Everyone loves to hate budgets – Part 1

My friend Devon asked me to write about budgets so I thought I would put together a wee post summing up my budget theory and discussing the different approaches. There is a LOT of info out there though, so I don’t want to make it too complicated. Before we begin though, we have to tackle the elephant in the room: people hate budgets. They shouldn’t, and I am going to explain why.

People often view budgets as restrictive, like having a old school marm pointing a finger at them from the recesses of their brains saying, “THOU SHALT NOT SPEND MONEY!” This is exactly the wrong mentality to have. A budget – at its simplest – is just a plan. It’s a system you have put together to meet your goals. It is just a tool and like every tool requires an actual human to make it work – for good or bad. My budget theory is as follows (and I suggest you write this down):

A budget is a plan you put in place to free yourself from having to think about money.

Once again, for those in the back:

A BUDGET IS A PLAN TO FREE YOURSELF FROM HAVING TO THINK ABOUT MONEY

Sounds contradictory, right? It isn’t and I will tell you why. Once you set up your budget most things on it can be set-it-and-forget it. Over time you will know what to expect and know where you need to tweak. It is only when you don’t have a plan that you waste inordinate amounts of time thinking about money. Does this sound familiar? “I hope this doesn’t overdraw the account!” “I hope my pay goes in before they cash that cheque!” “I wonder if we will be able to afford to travel and visit the family this year?” When you have a budget you will know the answers to these questions because you will have it all written down. It doesn’t even have to be perfect, a road map is still good even if you have to take the occasional detour.

Budget theory

There are a million ways to budget and they all have commonalities but I don’t want to get caught up in the minutiae here because we are all different. If you are looking for something simple to start with, I recommend Elizabeth/Amelia Warren’s plan from All You’re Worth (a great read, I recommend it highly) called the Balanced Money Formula, and it looks like this:

Must Haves: such as housing, food, utilities
Savings: such as retirement, education, long term goals
Wants: pretty much everything else

It’s a pretty simple way to divvy up your money provided you have enough money coming in for your needs, have no debt, and want to retire at around 65. If so, this formula is for you.

However, if you are like me and are looking to reach big goals (such as saving almost $64k in one year) your budget will look a lot differently. With Mr. Tucker’s new job, our budget currently looks like this:

As you can see, our outgo for Must Haves and Wants are much smaller than our savings rate. That makes sense given our goals and our ability to save one salary and live off another.

Obviously, there are a myriad of ways to calculate your own personal percentages given your own personal parameters. I will say though: be honest with yourself. No one is keeping track besides you so you aren’t fooling anyone.

Budget methods

Cash system

Works well with: people who have a lot of debt or spending problems

I have always been a huge fan of Gail Vaz Oxlade and her TV shows (Til Death do us Part, Money Moron, Princess,). If you haven’t had a chance to watch them, they are still available on Slice. She recommends the cash system to help people climb out of debt and take control of their finances. Also called the envelope or jar system, you allocate your monthly cash to one of these pots and when the money is gone, it’s gone.

To be honest, I haven’t really liked this system mostly because I am a digital kind of girl. There is research saying you tend to spend more when you use cards as opposed to handing out cash as cash seemed more psychologically “real.” In recent years though, I have also seen opposing research saying electronic payments are more difficult. Who knows? For me, the question is about complication: when I pay so much online, actually putting cash in pots was inconvenient and made me give up. Having said that, I think if one were to use a mix of systems – the envelope system works perfectly for things like wants, groceries, personal care, and clothing/accessories to help you stay within budget. Anything where there is a real-world transaction is a good place to use this system – or if you have one particular expense that keeps getting away from you.

Zero-sum

Works well with: consistent income

This is closest to what I use. The idea behind it is that you budget monthly with every cent going to one category until at the end of the month you have nothing left over (or it carries over to another category). You start allocating money in order of responsibility, hoping to hit a good pie chart for your situation. Most are set up monthly but they can also be set up by pay period, or any other time you prefer. I will go through this one in more detail later because it is also the most popular of all the budget systems.

Fluctuating

Works well with: irregular income

If you are a consultant, artist, or have a job with a heavy bonus or sales kickback structure this budget is for you. Not knowing when the money is coming in can be incredibly frustrating but you can mitigate some of that stress by knowing how much your living expenses are. Review your last year and tally up how much you spent and then make an estimated guess as to how much you need every month and base your budget on that. So if your expenses are $1500 but you bring in $2000 in January but only $1000 in February you won’t panic because you know you still have $500 leftover from the previous month to cover it.

People with fluctuating income often work in feast-or-famine mode spending all the money as it comes in and then filling in the gaps with credit until the next big payday. This is stressful and confusing to manage. By creating a budget to reflect your reality I guarantee over time that you will start to see trends and account for them. If you are smart, you will also build up enough of a buffer to be able to know when you can, say, take a larger break away from work for a period of time.

So now that we’ve covered the basics, next time I will get down to the nitty-gritty and discuss some of the actual how-tos:

– How do we budget monthly for yearly expenses?
– How do we deal with emergencies?
– How we deal with maintenance and replacement?
– Where should we save our money?
– How do we deal with taxes?
– What are good amounts for various expenses?

New horizons


Mr. Tucker doing some online training at night (with liquid assistance)

In my last post I alluded to a third reason our finances were all out of whack. That reason: Mr. Tucker changed jobs.

Mr. Tucker had been with his previous company for nine years and when they were acquired he stepped out of his comfort zone and started looking at other options. There was no one thing that stood out to force him to look – he still enjoyed working with his company and liked both the work and his coworkers – but he felt like it was time. At the same time another company was looking for someone with his skillset to take over a really exciting position to grow a team at a smaller company. So the fates aligned and VOILA: new position.

Of course, he hemmed and hawed about it because like most animals we are comfortable with what we know. However, taking risks are also important for growth. With my job being fairly secure at the moment and considering we live off one salary, he took the plunge.

This particular position is a higher level at a higher salary but it also comes with its own challenges such as: we are being paid in a foreign currency and we have to arrange all our taxes. This actually works a bit in our favour as we can use the pre-tax amount to put into our retirement accounts and reduce our tax load significantly (we both have ample contribution room in our RRSPs). Because we are essentially living off my salary – which is a stable amount – we are using his for savings. That will help us not worry as much about the fluctuating currency rates.

The biggest negative is that he only gets paid once-a-month, and while that is not a big deal once we get into the swing of things, it did sort of mess with our budget at a time we had to outlay for summer camps & bear the full cost of my physiotherapy. I mentioned in my previous post that one of the reasons why we couldn’t save as much was because we had planned to stagger our vacation time to cover child care. Unfortunately, Mr. Tucker needs to be available to work this summer so we had to throw money at the problem and pay for summer camps. Luckily, May was a three-paycheck month for me so that helped negate some of the money challenges but for obvious reasons, our savings suffered.

The other thing that kind of stinks is that his previous company paid for a bunch of lovely perks: Mr. Tucker’s cell phone*, half our internet, half of our YMCA membership. His new company is much smaller and we haven’t figured out how that will work going forward. From what I can tell we will have to bear the majority of the costs for these things. On a positive note: tax credits. So we will have to review that next tax season.

Thankfully, it is still a work-from-home position as his new company is in Southern California so our child care costs remain non-existent during the school year. He does work longer hours mostly because he is super passionate about creating excellent processes and building a great team at his new company, so that works out.

So change is afoot in casa del Tucker and I am hoping long-term this will allow us to ramp up our savings even more and reach our goals quicker.

In a strange twist of events, the day Mr. Tucker started at his new job he learned that some remote workers at his old job were being let go. The company is moving to have all their workers on-site. Of course, there is no way to tell if he would have been one of those that were let go but we both feel a huge sigh of relief knowing that we don’t have to worry about that. One friend of mine put it perfectly when I relayed this information, “Well it just goes to show that sometimes not taking risks is riskier than taking risks.”

Ain’t that the truth.

*After I posted this Mr. Tucker informed me that they were no longer paying cellphones for remotes, either.

Savings update – April & May

This spring has been an absolute gong show and for that I apologize. I am still feeling a bit off and work has been hectic so blogging has not been on my radar. We continued to spend a lot more money than necessary in April but thankfully while it’s slowed down our savings rate we are still on track and things are still looking good.

April:

As I discussed in my last post, Mr. Tucker’s company was acquired and so they had to clean everything up before they transferred it over to the new owners. SURPRISE: Mr. Tucker had vacation that they paid out. Now, a couple of years ago the company moved to one of those Silicon Valley take-as-much-vacation-as-you-want models which meant his previous accrual just sat there. We didn’t even know he really had it until they sent him an email telling him they were paying it out. WOO HOO: straight into savings for you!

May:

Technically, today is the last day of May but I know that despite the fact it was a three-paycheck month, we didn’t save as much.

Firstly, we had to outlay for summer camps. Our goal to use a variety of vacation strategies has fallen through due to my surgery and another new thing that I will discuss in my next post. So we ended up scrambling to cover childcare. Now, luckily for us the kids love the local YMCA neighbourhood camps so despite the fact we offered to pay for a more expensive option for a couple of weeks, they chose the least-expensive option. So that worked out.

