Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sometimes it pays to be a mean girl

Book review: Nice girls don’t get rich
Lois P. Frankel

While it’s a rather bland adjective, I believe that “nice” would be part of the top 10 (okay, likely 5) descriptions that my friends and family would give me, so it’s no wonder that Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich appealed to me from the library book shelf. Lois P. Frankel writes about the 75 avoidable mistakes that women make with money and offers coaching advice on how to correct them. I’ve also read her book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, and in both titles, she offers easy-to-implement guidance on how to become a strong-minded, savvy, and financially independent woman. 

Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich starts with a self-assessment to help the reader understand why she is not already rich. Of 42 true & false questions, I had 31 true responses so Frankel says that I’ve made a good start and need to focus on areas of difficulty in order to become fully financially independent. This book belongs in a choose-your-own-adventure series as the 75 avoidable mistakes don’t need to be read in any particular order. I first read her section on “saving and investing for future wealth” as this is the category where I had the most false responses, and then proceeded to read the rest of the book.

Frankel’s advice is not exhaustive, but her tips are quick & easy tools to put into action and clear to understand. This book also made me realize how far I’ve come in the last 15 months as I often read about a mistake that I used to make and now the thought makes me shudder (for instance, #28 First job syndrome, #33 Not budgeting, and #34 Paying bills instead of managing money). 

Here are the top mistakes that I now to plan to correct pronto:   

#41 Being risk adverse: now that I’m back in the black, I’m reluctant to part with any of my money so I’m investing in relatively safe assets. Given my young age, I can afford to bolder with my investments.

#45 Saving instead of investing: I’ve been saving up bi-weekly into my Girls Just Want To Have Funds account for the last 6 months with the intention of investing. But I just don’t know when and where to start and if I have enough dollars saved up to even start.

#42 Thinking you don’t have enough to invest to make a difference: This echos the sentiment above. I don’t notice my automatic withdrawals into my savings account so why am I not putting the deposit towards an investment instead of an account earning 0.5% interest?

#51 Not seeking financial advice: This is my definitely my biggest qualm. I think I’ve maxed out what I can do on my own (building savings accounts, maximizing my monthly budget, holding GICs, and maximizing my RRSPs), but now I need to guidance on “what’s next”. I’ve been holding back thinking I need tens of thousands of dollars to start investing, but Frankel has made me realize that I just need to get started. Her best advice is to find an advisor that fits my early stage of financial planning.

All in all, I recommend Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich to my fellow nice girls out there. It’s an ideal tool to determine your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to financial management and it has built-in roadmap to get you on your wealthy-way.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gift giving on a budget: The cat’s meow

My cat Fernando is still missing, but the good news is that he was spotted last night roaming our condo complex. I have also discovered that my neighbours are wonderful people as we're getting late night phone calls about Fernando's whereabouts and some are even joining the midnight man-hunt for my adventurous cat. At this point, my Eye Candy and I agree that Fernando is aware of where his litter box is, knows where we live and is simply chosing to continue his adventure in the great outdoors. My sister phoned in last night for an update and suggested we rename him Indiana Jones when he finally returns. I just hope it's soon!

Since I'm already coming across as a crazy cat lady, I figured it would be a good time for this post. My sister recently adopted the most adorable cat Phoebe and it is a win-win situation for them both. She has just moved to a new city and wanted the company of a furry friend (this is also how I ended up with my cat Fernando). And Miss Phoebe is an older cat who was seeking her way out of a home where she was living with aggressive dogs.

Fernando's new cousin, the magestic Phoebe.
Having been tossed from one house to another over the past several years, I am confident that Phoebe has finally shed her rescue cat status and will have a wonderful home with my sister.

To celebrate their new union, I put together a little care package for Miss Phoebe when we visited a few weeks ago. For a $8 shopping spree at my local IGA, I picked up a food storage container, Purina cat treats, Pledge hair swiffer and few toys.

A crazy cat-inspired shopping spree.
Expensive? No.
Crazy-cat lady inspired? Yes.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Lost cat Montreal: $200 reward

$200 reward to the lovely person who brings
my furry friend home safely.
I'm off work today to make up for the crazy weekends that I spent at my office earlier this month to prepare for a major presentation. I was really looking forward to a long weekend and a laissez-faire Friday morning sipping a giant cafe latte and reading my glossy magazines. Unfortunately, my handsome cat Fernando went missing yesterday and since finding out, I've done nothing but worry and feel guilt ridden.

