What I Gave Up for Lent (And Why)

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While The Banker and I are not very religious, he grew up Catholic, and I Presbyterian. As a Catholic, he has given something up during the Lent period for most of his life. As a Presbyterian, we didn’t partake in this tradition growing up, but in high school I started to give something up for Lent, and have done it most years (partially just for the challenge I suppose, as it’s not a tradition that’s followed by a lot of people in my church).

This year The Banker gave up coffee (insane!). I chose to give up Tim Horton’s. It’s proven to be a little difficult, but I’m glad for my choice. The reason I chose to give up Tim Horton’s is that I’ve been spending WAY too much money there, and consuming altogether too many calories from Tim’s. It had become a habit to stop there before work on the weekends, grab something to drink before babysitting, go through the drive-through before an evening shift. I chose it for my waistline and for my wallet!

I would guess I had been spending about $15 a week at Tim Horton’s, so over the 6 weeks of Lent, I will save approximately $90. Not a whole lot, but if it breaks the habit as well, I will see the benefits for the whole year!
So far, I’ve only really wanted it once, but I won’t cave! Have you given anything up? How’s it going so far?

Cable – How Much Do We Really Need?

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For the longest time The Banker and I had a decent cable package. We got sports channels, TLC (for all those guilty pleasure shows), and a whole lot of stuff we didn’t watch. We paid the bill every month, and didn’t really think too much about it. Until one day when The Banker asked if I would be okay with decreasing our channels. I watch a ton of stuff on Netflix and a lot of things can be streamed, so I said sure. Then, after a few months we missed the channels we no longer had and upped it again. Then, we switched providers but continued to have a large number of channels to watch (and also a free PVR and second box – hello TV in the bedroom!). We kept the package we had for a while, but when The Banker asked again about decreasing our service, I didn’t hesitate and readily agreed.

At the highest, we paid $88 a month. It truly is unnecessary. Why did we feel the need to have so many channels? Yes, it’s nice to always know you can find something to watch, but you can always log in to Netflix. It’s nice to be able to see all the sports programming you want, but we still see all the major games, have TSN to recap, and could always go to a sports bar or friend’s place if we really didn’t want to miss something.

Right now we have basic cable, with the PVR (which is awesome to record stuff during the day or late at night to watch at those times we can’t find anything) and the TV in the bedroom (thanks honey, I know you hate it); we still pay more than I would want to, around $42 a month. And you know what, we’re happy and have more than enough to watch. (Really, we should probably be watching less.) There are a few shows I miss, but I catch up online. I love talk shows, and they are all available to me on basic cable. And for those times there isn’t anything, we pay our small $8/month fee to have Netflix to turn to. There is really no reason to waste so much money on entertainment that we don’t really love. I’m quite happy with what we’ve got now, and our wallets are thanking us too!

What are your thoughts on cable? Have it all? Have none at all?

Things The Banker Has Taught Me

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I hope all of the Canadian readers out there had an absolutely wonderful Thanksgiving Weekend surrounded by loved ones. (And that you stuffed your faces with too much turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie!)

After being with The Banker for 4½ years, I can say he’s definitely taught me a few things, a lot having to do with finance and banking (what a shock, I know). So, here are three things that The Banker has taught me so far.

