Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Wedding Planning :S

So, it begins! The biggest money challenge of my life thus far! Getting out of school debt was one thing, but staying out and planning a wedding is another totally different beast! After the highs of announcing our engagement, it's now time to pound the pavement and do the research to pull this thing off! With the average Canadian wedding cost at approximately $30, 000, I'm determined to get the biggest bang out of my buck!

First, I've listed our must haves:
- Tea Ceremony
- Chinese Menu
- Photo booth
- Clean and nice venue
- Photographer
- Decent quality alcohol
- Dessert Table

At the moment, I've been doing a ton of online searches for venues in the area that can accommodate our guest and are able to cater a Chinese menu. There is surprisingly not much selection in the downtown area that's meet our standards. We've been visiting the conventional large restaurants, banquet halls, hotels and other local venues. Even stretching to the more Chinese dense areas of Markham and Richmond Hill. Pretty much anywhere that can host a wedding! We've driven out for appointments, casually dropped into local venues, asked friends and family about their experiences. I know dropping in is a bit frowned upon but it's the best. During appointments everything is more staged for us and we don't like that. At a drop in, we can see the place the way it truly is everyday.

What I've learned so far:
- No two venues are the same
- Find out what the venue's gratuity is. It can make a big difference and so far I've been quoted anywhere from 12-17 percent! Which is a S*&% ton when you are talking in the tens of thousands.
- Landmark and rental fees are BS
- Some places allow you to bring your own alcohol or do open bar (do the math to see if it's worth it!)
- Spreadsheets are your friend
- Married friends are a great source of advice
- Friends are a great source for hook ups
- Pinterest and Instagram is great for ideas but everything nice cost a crap load of money
- Deciding to invite or not invite kids, or invite some and not others is a touchy and hard subject.  Chinese weddings do not have a children's menu. Each person is considered a head and will be charged as a full adult and receive all the same courses and portions. Chinese banquets are also about 10 courses long.
- Not inviting certain people is ok, you are bound to insult a ton of people from food choices to location to even not being invited! But for the sake of your sanity and wallet stick to what you want and just don't worry about it. Your mom's friend's friend's date and her not so close co-worker is not worth it. Neither is your friend's date, who's whom they've been dating for a week. To me, I think about two major things. Will they be in my life in ten years? Real life and not Facebook friends. And am I willing to spend the cost of hosting them regardless of receiving lucky money? If not, then no and cut. I'm a bit ruthless that way. However, I do take into special consideration my parents brothers and sisters. I may not know them all very well and I'll be fine without their attendance, however they are all getting older and this would be a great reason for them to travel here and all be together.
- Avoid the w word. Anything with wedding in it for some reason cost considerably more.

I've also put out a bunch of feelers out there and asking friends and even work associates for recommendations on everything. And sometimes, we get really lucky when someone says they know a guy who can do something we are looking for, or they know a girl who does this as a hobby. Venue and location is pretty much going to take the bulk of your budget and it requires the proper time and effort to research it properly. Once that is settled, it should be much easier to book and scout everything else out once a date and place is set. Or so, I'm hoping so!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Cost of Commuting Home

Hi Guys!

This will be short and sweet! I don't know what compelled me to figure out my cost of commuting but I was interested to see what my cost vs. savings has been for the last few years. I love that Toronto Bike Share tracks each trip with date, duration and bike stops picked up and dropped off.

Some things to note before I begin.

I usually renew the bike share pass anywhere from late January to late February. Yes, I ride during the winter months. I'd also say at least 99% of my trips are made from work to home (I walk to work) and this year my pass expired earlier than Winton's, so I just used his pass until it expired before I renewed my key.

Let's get to the deets!

Year   Number of Trips    Cost of One year Membership                Cost Per Ride (Rounded Up)          
2012           157                               $50 (Groupon)                               32 cents
2013           155                                   $92.35*                                      60 cents
2014           151                                   $94.61*                                      63 cents
2015           198                               $50 (Groupon)                               25 cents
2016            35                                    $86.70*                                     $2.48 (this will go way down)

*Includes Live Green Discount of $15 off (you don't need to prove anything to qualify)

Total cost of the Bike Share key is $373.66 to date Vs. cost of TTC (trips averaging $3 per trip) is $2088. With a savings of $1713.34 and average bike ride (not including 2016) cost is 45 cents. I work four days a week in the office, so if I work every week of the year it would max out at 208 rides, so hitting almost 200 last year is amazing! I'm super happy to see this and I feel so healthy! Especially, since there are holidays, vacation, and sick days I take off during the year. I also can't consider a metropass as I don't use the transit enough to warrant such a high monthly cost.

