Dec 072016
 

The following post is by staff writer, Peter.

Creating a budget for your household might seem to be something that is relatively simple. That being said, sticking to it is another thing entirely. If you are looking for a way to find more money in your budget for investing, traditional wisdom tells you that you have two options. You can either make more money or you can spend less money. With that in mind, there might be one more thing that you can do. You might just be able to locate money in places you didn’t look before. Take another look at your budget to locate any extra funds.

Utilities

You can always stand to save energy, for no other reason than doing your part to be more ecofriendly. The thing is, when you conserve energy, you are getting more from it than just a smaller carbon footprint. You can also save some money. Think about getting a home energy audit to find out where you might be losing energy and how to fix the issues.

Aside from that, in places that are deregulated, such as in Alberta, you can compare rates for energy from the different suppliers. Suppliers such as ATCO can be more competitive with their pricing in order to gain customers and the savings will be all yours. Depending on your rates and energy usage, you might be able to save hundreds annually.

Current Debt

You might also need to make the decision between paying off your current debt or investing for the future. While this might be a simple question, finding the answer can be a complicated process. It involves finding out how much you can save monthly by a debt reduction, your total assets and debts and the expected return annually on your assets among a few other factors. Basically, if it would cost you less in the end to reduce your debt now and invest later, versus the opposite, then it would be a good idea to do so.

Bundle It

One thing that you can do to reduce the expenses for your household is to bundle your various services. If you have internet, phone and TV services, you might find that you will reap the savings by switching all of these services to a single provider. You might get offers for this in the mail or you might see what is available in your area. This is a free service that will not only let you know what options you have, it will also allow you to compare the rates for the specific services that you need to determine your best option.

Cut Back

Is caller ID on your phone really necessary? For that matter, is a landline phone really a necessity? What about all of those premium cable channels or the highest level satellite package? Take a good, long look at your monthly expenses and see which items are necessary and which ones are just perks.

Groceries

Groceries are a necessity… and one that can take a huge chunk of your budget. That being said, they are able to be cut down. Consider starting to use coupons and price matching to get the best prices. Shop the sales. What do you think you might be able to save if you do this? For a 1st time coupon clipper, 15% might be reasonable. In time and with practice, this could increase all the way up to 50%!

Insurance Premiums

Yes, insurance is imperative, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be so darn expensive. Shop around and see if you can get lower rates on your vehicle insurance premiums. You might be able to save hundreds annually. If you can’t locate a better rate, have a conversation with your provider and determine if there are any discounts that you might be able to qualify for. For more savings, you might think about canceling collision coverage or even increasing your deductible.

You might also think about turning the things that you have read here today into habits for the long term in order to keep a tight rein on your spending. Be sure that you aren’t saying no to everything though because you will be much more likely to give up. Living within a tight budget doesn’t have to be about waiting for things, but more about spending less on those things that aren’t that imperative so that you will be able to spend more money on those things that are important to you.

 

Jun 132016
 

The Challenge is Over

Last week I embarked on a culinary adventure where I would limit myself to eating just $29 worth of food for an entire week. It was not to determine if such a thing is “possible” or not. Humans are very resilient eukaryotes. The average healthy person with a body fat percentage of 20% could survive multiple weeks consuming nothing but water — although it wouldn’t be very fun. 😕 But much like the “no spend days” challenge, I wanted to experience what it’s like to live on a tighter budget like so many poor people do.

Now that it’s all over, I’m going to make like a mirror and reflect on my experiences. Thankfully I managed to keep to my rules as mentioned in the original post, and didn’t eat anything outside of my basket of groceries. I even had some food remaining as of Sunday night. Woohoo! I passed the challenge. 😀

Here are some simple homemade dishes I put together last week, using the ingredients from my list.

16-06-food-stamp-challenge-recipes1 16-06-food-stamp-challenge-recipes2

Breaking Down the Week

Days 1, 2, and 3

The first three days of the challenge were spent eating a little bit of everything from my food basket — although there was a heavy emphasis on fresh vegetables as the tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash had to be taken care of before they start to spoil. I put the bread in the fridge so it would stay fresh longer. During this time I ate mostly sandwiches, salads, and roasted vegetables.

Days 4 and 5

These days were more focused on a protein and carbs rich diet — literally the meat and potatoes of my basket. 🙂 I also boiled and seasoned the large white radish. Around day 4 I began to feel weary about eating the same food over and over again. By the end of day 5 I had finished consuming all the fish, crackers, and most of the produce.

Days 6 and 7

These last two days were mainly for eating leftovers from my basket. I tried out different ways to cook the remaining turkey and potatoes. At this point I felt peckish for other types of food, mainly something sweet. I realized I should have added some apples or oranges to my food basket. I tend to season lightly when I cook at home. After nearly a week of not eating salty food from restaurants my tastebuds have gotten use to consuming a lower sodium diet. On day 7 I made turkey soup, using leftover meat and produce remains. At the end of the challenge I had some bread and 2 turkey drumsticks remaining out of 14 total. A turkey drumstick is about 13 ounces, compared to a chicken drumstick which is about 4 ounces.

