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It’s been fun!

Posted by on Sep 4, 2014 in Uncategorized | 8 comments

This week marks two long years since I inked my first post. And it’s been fun! Although this one might be my last… at least for a while.

I started this little blog with the intention of helping struggling dads and others rethink their own financial habits and priorities to get to a place of financial stability. I also did it partly for myself. To prove to myself that I could do it. I never realized how time consuming blogging can be or just how hard it can be to push the publish button on a post. Maybe out of habit, but to this day, I still look away from the screen when hitting “Publish”. It’s somewhat daunting. Will readers connect with it? Will they like it? But amongst all the challenges, it’s also a really rewarding experience a) when you know you’ve written a post that made YOU smile and b) when your post resonates with others. There’s nothing better than getting votes of confidence in your comment section. It’s kind of like getting all the shiny stickers on your school paper. And it’s something, as a blogger, I think each of us always look forward to.

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong;
but sometimes it is letting go”

– Herman Hesse

I often talk on the site about setting priorities and assessing what’s really important to you. And one of my big goals this year was to let go and work less. I was taking classes, working practically two jobs in addition to writing for the blog, while trying to be a son, a brother, a husband, and a daddy. Time has it’s limits. So I started this Spring letting go. I took on no more new classes, but I took on a better position at a new job, which allowed me to free up my nights working. And I started giving myself a week off from the blog every month and had planned to take some time off in the summer too. Then I got some news.

My father had suffered the past year from ALS and while away on business, and quite unexpectedly, I got the call that he had been rushed to the hospital. So I cut my trip short and tried to find the quickest flight out of town, which I quickly found, was no easy task. But I flew out the next day and as I flew through a mountain of clouds, I kept thinking that one of them might be him. But in the end, I did make it in time to say my final goodbyes to my own thrifty dad. It was a tough day. A tough week. A tough month. And it’s times and challenges like these that they say, sometimes make you reevaluate your own priorities. Your own journey. And it did for mine. After a while away from the blog, it’s always difficult getting back in, but the time away gave me time to pause and reflect and think.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward,
but it is the journey that matters in the end”

– Ursula K. Leguin

I met a lot of great people, and I learned a great deal. But this might be my last post for a while. I am incredibly appreciative of all my loyal readers who read and commented on my posts week-to-week and also to those new ones that are just finding me. I’ve enjoyed connecting with all of you. I enjoyed reading your posts and I enjoyed writing even more. It’s funny, even as I sit here writing this, there’s a small part of me that is saying ‘maybe just a few more posts’. And although part of it excites me, I’m more excited by the start of a new journey (and I have to admit, all my free time). Where this site goes from here, I cannot say. But there’s a part of me that would like to see it maybe pass onto a new gen of thrifty dads.

But for now, I think it’s time for me to put the down the pen and be a dad again.

Thank you!
Anthony (Thrifty Dad)

Image courtesy of anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Gardening can be fun for your kids too

Posted by on May 29, 2014 in Uncategorized | 5 comments

One of the things my dad has always enjoyed was his garden. And up until last year, at the ripe age of 82, my old man was still out there every day, picking at and tending to his fruit trees and large vegetable garden. His health has deteriorated in the past year, so this past weekend my brother and I went up to prepare his big garden for the summer. It was a lot of work, but we owe it to my dad. His garden has provided us with years of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Exercise your green thumb and your wallet

If you don’t live on a farm or have the space for a large garden like my dad, consider starting a little one, even in planters. There’s many benefits besides financial ones, but if you’re counting your beans, building a little garden is fairly inexpensive. You can go organic without buying organic and it can be done without the need for any fancy gardening tools – just a little bit of daily maintenance (i.e. watering, weeding, etc.). And if you have a rain barrel or a container that you can use as one, even better. Just two dollars, can get us a bag of seeds that’ll feed our little family with about 3 seasons of tomatoes. Not too bad.

There’s also plenty of health benefits that come from gardening and some experts now believe that nature helps heal, lowering blood pressure, boosting immune function and reducing stress. Check out this article from WebMD.

Gardening is a great workout. Some may be happy to know that doing general gardening activities (like digging, weeding, etc.) can burn on average 167 calories per half hour for a 155lb person and 200 calories for a 185 lb. person. But there’s nothing better than seeing what you’ve planted come to fruition (pardon the pun). You can begin to build healthy and delicious meals for your family around what you just planted and save money doing it. Ones that were grown by you, without the use of nasty chemicals.

