A new challenge – Month of Scrooge

Well I can most certainly say the last couple of months have been spendy, plenty of outflow and I am now taking steps to remedy this situation.  That is why this next challenge is close my frugal loving heart.  I have chosen a new challenge to get myself on track and back into my financial groove.  It’s time to go back to basics and focus on spending only on what is necessary and cutting out everything else – aka a month of Scrooge is in order!

I also want to challenge myself again.  It’s been a fair while since I have done something like this, but it also allows me to put myself in check on my emergency fund and essentially prove that I can indeed live on the set monthly expense amount I have set to live off, if for example I lose my job or cannot work due to ill health.  Only I am going to dig deeper and cut down my food expenses,  wipe out my personal allowance altogether and get rid of the junk quite literally (okay mostly)! So here it is:

For the month of February I have chosen to live off a total monthly budget of $1245!

Now some may think “Woa” that is a ship ton of money to spend for a single gal or maybe not.  But I believe this is the absolute lowest I can go at this moment in time which makes my estimates of just over $1300 look absolutely generous in comparison.

The breakdown is as follows and is what I deem as necessary, but admittedly there is a vanity budget set in there which I’ll explain shortly.

  • Rent  $880
  • Mobile Phone $50.19
  • Vehicle Insurance $23.60
  • Internet $30
  • Household $20
  • Food $160
  • Gas/Transport $50
  • Haircut $31

For the pendantics out there, yes I realise the total amount of the above totals to $1244.79 but I have opted to round it off for the remaining few cents!

Admittedly there are a couple WTF budgeted items in there.  The haircut for example.  I’m vain I’ll admit it but I do feel it’s important to make a good appearance especially if I had lost my job, and keeping my hair cut (I have short hair) for good presentation at interviews is a must!

Rent and food are quite obvious.  I must have shelter and must eat but that food budget is going to be the real challenge, I can barely keep to $200 a month.  Reducing it by $40 will be difficult but I have plans to implement changes to my grocery budget that I hope to keep ongoing.

Gas/Transport will cover my travel costs to work and household covers my non food costs, such as toilet paper and hygiene purchases.

My mobile phone bill is my set monthly contract that I don’t wish to change.  Like the haircut example it’s a requirement if I lost my job for perspective interview calls, though admittedly if push came to shove I’d at least lower the plan but I like it the way it is so that doesn’t change.

So what’s not in there?

Personal allowance!  Yes my shopping soul is hurting, but I can do without for a month.  I don’t spend a lot over a month usually, but even this will be a stretch.  There are also no power bills/water bills to care for because it’s all inclusive of my rent.  And last but best of all no debt to suck out the rest of my hard earned cash.

How I hope to accomplish this?

I plan to track my expenses via a very handy app on my phone.  I have also been trialling a cash only budget in January for groceries, gas and my allowance which has had excellent results so far.  I found using this method has worked in helping me stick to my budget and it has also left me with money left over at the end of my fortnightly cycle.  Admittedly I will likely find it a little bit harder considering I have lowered the amount but no time like the present to test it more!

All other expenses because they fixed, are automated to be paid via internet banking into their relevant accounts.

My month of scrooge won’t be easy but it wouldn’t be a challenge otherwise!  Come join me if you want!

First Trip of 2017 Booked

My first trip this year will be a return to the homeland New Zealand, and it will be straight to the capital Wellington to feast on my favourite takeaway, fish and chips.  Nothing beats good old NZ fish and chips and there will also be the opportunity to munch down on my favourite biscuits in the whole entire world Afghans, come to Mama!.

However this trip will be a little more expensive than usual as I will not be staying with friends and family having opted to book my own accomodation and get a hire car for the duration of my stay.  Can’t wait to explore one of my favourite cities in the world and I purchased travel insurance too purely for that purpose.  Rather than pay the excess the hire car company will give me if any damage is made to the vehicle, I have purchased insurance to cover the excess should I get in an accident.  It has reduced the cost of the hire car greatly and I am pleased as punch about this.   I also got a 10% discount on my insurance because I am a repeat customer so loyalty has paid off!

First things in order however I have to make myself legal to travel and have renewed my NZ passport recently.  The good news for my fellow countrymen is that renewals for adult passports can be done online and at a reduced price so there are some savings to be had.   Firstly $180 online, as opposed to $215 for the paper applications.  Even better if you live here in Australia you don’t have to pay goods and services tax, so that costs then drops to $157.26 NZD translated to $149 AUD.  I also avoided the conversion fee because the credit card I have does not incur these fees.  Hooray me for the win!  Though I did pay $19.95 for a digital passport photo but this can be avoided if you were to take your own.

