Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My administrative mess with Spinelli Mazda

Cars are major expenses, and for me, it’s the biggest expense that I've committed to. In addition to lease payments & gas being a significant part of my 4 week rolling budgets, I’m realizing that car ownership also comes with significant head-aches. This week, I’m dealing with the frustration of my speeding ticket that has snowballed into a fine for failing to appear in court even though the Canada Post strike meant I never received my summons.

I’m also on the hunt for the $500 that Spinelli Mazda offered as an incentive for making a purchase with them. If you remember from my post about the car purchase, I graduated from university five years ago so I still qualified for a student discount. Score! The $500 was not taken off the purchase price of our car, but would be a mail-in rebate once the paperwork was complete.

Zoom, zoom! My new wheels are fabulous,
but I'm getting a head-ache from them too.

Last month, I realized that we were four months post-purchase and I had not received the $500 cash back. I called my sales rep Jeremiah and spoke to him about the missing moula. He agreed it was strange. Jeremiah promised to call me back the next day once he’d followed-up with the dealership’s accounting department.

Sixteen days later, I realized that he had still not called me back. I phoned in and left another message which he responded to the next day. When we spoke, I was rushing out of a meeting so Jeremiah quickly explained that there had been an error in paperwork. Spinelli Mazda had only processed the registration of our CX7 to my Eye Candy (even though the purchasing agreement was with the two of us), so when he made the request for the $500 student rebate on my behalf, Mazda head-office refused it. And rightly so, my Eye Candy is not the recent graduate.  

Once I hung up with Jeremiah, I was fuming! The dealership made the mistake on the registration and when the rebate was refused, my sales rep didn’t even have the common sense to figure out why and correct the error. There was no reactivity on Jeremiah’s part and all he did was blame the secretary at Spinelli Mazda (who he informed me has since been fired for making similar clerical errors). His laissez-faire attitude towards post-sale customer relationship is appalling to both my Eye Candy and me since we both work in sales & marketing.  

I phoned the SAAQ (Société l’assurance automobile Quebec, not to be confused with the SAQ that is our wine & liquor stores) to better understand my options. I have to go in-person to a SAAQ office with my Eye Candy, wait in line, show the proof of purchase, and pay $124 to have the car re-registered in person to both of us. Then I can send the new registration form back to Mazda Spinella for my $500 student fee.

Knowing that I’d be out both my time and $124 for the registration, I called back the dealership and spoke with Jeremiah. He explained that he had called the dealership’s contact with the SAAQ and Denise at the Lachine SAAQ is aware of our situation. So if my Eye Candy and I go in person with the forms, the SAAQ will refund the initial $124 registration fee that the dealership paid for and charge us $124 for the new registration. He explained it’s a wash on our part.

A wash? Not when it comes to my money.
Except it’s not a wash.

We both have to take time off work to get this done (time = money) and what are the odds that I’ll pick a number, wait in line and magically meet Denise? I really doubt that will happen, but at this point, I have to get the registration sorted out.

The registration came with the car when we picked it up and we should have realized then that the vehicle was not made out to both of us. And when I got pulled over for speeding on my way into a funeral home (read about that ordeal here) and handed over my license and registration to the police officer, I should have noticed then that the car was not made-out to me. Oh, the irony of that!

My Eye Candy has suggested that I start a complaint process with the Mazda head office regarding the dealership’s major lapse in paperwork and my sales rep’s lack of  initiative to get this paperwork messed sorted out.

Personally, I’m tempted to drive back to the dealership and make a big deal about getting the “Spinelli Mazda” bumpersticker removed from the back of my vehicle. At the moment, I would not recommend any of my friends to Jeremiah for their next car purchase, and if they want me to advertise their dealership then they can pay me a $500 media space fee.

Please share any other ideas on how to speed up my registration with the SAAQ and handle my complaint with Mazda.  


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fabulous link love

Inspired by my fellow bloggers, I present you my first edition of Link Love. These are the posts that peaked my interest this week so make yourself a café latte and enjoy these wonderful reads for a relaxing, yet insightful Saturday morning.

