Photo by: iboy_daniel

OK, I did it. I bought a new laptop and an iPod Touch. But really, the iPod Touch was free, thanks to a back-to-school sale. I didn’t want to do it but I really needed a new computer. My previous laptop was quite old, dating back to January 2003. I took good care of it, updated its RAM a couple years ago and it has served me well. I don’t know any other laptop that has lasted as long as mine did. Unfortunately, in recent months, it slowed down significantly. I knew it was nearing the end. Then yesterday, I decided it was time to move on.

Now $2000 later, I have a new MacBook and iPod Touch. It’s a large figure, more money than I’ve ever spent on anything. My car down payment was $1000. My flight to Hong Kong was $1200. My apartment’s deposit was $1100. $2000 just might be the most I’ve spent at once. I will get a $319 rebate for the iPod, but still, why does it hurt so much?

One reason may be because I’ve been spending a lot of money lately. I just returned from a wedding in Calgary and I’m planning a vacation next month. I had to go to the wedding, I haven’t been on a vacation in two years (and we can only go next month) and I need a laptop to work on. Being frugal has been an exciting and productive experience so far, but I think I may have fallen off the wagon. I’m getting back on it, but I realize that trying to find the balance between getting what you need (family obligations/a break/professional tools) and what you can afford are more difficult than I anticipated. I just wish I could have spaced these purchases out more.

Lesson learned: There’s always going to be something you need to buy. If you can, spread the purchases out to soften the impact on your wallet.


Photo By: independentman

This article in today’s Globe and Mail reminded me of a dining experience I had earlier this year. Along with three friends, I went to a well-reviewed restaurant in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.

Despite its location in the city’s artsy yet poorer neighbourhoods, our party of 20-somethings was the youngest in the restaurant. It may have been because of this that we had horrible service. We saw other people seated after us place their orders well before we did–at least half an hour after we sat down. Our server, who claimed to be new to the establishment was curt, neglectful and even borderline bitchy when we asked about the excessive sediment in our wine.

For the most part, our food was fine. Had our service been better, we likely would have ordered another bottle of wine, just like we would have ordered dessert. Instead, we asked for our bill after the entrees. The service ruined an otherwise OK meal. We have vowed never to return to the restaurant, but we still left a decent tip of at least 17%.

If presented with this situation again, I would not tip that much again. We probably should have discussed our “beefs” with the manager, but by the time they took our entrée plates away, we just wanted to get the hell out of there and forget about the whole thing. Clearly, I haven’t forgotten about it.

In the newspaper article, an exerpt from Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip — Confessions of a Cynical Waiter, the author describes seven types of tippers. On that night, I believe we were “Flat Tippers.”

This is how he describes them:

“You could spill hot soup on their baby or treat them like the Sultan of Brunei, they’ll always tip you 15 per cent.”

If you had planned a nice dinner out and received service like we did, what would you have tipped? What do you tip for good service?

Photo by: Derek Farr

If you’ve picked up a newspaper, turned on the radio or television, you’ve heard the R word: recession. But what does it mean and how does it affect the average person? Pete returns with what I hope is a bi-weekly blog entry. Today, it’s all about recession.

What is a recession?

A recession is when the gross domestic product of a country or region shrinks for two consecutive quarters. Since the idea of this is to put fancy economic terms into words normal people can understand, let me try that again…

The Gross Domestic Product (or GDP) of a country is the total value of all the goods and services produced within the country. If you add up the economic value of every single manufactured item and service sold (a ridiculously huge concept to think about) you get the country’s GDP. Canada’s GDP in 2006, for example, was $1.178 trillion — that’s the total value of every Tim Hortons coffee, dollar-store umbrella, sky-diving lesson and grocery bill sold during the whole year. In simple terms, if that number gets bigger, the economy is expanding. If that number gets smaller, the economy is contracting.

