Tuesday, January 31, 2012

February Challenge

On the heels of my 95% sucessful No Spend Week challenge that wrapped up on Saturday, I decided that I'd throw a new challenge into the mix for the month of February.

Beginning tomorrow I will pledge not to spend any money during the week.  Weekends I will do my grocery shopping and meal preparation/planning for the week, I'll fill up on gas, and I'll make plans with friends that involve spending money.

I still have enough Scene points for 2 free movies, and can always ask a friend over for dinner if something comes up during the week.  I'm also coupling no spending during the week with occupying my evenings at the gym, so that will help with the boredom shopping!

What goals have you set for the month of February?

Monday, January 30, 2012

So Close!

Last Sunday I began my No Spend Week and crossed my fingers that I could make it -- I tend to shop out of boredom, so come Saturday morning I was thrilled that I'd made it 6 entire days of not spending a penny.

Saturday afternoon I went with a colleague to see The Descendants (we both really liked it) and even brought my own snacks, apple slices, to fend off the temptation of buying treats.  I had enough Scene points for a free movie, so there was no cost involved.

Then, I decided that I'd check out Home Sense for a white ceramic vase to replace the one I'd shattered during the move.  I had a gift card with what I thought was about $48 on it.  Turns out, there wasn't $48, instead there was about $10 left -- I can't for the life of me remember what I'd bought using the card between Christmas and this weekend, but I'm sure I did.  So, when the cashier let me know that I still owed about $20 I debated cancelling the order and having her refund the $10 back on the gift card, or paying the $20, knowing that I didn't make it through the entire 7 days.

I paid the $20.  I'd have gone back to the store the next day to get the replacement vase anyways, and I was already happy with my 6 entire days....lesson learned: check the balance of your gift card before assuming what's left on it!

Tomorrow I'll post about my financial challenge for February!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Job Analysis

I am jumping on the bandwagon, following From Shopping to Saving's job analysis post (I've really enjoyed reading so many others)!

1. Salary - I currently make $40,000 + Pension Matching equivalent to $2,000 per year with benefits and parking.  This is a BIG difference from what I was making 2 years ago, however I knew that coming out of my dream job, I'd be making much less.

2. Job Duties - I work in Communications, so my main tasks each day are working on media releases, our quarterly newsletter, maintaining our website, and keeping current on Facebook and Twitter.  I was thrown into the job right away, needing to write a media release within the first couple of days on the job, and I was so thankful to have gotten into a job where things are always evolving.

3.  Location/Commute - I'd originally thought I'd land outside of the city, in Kanata or Orleans (would have meant a 30-45min commute in good traffic to my office), but landed on my current condo, which is 10km from the office, and takes roughly 25 minutes to get to. 

4.  Co-workers - I've gotten along very well with my colleagues already....there are only 8 of us full-time.  My President/CEO is very approachable, my boss allows me to work autonomously, and I am back working with a colleague from my job two years ago (she helped me get this one).  I'm starting to spend time with another colleague outside of work - she is single as well - so it's been great.  Still the typical office gossip, but not much different than I've seen in other offices.

5.  Atmosphere - Most days I'm busy enough that the day doesn't feel like it will never end.  Some weeks (like before I went on holidays) felt like I didn't have enough hours in the day.  A typical day allows me to respond to all emails, work on pressing tasks, while still looking ahead to those projects due in the month ahead. 

6.  Flexibility - In addition to our vacation time, we get 3 days per year to use for all-day appointments, moving, etc.  I've used one this week the day I needed to sign all of the legal papers and get the last of my money towards downpayment and closing costs.  In the summer when I have my yearly physical and twice-yearly teeth cleaning, I'll also schedule my eye exam and take a flex day there.  As far as office hours go, I normally work 8-4, but have come in late, or left early on occasion for appointments or deliveries.  We are also encouraged on poor weather days to work from home (only 2 of us from the office actually live in the city, everyone else needs to travel on a highway to get here).  Vacation booking is easy to do so long as someone related to your work area is in the office.

7.  Advancement - From what I see there is not much advancement opportunity, only because we are a very small staff.  If my director were to leave, the next logical person to take his position has worked with the organization for 4 years.  Our President/CEO has been here 10+ years.

Aside from salary, which is not a surprise since I'm still in a Coordinator position, I am happy with or knew what I was stepping into in this position. My colleagues and boss are supportive and I have the opportunity to be creative every day.  Who knows what the next couple of years will bring, but at this point in my life/career I'm happy where I am!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Progress Update and an Unexpected Refund!

