Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Some girls chase boys, I pass 'em

I have a new favourite set of numbers! 2:10

This past weekend I ran the Ottawa half-marathon and crossed the finish line 5:30 minutes faster than my time last year. I am your new pace bunny! And my cut 330 seconds are the result of many runs and cross-training over the last year. Not only did I reach my goal, but it was the most fun that I’ve ever had running.

Now stay with me for a second – it did pour with rain and the fog was so thick that I couldn’t even see the Parliament Buildings as I crossed back over from Gatineau. Normally, a little bit of misty spit or chill in the air would have kept me and my sneakers at home. Yet something inside of me on Sunday morning encouraged me to get over the uncomfortable conditions, to forget the squishiness of my wet shoes, to ignore the awful sugary taste of blue Gatorade in my mouth, and just keep moving one leg in front of the other.

My photo finish! I will admit that this is like a Where's Waldo, but I'm in there! 
(PS: While the clock says 2:15,  it is adjusted for your individual shoe time.)

I read an article last month in Women’s Health Magazine “Determination: How to get what you want” about the power of grit and how women can use it to be successful. Whether you’re an athlete in training or investor in the making, I found the article to be relevant and motivating. The notion of grit to overcome adversity definitely stayed with me during my run as the weather became nastier and the kilometers seemed to get longer and longer.

At kilometer 17, one spectator caught my eye as she held up a sign that read “Remember: You paid to do this” and I couldn’t help but laugh. Yes… I had paid a $70 race entry fee, spent $82 in gas to get to Ottawa, another $84 on my hotel, and $35 on a pre-race dinner just to run 21.2 kilometers in the pouring rain. But I wasn’t running because I had paid to do it, I was running because I had finally found my grit and this is what brought me to the finish line exhausted and thrilled.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Costco cherry

My Costco cherry has been popped! My Eye Candy and I made the plunge and we are now full-fledged and active Costco members. Last month, we went undercover and snuck into a local Costco warehouse just to do some price comparisons. We wanted to figure out a) if we would be saving money and b) how much bulk would we actually have to buy.

We created a list of the grocery items that we purchase the most often like meats, cheeses, trailmix, and coffee. Once inside Costco, we took pictures of the prices and sizes of the items and we were later shocked when we compared the prices against our local IGA and Loblaws offerings. But, it was sticker shock in a good way!

Exhibit A: Tilapia
Costco price: $12.99 / kg
IGA price: $15.41 / kg

Exhibit B: Chicken
Costco price: $13.49 / kg
IGA price: $14.31 / kg  

Exhibit C: Swiss Cheese
Costco price: $1.798 / 100 g
IGA price$3.788 / 100 g

After seeing the lower Costco prices, we used $55 from our Mad Money envelope to buy an annual membership. We’ve since done two weekly grocery-runs at Costco. At first, it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea of buying in bulk, but items like meat are freezable and our fridge is now well stocked-up. Being on a mix of Zone & Paleo diets, we tend to eat routinely anyways and plan our meals in advance. Right now, we’re well stocked upon fruits, veggies, healthy snacks and meats so now that our fridge is loaded, I am hoping that grocery shopping will now become once-every-two-weeks event. 

I’ve also started to buy my health & beauty products at Costco. As a major allergy sufferer, I take 24-hour relief each day. The cheapest that I could find a 30-day supply of Reactin was $28 at Wal-Mart or $26 at Shoppers Drug Mart (when it’s on sale). At Costco, I purchased 360 tablets for $66. Before, each pill was about $0.93 and with this bulk purchase, the average cost is $0.18 from Costco. Granted, my monthly budget takes the hit for the drugs this month, but I now have a year supply at a fraction of drug store costs.  

The Costco-shopping experience is new & novel to me – but if there are any tips out there or further savvy saving at the warehouse club, please share.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shake the glitter off your clothes now

On the flight back from my Vegas Vacation, I sorted through my receipts as I wanted to know the exact damage done to my wallet from my 5 days of non-stop fun in Sin City. It was not the cheapest vacation that I’ve taken, but it was incredibly exciting and I enjoyed the time spent with my sister & cousins plus their significant others, and of course, with my Eye Candy. The best part is that I was able to pay for all my expenses and treat my sister from my Vacation Fund. I didn’t hit the jackpot while in Vegas, but my entire trip is paid in full!