Secondly, we continued to overspend due to chaotic work schedules and health issues. My physio isn’t covered for this month due to the way my benefits work, so that was also pricey. We also ate out more because Mr. Tucker had to do a lot more work this month. I will 100% admit we could have done better here.

Thirdly…is a topic for a later post.

I will say: because our ducks were all lined up we didn’t accumulate debt and were still able to save, just not at a rate that I would have liked.

So that is where we are at right now! I need to buy my pension by November of this year but it looks like we won’t have to outlay for the house before February 2018, which gives us even more time to save. So even though it’s not been perfect I am happy with the way things are going right now.

You can’t plan everything, but you can plan for something

A couple of weeks ago I was home sick when Mr. Tucker learned that his company was being acquired by another company. All-of-a-sudden it became a flurry of questions and what-ifs. The company was liquidating: people in the US needed to change health care, the vacation rules changed (and old hours paid out), and the general sentiment was worried about what the future would hold.

Of course, being the only Canadian employee, Mr. Tucker was concerned. Despite being relatively inexpensive and well respected, it’s also a hassle to have a separate pay system just for him, they are beholden to the laws of our province (so there is that extra legal layer), and the odd occasion it means he can’t work on certain contracts. But hey, they don’t pay for our healthcare or extended benefits (we get those through my work and told his company they could save the $500 they were spending previously).


Hilariously, his company shipped this plant (illegally!) across the border with a note that said “Let’s Grow Together!” Uh, was that intentional irony?

Having said that, we are in a good place: we can happily survive off one salary, which is no small security blanket, and Mr. Tucker has skills that would see him finding a job fairly quickly. The challenge would be all the perks we get currently, which add up to no small sum! Mr. Tucker’s workplace pays for most of his cell phone and our internet bill, 60% of our YMCA membership, and Mr. Tucker works from home on Pacific time which means he can be with the kids when they get home from school (while everyone in the west is on lunch). Not having to commute or pay for childcare is a huge boon for our family, and if Mr. Tucker had to find another job, those are two new things that we would have to manage time and budget-wise.

Of course, we knew there would be hiccoughs so to no one’s surprise Mr. Tucker’s pay did not go through when it should have. It’s also been an ungodly administrative hassle aside from the fact his new company is trying its best to get that money to him. Because the new pay contract couldn’t accommodate the short notice, his work tried to transfer him the money – the net amount he usually gets – a few days before payday. So kudos for them for trying. Of course now the money is stuck in bank limbo with no bank involved claiming to have the money: the issuing bank says it’s gone, our bank says it’s not received. On the other side of the equation, paying us just the net amount means we will still owe taxes, EI, and CPP so we are trying to get an answer as to how that will work out. In essence: it’s a major headache.


I think I can, I think I can

Now we are almost five days from payday with nary a cent to be seen.

Now in a country where half of people live paychque-to-paycheque & many of my colleagues and friends have been what we have (not-so-fondly) come to call ”being Phoenixed,” a five day hold could be absolutely devastating. So I am grateful that we aren’t in that position. Having said that, there are a few ways that we’ve stacked the deck to ensure a short-to-medium term lapse in pay won’t affect us:

We live below our means: we have made the decision to keep our budget as tight as makes us happy so that we can save an entire salary.

We have savings: we keep an emergency fund of one month’s bills in a liquid account (we also have long-term savings elsewhere, if needed).

We have adequate storage of essentials: our house isn’t a bunker but we do buy in bulk so if we needed to, we could live happily on the food we have stored.

We have a bare-bones budget plan: I have already done an “emergency” budget where I know what I can cut quickly to reduce our expenses even lower (sayonara Netflix!). It’s not a pleasant budget but it would help us weather a storm.

We have family and friends we can rely on: we have a community we could tap into if we were desperate for things such as childcare. Needless to say, we’d also return the favour. Nurturing relationships is how humans have historically been able to survive emergencies.

So while we never know what is on the horizon we can effectively hedge ourselves against the worst disasters. It’s important to always have a backup plan for times like these where, say, a paycheque that is five days late so it won’t start a cavalcade of missed payments and charges. The peace of mind alone is worth having a decent plan for your family. If you don’t have a plan, what’s stopping you?


…and just like that we nursed it back to health. If this plant was a metaphor…

Free Lunch!

HEY GUYZ, LOOK: A FREE LUNCH! Let’s venture in and see what is inside!

As the old adage goes: there is no such thing as a free lunch. Still, that doesn’t stop businesses from offering free lunches – nor does it stop people from attending them. Saying an event is private, exclusive, or that it has limited seating is old hat. It’s combination of Velvet Rope marketing (aka: the cool kids club) and Scarcity Marketing (which motivates people by implying there is a shortage of something which kicks in people’s FOMO – fear of missing out). If you’ve ever bought something that was a “limited time offer” or bought a “limited edition” product, you’ve been manipulated by one of these two marketing strategies.

Hilariously, I received this invitation because I work in Communications and have done business with/attended conferences at that venue. It’s the reason I ended up on the mailing list when I am obviously not the demographic they are targeting.

Man, these people have it ALL figured out: celebrity endorsement, too? So far we have three very effective marketing tools. Of course, Mr. HGTV-show-having guy in no way endorses the product, he just is there to collect a cheque by making a short speech and standing on the red carpet (velvet rope, again) with the Free Lunch Attendees to take pictures. He is also an appeal to authority because not only is he a celebrity, he’s a guy who knows a thing or two about renovations and real estate judging by the shows he has been on (none of which I have never seen but Wikipedia tells me he’s had a few popular ones). What a perfect storm of effective marketing!

Here it is! The great reveal:You, too, can be rich in real estate!

Beginner? No problem!
Experienced? No problem!
Bad credit? No problem!
Risk? No problem!
Flip properties quickly? No problem!

Low risk! No obligation! No high pressure sales pitch! No strings attached! FREE! Only for the select few!

I also forgot to mention that the 50 first people get a laptop (may not be as shown in photo!).

The caveats here are pretty amazing but in the interest of keeping things short, let’s get to the most important part of the fine print: AFTER ATTENDING THE INTRODUCTORY EVENT MOST ATTENDEES DON’T USE THE INFORMATION OR MAKE MONEY. Then of course we go from “low risk” to REAL ESTATE CARRIES A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF RISK, AND IT IS POSSIBLE TO LOSE MONEY IN REAL ESTATE. No freaking kidding, huh?

I will admit, I haven’t been caught up in the real estate hype that channels like HGTV have been pushing with their programming. I have seen a few episodes on renovating and flipping houses but it hasn’t inspired me to do it myself. Still, most of those people featured got into the real estate game early and had a certain set of skills to make their flips or rentals profitable. Still, I know a lot of people get caught up in real estate flipping and I have seen this played out in real life in my own neighbourhood. Our post-war community boasts large lots, solid houses, and a central location. Unfortunately, its location next to a booming community has doubled house prices in the last 10 years, making true deals rare. I have witnessed many misguided people buy houses in need of an upgrade, pour a ton of money into them, and then…watch them sit on the market for a long, long time. The fact is that in order to make money, you have to buy low, upgrade, and then sell high. In a neighbourhood where most houses are about $450k, buying an un-renoed house at $400k, pumping in $50k, and then trying to sell for $550K is pretty impossible. One family I know ended up having to sell their original house and move into their “income” property because it wouldn’t sell.

I am not saying real estate investing is a bad idea – it isn’t if it is done well. Like any new venture, people should do research before diving in (and there are a ton of free blogs out there with great info!). But TV shows who make it look easy are good marketing tools for the average person who is looking to get rich, quick – and that combination makes them a target for scammers. Often, these people haven’t done their research and instead have gotten swept up in the hype and they get taken for a ride.

Of course, I naturally tried to find reviews and comments on what these conferences are trying to sell, and it looks like it could be a longer course or more learning events. Since I won’t attend this FREE LUNCH, I guess I will never know. However, Moneysense magazine has an article on the the true secrets of real estate seminars which may give us an inkling of what to expect.

Caveat emptor, kids.

Unharried holidays

I used to run myself ragged making everything perfect for every holiday. Like many women I had kids and then became determined to give them the same specialness that I had experienced as a child. Of course, the things I remember are not the matching linens or well-placed dinnerware but that did not stop me from trying to make everything perfect to the best of my ability.

Frankly, that was stupid AF.

I would like to say my change of heart is because I am older and wiser but that would be a lie. The reason why I eventually toned everything down is because I started working outside the house again combined with some mysterious mobility issues (finally diagnosed & treated). It just got impossible to shop, pay for, cook, and clean up after every holiday so we finally started asking for help.

Part of our challenge is that Mr. Tucker and I both come from small families. In his family it’s just his dad, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend. On my side is my divorced parents, my dad’s girlfriend, my brother, and my brother’s girlfriend. So if you followed that confusing familial breakdown two things are pretty clear: we are the only ones with small children, and we are the only people who can feasibly host a dinner. My brother did it for a few years but we always felt badly because that left Mr. Tucker’s family out, so we are back to hosting.

One holiday that was the easiest to switch up was Easter. Instead of a dinner, I finally swapped it out for a brunch. From a logistical point of view it made a lot more sense given the kids spent the day eating nothing but junk from 6am onwards. By dinnertime they were usually absolutely wiped out, which was unpleasant for all of us. It sucked to have our relatives over just when the kids were hitting a sugar crash.