The best part of this, not just the savings is the exercise and de-stressing from sitting at a desk all day. It's nice to get out there and burn some pent up energy and office frustrations. I get a decent 15-20 minute work out riding home, bypassing traffic and the large groups of grumpy (and some crazy) people rammed into streetcars during rush hour. I love enjoying the beautiful and or miserable weather biking home. I feel more in control of my commute than to rely solely on the unreliable TTC to get me home. And not to mention the legs! I have muscles I've never had before hahaha! I also learned I missed riding a bike as an adult! One of my favourite past times in my childhood was discovering the neighbourhood with friends on our bmx's.

I've had people mention to me about purchasing a bike for further savings but I don't quite agree! First of all, I have no space! Downtown living means, I'd have to park it in our condo (Oooh precious space) or pay for a bike parking space. Parking in the building is a b*&%#, you need to go down a garage to whatever level and physically lift your bike off the ground and place it on a wall mount. I'm not interested in lifting and securing a bike on a wall or riding up and down a parking structure each day just to get my bike. The bike share location is just outside our building across the street or a two minute walk from the office. Secondly, the maintenance! I don't know how to fix or do anything but ride the bike, and if the Bike Share is broken I can easily switch out the bike at the next stop and hit the repair button to notify maintenance. Third, what is someone stole my bike? I see damaged bikes and stolen parts all the time when I'm walking in the city. I really don't want to risk it, knowing I'd probably want a nice bike. I've even considered an e-bike that's like a moped or even the folding ones, but they are so expensive and really heavy. I also work in a two story walk up, so dragging it up and down the stairs each day just sounds so much fun! *eye's rolling*

I hope this gives you guys an idea of what you can save and do by just switching out your mode of transportation. It can be as costly or as cheap as you want. That extra money looks like a nice vacation to me or even a nice boost in my retirement savings. It's all up to you!

Eros And Pookie

Friday, 8 April 2016

What's in Your Wallet?

Good afternoon, financial independence chasers!

What's in your wallet and how do you make it work for you? Are you solely a debit or credit user? Some people love the old fashioned cash only. It really depends on your personality. I'm going to breakdown these four categories and give you the low down on each type and who they are best for.

- Cash is king! For most of the world, this statement is very true! Most businesses where you can barter would be willing to give you a cash discount. This is great if you have cash in hand and willing to part with it on the spot. It saves the business on merchant fees they have to kick back to say Visa or MasterCard for your convenience of using your card. Hey, it's better for you to get say a 2% discount then for them to pay 2% to the credit care companies. For most of my daily expenses, they aren't very barter-able. I can't go to No Frills and ask for a discount on groceries because I want to pay in cash versus my credit or debit card. Most people also don't feel comfortable walking around with wads of cash in their pocket for safety concerns.
- Cash is best for people you need to see and feel the pain of parting with cold hard cash. If you're on a strict budget and trying to keep yourself honest, cash in hand is the best route to go. You allocate how much you have to spend each week and once it's gone, it's gone. There is no extra leeway to spend more because you physically don't have anymore money to spend. It makes you very accountable for your spending! This is the best when you have very little self control and need to work your way out of debt.

Debit Cards
- There are pretty much like using cash that's in your bank. Funds are immediately taken out when you go shopping. When the funds are drained in the account, then you can no longer use the card. Unless you pay those ghastly over draft fees. The banks like to call it "protection," but really its a smart way to market and cash in on a people's bad habit. If you have overdraft, you will less likely worry about going over what's in the account and it makes it really easy for people to just live in overdraft.
- Those who use debit enjoy the accountability of cash without the worry of carry it around. It's like a safety barrier, where one can access the cash but also keep it safe at the same time. It gets slippery when you opt in for the overdraft protection. It can be useful if you forget about an automatic payment that is debited and you don't want to get dinged for non-sufficient funds and the hassle that comes with. You can easily set up your own free overdraft protection and leave a small amount floating in your account. Say $100 is your float, when you have $100 you count your account balance as having $0. Anything above $100 if what you can use and play with. It's one of the best decisions I've made and done for myself! Sometimes, I forget about an upcoming payment where I need to transfer funds immediately but at the same time I am unable to head to the bank late at night to do a deposit or wait to transfer in money from elsewhere. It just makes a nice buffer between you and a fml situation.