Note: I didn’t actually do any gambling. As I have just gotten my finances in order, I couldn’t bear to lose any of money. Everyone in my group behaved responsibility and set themselves a limit for play each day. The key was knowing when to walk away, and I’m pleased to report that my Eye Candy even came ahead by a few bucks.

Below shows just my portion of the trip (unless otherwise specified) so if you’re thinking about planning your own getaway, I hope it helps you establish a budget.  

Flight + Hotel

$861 for me to fly from Montreal-Toronto-Las Vegas return with 4-nights accommodations at the Luxor pyramid resort. Rate based on double occupancy and booked with Air Canada vacations.

$88 in resort fees. Obligatory. No amount of haggling could get me out of these.   

Shows & Entertainment

$116 for Viva Elvis performed by Cirque du Soleil. This show is more Broadway entertainment than gymnastic acrobats, but it was the perfect first night out on the town. I purchased these tickets online at Vegas.com ahead of the trip and received a free seat upgrade (for everyone in my party).

$115 for Peep Show starring Holly Madison. The Planet Hollywood was advertising this show the last time my EC and I were in Vegas, but it wasn’t on stage yet. I was with the perfect crowd to see this show and Holly’s quest for someone to read her naughty nursey rhymes before bed kept me entertained. The best part? Since we were a group of 7, I negotiated with the kiosk lady to sit us in the VIP section so we were incredibly close to the stage… so close that my Eye Candy was picked from the audience and brought up on stage! He did walk away as the runner-up to be Holly’s next boyfriend… I suppose her loss was my gain. I highly recommend this show to anyone looking for something fun and frivolous, and with a crowd that doesn’t take themselves to seriously.

Dinner & drinks, and more drinks, and more drinks

Hotel prices may be cheap in Vegas, but they sure do hit you at your wallet. We enjoyed a mix of high & low dining and this where most of my Vegas moo-la-la went.

While Vegas is far from being an all inclusive,
just walking the Strip is free & fabulously fun.
$60: late afternoon lunch + 3 glasses of wine on the patio of the Monte Carlo hotel
$20: night time cap + appetizer at Nine Fine Irishmen at NY NY (my favourite Vegas pub)
$15: breakfast at the Pyramid Café
$55: dinner at IN & OUT BURGER where I had the best beer of my life… everyone needs to order a pitcher of Hefeweizen now.
$20: 2 glasses of wine at the Eye Candy Lounge which I enjoyed while watching my EC win ‘em at Black Jack at Mandala Bay’s casino
$15: hotdog + glass of wine at the poolside Pyramid Café bar. What can I say? I was soaking up the sun and not in the mood for anything healthier. But in my defense, I had already hit the gym for a morning run session. J
$100: splurged on an amazing 5* dinner at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon French laundry dinner and enjoyed a bottle of wine. I’m a foodie in the making! 
$16: lunch at Wabo Cabo
$25: combined total of morning Starbucks runs (this is a must as Vegas screams late nights)
$7: enjoyed a gelato while strolling through Caesar’s Palace. I had to… it just seemed like the Italian thing to do.
$50: dinner and drinks at the RockStar Saloon
$24: drinks at the Pleasure Pitt. Don’t let the name fool you! It’s the right mix of classy and scandalous so all the ladies in our group had a great time too.

Memories over monuments

$25 for a round of beer pong at O’Sheas. It was my treat and I was the official ref. This was obviously played after our 5* star dining experience where our entire group was dressed to the nines and had surprisingly great aim even as the game progressed. Props go to my sister who creamed the boys and left as our champion.

$32 on the world’s cheesiest gondola ride at The Venetian hotel. I skipped this on my last trip and regretted it so I convinced by EC to join me this time (ie: I bought his ticket). I wish I had skipped it – it was too cheesy even for Vegas.