My Eye Candy and I think he disappeared yesterday morning when our back patio door blew open from a draft (it happens all the time chez nous, and I'm kicking myself for not double checking that it was locked). Miss Fergie stayed on the balcony, and it never even crossed my mind that Fernando would go outside! Fernando is exceptionally timid - he's affectionate and curious, but lives up to the reputation of being a "scaredy" cat.

I rescued Fernando as a kitten from the Animal Rescue Network on day 2 of my move to Montreal. I had never had a pet growing up so Fernando was a lovely addition to my life. At the risk of coming across like a crazy cat lady, I'm so glad that he was there when I first moved to this city. No matter how awful my day was at work or how lonely I felt in the new city, Fernando was always there to welcome me home and tell me about his day. He is known for his skills at hide & seek and more than one friend and neighbourhood has thought they've lost him while visiting or dropping by to feed him. This time however, he's no where in the condo.

I've left a trail of Temptations from our tiny backyard leading up the stairs to our balcony, and his litter box is also under the patio in the hopes he finds that. Both my Eye Candy and I (with Fergie) combed the neighbourhood last night shaking treats and softly saying his name. We've called our vet, and I've posted a $200 reward for Fernando on Craigslist, Kijiji, and petluck.ca. This morning I'm going to poster the neighbourhood and continue to call animal rescue organizations.

Petluck.ca was the first hit that I found when I searched 'what to do about a lost cat'.
Hopefully whoever finds Fernando does the same.
I started a savings account earlier this summer to take care of any emergencies for Fergie and Fernando... I just didn't think I'd be touching it so soon. Let's hope that my next post is about being $200 shorter.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fabulous link love

Here is some fabulous link love for some easy, breezy reading this Sunday.

Stuck in a construction zone? You really should have taken advantage of the
promotional offer with the STM...but at least there is a new game to play -
count the cones and figure out how much money Montreal is wasting to rent them.
Photo source

Financial & Fabulous:

My Own Advisor shares his favourite ETFs. I haven’t made the plunge yet as I’m still building up My Girls Just Wanna Have Funds account, but I’m thinking ETF is the right route for me.

Société de transport de Montréal has a promotion on now to encourage residents of Montreal to use public transportation. If you sign up for a year-long OPUS card, the STM will give you one month free. It is even good for current subscribers so I’m pleased to report that I’ll be saving $73 in September 2012.

And in other news, The Gazette reported a surprising expense on Montreal's income statement. Who knew that we had 12,500 orange traffic cones in circulation and that the city rents these for a $1.25-$1.50 a day? It boggles my mind that the city wouldn’t just make the leap to purchase them.    

Stacking Pennies contemplates whether or not designer brands are worth it and what message your high-end purse is trying to send.  The comments are also worth reading so join her discussion!

Fit & Fabulous

I’m celebrating my one-year anniversary with Miss Fergie this weekend. As a birthday gift I purchased her a new leash and matching bandana in pink camouflage, and some all natural liver treats. If you’re thinking about bringing a puppy into your life too, Women's Health magazine reveals these benefits of exercising with a furry friend.

Miss Fergie preferred the liver treats for her birthday gift,
so her pink camouflage attire is clearly for my own amusement.

Happy reading!


Friday, September 16, 2011

Caught in a bad romance

My love affair with my new ING chequing account has hit it's first rocky period. You'll remember that I first swooned over ING chequing when they offered me $100 to switch my payroll deposits to their account, guaranteed $0 of monthly banking fees, and had several ATMs within walking distance to my house and office. Compared to the price I was paying to be CIBC's customer, switching seemed like an easy thing to do. After all, it was love at first sight.

Now that I've been an ING chequing customer for 8 weeks, the honeymoon period is over and I'm starting to notice the account's quirks. The greatest nuisance at the moment is the lack of access to e-mail money transfers. As described below ING offers free e-mail money transfers for account holders to send money to clients and non-clients of ING.

What is missing from the "fine print" is the ability to be
paid back by a friend quickly and easily.