After NZ, I’ll be looking at my next destination which I’m growing ever the more keen on, Taipei in Taiwan.  I am considering Singapore for a few days then Taiwan, or possibly Hong Kong then Taiwan.  Over a couple of weeks I think I could safely do this for approximately $2000 AUD in comfort.  I could probably shave off a few hundred dollars if I chose backpacker options but I am  not keen on that option.  We’ll see anywho considering my wish to spend less this year on travel.

Sigh, so many travel destinations to think of and look forward to but not enough money to do it constantly.  I am keeping my choice of destinations close to Australia for lower cost because in a couple of years time I plan to hit Europe and that needs plenty of money.  Can’t wait though even though I am going home, I am excited to just get there!

Have you booked your first trip for the year yet?

Montreal – Not what I expected

It was a short taxi ride to the train station in Ottawa.  I figured due to the fact that it was Remembrance Day I’d check out early and make my way to the station in case there were any roads blocked off or traffic was a nightmare.  As it turns out traffic was normal and I arrived with plenty of time to spare.  I didn’t know what to expect of Montreal but I was pleasantly optimistic having enjoyed my stay in Ottawa.

Having found my seat on the train I was organising myself and had my tote sitting on the seat next to me.  Five minutes later a man approached and he said “Hi” and stood there.  So I replied “Hi’ back and looked at him wondering what he’d wanted.  Now because my brain wasn’t working entirely one would correctly deduce that my bag was on his seat and he wanted me to move it, but instead of just saying this is my seat he said “Did you think I was hitting on you, that’s my seat?”.  I was confused thinking why would someone jump to that conclusion, but he turned out to be a pleasant sort of fellow even if he seemed to be surrounded in a aura of weird.

The remainder of the trip passed by with relative ease.  I arrived to Union Station a few minutes behind schedule, but managed to find a free tourist map intent on walking to my hotel located close to Chinatown.  This was the first time I began to feel outside of my comfort zone because everything is in French.  The signs, directions and worse I exited the train station to a mind chilling cold.  Ottawa gave me frozen ears, but Montreal froze me all over.  A good thing that I had my puffer jacket with me!

The streets were empty, there were the occasional people that I passed as I headed off in the wrong direction.  Seriously I have the worse sense of direction and I even had a map!  Four blocks later realising the street names didn’t seem to be matching what I was looking for I realised I’d turned the wrong way. I bloody hate wasting my own time and grumbled my way back to my starting point at Union Station.  Though I will concede it wasn’t entirely wasteful because there are some beautiful buildings to be revered.

Taking my time slowly I came across the St Patricks Basilica and it was very beautiful sitting majestically on a little steep hill.  The park at the bottom was stunning (I just love the Autumn colours) and there were tons of squirrels scurrying around.  But these weren’t the jittery ones I’d encountered in New York, they were psycho squirrels who came right up to you as if to say “Bonjour” and found myself shooing the little buggers away.

Climbing the stairs to where the Basilica presided I decided to check out the inside.  It literally took my breath away.  I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was inside, having never come across anything like this yet.  I managed to take a few fuzzy pictures before I walked back out into the mind juddering cold.

Navigating the streets I came across Chinatown which you couldn’t really call a town, it was two street blocks, but I hobbled my way to my hotel.  I was sick, tired and freezing by the time I arrived at my hotel 20 minutes later.  The Hotel Roberval on Berry Street.  This hotel was again a studio type room, with a bath and free continental breakfast daily.  It was basic but a good stay and great value.  I desperately wanted to rest because I wasn’t feeling very good at all and I thought with an early night I would be well rested to explore the very next day.

I had a steaming hot bath, ate the fruit and muesli bars I had picked up then turned on the television to be met by French television.  It was an experience to watch Thor in French but it’s the kind of movie watched for the great effects not dialogue and I really enjoyed the movie.  Then I drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

The following morning I was starving and looking forward to my continental breakfast.  I headed on down as soon as it was available and gave my ticket to the cook.  I piled my plate with pastries, fruit salad, cream cheese and a coffee.  The pastries were standard, the fruit salad was disgustingly sweet and I couldn’t finish it, but the coffee was the worst thing I’d ever had.  It was terrible.  Thinking it couldn’t possibly be that bad I stupidly took another sip and almost vomited up my meal.  What was I thinking?  Breakfast was a bust, and me without coffee in the morning meant a sluggish start.

I mapped out my travels for the day and decided on visiting Old Montreal.

Taking my time I found myself marvelling at the beauty of the city.  Beautiful old buildings, quaint streets filled with gaudy tourist shops, and I found the Notre Dame Cathedral also.  I didn’t actually go inside however just managing to snap pictures from the outside because it was a $5 fee to enter.  Having viewed the St Patricks Basilica I figure churches all look the same inside really.   Some are just bigger than most.

