Monday, September 30, 2013

Frugal February is Dead; Long Live Broketober

Let's go back in time, children. Back all the way to February, an era when I was wearing fingerless gloves and drinking hot cocoa and reading The Stand. Now we're all the way at the end of September where I'm... doing pretty much the same thing, actually. But in my defense, The Stand is a really long book. And there's creme de menthe in my hot cocoa now. Also it's been unseasonably hot these last few days so I'm wearing footless leggings instead of fingerless gloves. Whatever, moving on.

So back in the winter I participated in a little thing via the SmartCanucks website called "Frugal February". I set financial goals and tried my best to stick to them, occasionally checking in here and on their forums to keep myself semi-honest. Well, looks like it's that time again. After my union went on strike, my paycheques got all confuzzled (technical, economist term), and budgeting became a bit of a nightmare. Well the strike is over, (we won!) and my finances have returned to normal. My spending, however, has not. The lovely lovely Ess, who came from Missouri to grace us with her sunshiny presence is a shopping expert, and I was only too happy to help keep her skills in tip-top shape. And as it's just plain rude to have someone shop alone, I pulled my best Emily Post and happily bought pretty things right along side her. And then TS and I went to Toronto and shopped. And Jax and I shopped when she was here last month. And, hand to God, I just took a pause from writing this blog post because ModCloth sent me a text message that their "Stylish Surprise" sale was on. So I bought stuff. The great thing about Mystery Bags is you don't have to hem and haw over details like fit and colour. You just throw 'em in your bag and press "ship".

I have a problem, I know.

SO. Here are the goals. Feel free to play along, if you're so inclined. I'm not even close to being an extreme couponer, or whathave you (I don't even have a coupon binder which is probably totally gauche in the EC community) but I am always happy to share my experience with someone and offer tips where I can. That being said, I have a lot to learn about impulse control and my goals reflect that. They are shockingly similar to February's but those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, after all.

The Goals

1. Taxis

Only one thing has changed since February with regards to my reliance on cabs - I tend to pay for them now in cold hard cash. Literally cold and hard, because I just fill my pockets with coins from my dinosaur piggy bank* and rush out the door most days. I only know this is true because my bank statements show three measly taxis paid for by card and I know I took at least 4-5 times that. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you're taking a cab 15 times a month, that $1.50 fee for using your card can really make a difference. But I still take a lot of cabs. I'm not exaggerating with that 15/month figure. It might even be more than that, but I stopped writing down my spending long ago. But taxis ain't frugal, so they gotta go. I admit, I could eliminate a lot of them by being more punctual, especially in the mornings. In my defense, in February I didn't have a dog, so now having to feed and walk her first thing in the morning has really eaten up my time. Let's fix that. 12 taxis this month, that's all. While this may seem like a lot (and in fact, is 50% more than I allowed myself in February) I should note, I'm now taking an after-work Spanish class twice a week and I don't drive, which means I'd be taking 2 buses at 7pm after a full-ass day on low blood sugar. Not gonna happen. So eight of those will be taken up by after-class cabs. If I can get by on less, so be it.

2. Write it Down

When I tried to come up with a comprehensive list of how much I'd spent on cabs, clothing, groceries, and eating out for this post I quickly realized I'm kind of a mess when it comes to documenting my spending. I downloaded the Mint App with the hopes that it would help keep me on track, but mostly I just swear and shake my fist at its reminders that I'm spending an "unusual amount at coffee shops". I will use it this month, however, and I will write down every blessed thing I buy.

3. Let's Cook 

Yes, like our good friend Walter White I, too, would like to envision myself as something of a crackerjack chef. Unfortunately, my skills are more Todd than Heisenberg (can you tell I'm getting jittery avoiding spoilers about the BB finale?) but I think I have my eggplant parmegiana recipe up to at least 76.7% purity.

TB and I had been pretty good about eating out lately, but September killed me. To us, friends in town means drinks and food at all our favourite local haunts and that took its toll on our pocketbooks. Between visitors and my long weekend away, I ate out 15 times this month, if you can believe it. Don't think this is just circumstantial, though - in an average month, I probably eat out 10-12 times. For Broketober I want to chop that in half. I will only eat out 6 times this month. No getting other people to pay for me as a loophole. Take out counts. Work cafeteria count (gross). Coffee shop runs don't count (shut up Mint App), unless I buy food, and I'm still allowed only 3 coffee purchases.  Considering I'm already committed to eating out 3 times in the next 4 days, I think this one will be a toughie. I'm also taking this as an opportunity to learn to cook a few new things, as well. I commit to trying four recipes I've never made before.