Credit Cards
- Credit is simple to use! It's like out of sight, out of mind. You want something, you grab your card, tap it on the machine and you're on your way. No need to worry if you have the money in the bank or not. And you don't have to worry about it until the next billing cycle which is usually about 21 days away. What you can spend is dependent on your limit granted by a credit card company, but most places will give you more than you really need in hopes of you using up your limit and paying them an abhorrent amount of interest. I find most credit card interest hovering around 20%. TWENTY PER-F-EN-CENT! Using credit without self control can get you into a lot of debt really quickly. If you don't pay on time, that item you just bought cost a fifth more and counting until you pay it all off. It's similar with debit, if you're living in overdraft fees. This is what gets most people in trouble and credit card companies start targeting and marketing towards naive young people still in school. It's like they train you for a life of debt. Most adults get their first card at university and don't really grasp the consequences of debt until they graduate from school and have to make credit card payments on top of OSAP payments (i.e. story of my life)! It also opens you up for possible fraudulent charges or people could take out credit in your name and ruin your credit score. Also, most online shopping requires a credit card. Actually, most of life requires you to have a credit card. You can't even book a hotel without one.
- These cards are terrible for people who lack self control and want instant gratification. I'm super strong willed and quite meticulous with my budget and this still gets me from time to time. Where I'm just like WTF did I spend all this money on and I have to pull from other funds to cover the bill. If you know how to play the game you can make credit cards work for you. If you pay everything on time, you can work with certain cards who give you rewards for things you really want (i.e. free groceries). You're going to spend the money anyways, might as well get something in return for using it, as long as you don't get carried away.

What I use
I use a mix of cash and credit cards, with a huge preference for credit cards. I actually rarely use cash and usually never have any on me, but I can't seem to escape it. Sometimes, I need small change for the parking meter, tipping the delivery guy or a snack like a donut. I don't want to be the weirdo who puts a $1 donut on my credit card. And Dollarama doesn't take credit!

I love my credit cards because I love my points and my cash backs, and I'm very on top of my charges. I check every couple of days to ensure my charges are correct and to pay off my ENTIRE balance. I'm the type of person that if I waited for my credit card statement, that I would freak out at the end of the month and panic on how I will pay it. Even though, I have money in the bank I just flip out over any sort of debt! I swear I hate it with a passion now! I see my credit cards as a source of great convenience and rewards. With one card, I get free credit that goes towards groceries or even gift cards and I usually blow the amount on food for a small Christmas get together. With my other newer card, I get straight cash back into a specific account I'm trying to grow for my future family. It cost me NOTHING in fees and interest to use these cards, in fact they are PAYING me!

Eros and Pookie

Friday, 26 February 2016

Progress Report on The Recently Improved Budget

For the past five years, I've been converted to and a huge believer of the Church of Budgeting! It's crazy how much my life has changed in the last few years with a budget. I still have my super archaic budgets from the previous years and it's funny to see how much I've progressed from them. I started out like most people who graduate university with a shiny new degree and specialized certificate, super enthusiastic and ready to take on the real world. What no one really tells you is that you also graduate with the huge OSAP loan you took out to go to school and now have to start making the payments. Not to mention, I went to Italy to study abroad and started to rack up credit card debt. With reality crashing in, life seemed so bleak and caused so many sleepless nights. Feeling helpless with just a weekend job to barely pay for rent, some groceries, a phone bill, so many numbers clumped together on my OSAP loan and with my credit card debt at 19.99% interest, I was pretty sure I was seriously f*%$ed! I figured this must be the way life is and all my peers I knew were in the same situation and most adults I knew were always worried about money and had some form of debt. It was very discouraging, until one day I decided to do something about it. I didn't know where to start but I knew I had to just start anywhere because I was going down a path I was just not happy about. I feel like this is where school really started for me. I found Gail Vaz Oxalate's tv shows, read everything I could get my hands on at the public library, scoured the internet and asked people around me for advice. Little did I know that most people knew nothing of personal finance, not even my parents! It's funny how our whole lives we believe our parents know EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING! The realization that your parents don't know everything and pretty much winged everything is pretty astonishing!

