Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Confessions of an almost-Shopaholic

I have a confession to make. Last week, I almost bought a pair of shoes. But it was Cruella De Vil who snapped me out of my impending splurge and I am now 2 days away from successfully completing my no-clothes-shopping-for-40-days self-imposed rule.

The shopping trip:

I had been working long hours at work last week (still am!) and when I finally walked out one evening, I could resist stopping by WINNERS on my way to the Métro… you know – just to have a sneak peak and zone out for a bit while wandering aimlessly amongst the shiny accessories and clothes. Before I even before entered the store, I started to justify the upcoming purchase in my head as I have a $45 store credit in my wallet. Whatever I bought wouldn’t count as shopping within my 40-days-rule since I technically bought said item with money from last January.

The thing with WINNERS is that you can’t go in looking for a specific piece as you’ll never find it – you just have to be willing to browse until you find the ultimate-must-have-it item to splurge on. And that’s what happened to me last week – well, almost.

My favourite pair of beige-but-cutely-studded GEOX kitten heels for the summer are likely on their last leg as I’ve already replaced the heel twice in the 2 seasons that I’ve worn them and I don’t know what I’m going to do when they finally go. They are so comfortable for walking, but give me an extra bit of height height. (While I may be the real Sporty Spice, I also subscribe to Posh’s thinking that the extra half-inch is extremely important and I see nothing wrong wearing high heels to the supermarket.)

As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a pair of Kenneth Cole beige wedges with a fun buckle for exactly $39.99 and decided that I would get these just-in-case something happened to my favourite pair.

The encounter:

As I was standing in line (still justifying that this was a January purchase) the woman in front me turned around and complimented me on my white rose-collared coat (my first clothing purchase last November when I finally paid off my credit card).

While this woman was friendly and likely very lovely, she was about 70 years old wearing a giant faux (I hope!) fur black & white mink coat that covered her UGGS and was paired with a furry leopard print hat while she wore dark sunglasses (inside!) and had bright red lipstick slightly smeared across her thinning lips.

And then I noticed it… in her hands, the EXACT pair of wedges that I was about to buy.

“Oh look that, excellent taste we have!” Cruella said to me.

"Don't we!" I replied. My mind was racing and in that instant, I realized that I did not need the wedges and I certainly did not want a pair that Cruella would also be wearing while waltzing along Ste-Catherine.

“But would you look at that. I grabbed a size 7 ½… I’m going to go see if they have a 7.” And with that comment, I bolted out of line.

Once out of sight, I tossed the shoes in the men’s underwear bin and quickly darted out of WINNERS. While my exit was rash, at least I held my head up high as I managed to resist the shopping temptation and although it was at the last second, I kept my commitment to my 40-day ban and re-confirmed my need to do clothes shopping with a purpose.

While I only have 2 more days to go sans shopping, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out on Friday night to make purchases just for the sake of it. Instead, I plan to flip through some of my favourite magazines and decide what looks I can put together with my spring wardrobe (ie: shopping my closet) and what are some key pieces that would greatly enhance them. And then let the window shopping for the best deals begin!


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Crunch those numbers... it's tax time!

I was not looking forward to doing my taxes for 2010 as for my 2009 return, I got myself into an administrative mess with both governments. I filed on time, but I realized 10 minutes after hitting the “submit” button that I made a typo on my RRSP contributions. All of a sudden, I was having flashbacks to my grade 2 math class when my father made me promise that I wouldn’t hand in any test to Mrs. Easson until I had corrected at least 5 mistakes. I’ve always struggled with proofreading. Last year, I learned a time consuming lesson as it wasn’t until January (9 months later!) that I finally received my correct refund.

This year, I vowed to make a list & check it twice (or thrice) before submitting my taxes. And you know what? 60 minutes after loading up my UFILE and sitting down with my forms, I was done and toasting my $530 refund. While $530 is not a major amount of money compared to my previous years ($2030 and $1900), there are many silver linings:

1. I’m finally being taxed appropriately with each pay-cheque and not overpaying my taxes. While I appreciate social services, I’d rather be investing my money on a monthly basis earning a return – not letting the governments have it.

2. It also means that I maximized my RRSP contributions for 2010.

3. I also made $250 of charitable donations last year, bought a monthly transit pass and paid $1700 in tuition (a personal expense) to finish up my graduate diploma in PR & Communications last year. These 3 items also helped to drop my personal income and lead to a refund.

I plan to put my $530 into my investment account. While I have my RRSPs, I have not started playing the stock market game and this is my next financially fabulous goal.

Untaxing tips & tricks:

Since taxes does not scream "for a fun time call", here are some of my suggestions to alleviate the stress:

Organize your paperwork. Put together a pretty folder (mine is pink, obviously) with a copy of last year’s Notice Assessment and your user/password information to file online.

