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November 21, 2014 / Jett

Off-Topic: The Long Road to Financial Recovery (Part 1 of 2)


Personal finances have been a concern of mine for quite some time. I’ve fretted for years about the way in which money has freely flown out of my bank account, but didn’t really make the effort to stop that from happening. In hindsight, I also could have done much more in terms of saving money for the future.

Instead, I am where I am, and where I am could be a lot better. I still have steady work and I make more money than I ever have in my life. This I acknowledge and am grateful for. However, my expenses are also at an all-time high, and that’s before factoring in a wedding. Savings? I have one, though it’s a far cry from being useful in terms of paying for this wedding or making a down payment on the house. About a month ago, after a culmination of life circumstances put me in a real jam, I finally decided to take an active role in making things right.

The first thing I did was make a personal monthly budget. After mapping out all of my expenses against my income, I was surprised to see how tight things have been of late. Based on my spending habits, I was on pace to deepen my deficit every month. After a bunch of adjusting, I still struggled to put together a budget that allowed me to have a bit left over each month. If it wasn’t clear to me before that I had to make some changes in my life, the numbers on that budget certainly made that point clear.

I then translated that budget into a financial management app. By adding my budget and hooking up all my accounts to it, I now had a place where I could holistically view and track everything. It even has a mobile app that allows me to enter cash purchases as I go. While the app makes it super easy to add transactions, it also makes the act of spending a bit tougher, as I know I have to be accountable to my budget and I can see the results change in real time.

Having the tools to create and track my budget is just one part of the solution. The real work comes from me doing a better job of managing my money. In order to do so, I’ve made a number of changes to my lifestyle.

1. No more french vanillas and donuts for breakfast from Tim Horton’s

Leading up to this point, I got into the habit of stopping into the Tim Horton’s by my work each morning and grabbing a small french vanilla with a donut. $3 for breakfast sounds cheap in terms of what else is available at a quick service restaurant. However, there are many other ways of getting my breakfast in at a much cheaper price. On top of that, $3 a day spent every weekday adds up to over $60 a month. Instead, I bought a deluxe box of oatmeal, which is about $5 and lasts me for the whole month. On top of that, I’m now using the coffee machine at work for my caffeine fix. It’s not as good as Timmy’s, but you can’t beat the cost of free.

2. No more potato chips as an afternoon snack

Between the hours of 2pm and 3pm, I get the munchies. Usually, I would go to the corner convenience store and buy a bag of chips. At the cost of $1.70 a pop every weekday, the toll certainly adds up. Instead, I’ve gone out and bought granola bars and other snacks in bulk that are a much better financial value. They’re probably also a bit healthier than potato chips too!

3. Trying to minimize the amount I spend on lunch

In an ideal world, Steff and I would cook dinner every night and have leftovers for lunch. In reality, we don’t cook at home nearly as often as we’d like to. The way that our lives play out just doesn’t lend itself well to cooking in the evening. As such, buying lunch is an inevitability. What I can improve is the choices I make when it’s time to buy. I work in the downtown core, which means that I have a lot of options available to me. However, it also means that most of my options are relatively pricey. Because of this, I routinely spend hundreds of dollars a month on lunch alone. Instead, I’m making an honest effort to go with cheaper food options that won’t leave me starving. Also, next time I do the groceries, I’ll look into easy-to-make lunch options that I can prep before work. Clearly, a lot of my savings goes straight to my tummy.

4. Greatly reduce the comic book budget

Ever since I discovered the joys of comic book reading earlier this year, my comic book spending has gone way off the deep end. My lust to catch up on decades worth of stories has cost me a small fortune, which I justified to myself by thinking that the spending would eventually cool off once I’ve caught up on everything I wanted. It’s become readily apparent that this was faulty logic. There are still tons of legacy stories out there that I want to catch up on, plus I’ve now gotten into the habit of reading monthly issues. If I were to go back and look at my past spending habits, I was probably spending between $100 and $200 a month on comics.

That’s not going to fly anymore. Instead, I’m moving towards a budget of $30 a month, which I’ll use to buy the monthly issues of my favourites. I know I could get more bang for my buck with trade paperbacks, but at this point, I’d prioritize staying current with the new stuff rather than backtracking on old material. That way, I can keep up with the zeitgeist, which does mean a lot to me. Trying to narrow down a list of regulars that I can squeeze into $30 a month is proving difficult, but doing this exercise and cutting trade paperbacks for the time being will help my financial situation a great deal without completely depriving myself of the entertainment.5. Cancelling Getting a much cheaper rate on my SiriusXM subscription

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it on the blog before, but I love SiriusXM satellite radio. It’s a joy to listen to every time I’m in the car and I’m generally happy to pay the subscription fee. However, with my current financial situation and my renewal coming up in a few days, a one-shot payment of $225 is just too much for me to swallow right now. I called SiriusXM with the intent of cancelling the whole thing, but they went above and beyond to keep me on board. After applying a number of promo codes and discounts to my account, they were able to drop my price all the way down to $82.17, which is over 60% cheaper than the standard rate. Yes, I still spent $80, but I think it’s money well spent. Based on the amount of time I spend in the car, the enjoyment I get from the service, and how much cheaper it is to renew right now versus to cut it now and sign up later, this was an offer I couldn’t refuse. When the price goes back up to the normal rate next year, I may have to try and pull the plug again. However, maybe by then, I’ll be able to afford it straight-up.