I also didn’t do a full-scale brunch. I pretty much stocked up on hors d’oevres and whipped up small things such as a cheese plate or veggie tray. I had family bring their own contributions: prosecco, OJ, beer, breakfast sandwiches, a ham, and/or whatever small food they wanted to bring. Then brunch was just a question of heating and serving a few things.

The benefit to this set-up is that the pressure was off us. A brunch is more laid back, it was all self-serve, and we spent less time in the kitchen and more time visiting with our guests. It was also easier to clean up as we used compostable paper plates and napkins. There was no elaborate dinner party to clean up after, it was all pretty much easy to host from start to finish.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the elaborate dinner party. There is something just so comforting and cozy about having all my family gathered around my great-grandparent’s dining room table. So for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we still do a sit-down dinner but we ask our guests to contribute. Often we will buy the turkey but someone else will bring a vegetable, the stuffing, buns, potatoes, and wine. So at the very least the financial pressure is off us to supply everything.

I am also incredibly lucky in the fact that Mr. Tucker enjoys cooking so much that he does the majority of the heavy lifting when we do host dinners. Our families also help with tidying up afterwards and so we’ve never felt like we’ve been on the hook for every detail. Having everyone bring something even if we end up cooking it is a better way to manage a large meal. Often we are cooking for 10-12 people so this helps us keep the entire holiday manageable for our family.

I have seen some people online whinge that potlucks are tacky and that if you can’t do everything then don’t bother hosting at all. Ok, fine, but that means our families would never get together as we are all fractured and the only common connection is our family. I don’t think Mr. Tucker and I could have continued to host every family get-together – financially or time/energywise – had we not switched things up and asked people to help. That would have meant not getting together at all during holidays. I feel that asking your guests to contribute and to help take the stress off the hosts is a good balance when the same family has to host every holiday. Besides, when all of us do something it frees up more time to spend actually connecting and hanging out as a family, which is the point of spending time together, after all.

Things I have learned:

– No one cares as much about fancy décor and table settings as I think they do
– Kids will remember that we all got together, not what we served and ate
– There are no points for making stuff from scratch if it means missing out on family quality time
– Potlucks beat not getting together at all
– Most people are happy to contribute and help out – ask!
– Letting go of your own expectations will be the hardest part of change

Being forced to let go of my own “perfect holiday” narrative opened up a whole new world for me and reduced my stress monumentally. I no longer panic if the vegetables are a little overdone or if the turkey is dry. It is never about reaching some unattainable perfection. So go forth and give yourself permission to let go of what you think a holiday should be and replace it with what it really is: a time to get together: to eat, drink, and be merry.


Small food and Mimosas are all part of this relaxing Easter brunch

Life and goal update – March 2017

Better late than never as the old adage goes! March came in like a lion and went out…like a lion. We had our last snow on the 31st, which is fairly late even for our northern clime. Luckily, spring is finally here and so as nature crawls out from beneath the snow, I feel like I should crawl out again, too. So apologies for my lack of updates but hopefully I will get better now that the sun is shining.

In my last post I casually mentioned that I was working on a few things to help my overall health both mentally and physically. I am happy to say that I did manage to find an amazing physiotherapist and I am now going twice a week to work on my movement issues. I am doing much, much better since starting this routine and while I am behind on my at-home exercises, I am still progressing well. I have been lax on the writing but I have started to make a dent in my reading list which gives me a good mental boost.

I haven’t been as great with the food – both cooking and eating – and while I am still getting a good amount of vegetables I am not eating as well as I would like. I need to reduce the easy-to-grab carbs and up the lean protein. We have also been eating out way too often and I’ve purchased lunch thrice last month, which is rare. All this comes down to being better at food prep and so today I will be working on getting our meal plan done so that weekday meals will be easier to manage. I’ll let you know how it goes but generally speaking I know if I pre-prep most things on the weekend, it ensures we eat well & don’t eat out. It’s the busiest season at work and it’s much easier right now to throw in the towel so I need to use as many tools in my arsenal to make sure I stay on track.

I met with my ortho Doc this week and as I suspected, I will need the ankle reconstruction. There are a myriad of fun problems happening in there but nothing is a major emergency so he said I could wait a few months before booking. This is a good thing because this means I can do paddle in the Dragonboat Festival in June as well as be mobile for our week at the cottage in July. His admin assistant will call me with a surgery date after the 9th of July, as per my request, which is amazing. Don’t get me wrong: I am still not thrilled to be out of commission for 6 weeks but at least I won’t miss the highlights of my summer.

Finally, we are still kicking butt in our savings goal so that we can be mortgage free by the end of the year. In fact – and I don’t want to get ahead of myself here – the beginning of April marked some huge things in our savings goals. Still, sticking with March’s update, here is our thermometer:

That’s a 28% increase to our savings in one month. Not bad! I am 19% of the way there. Of course, every month won’t be like this but hey, let’s take our victories where we can.

Although we are halfway through April, I have a few things I want to take care of:

– The other day Sprout said to me, “Mama, you know what? We haven’t been to a dentist in awhile.” Ugh, cue the guilt! She is absolutely right. Since our old dentist passed away I have been pretty lax about finding a new one. A neighbour recommended a new dentist nearby and I need to call and make an appointment. Considering I have benefits that will pay for preventative dentistry it is silly not to go a couple of times a year to get our checkups and cleanings. So my “spring cleaning” list will be to book dental cleanings for the whole family.

– I need to do more cardio. I really want to bike outside but until my balance is better I should stick to the indoor exercise bike. I should be doing at least ½ hour a day of cardio to just get my respiratory system going after a year of sedentary behaviour (half a year in a wheelchair and the other half on crutches will do that). My plan is to bait myself with Netflix shows on the iPad because I find stationary cardio ridiculously boring.

So that wraps up the March update! With better weather on the horizon I hope that it will continue to improve my mood and with it give me the energy to improve my physical health as well.

Happy Easter (musings on living in a great community)

It’s a long weekend here in the Great White North and while I get both Friday and Monday off, Mr. Tucker works for an American company so he’s working both days. It’s interesting to have a family who often has different holidays off but it has worked out in terms of childcare savings, so not all is lost!

As I have mentioned before, we have a great community of active parents who plan various activities. I have my close-knit friend group and we alternate holidays (as you know, I always do Christmas) and Easter is no different. So on Friday I rounded up the kids and we headed over to a neighbour’s house for egg decorating and hangouts. This particular friend lives across the street from the neighbourhood park so the kids went back-and-forth while the parents got to catch up after a long winter indoors. As usual, it was a resounding success and my kids took home some lovely eggs to decorate our Easter table.

Then Saturday morning was the community Easter egg hunt. A neighbour organized it so that every parent put together 10 eggs per kid and hid them in the park at 9:30am so when the kids all showed up at 10:30am they could each find 10 eggs for their baskets. I wasn’t actually going to do it but my friend Sara (rightfully) pointed out that I was being a bit of a killjoy and since she happened to have extra eggs & candy for my kids, we should definitely participate. So we did and the kids had an amazing time running around the park, hunting for plastic eggs.

Never underestimate the value of an engaged community. I landed here quite accidentally but if I knew now what I knew before I had kids, I would definitely look to culture as a determining factor before choosing where to live. We have a fairly robust facbeook community presence & some great volunteers, and these things have made our little area of the world a great place to raise kids. I have known the same families since my kids were little and there is a lot of value in having your children surrounded by many adults they can turn to and trust. These community events are a fun way to get together and celebrate holidays but the larger piece to this puzzle is having this community has given us all a higher quality of life overall. I know I can send my kids to the park and that there will be an adult close by in case something happens. I know they can bike around the neighbourhood and if something goes wrong, they can knock on someone’s door for help. You can’t buy that kind of comfort and security, it’s created when adults get together and choose to be those people.

Is your neighbourhood the kind of neighbourhood that fosters community spirit? If not, ask yourself if maybe you can get the ball rolling on some local spirit-building. Here are a few things you could try:

– If there isn’t a social media presence for your neighbourhood: start one. This ensures that people who work full time also get included in plans. If you don’t know many people in your neighbourhood, maybe put up posters in high-traffic areas (stores, parks, schools).

– Start an impromptu playgroup for kids. Some SAHPs have ones during the week but a weekend get-together at the local park once-a-month can be a great opportunity to meet the people around.

– Volunteer with your community association. Our community association maintains the skating rink and puts on both winter and summer family fun days. (full disclosure, we haven’t done anything this year because of my disability but we usually attend the AGM and volunteer at the rink)

– Start a club: my friend Sara started our neighbourhood book club when her kids were babies. Ten years later and it is still going strong. There is also a walking club that meets regularly as well. For kids, our neighbourhood had a pick-up soccer team that would get together on Sundays that our friends Trent & Krista coached/organized.

– Get involved in your school, church, library, or community centre. There are often knitting groups, choirs, and sometimes sports-related activities that will help you get out there and meet people in your environs.

For me, making friends with my neighbours was a necessity when my kids were young because almost all my friends are child-free – I needed people to hangout with during kid-friendly hours! But making friends with your neighbours will introduce you to people you may never have interacted with had you not been geographically co-located. It exposes you to new ideas, new points of view, and gives you the skills to co-exist with the people around you. In a world where the Internet allows us the ability to be insular, getting out in your community can be a radical act.

