Popping open travel budgets

There I was, in England for the very first time. It was the start of my two-week vacation that I had saved and planned for. My hotel included breakfast, so that expense was taken care of. But on day two I found myself thinking negatively about having to pay for meals out. It’s a combination of two things I like the least – food and spending.

London-Lamb and Flag view
My view from the Lamb and Flag pub in London, where Charles Dickens used to hang out. Photo ©Dossier Communications.

Usually I try to be as disciplined with food as I am with money. I found myself fretting (some may say minor meltdown) and had to have an honest (some may say harsh) talk with myself. What did I want to remember about this trip – pinching pennies or everything else? I had saved, I had planned and I had the money, so it was okay to loosen up a little – it was vacation after all!

Trying local cuisine is part of the art of travel. I did create inexpensive picnics by shopping at the Marks & Spencer grocery store but I also ate hot meals in pubs.

London-Hotel room picnic
I don’t always love my life, but when I do, I’m having a picnic in my London hotel room with shortbread and cider from Marks & Sparks. Photo ©Dossier Communications.

I tried steak and ale pie, Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding, and a concoction the name of which I forget but involved beef wrapped in pastry. I picked raisins out of scones and I tried 12 different kinds of cider. Since India was part of the British Empire until 1948, even the curry I had counts as English food, especially as Indian take-out places are everywhere.

London-Lamb and Flag-Steak and ale pie.JPG
Steak and ale pie at the Lamb and Flag pub, London. Photo ©Dossier Communications.

Each meal was a chance to get off my feet after hours of walking, reflect on my trip thus far and enjoy my surroundings. The best was at the Lamb and Flag pub in London, where Charles Dickens used to hang out. I visited pubs from the 1700s, 1600s and 1500s – taverns older than my entire country, each with their own story and each contributing to mine.

When I got home I paid off my credit card with the remainder of my travel savings. While I’m sad it’s depleted and the trip is over, I’m glad I don’t have a financial hangover combined with my jet lag.

Once again I’m struck by how similar diets and budgets are, how primal the feeling of deprivation can be, and how we should do everything in moderation – including moderation. (Thank you Oscar Wilde.)

Sometimes you need to loosen up a little and enjoy the experience. Even if that means popping open your wallet or the button on your pants.

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Other people’s money

(Part 2, the sequel to Netflix and chill – and spend)

When last we saw our plucky hero, a colleague was commenting “You’re a single woman, you don’t have kids, you have lots of money – why don’t you have Netflix? It’s only $10 a month.”

Thus enough content for two blog posts was born. I pulled out my trusty soap box and got started.

soap box

From the outside looking in you have no clue about a person’s financial well-being. In fact, being single is more expensive than being married in so many ways there’s a term for it – we pay the single supplement. Plus there’s the lack of a safety net. (I’m paying 80% of the expenses I had when I was married but with 40% of the income.)

You cannot – CANNOT – tell from appearances what anyone’s financial situation is. You think everyone is doing better than you? Show me the proof, the cold hard numbers. Debt, stress, overspending, living beyond your means – we know they’re big problems in North America. The man with the flashy car and the huge house? The woman who drives a 10-year-old car and patches her clothes? You. Don’t. Know.

When the economy collapsed in 2008/2009, it revealed just how many of us were building our lifestyles on credit and debt. A decade later, the level of consumer debt for Canadians is climbing – an average of $22,837 per person, not including mortgages. That makes us vulnerable.

As The Millionaire Next Door discovered, it’s not the outward displays of wealth that mean you’re rich. People with higher incomes tend to spend more on status symbols, feeling the need to keep up appearances. There’s a difference between income and net worth. Unless you know the intimate details of someone’s financials, you can’t tell what’s really going on behind closed doors.

So stop judging. Stop comparing. Do the best you can, make the best choices, for you.

I’ve heard a lot of “oh it must be nice” and “you’re so lucky” from people who see the trips, the condo, the concerts, but apparently they don’t see the extra time I put into working, the savings I work hard to accumulate or the energy I put into learning so I can make better financial decisions. Plus there’s the whole greener-on-the-other-side thing. Why do I have to justify myself just to make you feel better about your own choices?

Answer is, I don’t.

Jughead and Betty would understand. They’re waiting for me in season two, which I’ll eventually watch – with or without Netflix.