But what if the account holder is owed money by a friend who is not banking with ING? I did stumble upon this glitch last month when I received my first automatic e-mail money transfer from a friend who banks with BMO and discovered that I couldn't deposit the money into my ING account. At the time, an ING rep explained to me that they are being purposely excluded from the money transfer network that currently includes RBC, CIBC, TD, BMO, and PC Financial. Apparently, these banks are trying to make it inconvenient for ING account holders to do business outside their network.

What's a financially fabulous ING chequing account user to do?

The big banks are definitely succeeding as I've received yet another e-mail money transfer this month and once again, relied on my Eye Candy to deposit it into his CIBC chequing account and then write me a cheque. Fortunately, I can trust him and he knew correctly the name of my sister's first hamster so the transfer was quite simple. But if I didn't have my Eye Candy around to shuffle funds for me, I'd be going back and forth with friends requesting cheques and waiting on snail mail. This seems like a step backwards in the era of mobile banking.

I've called in again to ING to express my frustration and I have their assurances that they are continuing to negotiate to be part of the interac e-transfer system. Until then, I will have to rely upon my Eye Candy's loyalty to his CIBC chequing account and hope he doesn't start to charge me transaction fees.

Has anyone else made the switch to ING? How are you liking it?


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Single & Fabulous

One of my best friends is overcoming a heart break as her long-time & live-in boyfriend of many years broke up with her two weekends ago. It took her completely by surprise… and me too. Whatever her now ex-boyfriend’s reasons may be for the change of heart, my friend is bravely embracing the adventure that lies ahead of her as a single & fabulous girl. My friend is at a point now where she has to move on and move out.

Fortunately, she told me last night that she found an amazing apartment in Toronto above a little café in the city’s core and today, the lease is signed so the place is hers. This will be her first time living completely alone: no boyfriend and no roommate. She asked me for some advice on handling the adjustment and was ok if I wrote it via my blog. This post may have very little to do with finance, but it is personal so here we go.

Your nest

A single girl should never compromise when it comes to her home! If it means pinching your budget by a few more pennies each month to live in the perfect neighbourhood, then do it! The best feeling in the world is coming home to a place that feels just like “home.”

Whether this means cushions that perfectly accent the paint on your wall, a chic crystal chandelier dimly lit above your table, cupcake accents in your kitchen, or candles everywhere in the bathroom, now is the time to express yourself through your nest. The best apartments are decorated one piece at a time so don’t rush out to IKEA for your home furnishings. My best advice is to search Craigslist for previously loved furniture that suits your budget and for inspiration, check out Apartment Therapy daily.

And don’t forget that you’ll now get to enjoy a queen size bed all to yourself (and sometimes with an occasional overnight visitor) so make sure your linens are always fresh and pillows are plush.

Your fridge

A fabulous girl whether she is single or coupled up is also a healthy girl and a well-balanced diet is crucial. I’ll admit that this is harder to do as a single girl since cooking for 1 can become dull and difficult. But don’t despair! Plan out your menus and then go grocery shopping.

You should also plan meals that are easy to make and keep well:
  • a pantry stocked with peanut butter and protein powder that just needs to be mixed with almond milk, ice, frozen berries and ½ a banana for a breakfast shake
  • cook up a frittata on Sunday night so you can slice a piece for breakfast throughout the week
  • shop for fresh vegetables and local produce for easy lunch salads. Check out Women’s Health for these wonderful recipes.
  • try new recipes and come up with your go-to-no-thinking required dinner. My favourite is a Caribbean spiced roast salmon with salsa on a bed of black beans and vegetables.
I remember my first grocery trip as a single girl living in her very own place as I purposely bought a bottle of Perrier. I’m not sure why – there was just something sophisticated about having bubbly water in my fridge just for me to enjoy.