From the day I decided to take charge of my life I've always had a budget, it's numero uno in my eyes with regards to money. I refer to it at least once a day and use one detailed budget throughout the year. It helps me keep track of hours work, when I'm paid, for what projects, dates I paid to funds and confirmation codes for those payments etc. Regardless of income, without a budget you can't see where exactly your money is going and how to plan for your future goals. It helps keep you accountable. You can clearly see if you paid into your funds weekly or monthly (however you set it up, ideally should be timed to when you are paid), when you've paid your bills and all that. People think budgets are set in stone and that once you make one you can't keep it cause it's not workable. But budgets are fluid, they change and grow as you do. If it doesn't work you can change it or get rid of the unworkable section all together. It's so personalized, that you make it work how you see fit. It's taken me years to figure out what to add and take away in my budget, what works and what does not? How many columns do I need? If I should highlight sections? What text colours I should use to denote incoming and out going amounts? In the last couple months, I've changed my work schedule and took on some extra gigs and left behind some more stressful ones. I'm trying to focus on working efficiently with my time than just working to make money. The extra hours are crappy as they are during the week on top of my day job but the pay is more and it's both less work and stress. So, at the end of the day it made sense to me to forgo a few hours of sleep for a nice bump up in savings.

Lately, my issue was getting a little frustrated that I had focused most of my attention saving for a downpayment and other things. That one of my top, if not the top priority, my retirement was getting neglected. So, I sat down one evening and rejigged my entire budget to properly reflect what I wanted to accomplish. It was too skewed to save for the present and short term future items (next 5 years), that I was totally neglecting saving for the long term. The 67+ year old Julie! Possibly the early retired Julie! I knew this meant cutting back on things I really enjoyed right now, like eating out and splurging on little miscellaneous purchases but after two months I don't miss it as much! I've gotten really creative about it! Fruits have been incredibly expensive lately, that I've started to snack on frozen cherries at work! They were free from my mom's cherry tree that I pitted and froze from last summer. I still have the food tax implemented and it's doing quite well. I've only eaten out a handful of times since the year began and have paid the equivalent into the fund every time. Being honest with myself with out cheating on my budget makes me feel so good about it. It makes me think twice about how much I really want to have a nice dinner out for $30 because I'm now paying a total of $60 for that same plate of food! I haven't decided what I'd do with the extra money at the end of the year but it's nice to know that money is growing if I do hit up a restaurant. It's also nice to know to find out what the exact dollar amount I spent eating fast food and restaurants would be too! Ask anyone, I hate and can't do math to save my life but for some reason when it comes to money I love calculating and figuring out everything! I want to find out as much info as possible and track everything! I don't know why but it's so much fun for me! I love seeing the progress!

This new budget meant I didn't have unlimited fun money anymore, that I needed to set amounts for everything I was planning to spend to maximize every dollar that was coming in. Couple of issues I'm having are the grocery budget, fun money and extra income.
- Groceries are so hard to budget for! One week could be hundreds of dollars or the next could be $20 because we decided to eat from our reserves at home. And being a relatively new fund, I don't have any roll over from previous weeks that it sort of balances itself out. So, I end up taking money elsewhere to make up for the different.
- Fun money has just been accumulating and as much as I want to spend it, I'm having a hard time feeling comfortable blowing it all at once. I've read up many blogs and articles about how people feel guilty about spending money when they have all these savings plans/goals. I think I'm one of those people but not quite as bad! I enjoy to spend money here and there but I think I'm trying to somewhat hoard it for more fun times like all the food festivals in the summer we love to go to. I always think that there will be a time where I really need to blow it all, but that time never really comes up. It's good and bad, I suppose. And all the travelling fun money I want to spend on trips! Plus, being that it's winter and cold we've been holed up in our place enjoying Netflixs, craft nights and puzzle time. Not to mention free Yoga in the building! We really need to be more on top of the free activities to still have fun without the money part.
- Extra income also sort of messes up my budgeting. It's a good problem to have, I know! I've done a lot of extra hours at work to cover for a co-workers on vacation or to cover last minute sick people but I'm incredibly lazy to allocate where they extra money goes to and to calculate all the extra hours and money. So, I've sort of brush it over to cover the extra groceries and when we do eat out I pay off the meal and the food tax from this money. I have used a bit left over to top up my TFSA that I'm using as my retirement but then it gets kind of blurry that I probably should be paying off my "debt" that I owe to a couple of funds. As much as I'm on top of my budgeting, I've had my lazy moments too. It can get mentally exhausting have to be an adult all the time about everything and always dealing with money. I would love to grab a big wad of cash and blow it on crap! Bahahaha! Yeah, right! Not very likely going to happen!