$10 to ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower for a stunning view of The Strip. This would have been worth it, but unfortunately, my cousin dropped his iPhone while taking pictures from the top. Seriously. Other than the 3G, no one was hurt and we’re pleased to report that gravity works.

Shopping & such

$132 at a little boutique Maude where I bought 2 of the most stunning dresses ever and a chic black romper. I blatantly asked my sister to talk me out of making the purchases, but she just couldn’t do it. Fortunately for me, it was buy 2 get one 1 free so I practically had no choice but to make these additions to my closet.

$53 for tacky souvenirs. These included a Vegas branded sparkly thermos, cute tote bags, and the Hangover baby strapped t-shirt for my cousin. He was wearing this while explaining to hotel security about the iPhone mishap so this memory alone is priceless.

$27 miscellaneous snacks

$20 for taxis throughout the week. Each hotel is about 1.5 km long and there is only so much walking that a girl can do in heels.

$35 for my share of our airport parking

Hit me baby!

The grand total of my five-day Vegas Vacation is $1,921. I wasn’t expecting a cheap get-away nor did I live like a high-roller while in Vegas. The important part is that I saved up for my time away, didn’t splurge on “vacation” clothes ahead of time like I used to do, and chose to put my money towards some fun treats instead of gambling.  It was the perfect chance for to escape and have some fun with the family (the 21-34 years old crowd that is).

We’re already talking about where we should hit up next year: ziplining across Costa Rica or smoking cigars in Cuba? Wherever we chose, I’ll gladly start an envelope with its name on it.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Cash flow conundrums

I was reviewing my upcoming 4-week budgets for the summer as I am always looking for areas to cut costs. One of the areas that I was planning on saving money was with my YMCA membership. Now that the warmer weather is upon us (sort of, Montréal has been under water non-stop for the last week) I am outside more for running, biking, and even swimming. While these sports have little equipment, I still have to pay for my Trois Vitesses club membership, registration for my half-marathons & other events, and I have opted to take a technique class or two. It didn’t make sense for me to pay for a monthly YMCA membership when I plan to be outside this summer.

My YMCA membership is $52 a month as I get a $5 subsidy from my company. I was also pleasantly surprised to see on the YMCA website the option of suspending one’s membership for a period of 3 months! See below: 

It’s reassuring to know that you can temporarily put your membership on hold or cancel it with no hassles. Whatever the reason, the Y allows you put your activities on hold for a minimum of one month and a maximum of 3 months over the course of your one-year membership. You can take advantage of this privilege twice per year. The sum of the hold periods cannot exceed 3 months.

Or at least, so I thought as there is fine-print associated with the website’s claim.

I went into the YMCA last night to suspend my membership for June-July-August. It turns out that even though I’ll suspend my membership, I’ll still pay for these months. The make-up for these suspended months is added to the end of a member’s year. I’ll pay for the membership this summer even though I’m not using the gym or attending classes, but I won’t see the impact until February-March-April when I go to renew my YMCA membership and these 3 months are just added on. (Yes, I am one of those people who joined a gym in January…but the good part is that I’ve stuck with it for the last 3 years so I’m not a total flake.)

Fortunately I’m able to suspend my membership so I am not paying for something I will never use. I am sure a lot of downtown gyms are much more expensive than the YMCA and my location has excellent modern facilities. Unfortunately, the suspension just doesn’t help out my cashflow for the summer months and being the next Sporty Spice will expensive.

Are there any other financially fabulous ideas for saving money this summer?


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It (finally) pays off to complain

Last March, I had a nightmare travel experience for work when trying to fly from Montreal to Toronto via WestJet. I arrived at the airport at 3:30 pm for my 4:30 pm flight only to discover that it was delayed by 45 minutes. Granted, Montreal had had a fair bit of snow that morning so I could understand that the airline was trying to recover from the earlier delays caused by the weather. However, my 45-minute wait time turned into 7 hours of boredom and frustration at the Trudeau airport.

While Air Canada and Porter were announcing flight after flight to Toronto, no WestJet flights were leaving. It turns out that not a single flight via WestJet had left that day from Montreal to Toronto as the weather system had caused emergency landing across the Eastern sea board, and WestJet was now missing planes and crews to keep up with their passengers.