Financial & Fabulous
Britney of Totally Money asks if buying wholesale is worth it and offers some tips on how to navigate your next trip. I’ve found that Costco’ing on Wednesday’s at 8:00 pm is the quietest time – and the taste-testing is still out.
Young & Thrifty offers advice on how to avoid financial fatigue as a couple. I’m glad we’re not the only dynamic duo hooked on Storage Wars and secretly consider themselves to be bff’s with Marshall and Lily.
Tom Bradley of The Globe looks into the future with five predictions for the wealth management industry.

Fun & Fabulous
Girls just want to have fun! Seventeen magazine celebrates 65 years of historic covers. I love the 1957 coverpage and today, I feel like wearing yellow too.
The Everyday Minimalist asks when do you know you’ve become one? Her shopping list reminds me of my own… and I never thought that would happen. I love the mantra that minimalism is a process, not a project.

Professional & Fabulous
Marie Claire magazine reveals how much should your co-workers know about you. Let the unfriending begin.

Fit & Fabulous
One Love Meg creates a go-to-table to help you decipher your cravings.

I will now be going offline and up north to for a little chalet get-a-way with friends. The only place you'll find me for the next 48 hours is on the dock.
Have a wonderful weekend!


Thursday, July 21, 2011

I’ll take a pass on Extreme Couponing

Perhaps I’ve been living under a rock for the last six months, but it was just this past weekend that I tuned into a few episodes of TLC’s Extreme Couponing. As a frugalista, one would think that this would become my favourite show ever as the couponer’s profiled are saving thousands of dollars on their grocery and household bills with their savvy coupon clipping matched against store promotions. However, the show made me anxious and rather than applauding the Extreme Couponers, I felt sorry for them.

Their lives are cluttered with “things”

In the four episodes that I watched, eight women were profiled and they all took great pride in showing off their inventory. These were rooms upon rooms of consumer products meticulously organized, more closets than you count filled with coupon booklets, and up to five computers per house to maximize the process of downloading e-coupons. Who wants to live like that?

I understand the benefit of buying items in bulk (I’m a Costco girl after all), but I am actively trying to become a minimalist. Buying stuff got me into trouble with my credit cards in the first place and now, my closet is filled with clothes that I wear, my pantry has empty shelves instead of being stuffed with processed food, and I’m actively selling items on Craigslist that I no longer need.

Seeing the thousands of products in these Extreme Couponers’ homes is not how I want my home to be. While these women got their products for next to nothing, why do they need a four year supply of toothpaste or 350 bottles of nighttime pain reliever? It’s unnecessary excessive consumption.

Rebecca wakes up at 5:00 am everyday to start 
her couponing and can't get enough of stuff. 

They are not eating well 

At the end of each segment, the announcer recaps the bill of what the purchased items should have been (e.g. $1,208) and the cost that the Extreme Couponer actually paid for it (e.g. $9.47). Then the announcer recaps what they purchased. This part made my stomach turn over as the list would include things like 128 bottles of 1L Coke, 72 frozen pizzas, 46 bags of Lays potato chips, and so on. I suppose this is when the audience is supposed to give a round of applause to the Extreme Couponer for her purchases, but seriously, why would you ever eat that?

Of the 4 shows that I saw, only one woman purchased a fruit – and it was only one bunch of bananas because the store was giving them away for free (they were so ripe you couldn’t even make a smoothie with them). Another woman would use her coupon overage (when the coupon value exceeds the retail price) against meat purchases. But here’s the gross part, she would select the cheapest and smallest packs of ground beef find in order to maximize her overage. You couldn’t pay me to eat ground beef from a grocery store (and if you want to know why, please read Fast Food Nation). If I want ground beef then it’s coming from a butcher where I see him pick up the slab of meat and grind in front of me.

I understand that not all families can afford to buy local meat and shop at farmer’s markets for fruits and vegetables, and I think it’s shameful that potato chips are cheaper than a bag of apples. But if these Extreme Couponers are savvy enough to work the system for free jars of Tums, then they can certainly figure out how to get a discount on fresh food. After all, you are what you eat.