Netflix and chill — and spend

(Part 1 of Other People’s Money post)

I was chatting with a colleague about how I recently watched the first season of Riverdale (Jughead + Betty forever!), but because I don’t have Netflix I had to wait until it came to iTunes. He said, “You’re a single woman, you don’t have kids, you have lots of money – why don’t you have Netflix? It’s only $10 a month.”

Well, that gave me enough for two blog posts, so welcome to the first one. Let’s get started with Netflix itself and “it’s only $10 a month.”

piggy-bank-3117655_1920

Do you really think I can afford the fees for an image of Jughead and Betty, or Netflix? Instead, please enjoy this cool piggy bank I found free on Pixabay.

That’s $120 a year, not including tax. But I’d have to increase my internet bandwidth and at minimum, that’s another $10 a month, or $120 plus tax. That’s spending $240+ a year on a season of Riverdale.

Yes, there’s a lot of other content on it, but that’s what I feel like watching right now. Even paying as I go to download occasionally from iTunes, I do not spend $240 a year on TV shows or movies. (I track my spending. I work for myself, of course I do.)

When you’re considering spending, what else is involved and what are the whole costs? It’s like home renovations. First you fix the kitchen, but then by comparison the rest of the house seems off, so you keep going and spending. (Canadians spend an awful lot on home renos! ) Or you find the perfect cute top, but it doesn’t go with anything in your wardrobe, so now you need new jeans or a new skirt, and of course then you need new shoes. Hey, I get it, the whole spending scope creep.

One that catches me is the hidden costs to travel. Besides the airfare and accommodations, there’s the vaccinations if needed, the incidentals like sunscreen or bug spray you need to stock up on when they’re out of season and thus more expensive, the Uber fare to and from the airport and so on.

Ever play the game I’d Rather? You may have heard of it in other contexts. Kate Moss once said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” (Obviously she’s never had chocolate cake. Or tacos. Or… but I digress.) She plays the I’d Rather game – she’d rather be skinny than indulge on food.

Personally, I’d rather put that $240 towards a trip, my concert fund, or some activity that doesn’t involve me sitting at home with my butt on the couch staring at a screen alone. (Even going to the movies, where I sit on my butt and stare at a screen is better, because I like the social aspect.)

Netflix is obviously just not a priority for me right now. Yes I’ll probably get it eventually, but until then I have other things to do with my money. It’s all about your personal choices.

Jughead and Betty will just have to hold on until then.

Cardboard box retirement homes & Dow Jones

The Dow Jones took a dive and a lot of people are scared about losing their retirement savings. One friend mentioned living in a cardboard box. But how scared should they be?

Animals___Cats_Fluffy_cat_in_a_cardboard_box_105532_29

Well, first of all, what is the Dow Jones? (I’m a word nerd – vocabulary is important.) The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a stock market index that follows the stocks of 30 companies on two other stock exchanges, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the NASDAQ. The 30 companies are large, publicly traded and American. The Dow Jones is meant to show how industry is performing in the US economy. (I could get more into the history, the composition and how the stocks are weighted, or I could just direct you to Wikipedia here.)

So what happens when it takes a dive? People get nervous. They think it’s a sign of bad things to come, and basically start selling off their stocks – they cash out while they can. That affects every other stock market in the world (rah rah globalization).

But all is not lost, folks. In fact, the effect of this dip is a lot smaller than you might think. Depending on how much time you have to recover before retirement, you’re probably fine. (Between the time of writing and posting this, it was already on the upswing!)

Turns out that while it fell by 1175 points, when you think about it as a percentage of all activity and value, it was a 4.6% decline. Yes it was “the biggest single-day point decline,” but as this article from the NY Times points out, we’ve had worse and recovered without a problem. (In 1987 it dropped by only 508 points, but that was a 22.6% drop. Ouch.)

A moment for the math – let’s say your stock market has been ticking along and has grown by 5 points. If it drops by 2 points, that’s 40% and that hurts. But if your stock market has shot off and has grown by 10 points, if it drops by 3 points, that’s 30%, which doesn’t hurt as bad.

The stock market has been doing well for a while now, so any negativity feels drastic – we’re just not used to it anymore. But 4.6% isn’t close to the 10% needed to qualify as an official market correction (when the stock market doesn’t look like the economy, so it swings to match it better).