Managing when you are busy, stressed, and unwell

I have spoken often about what an awful year it has been for my family and I. While we were managing fairly well for a long time, recently we were suddenly not-managing-well at all. With so many balls up in the air already, when a few more balls were added in, suddenly things started falling down…hard.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is all on my head. Mr. Tucker continues to be the stalwart partner he has always been, albeit with a few more cracks in the façade. The dark, depressing days of winter piled high with added work responsibilities and coupled with work uncertainty & continuing kid responsibilities has left me completely wiped. It seems like these days I can manage the basics of work and maybe one other thing but then I am done for and end up in bed early. Mr. Tucker has picked up the load of housework, childcare, and other life-management stuff while I convalesced in a myriad of different ways. The last two months have been especially hard, and it seems in a lot of ways the small joys have been sucked out of our lives, making the challenges even more apparent. Our entire family is feeling the strain.

Of course, this also means that financially we’ve spent more money than we usually do to fill in the gaps. Late hours at work combined with exhaustion has left us eating out more, working weekends means our house is messier, and we’ve thrown money at a few things that we’d otherwise figured out alternatives for. On one hand, I am super grateful that our finances are organized in such a way that overspending doesn’t put us that behind our goals, on the other hand, I am kicking myself for buying more single-serving foods when we’d bake or make stuff for lunches. Still, we are ahead and since I haven’t updated for February, here is where we sit for savings goals as of Feb 28th:

Not bad, huh? We are 1/7 of the way there and we still have 9 more months to go. Once I do our taxes this month, I will have a better idea of where we stand and what – if any – contingency plans we need to put in place.

Until then, I seem to be coming out of the fog that is this depression and while I will take it for now, I am pretty sure I will learn in April that I will need another surgery and that may throw me back into it. This fog combined with stress has also meant I have bailed on physiotherapy too long, so this week I made the move to get back on it. Right now I am taking pride in the little steps I am taking to improve my life: reading for personal happiness, taking care of my diet, incorporating exercise into my day, and writing again. No promises that all these things will make me happier, quicker but they are baby steps. But sometimes baby steps are all you need to climb out.

Values and value

One of the ONLY benefits to being somewhat immobile over the past year is that Mr. Tucker needs to drive me to work every morning (his ongoing joke is that he commutes four times a day – to work from home). Why is it a benefit? Because we use that 20-minute commute each way to discuss major topics in our lives. Sometimes it’s parenting, sometimes it’s work, and more often than not it’s money. Commuting to work and being stuck on the way in heavy traffic on the way is a good reminder of why saving and investing is important if you don’t want to commute for the next 30 years.

Naturally, the conversation gravitated towards our evening out last week because that was the last time we had spent any significant amount of money. I was saying that I was appalled that our “pub platter” was $29. To be clear, this is what was on the platter: 5 onion rings, two chicken fingers, three deep fried pickles, five wings, and a smattering of nachos meagerly covered in salsa and cheese, four pieces of garlic bread. It also came with four small sauces. When I related the actual price of said pub platter Mr. Tucker’s reaction was immediate, “THIRTY GD DOLLARS FOR THAT?!” If you think that’s dramatic, you should have seen his reaction when he realized that our pitchers of beer were $24.

To be honest though, I don’t mind spending money on eating out or entertainment if I feel like I get value for that money. For example, a couple of times a year Mr. Tucker and I go out to our favourite taco joint where they make all the ingredients from scratch – including juicing all the fruit for their cocktails. A taco is about $5 and a cocktail with 3 oz of alcohol is $13. If you’ve ever seen those drink equivalency posters you will know that that $13 made-from-fresh-ingredients drink is actually the alcoholic equivalent of two drinks. Way less than a $24 pitcher of beer, which is three drinks.

Their tacos are all made from scratch as well: slow roasted meats, fresh tortillas, zesty sauces. So for $5, I don’t really begrudge it, which is why when I pay $29 for a bunch of frozen food deep-fried and thrown on a plate, it burns.

I know I am kicking a dead horse over here over one night out, last week (can you say “doesn’t get out much?”) but it speaks to a larger conversation about value. Not VALUES, mind you (although that plays a part), but the value you get for the money you spend. As my mother always says, “I don’t mind spending money but I hate getting ripped off,” and honestly that place felt like a total rip off.

Here are some examples:

Winter boots: I don’t buy cheap winter clothes because they tend to fall apart and not keep you warm. My kids wear Bogs boots because they are 3-season boots that can take a good beating from kids and that have a high resale value. We buy last year’s models when they go on sale for $60 or less. I have tried to get by with discount-chain boots at $30 but I couldn’t hand them down, and one year I ended up having to buy another pair mid-season. When the smallest grows out of hers (and gets the hand-me-downs from her sister), I will resell the boots for $30.

Food: we eat almost all our meals at home and I take my lunches to work every day. We also eat a lot of fruit and veggies that I feel are good value for their money even if they can get expensive. Since I know that having a good selection of food reduces my temptation to eat out, I don’t mind spending a little extra on things like miso paste, good olive oil, and an array of condiments.

Bicycles: Mr. Tucker and I both have bikes that were over $1000. His he’s had for 12 years now and that he maintains himself, and mine I just bought two years ago so I could commute to work (and then I promptly disabled myself). Given how long these bikes will last and how we use them to bike around town with and without the kids, I think the price is well worth it. Mr. Tucker also used to be a bike courier so he has extensive knowledge of how to care for bicycles. He’s taken his bike into a shop only once or twice for things out of his scope of knowledge.

Mattress: Mr. Tucker and I bought a Casper mattress a couple of years ago and have no regrets! Previously, we had a $800 cheapo spring mattress that fell apart in two years, so spending $1000 on a mattress was a calculated risk (it comes with a 10-year warrentee). Honestly, given that you sleep on a mattress 8 hours a night, this is no place to skimp! We purchased ours 2 years ago and every single night I am glad we did – it is AWESOME. If you are interested in going this route, here is a discount code for $65 off (full disclosure: I get a gift card if you do this).

These are just a few examples of what I feel is a good deal vs. money spent. While I love saving a buck, we tend to scrimp and save in areas we aren’t as invested in. We aren’t car proud people, so we own a 7-year-old Grand Caravan with a partially missing bumper. We aren’t tv people so we don’t have cable (although we do have Netflix for the kids). Mr. Tucker works from home and is a jeans and t-shirt guy; I wear pret-a-porter clothes so we have no dry cleaning or pressing costs. In fact, we pretty much have all the clothes we need so our only outlay is for kid clothes for the most part.


We’re minivan hipsters: duct taping our car since before it was cool

Naturally, our values determine what we get value out of but this will be different for everyone. Not everyone will pay for harp lessons but as I have mentioned before: music is a priority for us, so we continue to budget for music lessons. But no one can tell you what you should and shouldn’t get value out of, either. We are all different in our values and what we value. As with everything else, it’s important to constantly question if you get value out of the money you spend, or whether or not you should redirect it somewhere that will make you happier. By constantly questioning and not just spending on autopilot we learn to be conscious of how we feel so that we can make better decisions in the future.

What have you eliminated from your life because you found you got little value for money spent?

Here we are now, entertain us

Because I am middle-aged now, I see entertainment in a whole new light. It’s definitely changed since I had kids, and has even changed since my kids were small. Today, in terms of line items in the budget, the majority of our entertainment budget goes towards the kids and their needs. Mr. Tucker and I rarely go out, and we don’t feel much of a loss from that because we have hobbies and other pursuits we enjoy.

This week we did make the effort to go out and have stereotypical fun. You see, it was Trivia Night at the pub where my stepson and my SIL work and my brother was keen to get the family together to play. For context, you have to understand that Trivia (capital T) is an Olympic sport in our family. Holidays are full of angry words and pedantic definitions as my brother and I jockey for the title of Smartest Sibling (capital S’s) during rousing games of Trivial Pursuit. So essentially, Trivia is our jam. So when he suggested we head out for fun family times at Trivia night, we were on board.

It was a special event for the pub, so the place was absolutely slamming and we barely got a table. Still, we ordered food and drinks, laughed, got most questions right (and some wrong) and even though we were a wee table of six (some were over 20 people) we ended up with a respectable score. It was some fun family times and I don’t regret heading out at all.

Know thy limits

Of course, my brother and my mother headed out after Trivia but Mr. Tucker and I stayed to have drinks with my SIL & some of the staff. We played cards with some awesome people, watched the music set of a super fun duo, and generally had a good time. To be honest, even that could have ended at about midnight and still have been considered a great night out. But it didn’t. Mr. Tucker and I pushed it and kept drinking way past the point where we should have and when we finally left at 2am it was just our little group and the Bar Stars.

Needless to say, the next day was incredibly rough.

A long time ago, Mr. Tucker and I had decided to make better decisions about our entertainment. We found we got very little value in going out to bars until the wee hours of the morning so instead we made better decisions about when to cut our evenings short. I guess we hadn’t been out in so long that we had completely forgotten how to judge: inertia took ahold, we kept ordering drinks well past the point where we were having a good time, and we spent way more money and wasted more time than we should have.