Grab all the tools that you might need. Mine included a Swarovski crystal pen to check off each little box from my forms each time I entered the number on the software and my beddazzled rhinestone calculator (pictured above) just to double check that the computer was right.

Write a topline list of where all your money went last year and search out those forms before your tax-filing day. By checking my 4-week rolling budgets, I realized that I was missing one charitable donation and was able to quickly find a receipt through my email.

Buy tax prep software. Pen & paper is old school and do-able, but for $20 at FutureShop, UFILE will guide you through the process and the help button is ideal for clarifying the different credits that you may (or may not) be eligible for.

Eliminate distractions and give yourself 2 hours to get it done. It will likely take less time, but you don’t want to feel rush. Initially I was watching Say Yes to the Dress while doing my taxes, but I found the gushing of the brides to be distracting. I worked in silence instead.

Make yourself a latté and pour glass of iced water. You might as well pretend you’re at a chic bistro instead of your dining room table on a sunny Sunday filing your taxes. When you’re done, you can go for the wine (or champagne) to celebrate. Bonus points if you put on a World Music French Cafe CD.

Grab your favourite nail polish and give yourself a manicure since you're not going anywhere for awhile. You’ll be doing minimal typing (be gentle!) so you might as well take the time to give yourself a coat of colour too.

Don't hand in your taxes until you've proofread it. This is the kind of test you want to get 100% on.

Happy tax time!


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Weekly spending recap: March 20th - 26th

This week's spending recap is especially exciting as I have zilch to report. Nada. Nothing. Nilch. Rien. Zero! Trust me, in the world of personal finance blogs, this is impressive news. I opened my Fun Money envelope this morning and saw 4 crisp $20 bills in there... I somehow managed to go the entire week without spending any of my Fun Money. Sure, I did spend dollars from our Grocery/Household fund, but when it came to my own day-to-day, my $80 weekly allowance stayed put. And the best part? I did have fun this week! (Sidenote: I was also working longer hours preparing a gigantic presentation for our upcoming Royal Tour with our president. This may have played a role in my lack of expenses - I was too spent to spend!)

Sunday, March 20th
- No spend day!
Pretty much stayed on the couch all day sipping gingerale and recovering from the best birthday party ever.

Monday, March 21st
- No spend day!

Tuesday, March 22nd
- No spend day!
Did my usual spinning class at UNI which I paid for last December. I also rushed home to take care of Miss Fergie as my Eye Candy was on an excruciatingly long trip to Atlanta. Our dog walker stopped by during the day at a rate of $15 for 45 mins, but the EC covers this expense... he travels = he pays.

Wednesday, March 23rd
- No spend day!

Thursday, March 24th
- $29 at IGA for all the fixings of a pizza and chicken wings.

We had a cheat night as my Eye Candy finally returned home after snowstorms on the East Coast left him stranded in the Philidelphia airport overnight & throughout the day. A 2 hour flight turned from Atlanta-Montreal into a 24 ordeal via multiple airports and after all that, I felt that comfort food was in order.

I missed my usual morning swimming work-out as the EC was delayed unexpectedly. It's too hard for me to swim and take care of the pup in the wee hours of the morning before work. (Miss Fergie hasn't tried swimming yet so her joining me is not an option... and perhaps not socially acceptable. Although this summer, I am making use of my parents' pools to teach her do butterfly - when my Dad goes for his usual afternoon siesta of course. No need to rock that boat.)

Friday, March 25th
- $22 at the IGA for groceries
I also went to the YMCA after work and I'll confess, my motivation was because I have all these new new Lululemon exercise outfits to wear. My spinning class was pure intervals for 60 minutes and needless to say, I may have looked good going into the class ... but came out looking disgustingly hot. My YMCA membership is part of my rolling 4 week budget.

Saturday, March 26th
- $23 at Future Shop for the Ufile software
Guess what I'm doing this evening? It's tax time! I know it's Saturday night, but it's Montreal and spring is not here so I have no desire to step out in -12˚C weather anymore. After a 60+ hours of work this week, I'm ready to take it easy. Since I'm expecting a tax refund, this may be the best ROI of an evening ever.

My Eye Candy and I will both use the software so we took it from our Grocery/Household expenses for the week. This was a grey area as I didn't quite know where to allocate this purchase... tax software just doesn't exactly scream Fun Money.

We also did a bit of browsing at Reno Depot this afternoon. I'm still on the hunt to find a chic bookcase for our living room to hide our DVDs/CDs and miscellaneous. I feel like we are beyond the IKEA billybob shelving unit in our home decor style, but the spot is tight and I'm having trouble replacing them a nothing seems to fit.