Your bookcase

Fill your bookcase and your mind with inspirational words and tales from leading ladies. Biographies and books by women in business are my favourite as they remind me how powerful women are and they offer countless role models. These are the books that sit on my shelf:

Your bank accounts

I shopped way too much before I met my Eye Candy and while there’s nothing wrong with spoiling yourself, it should never be mindless. Don't make my mistakes. Instead, put your mind to work and build your budget. Now is the time to get your finances in order – be your own prince in shining armour by creating a path to your achieve your goals. Focus on maximizing your RRSPs, building a savvy investment portfolio, and saving towards your dreams (whether it’s a closet full of Chanel or ziplining through the Amazon.)
Being a single girl is initially expensive as there is no one to share costs with… but it doesn’t have to break your piggy bank. After all, a lot of couples tend to double-up their lives when they co-habitate by opting for a bigger condo, moving into high end neighbours, or splurging on an extra vehicle. Living on your own does not mean you’re financially behind your coupled-friends as living within one’s means has nothing to do with your relationship status.

Your safety

Confession time! When I first lived by myself, I was paranoid about being kidnapped. Seriously. I worried that it would happen on my way home from work and no one would notice until the next morning when I didn’t show up for work.  I was definitely watching too many episodes of Without a Trace! So to calm my nerves, I made a point of emailing, phoning or text messaging someone every night just so I knew that there was a person out there who could account for my where-abouts at X hour. Silly? Maybe. But it made me feel better so who cares?

Whether you opt for a condo with a concierge, black-out blinds, or a security alarm, do whatever it takes to make you feel like Sheera in your own home. Always be cautious and use common sense. Perhaps “checking in” at home every night via Facebook is not a smart habit since you don’t want your 784 friends to know exactly where you live, but don’t be paranoid about every bump in the night. And for goodness sakes, stop watching Criminal Minds.

Your social life

Be a butterfly! Chat with people! It turned out that 3 of the women in my building worked at the same company as me but in different departments. Our weekly laundry room chats turned into wine drinking evenings on the balcony and taking turns hosting dinners while turning into Grey's Anatomy. 

As a single girl, I also opted to go back to school in the evenings. Not only did I grow my social circle, but in less than two years, I earned a graduate in PR and Communications.

I also made a point to accept invitations – whether from co-workers or classmates so I kept my social calendar pretty busy. After all, showing up, surveying a party and realizing you’d rather just go back home is always an option… but at least you were out and about the town to begin with. I also highly recommend furry friends. My rescued my cat Fernando from the SPCA on day 2 of my life in Montreal and he's been the best companion ever since.

The bottom line

I wouldn’t trade my life with my Eye Candy and our little Zoo for anything, but I am so glad that I had a few years of living on my own and living it up as a single girl in the big city. It helped to shape my personality, my tastes and my confidence. Whatever your living arrangements or relationship status may be, the most important part is that you make each adventure as fabulous as you are. 


Sunday, September 4, 2011

You say bitch on a budget like it’s a bad thing

I thought about writing this post last month, but then I decided to save its debut for the start of September. You see, it’s been over a year now that I’ve been successfully budgeting. This week last year was the end of my very first month as a girl living on a budget. Yippee!

Yep, sparkly shoes are the only red this
bitch on a budget will be wearing.
And a full year later, I can track every single one of my expenditures, revenue gains, and investments made in the last 52 weeks. I truly believe that the hardest part is just getting started and while the idea of “budgeting” didn’t appeal to me and sounded like too much work this time last year, I definitely needed it and now, I celebrate it!

Since I picked up my first book on personal finance (The Smart Cookies' Guide To Making More Dough: How Five Young Women Got Smart, Formed A Money Club, And Took Control Of Their Finances) planning & reviewing my personal finances has become a way of life.

In 1 year, here’s what I’ve been able to achieve:

1.      Paid off $6,000 in consumer debt in less than 6 months.
2.      Increased my investment portfolio by 149%. J
3.      Made up for 4 years of loss time by maxing out my RRSPs.
4.      Prepared my taxes on time & knew what to expect as a refund.
5.      Negotiated a pay raise.
6.      Saved up to treat myself and my sister to a fabulous vacation in Las Vegas.
7.      Started an Emergency Fund.
8.      Started a Vacation Fund.
9. Started a Down Payment Fund for my dream home.
10.  Survived last year’s holiday season (and will make it through this year’s) thanks to my Christmas Gift Fund.
11.  Negotiated my cellphone bill down from $120 to $68 a month without compromising on any much-needed features.
12.  Negotiated the terms of my first car purchase with my Eye Candy.
13.  Eliminated my monthly bank fees.
14.  Eliminated my monthly storage locker fees.
15.  Sold $400+ of unneeded merchandise in our condo via Craigslist.
16.  Started living more like a minimalist as I purged the 3 double-closets of my single-girl-days down to 1.5 and hopefully, to 1 by the end of the summer season... but all my favourite dresses will remain.
17.  Used my morning commute to work to read books filled with tips and tricks on investing and personal finance.
18.  Used wisely the option of buying in bulk to save on our weekly grocery bills by opting for a Costco membership.
19.  Started this blog as a way to stay motivated on my finances and to ensure I spent 2+ hours a week reading about money matters.
20.  Enjoyed peace of mind knowing that my money is working for me as I’ve successfully shopped less, and invested more.