The remainder of the day was then spent navigating through the city, and I realised the reason why the streets seem empty is because there is a whole network of shops and malls below ground along with Montreals subway system.  Maybe in warmer weather people venture out onto the streets but it was absolutely freezing if you didn’t have the right cover.

Though I thought Montreal was beautiful I still hold a certain dislike for it.  I think it maybe because of a few factors being that I was sick, there were many vagrants, it was cold, and I’d just been in Ottawa which was by far prettier.  I couldn’t actually wait to leave so I ended up heading to the International Airport four hours before I was due to fly out.  I really wished I had stayed in Ottawa longer and taken more time to explore.

 

It was a $10 bus ride, the stop right outside the Berri UQAM (subway) a block from where I was staying, and it took me all the way to the Pierre-Trudeau Airport.  The bus was 40 minutes travel time.  Then, though I didn’t realise it at the time I actually went through USA customs in Canada.  Very quick and efficient, it puts Australian/NZ immigration to shame.

Then it was a quick flight back to NYC my second favourite US city to cap off the end of my vacation!

Broke in the New Year? Find ways to reduce your costs and save save save!

It’s more than likely we’ve all had a spendy Christmas, some more than most.  There’s not only the cost of purchasing presents for all our loved ones, but also the added costs of financing family eats on the special day, as well as keeping the kids entertained during the holidays.  For those struggling financially it can eat up a large part of the cash.

The important thing is not to get down about it, but to work out a solution and begin working towards that goal.   As most people who know me personally, I am all about fixing and finding a solution rather than wallowing.  It’s not easy either, because temptation is ripe but eventually if you make something a habit, it becomes normal.

For instance when I began to look at my emergency fund, I realised how much smaller it could be if I lowered my cost of living.   Slowly I began to do without certain things, and focussing on setting aside as much money as I could when I could.  These became new habits and now they are no longer habits but my normal.  It didn’t happen immediately either.  I had to learn which took time, wasted money and even now I am not fantastic at it just good enough to be satisfied while looking to improve.

The first things I looked at were my necessities.  What do we really need to survive?

It’s simple really, food and shelter.  Anything else is a want unless it’s something one needs to support that food and shelter.

FOOD – A necessity

In the month of October 2016, I did a Grocery Budget Challenge to challenge myself to stick to a set amount per month.  Full confession, groceries are my nemesis because I love to grocery shop and it got a little of control to where I would be heading off to the supermarket every second day.  Sometimes this would result in my missing out a monthly haircut in order to maintain my budget!

Currently I am able to temper my desire to grocery shop and have learned ways to cut down this nasty habit with a great side effect being that I rarely ever feel the desire to go out for coffee or takeout.  In turn what was initially difficult became normal.  How do I do this?

  • I never buy take-out food, unless I meet a friend for a meal out.
  • I never buy coffee unless it’s part of my grocery list aka the instant kind or I am meeting a friend per the above.
  • I shop the sales and mostly buy vegetables and fruit in season.
  • I eat beans, chicken, eggs and canned tuna as my main protein sources to reduce the cost of meat.
  • I restrict the amount of times I shop for groceries.
  • I only buy what is necessary and never waste food.
  • I batch cook (Egads!).  I ain’t the best cook in the world but I’ve learned as long as what I cook is tasty I’m not inclined to buy takeaway.

SHELTER – Another necessity

I currently rent and more than likely will remain a lifetime renter. It would be absolutely awesome to own my shelter but if I can’t, life isn’t so bad and this is how I keep costs down in a very expensive city.

  • Shared living.  I live in a shared housing arrangement, where I have my own walk-in wardrobe and bathroom.  If I were to have my own apartment my rent would have increased my almost 100% on what I am paying now or at the very least be 45% of my current wage.  You can see why the shared housing arrangement is financially appealing for me.
  • Power and water is included in my rent.  No separate quarterly bills to look forward to!

This arrangement is unlikely to go on forever but I am happy to maintain the current status quo for a few more years yet.  It’s the choice I have made to save money.  If you’re looking at reducing your costs in this area, consider smaller dwellings, different suburbs and yes sharing the cost with others.

HOUSEHOLD BILLS Power/Internet/Phone/Cable/Insurance

This covers what most households will have in their standard budget and one thing people should examine closely if money is a problem.  The first question to ask is do they really need it?  If so why?  If the why is figured out then find a way to reduce that cost.

From plugging up the cool draft in your homes with foam tape, to eliminating digital TV, (let’s face it that definitely ain’t needed) or cutting off the home phone.  Even the internet I consider to be a luxury though some may argue it’s a necessity.  Granted there are some situations in which it may be requirement.