6. Adjusting the terms on my automatic savings transfers

Years ago, my bank set me up on a plan where some of my money would be regularly transferred into a savings account. Had they not done this, I probably wouldn’t have any sort of savings. However, I didn’t understand exactly how much was being transferred each time. Turns out, the answer is not much. My current savings account may prove useful in case of emergency, but it’s not sizable enough to make an impact on our wedding or on eventual purchase of a house. As soon as I realized the error in my ways, I went to the bank and adjusted the terms so that I was putting more away into savings each month. I really could use the money to help me out right now, but if I can put more away and get by with what I have, then we’ll be better off in the long run when the time to make a really big investment comes.

7. Using less data on my phone

I didn’t realize that I had been going over on my mobile phone data usage for quite some time. I have a 1GB limit, though I’ve routinely blown it by 50 to 100%. I don’t use my data enough to justify the cost of a more expensive plan, nor can I afford to continually eat the additional costs that come with going over. With those options crossed off, my only other course of action is to use it less often. Besides trying to use it less, I’m trying to shut off my cellular data completely during certain periods of time to discourage me from using it. So far, I’m trending a bit under my limit, which is great news. Hopefully I can keep it up to save more money!

Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary Edition Board8. Cut board games out of my budget for the time being

This one stings. I’m still relatively new to the board game scene and there’s still a lot that I want to play and own. However, this hobby can be very expensive, as I was probably spending about $75-$100 a month on board games. I also have to factor in the amount of use I can get on a board game, as we usually only play each game once every few months. With a lot of games already on our shelves, I’m going to cut board games from my budget completely for the next little while. This one especially sucks, as there are a number of board games out that I would love to buy, such as Dead of Winter, Marvel Dice Masters: Uncanny X-Men and Splendor just to name a few. Until I can get back in the game, I’ll spend more time loving the games that I do have.

9. Better managing my credit card debt

I’ve had opportunities in the past to wipe out thousands of dollars of debt with the money I had just sitting around in my chequing account. Today, I still have a lot of debt, but I don’t have the resources to make it magically go away. In hindsight, I clearly should have simply taken care of it then. In any case, this is where I’m at and my credit card debt situation is going to be a long-term project any way I slice it. One thing about my credit card debt that I didn’t realize till now was how much I was being charged in terms of interest and fees. It’s basically hundreds of dollars that are basically being flushed down the toilet and it drives me mad to think that I can’t just deal with that today. Can’t pay it all off right now, but I do have the means to gradually pay it off at a lower interest rate. By moving those balances to places where the interest is lower, I can reduce the hit I take every month. I’ve learned my lesson and hopefully I can resolve this sooner rather than later!

10. Cut video games out of the budget for the time being

Yes, I know that video games are the cornerstone of of this very website, and that most of my content is dependent on me playing video games. Unfortunately, video games are a very expensive medium to keep up with. In hindsight, I actually haven’t spent all that much on video games this year, as there have been very few new games that I’ve had any interest in playing. Furthermore, my desire to stockpile on older games that I may have missed in their prime has dwindled to zero. I’m already not spending much on video games, but now I’m officially putting that in writing.

For now, I can continue to play Ultra Street Fighter IV, which continues to be a huge hit in terms of the amount of entertainment I’ve received for the amount I paid for it. Once I eventually cool off on that, I still have The Walking Dead: Season 2 to finish, as well as Beyond: Two Souls, The Witcher 2 and Peggle 2 in my backlog. This cut doesn’t really hurt me right now, though I’m certain to feel the heat once the cavalcade of high-profile games comes through in 2015.

Changing my lifestyle like this has been tough, but it’s for the right cause. I’m doing this to get myself back up to a financial position that I can sustain. It’s to help me contribute to our wedding and eventually, our house. I’ll take the hardships today for what will hopefully be a better tomorrow.

In part 2 of this series of posts, I’ll analyze how I did in my first full month of saving!

 

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5 Comments

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  1. jjmahoney007 / Nov 21 2014 8:51 AM

    Excellent post Jett! Finances are always a difficult thing to have to face. I didn’t get married until I was 34 and never really paid my finances the attention they deserved. Now that I’m married and have two kids we have to work very hard to be wise in our spending (some months are better than others). But it doesn’t just effect me anymore.

    So I applaud you for taking these steps. I know how hard it is having to look at those spreadsheets and realize your favorite hobbies need to take a hit. Better the temporary pain of missing out on a few new games or comics now and being in a better position financially down the road.

  2. Sam / Nov 21 2014 10:47 PM

    Hi Jett! Great solutions to spending less money. One thing that caught my attention was the amount you’re paying for Sirius XM! Is that for just one account or is that for two or more people? I can always get them to offer me a $25 flat rate for 5 or 6 months, and that’s on the Select plan or something which comes with nearly everything in their station lineup.

    • Jett / Nov 21 2014 11:39 PM

      Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but I’ve never seen pricing that low before for the service. If that’s something I can take advantage of here, I’ll certainly keep that in mind for next time. Thanks for the tip!

  3. jsicktheslick / Nov 22 2014 2:47 PM

    I really liked this post, Jett! I think it shows a lot of… adultness?… taking all of this into consideration. Cutting games and comics is something I’m starting to deal with now as well. You’re not alone! Haha.

    Also, as you mentioned you can’t beat free, you should try looking up groups to play games with in your area! Laura and I use http://www.MeetUp.com to play board games every other week with people we now hang out with regularly, all for free! I was a bit skeptical at first, but I actually look forward to seeing what news games we can play and hanging out with our friends!

    Oh, and also, congrats again for you and Steff! I’m really happy for you both.

    • Jett / Nov 24 2014 9:45 AM

      Thanks Jason for the compliment, advice and kind words! I’ll give this Meet Up a look. What board games are currently hot with your group?

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