  1. A Tax-Free Savings Account is a Wonderful Thing
    Before we really starting having discussions about money, savings, and investments, I assumed a Tax-Free Savings Account was really only for people who had a lot of money to put away, and that there were all sorts of conditions. Boy, was I wrong. There’s no minimum, they gain a higher rate interest than a traditional savings account, and while there is a maximum you can put in, I will likely never get there (not in the near future anyway). You can also choose if you want your money in investments or simply in cash. Right now, mine is in cash. This means it earns less interest than it could in investments, but I’m able to access the money easily if I want it. Also, since I’m really using it to save for the wedding and a down-payment, it will be there for the short-term and therefore, the benefits of investing wouldn’t pay off.
    If you haven’t already, I highly suggest you open a Tax-Free Savings Account soon!
  2. Putting a 10% Down Payment on a House is Not the End of the World
    I always believed that if you put any less than 20% down, you’d be paying for it the entire time you held your mortgage. I had heard about CMHC fees, but didn’t really understand it, or even really how buying a house worked at all. The Banker informed me that those fees are spread out over your mortgage term, and rarely add all that much to your monthly mortgage payment. While I still think putting at least 20% down is the best idea, if we can’t get there by the time we’re ready for a house of our own, I won’t be overly upset.
  3. Credit Isn’t Scary, and Can Actually Be Useful
    I always understood credit fairly well. I understood what a credit score meant, how interest worked, and paying your balance is obviously the best thing you can do. However, I still only used credit when I needed to (or, when I worked at Zellers, to rack up points!). The Banker helped me see that credit isn’t scary. As long as you use it only for items you need and that you can pay off when your statement comes due. Credit cards can help you build credit, but only if you use them. This credit can be helpful when applying for mortgages, loans, or other products at the bank. You can also use credit cards to gain bonuses for yourself. Cards with travel rewards, points, or money back can have large benefits, especially if you track your spending and ensure that you pay off your card(s) every month. Take it upon yourself to learn more about credit, and use it to your advantage!

    Hope you enjoyed reading about what The Banker has taught me so far! Look forward for more to come. Has your partner taught you anything valuable?

I have an emergency fund – do you?

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A few months ago, I started to put money in a separate savings account, with the idea that it would be my emergency fund. I never really thought about it, I just knew I should have a savings account with money I wouldn’t touch, and all these bloggers I was reading had one, so I thought it was the right thing to do.

However, soon I started really thinking about it and how important it was to have one. We don’t live far from home (in fact, we live in The Banker’s hometown), so we wouldn’t incur a lot of costs if we needed to go home for an emergency; we don’t own a home, so we won’t have any big issues we could come up against; we both have good credit that we could use if we were really in a pinch. But, do we really want to use credit for items if we could have had the cash? Not really.

This month has shown me how important this emergency fund could be. September is a rough month for being a substitute teacher. I never know how much work I’ll get, but teachers are rarely off in the first month of school. There was a good chance I would need to use my emergency fund to get through September and I was so happy that I had it if needed.

If I hadn’t started putting money in an emergency savings account, I probably would have found another place for that money to go (i.e. spent on pointless things), and I would have been a lot more stressed this past month. Maybe I haven’t had to use it, so I haven’t benefitted from it, but I’m glad it’s there as a safety net.

Do you have an emergency savings fund? Why or why not? And have you had to use it?

Wedding Wednesday – Can’t Buys

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In order to save a little extra money before the wedding (and, let’s face it, it’s just good practice), I’ve come up with a short list of things I won’t buy until after the wedding. Included on my list are magazines, cosmetics, nail polish, and breakfast before work.

1. Magazines
I have always had a bad habit of grabbing a magazine while standing in a checkout line, or shopping for a few when I have a couple of days off.
If I were to buy just 2 $4 magazines a month, it would cost me $96 in a year. Some months I would buy more, and others less, but I thought this was a pretty good (if not low) estimate.

2. Cosmetics
Now, I’m not a big everyday makeup wearer. I’ll typically put on eyeliner and mascara, and pencil in my brows (brows are everything, and if you don’t believe, you need to go here). However, on the weekends if I’m doing something special, I like to do a bit more and I love using different products and plenty of eyeshadow colours. I already have a lot of cosmetics for the use I get out of them, and don’t need any more. I simply find it fun to browse the makeup aisles and it feels fun to grab something new. But, for now, I won’t be buying any new cosmetics unless I need them (i.e. it has to be either eyeliner, mascara, or eyebrow pencil/powder).
If I spent an average of $10 a month on cosmetics (again, a lot of times it would be lower and others it would be higher), I would spend $120 in a year.

3. Nail Polish
Oh boy, this one will be hard. What a silly thing to have a hard time giving up, but I absolutely love nail polish! I will paint my nails a couple of times a week most weeks. But, I have (I counted) exactly 35 bottles of nail polish. Somehow, I still find shades I don’t have and that I absolutely need (ya right!). Hopefully this will help me empty a couple of bottles and it’ll be extra special when I do get to buy another bottle.
This is the same as cosmetics, I might buy one bottle, around $10 each month, for a cost of $120.

