all upward mobility is based on seniority (and I’m near the bottom of the bunch for that).

So what the hell do I do?

This is something I’ve been looking at for myself a lot lately, Sunshine. Basically, I’m a Lost Girl. As fun as that title makes it sound, it’s not all rooster crows and Bangarang here. I’m looking at having no career, no direction, and no purpose in life. It’s damn scary!

So, you’ll see a bit more from me about this whole goal setting thing while I try ot figure out how to make it work for me. And maybe soon, I’ll tell you about that whole “I had a career in mind and worked towards it, only for it to completely fall out from under me, leaving me kinda dangling here wondering what the hell I’m going to do with my life” story.

Maybe.

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!

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!

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.

Tuna and Mushroom Potato Top Pie

This is yet another cheap, filling recipe you can make that is perfect for the cold weather coming up. And on top of being a fantastic recipe, I took this one from a fantastic blog, Bits of Taste. This is one of my go-to blogs when looking for something new to try in the kitchen, or a little inspiration before going grocery shopping. And the best part of all is that most of these recipes are pretty simple. This isn’t some Gordon Ramsay-type foods, where you have to plate it all perfect and there’s someone screaming expletives in your ear (although that does almost sound fun to me). This is some good, filling food with clear, easy to follow instructions.

Now, I’m a big fan of casseroles and pie. Basically, if I can throw it all in a baking pan, let it cook while I blog and clean, and then call it dinner, then it works for me. My current boyfriend is always amazed at how I can take seemingly any random things out of our fridge, and turn it into some delicious creation. The secret it to mix together foods that you would already serve together. For those of you who are just starting out with your own culinary creations, or who could just never out together a casserole or dinner pie on the fly, this recipe is a great start.

So, here’s your recipe.

Serves: 4
Ingredients A:
3 large US Potaotes, washed & peeled
1 tbsp Butter
1/2 cup Milk (I used full cream milk)

Ingredients B:
1/2 cup Fresh White Button, chopped coarsely or sliced
1 Onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
2 sprigs Curry leaves, removed stem
2 cups Tuna (use canned tuna chunks in sunflower oil)
Salt & black pepper to taste
2 tbsps Lime juice
2 tbsp shredded Cheddar cheese
4 medium-sized Oven-proof bowls

Methods:
1. Preheat oven at 300ºF.
2. Peel and wash potatoes, cut into small chunks. Bring water to a boil. Add in a pinch of salt & potatoes. Make sure the water cover the potatoes.
3. Boil potatoes until soft. Drain. Mash hot potatoes with butter & milk. Set aside.
4. Heat up oil in a frying pan over medium-high fire. Brown onions for one minute, add in garlic and curry leaves. Fry another minute.
5. Add in mushroom and saute until fragrant. Add the tuna and toss well. Sprinkle some salt & black pepper according to your taste. Off fire. Stir in lime juice and mix well.
6. Spoon tuna mixture into 4 medium-sized oven-proof bowls. Press mixture into the bowls with the back of a spoon.
7. Top with mashed potato and use the back of the spoon to smoothen the surface. Use a fork to make patterns on the top of the mashed potato.
8. Sprinkle cheddar cheese over and add a sprinkling of black pepper.
9. Place in the oven and bake for 15 mins at 400ºF or until the top is golden brown. Do not over baked.

Now, a few tips:

  • You can get canned mushrooms for this recipe too. Usually, I recommend getting canned if that’s what’s easiest for you. BUT, if your regular grocery store sells individual mushrooms that you bag up and buy like that, go for it for this recipe! When they’re fresh, they absorb the flavours a bit more. In a pinch, though, canned with still work. They’ll just be a little blander tasting, but won’t affect the recipe much over-all.
  • If you don’t have fresh potatoes at home, or have physical limitations that prevent you from mashing them by hand, grab a box of instant mashed potatoes. I got a box at the dollar store a few weeks ago, and have used it three times already. Since you’re not making the whole box at once, as long as you seal it up tight it will last a few weeks.
  • If you don’t have fresh garlic or onions, feel free to use dried or powdered versions.
  • In some places, canned tuna can get expensive. I was lucky enough to get a package of 12 cans for $8 at Costco a few months ago, and have been using those. You can always use less tuna and more fillers (mushrooms and a little bit of the potatoes) to save money.
  • Another great option is other canned meats. The nearest dollar store to here sells canned ham, salmon, turkey, crab, and chicken. And our local Metro sells these too, in slightly larger cans. Most of these are quite affordable (for canned meats). And you can always try Spam, if your heart so desires. While I’m not a big fan of Spam unless it’s in a Monty Python sketch, my mother swears it is one of the greatest foods ever artificially invented in a lab.
  • And you don’t need to separate this recipe into a bunch of different pans. If you want to make one big pie, go for it. If you want to make a bunch of smaller pies, then do that. If you want to put little bits of this into muffin tins and make tiny little muffin-pies, then you do that. Basically, cook this up whatever way you want. After all, that’s how you get comfortable in the kitchen and make a dish really yours.
  • If you want a little added flavour, try sprinkling some cheap spices on top of the potatoes before you bake everything. For this, I’d probably use garlic powder (since there’s already garlic in there), or paprika (because for some reason, I put that on almost everything I try to bake that isn’t a cake).