This is just another opportunity to point out just how applicable The Fulfillment Curve from Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence really is. Had we just stayed for a few drinks and a few games of cards after Trivia night that would have been perfect. But we didn’t. We were so excited to have babysitting and a night out that we pushed ourselves to stay and tried to force ourselves to have fun. In the end, doing that actually reduced the overall experience rather than added to it.

I suppose having not gone out in a long time contributed to our entertainment amnesia so I am grateful for the reminder: stop while you are ahead. In a sense the money we spent was a harsh lesson on what happens when you are mindless about your behaviour but it was a harsh lesson indeed: it physically took me a whole day to recover (hello middle-age!) and our bank account took a fairly substantial hit.

Conversely, Mr. Tucker has taken the kids skiing for the day and I will be home alone where I will sit in front of the fire with a pot of tea and my library books. It will cost me nothing to enjoy this time and I bet it will be the highlight of my week. Our priorities change as we go through life and my ability to enjoy peace and quiet has far surpassed my enjoyment of being out with a lot of people. That’s not a judgment on what people find fun but more of a reflection of self-knowledge. If you aren’t thinking about what will satisfy you, you will never be satisfied.

And on that note, time to put on the kettle…

Housekeeping

WELP I realize my plan to write twice a week has been thwarted by a recent addiction to both Letterkenny and Sherlock but since I’ve nailed those both out, it looks like I am back in the blogging game.

Our goals are still on track despite the fact that we’ve eaten out a lot more lately due to sheer laziness desire AND too much beer has also been purchased BUT we have had unforeseen bonuses which has us on track to have almost $9300 in the bank by the end of February. Not bad.

My term at work has been extended for another year, which means most definitively – even if I never get extended again – I will walk away with 5.5 years of pensionable service in 2018. Of course, this depends on me buying back those years come November but that is the goal and I plan to reach it.

In other news, if you have not signed up for the Rockstar Finance forums yet, PITTER PATTER! I will be modding the Great White North Club over there so feel free to pop in, ask your Canadia-related questions and join in the conversation.

Still, Mr. Tucker and I are heading out for a DATE NIGHT this week – which we never do. It’s Trivia Night at the stepson/SIL’s workplace and my brother wants to go. As I always say: other families have Festivus for the airing of grievances but Little bother Tucker and I have TRIVIA. We are both fiercely competitive about which one of us is the smarter sibling and usually Christmas rounds of Trivial Pursuit end in harsh words being spoken. We’ll be on the same team this week though, so I pity the competition. The next day we’re all heading to the fancy cinema to nurse our hangovers with the new John Wick movie and pitchers of Caesars.

#NOREGRETS

Have a great week, kids

Fashion philosophy (or how to be cheap & still look professional)

When I was 24 and had just started my first “corporate” job the women used to ask me why I never wore makeup. I used to laugh it off and say “I have to be making at least $40 000 before I’ll wear makeup to work!” While I’ve way surpassed that salary, I don’t bother wearing makeup because it’s just another task to add to a list of things that takes me forever to do. I am all about streamlining most processes and while not wearing makeup is a great way to save time in the morning, optimizing your work wardrobe is even more important.

When I first decided to go back to work I needed a wardrobe that could stand a long bus commute in four-seasons but that was flexible and didn’t cost a lot of money to maintain. Anything “dry clean only” was out, as was anything that needed to be ironed or have any special washing instructions. At the time both my kids were under four-years-old and I didn’t have any interest in adding more to my bulging chore list. So I started from scratch and went from there:

1 – Take stock of what you own: Most of my wardrobe consisted of things a new mom and a person who cleaned houses would wear – because that was my life! I did have a few serviceable pieces from the past that still looked good but not much.

2 – Figure out what you need: I didn’t just say to myself “I’ll spend $300 on a new wardrobe” and then went shopping. I tried to figure out what I could manage bare minimum without looking like I wore the same thing every day.

3 – Consider ease of use: While most people may think this is weird, I tried to figure out what would take me the least amount of time to assemble in the morning. Thinking about it, I hated that in the past I would try on clothes, reject them, try on something else…ad infinitum. When you have to figure out a few components of a wardrobe, I felt it was too time consuming. The idea of fishing out socks, deciding on pants or a skirt, and then finding a shirt…seemed like more steps than I needed. It was easier to just buy dresses and tights: two steps in the winter, one in the summer.

Now, I have never been much of a dress person, it’s not really my style. If you were to see me when I am not working, you’d note that my fashion sense tends to be of the jeans-and-t-shirt variety. But it occurred to me that if I stuck to basic colours I could get away with 10 dresses and 5 pairs of tights in the winter, and in the summer it would just be dresses and sandals/shoes. It doesn’t get much easier than that. So with that in mind, I created my base.

4 – Shop: Being a bit larger than average has some challenges, especially where I live as there aren’t as many stores that cater to larger women like there is in the US. So knowing that I created my stacked game plan in order of cost-effectiveness:

Check out thrift stores: I got some great pieces by checking out the local thrift stores. People have a tendency to gain weight rather than lose it, so the thinner you are, the better chances you have at finding great pieces that still look good after many washings.

Shop discount retail: When I first started working we used to go to the US every summer and rent a cottage for a week. I would take advantage of the great selection at Target (before their ill-fated foray into the Canadian market) to get some great pieces at rock bottom prices. They always had my size and their clothes still look great five years later.

Shop sales at mid-range retail: one of my favourite places to shop is a Canadian outfit called Ricki’s (I get no kickbacks, alas) because their clothes fit right, they are extremely high quality, fashionable, and last forever. They also have great end-of-season sales. I know I can take advantage of the web sales and the clothes will fit great. Old Navy sometimes has some great pieces and their sales are decent but I find their clothes are often ill-fitting. Find stores whose clothes fit right for your body type and then take advantage of their sales.

Fabrics: fussy fabrics aren’t worth your time. I have often come across pieces of linen, silk, cashmere, and cotton that I love but there is no way. Those fabrics are not easy to care for and I only want things that I can throw in the washer and dryer that come out looking great. I loathe ironing so anything that requires a pressing is off my list as well.

5 – Accessorize: I’ll be honest, I am not one for earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and scarves. I tend toward being super plain and that is a style choice as much as it is easy for me to not have to deal with. Still, I do need tights, sweaters, shoes, and blazers so I am sticking these under accessories as they can be repurposed for various outfits.

Stick to to basics: My core accessories three cardigan sweaters in brown, grey, and black. I have tights in brown, grey, and black, and I have shoes in … you guessed it: brown and black*. I really try and spend the extra money on wool or thick cotton tights if I can find them because they last for years, and I never buy nylons because they don’t last. In summer when I need to wear shoes and not sandals, I just keep slip-on socks for dress shoes in my office. All my dresses look great with one or more of these combos and so the entire process of getting dressed requires very little thought on my part because it all works.

I also have a couple of fancy blazers (all thrift shop finds) for days when I have important meetings. My current boss taught me this awesome trick of always keeping a black blazer in your office in case you are caught off-guard by a high-level meeting. If you dress business casual like most people do that black blazer should look great with whatever you are wearing. This tip has come in handy for me a few times!

Finally, I do have a pair of beautiful wool legwarmers that come in handy during our frigid Canadian winters when I have to walk 10 minutes to the bus stop. If you live in an area with chilly winters, I can’t recommend them enough if you have to walk or take public transportation to work (you winter bikers are better served with snow pants as you have different challenges!).

There is a great Simpsons episode where Marge finds a deeply discounted CoCo Chanel dress and ends up running into some elite women from her past who note how great she looks and invites her to the country club for dinner. Of course, she only has the one dress so every night she alters the dress into a new outfit so she can keep up appearances. It’s a great episode because it delves into the folly of trying to impress people who really aren’t that important. But dressing for professional work is a trickier beast, unless a> you are like Mr. Tucker who not works in IT (not known for its adherence to fashion) but also works from home so he only has about 5 pairs of jeans; or b> wear a uniform to work.

Most of us want to look tidy and professional and some of us want to do this without thinking about it much, if at all. I know other people who adore fashion and accessories and really enjoy the artistic process of dressing well and to them I say: great, I am so glad you love that! You do you! But for the rest of us who are looking for a way to dress nicely without a lot of work and effort, taking some time to build a system is the easiest way to manage it. I know I can grab any dress in my closet and look great in under two minutes – less in the summer – without breaking a sweat. If you bike to work, having a lightweight and portable dress that you can roll up into a ball is super easy. It won’t come out all wrinkled when you put it on at work and doesn’t take up too much space in a backpack or paneer. By having the full 10 dresses you guarantee that by rotating them they will look great for years before you have to replace them.

Now that I’ve built this system, I haven’t bought a new piece of clothing in over a year and a half. Everything I do have looks great. With 10 dresses, 5 pairs of tights, three cardigans, and two pairs of shoes you have everything you need to look good over the course of the month with only wearing the same dress twice. People at work will be none-the-wiser and you can be satisfied in knowing you look great and for very little money.

So repeat after me:

Ten dresses, three pairs of tights, three sweaters/blazers, and two pairs of shoes is all a woman needs for the perfect work wardrobe

*I will admit to having fancier shoes I keep at home but my core work shoes are these two pairs of flats.

