Thursday, July 31, 2008

Back at the House

Well, we left the city today and we're back at our rural home from today until Monday. The grass wasn't nearly as bad as last time but our lilac is almost dead and I'm not sure if it will recover. My Munstead lavender, on the other hand, is blossoming again even though I removed all the buds previously and it got a little mowed over last time we were here. We set the sprinkler before coming to town to buy groceries.

But first we stopped at Walmart to buy more line for the weedeater thing and before you know it I'd spent close to $100. No, the line wasn't that expensive. We saw the thing we've been looking for to zap all the mosquitoes. It cost about $46 but it attracts all the bugs, electrocutes them and works over a whole acre. And it came with a 3 year warranty. Given that last time we were here we were almost eaten alive every time we stepped out the door it is totally worth it. And I bought a kickboard for DC who did quite well with her swimming lessons.

I also bought wasp spray because they've taken up residence just inside the roof above the front door. Thanks to Kacie for her post about wasps today and for her telling me how dangerous it would be to try to just seal them up.

And we spent more on groceries than I've spent each of the past couple of weeks. Part of that is because we were out of some bigger items like water (it's dark yellow out of the tap, thank you very much) and instant coffee, as well as all the renewable kind of thing (milk, cream, butter, eggs, hummus, you name it).

Tomorrow we're also coming to town for part of the day and then we're going home to grill the 2 honking rib steaks I bought at the deli this morning before we left the city. This is not something we normally do, but this is our anniversary weekend and this is our celebration. I'll do them just before Shabbos comes in because we don't cook on the Sabbath. Shabbos lunch we have sliced roast beef, nice and pink.

Okay, going home now to eat something because talking about food is making me hungry!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It Won't Wait Wednesday

Some people call it Anti-Procrastination Day, but that's not as wonderfully alliterative as "It Won't Wait Wednesday". Basically, we all have things we put off, things that sit on our To Do lists for days, weeks, months or even longer. On Wednesdays I'm making an attempt to take care of at least one or two items that I've put off.

Today I accomplished three things with two phone calls!

My first call was to Canada Revenue Agency. I had my 2007 Notice of Assessment handy, but didn't need it for the series of security questions they asked me. I was probably on hold for about 2 minutes. I've received both my 2006 and 2007 tax refunds, a notice telling me we don't qualify for the GST rebate, my July CCTB and UCCB benefit payments, but not my retroactive CCTB (Canada Child Tax Benefit/BC Benefit) for last year. The girl I spoke to told me that I'll be getting a cheque for $730.82 and it will be issued for August 20th.

My next call was to ING Direct. I wanted to talk to someone who could walk me through changing the date that the withdrawals from my chequing account go through. Currently they come out on Mondays. I wanted to change that to Thursday so I would line up better with my paydays (every 2nd Wednesday) in order to avoid the problems I've had recently. The guy I talked to did that and moved $250 from my Vacation Pay account back into my bank account. This is something I've been putting off to my detriment.

So I'm happy with my accomplishments. I'll have enough in my bank account at the beginning of the month to cover the stuff that's coming out, I'll have less problem with being out of sync and having money come out of my account 2 days before the money is in there, and I know how much I'm getting from the government and when to expect the cheque!

Of course, it means that I'll be very tight for money right up until the 20th because I'm getting a smaller than usual cheque on the 6th. Then I'll get paid the first of 2 big paycheques with 1 regular week and 1 week of full time hours and the same day I'm due to receive not one, not two, but three cheques from the government (my retro CCTB of $730.82, my regular CCTB of $56 and my UCCB of $100)! But that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

So, how about it? Does anyone else want to commit to dealing with a task that won't wait next Wednesday? Post about it and come tell me about it, either on this post or next Wednesday's.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My 5 Year Old's Mail

Technically, the mail was addressed to me (and my hubby) but my daughter considers that the mail that came today was hers. School must be approaching. We got two pieces of mail from them today.

While we gave in the 10 post-dated tuition cheques some time ago I knew there were more fees to be paid. We actually have 3 more cheques to give in by the beginning of school. The first is a $35 fee for school supplies. Throughout the primary grades the kids use communal supplies that are kept at various stations in the 2 classrooms they use rather than buy their own individual pencils, crayons, etc.

The second is a textbook/field trip fee for the student agenda, a math workbook and field trips. That's another $33. But I'm not going to pay $70 for a Tanach (Bible), especially when it says on the form that the 5 books of Chumash with Rashi are the better (and more expensive) option. Why? Because I already own a perfectly good set of linear Chumash with Rashi (the ones I learn from every morning). [This is the first five books of the Bible with the Hebrew on the right, English on the left and Rashi's commentary at the bottom of the page.] For that matter, I have a Tanach. It's just a weird size with really small print.

The third cheque is for $240 and is for the school service requirement. Each family is required to give at least 12 hours of time to the school and there are all kinds of different opportunities throughout the year for fullfilling the 12 hours. If you don't put in the time by June, they cash your cheque. My goal is to put in our time and get my cheque back!

The other mail was a copy of the student handbook, a code of conduct and the schedule for the first week of school (when they don't go for the full day). Starting the 2nd Monday in September school runs from 8:30 am to 4 pm. The first week is going to be difficult, especially with our various schedules, only 2 vehicles between 4 adults and the little girls to shlep around too.

Not to mention that we'll be entering foreign territory in terms of getting our little owl to school before the time she normally wakes up! Basically, she needs to get up an hour and a half earlier than she does now and she has just over a month to get used to it. I've done this before and it's not fun. My #1 Son actually went to a half day kindergarten that started at noon. All the other kids had lunch before arriving at kindergarten. My son had breakfast and then had to hustle to get there on time. We don't have the option of half day kindergarten, so we're just going to have to get it together. Unfortunately, waking DC up means that every side of the bed just became the wrong one, whereas we have an even up chance if she wakes by herself.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Still Talking About Grocery Prices

I'm still thinking about the cost of food after my last post about things that were cheaper at Superstore. And, as often happens when something is on my mind, I came across a couple of related articles (in this case, on MSN Money about buying groceries for less). Some of the information in the articles shocked me.

First of all, I do always take American data with a grain of salt when I compare it to Canadian costs. Even when the dollar is roughly at par and even when we live about 40 miles from the border, costs are never the same. Some things are cheaper, some pricier, some the same. But it was still an eye opener.

The first article Can A Family Eat on $100 A Week? was a one week trial for a family of 4 to eat on $100 per week. The author, Melinda Fulmer, said she knew it wouldn't be easy because the food stamp allowance for a family of that size is $117! She admitted to regularly spending close to $250 per week, somewhat above the $182 Uncle Sam considers "moderate" for a family of 4. I've been trying to reduce my spending after I realized we were regularly exceeding my budgeted $150/week, totalling about $800 per month. So, I'm actually close to the "moderate" category and spend less than the Fulmer's usual budget even though I buy exclusively kosher foods and a fair bit of junk.

What were the ground rules for the experiment? Well, there were a few. The food all had to come from major chain stores, not Costco or ethnic markets. She couldn't use coupons and the food had to be relatively healthful. Plus, non food items like paper towels didn't count.

What sorts of things did Fulmer buy and which purchases seemed questionable to me? The article made a big deal out of the fact that all the meals had to be carefully planned, with allowance for snacks and it had to appeal to everyone. Some of her "healthful" food items caused me to raise my eyebrows: pretzels and luncheon meat in particular. And some things weren't things I would consider inexpensive, like cheese (I pay about $7 for 8 oz, but I do know that cheese in general is cheaper in the US than in Canada and that kosher cheese probably costs twice what non-kosher costs) or meat. She bought boneless pork shoulder, chicken breasts and round steak on sale (though she didn't say what the price was or how much she bought). Other than possibly the round steak, are any of those really economical cuts of meat?