Well, four days into my No Spend Week, I'm batting 100%!  During my two day work trip my colleague who has a company credit card paid for meals, so I had no costs out of pocket.  I will be putting together a couple of Ikea pieces today and catching up on laundry, so I don't anticipate needing/being bored and wanting to go out and spend money!

Now, onto the surprise refund....my real estate lawyer let me know that the builder's lawyers had made an error in the figures I had to pay (they hadn't cashed the occupancy bank draft), and as a result I overpaid at closing by about $600.  Found money is always exciting, especially when it amounts to basically 1/2 a paycheque!

Here's my plan:
- Efund: $100
- RRSP: $100
- Travel Fund: $200
- Shoes: $75 (replacing a sensible black pair that broke)
- Car Fund: $75 (I have a replacement tire and oil change looming in the spring)
- Ottawa Fun Money : $75 (I've been itching to try snowshoeing and cross country skiing)

All in all, a good week thus far, and looking up....I have a movie date on Sunday!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2 for 2

Two days into my No Spend Week, I haven't spent a penny.....but, that doesn't mean that I didn't have the urge to shop!  Last night out of boredom I wanted to whip out my debit card and buy something, anything.  I was contemplating what I could buy at the corner store.

Hmmm, maybe this week will be harder than I thought.  Yesterday I plunked down another $13,000-ish on my final downpayment and closing costs for the new condo - yey!  But that didn't seem to satisfy my craving to spend.  Luckily I was distracted for a good 2 hours with the Bachelor and my corner store was then closed!

Today I am headed out of the city with colleagues for meetings, and over the course of two days I will need to spend money on food - it will be reimbursed by my company, and I'm hoping those couple of swipes of the debit card will put my itch to spend at ease. 

How do you keep your 'need' to spend in check?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Productive Weekend!

Friday after work, this is what my Weekend To Do list looked like:
- hang new blinds
- bake: broccoli and cheese macaroni, soup, butter chicken, rigatoni
- put together new bed
- put together shoe stand
- empty all luggage (last of the items to unpack)
- take donations to Goodwill
- hem curtains (pass - only had enough hemming tape for the grey curtains, not the white ones)
- hang magnet board
- wash floors
- grocery shop for the week
- hang photo wall (after realizing I am missing my Zurich photo I am postponing this task)

All in all, a very productive weekend!!   My NO SPEND WEEK began on Sunday, and thus far I'm 1 for 1.  With a completely packed freezer and fridge (see photos below) and a full tank of gas I'm 100% positive that I shouldn't need to spend money this week -- although I am down to 1/2 an onion, so I may need to borrow a couple from friends!

Hope you all had a great weekend!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Next Week's Challenge!

I've been toying with the idea of having an entire no-spend month, but I'm a 'baby steps' kinda girl, so next week I'll be celebrating (hopefully at the end) a NO SPEND WEEK!

This No Spend Week won't include regular monthly payments that happen to fall during the week (like Rogers or Hydro Ottawa) or money I will be paying on Closing Day, January 26th for the balance of my deposit and closing costs (approximately $12,000) -- that money comes from a special account from when I sold my Toronto Condo, not my regular bank account.

Money that won't be touched next week include:
- Gas
- Grocery/Restaurant
- Entertainment
- Clothing
- Gifts

With all of the purchases I made for the condo - things like a shower curtain rod, a shoe rack, cleaning supplies, curtains, blinds, furniture, etc.....it will be so refreshing not to spend a penny for an entire week!!!  My plan this weekend is to do a batch of soups, a casserole, and pasta dish to last me for the week.  I usually have a fully stocked freezer, but since moving in on the 4th I just have had the time.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I'm STILL buying furniture!!

When I sold my condo back in Toronto I also sold almost all of the furniture pieces (dining table and chairs, sleeper, and wardrobe) to the buyer, so I came to Ottawa with suitcases, 2 chairs, and a lot of decor items!

Which meant that there was a whackload of furniture that I needed to replace.  Luckily I have a gigantic island, and since it's just me I'm using 2 barstools and the island countertop as my table.

That still leaves:
- Headboard - Bought at Home Sense (can be a double or queen size) for $249+tax
- Bed Frame - Still need to buy.....thinking Ikea for $150
- Dresser - Bought last night at Leons for $399+ tax.
- Sofabed - Bought last night at Leons for $799+ tax.
- Coffee Table - Bought at Ikea for $129+tax.
- Entertainment Stand - Bought at Ikea for $148 + tax (during their entertainment centre sale!)
- Photo Ledge - Still need to buy.....thinking Ikea.....
- Mattress - Bought at the Brick for $281 and change.