Five years later after my first budget, I'd have to say how much a pain in the ass the upkeep can be but the rewards are so amazing! You really get what you put into it! What you could do with your money if you just put a bit of time and effort into it and not mindlessly wander through life is ENDLESS. Like what Gail say's and I'm paraphrasing "you can have everything you want, just not at the same time." And I believe it too! Whoo knew, I'd be able to do what I love, travel the world and have my debt paid off! Life is so different now! I LOVE it! I feel empowered and knowledgeable about my money and you can too! I tackled one of my greatest fears and turned it into my greatest ally. Read a couple articles a day and start today! No joke, I read money articles from about twenty different websites each weekday. Some sites, I can be reading about 10 articles or pages and pages of forums with questions from everyday people. There are tons of bad advice out there as well, but in time you see what works for you and you can easily weed out the crap stuff. See who is writing the article, be skeptical! If it's from a guy who works at one of the five major banks trying to sell you their services, be wary he's working for commission.

Good luck! Hope budgeting brings you as much joy and sense of security as it does me.

Eros and Pookie

Sunday, 24 January 2016

How Much I Spent on Groceries in 2015

Hi Everyone!

     Food prices are soaring and I'm seeing lots of funny memes about taking loans to buy a single cauliflower. The Canadian dollar has been tanking and everyone is starting to worry about how they are going to save money at the grocery store. I kid you not, I'm starting to slightly panic over my grocery bill while trying to hold on to every weak Canadian dollar I have.

     For the past few years I always just guessed what I spent each week on groceries. I got so frustrated on guesstimating an amount for that I started tracking how much I spent each week. I tried to stick to about $100 a week for food and $25 a week for house products like toilet paper, tissue boxes, cleaning products etc. I just made up this number but never actually set it aside in an actual fund. This amount included everything bought for food, home and even mini mid-week trips to reload on fresh meat and produce. Basically, everything we bought at No Frills, Walmart, Costco, Chinatown, and Kensington market grocery stores. I have to admit I wasn't as dedicated throughout the year and did my best to take out things like gift items and clothing that would have been included in our receipts but overall I felt like it was a really true and reliable source of info. I'm super dedicated to being totally on top of this this year! Finger's crossed! Any hoo, I created an excel sheet and divided the columns by date (usually Monday's is shopping day), amount spent (on receipt) and my half I personally spent. Sometimes, one person's half was higher if it included something's like clothes, or special junk foods, or just picking up items on behalf of our parents.

     At first, I was surprised to see how many weeks (7 to be exact), we went without buying any groceries at all. This was usually due to birthday weeks, vacations, Christmas or other holiday times where we'd have to eat out several meals with different family members. And even the end of the year where I would redeemed all my PC points for the holidays, so we could host some family and friends over the Christmas break for FREE :) I LOVE free groceries! As you know, what you aren't spending on groceries is what you are paying way more for at a restaurant. I did start tracking our eating out at restaurants as well but I just got lazy and sort of stopped half way through the year. Something to learn from and strive to keep up this year!