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Jun 062016
 

$29 Per Week for Food

In the United States most people who meet certain low income guidelines are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or the food stamp program). Last year glamorous Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow challenged herself to live on just $29 worth of food for one week. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, $127 is how much the average food stamp benefit receives each month, which works out to roughly $29 per week. Paltrow wrote on her blog, goop.com, that she was doing this challenge to raise awareness for the New York City food bank. She uploaded a photo of everything she purchased for the challenge and set out to not eat anything else for a whole week. This is what her basket looked like from one of her Tweets.

16-06-from-goop-gwyneth-basket-tweet

But unfortunately she only made it through 4 days before she gave in and ate some black licorice. I know, it’s shocking right? How could anyone like the taste of black licorice. ? After her challenge ended prematurely, Paltrow said that her “perspective has been forever altered by how difficult it was to eat wholesome, nutritious food on that budget, even for just a few days—a challenge that 47 million Americans face every day.”

The Internet Backlash 

Although she did not complete her challenge I have to give her props for trying. 🙂 But of course this is the internet. So when she wrote about her food stamp challenge there was no shortage of criticism and adverse response.

As one person aptly observed, “Gwyneth Paltrow bought scallions, onions, a clove of garlic, and fresh parsley. She is doing her poor people shopping wrong.” ?

Below are some other intriguing reactions from random denizens of the Twitterverse. 😀

16-06-replies-to-gwyneth-tweet

Yikes! Bring out the carving knife because Gwyneth Paltrow got thoroughly roasted, lol. But internet drama aside, this whole situation has inspired me to do the $29/week food stamp challenge as well. 😀 As a personal finance blogger, I want to find out if I have what it takes to live on $29 a week for food.

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Apr 042016
 

I’m not much of a hipster, but last year I started to use the Tangerine money-back credit card during its trial period before it was cool. After using this card for many months I’ve decided it’s time to blog about my experience with it. Normally I don’t review consumer products, and I’m not being paid to write this post, but I genuinely think this is a great credit card that I would recommend to my personal friends. 🙂

16-04-Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card

About the Tangerine Mastercard 

Let’s go over the main features of the card.

  • No annual fee 😀
  • Earn 2% money back on select categories, and 1% on every other purchase.
  • No limit on the amount of money-back rewards you can earn.
  • Interest on overdue balances and cash advances is 19.95%
  • Mastercard is accepted worldwide at more than 24 million locations in over 210 countries

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May 102015
 

Some folks believe earning a higher income is a valid excuse to submit to lifestyle inflation. But I don’t think lifestyle should necessarily be tied to active income because job security is a fickle pickle. However with a strong framework of growing passive income, a little lifestyle inflation is not only acceptable, but I would even recommend it because YOLO. 😀 Due to the recent tailwinds of increasing investment gains and asset prices it appears I’m ahead of schedule by 1 year to reach financial freedom by my 35th birthday. Since my ultimate goal is to live a balanced, resourceful, and meaningful life, I have decided to succumb to lifestyle inflation and increase my expenses.

Changes to my budget:

ItemOld Monthly BudgetNew Monthly Budget
Grocery$100$150
Eating Out$25$50
Internet + Phone + Entertainment$75$100

Overall I’m now spending $100 per month more than I was back in 2010. This is not a major change to the way I spend money, but it allows me to enjoy the present a little bit more while not sacrificing too much of my financial security in retirement. The way I conduct my budget is I set an expected target, such as my $150/month for groceries. The target is more of a guideline than a strict limitation. Sometimes I spend less, other times I spend more depending on what I buy and how often I eat out.

Here are my thoughts behind the 3 categories.

  • Grocery: Since food inflation has been higher than the average consumer price index over the years I’ve decided to increase my grocery bill to $150 per month. Some people might think $150 is not enough, but it all depends on where you shop. A few years ago I blogged about buying some staple foods from Safeway for about $17. That’s enough produce to last me for probably 1 or 2 days. Then I walked half a block down the street to another grocery store and purchased the same food for literally 1/3 of the cost. I’ve uploaded pictures with receipts for proof. The economics of this situation needs explaining
    Since it’s been 3 years since writing that article, I think the same basket of goods would probably cost about $20 at a Safeway or equivalent big box store today due to the ever increasing price of food. How much can the same $20 buy at one of the smaller independent stores I go to? Well I recently went to a small grocer to find out. 15-05-persia-food-groceryIt’s called Persia Foods located in North Vancouver if anyone is curious. Below is a picture of everything I bought. It actually came out to $21.07 but you get the idea. There is enough produce here to last me for an entire week. (click image to enlarge.)  15-05-persia-foods-grocery-receiptI’ve also blogged before where I get cheap meat, other sources of protein, and grains. Last month I bought nearly 4 lbs of ribs in a West Vancouver supermarket for less than $8, and it took me several days to eat through it all. 15-05-lifestyle-inflation-food-ribs-osakaThe point is it’s perfectly reasonable to eat well on $35 per week for an individual adult, which works out to $150 per month. Of course if people are buying all their groceries from Safeway then they can expect to pay $300/month or more for essentially the same diet. But that’s their choice. 😛
  • Eating Out: By increasing my restaurant budget to $50/month I can spend more time to socialize with friends. 🙂
  • Internet + Phone + Entertainment: A couple of things happened here over the last year. I finally upgraded to a smart phone earlier this year. No more flip phone for me lol. So I upgraded my cellular package to include a data plan. I also subscribed to Netflix which is an additional $9/month. So I’m paying $25 more for telecom services now than before.

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