In addition to window shopping, I also popped by the library to pick up my next round of reading material. I'm very much enjoying the "freeness" of the library. I still browse through Chapters Indigo, but rather than splurging on books I simply take photos of the ones I want to read and then go online to reserve them with my local library.

My last little bit of fun this week was spent with the EC and Miss Fergie as we did a 2.5 hour hike up & down (ok, it was more like trail walking) Mont Royal this afternoon. It was the perfect free activity to finish the week and I now have an exhausted puppy who loves me just a little bit more today.

The $80 from my Fun Money is going right into my Vegas Baby envelope. With the trip a mere 36 days away, I need to start glitter proofing my clothes. If there are any other ideas for free ways to spend my time, please share!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The last bit of icing

As I have been celebrating my birthday for over a week now, this will be my last post on the subject. But I've saved the best for last! I really do have the best family, friends and piece of Eye Candy ever as I was spoiled this birthday with amazing & thoughtful presents.
What girl can resist sparkling snail mail?
The greatest thingg about my Mum & my Sister? They know how to pick out the perfect dresses! This is the LBD + shimmering bib necklace that I wore to my soiree.

Office chic

This just screams evening in Las Vegas walking along the Strip. Complete with the best faux crystal necklace ever.

Mad Men inspired

Fun & just because

Sparkly bling! (Ok - the tiara was mine to begin with)

Because I'm the real Sporty Spice!

Financially fabulous inspired and so much appreciated! (PS: The corks are for a contribution to an upcoming art project... stay tuned)

And by now, you must be wondering what is that behind the beautiful dozen long stemmed red roses from my Eye Candy? Well... ladies & gents, I present Zazzles! All gorgeous 8 feet of Zebra given to me by my Eye Candy. In addition to being a beauty (she seems to be wearing eye illuminating mascara), she made this birthday down right zazzy.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have some thank you cards to write!

Weekly spending recap: March 13th - 19th

My spending last week was pretty minimal. Mostly because I was so busy accepting birthday gifts that I didn’t have time to splurge on myself. HeeHee!

Here’s where my moula-la went last week:

Sunday, March 13th
No spend day!I did some window shopping with my Mum and we checked out our favourite home décor stores. While there was plenty of “stuff” to browse through, I didn’t make any purchases.

Monday, March 14th
No spend day! I was in Toronto for work so all my expenses were covered. I did enjoy Springrolls for lunch which I used to love when I lived in TO. The restaurant should really hurry up and get to Montréal.

Tuesday, March 15th
$3.87 at Carlton Cards
(You would think after last week’s splurge, I would have bought enough stock… but I was looking for the perfect little card to thank my parents & my sister for spoiling me with the perfect birthday gifts and that’s not easy to find.)
$6.73 on Stamps
(What’s the point of buying cards if you can’t mail them?)

I did my usual spinning class at UNI which was paid for last December. It was an extra peppy class as the music was pure Weekly Top 40 so I was really able to kick up my speed a notch. Not everyone in the room shared my enthusiasm for the tunes. In fact, I do believe a certain spinner was asking for Rihanna to “please stop the music” at certain points.

Wednesday, March 16th
$70 for our cleaning service
Worth every penny!

$37.52 at Entrecote Saint-Jean
Dinner with my work bff and favourite friend! The ladies are also the fabulous fashionista bloggers that I follow if you’re looking for some inspiration on how to spend your money this spring season. With only 4 dinner option on the menu (steak, steak, steak or more steak) it was a relatively easy purchase decision. I splurged on a glass of wine.

Thursday, March 17th
Happy St. Patty’s! It was a no spend day for me, but I did get a night out on the town with my Eye Candy and friends at Café Griffintown. We enjoyed a few rounds of drinks and the most delicious Mac & Cheese dinner that I’ve ever had. (If you’re going to cheat with carbs, you might as well not hold back).

Friday, March 18th
Again, a no spend day!
However, my favourite highschool teacher was in town for so Mrs. H treated me to lunch at Java U. This is our annual March Break tradition to get together & catch-up. Not that I get to take vacation this week, but still, I like to escape the office even if it’s for an hour.
I also popped by the YMCA after work (paid for on a monthly basis) to burn off some steam with a 40 minute interval run on the treadmill. Ottawa half-marathon here I come!

Saturday, March 19th
Happy Birthday to me!
All my spending was associated with preparing for my party. To read the full recap, check out my last post Crazy Little Party Girl!

This was a weird week for spending grocery/household money since I wasn’t home for the start of it and I ate out a fair bit. All in all, I spent $48 of my weekly Fun Money so I’m moving the remaining $32 into my Vegas Baby envelope. The best part is that I resisted the urge to treat myself to a birthday gift… while I do have a Gift Fund its really not to a secret way to give presents to myself!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Crazy little party girl!

