Thursday, March 29, 2012

The First Steps Are Always The Hardest

When taking any type of journey, the first steps are always the hardest to take. It doesn't make a difference if your journey is a physical one, a financial one or a spiritual one. The path to change begins with a single step.

I took my first steps on a new journey today.

Several weeks ago, I made a promise to myself and to Little Lamb over at Little Lamb wants to be Debt Free that I would help her celebrate her Freedom From Debt by taking a walk of a paltry 3 kilometres. Other folks committed to helping her celebrate by jogging, running, biking, skipping, climbing flights of stairs, or swimming laps. I truly feel that my celebratory task pales in comparison to what others are doing for this Debt Free Dash, but it is what I know I can accomplish yet is definitely outside of my normal amount of physical activity.

I like to think of myself as an opportunist, and today I was fortunate enough through some rather strange circumstances to see an opportunity for me to get some walking in. Cub managed to lock the doors on the car while I was dropping him off at daycare. Then I realised that I grabbed the wrong keys to put in my pocket - the car keys were still in the ignition!

I'd like to say that I walked home, got the spare set of keys, and walked back to retrieve my car, but I can't. I got a ride home from another parent. While at home, I thought I would check, out of curiosity, what the walking distance was from my apartment building to the care provider house was. Enter Google Maps. It has a great feature that I use all the time for driving directions, giving a reasonably accurate distance calculation. Not only does it give you directions for driving, but it will also give you directions and distance for walking or biking. Squee!

The total walking distance from my place to hers is exactly 1 kilometre.

I already had some track suit type apparel on (because I didn't feel like putting on a suit just yet), so I grabbed the spare keys and headed down the stairs and into the crisp, fresh air. I had a song going in my head to help with my pace, and just started walking. I began thinking about all the episodes of The Biggest Loser that I've watched in recent memory. For some reason, Bob Harper's voice popped into my head. I heard him saying, "Remember to engage your core." So I did. Then I thought about all those times he had those very large people running on a treadmill, in bursts of 30 seconds to a minute. OK, so if a 400 pound man can run for 30 seconds, so can I. I started to jog. Not that I timed it or anything, but I'm fairly certain I jogged for about 2 minutes before I needed to stop and walk again.

I want to set the record straight here. I'm not going to win any fancy awards for my physical activity today. Nor am I going to lose the 40 pounds by age 40 that I once dreamed about doing. (That milestone birthday is only about 23 days away or so.) What I am going to do is to start taking steps again, toward a healthier, slimmer me. Yes, I could stand to lose 40 - 50 pounds of excess weight. But if I never lose all that excess, then I'm ok with who I am regardless. I only want to incorporate better choices into my daily life, including better eating choices and doing some physical activity.

I walked a single lone kilometre today. I even jogged a little, tiny bit of the way. My hope is that as the weather turns nicer, I will continue to want to walk toward a healthier me, either alone, or with my family as company.

Baby steps aren't just for the Dave Ramsey financial plan. :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Promise Kept to Myself

It wasn't all that long ago when I sat down with mounds of paperwork to do the preparation for my taxes. I had to call in some help (my sister) because the task was just too overwhelming. When it was finally all finished, I ended up filing several months past the date that they were due. My procrastination cost me hundreds of dollars in late fees to the government. I promised myself that I would not let that happen ever again.

In Canada, anyone who files a business tax return has until June 15th each year to file. I usually consider this my deadline, but this year, I'm taking a different approach. This past year, I think that my income from all sources may have surpassed Hubby's income. Some of our deductions go to the lower income earner in the household, so this year it will be more of a surprise to see if it will go to me or to Hubby.

I learned some things during last years tax difficulty. I need to keep thing separated by month and not just by category. Doing this somehow makes it easier for the tax preparer. It also makes it easier for me to compare with annual numbers from past years, and to make some budgeting predictions for the coming year.

This activity will takes a few hours each day over several days to complete. Then I go over everything one final time, just so I don't miss anything. This task usually involves a lot of swearing, coffee drinking and chocolate eating to get me through it. But this year, I have healthy snacks at the ready, and the coffee pot full.

Wish me luck! (If you don't hear from me in the next couple of days, that will be because I'm buried under a pile of paperwork.)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Going Out Like a Lamb... or is that With a Lamb?

This week practically flew by and I never really felt I had a chance to slow down to enjoy any of the nice weather. I worked an insane amount of hours, and managed to be awake for a full 25 hour period during the week too. I complained some at the time, but that is the nature of my work. Sometimes things just happen like that, and all I can do is go do the work and know that I will get sleep eventually.

Thursday was my second pay from the new company. As soon as I could get to the computer, I logged into online banking and transferred over a payment for the rent. Our rent is already paid for next month, so now I can start working on the other bills that seem to be creeping up in their balances. We also went and bought locking gas caps for the vehicles, which were much more expensive than I thought they would be. I'm still working on creating a budget that I can live with for those pay cheques.