Weed it and reap

Aside from the health benefits, the best benefit, I’d have to say, is what your kids get from it. It’s a fantastic way for your kids to learn where their food really comes from. It encourages them to get active, eat healthy, learn about nature and nutrition and most of all, it’s a great bonding experience. And they’re more likely to eat something they’ve grown.

I can remember from an early age, my dad giving me a bean seed to plant and I was to guard it and water it all summer. I was so proud of that plant. The next summer I got my neighbour (who was the same age) into a friendly competition to see who could grow the tallest bean plant. One day we had the plant-off and although his bean plant came pretty close, my plant won it in the end. “What became of the giantess and the castle, nobody knows.”

So far this year, we’ve planted tomatoes, beans, basil and chives in addition to our raspberry bush and mulberry tree. A fairly small garden in comparison what we used to have years ago. But it’s manageable for us. And we want to get our kids involved. My 3-year old loves helping us out in the garden, digging, planting flowers, something she seems to have a natural affinity for. And what kid doesn’t like to play in the dirt?

This year we set up a bean teepee for our little 3-year old to play in. She loves to hide under tables and things, so we made a little teepee out of bamboo sticks that we got from the dollar store, and planted some bean seeds all around. So, she’ll hopefully have a nice little shaded cubby she can play in – that is, if the neighbourhood rabbits don’t get to my beans first.

Gardens are for kids too, silly rabbit

Today, so many kids seem to be growing up zoned out in front of the TV or computer. But I want my own kids to embrace the summer and learn how to make their own entertainment. And encourage your kids to do the same. As a kid, I never saw indoors until the sun set. Gardening is a great way to get them outdoors and it also teaches children so many valuable lessons such as responsibility and patience – learning that a seed doesn’t grow a tree in one day; it gives them confidence; teaches them about science and sustainability; harvesting and sharing. I could go on and on.

But at the end of the day, anyone can start a little garden. Even your little ones.

Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Beware the sales pitch

Posted by on May 1, 2014 in Uncategorized | 6 comments

Just this week, I received a call from the bank where I have my mortgage with. Yet, another sales pitch to get me to move all my accounts over with them. I usually ignore those calls, if it was really that important they would leave a message, but they keep ringing. So this time, I decided to pick up and listen to their spiel.

They were offering $250 and iPad Mini to get me to switch over my wonderful online checking account to theirs. Not that I need an iPad Mini, but it could make for a pretty good gift. I asked all the questions I thought I should ask. Why should I switch? Is there a minimum balance? Does it include unlimited transactions? What are the extra fees involved? Are there any rewards/incentives (obviously other than the money and iPad). When is this offer valid until? If they ever say it’s only valuable today, it’s time to hang up.

I have a few other accounts with this bank and making payments is incredibly difficult if you’re paying from another bank. But for all the other products I have with them, the rates are very good. So while it’s a pain, it’s only once or twice a year that I make adjustments to some payments. Everything else is automatic. But it has been painful enough to guilt me into considering it.

Right now my checking account already offers free unlimited transactions, free unlimited check books, free grocery rewards and often bonus interest on whatever I have in my account, all for one low monthly fee of zero dollars.

For a limited time only? Baloney!

And then he said, while they couldn’t offer rewards above what they were offering, they do offer an account that has unlimited transactions and if I signed up for one of their credit cards, my multi-product rebate would make it free. He ended with ‘Would you like me to go ahead and set up an appointment?’ So I told him I’d think about it and that’s when he said if I would ‘like a representative to call you to follow up’. ‘No thank you,’ I said ‘I’ll call YOU, if or when I decide.’

I got a postcard in the mail a week later from them with a similar offer. So I thought about it for a couple of days and then I thought, let me just look this up and see if they’re offering this to everyone and not just ‘special customers’. And there it was! I believe the $250 was credited to your account, regardless of what account you open. But the salesperson failed to mention that to qualify for the free iPad Mini, you had to sign up for one of two accounts, one of which pays no interest, has no free checking, no rewards and even after the multi-product rebate, still had a monthly fee of $22.50! So before the years up, so is that $250 bonus! I can’t even remember the last time I paid a monthly fee.