For those of you who are thinking about getting started on managing your personal finances, I recommend the Smart Cookies books and of course, Bitches on a Budget by Rosalyn Hoffman. After all, red is a lovely colour for a pair of shoes… just not your bank statement. 

As I celebrate a happy-budget-birthday to me, I'm curious to know... what has been your motivation to be back in the black?


Monday, August 29, 2011

Gift giving on a budget: Home sweet home

Wherever you go, summer tends to be the season of BBQs at friends houses. In Quebec, it’s also the season of housewarming parties as July 1st is our provincial moving day. This is a phenomenon unique to this special region when everyone across the province who is seeking to move, packs up & heads out on the same day… which is timed perfectly with the national celebration of Canada Day. While every other province celebrates with parades of red and white maple leafs, Quebec’ers have no time as they are rushing between addresses. You are more likely to see a mattress being carried down a street than any floats.

This summer I attended 4 housewarming parties and while they are usually BYOW events, I cannot show up without a hostess present. In fact, from doing all these entries about “gift giving on a budget” I am now convinced that I’m a southern belle living in Montreal. Lemonade anyone?

Throughout my usual grocery and household shopping trips, I tend to stockpile on household items that I can use in gift baskets intended for new renters or home-owners. I do this by taking advantage of buy-one-get-one promotions or coupons on items that I tend to purchase for myself. My favourite items are Glad plug-ins, picture hooks, giant rolls of paper towels, and Scrubbing Bubbles cleaners.

In each basket, I always put in one fun item that suits the recipient’s personality: napkins printed with $100 bills on them, dishwashing gloves branded Domestic Goddess, a pot scrubber shaped like a long-stem flower, or a Style at Home magazine. These are frivolous purchases that I make with my weekly Fun Money. The actual baskets are always the cheapest, but most stylish part of the gift and these are sourced from Dollarama. I’m always impressed with the store’s amazing selection of photo boxes, garbage cans or weaved baskets… and all for just $1. The overall cost of each basket fluctuates, but $15 is a reasonable estimate.

Any other suggestions for hostess gifts? I’m always planning and fortunately, socializing too!


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book review: Debt-Free Forever

Debt-Free Forever
Take control of your money and your life
Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Til Debt Do Us Part is my favourite show on SLICE (ok, it’s likely my favourite show ever) and Gail Vaz-Oxlade is definitely the reigning queen of personal finance, so it was with great anticipation that I finally read her book Debt-Free Forever. The delay was due to a long waitlist at the library and while Gail misses out on the revenue from an incremental book sale, I think she’d give me bonus points for borrowing a copy for free instead.

It’s hard not to give her book an A+ rating and I did take every word that Gail wrote to heart. That being said, it wasn’t the right book for me. After finally paying off my debt last December and diligently using money envelopes to save up for my spending needes (which serves the same practice as her money jars) since last August, I’ve already adapted most of the good day-to-day money management habits that Gail endorses. At this point in my quest for financial fabulousness, I’m more interested in how to make my money work for me.

Who doesn't go shopping with their money jars in tow?
Trust me, it makes you spend less!

If you’re currently in the red or scared of the b-word, then Debt-Free Forever is the ideal no-nonsense book for you and Gail sternly walks you through a path to be debt-free forever. Grab a pen and calculator while reading this book as Gail will teach you:

1.      How to face-up to your debt
2.      How to prioritize your goals
3.      How to build a comprehensive & balanced budget
4.      How to snowball your debts to pay them off faster
5.      How to shop consciously
6.      How to plan for the long term & rainy days

There were definitely a few things that Gail motivated me to look into. The first is my credit history. While I was reading this book, CIBC contacted me to inform that they had reason to believe my personal information had been compromised and they were issuing me a new VISA. Following Gail's advice, I then put a flag on my name with Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada so that these bureaus would have to contact me first if anyone requested a copy of my credit report… and while I was at it, I asked both agencies to send me mine. After all, Gail says it’s free to get your credit report once a year and every savvy woman should keep track of her score.