The Hard Numbers
My total spent on Groceries in 2015: $2712.19
My weekly total average: $52.16

     I was in complete shocked at how low this amount was overall. Our weekly receipts varied so much!!! The lowest weekly amount I had was $6 and the highest was over $430! As you can see, my $100 a week seemed a pretty reasonable guess at the time. And I hate to admit this but there is quite a bit of waste at the end of the week in fresh produce and meat. I always bring lunch to eat at work, which is usually dinner left overs to try and cut back on the waste. I probably eat out once or twice a year during lunch with co-workers or we'll have a work party where everyone chips in for pizza or sushi at the office. I've been pretty good trying to freeze browned organic bananas to be made into banana bread or freezing meats for use on another day. I kind of suck at freezing stuff cause sometimes I'm forget what's up there or bitch at myself on why I didn't properly take the time to portion it out for easier use. Try separating a pack of 6 chicken breast stuck in a big chunk, when you only wanted to eat 2! The horror! Hahaha!

     Right off the bat, I've decided to generally buy less food, particularly junk food. Not NOT buy it, just buy it less! (I really really love my junk food :S) I really don't think I need to eat as much as I do and if I do it's usually out of boredom. My sort of logic is, if I have less to choose from I will ideally eat less. If I have less food, I would ultimately waste less. I'll update you guys and see how that goes!
     I'm also going to go back to more hard core couponing and being more on top of the price matching. I'm going to create a list of each No Frills and who they price match. I've been kind of laxed on the coupon front and always forgetting them at home. We started buying quality over quantity and usually there are no coupons on the products we want to buy. But, I've committed to a high contribution this year for my retirement savings and I have every intention on keeping it up this year.

     I even rejigged my budget and gave myself a more realistic expense of $75 a week, total for food and home. It's hard starting a new fund from zero and I found myself almost $5 short the last two weeks. This was from a large Costco trip we had at the beginning of the year to stock up on snacks and stuff to save us money overall instead of buying snacks at the convenience store. I also see our food fund going up slightly from last years amount since we committed to eat at home more WAY MORE often. To keep me motivated I've started an "Eating Outside" tax. Essentially, whatever I spent eating at a restaurant, take out, or snacks (coffee, cookies or whatever) the same amount must be put away into a fund. My plan is for it to show me exactly to the dollar how much I spent eating outside of the home this year. So far, I'm happy to say I've only had two trips to a restaurant this year and I've been very mindful how much is spent. I'm optimistic this will be as good for my health as it will be for my wallet!

What are you doing to try and save money on your groceries?

Eros and Pookie

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

How We Saved Money On Our Trip to Las Vegas and Disneyland

Hi Savvy Saving Travellers,

This year I turned the big 3-0! I couldn't believe how much time has passed and how my 20's were over just like that! I guess I must of had a mini freak out because I felt like it's time to be a grown up and the fun times was over. It's easier to explain why you did this or that cause you were 20 but at 30, it felt like people just expect you to smarten up and mistakes are harder to swallow. It's strange cause I mentally still feel like a kid and want to do fun "kid" stuff! So, I do what I do best... plan a getaway trip to ring in my new decade. When you don't know where you want to go and everything is based on budget, it seems so much harder to pin point where to research a trip. I've searched for cheapie one week vacation to Cuba, Mexico, Dominican, even NYC. Everything was just way out of budget when you add up the accommodations, food and spending money. Then one day, I got a notification that Las Vegas trips were $500 all in for hotel and flight for 3-4 nights. I have a cousin living there and was trying to figure out some tips on places to stay and eat. He's one of my closer cousins and I didn't want to infringe on him and his family. I also haven't really seen or spoken to him in about 12 years since I was last on the West Coast. He told me all the ones in my budget sucked and just to stay in his new house. Amazing! So, our trip went from a few days to approximately 10 days. We took red eye flights to save some money and not lose an extra work day. I also wanted to go to Disneyland and see some other family in the area.

The flight was about $472 per person. Ouch, it was a lot more than previous sales I've seen for about $300, but if we were saving on accommodations then it would make up for the cost. We also made a decision to rent a car so we'd be able to get around on our own without having to rely or burden my relatives. I got our cheap rental online from Costco for just under $200 for nine days. It was an amazing deal! But, here's the kicker as a novice car renter, theres the matter of insurance. Ouch again! As we were unfamiliar with our credit card/insurance policies we decided to get the insurance which was over $200 USD for full coverage. It more than doubled our cost, but I was thinking this is the US, health care is crazy expensive if we got in an accident and someone needed care, or the car got totalled. We decided to pay for it anyways as a hard lesson learned. The one good thing about Vegas, is that there is tons of free parking as long as you self park. If you get valet service, it's technically free but you do have to tip out the dude. And that adds up real quick! Gas wise, we got a Toyota Corolla and definitely spent less than $100 in gas including topping it up before dropping it off. For the amount of driving we did, this car was amazing on gas mileage!