Bottom line: Never sign up for anything on the phone. And always always research before signing up for anything.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

While we’re still on the subject of banking, in the past month, I’ve received three balance transfer offers in the mail from two of my credit card companies. Some of them come in the form of convenience cheques ready to send out and others as opt-in fill in forms. But they’re becoming increasingly sneaky. One of the offers had in large print ‘Start saving today with a low 1.99% interest rate’. Until you read the fine print where it said something along the lines of ‘a fee of 2% of the balance transfer amount will be charged to your credit card account when a balance transfer is posted.’ Wait a minute! So their 1.99 offer actually is 3.9%!?!

Still a pretty good rate, but that’s pretty low for them to do that. That’s common in the payday loan business where the actual annual percentage rates can hit 600% (no that’s not a typo), when you factor in all the fees. So always always read the fine print before signing any offer.

Whether getting a sales pitch from someone on the phone or at the door or advice from anyone on any financial matters, always do your own due diligence and/or get a second opinion. Remember, the only one that will truly look out for your best interests, is yourself.

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I realized that my financial future was in my hands

Posted by on Apr 16, 2014 in Uncategorized | 22 comments

I have to say, I’ve been very fortunate. And for the most part, most of us have. Sometimes we get all mixed up in what others have and forget about what we have and what’s truly important.

I grew up with a wonderful family. My parents were hardworking people who immigrated to Canada from Italy, in search for a better life for their kids. They didn’t speak the language and because of that, jobs were tough to come by at first, just as they are today. They didn’t make much money, but I don’t recall us ever struggling with money.

I guess you could say we didn’t have enough money to worry about money. But we did have plenty to put food on our plates, clothes on our backs and a modest roof over our heads. The money my parents worked so hard to bring in, was just enough to cover the necessities. We didn’t have money left over to worry about what to do with it. It made life pretty simple, looking back. It was a life revolving around family, and we had a great, happy, carefree childhood.

My financial past

My first real memories of using my money of my own to buy anything was when I was about 11, 12 years old. My friends and I would pool our pocket change together, and then scout the local corner store to see what we could all buy. We’d split it on a pack of gum, Mr. Freezies, or splurge on a pack of hockey cards (that often came with a bonus stick of gum – remember those!). Hockey cards turned into comic books, then cassette tapes as I grew older and by age 15, I joined those same friends to take up a job at the local pizza joint. My first few paycheques were saved up to buy my first stereo system. Each stereo component bought one at a time, as I earned it. It brought me great excitement waiting for the next piece.

I worked part-time and paid my way through college/university, with a little help from my parents. But was surprised during my time there, to find so many students in financial troubles — even a year in. There were those that you knew right away, mom and dad were forking the bill. You could see them a mile away with their shiny new laptops and spare time. Then there were those who went running from their last class of the day to catch the bus to make it to their part-time job. They/we were starting to get our feet wet juggling finances.

My a-ha moment

From a young age, I was pretty responsible with my money. I didn’t necessarily think to save for a rainy day, but I put money aside for things I wanted to buy. But back then, it was easy. I was living at home. I had no responsibilities – barely any financial ones. Yes, I paid for and owned my own car, I paid for my clothing, my hobbies and anything I wanted, really. But the minute I stepped out of my parents home and into my own, is the first time I think I realized and now appreciate, all the sacrifices my parents went through for us.

I described in my last post how easy it is for anyone to get caught up in the dream of a home and not realize the true costs of homeownership. It was kind of scary. To be financially independent of my parents, and financially responsible not only for my own self, but for my family, my wife, and now my own children, was a big wake-up call. No matter how responsible I thought I was, there’s always one thing that can throw you off track. But it felt like a hundred things all at once and you learn really quick, when you see a fork in the road, that it’s up to no one else, but yourself, which direction to take. I could sink, or learn to swim. It was that moment when I truly realized, that my financial future was in my hands.

I had control. And everyone does. Every day, YOU get to make that decision. You can make the choice to live frugally or frivolously or a bit of both. Just remember, when you’re spending money that is not going towards your dream, you run the risk of losing that dream, falling further and further behind from your goals, from where you want to go or where you’d like to be. What you choose to do with your money, really is up to you. It’s that simple!

If I knew then, what I knew now…

I would remind my younger self that “the only thing worse than not starting yesterday, is not starting today.” That same thought process could be applied at any stage in your life, really. In our 20s, we laugh at the mere thought of retirement planning. And in our 30s, 40s and higher, we say to ourselves, “we should’ve invested when we were in our 20s”. But the funny thing is, sometimes even then, we still don’t do it.