I obviously know less than nothing about buying pork, but boneless anything always costs more. And chicken breasts are the most expensive part of the bird. I was looking at chicken for Friday night dinner last week and almost bought a pack of 4 thighs because they're the cheapest cut (other than the packs of necks, which I don't think are safe with a small child and all those little bones). All the packs of thighs were in the $8 to $9 range but they were much cheaper than the breasts. I ultimately bought B fry, which is beef sliced like bacon, cut it up into little pieces and fried it up with purple onion, garlic and mushrooms and served it over seasoned couscous. I think it was about $4/lb (I'm not hunting for the receipt right now). For our other meat meal I bought 2 turkey legs for under $9 and cooked one in the crockpot with potatoes and carrots. That means I have another meal left from that pack so I spent under $10 this week on meat (less than my usual $15 to $20).

Did they manage to stay within the $100 limit for the week? No, but they came close. She only spent $105.03 and was only over because of 2 splurges. However, she didn't feel they could replicate this week in and week out. I agree. For one thing, she was able to use food already in her pantry, such as flour, oil and spices. Eventually, the food you already have on hand runs out and you have to buy something that takes a disproportionately large bite out of the budget. Besides that, it was too drastic a change from what the family was accustomed to. Fulmer herself said she overspent (over the $250/week mark) the following week but that a regular budget of $175/week might be fairly realistic and doable. Making that change alone could save her $3,600 per year (or $108,000 in 30 years)!

The second article featured MP Dunleavy's attempt to cut their $400/month grocery bill (for 2 adults and a 1 year old) in half! Now, Mia is sometimes discussed in fairly dismissive terms by financial bloggers and commenters because of her sometimes imprudent spending (given her position as a paid financial columnist), so it was pretty surprising to see just how little she spends on food. Cutting that amount in half successfully seemed unlikely.

How did it go? Right from the start it seemed clear that Mia and her hubby were not on the same page regarding this experiment. He went out on the very first day and spent $48.85, but not on the things they'd discussed! About a week later he went to the store with strict instructions to spend no more than $40 and spent $73! He also seemed to have a bit of an attitude (expressed as, "I'm not going to eat Kraft Dinner"). Well, lah di dah. If you run out of money before you run out of month what are you going to do?

Then there's the small matter of cheating. They "found" $26 in her hubby's pants and used that for beer, lime Tostitos, expensive cheddar and breakfast out but didn't count it towards their total. Why? They spent it on food. The "windfall" aspect of it shouldn't matter. Presumably they weren't cutting back to $200 because they were short $200 that month. It was an experiment in trying to cut back.

Their final total was $300.77, including about $80 over Thanksgiving. Plus the $26, of course. But they didn't feel like they'd failed. Really? You normally spend $400, but want to spend $200. In the end you spend just under $327, only a $73 saving for the month instead of a $200 saving. But you haven't failed? Their rationalization was that they'd saved $100 (instead of the $73 they'd actually saved) and that would add up to $36,000 in 30 years. Her hubby, Matthew Perry, actually said "That's a chunk of our son's education money." Umm, your son is already a year old. Won't he be going on to university some time before his 31st birthday?

So where does all this leave me? I'm not sure. I mean, maybe I should feel better about the amount I spend since people on food stamps get $117 per week and they're sure not buying kosher meat and cheese! But, really, what does that have to do with my bottom line? If I can't afford to spend $700 to $800 per month on food then I need to cut back because I'm tired of my outgo exceeding my income! It doesn't matter what someone else pays. I should do the best I can, not base my spending on any kind of average.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

If the Price is Right

Last night I meant to write about price differences. Differences in grocery prices and gas prices and how difficult it can be at times to keep up and get the best deal. But, by the time I did the shopping and came home I was too exhausted to write about it.

I went grocery shopping last night to 2 different stores. I had a very short time frame for getting to Superstore and shopping there after I finished working at 10:30 pm. Actually, even being able to get to Superstore after work is something new. They used to close earlier but recently started staying open until 11 pm. I arrived about 10:45 pm and moved as quickly as I could inside the store.

The Bolthouse protein drink I have every morning has always been $1.10 cheaper at Superstore and is one of the reasons I went there. I bought 4 big bottles, which would have cost $4.99 each at Safeway. I was expecting to pay $3.89 but the shelf sign actually said 2/$6. So I got 8 breakfasts for $12, or $1.50 each (for 20 grams of protein).

The other things I buy at Superstore on a regular basis are European style bread, butter, sour cream, pistachio nuts, packaged cookies and foil pans. Last night I bought all of those except the foil pans. Some of them (the bread, sour cream and cookies) are only available there. The other items are a better buy. For example, a pound of Lactantia butter is cheaper at Superstore than Safeway, but the President's Choice brand (also kosher) is even cheaper.

Last night I checked the prices of a few other items I needed and bought them there. Kleenex tissues are $4.07 at Safeway. Here they were $2.37! Goodies (a candy coated licorice candy) are $2.65 at Safeway and $1.85 at Superstore. I also bought President's Choice mayo instead of Kraft for at least $2 cheaper but I've never tried it before so we'll see how it tastes.

Prices like these make me want to shop there but Superstore comes with some big drawbacks too. I don't like the produce, the lines at the checkouts are long and many people have heaped carts, so it takes forever to go through the checkout. They don't bag your groceries and you have to pay for plastic bags or bring your own. Besides that, it's out of my way, so it costs more in gas to go there, plus I spend more time standing in line.

But I want to save money, so I think I'll start planning to go to Superstore every 2 weeks. That way I get the better prices, but don't spend too much on gas, etc.

As for gas, the prices rise and fall on a regular basis, much more quickly than the price of a barrel of oil changes and with little visible reason. Since we buy our gas by the litre a change of 4 or 5 cents is equivalent to something like 16 to 20 cents per gallon, so the swings in price are actually pretty significant.

When I went to Superstore I drove past a Chevron station where the advertised price was $1.379. I didn't stop because then Superstore would have closed, but I headed back about half an hour later. As I left the Superstore parking lot, I saw another station with a price of $1.426 and started worrying. Then I passed a Petrocan advertising $138.8 but the Chevron was now also $1.426. I turned around and headed back to the Petrocan.

Let me just interject for a moment and explain a peculiarity of gas pricing in the Greater Vancouver area. A number of years ago the price on the sign used to be the same as the price at the pump. Then a few stations started offering a 3.5 cent discount to "members" (this was actually Petrocan, if I remember correctly). Shortly all the other stations were also offering 3.5 cents off the posted price but without requiring any membership. This has carried on to this day, but only in the Greater Vancouver area. If you go further out into the Fraser Valley gas prices drop slightly (due to less taxes) but the posted price is now the price at the pump.

Are you confused yet? I got to the Petrocan and discovered that the $138.8 they were advertising was the price at the pump. Another 3.5 cent discount was available only to persons with a Petrocan points card. If you also paid with a certain specific credit card you could get yet another 2 cents off. By this time it was almost 11:15 pm and I couldn't be bothered going elsewhere but I was somewhat ticked off. The $1.426 at Chevron would have actually been $1.391 so my "saving" at the Petrocan was really only a small fraction of a cent. Still, it was a far better price than I'd seen recently, so I put in $40 (my tank was almost completely empty).