Either way at least some of this can be eliminated full stop and some costs can be reduced by using plain old common sense.  The best motivation however in  eliminating/reducing these bills is asking yourself the question, if it was a choice of having these bills or losing your food and shelter, chances are you would more than likely choose food and shelter.

LIFESTYLE

Luxury items, cars, televisions, new computers, new phones the list is endless.  My motto is if you can’t afford to buy it outright then you can’t afford it at all, and let’s not forget the cost of maintaining something that is expensive to own.

If you have a vehicle do you really need it or are you holding on to it because it makes life easier?  Owning a teenaged Toyota I can assure you it’s expensive maintaining one paid off vehicle.  I definitely don’t need a car, I can survive easily using my two feet and public transport, but it is a luxury that for now I can afford and choose to minimise the costs of owning a vehicle in my own way.  The important word in this statement being that I can AFFORD it.

The same principle applies to televisions, mobiles, and other digital masterpieces that 20 years ago wasn’t even on my radar.   Not to mention every day items that can be purchased from thrift stores for a fraction of the price brand new or borrowing from the local library.  Get my drift?  Search for ways in which to entertain yourself and there are plenty of resources for free or at a lower cost.

I could preach on but at the end of the day making small changes eventually becomes a habit until it’s not.  It’s not easy at first, change can  be difficult, until one day it becomes normal that you won’t even have to think about it anymore.

Ottawa gave me frozen ears

Ottawa is the capital of Canada but for whatever reason I confused it with Quebec City and it wasn’t until I was two months away from my trip that I realised I had been researching the wrong city.  Talk about a duh brained moment!  Luckily I discovered my folly before I even got there or we may be having a different post right about now.

Waving goodbye to Toronto I caught the train to Ottawa and you know what?  I really like travelling on trains.  They are so comfortable though the decor is quite aged, but it beats flying and travelling by bus any day of the week for me.  Maybe one day I’ll come back and do a train trek across Canada because I think it would be cool!

It was just under five hours travel time to Ottawa from Toronto and I arrived without any hiccups.  Initially I was going to walk to my hotel but decided I didn’t want the hassle of navigating so I caught a taxi.  It was just over $13 to my hotel which was called The Business Inn on Maclaren Street.

Upon arrival the Inn looks seedy and not very welcoming with it’s the decor BUT don’t let that put you off.  This was the best place that offered the best value for money you could get.  Aside from it being close to downtown Ottawa it is huge.  It offers multiple levels of large studio apartments that supply everything including a computer with and printer.  Not to mention the awesome breakfast provided for free between the hours of 0700-1000.  They also provide snacks and bottled water to take with you after breakfast as well as unlimited use of free washer/dryers.  If you ever want to go to Ottawa stay at this place.  It’s a good deal!

Having sat on a train for five hours I was eager to explore and not realising the temperature had dropped to a ‘balmy’ 4 degrees all I took with me was my puffer jacket.  Bad choice because my ears froze as I eagerly explored Ottawa.  Walking up Elgin street I passed the NZ embassy and a little park and in the middle of the street was a  memorial with the body of an unknown soldier.  This place was to be the centrepiece for Remembrance Day in Canada that was to occur the day I left.

I then decided to investigate the Byward Market and had a chocolate croissant with a coffee.  It was kind of cool too.  I then walked about some more but decided my ears were too frozen to do much else and decided to head on back to my hotel saving the rest for the day after.

I woke early in order to get me some of this breakfast I’d read so much about and boy was it worth it.  From bagels, to muffins, to waffles and fruit it was delicious.  And I thought I could eat, but this tiny lady about half my size polished off double what I ate.  It was quite amazing and I reiterate she was tiny little thing but dang could she put it away!  I then grabbed a little snack bag out of the refrigerator and wet back to my room to get ready for another long day of walking.

Now I only got to explore a tiny part of Ottawa.  One because I hadn’t expected to like it so much and I didn’t think I needed much time there.  Two because I hadn’t planned it well at all considering until a couple months before I was researching Quebec City and had given up on this destination.  Big mistake.  Ottawa is stunning!

With Winter approaching it is much like a fairytale city.

And I thought Niagara Falls was pretty but Ottawa put it to shame.  And because I can’t put into words I’ll let my pics do the talking

Then I saw the scariest sculpture I have ever seen

And met this mute fellow too on my explorations.

Ottawa I regret going to Montreal because I could’ve spent more time is this lovely city.  Hindsight is 20/20 however and now I know and have a fabulous reason to go back.  I’m thinking spring next time because Autumn was definitely stunning with it’s multitude of colours.