Normally I make a few posts to my blog over the weekend, but the past few days I've been MIA. Well, not completely missing... more like recovering on the couch from all of my birthday celebrations.

On Saturday night, I hosted a LBD/MIB soirée to toast my upcoming year and celebrate with my favorite friends. With all my frugalista efforts over the past few months, I didn't feel right about everyone having the expense of a night on the town just to party with me. Afterall, we really just needed a place to sip wine, drink Bacardi cocktails, eat treats and party hardy. And why not do that all chez nous?

Since I tend to see my friends in sweat gear at the wee hours of the morning, I thought it would be fun to get dressed up and I'm very impressed with how my friends embraced my Black Out theme. I had a 96% participation rate when it came to suiting up (AH's black socks + jeans combo was just not enough to bring it to a full 100%) and all the ladies looked lovely in their posh black attire. I had initially planned to wear a bright pink or sparkling silver dress to stand out amongst the party scene, but my sister spoiled me with a new little black dress so I decided to join in on the theme - I did, of course, wear a tiara to make sure everyone knew that I was the birthday girl.
When my Eye Candy & I go out for dinner & drinks, an evening easily costs us $180. So considering we hosted 15 people on Saturday, I'm excited to say that the final cost of my birthday shin dig was $300. Here's how it all broke down:

SAQ $78.59
For 6 bottles of wine. However, my recycling box had 12 bottles of wine in it this morning which would also explain the pounding headache I had yesterday. Clearly, my friends were incredibly generous with their gifts.

Beer $52.31

Sparkling water & sodas $13.17

M&M Appetizers $27.47
At the start of our party, our oven cought on fire. I do mean 4 inch flames were coming out the grill, and my Eye Candy, very calmly threw baking soda across the fire while I continued to serve drinks (we make an excellent tag team). The fire department was not needed, and the ash was cleaned up rather quickly. Fortunately, it did not impact the cooking of the M&M jalepeno cheesie poppers so I would say the evening was a definite success.

Fruits & Veggies $21.63

Cake Fixings $12.47
My Eye Candy made from scratch a delicious Paleo-inspired chocolate-banana-almond meal birthday cake pour moi. He's a keeper.

Dips & Spreads $15.55

Cheese & meat $60.55

Nuts & olives $17.37

For all party decorations, I dug through the costume box that I keep in my closet (doesn't everyone have that?) and managed to deplete some of my birthday stock. All in all, my party came to $299.12 which we paid for using our Mad Money ($150 and another $150 that I had budgeted for this month).

I was also incredibly touched by the thoughtful gifts that I received. I will do a post on them later because they deserve to be shown off and it's made my 40 day ban on shopping so much more bearable now. In fact, I feel like I cheated! My friends are too sweet and know me too well (or are at least reading my blog and therefore, helping out a girl on a budget).

When I woke up yesterday (afternoon) on my couch still wearing my party dress & for some reason my boyfriend's athletic socks over my tights only to discover my tiara tossed on the cushion beside me and my sunglasses still in my hand, I knew that I had the best party every. In fact, it was downright zazzy.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Weekly spending recap: March 6th - 12th

I am a little bit behind on my Weekly Spending recap for March 6th – 12th. I travelled to Toronto for work so my personal receipts were all mixed up with my work expenses and I needed time to sort through them. Plus, I got to spend the weekend with my family so when Sunday night rolled around, I opted for some bonding time versus sitting in front of my computer and cleaning out my wallet. None the less, here is how last week shaped up:

Sunday, March 6th
  • $34 at Wal-Mart on the basic household items
  • $122 at Loblaws on groceries that would last us for 4 days of food. My Eye Candy was on his own for the rest of the week as I had my Mum taking care of me.

Monday, March 7th

  • $2.50 for swimming at the LaSalle AquaDome
  • $11.28 at Canada Post to send my cousin a care package. Considering the parcel is full of goodies (read my last post, Gift Giving on a Budget) on route to Afghanistan , I found this to very affordable.
  • $25.24 at Carlton Cards. I went it in to grab two birthday cards and walked out with 6. Oops! They were having a sale (Buy 3 Get 3) and I absolutely love their Papryus collection so I took it as an opportunity to stock on cards for all those special occasions from now until June. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a sale.
  • $1.31 at Tim Hortons. There is something about Monday’s as I’m just not able to get through the afternoon without a caffeine kick.

Tuesday, March 8th

  • No spend day! I did my usual spinning class at UNI Training which was pre-paid in December. Now that Daylight Savings Time has sprung, I should be outside biking within a few weeks. Here’s to a season of staying on my bike and scar-free.