Then I had to drive in a somewhat convoluted way to get to Safeway. On my way there I passed another Chevron and another Petrocan. They were both advertising gas for less, so I stopped at the Petrocan and the pump price was now a) 3.5 cents below the sign and b) it was for $136.9! I put in another $20, which finished filling my tank. But I was mad that I'd put in the rest at the higher price.

This morning, some 8 or 9 hours later, gas was selling everywhere at a posted price of $144.6 ($141.1 at the pump). So the rise and fall of gas prices is like a game. It goes down at night and then back up in time for rush hour. When our new 2.4 cent carbon tax went in at the beginning of the month almost all our local stations were advertising gas over $1.50. Now I can get it again under the $1.40 mark if I watch the signs like a hawk. Plus, what was this nonsense with two Petrocan stations (10 minutes from each other) not only selling at 2 different prices but one only offering the 3.5 cent discount to "members"?

I don't want to buy another car. This one is paid for and runs well. I don't need to add a car payment to our financial situation. But I would like a car that is super-economical on gas because playing these gas games is really irritating!

Not Really Posting

The blog post previously scheduled for this time period has been delayed and will appear tomorrow.

Why, you ask? Two reasons. First of all, I was really late getting home after work tonight because I stopped at 2 grocery stores and 2 gas stations. Thank goodness for stores that stay open until midnight! Then I had to put everything away and have a snack.

Secondly, I got caught up reading other peoples blogs instead of writing my own. (My name is Shevy and I'm a compulsive reader.)

Now it's very, very late and I have to get up very, very early because Eldest Daughter has to go out of town on business again and she has to leave for the airport incredibly early. Since Son-in-Law is driving her that means Bubbe Shevy gets to go upstairs and try to nap in the girls' room for about an hour. Then maybe I can try for another hour of sleep downstairs before I absolutely, positively have to get up.

Of course, tomorrow is one of my full-time days in the office, plus I have to bus there. I am going to be very sleep deprived tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Taking Care of Business

I finally took care of some business with my bank that's been driving me crazy this past month. I have a small amount of overdraft protection (that costs $3 or $3.50 per month) and this month I've exceeded it twice.

I get paid every second Wednesday but I have a lot of things that come out of my account on fixed dates (the majority of which are clustered near the beginning and end of the month). So, as my pay dates cycle around on the calendar they gradually fall more and more out of sync with the pre-authorized dates. This is why I have overdraft protection and it usually works fine. So, what happened?

Partly I overspent a tiny bit while we were at the house, plus we spent a lot on gas. I thought everything that normally comes out at the beginning of the month had come out, but one thing that comes from the States didn't make it before the 4th of July, so it came out on the 7th. Then, after it came out ING took the $12 I transfer to my Emergency Fund every week. I didn't get paid until the 9th. Both the US debit and ING were sent back NSF on the 8th. And, to top it off, the NSF fees just went up, so I got dinged $42.50 for each one!

It gets better. I got shorted on my paycheque. It was missing 3 days that I took as vacation because my vacation pay was already paid out for the year, 3.5 hours I'd worked (on days I'm technically scheduled to work fewer hours) and 4 hours for Canada Day. The 3.5 hours weren't really a problem. The accountant said she'd pay them on my next cheque but she hadn't paid me for the statutory holiday because I had taken the 30th of June as a vacation day and she said I didn't qualify for it unless I worked both the day before and the day after the stat. This is what happens when your head office is in a different province from the one you work in. I emailed her the link to the BC Employment Standards Act that clearly states an employee qualifies if he or she has been employed for at least 30 days and has worked at least 15 out of the 30 days prior to the statutory holiday.

So, after deductions and after I put the cheque in the bank I was back in the black to the tune of $66. That's $66 to last for 2 entire weeks when I pay for all the food, more than half the gas, have pre-authorized stuff coming out, etc. Hubby transferred $75 to me and I could have, should have transferred $150 from my ING Vacation Pay fund ($50 for each vacation day I took). But I didn't. I'm still not so comfortable with moving stuff from here to there and back again, so I just never got around to doing it.

I spent barely any money these past 2 weeks. The absolute minimum on food and gas. My big splurge was the $5.66 I spent last week for a hard cover book. The pre-authorized stuff came out, my life insurance and ING. Would you believe I missed it by that much? By $6 to be exact.

So, I went to the bank this morning before work and had a little meeting with them. I basically said, "This is what I want or I walk and take my RRSPs with me". When the dust cleared I was assured the payment to ING would not go back, there would be no $42.50 fee (although there will probably be a $5 one), they took the earlier ING NSF fee off and increased my overdraft by $100. I also deposited the $56 benefit cheque to reduce the overdraft.

What have I learned from this? First of all, this wouldn't have happened if I had kept a closer watch on the bank account. I've been trying to get back into the routine of entering all the money we spend but I've been having a tough time doing it. I have to try harder. Second, I wouldn't have had any problem whatsoever if we weren't living paycheque to paycheque!

We don't have a big enough buffer and I'm not comfortable enough moving money between my main bank and ING. It's ironic, but if I hadn't moved the vacation pay I got a few weeks ago out of my bank and into ING I wouldn't have been in overdraft at all, let alone exceeded it. But I'm trying to learn new skills so, just like a kid with the training wheels removed, I'm having a few falls. I have to keep trying. I have to keep adding to my Emergency Fund (yes, I know it will take only slightly less than forever at $12/week, but that's what I can do) and I have to start doing set-aside accounts (escrow, Freedom, whatever you want to call it) in order to have money ready for irregular expenses.

After I did all of that I called Fortis BC to ask if I had another electric bill due for our rural house. Yes, there's a payment of just under $69 scheduled to come out on the 25th. So, tomorrow I need to go to a Credit Union and deposit money into my account in the Okanagan. And, while I was on the phone with them I signed up to receive my future bills via email. That way it won't matter whether we've been to the house or not. I'll still know how much I owe and when it's due!

Monday Evening With 'The Mole'

Many of my friends don't even own a television. We own three, each with either a VCR and/or a DVD player. Right now my 5 year old's TV is at our other house. It's the smallest TV of the 3 and that's the place where we only get one channel (CBC) and it's often fuzzy or in black and white. We mostly watch DVDs there.

Here in the city we almost always watch the TV in the bedroom, which has both a VCR and DVD in the TV and an additional VCR attached. I watch decorating shows, our DC watches childrens programming, Hubby watches sports, news, sports, every reality show ever made and sports.

I don't mind going to the occasional hockey or football game, but I tune out most of the sports on TV, especially when he watches the game, then the sports on 2 or 3 different channels (each one showing replays of the same goals) and some of the reality shows are just too out there for me.

But there are some I enjoy watching with Hubby. Foremost among them are The Amazing Race, Survivor and The Mole. The thing all 3 shows have in common is exotic locations (although once they get there, Survivor is static). But the contestants in the other 2 shows get to travel from country to country.

Monday night is The Mole and Hubby tapes it while I'm at work in the evening so we can watch it together after I get home. I love to travel and I'm detail-oriented but I couldn't imagine going on the show. For anyone who hasn't seen it, the show takes a number of people around the world, gives them tasks to do as a group and they earn money that goes into the pot. But one person is the Mole, a plant whose job is to prevent them from completing tasks, confuse them, get them lost, etc. The ultimate aim is to identify the Mole and there is a quiz at the end of each show. The person with the least number of correct answers is 'executed', leaves the show. The finale consists of 3 people, one of whom is the Mole. After the final quiz, the winner gets all the money in the pot.