The next piece of advice was to plan like a pessimist. At the moment, I don’t have life insurance as other than my furry friends, I don’t have dependents. What I’ve never really thought about is disability insurance. I know that I am covered through work, but I have no idea how the policy is distributed or defined. Gail points out that you need to know “what’s the definition of disabled and how long you will be paid.” There is a big difference between being covered for “own occupation” (ie. the job that you are currently doing) and “any occupation”. The latter is a tricky situation as the insurance company may agree that you are no longer capable of doing the job that you had when you became injured, but because you are still capable of being a parking lot attendant they will not pay you insurance. Yikes!

Gail says that if you write your own name and those of four friends on pieces of paper, drop them in a hat and then pull one out, there is a 92% that that person will become disabled in some way. There is no way of knowing if that person could be you. But there is a way to know what your insurance policy covers and a way to plan for your future should such a dire situation occur. The first step is to request your complete and most recent disability insurance policy from your HR rep as you really cannot afford not to.

After a year of using my money envelopes, I have to admit that they are getting a pretty worn out and Gail’s jars are just that much cuter. As of today, I’ve made the switch and my Grocery & Household funds and subsequent Mad Money funds are now in masonry jars as my honourary toast to the money maven Gail.

Confession time: The Eye Candy is the one who printed those spiffy labels.
Even he knows follow Gail's rules 100%.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

With the money I'm saving, I'll need books for a beach vacation soon.

This post is dedicated to the fun & fabulous blogger Annabelle over at The Shopping Detox who is the sassiest and funniest librarian that I've ever encountered. And she's frugal too!

When was the last time you visited your local library? I’ll admit that until I started a regiment of tight budgeting last summer, I hadn’t borrowed books from the library since my days as a zealous Girl Guide researching random subjects in an effort to earn badges. Even throughout university the library was simply a quiet place (most of the time) to get my work done. For all my reading needs, the bookstore was my go-to retail destination.

I pulled up my online order history with Chapters Indigo just for fun and in 2010, I purchased $520 of books and $340 in 2009. Granted, some of those purchases were gifts (e.g. the Kobo for my Eye Candy’s birthday), but they don’t factor in my impulse in-store cash purchases so they are a still strong indicator of how many books I was buying. Yet, in an effort to shop less & save more, these book purchases have become a thing of the past. Other than my Mum’s recent birthday gift for $27, I have not made any other book purchases. In fact, Chapters Indigo must be wondering where I’ve gone! Instead the local LaSalle librarians know me by name.

About 2 months ago, the Montreal library network upgraded their online catalogue to include every book in every borough regardless of your “home” library. Assuming you already have your free library card, your first step is to visit their Nelligan catalogue at http://nelligan.ville.montreal.qc.ca/search and log-on with your username & password. (This should not be confused with visiting Hotel Nelligan which remains my favourite rooftop terrace in Montreal.)

Now it is possible to browse for your favourite titles and a reservation is just a click away.

Obviously I searched the Financially Fabulous guru herself,
Gail Vaz-Oxlade for the purpose of this demo.

Obviously I also reserved some much-needed chick lit.
A girl can't be good all the time.

The best part? You chose what local library you want your book shipped to and the librarians will call you when your book has arrived. In fact, it’s become a joke with my colleagues now as there is a high chance that when my cell phone rings during a meeting, it’s the library calling.

Today was no exception as I was thrilled to receive yet another call. I waltzed into the library after work and was handed my much-anticipated stack of reading material. The library is the ideal place to indulge my impulse shopping without paying a penny. After all, my tax dollars are hard at work here.

My "purchases" this month from my local library.

I currently have 10 books on loan –  while this may seem excessive, I do read at least a book a week so a girl needs her stockpile.  I've already half of them and I'm now writing book reviews for the upcoming viewing pleasure for my Financially Fabulous friends.