The amazing things you learn when you tally your investments

Like most people, we’ve tried to do all the right things, adhering to the standard personal finance advice: save for retirement, pay off your debt, take advantage of benefits such as retirement matching, save an emergency fund…blah blah blah. Sometimes we’ve hit the mark and sometimes we’ve made mistakes but in general we’ve at least tried to accumulate some savings and keep our debt non-existent.

When Mr. Tucker first got a job that wasn’t hourly and that paid a decent amount, it coincided with the birth of our first child. We moved out of our inexpensive condo downtown and into renting the house we currently live in. I had to reduce the hours I worked (read: baby happened) but we also didn’t want to spend everything we earned. So Mr. Tucker and I made an appointment with a financial advisor at the bank and set up an RRSP with a monthly withdrawal rate of $500. Over the years we have accumulated/paid off debt, skimped and saved, and sometimes spent with wild abandon but we always, always, always had that $500 come out of our account automatically for retirement.

Knowing what I know now, the fees on those investments are ridiculous, so in 2017 we are moving them over to another company, whose investments have a low MER (Management Expense Ratio) and better performance.

Mr. Tucker and I have our goals, yes, but we also plan to clean up some other aspects of our financial life. So last night we discussed it and I created a spreadsheet to track our investments to see how we were doing in terms of savings.

To clarify, Mr. Tucker had an RRSP with his previous company that seemed to do well, so when he moved on to new employment we just left it there to grow. He also has stocks from another company he worked for, his private RRSP, I have an RRSP, and of course we have money allocated for savings. So we logged into all the accounts, checked the amounts and plopped it into our new fancy tracking spreadsheet.

What an eye opener!

Even though all the amounts seem small-ish on their own, when we added them all up, we’re set up to hit 6-figures next month. WHAT? Who knew?

We always felt like we were significantly behind on our savings goals but when we actually sat down and figured it all out, we actually were doing quite well. We had done all the right things and took the “set it and forget it” view and it worked. In retrospect I should have done better management investment-wise but there is no reason to beat myself up about the past – we’re working on fixing that now. No point in being upset about things you cannot change.

So if you feel like you are behind everyone else, or haven’t done the right things finance-wise, there is no reason for you to not change that right now. You may realize you are doing better than you think, or that there are things that are within your reach to change. As the old adage says: the best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago. The second best time to plant an oak tree is today.

Ahead of the game?

Note: Our financial goals for 2017 include saving $18300 to buy back my pensionable years for my defined contribution pension as well as save $50000 which will make us mortgage-free at the beginning of 2018

I socked away our first chunk of change this week on our goal to $68300. It’s larger than we usually would save mostly because I received backpay for a salary increase. So I have demonstrated this in an adorable fundraising thermometer.

TA DA:

I should be receiving another lump sum at the end of the month, which means we are starting off the year on track! I also received a “step-up” or cost-of-living increase (in the government it’s not raises, just increases for inflation) which should be reflected in my next paycheck as well. I am using the increase to contribute a bit more money to the children’s education savings as well as to boost up our entertainment budget by a small amount. I noticed we were going over a bit in discretionary spending and wanted to reflect a more reasonable amount in our budget.

Also, my work has decided to extend my term to another year, which means even if they don’t extend me next year, I will walk away with 5 ½ years of pensionable service, which amounts to a small – but consistent – amount at 65. Obviously my goal is to stay on for more years than that but having done the math it makes sense to buy back my pension.

Mr. Tucker also got news today – his workplace has approved two new bonuses: one for his team for meeting their Q3 goals, and a small end-of-year bonus for the entire company. Since Mr. Tucker is off to New York City with his son to celebrate my stepson’s 21st birthday, that money will help defray that cost. Otherwise, all that extra stuff is going into the savings account. It’s nice that we are saving a bit more than planned so early in the game, that gives us a little more breathing room in case anything happens down the road.

Although I plan to report on our savings account every month, I was so excited to see the first payment go in today that I just wanted to share early. We continue to save for retirement, the kid’s education, emergency savings, and we have car savings but they aren’t as fancy and just kind of mosey along in the background (the best kind of savings!). Besides, who doesn’t love a giant thermometer?

I hate this so much

My bank recently sent me some snail mail because I was “PRE-APPROVED FOR A $10000 LINE OF CREDIT!” I have no use for more credit so I just pitched the letter.

Of course, I log into my bank account today and like most people I am used to going through the motions as a habit. So of course from the main page I have to choose to go to online banking:

I mindlessly click through to get to the login page:

Then often after that they have some sort of add for interest rates or RRSPs or any one of the other products they want their clients to be interested in. That’s not a big deal, I am used to those. Of course, I just give it a cursory glance as the house is pretty crazy right now with the kids running around and Mr. Tucker trying to get food on the table so naturally I go to click through…

…and I almost click the accept button. Why? Because my brain is conditioned to think that this is the button I use to get to the next page.

Luckily, I had a moment to think before I realized what I was about to do or else I would have accepted the line of credit (and probably the ensuing hit on my credit report). That makes me SO LIVID! It’s such a cheap, clickbait-y way for the banks to get clients to accept more products. Yes, yes, I know we all have a responsibility to read and be informed but the reality is that they are banking (no pun intended) on the habits of customers or else they wouldn’t do that. It’s super shifty, and is a sucky business practice.

I am not an early riser & dealing with setbacks – life update

WELP, week one in Resolutionville was a complete fail. I shouldn’t say complete – I got up earlier than usual, but I am not closer to reaching my goal. I know it’s about the baby steps and any move in the right direction is better than nothing but it’s hard to not be disheartened. But hey, if I was good at it, it wouldn’t be a resolution, would it?

Monday will be back to our regularly scheduled programming and I will aim to close the gap between the time I want to wake up and the time I have been waking up. I am pushing myself forward and have no plans to give up just because the first week wasn’t the perfect week I had envisioned. Life changes are a marathon, not a sprint.

Both Mr. Tucker and I worked over the holidays and the kids were off school & cooped up inside. We had planned to have them in the YMCA holiday camp but they shut down due to low enrolment. Sheesh! Since I was the only one on my team working over the holidays it was super busy and so when both Mr. Tucker and I had to work at home due to bad weather AND the kids were chomping at the bit, it was – to put it mildly – absolutely exhausting. I ‘d really prefer to never be on a conference call again while an 8-yr-old skates up and down the hall in her new rollerskates. #lifegoals and all that. I mean sure, we saved a couple of hundred dollars so not all is lost, it was just done at the expense of all of our cortisol levels!


The kids building cities out of LEGO and listening to Mozart (hey man, I don’t know either)

Like most things though, we did get through it. Also, despite the chaos of it all, we didn’t eat out or succumb to any extra entertainment expenses, which I will say is a win. I suppose had I been more mobile I may have eaten a lunch out (or two) but not being able to walk any distance means I have to bring everything with me. I wouldn’t call it a boon of having a bum leg but not getting out in order to spend money is definitely one of the ways that a lack of mobility has an unseen benefit.

Today the house was cleaned, more beer was bottled, yeast for wine pitched. The entertainment portion of our budget is taking a bit of a hit this weekend as we pre-pay for these things but over time it will even out. The great thing about being debt free & having the ability to save such a huge portion of our paychecks (thanks budget!) is that we can borrow money from ourselves rather than from THE MAN at a ridiculous interest rate. So our savings will be a bit lower but it will even out over the next couple of months as we spend less on entertainment.

One of the random wildcards I was thrown this week though was that we may have to buy the house sooner rather than later. It looks like this may happen 2-3 months earlier than anticipated, and I need to sit down and fiddle with the numbers to see what this means. At best, we can manage it. At worst, it screws the entire plan. We could leverage the RRSP Home Buyers Plan but of course, we really prefer not to. There are options but I have to work out the scenarios. Life is full of things that can blindside you so I think it’s important to be flexible enough to change directions when hit with a roadblock. I’ll probably write about it once I nail it out but right now my brain is having a “RUN ALL THE NUMBERS!” Still, we will be mortgage free and own a home in the end so I am trying not to panic.


We did manage to get some quality time in, and I keep settling the CRAP out of Catan…so

Other than that, Mr. Tucker and the kids start skiing tomorrow – my second year of missing our family winter activity due to health issues. On one hand: bummer for me. On the other hand: I GET THE HOUSE TO MYSELF! Having a spouse who works from home full time means that I almost never, evah get a moment to myself, alone. For example, in a surprising move, the kids went over to my dad’s place a few weekends ago. I was so thrilled that I put on a fire, made a pot of tea, sat in my wingback chair and was JUST about to put my feet up and get some reading in when I hear, “WEEDLY WOOOOO, BOM, BOM, BOM” as Mr. Tucker decided to unleash his bass guitar. REALLY? REALLY? As much as I love living in our cozy 1200 sq foot space there are tradeoffs, and those tradeoffs are closely linked to my sanity.

So tomorrow there will be books and tea and a cozy fire! I also will do an hour’s worth of meal prep to make this week easier for us all, but with the house cleaning done I can still squeeze in at least a little time for myself.

Monday: I meet with the surgeon so they can reconstruct my ankle. We are going to be at almost a year since I fell and wrecked everything. In case I haven’t said it enough: plan for disability! I was a healthy 40-year-old woman so it can happen to anyone and it is expensive! Of course, if you are looking to test the strength of your marriage…by all means…

So how are everyone’s resolutions doing? Any setbacks? Unforeseen circumstances? I hope to hear everyone is pressing on as they OM SHANTI OM their way through the mantra “the perfect is the enemy of the good!”