They give the players journals to write in (although they sometimes take them away or give them to their opponents to read or whatever) but there are so many things you have to pay attention to while trying to complete the task that I can't imagine being successful at pinpointing the Mole. And the questions are really tough. Like: Was the Mole wearing a hat during such and such a task? Or: Where was the Mole sitting during dinner (from the host's viewpoint)?

Right now, there are 4 or 5 people left, including Nicole, whom I believe to be the Mole, and the pot is a little over $300,000.

So, how about it? Would you go on a show that meant you had to leave your work and family for a month or more, take part in physically challenging tasks and risk being sent home with nothing, all for the chance to win several hundred thousand dollars?

And what would you DO with hundreds of thousands of dollars? The dumbest answer I've heard came from a guy on a game show who said he wanted to buy a pirate ship!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

After the Fast

Last night I said I'd be spending my day "updating my excel expense sheet, doing laundry and going through boxes". How did I do?

Well, it's amazing how much work I can do when I'm avoiding our financial situation. I did 4 loads of laundry and emptied 6 boxes. I got more books up on the shelves and actually folded the clean laundry and put it away (it often sits in the basket until half of it is too crumpled to be worn).

I didn't work straight through. I just worked a bit, then rested a bit, playing games on the computer. And then I did a little more, over and over again.

I finally decided I had to get going on entering what we've spent and to finish arranging the receipts in envelopes by month. So then I started looking for the little bag I've been keeping it all in (envelopes with receipts, loose receipts, bills, etc.) and guess what? That's right. I can't find the bag! I found a bunch more receipts that haven't been entered (I put a tick mark on them when I've done them and then they're supposed to go into the envelope for that month, so I can tell what's been entered) but no little yellow bag.

I'm not quite panicking yet but it's really bothering me. I'm sure I picked it up and put it away somewhere before Shabbat but my brain obviously wasn't "on" at the time so I don't remember where it was and it may have been somewhere really illogical.

I'm just going to call it quits for tonight and hope that something will come to me tomorrow, or that I'll just find it in the course of continuing to tidy things up. The fast went not too badly. I was hungry most of the day but I didn't end up with a migraine or fall asleep from low blood sugar or anything. We cooked up the remains of the BBQ chicken with onions and garlic and had it with salad when the fast ended.

I'm tired now though, so I'm going to go to bed a little early.

A Busy Fast Day

Sunday is a fast day. I don't mean it will go by quickly; I mean I can't eat or drink from roughly 3 AM to 10 PM. Believe me when I say it won't be going by quickly. This fast and the one 3 weeks from now are the toughest fasts of the year for me. Yom Kippur is not as bad, even though it's longer than this one.

I think it's because these two are during the hottest part of the summer, when it's harder to go without water and because they are fairly regular days in other respects. On Yom Kippur you spend the day praying with a million other people in shul. It keeps your mind and body occupied and everybody else around you is doing the same thing.

Sunday, on the other hand, I will be spending at home updating my excel expense sheet, doing laundry and going through boxes. Hubby is taking DC and our 3 year old granddaughter to an open house at the local fire hall (always fun) and then to his folks for a swim (because they've only been swimming 5 times in the past week, but they have new swim goggles to try out).

I didn't mention it on Friday, but I finally got my regular monthly Child Care Benefit cheque. It's for $56, so that's what I'll get every month for the next year. I still haven't received the retroactive cheque though and it was too late to call about it on Friday, so I'll have to wait until at least Monday for that. I really want to know what's happening because, judging from this year's payment, I should be getting somewhere around $600 (right about what I'd expected).

Well, I already had several pieces (okay, 5!) of cinnamon toast (the challah was really squished and the pieces were only about an inch high) with a big cup of decaf. I'm going to post this and go drink the protein drink I normally have for breakfast and then hit the hay. I'm not going to stay up right until 3 AM just so I can eat and drink up until the last possible second. The extra hour isn't going to kill me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tempted by the Sidewalk Sale

I had to stop at the mall today on the way home and they're having a sidewalk sale. In order to get to Safeway I had to run the gauntlet of all the tables and racks and I was very, very tempted.

A high end dress store that sells mostly wedding and special occasion ware had a few racks out and one skirt caught my eye. It was a filmy, iridescent dark blue skirt that was cut shorter in the front (a little below knee length) and floor length behind. It had lace and sequins appliqued on it and it was just gorgeous. Regular price? A hair under $400! I think it was marked down the first time to $150, but it had been marked down a second time to $59.99.

I wanted it. It was marked as being a little smaller than I normally take, but it didn't look like it was really that small. I almost picked it up and tried it on. But if I had and it had fit me, I would have had to buy it and I don't have any money right now. (In fact I'm in overdraft because I didn't transfer money out of my ING vacation pay fund to cover the 3 days of vacation I took last pay period.)

I had my credit card on me, but I've promised myself I won't use it unless it's necessary (like the time I had to charge $3 for parking at a government building because I don't carry cash and they didn't take Interac). I wanted the skirt but I couldn't convince myself that it was necessary even though I know it won't still be there on Wednesday when I get paid.

So, then I went by the book store and bought a book from one of the remainder tables. But that's okay. I paid $5.66 for a hard cover book that will give me something interesting to read on Shabbos (when I can't watch TV or be on the computer). Speaking of which, I'm off to prepare the dinner I tried to start last week by mistake.

We're having salmon with mayonnaise, dill and parmesan cheese, potatoes and green peas with butter. Challah buns and white grape juice. No wine this week because I can't afford to spend $15 or more. Tomorrow we have BBQ chicken and homemade potato salad.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Another Tax Refund Arrives

I got home from work today and found more money from Canada Revenue Agency! True, it was only $17.69, but it means that I'm one step closer to getting my retroactive Child Care Benefit and BC Benefit payments. Now that they can confirm our total family income for 2006, they can figure out how much was due to me last year. That amount will come as a lump sum. In addition, they already know our family income for 2007, so I should start getting this year's benefit payments this month!

What will I do with my lump sum payment? Well, it depends on how big it is. Based on what I've received in past years I'm sort of expecting it to be somewhere between $500 and $700. If I'm in the right ballpark I'll be able to put away enough money to pay the next Home Depot payment plan to come due in January and put the rest towards my property tax and garbage collection and maybe have some left over. If it's less, the property tax and garbage come first, and the balance could either go towards Home Depot or school clothes for our DC.

What will I do with the monthly benefit? I'd like to say it's going to go to savings but, if I'm honest, I'll have to say it will be absorbed into our current budget to reduce the deficit we've been running . And what about the $17.69? I think I'm going to deposit it into my Credit Union account, which is the account I use for the bills for the rural house. That amount will cover almost 2 months worth of bank charges on the account.

I Can't Pay My Bell Cell Bill

I just can't do it.

I hear someone muttering about how excited I was about my free BlackBerry, my great data plan, getting away from Fido and its horrible customer service, etc. etc. I've only had this phone for under a month so how could it be so impossible to pay my bill?

It's simple. I can't access it.

I was signed up for an e-bill when I got the phone and I received an email a few days ago saying that my first bill was ready. I've been trying to access it ever since. I went to the Bell site and registered but I couldn't link the account to my user name.

You see, in order to link an account you have to input data off your paper bill. I. Have. No. Paper. Bill. I tried to email Bell about this problem but my email wouldn't go because I didn't fill in my account number. Guess why? Right. The account number is found on your paper bill.

I couldn't phone Bell then because they have ordinary business-type hours (why are they not 24/7?) but I called them the next morning and sat on hold for 10 minutes. When I got a live person, she verified my identity, then gave me my account number. I went back online last night and started the linking process again. I got as far as entering my cell phone number and hitting enter before I got a message saying they were having technical difficulties and to try again later.