Wednesday, March 9th
Date night! Since my Eye Candy had been travelling a lot over recent weekends and I was set to go away, I treated him to a night on the town in Montréal.

  • $21 on IMAX tickets to see Arabia 3D which I had purchased last month through our Social Club at work. I saved $7 off the regular ticket price. A fire alarm got pulled half-way through the show so we had to make an emergency evacuation, but please note, I did not incur any injuries. While it was a nuisance, IMAX gave us 2 tickets towards another show so I’m not complaining. Our next date night will be a freebie!
  • $42 at Brit & Chips in Old Port for a post-movie dinner and round of beer. I made a fool of myself by ordering a 1/4 pint. What can I say? It's usually all I drink so it should be a standard size.

Thursday, March 10th

  • No spend day! A bad snow storm hit Montreal so flights were delayed arriving into Trudeau’s airport. I spent 7 hours waiting to take a 90 minute flight to Toronto and trust me, the airport is really not that exciting. WestJet did serve us cupcakes in an effort to make up for the inconvenience. At least I got a sugar rush! All the rest of my expenses (dinner & drinks) are covered by work.

Friday, March 11th

  • No spend day!

Saturday, March 12th

  • $1.82 at Starbucks: my Mum drove downtown Toronto with me on route to have my haircut so I figured I owed her at least a cup of tea to thank her for her company (and the loan of the car).
  • $94 for my haircut including tips and $5 for parking. This is the Personal Care expense that I had planned for the month. Please see my recent post Finding the "One" as this $99 pricetag left me feeling like a million-bucks and came in $1 under budget.

As a result of my splurge at Carlton Cards, I used up all of my $80 of Fun Money for the week and actually went over by $2.25. Not a huge deal, other than I like the satisfication of putting left-over cash into my Vegas Baby fund. Maybe next week!


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring cleaning should start with your office space

Today’s post has little to do with personal finance, but I suppose that’s what makes it so personal. I can write about anything that I find interesting. Today, I stumbled upon a press release from Clorox about the “germiest” desks by profession and it definitely struck a chord with me as I keep hand sanitizer on my desk and Clorox disinfecting wipes stashed in my bottom shelf drawer. I am not a germ freak, but I do appreciate cleanliness and make an effort to stay healthy. As our clocks have sprung ahead, it is the season to start some spring cleaning and we should start with our office space.

The results are in… the “germiest” jobs ranked from the most germy to the least germy are:
1. Teacher
2. Accountant
3. Banker
4. Radio DJ
5. Doctor
6. Television Producer
7. Consultant
8. Publicist
9. Lawyer

I work in marketing so I would say that is likely in between a consultant & a publicist. None the less, I completely disinfected my desk before I left work tonight by giving it a good scrubbing with my tried & true Clorex. I wiped off my telephone, mousse, and pen! Clorex reported that accountants have the germiest desks and pens which makes me even less thrilled about getting some tax-returning advice this year.

I am going to make more of an effort to keep my desk clean, tidy and organized. After all, there are more benefits to staying organized.

  • Peace of mind: who wants a messy stack of papers greeting them in the morning? It would be nice to walk into a zen & tidy space that practically greets you with a yoga like "ommmm"....

  • Professional image: while too sparce of a desk might suggest to your boss that you have too little to do, an organized one would show how you approach your work diligently and efficiently. Remember, you are your own brand!

  • Gain back your time: we may have lost an hour of sleep over the weekend, but why waste even more time searching for papers or folders or products? With an organized space, everything will be within reach.

  • Create a germ-free zone: Expedia reports that the average Canadian takes 2.7 days off work a year to fight a sickness. For most of us that's a loss of income and catching up on a marathon of TLC's What Not To Wear is enjoyable, but not necessarily the best use of time. Just think of all those so-called "trooper" colleagues of yours who come to work even when they should be having a Benylin day. With a clean office space, it will be easier to wipe off your desk, telephone, and keyboard and fight those nasty flu bugs.

As I tidy my desk at work and at home, I'm putting together all my tax forms so I can file next week. I have not yet decided if I will see an accountant to help me, but either way, I'm taking my own pen.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Finding the "One"

"I think the most important thing a woman can have, next to talent, of course - is her hairdresser." Joan Crawford

I had the chance to be in Toronto for work this Friday & Monday so I am currently enjoying a fun weekend at my parents house in the suburbs - also known as Barbie & Ken's Chateau. In addition to visiting with my family, there was another visit I needed to make... to my hairstylist! A girl's relationship with the man (or woman) who cuts her hair is a complicated one and once you've found the perfect hairstylist, a woman should never let him go. I've spent the last 5 years struggling to find "the one" who would treat my curls with kindness and give me a cut that is stylish & sophisticated. I've had too many one-appointment-stands where I've left the salon looking like Shirley Temple! I work in the beauty & fashion industry so I like the mantra of 'tress to impress'.