Their lifestyles are not healthy

These women dedicate 35 – 60 hours a week to couponing and shopping. Granted, only one of the eight held a full-time job (and her husband was a stay-at-home dad), so I suppose you could argue that their ability to save thousands of dollars on household expenses offsets their lack of income.

But it wasn’t the fact that these women didn’t work that bothered me – it was the fact that they didn’t work out.

Now, I’m not saying that they need to go out and become Jillian Michael look-alikes, but six out of eight of the woman that I saw profiled could have been contestants on The Biggest Loser. It was obvious that their lifestyle was so consumed by couponing that they didn’t make their health a priority. In addition to eating poorly, the Extreme Couponers were not even attempting to exercise off the 720 calories that comes with eating a Kraft Delissio pizza.

What brings you joy in life?
For Amanda, it's staring at her toilet paper stockpile.
In one segment, Amanda Manders (who was on the show for a second time) said something to the effect of, “when I look at my piles of toilet paper, it brings me great joy.” Seriously? I’d much rather spend a few dollars on toilet paper in order to make time to go out for a job and get a runner’s high.

No redemption by me  

All in all, the show left me unmotivated and disheartened. While I believe a penny saved is a penny earned, the woman profiled in Extreme Couponing reveal that this comes with a cost to your health and achieving a balanced lifestyle. I am going to continue to browse through my Thursday night flyer bag for coupons & and keep an envelope in my wallet well-stocked with rebates against my favourite products, but this is where my relationship with Extreme Couponing will end.

Does anyone feel the same way?


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gift Giving on a Budget: Toenails are for sissies

A runner has to keep whatever toe nails
she has left as pretty as possible.
One of my favourite friends celebrates her birthday this month and while it’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen each other face-to-face as we live in different cities, we’ve stayed close via e-mail, Facebook, snail mail and we’ve bonded over our shared love for running, the great outdoors, and our dogs. Plus, the 6 months that we spent together on exchange in Strasbourg will forever be fond memories when we were the dynamic duo known as L’Equipe Blonde. 

On my birthday, she treated me to a copy of Born to Run which I devoured and it’s given me new inspiration for why I want to run and how-to run. Along the same theme, I sent her a present that is for post-running.

Unfortunately, bruised toenails are a frequent occurrence for distance runners and while our nails may be short (or in some cases missing), it doesn’t mean that we can’t have pretty feet. We put our heels & toes through so much that they deserve to be pampered so I sent her a gift to do just that. Her gift bag included a new pair of flip-flops for the post-workout foot soak, bubble bath, a loofah and pretty nailpolish colours in the summer season’s bright seaside hues. I bought this gift while shopping at Loblaws as Joe Fresh’s collection had everything that I was looking for and her present was $14 plus $9 to mail it via Canada Post.


PS: If you are looking for unique apparel for running or your post work-out, check out One More Mile. I love their cheeky sayings that every runner can relate to. I have the shirt that says “I know I run like a girl, try to keep up” but other fun items proudly declare “toenails are for sissies”, “some girls chase boys, I pass them”, “this IS my race pace”, and “21.1 km: Canadians do it metric”.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Waiting for my new date in court

So remember that speeding ticket that I received while turning into a funeral home? Apparently I was doing 50 km/hr in a 30 km/hr school zone (and may the record state that the closest school was 20 km away, it was only 12 minutes after the designated school zone started, and I was turning into a funeral home).

It turns out that the officer did not fill out my ticket properly and failed to record the speed in which I was apparently driving and what I should have been driving. I then wrote a letter explaining that I was contesting my ticket on the basis of not knowing what I was charged for. In addition to failing to fill out my ticket correctly, the officer only spoke French to this French-as-a-second-language young lady so perhaps we did have a miscommunication at the side of the road. Perhaps.

I wrote my letter within the 30 days of receiving the ticket and popped in the post to await my court date. When Canada Post went on strike last month, I was rather diligent about checking my bills with Hydro Quebec and Rogers Mobile as I knew I would not be receiving my snail mail reminders to pay them. But, the truth is, it never crossed my mind to call about my ticket as I expected the courthouses to be just as slow as Canada Post. Unfortunately, I was sent a letter that indicated my day in court was June 29th and having failed to show up to that party, I've now been convicted.