But really, all this is talking about numbers on paper, not in real life. Unless you need your cash right now because your retirement party was yesterday and you’re hitting the road in your brand-new Winnebago tomorrow, you can relax a little. (We’ll talk about time another… er, time.)

Or at the very least, you can start looking at high-end cardboard. 😉

Million-Dollar Manners

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Michelle Williams/Mark Wahlberg controversy. Quick summary if you haven’t: They had to reshoot scenes in their movie All The Money in the World when Kevin Spacey was replaced by Christopher Plummer (Canadian!). Michelle did it for the minimum per diem, less than $1000, because she saw it as the right thing to do. Markie Mark, on the other hand, asked for and received $1.5 million for the reshoot. He asked, he received.

Oliver Twist

He has now donated it to the #Time’sUp legal fund and their agency had donated an additional $500,000. I have no idea why her agent didn’t fight for her, but I’m guessing it’s because she didn’t ask.

Thankfully others, like Jessica Chastain, stepped up and asked for her, eventually leading to the donations. (Speaking of JC, have you seen Molly’s Game? I highly recommend it.)

Meanwhile it was revealed that Hoda Kotb, who replaced Matt Lauer as the Today Show co-anchor, is making $18 million less than the man she replaced for doing the exact same job. Now, I could see how he had been doing it for years and had built up to his $25 million salary, but when asked about it, she said, “I never talk money. It’s not polite.”

WHAAA? It’s not POLITE? Well then. I don’t consider a gender pay gap to be good manners either.

I always expect to negotiate, but I know I’m unusual in that. Many writers and editors don’t like the money part of the business, because like Michelle Williams, it’s not why they work. But it is a big part of the work, and life overall. If you get paid less, you have to work more, throwing the rest of your life out of balance. And if you accept less than what you’re worth, you set the bar too low for others in your industry.

As for the politeness part, I know that’s how it’s been for a long time. But the good old days were only good for a few people. If we don’t start talking about it, how will we ever learn or make progress?

Maybe if you ask, instead of being thought of as rude or greedy, the other person will admire your confidence and self-respect. Or maybe they won’t think of it at all, because it’s just business. It doesn’t hurt to ask either way.

Like Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” (Like how I threw a little sports in? And another Canadian?)

Take the shot. Wayne would, and everyone knows, Canadians are polite. 😉

I passed! Now I’m passing it on

Since my last post I’ve been studying like mad. Last Saturday I wrote the final exam for the Canadian Securities Course and yesterday I found out I passed. That’s it, it’s over – the brilliant idea I had in Spring 2016, started working on that May, wrote the first exam last December – tout fini.

(I really need better hobbies . Say, crystal meth. )

My friend Renée gave me this treat to celebrate.

Just kidding. Actually, I learned stuff. I worked my brain in different ways. Studying during my lunch breaks and on weekends kept me off the streets and out of trouble, which is important for a punk like me.

(Obviously I’m giddy from the Christmas sugar cookies. Bear with me.)

I’ve already started putting the knowledge to good use. I do a lot of volunteering, and this year for the first time I joined a finance committee for one of the organizations. Not only do I understand everything at the meetings, but I was able to productively participate in a discussion that led to a better asset allocation for its contingency funds – the money the organization depends on in emergencies.

That’s right – by learning about money, I was able to help people who really need it. I know it’s just a start, but it got real.

(Aside 1: Speaking of good causes, Interval House of Ottawa is building an animal housing area so that women and children can bring their pets when they flee. We know that many abusers also hurt the animals. We know that many women stay behind because they don’t want to leave their pets. We know there’s a strong connection between pets and mental health. Click here to find out more.)

(Aside 2: Also this year, my Breakfast Club Retro Dance raised $3500, bringing the three-year total to $10,700 to help kids start their school day with a nutritious meal through the school breakfast program. And the Food Bank drive I organized at the office brought in $425, which the organization can turn into $2125 worth of food through its partnerships with food industry donors. This raising money is pretty addictive – maybe I don’t need crystal meth after all!)

After the holidays (anyone else find it the season of obligation, stress and debt?) I’ll start thinking of other ways to use my new money powers for good.

See you in 2018!