My father, however, could not understand why I would wake-up at 7:00 am on a Saturday to drive downtown Toronto for an 8:30 am appointment just to have my hair cut. He asked me why I couldn't find a stylist in Oakville... and then, why I couldn't just get an appointment in a Montreal salon? But the distance or time doesn't matter to me, it is all about my love affair with Eric. He is my One!

Through work, I've come into contact with the fabulous Eric Del Monaco who just opened his own salon on Richmond Street West in Toronto. Del Monaco Hair Studio is an industrial glam salon where you're guaranteed a chic cut whether you're meeting Eric himself or sitting in the chair with the other artists like Justina or Steven. While I no longer colour my hair (I'm loving my natural ombre highlights right now and figure I have my thirties ahead of my to fight greys), I've seen the colours & highlights that have left that salon and they are gorgeous crowns of glory for any lucky lady.

This morning, I spent 45 minutes in a chair chit-chatting about vacations and styles for spring while being pampered. And it wasn't just the luxurious decor and funky jazz vibe that left me feeling relaxed, it was the knowledge that my cut and my hair was in safe hands.

My hair appointments are not as often as they should be (every 5 months) mostly because of distance. But they are part of the 'personal care' expense on my rolling 4wk budgets every now and then. For $85 plus tips, I left the salon feeling like a million-bucks. While my dad will never understand, I know that Eric is an amazing return on investment.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Burn off steam, not your wallet

After a long day at work, there was nothing that I was looking forward to more than burning off some steam. I went into my spinning class tense & frustrated, and left an hour later on the most incredible high feeling exhausted yet accomplished & re-energized.

My idea of exercising used to be window shopping along Ste. Catherines. After the day I had today, the old-me would have treated hersef to a little 'something' from Winners, Jacob, Tristan, H&M or Zara. I'd grace my closet with a new item thinking I deserved it for all I had put up with and wearing my new piece to work the next day would at least give me a thrill on my way into the office.

But two years ago I met my Eye Candy and he's a fitness buff. They say you can't change your partners, but his 5x a week crossfit work-outs inspired me. I went from being an occassional jogger to a runner. And from finishing my first half-marathon last spring, I kicked it up a notch with spinning and swimming. Now I'm working out 4x a week minimum and it's true, there is nothing like the athlete's high. I'm by no means an extreme athlete or anywhere near a top-notch competitor, but I consider myself to be the real Sporty Spice! The thrill I get from working out genuinely out-weighs the thrill of the find during a shopping spree.

The best part is that this high is affordable. I budget each month for my YMCA membership ($52 after a 10% corporate discount) and train with my 3 Vitesses club for spinning and swimming ($100 for 3 months). And running? It's free to pound the pavement as a road warrior!

There are lots of free or inexpensive, but fabulous work-out options. So say you're 5'4 and about 135 lbs, LIVESTRONG says you would burn the following calories by exercising for 1 hour:
  • Vigorous spinning = 730 calories
  • Dog walking = 350 calories
  • Vigorous swimming = 617 calories
  • Yoga = 324 calories
  • Stretching = 154 calories
  • Running = 555 calories
  • Stair climbing = 458 calories
  • Hiking = 410 calories
  • Tennis (doubles) = 408 calories

In addition to spending my evenings burning calories, my money is now safe & sound. Mostly because I'm too tired afterwards to hit the shops. Who would want to try on clothes after they are all hot & sweat anyways? No one I hope!


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Weekly spending recap: February 27th - March 5th

I don't do a monthly a budget as I prefer to have a 4-week rolling one because it is easier for me to track my paycheques and income. I'm at the end of my latest 4 weeks, so next weekend, I'll share my budget for my next rolling-period. In the meantime, here's how this week shaped up.
Sunday, February 27th
- $123 on groceries & households at Loblaws/GNC
- $75 for the Ottawa Half-Marathon registration

I ran 7.5 km in the snow in 48 minutes, came home all powered-up and registred for the half-marathon in May. This will be my second year running Ottawa and my goal is to finish in 2:10. I'll have to cut 5 minutes from my personal best. The run will end up being a weekend away with my Eye Candy and friends so I plan to train hard and feed off of the positive energy of the crowds. Just call me Sporty Spice!