I have not yet received the initial letter asking me to appear in the court houses of Deux-Montagnes, but I did receive a letter yesterday announcing that in addition to my fine, I have a no-show fee from the court which brings the grand total of my crime to $210. YIKES! My Eye Candy pointed out that I must not be the only one affected by the Canada Post strike so I should call in, explain the situation and demand a new court appearance (after all, I haven’t been watching Law & Order nearly every single night for the last 18 years for nothing.)

I took the time to call into the cour commune today, pressed 4 for English, and voilà, I spoke with a woman who spoke 0 English.

In the best French that I could put together (which I would like to think puts me at the level of a 13 year old Francophone girl), I explained my situation. The woman that I spoke with obviously did not care, and kept repeating, “Mademoiselle, je ne compends pas…” much to my frustration. I was perfectly capable of stringing together rather competent sentences in French for instance, “je n’ai pas reçu une letter avec un date de cour judicial a cas du grève Postal Canada” and she would just repeat, “Mademoiselle, je ne compends pas…”. When I was about to pull my hair out, I blurted back, “Madame, je ne vous comprends pas” and slammed down the phone. I'm not sure if that was considered rude or aggressive, but it made me feel better.

Moments like these make me wish my parents had put me in French immersion as a child as it really would be helpful to know French given my current immigration status to the country that is Quebec.

My Eye Candy has graciously offered to call on my behalf when he’s home from a business trip later this week. While I’d prefer to fend for myself in this belle province and take care of my own fine, I’ll take him up on the offer. I don’t want my altercation with the court house administrator to escalate to another court date.

Any tips to help me fight this ticket and fine? Is anyone else finding other surprise costs from the Canada Post strike?


Monday, July 18, 2011

Weekly spending recap: July 10th – 16th

The most I’ve spent this last week was on protein bars. I didn’t take out any Fun Money this week as I wanted to compensate for the expensive dinner out last Friday. My only purchase was for 2 protein bars ($6) on the way to run some drills.

Today I am thankful for my wonderful friends. My Eye Candy & I hosted a fun patio party on the weekend and we spent the evening BBQ’ing ribs and sipping mojitos with our friends. When I first moved to Montreal four years ago, there were so many evenings that I was incredibly lonely in my new city; and to think that we now have to split-up the invites simply because our patio is not big enough to host all our friends at once is the best feeling in the world!

Money can’t buy happiness. One free thing I did last week that made me happy was teaching Miss Fergie to swim. A heat wave has hit Montreal and while our usual walking route is along the Lachine Rapids, we’ve never let Fergie go in the water more than a few feet. On Saturday afternoon, we decided to indulge her by walking to the pier and jumping in the water with her. Our Norwegian Elkhound is now a water dog and she has a fierce doggie paddle.   

I will consider this week a success if I create an itinerary for a dream vacation. My Eye Candy and I have decided on a few spots that we would like to visit some day so now I want to start planning them out and create a realistic budget.

My favourite summer cocktail is Malibu and Diet Coke. I mixed it up for one friend this weekend and she described it best with “it smells like sunscreen.” You can’t get more summer-y than that!


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Money in the bank

Did you earn an extra $100 this week just for being paid? I did!

Last week, I opened up an ING THRIVE chequing account in addition to the multiple savings accounts, GICs, RISAs, and a TFSA that I already have with them. I had never really thought of ING as a place to do my daily transactions, and I doubt that I was the only one. As an incentive for people to open chequing accounts and to arrange for their paycheques to be automatically deposited into them, ING offers $100 bonus.

I was a little skeptical at first, but with their THRIVE chequing account ING promises:
o        no monthly fees
o        a free first batch of cheques
o        free email money transfers
o        free bill payments
o        free ATM access
o        free Interac purchases
o        and more perks click here

Once I knew that ING would be giving me an INTERAC card and that an ATM is located less than 200 meters from my condo, I was hooked. It took less than 2 minutes to sign up for the account, and I followed their 10 minute tutorial to easily add payees for bill payments and to quickly fill out the forms that my workplace payroll department would need to switch my paycheques deposits. From there, I pdf’ed the form and emailed it to my HR rep with a request to update my banking information.