I wish I would’ve invested earlier, saved up for a larger down payment on my house, and I’m sure I could come up with a hundred other things. But I’m happy where I am. I have a wonderful family of my own now and and I’m excited about where we’re going together. When we’re young, we all take that stuff for granted, and we don’t often think about our financial future. But it’s really up to us. We have today, and we all have the power to change our thinking.

When I realized my financial future was in my handsAs part of the Financial Literacy Awareness Carnival that my friend Shannon @ The Heavy Purse put together, please join me, Shannon, and a host of other fellow bloggers at The Heavy Purse, as part of Financial Literacy Month. Please feel free to share their content to help spread awareness. We ALL have the power to change the way we, and others around us, think about money.

Want to change the way you think about money? Feel free to click on the ‘Subscribe by email’ link on the top right, or follow me on Twitter or Like me on Facebook. Together we can all make a difference.

If you want it bad enough, you’ll make the sacrifices

Posted by on Mar 27, 2014 in Uncategorized | 8 comments

In last week’s post, I talked about battling your impulses and funny enough, two of my coworkers were discussing this martial arts gym, that she had joined. And the second was so excited about the idea, that within a matter of minutes, he made the same decision to join up for some free sessions elsewhere — at an acclaimed boxing and mixed martial arts gym nearby. Problem was, he had no idea how much this was going to cost. And with no pricing listed on their website, it’s usually the first indication that it’s going to be an expensive ride. Always do some research beforehand.

When talk isn’t cheap

So, after his first session and no talk of pricing, I did some poking around some online members’ forums and found, that on average, members at this club were saying not to expect anything less than $100/month. Nothing to sneeze at!

Now, whenever you’re buying a product, it doesn’t matter whether you buy it at one store or another. If it’s the same exact product, you may as well pay the cheapest price you can. But when you’re forking over money for a service, and although it’s not always the case, sometimes you truly do get what you pay for. But the gym is still pretty expensive, considering a lot of the other places in the area were selling similar unlimited memberships for half that price.

The difference here, as he later found out, was you were not only paying for their expertise, and the large stack of competition-winning trophies on their wall, but also for the more personalized approach to training — groups were no larger than six people, at any one time. Nonetheless, when I told him this, he kind of got nervous about it, but didn’t want to make any calls until he heard the numbers from the actual club, itself.

Don’t let your dreams go up in smoke

So, after three days of free training sessions, which he loved, he finally asked. The damage: $120 per month or $100 per month if locked-in to a one-year contract. I knew he really wanted it. In fact this was the first time I’ve seen him that excited in a long time. But when he asked others at work what he should do, they immediately planted seeds of doubt in his mind. As he was heading out for another smoke, he paused and says to me, well what do you think? And my advice to him was this, “yes, it is expensive, but if you want something bad enough, you’ll make the sacrifices”, signaling at the carton in his hand. “If, you were to cut down on some of that habit alone, you could make it happen.” “You know, you’re right,” he said as he put back his smokes in his coat pocket and hung up his coat.

Incomes being equal, why are some able to manage perfectly fine with expensive hobbies or habits, while others cannot? Because they’ve made it their priority. And this is true for a lot of things. If you’re unhappy at your current job, you’ll find ways to free up some time to dedicate to your job search and resume, work to grow your network and/or reconnect with old acquaintances/references, improve your skills/education or look for new ways to improve your current job situation. If you want to spend more time with family, you’ll make the time. You’ll plan activities for the family, perhaps look for a new job that doesn’t require all that overtime, or maybe has more flexible hours. You’ll shelve your extra projects or find work that’s closer to home. If you want to travel more, you’ll find ways to make time for it. You’ll look to see if you can cash in your reward miles, or take up other ways to earn extra money to cover your costs.

And if you’re truly serious about getting out debt, or getting out of any other situation you’re in that you really want to change, for that matter, you’ll make the sacrifices. But — and there is one ‘but’ — you have to be willing to make the sacrifices. You have to WANT to want it.

 

Impulse spending: battling your ‘buy now’ instincts

Posted by on Mar 20, 2014 in Uncategorized | 8 comments

Your heart and mind are racing, thinking about the latest new thing you saw in-store, in a catalogue, online or from a friend. Your first thought is I gotta have it!

It’s one thing if you can afford it, but when it comes to shopping, emotions can defy all reasoning, even in the most reasonable of people. And thanks to today’s easy access to credit, and the ever-increasing popularity of ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ programs, all your hopes and merchandise-filled dreams are but a click away, while allowing you to defer any financial decisions and consequences until later. The problem is, those financial consequences could be dire for those that make impulse spending a habit. 