I forgot how much money it takes to furnish a condo, but I'm almost there!!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012 Goals

I can't believe we're past the mid-point of January already!  It's been a busy year already!  I have some lofty and miniscule goals for 2012 and hopefully I'll be more diligent this year than I was last year.

Here goes....

  • Save $5,040 (represents 15% of my net income) - this can be a combination of my pension savings, RRSP, and emergency fund.
  • Bring my morgage down $5,000 (this means about 2.5 additional payments this year!).
  • Consistently fund 'planned spending' accounts - gifts, car maintenance, travel, clothing.
  • Max out as much of my health insurance plan as I can - I don't pay into the plan, so it's 'free' money!
  • Save for my first tax bill - since MPAC has not yet assessed my condo for taxes, and it may be another year that they do, I don't want to be shocked when the first bill comes.....so, I will be saving $160/month starting next month for this expense.
  • Starting in February (I still have furniture, kitchen supplies, window coverings, etc. for the new condo) have a minimum of 3 no-spend days per week and track all spending.  I haven't done this yet in 2012, so February is when I'll begin.
  • Share my budget planning with friends - over the holidays a couple of friends asked how I budget and I explained my schedule of payments, distribution of savings, and percentages.  The next best thing I can do is share with them my templates!

  • Celebrate my 30th birthday overseas....paid for in cash obviously!  I have purchased tickets to 2 Olympic events in London (the Games happen over my birthday). I'm hoping to take 2 weeks vacation and see a few other cities as well -- I've been to London before, so I think 4 nights for Edinburgh, 3 nights in London, and 4 nights in Brussels and perhaps 3 nights in Luxembourgh will do.
  • Start dating!  I haven't been in a serious relationship for about 2 years.  I know a couple of guys here in Ottawa, one of whom I had a big crush on back in school.
  • Continue to improve my health - this doesn't just mean losing weight, but learning to think of exercise as fun....I'm excited to try some snowshoeing trails in Gatineau this winter.
  • Improve my photography skills - after spending about $1,300 on a new Canon T3 camera with accessories I want to be sure to put it to good use, not just on vacations.
  • Make new friends in Ottawa!  I have only 1 good friend here in Ottawa and many more aquaintances.  I know that I can be a hermit sometimes, so I need to get out more.
  • Find a new dentist and doctor in Ottawa.
  • Pass my 3-month probation period with flying colours (end of January marks that milestone).
  • Recieve additional vacation days when the reviews occur in April.
  • Join another professional organization.
  • Look into courses to improve my French skills.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A couple of weeks past the end of 2011, I'm finally looking over my goals for the year.  Lets see how I did:

  • Increase my Emergency Fund up to $5,000 - currently, it sits at $2,655.  FAIL - My E-fund went towards deposit #1 on my new condo.....I made the offer while my condo was waiting to close, so I didn't have those proceeds to draw from.
  • Increase my House Fund up to $33,000 - currently it sits at $22,027. PASS - I purchased my first condo in February when I'd saved about $23,000. 
  • Save $3,500 in my Trip Fund for Central/South America over the holidays next year - currently it sits at $531.  This savings will come entirely from work outside of my full time job.  COMPLETED - I paid for my 2011 entirely with cash, the total including what I spent in Kenya was about $3,600.
  • Open a new ING account for Gifts - pay for all birthday, wedding, baby, Christmas gifts from this account. COMPLETED - I will continue to deposit $50/month (may need to bump that up since a wedding plan is in the works for one of my good friends this summer).
  • Track every penny I spend!!!  FAIL - I did not track every penny spent in 2011.  Not even close!
  • See one or more high school friend each month - there are 8 of us who still keep in touch from high school, although most of it by email.  I'd like to see at least one of my friends per month to be able to maintain such great relationships.  Two friends are only GO Train rides away, and most others by bus, so it's not a big challenge to see them.  PASS - I had been doing great, until I moved to Ottawa in October.  I did see all of my friends on 3 different days over the holidays to make up for it though.
  • Volunteer on a project - I've been in talks to sit on a Run for the Cure committee in preparation for the annual run in October in one of the GTA communities, so this one should be a guaranteed completed task.  PASS - I moved to Ottawa, so I wasn't able to continue volunteering on this committee.
  • Resume tutoring - I tutored all through high school and University and was able to bring in a decent amount of extra money with 2 or 3 students.  Over the break I've designed a poster to put up in town as well as on the web. COMPLETED - I tutored 1 student, so I'm considering it a pass.
  • Sign up and participate in a running class.  FAIL - I did not do this!  Once my current 3-month gym membership is expired in April I'll be signing up at the Running Room.
  • Become more healthy - for me, this means eating better and increasing my exercise frequency. It's a good thing all of those Christmas sweets are almost gone.  PASS. 
  • Travel - I'm aiming for the holidays next year in Central/South America - see my post about this trip. COMPLETE - I didn't travel to Central/South America, but I did cross off one of my dream vacations and went to Kenya on safari.
  • Join a professional association in my field. COMPLETE
  • Blog every weekday. FAIL - Life got busy, and I didn't make blogging a priority.
Stay tuned this week for Goals - 2012!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kenyan Safari Recap

Now that I've unpacked my boxes and cleared a bit of space on my kitchen island/table I can finally concentrate on burning DVDs of the 1,300+ photos from my trip.