In less than 20 minutes, I earned myself $100 with ING and I will be saving $13 a month by not paying for my daily banking activity. I am looking forward to calling CIBC now to close my current account with them. I had unsuccessfully tried to negotiate  twice to lower my monthly service charge fees and now, I get the pleasure of taking my business elsewhere.

As for what I’m going to do with my $100? Each month, I’ve been paying $50 to Brault Martineau for an entertainment unit that I purchased last fall (no money down, no interest) and I only have 3 more payments to make. These are automatic with my CIBC account so I have just enough left in my CIBC chequing account to pay this month’s charge, and then, I’ll be going into Brault Martineau with my $100 to eliminate the rest of the balance. It will be one less monthly expense and earlier than initially thought. Thank you ING!

If you haven’t already signed up for ING savings or chequing, I encourage you do so. For a savings account, if you use my Orange Key number 31643528S1 and deposit $100, ING will give you $25 and me $25. We both win! The $100 promotion associated with the THRIVE chequing account is on until July 31st so I’m sure you can also squeeze in 20 minutes to get this organized. It’s not often that you make money for being someone’s customer so why not take advantage of it?


Monday, July 11, 2011

Weekly spending recap: July 3rd – July 9th

The most I’ve spent this last week was on dinner out at Le Chien Fumant. A $155 was a pricy experience and you can read more about my sticker shock here.  

Today I am thankful for fresh fruits & vegetables! July is prime time for ripe and healthy sweet treats.  With so much food in season, my grocery bill is getting some relief.

Money can’t buy happiness. One free thing I did last week that made me happy was spending Friday afternoon with my friend Miss Fitness Champ. I got to check out her new luxe apartment in Montreal and enjoy an afternoon on the building’s rooftop patio next to the pool. Bliss!

I will consider this week a success if I firm up more plans with friends to enjoy activities from my Thirty Flirty list.  

The last impulse purchase that I talked myself out of was a puppy! Hanging out at the dog park with Miss Fergie is too much fun these days as there are a few dogs who are waltzing around with their litter of puppies. So while Miss Fergie is rolling around in the mud, I couldn’t help but be tempted to bring a new fur ball home. Fortunately, the memories of house-breaking Fergie and her recent need for $127 worth of antibiotics brought me back to reality. That being said, my Eye Candy has expressly asked me not to go to the dog park without him... And I leave you with some super cute pics of the puppies.


This is Miss Goldie Locks. She is a 6 weeks old, and an
affectionate & mischievious fuzzy retriever.

In the right light, Miss Goldie Locks and I have the same haircolour.
I'm starting to regret resisting her!

And these are Miss Goldie Locks brothers.
Yes - they have the same baby daddy!
There are 5 left in the litter who still need homes so act fast.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sticker shock

Friday night I went out my Eye Candy and friends for dinner at Le Chien Fumant – a petit bistro-resto in the plateau that has a low-key, but stylish vibe and the most delicious menu. I had only been there once before for my EC’s birthday, but he is a regular with his friends as their Moscow Mules are apparently legendary. Heading into the night, I had taken with me $75 of my Fun Money which I figured would be enough for dinner and a glass (or 2) of wine.

What I am about to describe is likely every other budget-conscious gal’s worst nightmare, but I think we all go through it as a “live & learn” kind of situation.

My good friend is a good friend of the chefs at Le Chien and he arranged for our group of 8 to enjoy a fixed-tasting menu that would be about 5 courses… but nothing too fancy. After having whispered side conversations with my Eye Candy, he told me that the dinner would now cost $100 each, but that it would be worth every penny. Given that we were sitting down for dinner and everyone was enthused to do a taster-menu, I refused to be the one who would bust-the-bistro-bubble and opt just for a meal à la carte. I had to bite the bullet and agree to split the bill.

Dinner lived up to its hype and I had a fabulous time with my friends while making new ones. But unfortunately, my evening came with a major price to pay. When the meal was all said and done, the bill came to $1,058 plus tip. Split between 8 of us, my share was $155.... YIKES! My evening out cost double what I had planned to pay.