Tonight I tried again. This time the stumbling block is the question that asks what day your statement is generated. Hey, the info is right there on your bill.... I tried the date the email saying the bill was ready came. I tried the date I signed the contract. Then I tried the day after that and got a message saying "Your account has been locked due to several unsuccessful registration attempts. Please try again in 24 hours."

Guess what I'll be doing tomorrow? Sitting on hold waiting to see if customer service can tell me what date to enter!

I wonder if I'll be able to access my bill before the due date for paying it has come and gone, but I can't tell because, of course, I don't know when it's due!

I still love my phone, but my goodness, they need to get their act together otherwise.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Will I Ever Catch Up?

Probably not. I keep trying to get current on entering my receipts but I can only do it when I don't have kids bopping around and I tend to put it off for all kinds of reasons. It's too late. I'm too tired. I have to get up early in the morning. It'll take too long.

I've been at it since I came home and I'm literally falling asleep here as I type. I wish I could say I'm all caught up now but that's not the case. Worse, it puts me behind in writing here on the blog and I feel compelled to try to stay up and complete some kind of semi-coherent post. That's hard to do when I pause for a moment and a game board just somehow appears in my mind and I start playing this game I've never seen before. Do you think maybe I fell asleep? Uh huh. And I woke up a minute or so later. The problem is, next time I may not wake up until morning.

One of the reasons I fall asleep when I try to do this sort of thing is that it's a form of resistance that's going on in my brain. The other reason is that I'm really tired. But resistance is significant. It means I'm doing something that is really out of my comfort zone and my brain will try anything to get me to stop. Why does it seem to be so threatening just to try to get a handle on how much I'm really spending and what I'm spending it on?

Perhaps I want to think I'm in control of my spending and that we're managing well, even though it's clear we've been spending more than we've made recently. Perhaps I don't want to see the changes I need to make.

Whatever it is, I can fight and win through. But a good night's sleep couldn't hurt.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Their Swim Lessons = My Exercise Plan

One of my goals for this month is to lose five pounds, but so far I haven't been very successful. I haven't been buying bag after bag of two bite brownies or any chips and I walk for a total of 2 hours on Shabbat and about 15 minutes every other day, but that's about it. I'm saving some money on food but I haven't seen a real change on the scale (which has been varying between 130 and 128) yet. Do I need to say that I haven't gone anywhere near the gym?

However, I think I may have found something that will help. My DC and my 3 yo granddaughter started swimming lessons today at our neighbourhood community centre. I have to take them there and wait for them while they have their lesson 3 days per week (the other 2 days my son-in-law takes them). So, how will my sitting there watching them swim for the next two weeks help me lose 5 pounds?

Sitting on the pool deck won't help, but the key is that I have to walk them there and back. I have the baby in the stroller, my purse and the bag with the towels and snacks and I have to push the stroller there uphill. We have to walk fairly quickly to get there in 20 or so minutes and I'm out of breath by the time I get to the top of the hill. Going home is easier because it's downhill but it's still a 20 minute walk, so that's 40 minutes of extra walking 3 times per week. That has to do something.

I guess we'll see at the end of the month!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Comfort Food

Other than dropping Hubby and Dear Child off at the baseball game and picking them up today, and going to Superstore (finally!) I didn't do my usual running around today. And I didn't get much done on the boxes, but I spent some much-needed time catching up on recording our expenditures in June.

I still need to spend a little more time getting right up to date but looking at all the numbers has sent me running for comfort food. I'm sitting here with a plate of cinnamon toast and a mug of decaf English Breakfast tea, which is pretty well my top comfort food (well, besides any kind of chocolate!). And I prefer decaf Earl Grey but I would have had to stand on a chair to get a new box out.

My biggest consolation has to be that I stopped using my credit card sometime last month. I wanted to go to the house this weekend (just for the day) to cut the grass, check the garden, see if the plumber finished the job under the sink and see if he left his bill. The thing is, I would have had to use the credit card for gas, so I didn't go. I really hope to go next week though. Going every 4 or 5 weeks in the winter is okay, but we definitely need to get there more frequently when it's hot. We just have to be realistic about the cost.

Anyway, I think comfort food is important. In addition to tea and toast (and chocolate), I also consider tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches to be comfort food. And homemade chicken soup is great when you haven't been feeling well and are just starting to perk up. Because comfort foods make us feel better, they're important to our financial state too. When a person is depressed and the financial picture isn't good it's hard to find the motivation to do something about it. Comfort foods help revive our spirits and make us feel like there really is a solution after all.

What about you? Do you turn to comfort foods when things aren't going so well? Does it help? And what is your favourite comfort food?

$chool i$ $tarting $oon

You would think I'd know that when the school year starts it means lots of expenses. Whether your child goes to a public or private school it costs money.

There are new clothes or uniforms and shoes. A new backpack. School supplies. In some cases there is a textbook or locker rental fee and a lock. Art supply fee. Field trip fee. Hot dog days. School pictures. The list just goes on and on.

I've put 3 children through the school system. But it's been a while. I just started to think about all the costs I've got coming up in the next couple of months and I'm feeling a little shell-shocked.

My youngest daughter starts full day kindergarten in the fall. This year she doesn't have to wear uniforms, although she's allowed to. When we went to the orientation back in January we were told most of the children don't start off with uniforms but by the end of the year they start creeping in. I'm trying to decide what to do. I don't want her to look or feel out of place but uniforms are frankly cheaper and easier. You don't waste time in the morning, you don't run around trying to find the tights that go with the skirt, or trying to match the hair scrunchie to the pattern on the blouse. Your child can dress herself and, no matter what combination she picks (skirt or tunic, blouse or turtleneck, short sleeves or long), she'll look good.

But I doubt that any of the other girls will start out in uniforms and she will be wearing them for the next 12 years. So, I think we're going to go with a middle of the road decision and get white tops and black, navy and white tights and let her wear them with a variety of skirts and jumper dresses. Then, if the other girls are starting to wear uniforms, she can get a couple of tunics but it's not a huge expenditure at that point.

Regardless, I have to buy her 2 pairs of shoes (and later on a pair of boots) because they're required to change into a pair of 'indoor shoes' in the classroom, plus a backpack and a lunchkit.

The school provides supplies but we have to pay a flat fee for them and I haven't gotten the bill yet.

So, I know what I have to do but I don't know how I'm going to pay for all this yet. And I have less than 2 months to do so. There are really 2 possibilities for coming up with the money. First, I'm still waiting for the retroactive payment of my Child Tax Benefit money from last year. Second, I'm going to be working full time for 3 weeks in August so I'll have a couple of larger than normal paycheques. So, one way or the other the money will be there, but it highlights the need to put away a little money every month for these costs next year.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I Know You're There, Don't be Shy!

It's gratifying to see that more and more people are coming and reading my little blog. In addition to all the Canadians and Americans, I've had recent visits from Korea, Israel, the UK, the Phillipines and Australia!

My only question is: are you all shy? I love comments and I've gotten some, but not that many. They tell me I made a connection (whether you agree or disagree with what I've written). I'd even welcome suggestions for posts you'd like to see. Really, I think the interaction is half the fun so don't be afraid to comment.

Anyway, today I'm really wondering if I've lost my mind. I forgot to go to Superstore last night to buy my Bolthouse protein drink so I had no breakfast this morning. My DC woke up crying with leg cramps before I left so I got out the door late and one of the 2 buses I take wouldn't stop because it was too full.