I completely understand that weather is not in the hands of the WestJet people, but their communication to passengers is. Knowing that the other flights had not taken off that day, my flight should have never been shown as "on time" when I checked in online mid-day and I should have been given a realistic wait time. Later in the evening, my flight was actually cancelled and I discovered this when walking by an airport digital schedule board and realizing that my flight was missing. Not cancelled - just missing from the giant board. There was no passenger announcement made - my flight simply disappeared. I then joined a 60 minute line-up to be rebooked onto the 10:00 pm flight. My entire evening was wasted at the airport and by the time I reached Toronto, I was frazzled and exhausted.

I was promised compensation by the WestJet agent who rebooked my flight, but weeks went by and I didn't hear from them. I then called WestJet and was told that there agents on the phone only take reservations & manage bookings - they do not handle complaints! If I wanted to make a complaint or inquiry into my compensation, I needed to send an email. So I sent the email describing my ordeal only to have an automatic response stating that it takes the customer service agents 6-8 weeks to respond to email. Seriously?

Dear WestJet,
What's the point of having a phone line that won't give service or a convenient email address that is not conveniently quick?

On the weekend, I finally received a response to my email after 45 days.

"As a goodwill gesture and a one time exception" WestJet credited me $150 as compensation for my ordeal. I'll take it! In fact, I already used it online and combined it with a promo code so I'll be going to Toronto next month for my Dad's birthday. What would normally be a $325 expense will be $82 out of my own pocket. Not free, but it does make up for the loss of my time and sanity.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Weekly Spending Recap: May 8th - May 14th

I'm back! I will admit that I've been pretty much MIA from my blog since my return from my extended weekend vacations. The truth is, I've had a lot to catch up on work, wanted to make working out a priority, and I've been spending more time with friends. If I have the choice between sipping a glass of wine in the evening with friends versus typing on my computer, then you'll know where to find me. Here's how this past week shaped up:

Sunday, May 8th
Happy Mother's Day! We treated my Eye Candy's mom to brunch chez nous and my boyfriend bought her a cute little bird house for her balcony. It turns out that the condo board where she lives doesn't allow bird feeders... but this one was so chic that she is going to be a rebel and hang it anyways.

As for my Mum - she'll be visiting in a few weeks as I bought tickets to the upcoming Roch Voisine concert for her Mother's Day present. This purchase was made last December so it didn't impact my wallet this month.

$103 for groceries from Costco.
I'll be writing about this experience in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!

Monday, May 9th
$100 for my running course
While this is one of the cheapest forms of exercise out there (just you, shoes, and the pavement), I want to improve my technique and learn how to better pace myself. For the next 12 weeks, you'll find me running around the Atwater Market and Canal each Monday evening. This is part of my 4 week rolling budget. 

Tuesday, May 10th
No spend day!
Did a spinning class at the YMCA.

Wednesday, May 11th
$70 for our cleaning service
$98 at Costco for Reactin & Zone protein bars (more details to come!)
$9.17 at Canada Post to send some birthday cards overseas and a present via snail mail
$2.05 for a morning coffee at Cafe Depot
$1.88 at Second Cup post-work
$7.69 at AMC for kid size popcorn

I received guest passes for the VIP premiere of The Bridesmaids from my EC's mom and I went after work with a favourite colleague. We enjoyed some pre-movie sunshine on the patio at Second Cup, and once inside, treated ourselves with popcorn and a cute cupcake (free from a caterer sponsoring the show). The film is quite funny and ideal for a mid-week giggle session.

Thursday, May 12th
$7.69 at Subway for lunch
$8 at Cafe Theatre for a glass of wine
$20.51 at Guido & Angelina's for dinner
$13.50 at AMC for my ticket to see Something Borrowed
$11.48 at AMC for small sized popcorn

I couldn't remember the last time I went to the cinema and then this week, I went twice. Thursday night was ladies night and I met up with friends for a post-work drink, dinner, and then a rom-com. I absolutely loved Something Borrowed and I'll be adding this to my collection once I find it on DVD (in the previously viewed section, of course). Kate Hudson is adorable (I feel like we should be BFFs) and her outfits gave me so many ideas of what to wear this upcoming summer.