I drove home that night (as DD, I had stuck to my 2 glass limit and drank about 6 glasses of lemon water), I could feel myself fuming. The fixed-menu may have been delectable; but spending an evening with my friends should not be a $155 expense. The worst part is that I knew I would have had just as much fun had I picked my own meal off the menu. I felt like my money had been spent for me and the social atmosphere of it all made me too uncomfortable to say anything.

While 2:30 am chats are never a good idea, I talked it over the situation at length with my Eye Candy as I’d never be able to sleep otherwise. I was mad at myself for spending my money so foolishly. In the end, I realized that there was nothing more I could have done as the eating arrangement was pretty unique to Le Chien Fumant. I had to chalk up my $155 to being a lesson learned: splitting bills with friends over dinner is never really “fair” and that’s the price to pay for their company. Also, if a restaurant is out of my budget, I need to be more confident in speaking up ahead of time that I will order my dinner.

On the flip side, I did make the most of the taster-menu at Le Chien given that I am a notoriously picky eater. Having sworn off seafood simply because I don’t like the look of it, I’m pleased to report that I tried 3 new appetizers and my sense of adventure received rounds of applauses from my friends: a lobster bisque, a mussel radish salad, and general tao fried calamari. These were dishes that I would have never ever ordered on my own for fear of wasting my money if I didn’t end up liking them. In some ways, I suppose the $155 has allowed me to expand my future menu choices… but my next dinner out will not be for a while as my Fun Money envelope is pretty thin this week.  

Are you comfortable splitting the bill with friends or do you speak-up about your budget? 


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Weekly spending report: June 26th – July 2nd

They are back! I recently explained why I’ve moved away from typing up weekly spending recaps as I didn’t like to create a laundry list of my Fun Money expenditures [read full post here: How I’m saving $6 a week], but I have been inspired by the weekly blog post from My Pretty Pennies. I’m going to try following her example of weekly money check-ups and see how it goes.

Happy Canada Day celebrations!

The most I’ve spent this last week was on my half of dinner out at Griffintown Café on Notre Dame. My Eye Candy and I treated our favourite friends as an overdue thank-you for watching Miss Fergie over Easter Weekend while we were in Kelowna. It was a win-win as she got their company for a weekend and we got their company to toast the beginning of this long weekend.

Today I am thankful for living in a city as vibrant and inexpensive as Montreal. In one weekend I climbed Mont Royal, dined in Griffintown, sipped beer on the terrace of a local brasseur, ran along the Lachine Rapids, watched fireworks in the Old Port, enjoyed incredible music at the Jazz Fest, and soaked up fantastic weather. 

Money can’t buy happiness. One free thing I did last week that made me happy was a picnic with my Eye Candy and Miss Fergie at Lac des Castors on the top of Mont Royal. We BBQ’d our lunch in advance and took it up the mountain with us. We had a delicious and healthy spread, and enjoyed a bottle of Les Jamelles. It was absolute bliss.  

I will consider this week a success if I mix up my work-out routine. I’ve hit a wall despite working out 4-5x a week. I’m running faster than I’ve ever done before, swimming more often and even biking again, but I’m not seeing any change to my muscle definition. I need to start my own rendition of booty camp even if it’s just in our backyard.

If Kate & William want to hang out with me today in Montreal we would hit up the Atwater Market. Who can resist the local farmer’s fruits, veggies, and meats? And let’s not forget that the cheeses are 3 for $14! After all, I’m sure there are only so many trees that they genuinely want to plant and I’d be curious to see what kind of hat is appropriate attire for a market.

Book review: The Millionaire Next Door

Thomas J. Stanley, William D. Danko

I borrowed The Millionaire Next Door from my local library after seeing it on the must-read list of the great blogger Fabulously Broke in the City. FB wrote that this book changed her perspective on personal finance and wealth building and I couldn’t agree more. While the edition I read is outdated (1996), the characteristics of a millionaire next door remain relevant and revealing. In fact, this book could have predicted the recent real-estate crisis and recession in the USA due to the hyper-consumption of America’s affluent.