4. Breakfast before work
I am horrible for this! During the week, I’m good to have breakfast at home even when teaching, but on the weekends I love to stop at Tim Horton’s and get a coffee and bagel on my way to the cheese shop. It’s entirely unnecessary, but it’s become such a habit that I do it nearly every week.
If I spent just $5 a weekend (stopping only once a weekend, which is a fairly low estimate), I would spend $260 in a year. That is insane!

This is a short list of things that I’m not allowing myself to buy, and I don’t think I’ll have trouble sticking to it. I hope to add to the list, and save even more.
As it stands now, I could be saving a minimum of $596!
It’s not a lot, but it will help, and it’s not cutting back on anything that really affects my quality of life.

What do you cut out when you’re trying to save? Any tips for me?

Subbing in September

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Happy first day of autumn!

September is a stressful month for most teachers, but for substitute teachers, like myself, it’s stressful in other ways. I don’t have any idea how much I will work. There aren’t many activities that take teachers out of the classroom happening yet and teachers that are sick will often still go to school. So, it’s not exactly busy for us subs.

I’ve been lucky (I think) so far. I’ve worked 4 days, and have 2 others lined up for the coming weeks. This may not seem like a lot, but last year I had one day in all of September and October put together, so I am happy!

Although I am grateful to have gotten some calls, and that I can do what I love, it’s definitely a hard month for subs. Without steady work, and no idea what our income will be, it’s difficult to plan for finances. Luckily I won’t have to dip into savings like I thought I might, now that I’ve had some work. However, I won’t likely be able to pay back my debts to my parents or to The Banker this month. I also have to be careful where I spend, and watch that I’m not buying anything I don’t really need. I know this shouldn’t be hard, but with so much free time I find myself creating little projects and wanting to buy a fair bit of random stuff (hello Michaels!), but I’ve really been trying. And so far, I’ve been pretty well-behaved 🙂

How has September been treating you? Any big changes with the coming of fall?

Update on Weekly Challenge #3 – No-Cost Dates

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This past week’s challenge was to have 3 no-cost dates with The Banker. I’m happy to say, we achieved it! And it was a ton of fun! I feel like it forced me to put some extra effort into our relationship (it’s been easy to just sit at home after working all day, him studying for a test, and just the busy-ness of the summer). What a fun way to reconnect! Here’s what we did:

Date #1: Walking the Beach at Sunset
There’s a small local beach just about 5 minutes from our apartment. After spending some time with a friend, I drove home, told The Banker to be waiting for me, and after he jumped in I drove down to the beach without telling him where we were going. We walked along the beach while the sunset and then with the moon lighting our way, we walked the pier. It was nice to do something so relaxing and just enjoy each other’s company with no other distractions.

Date #2: Netflix and a Fort
The Banker was out running errands one evening, so I decided to make a fort in our living room (made me feel like I was 6 again – so fun!). The Banker came home and was completely surprised. We climbed inside and watched Mad Men under our blanket roof. It was so silly, but so fun. I highly recommend it!

Date #3: No Technology Movie Night
The Banker and I sat down to watch a movie and promise each other to use absolutely no technology! We always seem to look at our phones, or open our laptops for at least a portion of the movie. This time, we tucked it all away and focused on the movie, and being with each other.

While these dates are not extraordinary by any means, they were fun and we got to spend some quality time together. What no-cost date ideas have you used?

Update on Weekly Challenge #2 and Challenge #3

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If you don’t remember, my second weekly challenge was to not stop anywhere for a “treat” on my way home from work. I have to say, I was successful, and I didn’t find it as difficult as I had thought. I simply reminded myself each day that I was on the challenge, and drove past all those places I might normally stop at. It made me realize, I don’t need those things – at all. If I really need something after work, I can find it at home. I may not have exactly what I think I want at any given moment, but I can make something work at home. Now I know I don’t need to stop, and hopefully I won’t do so at all, or at least not as often as I was.