So I didn't go to Safeway on the way to work (which would have meant a 5 to 10 minute walk from the store to the office). Instead, I bought a muffin and decaf when I got to work. I had also meant to bring a cream cheese and jelly sandwich to work but didn't make it what with having to give DC Advil. So I also had to buy lunch. The muffin and coffee were $3.75 and the pizza and salad cost $7.20. So that's an extra $10.95 I spent today.

Then I went to the store and bought salad and bus tickets on the way home. Unfortunately, I forgot creamer and the protein drink! So I finally remembered and had to send Hubby at the last minute before Shabbat to get them (from Safeway). That cost me an extra $1.10 over what the drink would have cost at Superstore! So, being forgetful cost me $12.05 today.

But being forgetful didn't stop there. I forgot I'd bought something for tonight and automatically started making the same dinner we had last Friday night (because I had everything for it on hand). But Hubby doesn't like having the same thing week in and week out, so I put it all back in the freezer to have next week. The only thing is, I put the mayo, dill and parmesan on the fish already! I hope it works (I've heard mayo doesn't freeze well).

Anyway, I'm off to light candles, so Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

3 Vital Pieces of Financial Advice

If you were asked to give someone just starting out financial advice, what would your top three recommendations be? Aside from being a pleasant parlour game or something to fill the time at a bridal shower this question does something important. It forces you to think about your core financial values. Here's my advice (but read my disclaimer at the bottom of the page). I also have to say I didn't do any of these when I was young. I wish I had! It's much easier to start out right than to make changes later.

1. Live on 80% of your income from the very first job you get while you're still in school.
Give 10% to charity and save 10%, either in a high interest account or a registered retirement plan of some kind. And, if your employer offers any kind of pension match make sure you get it. If you do this from the very first time you get a paycheque you won't notice it. It will just become another deduction like income tax or (un)employment insurance. Even if you spend all the rest of your money, it won't matter.

2. Whenever you want to take on a major financial obligation "try it out" first.
Before you buy your first car find out what the payments and the insurance would be on the type of car you want. Find out how much it costs to fill the gas tank and multiply that by 2. Now set aside the sum of those amounts every month for at least 3 months. If it doesn't send your finances into a tailspin then you can take the money you've saved and use it as a down payment on a car. If not, maybe you need to find a less expensive car with better gas mileage. Or maybe you can't afford to buy at all right now. It's better to find out before you sign a 3 or 4 year contract! You can do the same sort of thing when you want to move out of your parents' home and rent an apartment, or when you want to buy your first house or go back to school.

3. Really try to figure out what you want your life to look like.
Then look at all your spending decisions from this simple point of view: Is this (whatever "this" is) moving me toward the life I want or away from it? If you value security, beauty, serenity and learning for example, would that new TV enhance any of those values? How about yet another pair of flip flops or coffee from Starbucks every morning? Why are you looking at modern condos downtown if you yearn for a garden and traditional furniture? Why are you looking for yet another retail job when you need solitude and time to be creative? If you're saving for your first house, how does eating out 3 times a week help move you towards that?

What about it? What are your 3 best pieces of financial advice?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Exhausted Again

I definitely stay up too late. Sometimes I'm up until 3 am writing. I fall asleep with the computer on beside me far too often. I never get to sleep in, but I'm a light sleeper, so sometimes I wake up extra early because I hear the girls upstairs or something. When I stay up late and wake up early I manage to get through the day, but I can only do that so often before I just crash.

Tonight is one of those nights. My brain isn't working and I can't stay awake. So I'm going to take a break and be back tomorrow. I might even be coherent then.

In the meantime, here's something to think about: If you could give someone only 3 pieces of financial advice, what would it be? I'll give you my thoughts tomorrow, assuming I'm awake....

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Nothing New Under the Sun

I've been going through boxes of books recently and, in one, I found an old book on personal finance that was given to me by a friend. I chose to read through it again before deciding whether to give it away and found a lot of familiar ideas, combined with an 11 page chapter on the American government and a few snicker-inducing comments.

Now, this isn't the book review I promised for July. I can hardly do an official "review" of a book that was written in 1983 and probably hasn't been in print for years. I mean, really, how would you go about getting the book if you were interested in reading it (other than borrowing it from me, I guess)? However, I thought there were some interesting things I'd like to comment on.

The book is "Never Say Budget! How to put money in the bank and still have freedom to spend" and it was written by Mark and JoAnn Skousen. After reading the book I did a Google search on Mark's name and discovered he's a well-known economist and libertarian who is still active. He has a Ph.D. in economics and she was majoring in English and economics when the book was written (back when they were thirtysomethings).

I have to say that I'm surprised because I wasn't tremendously impressed by the book in terms of content, writing or organization. I would say that the gist of the book is well summed up by the 'Seven Golden Rules for Financial Success' listed in Chapter 11. The rules are:
1. Put savings first.
2. Save at least 10% of your income.
3. Make it easy to deposit your savings.
4. Make it difficult to withdraw your savings.
5. Invest your savings wisely.
6. Control your spending.
7. Control your credit.

Did anything there make your jaw drop at first glance? Didn't think so. But there are actually a few unusual aspects to the rules.

First, when he says to put savings first that's exactly what he means. You should put money into savings before you pay your mortgage, or buy food for your kids and you should do it even if you're on welfare. That's pretty hard line.

But when he talks about saving 10%, he's talking about your take home pay, whereas gross pay is what is more often recommended. And when he suggests making it difficult to withdraw your savings, he doesn't mean something like ING that takes a couple of days to transfer back into your bank account (ING Direct didn't exist then anyway). No, he's recommending things like choosing mutual funds with a back end load, the inconvenience of having to auction off antiques or tying up your money in real estate so you'd have to pay commissions! I don't want those kind of costs associated with accessing my money. After all, I'm going to have to take it out eventually in order to use it and I want the most money possible. I just don't want to be able to go to an ATM and yank it all out this second.

"Invest your savings wisely" is a no-brainer. I mean, who sets out to invest unwisely? Finally, I wouldn't have thought of separating credit cards out from the rest of the family spending. It's all money going out; it all needs to be controlled.

The weirdest thing about the book, in my opinion, is that it's ostensibly about saving and controlling your spending without using a traditional budget. But it takes forever to get to the point. As I said earlier, there's 11 pages on the US government, Keynesian economics and how Congress spends money. Then there's a summary of an Andy Rooney segment on how he's spent all the money he's made in his lifetime that probably takes longer to read than it took Andy to tell it. Oh yes, and the text of the Robert Frost poem, "The Road Not Taken". Because that has everything to do with saving money. There's also a chapter on how budgets don't work for Americans, but that the answer is tracking all your expenditures instead. Okay. I just happen to consider tracking my expenses to be pretty much, uh, budgeting.

Finally, we get to all the rules, chapter by chapter. It's really here that I can see the influence of the inflation of the early 80's. There are at least a couple of disparaging comments about passbook savings accounts that 'only' return 5 1/4% (we'd love to see that again) and a mention of .25 candy bars (ditto), along with a recommendation that every investor should have some portion of their portfolio in gold and silver coins.

But there's a lot that sounds like 2008 too. There are discussions on credit cards with high interest rates, debit cards, consolidation loans and bankruptcy. There are the requisite explanations of American retirement savings plans, such as the IRA and Keogh (relatively new at the time the book was written) and dividend reinvestment plans (a la Derek Foster). And the discussion of short-term interest only mortgages and their dangers eerily foreshadowed the current sub-prime mess. From p.143-4: "Yet real estate slumps seldom hit everyone at once. Not being able to make payments or sell your house is a private emergency, not a national one.....those who overextend themselves are likely to lose their homes."