Friday, May 13th
No spend day!
My Eye Candy treated me to a glass of wine (or 2) at the Burgundy Lion. We spent the late afternoon sipping our drinks on the new patio and enjoying the short-lived sunshine.

Saturday, May 14th
$139.97 on new running shoes
I've never been so excited to buy sneakers before! The pair that I was wearing were long over-due to be replaced - they had done 2 half-marathons, 11 months worth of practice runs, and were worn while biking and spinning. Yikes! The moment I put my new NIKES on, my feet felt like they were in heaven and I will never go that long again before replacing a pair. I took these new babies out for an 18 km run in the evening (and in the rain) so they are broken in and ready for the Ottawa Half-Marathon in 2 weeks.

$178 at Costco on groceries for the upcoming week. More details to come!

All in all, I spent $85 of Fun Money this week so I was slightly over budget. I had more meals out than usual, but it was worth it. Plus, coming back from my vacations mid-week meant that I had some dollars to carry-forward. I no longer have a Vegas Baby envelope to put my extra Fun Money into. I've created a Girl's Just Wanna Have Funds envelope where my extra weekly moula-la-la will go for impromtu purchases. 


Friday, May 13, 2011

Gift giving on a budget - always fresh.

A few weeks ago I hinted about a mystery gift in my weekly spending report, but I didn't share any details as I was waiting for the recipient to first confirm reception.

My cousin is spending his final semester of highschool abroad and is studying in France (la chance!). With only a few weeks left to go on his exchange, I decided to send him a little care package via snail mail. I remember from my exchange days in Strasbourg that the last few weeks in a foreign city is a mix of emotions: on one hand, you want to savour every moment of your home-away-from-home as everything still seems so new; but on the other hand, it is not your home and going back to your own is incredibly exciting after being gone for so long.

Now, what do Canadians miss the most when abroad? Tim Hortons of course! While I couldn't send my cousin a double-double, I opted to send him a batch of Timbits. France may be home to the world's most delicious pastries, but it just cannot compete with the sweet goodness of Timmies.

The Timbits cost $3.69 and it was about $14 to mail the package. My cousin confirmed that they arrived one week after I posted and they were still fresh! This does make me question what preservatives are in the Timbits, but none the less, I'm glad that it gave him a taste of home.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Fun, fun, fun, til her daddy took the T-bird away

I expected my first post post-Vegas to be a summary of my incredible time in Sin City, however, I need to make a quick entry to rant.

This afternoon, my workplace BFF and I made a 60-minute trek north of Montreal to attend a visitation for a favourite boss' mother who just lost a courageous battle with cancer.

After congratulating ourselves on finding our way easily to Ste-Eustache, I was making my way into the right lane to turn into the funeral home. I then noticed an unmarked cop car with lights ablazin' from my rearview mirror and it dawned on me that I was expected to pull over. It turns out that the funeral parlor is next to a school and at at 3:45 pm today, I was doing 50 km/hr in a 30 km/hr zone (from 3:00 - 5:00 pm only). Shame on me. I've seen enough Dateline NBC reports to understand the difference between getting in an accident at 50 km and 30 km is dramatic.

All that being said, I was on my into a funeral home. Truthfully. 

The cop had no sympathy when my colleague explained that we were not from the area and we were 12 seconds away from pulling into the funeral home's parking lot. I received a $110 fine, lost 2 demerit points, and have been emotionally frazzled ever since. Please excuse my language, but I do believe the cop is a bit of a prick given the whole situation. I'm the type to beat myself up anyways so I promise you that a slap on the wrist and a strict warning would have been just as effective. This was my first traffic infraction too.

I'm now donating $110 to Montreal's roadworks projects, which is a shame as there are much more worthwhile causes out there than the refillment of our province's potholes. Should you be so inspired, The Weekend to End Breast Cancer is one that comes to mind:  http://www.jghfoundation.org/sections/eventswebc.html