Each time I show someone my photos I get warm and fuzzy inside thinking of the amazing experience, and just how fortunate I am to be able to have the time to travel, and have the means to travel.  I don't spend much on Entertainment per month, on average about $50, but I do sock away a minimum of $250 per month (see budget here) for travel, and I think it's worth every penny.

Here's a rundown of the trip:
What: A 9-Day (7 full day) camping safari in Kenya.  One of my three dream trips (the other two are to the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica....strange in some people's eyes, I know).

Where:  The trip began in Nairobi. We then drove to Samburu National Reserve, to Nakuru National Park, to Masai Mara National Reserve, and back to Nairobi.  We stayed in each of the parks for about 2.5 days.  In Nairobi we stayed in a hotel, and in each of the Parks/Reserves it was tent camping.  Samburu was VERY basic camping....no electricity, long drop 'toilets', dinner by fire, cold showers.  Nakuru was a giant step up with hot showers, dinner in a rustic hall, electricity in the evenings (perfect for charging all of our cameras), and plumbing.  Masai Mara was a much more upscale campsite with beds rather than sleeping mats, more vegetation/gardens in the site, indoor dining, plumbing, and hot showers.

When: I departed from Toronto on December 17th.  The first night of the tour was December 18th and the last morning of the tour was December 26th. I stayed in Nairobi doing additional sightseeing until very early December 28th.  Arriving back in Toronto late the 28th.

Who: I travelled on my own, but was with a GAdventures (formerly GAP Adventures) tour. The average size of the group for this tour is 10 with a maximum of 14 people.....we were 6 - a perfect amount in my eyes!  There was me, a family of three from Edmonton (age 16, 42, 42), a 40-year old from San Francisco, and a 23 year old student from Saudi Arabia studying in the UK. In addition to ourselves we had a Chief Experience Officer/Guide Daniel, Driver Peter, Cook Isack, a supply truck driver, and assistant cook who were different individuals throughout the trip.

How: Details on how I paid for this trip are found here!  My 2011 tax refund is slated towards paying back into my RRSP Home Buyers Plan, a couch, and Emergency Fund, so no repeating that trend this year!

Now, to the good part....a few of my favourite photos from the trip!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why I Am Currently a Renter....Sort Of!

Over the holidays while I was in Kenya and completely unreachable for 7 days I recieved an email from my real estate lawyer advising me that my condo had not yet registered with the City of Ottawa, thus, I can't get title on the condo, thus I can't get a mortgage, thus I would not be buying the condo on closing day.

Having bought my first condo as resale, I was completely new to the "Interim Occupancy" process.  Let me explain, typically, a condominium project will first have what is called an interim occupancy. During the interim occupancy period, the purchaser must “occupy” the unit and pay the developer a monthly amount comprised of the monthly common expense, interest on the deferred purchase price and an estimate of the apportioned realty taxes (apportioned monthly). Occupancy will take place as soon as the municipal authority issues the developer permission to begin occupancy.

Confusion-central?  At first, yes, but once I signed a lease for my own condo, I chalked the Occupancy Fee up to rent.  Luckily the builder has asked for only January's payment and no additional post-dated cheques (knock on wood he won't!), so concievably the firm condo sale will go through this month.

For the period of January 6 - 31, I have paid $644.22 to cover the Occupancy Fee.  And I'm hoping come a few weeks I'll be paying off a mortgage instead!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Upcoming Posts

I've arrived safely back in Ottawa following an amazing trip to Kenya - with a mini-stop in Zurich on the return trip - and will hopefully be settling into a new routine soon.

I made a few notes of upcoming posts I'd like to cover:
- Trip debrief
- 2011 Goal Recap
- 2012 Goals
- Why I won't be closing on my condo tomorrow as planned.....long story, interim closing instead
- 2011 Taxes
- This year's birthday gift plan

Plus of course a few others I'll keep under wraps until it's time to write them.

Looking forward to catching up on my favourite blogs this week!