Why I blog

Amy Dacycyn of the Tightwad Gazette fame once pointed out that most people know how to save money: just spend less than you earn. Everyone knows that, right? The same way, she points out, that people know how to lose weight: burn more calories than you consume*. Organizations such as Weight Watchers have been successful not because they are teaching people something they don’t know; they are successful because they offer people a community. It’s not just any community, either: it’s a community of people who are going through similar experiences. There is value in being able to feel a part of something. That’s the short answer to the question, “why I blog,” but these are the long answers:

I blog to keep a record of my experiences: I have always kept a journal, when I was younger I kept paper journals exclusively but have been keeping an electronic record since 1999 or so. I still write in paper journals for more intimate things but I find for experiences I want to share, electronic is the way to go. I am a compulsive writer so it makes me happy to write.

I blog to keep momentum: I read a lot of blogs on finance as well as on other topics to keep me encouraged. It’s so easy to get distracted from a goal so I find if I keep up with other people who are on the same path as we are, I stay excited about our dreams and goals. Writing my own story down and sharing it encourages me to continue even on the roughest of days (or years, I am looking at you 2016).

I blog to share ideas and encourage others: I love discovering new tips or tricks and I love sharing the ones I discover. We are all on different places on our own personal finance journey so while one thing is obvious to person A, it’s a mind-blowing idea to person B. I love that we can all be in different spots but read the same content and get different things out of it.

“Notice how many of the items you’re told to buy are depreciating trifles, and how strongly you’re encouraged to buy them with debt. That’s no coincidence. Once they get most people on the treadmill, they keep them there for life.”
– Jason Kelly, Financially Stupid People are Everywhere

I blog to be a window on one family: I adore reading about all the different kinds of families there are out there all discussing finance as a way to achieve their dreams. Kids/no kids, country/city there are a plethora of people living in various places all over the world who are using the same basic financial tenets to live the life they want. That blows my mind. While I will only ever be able to speak to the experiences of our family in our situation, I love to see how everyone else is making it work.

I blog because no one talks about money: I LOVE talking about money. I discuss money way past the point where people’s eyes glaze over. I love talking about savings/investments and goal setting in the way people speak about their pets. Blogging allows me to get all the urges to discuss finance out of my system before I hit a party and lose friends with my blathering. I also think money should be less taboo. By not discussing money we’ve created situations where people in trouble are afraid to reach out. No one is alone and we all make mistakes. No one should feel isolated for that fact.

I blog because I believe there is a better way to live: 9-to-5 ‘til your 65 sounds like hell to me, so I have never subscribed to it. I also hate consumer culture, large houses, big screen tvs, expensive cars, and all the things we’re constantly told to buy to be good little consumers. I hate the amount of self-storage facilities that are going up in my city stealing valuable urban real estate, and the plastic toys my kids receive that get broken in one day. I hate the messages that we get spoon fed from a young age: you are imperfect, buy product X and you will look just like model Y! Buy this car and you will look like you have made it! Drink this drink to look sophisticated and worldly! Buy your way to being the perfect you that you can be! I just think there is a better way to live and I would rather buy my finite amount of time on this earth back with early retirement than to buy more passive entertainment.

Obviously, not everyone believes what I do, not even people who are similar to me. We are all different and we all have different aspirations and goals. Still, I feel like we can all learn from each other because of this, and reading a variety of blogs as well as writing my own has taught me to respect and learn from others. The world would be a fairly boring place if we were all exactly the same so these reasons – and more – are the reasons why I blog. I enjoy the journey and I enjoy reading the journeys of others.

*Weight loss is actually a pretty complicated thing and while it’s simplified here for the sake of the metaphor, it really has a lot of different components I won’t get into.

Happy tabula rasa


Tearing down the tree on NYE

While I think that January 1st is a rather arbitrary date to choose for a new year but so is every date so why not? Considering January 1st is cold and dark in many places of the world, it doesn’t necessarily give people that fresh, new start vibe. My friend Cory claims the new school year is – and always will be – the real marker of the New Year, where for years I felt the winter solstice was a better marker in my own life. The reality is that ANY date you choose to make life changes may as well be the best day for a new year for you. So today? Why not?

This year we marked the last day of the year by cleaning the entire house so that we could spend the next two days basically relaxing and doing some organizational chores. Mr. Tucker and I tore apart our office last week and got rid of a ton of old papers and junk, and now the only thing I need to do is file a few things. Today I even cleaned out the freezers and my first goal for 2017 is to make a plan to consume a lot of this food instead of buying more. I’ve already made a meal plan to tackle that.

So not bad, as far as fresh starts go!

Personally, as much as I don’t want to harp on it, 2016 was an absolutely awful year for me. I know people are hyper-focused on all the celebrity deaths but for me the three surgeries I had completely threw our lives, jobs, and relationships into complete chaos. I wasn’t weight bearing for almost a half year, which put the onus on Mr. Tucker to be the person who took care of almost everything from cooking, cleaning, child care and, of course, taking care of me. Being disabled was also incredibly expensive – and will remain to be – as I have another surgery and a lot of physiotherapy in store in 2017.

Still, Mr. Tucker and I tested the limits of our marriage and I think knowing we got through this past year means we can probably tackle anything. We also had two amazing trips: two weeks in Italy in the spring, and a surprise trip to Disney with the girls in the fall. Even after all of that was said and done, we ended the year completely debt free.

Of course, 2017 is a HUGE year for us financially. Saving almost 70k in a year and a bit is going to be an incredible challenge for Mr. Tucker and I. However, not saving that money would mean we would lose out on two amazing opportunities: buying back my pension & being mortgage-free. A million and one things can happen in a year (as I know) but it’s good to have goals, so as far I am concerned why not make them big goals?


A clean-up work in progress

But wait! There’s more!

In my last post I finished with these words:

“I can’t tell you the amount of times people have said something to me like “I am just not good with money,” or “I can’t budget,” but whether or not you enjoy it is irrelevant: money is a reality of life. We would never accept someone saying “I am just no good at working, so I just don’t do it.”

Smarter members of the reading public may have realized that this applies to more than just finances. As humans, we shy away from pain and are drawn to pleasure but sometimes we lack the ability to see how short-term pleasure can cause long-term pain (this message I try and impart on my kids the most, to deaf ears usually!). One of the things that I, personally, need to work on is getting more exercise. Granted, being non-weight bearing for most of 2016 (and looking to go through it again for a while in 2017) has really shone the spotlight on the lack of exercise I have been getting.

Historically, I have always been fairly active. I have always loved walking everywhere, I was a runner for a few years (before my spinal compression took that away), and I adore swimming. I discovered Dragonboat and completely fell in love with the sport (and the incredible women on my team who amaze me every day). Unfortunately though, when you start to lose your ability to function normally, the natural reaction is to do less, which is the opposite of what you should be doing. So for four years now my physical fitness levels have slowly declined alongside my increasing muscle weakness. That is not good.

So despite the fact I am facing more non-weight-bearing weeks in the coming months, I am determined to do more exercise – even if it’s done lying down. What I really need to do is up my cardio (because my poor heart!) and since I have recently borrowed an old – but serviceable – exercise bike from a neighbour, I plan to push my cardio levels over the next couple of weeks before the next surgery. After, I still have other exercises I have mapped out that don’t require me to put weight on my legs. I have researched a list of some bodyweight exercises I can do at home, which I will combine with a little cardio.


Ready to be taken outside so we can have our living room back

Enter my only real resolution

Time and energy are always challenges, especially for parents who both work full-time (and who try to have lives, ha ha…ha…hah). You get up, get everyone ready for work or school, commute, work, come home, deal with dinner, homework, activities, chores…the list goes on and on. So it’s no wonder that at the end of the day, when the kids are in bed and the work is done, the only thing you can muster is Netflix or some internet usage. Refreshing facebook is my biggest time suck and that is because I have no energy for anything else.

So in 2017 my only true resolution is to get up earlier to put myself first. If I put myself first before the day starts, even if I only get 20 minutes on the bike it’s more than the nothing I am getting now. I am enlisting Mr. Tucker into the early riser army as well (he’s thrilled) and hopefully our mornings will be a lot less chaotic overall.

Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day so my plan is to just start slow and then work my way up to rising a full hour to an hour-and-a-half before I do right now. Hopefully over time I will also add more exercises (on top of my current physio) and my goal is to be healthy enough (and weight bearing enough) to be able to start biking to work this spring.

…wait…that’s it?

Yep. That’s it. Of course, when I put it above, it seems like kind of a froo-froo goal, “get more exercise” could mean anything. But I do have a plan to increase the types of exercise and the length of working out over the next couple of months until I reach a peak were there is no value-added for time spent.

Exercise is an investment much the same as money is, except it’s an investment in your biggest asset: yourself. Having 2016 be the year of medical interventions has pushed this reality to the forefront and so in 2017 I am going to focus on making my body as healthy as I can given my limitations. I hope by the spring I will be given the all-clear from my doctors to ramp it up and do even more.