Once you’re at the library, feel free to browse some more. Why not also borrow some DVDs for rainy day viewing or CDs with songs of the world to set as background music for your next ethnic-inspired meal? Just make sure you keep track of due dates as Montreal charges $0.25 per day per book as a fine for your tardy material.

While that fine won’t break the bank, I’m more fearful of the stigma of being that girl who can’t even return her books on time. Fortunately, extending your loan is also just a click a way so be sure to bookmark the Nelligan catalogue site.

Don't forget to renew! And in the summer, Montreal
gives you 6 weeks to enjoy your book. What's there not to love?

Happy reading!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gift Giving on a Budget: The Mom edition

Come on Barbie, let’s go party! Yesterday was my Mum’s birthday, but we actually celebrated last weekend when the entire family was together in Oakville.

My Eye Candy & I took care of the BBQ’ing so she could just enjoy the evening with everyone. We put together our favourite summertime meal: ribs on the BBQ, chopped Moroccan salad, crispy sweet potato fries and finished it off with apple crumble from The Big Apple plus my new favourite recipe for 53 calorie brownies that are Rocco made & even Dr. Oz approved.

When it comes to the present that I gave her (other than just my presence), a girl has to have a budget for gift-giving and there are no exceptions to the rule… even when it comes to your mother! There is nothing in this world that my Mum doesn’t deserve so my plan to give a $70 came with extra pressure as it had to be thoughtful and priced just right.

On my last trip home, my Mum mentioned that the only drawback to my new love for the Montreal library is that I don’t pass along books for her to read. This made the choice of a gift simple as I logged onto chapters.indigo.ca and found 2 books that have her name written on them.

The first is Every Boy’s Got One by Meg Cabot as this light-hearted chick lit had me laughing aloud. The story is written in a series of journal entries and e-mail correspondence between a mother and daughter as the daughter is gallivanting across Italy for her friend’s wedding and searching for her own love. The content in the e-mails reminds me of the ones that my Mum would send during my own European travels (“got to go my Love, your handyman father is currently stuck in a tree”) and I’m sure she’ll have a good giggle from this book too.

The second novel is I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson. I’ve not read it, but I’ve seen great reviews for it and the plot is appealing. One of my favourite stories that my Mum would tell my sister and I growing up is about her trip as a 13-year old to L.A. with her family. She told us how she spent the entire vacation convinced she was going to meet Davey Jones from The Monkees. I Think I Love You is about a different Dave – as it’s about a woman’s fanatic teenage love for David Cassidy of the Partridge Family and her quest to meet him. I’m hoping this book brings back fond memories for my Mum (and not necessarily the urge to write fan mail to Davey Jones).

To purchase the books, I used my iRewards card with Chapters for the last time (it’s about to expire & I have no plans to renew, and Chapter’s is now offering a new Plum reward system that’s free to join) and a coupon code for $5 off. My order came to $26.79 with only a $1.28 tax so I still qualified for the free shipping.

But that’s not all. I also arranged for flowers to be delivered to my Mum on her birthday so she could wake up to the morning newspaper and a vase of flowers on her porch. I wanted to buy the flowers through Acorn Flower Shoppe in Oakville as I like to support local small businesses and they’ve always done beautiful arrangements. I was a bit put-off by the prices, but with some expert Google’ing I found a great deal for the flowers through the website of the mall where the flower shop is located. For $42 including taxes, delivery and the flowers, my Mum will receive a birthday bouquet of sweet splendor.

The total spent for my Mum’s birthday present is $69 which sneaked in at just a dollar less than my budget. I’ll be putting that loonie towards her Christmas gift!

How much do you spend on birthday gifts for family and friends? How do you set a budget for the present?


Friday, August 12, 2011

Clearing up the paperwork mess with Mazda Spinelli

TGIF! My Eye Candy & I are enjoying the last day of our staycation before the weekend hits and then it's back to reality on Monday. We opted not to take an elaborate vacation this summer as we're both trying to build up our vacation savings to take some epic future trips (more details to come!). Instead, we've taken the week off with no set plans and no where to go. We did make the trip down the 401 last weekend to see my family at my parent's place. Their home is affectionately known as Barbie & Ken's Seaside Resort as (1) those are their names and (2) their house & garden makes you feel like you're in an episode of the OC. En route back to Montreal, the EC and I (with Fergie too!) spent 2 nights in Ottawa touring our nation's capital and simply disconnecting from it all.