Gift-giving spree: check out my post Gift Giving on a Budget
- $2.84 at Shoppers Drug Mart (bubble bath)
- $3.70 at Dollarama (wrapping paper)
- $43.85 at GNC (oh yeah bars)

Monday, February 28th
- $2.50 for swimming
- $1.31 for tea at Tim Hortons
I know I said I was eliminating lattes-on-the-go, so this was a tiny slip up. But the chance to catch up with my colleagues after being out-of-office for 3 days during the previous week? Priceless. A lot can change in our office in a matter of minutes and a girl needs to keep up.

Tuesday, March 1st
- No spend day!
I did my usual spinning class at UNI that was pre-paid for last November.

Wednesday, March 2nd
- No spend day!
Technically. On the other hand, my Eye Candy and I picked up our new Mazda CX7 so I suppose it was a huge spend day that will carry on for the next 48 months. We're excited to have the car and thrilled with the ride. I'm realling looking forward to finally being able to get around Montreal whenever and wherever I want. Dix-30 here I come!

Thursday, March 3rd
- No spend day.
I headed to the YMCA and enjoyed an amazing spinning class that put me at a deficit of -1000 calories by 7:45 am.

Friday, March 4th
- $26 at the SAQ. Wine for the weekend!
- $8 to fix my boots at the cobbler.
Note to self: I am now keeping all receipts for future clothing purchases. Apparently, I could have taken my boots back to ALDO and they would have repaired it for free as these were a recent purchase.

- $19.30 on drycleaning
Note to self: I can whine all I want about this bill, but I knew that purchasing a white coat (it has beautiful roses on the collar and I was absolutley lusting after it) was asking for trouble. It really was just a matter of time before Miss Fergie showed me some love with her dirty paws against my pretty coat.

- $5.70 at Dollarama
Treats & stuff for Fergie. No high end pet shop for this furry friend.

- $95 at Veterinarian LaSalle
But my furry friend does get high-end pet food. This came out of our Mad Money fund. Once upon a time, Mad Money was supposed to be for us to go for dinner, but those days are over. None the less, Fergie is worth it and the food will last 3 months.

Confession of a shopaholic time: I did check out the Runway Event at Winners. What girl could resist? Red carpets greet you as you enter the store and high-end couture pieces (Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Pucci) are screaming for you to rescue them from the racks and adopt them into your lovely closet.

But in the end, I only walked away embarrassed. I somehow set off an alarm while attempting to try on a Red Valentino trench. The wailing noise of the buzzer and rush of the ancient security guard over was enough to knock some sense into me and I put the $395 piece back on the rack. I'm thinking about installing a siren into my wallet as it proved to be an effective way of cutting back my shopping. Damn.

Saturday, March 6th
- $2.52 on the Montreal Gazette. My subscription will start next week. As quick as it was for me to sign-up for weekend delivery, they sure are not quick about getting it to me.

We enjoyed a fun & delicious dinner with our favourite friends last night at La Prunelle. I picked up the wine and My Eye Candy picked up the tab. Now that my friends know all about my financial fabulousness, I thank them for indulging me in this BYOW night-out on the town.

All in all, I'm able to put $20 of Fun Money into my Vegas Baby fund. And last night, we talked again with our friends about a trip to Mexico to ring in New Years 2012. I have a continued commitment to cut-out the frivilous day-to-day so I can enjoy the fabulous life.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

You are what you eat

Last weekend, my Eye Candy and I commented that our weekly $240 grocery/household budget doesn't seem to go as far as it used to. Last summer, we were easily paying $170 a week and then putting our remaining $80 in our Mad Money fund. After only 10 weeks on this budgeting arrangement, we had saved up enough money to buy our puppy Fergie and pay for her flight from Texas to Montreal. But lately, only an extra $20 a week is going into our Mad Money and our grocery habits have not changed.

My EC initially said that it's because everything costs more in the winter, but it's more than just a seasonality effect. With George Weston reporting that they are passing the cost of rising commodities onto their consumers, I don't think we'll be seeing an extra flux into our Mad Money anytime soon. Canada is entering a period of inflation and it is buyer beware. We need to make smarter choices and shop smartly.

Granted, $240 a week on groceries for 2 adults may seem excessive when others could use that money to feed a family of 4 for the same period of time. But my boyfriend and I are novice nutritionists and we are conscientious about what we eat. Over the last 2-years, we've spent a lot of time learning about the food industry: from how the food is grown, butchered or picked, shipped, how it makes it way onto our store shelves, and how it is marketed to us.

We are also amateur athletes so we both subscribe to a melange of the ZONE and PALEO diets. The ZONE telling us how much we need to eat for our body size & fitness level, and the PALEO telling us what we should eat. Now, it doesn't mean we don't cheat from time to time on a pizza slice, but that's really an exception. For the most part, 35% of our intake comes from protein sources, 15% from good fat, and 50% from uncomplex carbs.