In finance, years are divided into quarters — periods of three months. So by a literal definition, a country is in recession when its economy shrinks for six consecutive months. Strictly speaking, that hasn’t happened yet in Canada or the U.S.A. But my hunch is we’re pretty damn close.
Read the rest of this entry »

Photo By: Frexcelsior

I’m just getting started on this journey into the black. It’s not easy but I’ve been able to do a few things I think will make for a healthier financial future. Here are five things I’ve done to save money in the past month:

  1. Contribute to a high-interest savings account: I took my tax return and put it into a high-interest savings account. This serves as my emergency savings so instead of relying on credit the next time I scratch the side of my car, I can get it fixed with my own money. Let’s hope I won’t need to use it…
  2. Park the car: Instead of driving, I’ve been walking and biking more often than before. In the past month, I’ve only filled up at the station twice ($86). It’s still a lot of money but I have 3/4 of a tank remaining which will last me well into August.
  3. Cook more: Better for my health and wallet, preparing my own meals instead of buying them has worked pretty well so far. I’ve already told you that I save about $200/month now that I’ve reduced dining out. How much would you save if you reduced dining out by two or three times a week?
  4. Switch grocery stores: This is something I’m still transitioning to. Instead of going to Loblaws where the store is bigger, cleaner and well-stocked, I’ve been going to cheaper alternatives like No Frills and the ethnic-friendly T&T. What’s the point of buying bread at Loblaws if it’s the same price as the convenience store downstairs? I’m looking forward in reducing the weekly grocery bill.
  5. Track money: People seem to find this a lot scarier than creating a budget and I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty horrifying if like me, you’ve been ignorant to your spending. But facing your expenses is possibly the most important thing you can do when trying to get control of your finances. If you know where you’re spending, you’ll know where to cut down. Now I know…and knowing is half the battle.

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Photo By: Thomas Hawk

Until very recently, I didn’t discussed money with my friends. But when I decided to start taking my personal finances seriously, I began asking friends as many questions as I could–without being too nosey–and the friends I happen to be discussing this with happen to be men.

It seems the gentlemen in my life are much more open to talking about money. They even like talking about it. Most of my guy friends have no student debt, invest and even own property. When I discuss money with my female friends, however, it’s more negative. They more often complain about money management and debt. Based on my small sample of friends in their 20’s and early 30’s, I’m led to believe that in general, men are better with money than women are.

I’m not convinced that this is entirely true, though. I wonder if men are just more comfortable talking about about their net worth and money, whereas women feel they play down their financial success. Could it be for the same reasons that young girls act dumber in school so as not to intimidate the boys? Or like my partner has suggested, do women value having things over having money, whereas men value money?

What do you think? How do men and women approach money differently? Are there any differences at all?

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It’s July 11th! That means it’s Apple iPhone day. At 9 pm EST, you can get an iPhone for the first time in Canada, but do you really care? I love Apple products, but you can count me out. The idea of signing a three-year contract with Rogers gives me shivers, and I’m not the only one. As the only service provider for iPhones in Canada, Rogers has been accused of being corporate jackasses with some of the most expensive service plans in the world. While some Apple freaks will still pay top dollar for usage, many would-be consumers have put their foot down, signed petitions and vowed to boycott the Rogers’ services (and in turn th iPhone) on principle. Why should we have to pay more for inferior service plans?

I find the controversy over the Rogers plans to a be fascinating peak into the world of business, supply+demand, Apple fanatics and the power (or lack of) consumer anger. Here are some my favourite links about the iPhone, Rogers and technolust:

Rogers, Apple iPhone and disgruntled Canadians: Blogger Nancy Zimmerman explains the kerfuffle that is the Canadian iPhone story.

Rally online today: The people behind are organizing an online rally against Rogers’ service plans for 10 am EST today. They’ve got the support of Liberal MP David McGuinty’s

Technolust: Today’s podcast from The Current examines technolust and why Appleholics have to have the newest products.

CBC’s iPhone iNdex: An interactive map that compares iPhone rate plans around the world. Guess what? Rogers’ plan for Canadians is the second most expensive in the world, second only to Vodaphone’s plans in Italy.

Why are Canadian cell phone plans so expensive?: CBC’s science and technology writer, Peter Nowak explains why Rogers’ iPhone rates are so expensive compared to the rest of the world, why there is no unlimited data plans, why Canadian mobile rates are generally more expensive and what the future of Canadian cell phone competition will look like.

How to cope with gadget envy: Still want an iPhone despite Rogers’ ridiculous service plans? Resist and read Get Rich Slowly’s great advice on how to avoid falling into technolust.

Photo By: acnatta

Frugal Dad shares the story of an American family that slashed its weekly spending from $660 to under $110. It’s a pretty impressive cut in expenses. In the video (MSNBC), Ellen Roberts, the mother says the key was just knowing where all her money was going:

“You just spend so much money on frivolous things, it adds up. You don’t understand how it adds up until you really see the numbers.”