The biggest ‘aha’ moment for me in this book was realizing the difference between the wealthy and the affluent. They are not the same people! The wealthy are resource accumulators who invest in assets that will appreciate in value. The wealthy live below their means and focus their time on wealth creation. The affluent are high-spenders who purchase consumer goods and services at a rapid rate in order to create a rich lifestyle. 

So who is your millionaire next door? I encourage you to read this book as it’s full of real-life anecdotes, but I will create an example that I’ve taken-away from this book. Let’s consider two brothers: Bert the high income earning dentist and Ernie the modest self-employed electrician. Both are approaching their fifties, married, with 2 kids.   

Meet Bert...  

Your gut instinct is to presume that Bert is the wealthiest of the two brothers after all, he is a high-income earner, lives in a posh neighbourhood full of other professionals of similar careers, owns a 6 bedroom home, sends his 2 kids to private school, drives a BMW while his wife has a Lexus, recently took a cruise with his family and on the weekend, frequently jet boats on the lake. Bert must be wealthy to have such an extravagant lifestyle! But let’s take a step-back for a moment and consider Bert’s path to richness.

He likely spent 7 years in dental school and accumulated $100k in student loans by the time he finally graduated. When he started his dentistry, he wanted to live in a neighbourhood of like-minded professionals and he likely maxed out his mortgage rather than building a down payment towards his house. The annual property taxes likely exceed his initial down payment. Once in the neighbourhood, Bert’s wife grew concerned that that the local public schools had poor ratings for education so she made a plea to send her kids to a private school. Chances are that their parents are funding half the private school tuition for their grandchildren so while this was initially a “great deal”, Bert is now paying out of pocket several thousands of dollars a year just so his kids can keep up with their friends. As for his lavish vacation and jet boat? Credit cards, credit credits, credit cards.

While Bert wants to build for retirement, he spends less than 1 hour a month managing his money and will only spend about $300 a year for professional financial services. He works close to 60 hours a week and believes that the more he works, the better his retirement will be. Unfortunately, he is spending his $110k income faster than he earns it and as a result, Bert is living an affluent lifestyle but is far from wealthy.

Meet Ernie...

Then on the flipside, you have his brother Ernie who lives with his family several blocks away from Bert in a modest neighbourhood of semi's and apartment buildings. Ernie’s house has 3 bedrooms so his children have to share a room, and he’s been driving the same Toyota for the last 6 years while his wife just bought a “new” second-hand Volkswagon Jetta. Ernie is self-employed and has a roster of 100 customers that regularly call on his company for plumbing services. He does excellent work in a timely fashion and is constantly receiving new referrals. Ernie wears a uniform to work and blends in with his employees. He works about 40 hours a week, and likely earned $55k last year. His children go to the local public school and perhaps next year, they will drive to Florida for a family vacation at Disney World. But get this… Ernie is wealthy and likely has $800k in assets. How did he do that?

While his brother was in dental school, Ernie spent only 2 years at college and started his business right away. He had 5 years less of student loans to pay back and as a result, a 5 year start on earning a living. As a plumber, Ernie didn’t feel the need to live in a high-income neighbourhood or purchase a BMW every 2 years. After all, what would his customers or employees think if they saw a lavish house or a stylish car? They would assume that Ernie is making too much money off them and likely take their business elsewhere. Ernie has purposely chosen to live below his means and used his income for asset creation. For instance, Ernie owns several industrial properties as investments, maxes out his RRSPs each year as well as his children’s RESPs, has no credit card debt and has never accepted cash gifts from his parents. Ernie spends 1 hour a week managing his wealth and pays close to $3000 a year for professional wealth advisors and tax attorney services. At 50, he will own his house fully and will likely retire a year or two after that.