Over and above that pay, the company will pay me once per month for the usage of my vehicle and for mileage that I accrue while doing the work. Sometimes, I have to travel a hundred kilometres or more to see client families and that can be hell on my transportation costs. I'm thinking that I should take the mileage cheque that I will be getting and put it in a separate account that will be earmarked just for transportation costs. Then, when I get those last minute calls to go out of town, I will have money set aside for fuel for those late nights runs.

I've set out my route for my 3Km walk to help Little Lamb celebrate her Debt Free Dash. I plan on walking this route at least twice this week for some fun and exercise. I enjoy walking, so I'm hoping that doing this activity will get me back into the habit of walking for the health benefits. I don't get enough physical activity into my daily or weekly routine, so it will be good to incorporate it back into my life.

I'm off for now. I'm hoping to be back tonight with Sunday Night Chit Chat with the lovely Carla.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More Sinister Than Murphy

What an incredibly difficult day we had yesterday!

I sat around for several hours waiting for something and tried to get a few things done while I had some time. I made a phone call to my ex after getting another e-mail from my divorce lawyer stating that they have still not received any response to any of their letters/emails since September 2011. (They send at least one per month.) Of course, the call didn't go well at all, not that I expected it to. He was mean, made more accusations about me, called me names, etc. I have decided after this last phone call, I will no longer be speaking to him in person, for anything ever again. If there is any need for communication between the two of us, it will be in writing, or through the lawyers because I am so done with his attitude.

*deep breath*

Then the day just got weirder.

Hubby and I went to pick up Cub from daycare and planned on putting some gas in the car before heading home to make dinner. While attempting to put gas into the car, Hubby notices that the nozzle from the pump won't go into the gas tank receptacle. He  looks into the hole where the nozzle should go and cannot believe what he is seeing. There is something blocking it. Thank goodness our mechanic is only a short drive away from that particular gas station. We were already on empty, but still could drive it a few kilometres.

The mechanic also stares in disbelief. He's heard of this happening, but has never seen it before. Grabbing some tools, he buckles down to work while we watch. I count as he extracts. 4, 5, 6. He grabs another tool. 7, 8, 9, 10. He uses a jack to lift the back of the car to gain access underneath. In order to make sure the entire fuel line to the fuel tank is clean, he takes off part of a hose. The clamps holding said piece of hose in place have been loosened. (This is not 'normal' loosening due to use of the vehicle. Someone has done this deliberately.) He clears the hose from that point going back up to the intake and also toward the fuel tank. 11, 12, 13, 14. Fourteen total. To be sure that there is no more obstacles in the line, he uses a probe with a camera type thingy attached. He gives us the all clear.

Fourteen sugar cubes in all were pulled from our fuel line. That, and the hose clamps had been loosened. I think we're going to file a report to the police, just in case. Thank goodness Thursday is payday. We'll be buying locking gas caps for both vehicles that day. I'll also be talking to our property management about paying for spots in the underground secured parking area.

I cannot express strongly enough in typed words how angry I am about this. God help whoever did this if I figure out who it is!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Around The Inter-Googles

~ 20 Things Bloggers Should Stop Doing

~ This 14 year old girl just bought a house in Florida.

~ That's Why You Should Learn To Pick Your Battles. *note: although very funny, there is vulgarity in this post*

Thanks to Mini-Me for the title suggestion.

Happy Birthday Cub!

And Happy St. Patrick's Day to the rest of you!
(DD2: And all enjoy your Shamrock shakes~! :D )

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Hands Have Not Been Idle

Cub modeling a 'hat'. It isn't a hat really, but it sure looked like it at the time.

Shortly after our trip to visit with Gail Vaz-Oxlade , she posted about her love for knitting. This is something that we definitely have in common. Gail doesn't use patterns, instead changing up the yarns and needle sizes to create as she goes along.

I, too, am a renegade knitter at heart. I despise following even the simplest pattern. But I will use one until I am understanding how a piece is put together (like the Swiffer cloths) and then recreate it with my own imagination and creativity.

2012 is the year I decided to work through my enormous stash of yarn and crafting supplies. I promised Hubby I would not buy any more yarn until I got rid of what I already have. (This may have been a mistake, but oh well.) I got the idea from Creating A Family Home who is, for various reasons, trying to work down her stash.

The 'hat' that Cub is wearing above, is one of those stash busting projects. The charity I work with, Keeping Kids Warm is often gifted the stashes of family members of the donors. This often includes lots of little balls of leftovers from long ago finished projects. Not wanting these little bits to go to waste, I have gathered bags and bags of them to make something with. Some of it will be for using with plastic canvas. Some bits are so small though, it's difficult to figure out the perfect project for them.

Enter the "Rainbow Snake' idea.