So there you have it: one simple resolution to create a habit that will increase my health in 2017. It’s SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, realistic & time based) so as I track this goal in 2017 my hope is to be continually encouraged by the small successes I have and build on them to achieve an overall larger goal.


A fresh start to 2017

Habits and goals for 2017

Recently I saw an article headline to the effect of, “don’t do resolutions, make new habits.” I didn’t click and read it but I wish I had. My brain has kept coming back to the idea and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.

A resolution is defined as “a firm decision to do or not to do something,” and a habit is “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” On the surface they seem similar but a resolution is a decision, a habit is a practice. From what we know about psychology, it’s the building of the habit that would allow someone to keep the resolution. It would seem to me, they go hand-in-hand.

For example, I can resolve to quit smoking but the actions I would take to keep cigarettes out of my hands are habits. Since smoking comes with its own set of habits you need to create new ones and disrupt the old ones in order to let your synapses to make new connections. When I quit smoking many moons ago, I found I had to go without a glass of wine at dinner. Wine was a huge trigger for smoking so I set it aside entirely at the beginning in order to create new rituals, like having a cup of tea after dinner instead. That way I still had a pleasurable ritual, it was just a new one that was less triggering for the bad habit I was trying to break. Of course, many years later now I can drink wine no problem.

When it comes to finances, we all have small habits we can work on breaking. Maybe for you it’s the 3pm hike to the cafeteria for chocolate, or all the money you spend entertaining your kids on the weekends, maybe you eat out too much. For every one of us it will be different but we need to take the same approach to change: make a resolution to change it, and create habits to make it happen.

What happens when a resolution doesn’t become a habit? Failure. It’s fine and good for us to pay off our debt but if we can’t control the bad decisions that got us into debt in the first place, then we will end up right back where we were. Racking up debt and then paying it off is akin to living feast or famine: wouldn’t it be better to just have everything you need all the time? Why go from binging on spending money to not spending a cent when you can spend “enough” all the time? It seems like a lot less wild and uncertain way of living and you aren’t shelling out hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars a year on interest.

As I have mentioned before, even though we are debt free and do have some savings we have an aggressive plan to save money to buy our house and to buy back my pension in 2017. This is an incredibly tight goal for us; it requires us to make a plan – and then stick to it! Of course, we can draw on our experience with debt repayment to create the opposite plan: saving money instead of paying off. So we will start there.


Change your life in five minutes a week! (ha kidding, I’m no motivational speaker)

Make a comprehensive budget: You don’t start a roadtrip without a map and the same goes for any good plan. Your budget doesn’t need to be perfect but it does need to be a plan that can incorporate any roadblocks you encounter on your journey, so it needs to be flexible. My budget includes “spending money” but it isn’t broken up into sub-categories such as “eating out”, “movies”, etc. I don’t know how I will want to spend our entertainment budget say, in July, so leaving a chunk that is our play money is just good enough for my purposes and I can spend it how I want but when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Stay flexible: Keep in mind that a budget should be a guideline, it’s not etched in stone: if you find it’s too hard to stick to, rework it. If you think you could save more, rework it. You should be honest with yourself however: if you are still finding you are falling into the same patterns it’s not the budget that should change, it’s your mentality that needs to. Having said that, when you make your budget you should be realistic in your categories. While I can feed a family of four on $600 a month in our city, had I aimed for $400 I would have set myself up for failure. Setting oneself up for failure usually leads to throwing in the towel altogether, “I’ll just never get it right, why do I even bother?!” You will have to be honest with yourself to admit if whether or not you gave it an honest try, or did you set yourself up so you can say you “tried” when you knew you could never stick with it?

No one else is going to do the hard work for you, in fact no one else cares. The only people you are failing are yourself (and maybe your family).

Measure, measure, measure: Mr. Tucker and I have a chart on the back of our bedroom door that tracks our progress from debt to savings. It’s the last thing I see before I leave my bedroom in the morning and encourages me to think about our goals all day long. So on one hand it’s purely a psychological tool but on the other hand it’s an important chart that shows how we are progressing every month. To see an actual line that goes up every single month encourages us to keep at it, especially when we aren’t feeling it.

I also maintain a spreadsheet that tracks what we spend to ensure that I am staying within the amounts we’ve budgeted in our categories. I only need to really take a quick look on the weekends and update the numbers in my spreadsheet. The entire process only takes about five minutes but then I don’t have to worry about it.

I also like to add our savings progress from month-to-month in other areas (which is purely nerdy on my part). Although we are saving for the house and my pension, we also have education savings for the kids, car savings, retirement savings, and vacation savings. It’s not necessary as the bank generally keeps good records but I find it helps bolster my spirit to see that we have all the bases covered.

Keep your eye on the prize: If there is one thing I want to impart on people it is that the point of budgeting should always be to free yourself from worrying about money. You create it, you control it. It’s not your boss, it’s your servant. Setting up your plan, enacting it, and periodically tweaking it until it works for you is all part of freeing yourself from worry about money all the time. It’s great to have things set up so that you don’t have a financial Sword of Damocles hanging over your head. We’ve all had the experience of worrying if something will bounce. Why live like that when you don’t have to?

The point of budgeting should always be to free yourself from worrying about money.

Deal with the psychology: do you spend a lot of money on your kids because you feel guilty for being so busy during the week? Do you eat out a lot because you are too tired to cook on weekdays? Every choice we make has an underlying psychological trigger and until we recognize them we can’t change them. Maybe your real goal is just to spend more quality time with your kids or eat healthier, quicker meals. When we sit down and actually think about what we are trying to achieve we will realize that there is more than one way to accomplish those goals. The key is to sit down and break these goals into smaller, achievable parts so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by how much work they are.

Right now it is winter where we live so instead of taking the kids to an Edu-tainment centre and blowing $100, maybe going sledding or strapping on some skates for an afternoon at the park rink is a better way to connect. There is also no rule that says you can’t do the same thing every weekend. The skating season is so short that even if you only skated for half of it, you’d never get bored. So make a plan to sharpen those skates or dig out your sled this week and go outside this weekend. Same goal achieved, less money spent.

If eating quicker, healthier food is your goal maybe spend a lunch hour googling recipes that can be made in under 30 minutes is in order. Once you do that, you will also probably realize that if you take an hour and pre-prep some stuff on the weekend you can have a meal on the table in even less time. Also, we need to get out of this foodie culture mentality. Not every meal needs to be a grandiose affair that would impress Julia Child. Even a simple tomato mac’n’cheese with a salad is a simple, easy and healthy meal that almost everyone will eat. Save your fancy cooking for Sunday night dinners. If you are really struggling with eating out, buying pre-prepped food (like Loblaw’s Blue Menu line, or frozen meals from Trader Joes) and just adding vegetables is still a step in the right direction. I love cooking but I don’t want to sweat over a stove at 5:30pm on a Wednesday. Anything I can do to get a decent meal on the table in record time means there is more time to hang out with the family.

Gamify your change: Place bets with your partner or a friend to see who can bring a lunch to work every day in January instead of eating out. Partner with someone who also wants to get more exercise and make a deal to meet every day for a 30-minute walk, the first one who misses buys lunch. If you want to read more books, use the Goodreads community to keep you on track as you compare yourself to friends. There are a myriad of ways you can keep track and for some people making it public or taking advantage of technology is a good way to help them become successful. Even trying to beat your best by marginal increments is better than nothing. Maybe this month you agree not to spend money on alcohol, or maybe soda is your Achilles heel. Choose a goal and go for it. Switch to selzer or cups of tea instead.

One of my favourite ways to gamify my budget is to see how little I can spend out of our discretionary spending. There is no rule that says you have to spend it all, maybe you will discover you need even less than you thought.

Use scaffolding: None of us will wake up tomorrow just being the people we want to be. Using a series of small steps to eventually achieve a larger goal is called scaffolding. The idea is to build on smaller successes to encourage you to tackle increasingly more difficult challenges. The Couch-to-5K system is based on this idea: by using walk/run system where you increase the running portion every week allows you to build the strength and encourages you to continue.

Enlist a cheering squad: seek out other people who are trying to achieve similar goals and ask them to root for you and to make concessions. Tell them you still want to hang out but that you are trying to and that you would appreciate their support. Meet your friends for coffee instead of expensive dinners. Conversely, get rid of anyone who you know will try and sabotage your goals. If you have a friend who insists in only hanging out at bars, maybe spending less time with them when you are trying to reduce your alcohol consumption or rein in your budget is the best move. Spend more time with friends who have similar views on things. Host a board game night for other families in your neighbourhood instead of going out to paid entertainment.

In the end, making resolutions and changing habits is going to be work, so you may as well set yourself up for success, and yes, it means saying no to yourself. I can’t tell you the amount of times people have said something to me like “I am just not good with money,” or “I can’t budget,” but whether or not you enjoy it is irrelevant: money is a reality of life. We would never accept someone saying “I am just no good at working, so I just don’t do it.” You can either take control of it or you can let it control you. That’s a choice you make every day, with every decision. So you will have to decide if you want to live in a world where you hold the reins and you are achieving the goals you set out for yourself or if you are just going to let things go the way they have been. My guess is that if you are reading this you want to enact some kind of change – and I know I do too – so maybe after the dumpster fire of 2016, we can work towards a 2017 of success.

(Now I just need to teach myself how to apply this to a regular exercise habit!)