What you’re buying on impulse

A 2012 survey by BMO found that 59% of Canadians admitted to impulse buying, of which 55% bought something they might not need because it was on sale. For both men and women, topping out the impulse purchases Canadian buyers said they spent money on, were clothing, dining out, books/magazines and shoes (notably missing from the men’s list was electronics, which even I’ve been guilty of).

But, although we immediately and most commonly point to these categories when we think of impulse spending, we often don’t associate impulse spending with the larger expenses, such as automobiles and housing — but they can be. Be it new cars, fancy appliances, furniture, and custom kitchen upgrades to a kitchen some never/rarely use, or whether buying that first home just to ‘get into the housing market’ — or really when we buy anything as a symbol of status — we’re letting our emotions dictate and affect our decision making.

Why you’re spending on impulse

According to Psychologist Ian Zimmerman, some people possess certain personality traits that encourage impulsive buying. He describes impulse buyers as being more social, status-conscious and anxious, and tend to experience less happiness overall.

While this may be very true for some, I don’t believe we can paint everyone with the same brush. Let’s face it, we’ve all acted impulsively, at some point. But unless we can learn to control it, habitual impulse spending can quickly lead one into debt, marital issues and other problems.

The reasons we make impulse purchases are many. You might buy on impulse, because you feel you deserve it; you buy to impress (whether that be a purchase for yourself or a gift), you came into some extra money (through a gift or maybe a work bonus); you’re an avid collector; something goes on sale (whether you need it or not); or maybe you just had a down day.

Whatever the reason, and although there are definitely external factors and emotional responses that persuade us, I don’t buy into the idea that impulse buying is a completely unplanned decision.

Impulse purchases are not always on impulse

In fact, I think many times they’re quite intentional — we just don’t think or care to think about the consequences. And we actually plan to spend frivolously because we think we deserve it. Being in a bad mood somehow gives us permission to buy. Getting an extra bonus or commission at work or just knowing that you’re getting paid this week, somehow gives us reason to blow it all.

I often hear some co-workers talk about how excited they are to get their paycheque, so they can buy such and such. And by mid-week, they already have planned what they’ll be spending their paycheque on, and what un-maxed cards and accounts are left to use. So there’s definitely some planning involved. And to a certain extent we all ‘decide’ on how to deal with a ‘bad’ day, whether that’s devouring that big bucket of chicken wings, tearing into a big bag of chips, or tearing through the mall on a shopping binge.

You CAN control it

If we can plan to manage our response to those ‘bad days’, it’s in our power that we can learn to control our impulse spending too. So how do you avoid impulse spending and take control? Well here a few of the things you can try:

  • Plan to plan. I know crazy concept, but there are some things that you can plan ahead. For example, you know that you’re having a baby – there are things that you will need. Like a crib. Don’t wait till a week before the baby is born to run out and get one. Take control of the situations you can control. If you think planning for a baby is too crazy, wait till the baby comes!
  • Delay your purchase. One of the best ways I’ve found to curb any impulse spending is just to write it down and delay your purchase for a week or more, depending on how big of an expense it is. If you still want it, and think it’s worth the price, then buy it. Delaying your purchase even for a few days, makes you think about and sometimes that’s just enough to catch yourself from making any rash decisions.
  • Avoid/limit the places you shop. Yes, strangely enough in 2014, there are other things to do, other than hang out at a mall. Why tempt yourself? If you have a shopping addiction, do yourself a favour and avoid to the malls, or at least limit your visits. If online shopping is your vice, avoid storing your credit card information online and instead of making the purchase, use sites that allow you set up wish lists and come back to that wish list in a couple of weeks and see if you still want it.
  • Pay in cash. Take out a small amount that you’re willing to spend in cash, and leave your plastic at home. Only spend the money you have in your wallet. Easy peasy! It’s surprising how well that works!
  • Or ask yourself ‘do I really need this and how many hours will I need to work to pay for this? Sometimes just visualizing your purchase into blocks of time, really helps put all your purchases and hard-earned money into perspective.

And sometimes, you’ll find that it is worth it. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself once and a while, as long as you’re the one in control. Just keep in mind that the instant gratification we derive from these impulse buys are most often just that – instant, but very short-term. Sometimes delaying those decisions and using that money to save up for something you really want, I think, will ultimately provide you with a greater sense of satisfaction over the long-term.
Image courtesy of stock images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.