It seems pretty simple, but even I’ve been surprised by how much more conscious of my spending I’ve become since recording where my pennies go.

Lesson learned: You can’t know how much money you spent, if you don’t write it down.

I’ve still got about a week of recording before I create a proper budget.Judging by my numbers so far, I’m not sure I could live within the budget of the Roberts’. Although Ellen admits she’s going back to getting professional pedicures,  I’m extremely impressed by their ability to spend under $110 for the entire family. As an individual, do you live happily under $100/week? Could you? Could you cut your spending in half?

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  • On Not Budgeting

  • Photo By: Mike9Alive

    “Interest rate” is one of those terms I think I understand, but I don’t fully ‘get’ how it works. Pete is back today with some great answers to my questions about interest rates. He explains what an interest rate is, where we find them, how they’re determined and why credit cards have different rates.

    Very briefly, please explain what an interest rate is.

    An interest rate is the rate at which borrowed money has to be repaid. It is typically expressed as a percentage. A rate of 1% implies that if you borrow $100, you have to eventually pay $101 back the person or institution you borrowed the money from.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Photo By: gromgull

    My mother likes to boast that we have a really close relationship. We do, but we also disagree on a lot of things: music, bottled water, people. But more than anything, we disagree on how we spend money.

    A few weeks ago, we argued over the purchase of a new umbrella. My mother’s method of consumption is: buy many for as little as possible. She suggested I go to the dollar store to purchase one for $1. Although they’re guaranteed to break easily, she’d rather spend $10 on 10 cheap umbrellas.

    I love the dollar store. Dollarama is my go-to place for tin foil, party decorations and even drinking glasses. But umbrellas are different. If I learned anything while living in Hong Kong, it was that a quality umbrella is one of the most important things you could own. Through typhoon wind and rain, my trusty Eddie Bauer umbrella was my best friend (thanks to Dana who sent it to me).

    With that in mind, I argued that spending $15 on a good quality umbrella that will not break is a better choice. Mom thinks that’s an unwise financial decision, especially for some one in debt like me.

    I know that spending $1 now is a much smaller expense than spending $15 is now, but is it really saving money overall? For me, spending 10 dollars for 10 umbrellas is not only a waste of time (imagine making numerous trips to the store just to buy a new umbrella every couple of weeks,) but it’s a waste of resources.

    When we all should be trying to reduce our ecological footprint, I think buying 10 umbrellas and throwing out nine) over buying one good umbrella, is bad for the earth. Also, one of my goals for 2008 is to declutter. The idea of having multiple umbrella carcasses in my apartment is a lot more annoying, stressful and unnecessary than purchasing one superior product for a few dollars more.

    I haven’t actually bought a new umbrella yet. But I think this is an important debate regardless of what you’re buying. It goes without saying that there are times when quantity trumps quality, like when the quality is barely distinguishable (eg. generic drug brands). But what are your standards? When is it worth paying more?

    Photo By: Brianware3000

    On this journey to financial freedom, I am not starting with a budget. I’ve done that already. My budget plans have lived on scraps of paper, Word documents, e-mails addressed to myself and little books I designated as my books of money. They have never lasted more than two weeks.

    The problem was not that I couldn’t stick to a budget. The problem was that I drafted them blindly. I never tracked my spending so I could not accurately gauge how much I would need to spend on food, transportation or entertainment. Instead, I guesstimated how much I would spend on each category and I was usually wrong. It was like signing up for a marathon before I knew how long I could run.

    It turned out I couldn’t make it around the block. I would often spend over what my budget allowed. Instead of being realistic, I wrote optimistic budgets that failed to account for birthday gifts, spur-of-the-moment concert tickets or dry cleaning. When I consistently overspent, I was discouraged and quickly abandoned the budget.

    This has gone on for years. I’m ashamed to admit that it’s only now that I’ve begun to track my money. To some, it seems simple enough. To others, it may be a dreadful chore. But when it comes down to it, how can you save money if you don’t know where it goes?

    I now keep my track of all my spending. From the $60 bar tab to the to $1.50 coffee, I’ve recorded all transactions from the past week. So far, I’ve found it to not only be a great way to see where my money is going, but to reign in spending. I’ve only been doing it for a week and a half, but I’ve already determined that I’ve spent too much money parking and entertainment. Perhaps it’s a little obsessive of me, but I have to admit, knowing where I’ve spent each penny is empowering. Dare I say, it’s even a little fun..