All in all, it was an interesting, if not particularly well-written, book although I didn't end up with much in the way of new information. It seems there truly is nothing new under the sun. So, ultimately, I think it really is one for the give-away box. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy a .25 chocolate bar!

Monday, July 7, 2008

My First Link Love Post

I'm doing my first link love post but I'm bopping back and forth with the kidlets and trying to keep Super Baby from reformatting my laptop again, so I may post this and then edit it, maybe even more than once today, but it will be in its final form by this evening. (Okay, I'm done now.)

I've been thinking about starting this for at least a couple of weeks and just haven't gotten around to it. However, I admit I was inspired to finally take the plunge because Almost Frugal is giving away 3 gift cards! All you have to do is pop over there and leave a comment on her giveaway post. That will get you one entry and you can get 2 others by a) subscribing via reader or email and sending her the secret code and b) by posting on your own blog about the giveaway and telling her you've done it! Gotta love giveaways! Good luck to all!

There were a few posts this past week about making money off your blog. As a relatively new blogger, this is a subject I'm very interested in because it's something I know nothing about.

Krystal posted about the money she's made doing PayPerPost and said she's not too keen about doing banner ads, Adsense, etc. She wanted to know what other people do to make money.

Rina the Mama Bear posted about how she's decided to quit doing PayPerPost and try to build a good Google PageRank because she says Google won't rate a site that does sponsored posts.

Kacie wrote a lengthy post about how she makes money from her blog. Her post had the most information in it about the various ways to make money, tweak Adsense, include affiliate links, etc. Some of the comments were also interesting in terms of how much a couple of bloggers said they were making.

But it's very interesting that no two bloggers had exactly the same take on how to make money, what constitutes cluttering up one's site, or how much money was reasonable to expect.

Trent over at The Simple Dollar is certainly making money blogging, but this week he wrote about websites that have saved him money over the past few days. The one that interested me the most was PaperBackSwap, which I may try out soon.

Finally, Paid Twice posted about another topic I've had on my mind. Read her post on why she's been exceeding her grocery budget recently and what she plans to do about it.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sunday's My "I Have to Run" Day

The Bangles got it all wrong when they sang about Manic Monday and Sunday being the "I don't have to run day". On Mondays my movements are pretty well circumscribed. I go to work for a little while. I come home and spend the day (carless) with three little girls. I have dinner and go back to the office for a few hours.

But Sunday. That's usually either my big errand day or my big reno project day or a "get-together-with-family" day (which is not as restful as it might sound, what with 4 kids, a daughter- & son-in-law and 3 granddaughters).

Today was a case of one from Column A, one from Column B and one from Column C. I went to 2 grocery stores, I emptied 3 boxes, cooked for family and went out (with Hubby and Dear Child) to see #1 Son, D-in-L, and eldest granddaughter (at least a half hour drive each way). In addition Hubby, DC, Eldest Daughter and 2 granddaughters went swimming at his folks' place. Why didn't I go for a swim? Because I was cooking and going through boxes, of course.

I do my best work on the boxes when I'm all alone. I can putter around and move things from here to there. Some papers that should go with other papers to be gone through. Some children's books to be put with the rest of DC's books. A few books to be given the heave-ho. Pictures to be put up on the wall instead of lying in boxes or leaning up against the wall in the storage room/3rd bedroom. (What? That's not where you display your art?)

I was happiest to find my (expired) passport, the box my digital camera came in, and the missing-since-Passover second box of meat stuff (most importantly, my meat knives in their knife block).

The passport may make crossing the border less of a hassle and may allow me to finally apply for a new passport (although I still have to get an official paper trail, documenting my name from birth to first marriage to now). Finding the camera stuff means I can try to get the photos onto my laptop and from there, to my blog! And finding the meat knives and the lid for the frying pan will make cooking for Shabbos easier. You have no idea how much fun it has been for the past couple of months, trying to cut up raw chuck steak with either a dull table knife or a plastic one!

I had hoped to achieve a couple of other things as well that just didn't materialize. I'm looking for the receipt from IKEA for the mirror I returned previously. That's because they gave me a store credit for it instead of taking it off my credit card. If I take in the receipt and the store credit they'll fix it for me. That will mean the IKEA card will be completely paid off!

I also wanted to pot the small herbs I bought last Sunday at our other place into 4 terra cotta pots and one ceramic one that I've got. I got 6 plants for $4.99: 4 Provence lavender plants, one peppermint and one stevia. If you notice that I have 5 pots and 6 plants, well, that's because the Stevia isn't going to have a home. It just happened to come in the same container with the ones I really wanted.

Anyway, that was my Manic Sunday. (Less alliteration, more accuracy. I may never be a professional songwriter like Prince, who wrote the song the Bangles later recorded, but that's the way it goes.)

Friday, July 4, 2008

My Fido Was a Dog, So I Picked a BlackBerry!

With all due apologies to our family Dog, my Fido phone really was one. I've been having a variety of issues with my phone and with their customer service for quite a while.

The worst was that I never knew when I would have service. I couldn't be sure I could make a call on my cell from anywhere, including from either of my houses, because one moment I would have 4 bars and the next it would drop to zero. I'd often make a call 4 or 5 times (each time getting out one or 2 sentences) before the connection would finally work and I could talk for several minutes. There were lots of times I either wouldn't use the phone because it was such a pain or I would cut my calls short. That meant I often wasn't using all my minutes in a month (and there's no way to roll minutes over).

At the same time I was also facing seriously escalating costs when I made calls on the cell while at our rural home. You see, every call I make when I'm there is long distance (even the ones to my Hubby when I drive into town and I call to check if we need milk or spackle or whatever). We had a few outrageous cell bills, so I tried to rework my plan by playing with the long distance and other options. My bills went up from the previous average, but it did seem to wipe out most of the $200 bills that were popping up when we spent time at the house. But I couldn't seem to improve the service, even by adding the Rogers network to the Fido one and having to make the same call over and over was really running up the long distance minutes.

Then, I fell a little bit behind on the bill because we've had a few months with less than average income. I did talk to Fido and arranged to pay the balance (less than $250) in 3 payments, each one 2 weeks apart. I made the first payment and the day before the 2nd payment was due my phone seemed to stop working. I'd try to call a person and I'd hear a recording saying my call would be recorded for security purposes.

Since I wasn't calling a business, I'd hang up, thinking there was something wrong with the phone (or that I'd gone insane and was dialling wrong repeatedly). Finally, I let it ring through and got the Wicked Witch of the West who demanded all kinds of personal information from me before she'd actually talk to me and explain why I'd reached her.

I blew up when she demanded my SIN number. I'm not even sure how they'd have it, since I don't use it except where you're legally required to (for government agencies and employers). Finally, she decided I was myself after about 3 security questions (Hello, I'm trying to make a call on my own phone and you can't be sure of my identity?) and told me my phone service had been suspended for non-payment.

I explained the agreement to her in words of one syllable and she finally conceded that, yes, I'd done that but the person I'd talked to hadn't done something or other to prevent the suspension. Then she started harassing me for the payment, which I was just about to make.

All in all, she was so rude and condescending that I'm surprised I didn't have a stroke from the increase in my blood pressure. She told me everything at least 3 times and acted like everything was my fault. She 'graciously' (okay, sarcasm) reconnected me and said as a one-time favour to me they wouldn't charge me to do so! But she made it clear that she didn't believe I was really going to pay and that they'd cut me off again if I didn't dot my i's and cross my t's. ("We'll get you and your little Fido too, cackle, cackle")

Once I got off the phone with her and made the call I needed to make, I made the payment just as I'd intended to all along. At that point I really didn't want to. Frankly, I wanted to throw the phone off the top of a building and then drive over it, but I restrained myself. Instead, I started looking at other cell phone companies.