As for Weekly Challenge #3, I’ve decided to go on 3 “No-Cost Dates” with The Banker this week. We’ve had a tough time making time for each other in the past couple of months, and I think now is the time to reconnect, and I’m challenging myself to be creative in what we do and come up with fun activities that won’t cost us a thing!

What are you challenging yourself to lately? 

Update on Challenge #1 and Challenge #2

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I’m so sorry I’m posting this so long after I should have, it’s been a busy few days!
But, here is the update on my first frugal finance challenge. I challenged myself to eat breakfast at home every day for one week – and I was successful! I know it doesn’t seem like much, but when I had to be out the door at 7:15, packed and ready for camp, it was much easier to just grab something on the way. All last week I ate at home, and it wasn’t that difficult. I just needed to plan ahead and give myself a few extra minutes. This is one that I’m going to try to continue as much as I can. 
Potential Savings: $30 🙂

As for Challenge #2 – I’m going to give up my “after camp treats”. I’m pretty bad at stopping on my way home and grabbing something to eat, or getting something at Starbucks or Tim Horton’s. So, this week I’m going to ignore any of those cravings and if I really need something, I can make it when I get home. I’m not sure how difficult this will be. I think sometimes it’s more of a ritual, not an actual desire for something. We will see if I can stick to it! Check back on Saturday to find out how I did.

What are you challenging yourself to this week?

My Love Affair with the Dollar Store

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I am completely obsessed with the dollar store, and have been since one opened in my small town when I was about 8. To me, they are the best place to go when starting a project, looking for something inexpensive to update your home décor, or for many common household items. I can literally spend an hour scouring the aisles. I rarely leave without finding something, and usually leave with a lot more than I expected (but I’m rarely disappointed with purchases).

I know some people steer clear of the dollar store because they think it’s not worth their time, or they think everything is cheap and will break quickly. While I agree that not everything is the best quality, I do think that there are a lot of items that are well worth it.

Where should focus your energy at the dollar store?

I know it can be time consuming to go through the sometimes seemingly disorganized and cluttered aisles. If you don’t enjoy scouring through piles of random stuff, there are a few areas I would recommend hitting up every time you head into the store.

Cosmetics: While I probably wouldn’t buy my main cosmetics at the dollar store, it’s always an area I look at. Sometimes a manufacturer has too much of a product and they sell it to a dollar store. In this case, you can get good, brand name products at a low cost. Just today, I saw OPI nail stickers for $2, a savings of at least $8, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.

Cards and Wrapping: How often have you picked up a card at a drug store or department store only to think how ridiculous it is to spend so much on a thing that the recipient will likely throw out? Granted, sometimes I want to get a great card that really expresses what I want to say. For that, I will probably go to a specific store. However, it’s always worth a look at the dollar store. For 1 or 2 dollars you can usually get a pretty decent card. Most dollar stores also have fairly good wrapping paper, bags, tissue, and all the decorative stuff that looks so nice on gifts. This is an aisle I recommend at least browsing.

Dishware and Kitchen Supplies: While I wouldn’t recommend buying all your dishes from the dollar store, it’s not as though they are terrible. I like going to the dollar store for serving dishes, small kitchen gadgets (many dollar stores carry KitchenAid, not just a cheap brand), and vases. I have never had a problem with any of this stuff breaking or not fulfilling its purpose. This is definitely an area I look at during each visit to the dollar store.

Stationary: So, I was that freak kid that loved back-to-school shopping; not for clothes, but for stationary and other school supplies. The dollar store usually has a good selection of binders, notepads, pens, highlighters, and more. These are things I use a lot, so the dollar store stationary aisle is like a haven for me! Many of these are the same quality you would find at a specialty or department store for a fraction of the price. This is probably my most favourite area at the dollar store! I’m a nerd, and I’m not afraid to show it!

I love looking through the dollar store if I have a lot of things I need to get. While I might not be able to find everything I need, it lets me scratch off a number of items before I head to a store where items are likely more expensive 🙂

What are your go-to dollar store purchases? Ever got a really good steal? Or been disappointed with a purchase?