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?