When it comes to grocery shopping, we shop the perimeter of the store and rarely make our way down the middle aisles. It's unfortunate, but healthy food is more expensive than junk food and it all started with the mass industrial usage of corn. Think about it... why does a bag of nachos cost less than 2 locally grown apples? Corn subsidies have allowed for food manufacturers to sell junk food at below their cost of production. The fewer the ingredients, the healthier the food is and unfortunately, the more expensive.

While I'm not going to start swapping apples for nachos as a carbohydrate source anytime soon, I'm going to shop 'by season'. Like most grocery stores in North America, my local Loblaws is always filled with exotic fruits and vegetables from faraway... but with snow and ice on the ground outside, it's obvious that pineapples are not a native food-source to Montreal.
Just like cargo kapris and gladiator sandals, fruits and vegetables have an 'in-season' and you can save money by purchasing them then as supply is highest so costs naturally tend to come down.
I've spent the last hour reading online about when my favourite fruits & veggies are ripest, what to look for when selecting a piece, and where in the world these really come from. Apparently, bananas are abundant worlwde and they are always in season. This isn't true for most fruits and veggies so I've put together a monthly guide that I'll use to plan my weekly grocery lists. I hope you also enjoy it!
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy asparagus, kiwi and oranges.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Dress me up

I love dresses. They are feminine, stylish, polished and oh-so-easy to wear. For me, they eliminate the problem of mixing and matching skirts and pants to blouses and shirts as I only to have to choose one dress, a pair of tights, cute heels and hi-ho, it's off to work I go. Dresses make-up the majority of my wardrobe and I likely wear dresses to work 95% of the time.

I recently finished my diploma in Public Relations from Concordia University and my favourite professor, Leanne Sanders spoke to her classes on several occasions about creating a professional brand for yourself. She explained that this starts with your wardrobe. By being selective in what you wear and by cultivating a 'look' that is unquely you, those around you intuitively know what to expect from you. It sends a message to your boss, your team, your employees, your customers, and your agencies that you are reliable and will consistently deliver.

Professor Sanders' look is a sophisticated black and white ensemble, matching red nails and lips, striking silver hair and oversized dark sunglasses. It's stylish, creative, and successful. It is striking. and memorable. I would absolutely want her managing my PR.

My look is less rigid, but it always begins with a fabulous dress that's just a little bit different. I try to find one-of-a-kind-dresses from boutiques or the less-travelled department stores as I'm looking for dresses to showcase my confidence and originality... but at the same time, there's a 95% chance I'll be showing up to work in a dress & heels so my creative uniqueness is reliable. The last few dresses that I've added to my wardrobe have had more tailored cuts and an element of grown-up sauve to them (like brocade patterns or pin stripes) as I'm looking to elevate my look to one of maturity that says this 'woman's not only got it going on, but has the experience too.' Since the dress is the starting point of my brand image, if you were to run into me on the weekend I'd likely in a sweater dress and tights. As even in my down-time, I can be counted on.

For now, I'm on shopping hiatus so I will have to enjoy one of the 42 (yes, your read that number right) dresses that I currently have in my closet. While my Eye Candy argues that it's impossible for another dress to fit in in there, I'd argue that dresses are part of my invested brand image and there is always room for diversity in this portfolio.
After all, would you tell Mark Zuckerberg that he can't have another hoodie? Check out the "Power of Apparel" from the New York Times to read more about CEOs who are investing in their wardrobes too.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tempting contests

I thought I’d test out my luck while I am saving up my money for Las Vegas by entering some contests today. It only takes a couple minutes to enter, and if I keep up this rate of entry, I’m bound to win at some point. Hit me!

Here are some of the fun contests that tempted me:

Win with Winners! This is my favourite store ever and it’s done enough damage to my wallet over the years…I deserve a little treat for my loyalty!

Marshalls is coming to Canada and what better way to celebrate than with a $1000 shopping spree? It will also be a good excuse to go home and visit my family… but would I have to share my spree dollars with my Mum and sister? TBD.

Maybe if I win LouLou magazine’s Happily Ever After Contest, my Eye Candy and I will officially tie the knot. After all, by the power vested in the Mazda financial planner, we are now a common-law couple.

And if I don’t win a dream wedding, I’d take a trip from instead! Note that the runner’s up prizes are for shopping sprees at H&M… definitely worth it too!

Oh la la! A trip to Paris with L’Oréal Paris. La chance!

For a weekend in NYC with John Freida, I could pack in a NY minute.

But in case I don’t get the time off work for all these trips, I could have a staycation and redo my bathroom with $2500 from RONA. ¸

And finally, because I love him so much and I’d receive the title as best-gf-ever if I won… I entered this contest with Energizer to win 2 tickets to the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

Good luck!