Some time ago, the volunteer knitters at KKW used several balls of yarn in varying colours and textures, knitting in the round, to create a yarn snake that grew several feet long. To complete it, it was stuffed with batting, and sealed on both ends. The flexible finished product called the Rainbow Snake, was then donated to a children's facility where it has been laid upon, jumped on, sat on, twisted into varying configurations and loved fiercely by many a baby and toddler. So much so that the facility has requested another one as it is getting worn from so much love.

I started working on a new snake, when DD2 took a keen interest in what I was making. I explained how it would be stuffed and sewn up as a plaything for some babies. She mentioned that if it was the appropriate size, even a young lady such as herself would like a 'pillow' made in a similar manner. She thought that lots of folks might like to have such a creation as well. My biggest worry was what to call it. A Pillow-something? Rainbow something?

We went to the park during some really nice weather the other day. I was thinking about our family, and all of the great-nieces and great-nephews I have. I've tried to give them all a special nickname from Auntie, and I started thinking about those nicknames. One jumped out at me....Inchworm. That's the special name I have for my great-niece whose name is Alaska. Her and Cub are only a few months apart in age. Inchworm Pillows. They grow inch by inch on my needles, made with only a few inches of yarn at a time. How fitting.

I'll post pics when I have one or two finished. I think the first one should go to DD2 and the second to Inchworm - as thank you for their inspiration.

Are your hands creating anything these days?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chatting with Hubby

While Hubby was on holidays last week, we had a few conversations around money. We talked about what our individual goals are, and our collective one too. We talked about how far we've come, and where we are going financially. We talked about our 'plan' - to have me working full-time (eventually & hopefully) for the new company and to have him take over our/my business so that he can quit his job at the hell-hole.

To get us started, one of us would find an episode of Til Debt Do Us Part playing a rerun on some channel or another. We would both then sit down to watch, and then comment about said couple during the commercials. Our commentary would lead us into talking about our own situation, comparisons and contrasts, leading us into the heavier parts of our budget and goals.

Here's some of the highlights of our conversations.

Hubby will be consumer debt free in less than six months. It's been a long road, but we've gotten there one pay cheque at a time. He's paid off an enormous loan, a credit card, a vehicle loan and is down to the last credit card, which is under $1000. (These were debts he incurred prior to meeting me.)

While watching, Gail had said,"Men die and women get sick. That's just what happens when we get older." I used this to help explain my reasoning for putting as much as I can into my RRSPs and TFSA (at least that's the plan anyway). I reminded him that I have no pension to see me through in my 'golden years' and although I plan to work well past 65, I'm likely going to be sick and alone. He'll have died, and I will only have myself to rely on. And be damned if I'm going to be a bag lady, pushing a grocery cart around and eating cat food straight out of the tin! That's why I have to save for my future!

We've both become content - with what we have, of where we live, and with who we are. Yes, we both still have goals and aspirations, but if not much changes, we're okay with that too. We have sacrificed and will continue to do so for the sake of our sanity (or what we have left of it anyway).

I admitted that I may never be fully out of debt. That was difficult for me to admit. I have traded (most) of my consumer debt for other types of debt (read tax debt) and the numbers are astronomical. It's a two steps forward, one step back kinda thing. I still make mistakes with how to handle my money, but overall I'm doing better. But now I am aware, I have a plan and I'm working the plan. Better than being an ostrich.

During his holiday, we spent a lot of time together and talked about lots of things. It was good just having some time to reconnect and be together. Now that he's back to work, the kids are home this week. Time to spend reconnecting with each of them. :)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I'm Still Here

I haven't been posting very much lately, but I wanted to let you all know I'm still here and doing OK. It's been a bit of an adjustment the past couple of weeks 'going to work' everyday. Then Cub got sick. Nothing major, but he needed his Mommy. Then Hubby was 'on vacation' from his regular job for a week. I loved having him around everyday,and in a much better mood too! It reminds me why I work so hard, and so many hours - so I can earn enough money that he can give up the job from that horrible place. Next week, I have DD2 home for March Break all week, and Cub will be home Thursday & Friday. Next Saturday is Cub's 4th birthday and we're going out for lunch.

I really struggled with the 'budget' for the new paycheque. I figured out how much I am getting paid every two weeks ($686.73) and how to break that down for the four piles of money. Every other week, I will be putting $70 into the Emergency Fund, $ 68.75 into Planned Spending/LTS, which leaves me $547.98 for Cash Flow. Out of the CF, $ 482.85 will go to pay rent which will leave me with a whopping $ 65 for everything else - groceries, fuel, bills, etc.