Good thing too! The next day my phone service was suspended again! I must admit the gentleman I spoke with that day was much nicer than the Wicked Witch. He said she had taken off the suspension but hadn't changed the date when service would be suspended, so it had reset the next day. I can't say I was overly surprised that the Wicked Witch had "missed" that step. At least this guy fixed it, was polite, apologized and took off the reconnection charge without telling me that fixing their own mistake was somehow a favour to me.

But that solidified my decision to switch cell providers. Bell had an offer of a free BlackBerry and I was very interested because we also don't have internet service at our rural location (as I've only mentioned about a zillion times). If I could get my emails and browse the web from my phone that would save me a 20 minute drive (and gas) each way to the hotspot in town. The $64,000 question was, would the phone work there? Neither Bell Customer Service or Tech Support could answer that, so I got the phone number for the closest Bell location (figuring they would know better about the local service conditions). The manager there told me if it didn't work well that there's a thing called a Wilson amp that boosts the signal, but I needn't have worried.

The girl I actually did the deal with at the store told me a family member of hers lives right by my place and that the phone would work fine without having to drop $200 or more on the Wilson amp. So I'm now the proud owner of a new BlackBerry! I have free calling to 5 people anywhere in Canada, so I picked all the numbers I call or get calls from the most (which should take care of the problem with calling Hubby no matter where we are). The plan I got costs about the same as the plan I had from Fido, but gives me unlimited data and web browsing and caller ID (none of which I had previously).

I am SO happy! Plus, I can actually post directly from my BlackBerry when I'm at the house!

Shabbat Shalom and a Happy July 4th to all my American readers!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Value of Travelling with Children

This is not the post I was planning, but on the Four Pillars site yesterday Mike asked for advice about converting euros back to dollars. Almost as an aside in the comments he mentioned his intention not to travel again with kids. I asked him why and basically he found it hard to travel with a 2 year old. Frankly, getting through the day at home with a 2 year old can be challenging, so I don't think it matters whether you go away or not. I admit the long flight can be tough, but that's what late night flights are for.

He also said, "At that age I’m pretty certain that he won’t remember anything and if he does it will be the various playgrounds we went to… ", which brings me to the reason for this post. It's possible that he's correct. My own grown kids don't remember their first trip to Disneyland (when they were 5 and 2 1/2). However, I have incredible memories of places I visited when I was very small. Those memories have had a huge effect on me, on things I was interested in when I was in high school, artists I like, my interest in Palladian architecture, books I've read, etc. etc. And the earliest of those memories date back to when I was 2 years old!

I've been to Hawaii several times but the only time my grandmother was with us was when I was 2 years old. My mother won the trip and went with her mother and me. We stayed at the Princess Kaiulani at Waikiki Beach (the only time we stayed at that particular hotel) and my memories of that trip include my grandmother warning me about falling into the swimming pool and falling off the lanai (balcony). She always thought I was going to fall off something. She took me on a ferry the summer that I was either 3 or 4 and kept grabbing me because I was getting "too close" to the rail.

I also had a bizarre memory that the seats on the plane were bright orange and circular and thought for years that I had just imagined it. Then I was sitting in the boarding area of another airport many years later, wondering why it seemed so familiar, and suddenly realized the orange seats had been in the airport!

Without question the trip that made the biggest impression on me was going to Italy when I was four. While some of my memories, such as going to Madurodam (a miniature town near Den Hague) could have taken place then, they could also have been during one or two other trips to Europe since we always flew KLM into Amsterdam and then went on from there. Italy, however, was a country that we never returned to (much to my dismay).

My memories from there include:
  • Climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa with my father and the high spiral steps that tired out my little legs.
  • The gondolier in Venice letting me try to pole the gondola (I couldn't budge it).
  • Taking a tour of a glass factory and being given the little glass animal they made right in front of me (I still have it).
  • Getting a beautiful white dress and white leather dress shoes.
  • My mother picking scarves in a little shop.
  • Being in a car accident when a truck loaded with Coca Cola dumped part of its load on our rental car. I don't remember us going to the police station afterwards (my mother told me she had to deal with it in French and German since she didn't speak more than a few phrases of Italian) but I sure remember those bottles of Coke coming towards me!
  • The big rocks imbedded in the street in Pompeii where I jumped from one to another.
  • Scaring the pigeons in the Square.
  • Reaching for my father's hand, looking up and realizing it was a strange Italian man! (I'd been playing with my new Dutch doll that said "Mama" and had lagged behind. I'd reached for the first male wearing a Harris Tweed jacket and holding a cigarette. My dad was only about 5 or 10 feet away, but it was a scary moment.)

So a truly memorable trip can certainly make a permanent impression on even a young child. And I don't remember a single playground. Just my .02!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Goals for July

It's time to set goals for July! I only accomplished half my goals last month. Let's see if I can do better this time around.

1. Spend no more than $400 for transportation costs this month.
This is from Krystal's Transportation Challenge for July and includes gas and bus fares. It could be tough, given the current high cost of gas and our trips to the house. I'm a little nervous about this, but we'll see how it plays out.

2. Lose 5 pounds.
Hey, if I'd managed to lose 3 pounds last month I'd just have to lose another 3 this month. This is all because I want to be 120 pounds in time for my birthday at the beginning of September. I'm currently 129 pounds, 5'4" with a tiny frame. I don't want to be a size 2 or anything. I just want to flatten my tummy and firm up a bit.

3. Go to the gym at least once.
How hard could this one be? It's not like I'm saying 'work out every day' or 'run a marathon'. I just haven't been a single time since, um, December. I'd probably be more successful with Goal #2 if I'd go to the gym. Right?

4. Post at least 27 times in July and post at least one book review.
That's one post per day, except on Shabbat. I did fine last month, so I think I can do this. I also managed the book review last month, so it's not out of reach.

5. Learn to upload pictures to my blog.
I actually have to find the box for my digital camera in order to be able to get the pictures from my digital camera to my computer first, so this could be a little challenging (given the number of boxes I might have to go through to find the box the camera came in). But I want to continue learning how to do new things and this certainly qualifies. Maybe if I do this, I'll finally get around to figuring out my iPod.

That's one more goal than I set last month and I'm pleased with these goals. I think they're challenging without being overwhelming, so let's leave it there.

June's Goals Reviewed

Well, June is over and it's time to look at the goals I set for the first full month of my blog. How did I do?

1. Limit eating out and junk food to $120 for the month. Probably not.
I still have to add my hubby's receipts to the grand total but I'm standing at $88.83 as of June 29th, I know he spent about $20 for food in cash on June 1st when we took the girls to a school fair, and he buys candy regularly including when we travel back and forth to the house. I think we came fairly close though.

2. Lose 3 pounds. No.
I started the month at 129 pounds. I've been up as high as 132 and down as low as 128 but I'm right back at 129 today. And I never got to the gym.

3. Post at least 23 times in June. Yes!
I actually posted 26 times in June. Yay for me.

4. Write at least one book review in June. Yes!
I wrote a four part review of Derek Foster's book "Stop Working, Here's How You Can!"

So, that's 2 out of 4. I'm sort of pleased, although I wish I'd done better.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Happy Birthday Canada!

Well, we're back home but I'm tired from the drive and I have to get up and go to work in the morning.

I hope everybody had a great Canada Day! (For my American readers, your turn is coming!)

I have several things to post about over the next few days so I'll be back tomorrow, but I'm just going to say "goodnight" for now.