In addition to taking little side trips, one of my favourite things about staycations is that you can get some personal to-do's crossed off your lists. Yesterday, we spent 45 minutes at the SAAQ sorting out our administrative mess with Mazda Spinelli. If you remember from my recent post, we realized that the car registration was only made out to my Eye Candy even though we both purchased it. As a result, the $500 student bursary that I had qualified for as part of our purchasing agreement was not applied to our sale. I was very frustrated with my sales rep's laissez-faire attitude towards the mix-up and disappointed that the onus fell completely on us to sort out the paperwork with the SAAQ.

It wasn't as easy I had understood (from both the SAAQ website and advice from Mazda Spinelli) as there is only a 24-hour window once a car is registred to correct mistakes. Instead, my Eye Candy had to donate half the car to me. Now, please don't think this is a generous gift from my boyfriend because like I wrote, I'm already paying for half of the vehicle.

It took a pile of paperwork, the issuance of new licence plates, and $86 to make the transcation. There is also the chance that Revenue Canada or Quebec will audit us, but our attendant said this would be unlikely since we both reside at the same address and have financing paperwork with Mazda Spinelli prove we were correcting an error on the registration. 

Once we had our new registration, we went over to Mazda Spinelli to pay an impromptu visit to our sales rep Jeremiah. I'm pleased to report that  he immediately processed all the paperwork needed for my $500 bursary and issued a cheque to cover the $86 transcation fee. In the end, we lost our personal time sorting out the administrative mess, but at least we were not out of pocket for the error. Besides, the Lachine SAAQ is a beautiful destination spot. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Case closed.

It's time to do my victory dance as my speeding ticket has been dropped! I arrived home this afternoon to find another letter from the court houses of Deux-Montagnes. I expected it to be a confirmation for my a new date in court (to read about my initial snail mail ordeal, click here), and I was pleasantly surprised to immediately notice that a date was missing from the letter.

It was also the ideal opportunity for me to practice my French as I had to re-read it several times aloud to my Eye Candy to finally understand that my particular court case had not made the prosecutor decide to retire, but rather to withdraw the charges (who knew retraite had so many meanings).

The letter doesn't state why the charges are dropped, but it is likely that the prosecutor reviewed my file and also realized that the police officer had not actually recorded the speed at which I was driving and the speed in which I was supposed to be driving. It is also highly likely that he stumbled upon this blog and realized that I was planning on leveraging 18 years of Law & Order viewing as my defence strategy and wasn't prepared to handle the wrath of me pretending to be Jack McCoy.

Cue the Law & Order theme song for my
victory dance please. Source

Regardless of what cost-benefit-time analysis the prosecutor did, I am relieved. I no longer have to handle the stress of an impending court date, do not have to take time off work to appear in court, my budget will not be hit with a $110 - $210 fine, and all my driving merit points are in tact.

I'd like to be able to offer tips & tricks on how to fight speeding tickets, but I think that my case came down to a police officer who made an administrative mistake and perhaps a prosecutor who took pity on me since I was  pulled over while turning into a funeral home. That being said, if you have a speeding ticket that is legitimate, I don't recommend pushing paper simply in the hopes that your charge will eventually be dropped. The loss/pile-up of snail mail during the Canada Post strike made me realize how quickly a speeding ticket can become serious and costly. From the initial $110 charge, to $165 for failing to pay within 30 days, to $210 for failing to show up in court, and finally, to the loss of your driving licence if a fine is not completely paid within 30 days of a second written warning.

If you do plan to fight your ticket, my advice is to make photo copies of all the documentation for your own records and a copy to send in with your response. Your letter should clearly and concisely state why you are disputing the charge and attach your proof. It is also a good idea to call the courthouse or prosecutor's office and request them to send over your  complete file in case the police officer recorded other information that is not on your ticket. If you don't receive a response within 14 days from sending your letter, you should also follow-up directly on the telephone to find out your case's status in order to avoid late charges. 

All that being said, my best advice is avoid the speeding all together and always be extra alert for school zones. I've also realized that when I'm on route to something as emotionally draining as a funeral home, I won't be in the driver's seat.