Closing thoughts  

My example of Bert & Ernie does not mean that all dentists are lavish & poor and all plumbers are modest & wealthy, but I wanted to share the difference in Bert & Ernie’s mindset. Millionaires don’t go around buying jet boats and designer suits as the The Millionaire Next Door reveals that a millionaire likely drives a used-vehicle and has never paid more than $80 for a pair of jeans. Millionaires are constantly looking for assets that will appreciate, are committed to creating wealth and eager to protect the value of their wealth while they seek to minimize frivolous spending on consumer goods. This is an informative read on America's millionaires, their lifestyles, how they created their wealth and how they invest. The material is easy to absorb and it is definitely thought-provoking. At the end of the day, I'd rather be wealthy than appear affluent.  

My key take-aways from this book:
1.      Revisit my goal of finding a personal financial advisor. I think I need to find a personal wealth advisor, but I’m not sure where to start looking.
2.      Start evaluating my net-worth alongside my monthly budgets.
3.      Continue to live below my means and avoid the pressure of keeping up to keep up with the Jones.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

How I'm saving $6 a week

Since coming home from my world wind vacation in Las Vegas, I have not been writing Weekly Spending Recaps. When I started them, it was because I was trying to save up my $80 of weekly Fun Money to put in my Vegas Baby envelope and I was scaling back on my miscellaneous daily purchases so that I could have more cash to spend as a tourist.

But the real purpose of my $80 weekly adult allowance is to have fun! It is something that I was inspired to do after reading Smart Cookies [read my full review here] as budgets can often feel restrictive, but the cash in a Fun Money envelope is there for a girl to have a good time and to spend on whatever her heart desires… as long as it doesn’t exceed the weekly allocated amount. By recapping how I was spending it, it felt too restrictive when my $80 is meant to be how I treat myself: a glass of wine after work with friends, a funky ring from H&M, a must-have nailpolish colour, or saved up over a few weeks for dress purchase.

While I have not been writing about my expenditures, I do keep my receipts and I noticed an interesting pattern was happening this spring-summer season: each week, I was spending at least $6 to buy a new pair of pantyhose. As a soft-ivory skin toned girl, I’ve always been conscientious of my milk bottle white legs and wearing pantyhose in the summer was an easy disguise for an instant sheer tan. That being said, I have yet to meet a brand of pantyhose that is durable against rips – whether they occur from a snagged nail when trying to put them on, a good-bye jump from my puppy as I’m heading out the door, or caught on a loose screw under my desk. Snags, pulls, rips and full-on tears are inevitable with pantyhose and I was making weekly emergency purchases to replenish them.

In some office environments, pantyhose are mandatory attire for ladies and I do agree that they give you a professional pulled-together look. Amongst my colleagues however, I am the only girl wearing them and I’m often teased that it’s an Anglophone-thing that makes it a dead give-away that I’m a Torontonian who has yet to assimilate to Montreal’s funky vibe. I also work in the fashion & beauty industry where office dress codes are not restrictive, but everyone manages to look like they’ve stepped off a runway daily. I believe in dressing for the job you want and not the job you have, so after I suffered my 8th pantyhose snag in less than 6 weeks, I took a tour of our office and couldn’t find one female senior executive wearing pantyhose. They all had gorgeous sun-kissed gams with perfectly polished toes and lust-worthy sandals. Clearly, not wearing pantyhose didn’t take away from their professionalism.

My new must-have secret for saving money
and enjoying having sun-kissed legs.
The next morning, I busted out a bottle of Jergens Natural Glow Express Body Moisturizer from a goody-bag that I had received the previous evening at FLARE’s FALL 2012 FASHION NIGHT (I know, it’s too soon to be thinking about coats!). With running outside several times a week, my legs had moved up the colour scale from soft ivory to a natural beige so I had a pretty good starting point for my fake tan and the Natural Glow went on easily and smoothly. It didn’t stain my hands and it doesn’t produce a nasty build-up from re-applying daily. It easily scrubs off in the shower and the best part is that it doesn’t stain my towels when I dry off. I’m using my Express Glow daily now instead of a moisturizer and my legs are soft and finally sun-kissed. I am trying to even out the tan line from my running shorts, but overall, I'm pleased. My legs are still a far cry away from rivaling Gisele Bundchen’s, but at least I’m keeping my $6 this week.

Ladies, what do you think? Should pantyhose always be worn in the office regardless of the industry you work in and the temperature outside?