I have to be honest - this very first paycheque, I treated myself. I went clothes shopping. After I set aside all the amounts that I have to set aside, I went to Talize for some work shirts. Being the size that I am, most women's clothes don't really fit right, so I headed for the men's section. I bought 6 short sleeved shirts (collars and buttons down the front), 1 vest, and 1 long sleeved shirt. I also bought 2 work out videos on VHS and a CD for Hubby. I paid a total of $34.23 for all of it. Oh, how I love thrift stores! We also went to an outlet store this week to see if I could find a new suit for me. Well, I found 2 that fit reasonably well (the pants will have to be hemmed though) and looked decent. That store was having a 'sales event' so I paid $144.47 for two matching suit jackets and pants. Ouch! I don't regret it though, as the suits will likely last me for at least 3 years.

My stock up item for the week was bodywash. I hate running out of bodywash and I so dislike using soap. We typically only use Ivory Bodywash, because it doesn't leave a flowery scent on your skin which is important to Hubby because of his allergy to bee stings. Flowery scented stuff tends to attract bees, and he could very well die if he's stung a couple of times. I would rather not take the risk. I haven't seen that brand of bodywash on sale for a good price in a long time, so when I saw it itn the No Frills flyer for $2.99 for the 705 mL bottle, I knew I'd be buying several. I was going to buy 12 of them, but seeing as there was only 12 on the shelf, I only took 8. I don't want to be the 'shelf clearing' kind of buyer. I also managed to snag a good 'sale' on Pull-Ups this week for Cub. ( Good lord, isn't that kid potty-trained already?!) I had an email coupon from Shopper's for $10 off the purchase of $50 or more, and the larger packs of Pull-Ups were marked down from $27.99 to $19.99. I bought 3 ( after going to the 3rd store to find them), used my coupon and paid only $52.97. One of the stores that didn't have any on the shelves gave me a raincheck for two packs. The raincheck is good for 30 days, so its like extending the sale for me. :)

I'm hoping to get the paperwork together to file our taxes this week. I still have lots to do in that department, but with only DD2 home this week, I should be able to take a big chunk out of the preparatory work. Cross your fingers for me!

Today's agenda includes grocery shopping, laundry, making bread, and cleaning the kitchen. I don't know how much of that will get done, but I'm going to give it the old college try.

Enjoy your weekend everyone, and don't forget, clocks go forward one hour on Sunday.

Monday, March 5, 2012

4 Pile Percentages and $ Amounts

My new budgeting system will work like this. (There is probably an easier way, but this is how I can understand it easily. Plus, it forces me to slow down because I have to do the math first.)

Example: Contract Income of $1309.40 (this is an average monthly amount from one of my contracts)

$ 1309.40
-  150.64  ( for HST)

-  231.75 ( 20% for taxes)

= $ 927.01 ( this amount is my working income)

Then I multiply by pre-determined percentages for each of my 4 piles:
80% for cash flow; 10% for Emergency Fund; 5% for Planned Spending; 5% for Long-Term Savings

CF = $741.60     EF = $ 93.70     PS = $46.35    LTS = $46.36

Everything I need to put my money toward falls into one of these categories, or into the taxes that I take out first. This puts me on a strict budget of where my money needs to go. I know that rent, groceries, gas & insurance, and debt payments all have to come out of the Cash Flow. My Emergency fund will get regular contributions from all the fixed and variable income coming in. Planned Spending will fund accounts that are special - Christmas fund, new work equipment, new vehicle fund, house down payment, etc. Long-term savings is just that - saving for my future. When I have a certain amount accumulated, like $250 or so, I can transfer it over into my RRSP Mutual Fund.

I will also apply these percentages to my regular pay cheque once I know how much it is. I have no idea how much will be taken off for deductions, so I will have to wait until the first pay comes in and then budget every other week with that amount.

Who else has variable income and how do you deal with it?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Back To Budgeting Basics

Spring, historically, is the worst time of year for us financially. Income is tight, tight, tight, and bills are mounting. usually by this time of year, we owe months worth of payments on everything, and we scrimp and struggle to get through. Then, just before summer, an influx of cash comes in, and we try to get caught up in unpaid bills and set some aside for the rest of the year. The tiniest thing can throw off the whole plan.

If our monthly income does not exceed the bills for the month, we tend to rely on credit (overdraft) to see us through. We borrow and then pay it off as we can. We've made great strides over the past four years; we paid off several debts, two vehicle loans, and increased savings. Now is the time to go back to the beginning and do things right.

I will think of the money coming in as my 4 Piles of Money . Having a Fluctuating Income makes budgeting a challenge at times, but with effort and determination, we can achieve all our goals. For the next 60 days, I will balance the budget, using these methods. I've broken down our budget into Fixed and Variable Expenses  and percentages for the 4 Piles, so that regardless of what amount comes in, I know how to divide it. :)

Pretty much, I had to dummy-proof it for myself. I have always made it so much more complicated than it needs to be.

Next post, I'll talk about how the 4 piles are split into percentages, and how it becomes dollar amounts.