So there you go, another yummy experiment to try out. Now go have a bit of fun with this, 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!

Roommates From Hell: How To Pay Rent

So yesterday, I walked you through some of the stuff you will most likely find in your lease. There was one thing I didn’t mention though, and that’s how to pay your rent.

Now, in our house, the actual home-owners live in another country. They bought this house while their son John was a student here, and their son still lives here now. Both he and his dad are members of the Armed Forces, and can have some pretty erratic schedules because of this. Last fall, John went away for a 10 week training program to complete his basic training for the Reserves. Now, when he is here, he is the acting landlord. It is his responsibility to collect rent, maintain the yard, keep things generally in order, and deal with all of the other tenants. When he left, he didn’t really appoint anyone to do his job. I offered to collect rent from our two newest tenants in the basement, if they had any problems with the options for payment provided in the lease.

Really wish I hadn’t offered that.

Now, our lease is perfectly clear on how we can pay our rent, and actually gives us a few options. Since the actual landlord can’t be here to personally collect rent, he gave us three banking options. One was to write a series of post-dated checks and give them to him. This way, the money could always come out on the date on the check. The second way was to go to the bank (not very far from here), and deposit the money directly to the house’s bank account. He gave the account number and detailed instructions on how to do this. The last option was to use online banking to pay either him or John. With all three of these options, the tenant automatically gets some sort of rent receipt (cancelled check, receipt from the bank deposit, or the printable email confirmation of rent being received).

Now, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumbass downstairs couldn’t quite grasp any of this. They insisted on paying their rent in cash, in person, to John every month. Pretty tough to do when John’s gone, right? So before he left, he told them the three options they have, and that they could talk to me if they had any problems. Then I wrote a note, detailing the three options, and put it on the fridge where they could see it. And, coming up on the first of the month, I reminded them of their three options.

First of the month, I wasn’t at home. We had a family crisis at the moment, and I was bedside at the local hospice. Again, I left a note and talked to the Tweedles, saying rent needed to be paid and I wouldn’t be around much for a little while. Instead of doing the sensible thing and paying their rent the way they’re freakin supposed to, they took a fit when I didn’t drop everything to personally collect their money from them. One guy actually pouted, and they gave me hell when I got home.

But wait, it gets better.

Remember how I said the options given automatically give a rent receipt? Well that’s no accident. The landlord chose those options so that when John was not here to collect the rent, the tenants would still be able to have some sort of receipt on demand. This was explained to the guys when they moved in. Yes, John had formal receipts that he could print out and sign if someone wanted them for tax purposes. But for the month-to-month workings of the house, if you wanted a receipt then you had to pay according to the lease.

When the first of the following month was approaching, and my family crisis was over, I approached the Tweedles in the kitchen and reminded them about November’s rent. I thought I would just point out how to pay, remind them to pay on-time. You know, how things should work. Well Tweedle-Dumbass flipped out! Since he paid in cash and I deposited said cash, he did not have a rent receipt from the past month. Apparently he needed one to show his father, who was helping him out financially. I explained to him again that he would have had his receipt if he had paid according to the lease, but that didn’t help. The little turd actually puffed out his chest, flexed his arms, and started crowding my personal space, claiming he was going to have his father call me to get a receipt. Turns out, he somehow wanted me to print out a receipt, and for John to somehow sign it from his military training more than 8 hours away. Logical, isn’t it?

I explained again that if he had paid according to the lease, he would have the receipt, but that did nothing. I told him to read the lease, read all his documents, and then we could try to work something out. I even offered to talk to his father to explain the situation. Well, it turns out the Tweedles never read their lease, and had no clue who the landlord was. Somehow they thought that I, another tenant of the house, was their landlord. I never said anything to them to make them think this, I wasn’t the one who toured the house with them, I wasn’t the one who had them sign the lease, and I wasn’t the one they gave their first month’s rent and security deposit to. Still, they somehow thought that, since John wasn’t here that somehow made me their landlord.

I explained to them again that 1) I rent a room here; 2) John’s parents own this place; 3) John is the acting landlord; and 4) they were already told to pay the rent one of three ways so that they could have receipts in events like this. I then explained further, going into detail about the benefits of each payment method. When I said that post-dated checks meant that rent was always paid on the first, Tweedle-Dee took his turn to flip out at me. He started yelling at me, claiming I was somehow implying that they were going to skip out on rent, or be late with payments, or try to jerk us around to get their rent. In the end, I gave up on talking to them, and messaged both the owner and their good friend across the street. They agreed that the friend would take their payments if they insisted on paying cash, so that they would have no reason flip out on me anymore.

Funnily enough, the first of the month came and went with no sign of Tweedle-Dee. It seems he went to a Halloween party, then downtown to the bars, then to a friend’s house, and didn’t come back until the 4th. When I reminded him that the neighbour still needed rent from him, he acted like I was a nagging parent forcing him to clean his room on a nice day. He stomped his feet, pouted, and actually said “I’ll pay it when I pay it”.

Damn, I really don’t miss those two!