4. Pretty Frock Purchases

I think I can actually keep to this one. Aforementioned embarrassing Modcloth incident aside, I have high hopes. I've done so much shopping over the past 6 weeks that I'm a little burnt out. Shopping has always been my vice, but lately after I leave the store I find myself vacillating between the joy of having new things and the stress of the clutter and debt that comes with them. I just consigned about a dozen things at a consignment shop near my parents' place and was thrilled at the amount of stuff they took off my hands. It freed up space in my place (and theirs) and has the potential to make me some money down the road. I also joined up with a swap group on Facebook, where I was able to get an awesome sweater dress this past winter and just traded a too-short/young-for-me dress for a tunic I adore. It's a great way to get rid of stuff you don't want for stuff that's new to you. All this to say, I will try my best to buy no new clothing this month. The exception might be stuff for a Halloween costume, but even then I'll try to "shop my closet". And I know there's going to be a vintage dress sale this month at my favourite store but I will try to stay strong. Strong damnit! This also means no frivolous non-clothing purchases. Books, gadgets, DVDs, etc. I'll try to find new ways to have fun.

5. Use What I Have

The weird thing is, I could hold tight to most of these rules and be okay, even cheat a little, if I just used what I had. I have a Groupon for a tapas place around the corner that we love; I have another one for a fish place we've never tried. I can cash in for a gift certificate at a nice-ish chain restaurant for our date night this Wednesday. I have a free Starbucks coupon as recompense for the time they made me a peppermint latte that tasted like Nyquil. I have coupons for free food, I have medical claims to submit that would net me tonnes, and so on and so on. I save all this stuff for some mystical time in the future when I'll need it, ignoring the fact that I could use it right now. If all this is me saving for a rainy day, then October's gonna pour.

So there you have it. Fewer taxis, write down everything, eat out less/cook more, stop frivolous spending, stop hoarding and use what I got.

Bring the pain, Broketober - I'm ready for ya.

 * This is absolutely the truth. He's over 20 years old and wearing a top hat

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Mountain to Mohammed

Back during Sewergate (c) I lamented the fact that this unexpected cost meant I wouldn't be able to take a vacation this year. Now, that's not entirely honest - I did get to do a quick weekend in Syracuse and will be heading to Toronto later this month, but our pie-in-the-sky plans to go to Europe for the first time were resoundingly squashed as soon as we spied the bill from Messrs Rooter. I'll admit - this bummed me out a bit. I genuinely like travelling, and I especially like travelling with TB so having to put any "us" travel on the shelf for the year was a hard prospect.

So, what do you do when you can't travel? You bring the travelling to you!

Okay, that was clearer in my brain. Let me explain.

While I haven't managed to get away this year I have had a bevy of social outings, whether it be people from far away coming to me, or me sending people off to new adventures around the world. The kind of work I do means that this time of year is full of goodbyes (and one day, 'welcome back!'s, but for now, mostly goodbyes). I've sent friends off to India and Russia, old coworkers to Brazil and Washington and will see off another good friend to Saskatchewan before the year is through. I'd be lying if all these goodbye parties didn't make me feel a little bit lonely and a tiny bit sad, but happily, most of those feelings are countered by a sense of excitement for these people and the knowledge that, for most of my close pals at least, our paths will certainly cross again. The friend who went to Russia, C, started this job with me and we've become very close over the last few years. I took her leaving hard and was feeling a bit sorry for myself once she left. I was delighted then, (and immensely lucky) to have two of my favourite people in the whole world come to town, my bestie (if she heard me use that term, she'd pinch me hard enough to bruise), Jax, and my dear S. The former came from Edmonton, the latter from Missouri, and they greatly contributed to fighting back the sense of melancholy that could easily have made its way into my heart these last few weeks. I'll talk about S in a later entry, but for now, let's focus on Jax (she likes it best that way ;) )

I hadn't seen Jax since Christmas 2011, which is the longest I think we've ever been apart. I love those easy-care friendships, the ones you can slip into like a flowered, faded muumuu even after years of separation. Having her around was heavenly - a friend with whom you enjoy an easy shorthand, a girl who is always down for a drink and a snack, a woman who makes your face hurt and your eyes tear with near-constant laughter. We had drinks at the cheap and divey bar around the corner, we went shopping (she bought me a large ceramic goat's head as a late housewarming present. 'Nuff said), we joked and talked and went to a dance party at a war museum. For real.

Yeeeah... it was weird partying in a bunker
...but it didn't stop us from Smizing.
It was wonderful having her back, even for only a few days. I miss her like crazy now that she's gone, of course. I'm hopeful she'll be able to make it back in January, but I know flights are expensive and time-off difficult to obtain so I won't get my hopes up too high yet. Maybe stepladder-high. Two children on top of each other in a trenchcoat so they can sneak into an R-rated movie-high.

TB and I have been thinking a lot about how we'll cope when we leave this city. But in reality, what makes this place home has been leaving us in dribs and drabs. It sounds incredibly cheesy, but it's the people that really do make a place feel like home and our town in particular seems to be this ever-changing port, with people leaving and returning nearly constantly. Of course our families and some of our best friends are here, but seeing how other people have left and thrived and fallen right back in step upon their return makes us just a little less panicked about growing up and moving on. Even our parents did it, back in the day, and I'm at least as adventurous as my dad. Until then, we're happy to have Sparta be the port in a storm (not the sexy meaning), a little place to lay your head while you're stopping by, where there's always chips in the snack drawer and a small, demented pug to greet you with silent, suspicious barks upon your arrival.