                                              Our brand new rental a 2015 Toyota Corolla
                                        (It was so new, we didn't even have a license plate!)

Arriving in Vegas, my cousin offered to pick us up and take us to his restaurant to have dinner. My cousins honestly were so generous, we ended up eating there almost every day we were in Vegas and saved a ton of money. We made sure to let them know how greatly we appreciated everything they did for use and took them out to some fancy dinners and offered to pay for stuff when we hit up the town. It was great to see family and catch up on old times. My cousin's kid also flew in from DC just to meet me. We haven't seen each other since I was about 7-8 years old and we are both about the same age! My cousin's were also very cool too, they let us do our own thing and everything was very chill. I guess it's a contrast of how I would spend my summers over there previously, when they scheduled family dinners/outing and stuff was more rigid.

Here are some money saving tips on your trip next trip to Vegas or OC!

There are two main areas of Vegas you'll want to check out. The Strip, which is the main area with all the large hotels, casinos and shops. It's walkable but it's pretty big and pretty far. And there is even a ton more walking involved because there are only a few designated crosswalks to get to the other side of the street. It can be brutal, especially in the heat! You can also bus, cab or uber around. Trust me, I would of been happy to jay walk but the fences are so high you can't jump over them and just cross the street! Hahaha!

                         Crossing using the designated walkways. You can see how high some
                          points of the fence are and the use of bridges to get across the street.

The casinos are mostly filled with luxury, high end stores that I didn't even want to bother going in. Outside on the actual strip, there was a ton more affordable stores like Marshalls and Ross. Ross is like Winners and there are so great finds for designer purses and clothes. There are also some novelty stores which are pretty pricey like Hersheys, M&M's and the Coco-Cola store. There are always clearance sections and sales so you can grab a few souvenirs for pretty cheap. Coke store was very cool because you can sample drinks they have around the world for about $15 and included trays of drinks that you'd have to share with friends.

                                                Tastes from around the world with Coke!

                         There are tons of people on the street trying to sell you shows and tours

I don't gamble and I'm all about just hanging out and a bit of shopping. If you want to see shows or do anything, it's probably best to walk the strip in person and get some discounted day of tickets. They pretty much sell tickets throughout the Strip. There are tours for helicopter tours to the Grand Canyon, gun ranges, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Theres a ton of competition so if you have the time, take a walk and have a browse and try to deal them down further if you can. Also, if you have a friend with a Nevada ID, you can have them grab you tickets to get the local discount. This is for pretty much everything too! We saved $10 a head when we took my relatives to a big Vegas type buffet for dinner. Also, another thing I've noticed for the past 10 years or so. When you buy a Starbucks gift card or top up your card on your phone, you can still use it anywhere in Canada or the US. I usually like to pick up a few gift cards from Groupon when they sell $5 for $10 credit. Best part is there is no currency conversion, so your dollar goes a lot further! Especially now, when our dollar is so crappy!

   Fremont Street

The other area is called Fremont Street. It's great! It's outdoors but there is a cover that is pretty much like a giant screen with lights! It's definitely walkable but you can't walk from The Strip to Fremont. You can see everything they have to offer here in a few hours or less. Same deal as the Strip, valet is free if you're a member or you have pay for street parking or in a lot. Membership is free so just go in and spend 2 mins to sign up for their points card. There are lots of places for cheap and quick eats. We bought three deep fried Oreos for $1! It's about $6 here at the Ex.
                                                                   Some cheap eats!

Off the Strip
With a car, everything is relatively close as long as you don't hit traffic. We did once and it was incredibly brutal and my aunt almost missed her flight! There are plenty of cheaper hotels off the strip and fast food joints like In and Out where you can grab a burger for $3.50. I love their food, the fries not so much but everything is fresh, cheap and tasty! They have a secret menu and you can ask for grilled onions as well.

                                                            Current In and Out prices

If you do as much walking as we do, you'll probably want to hit Chinatown for the cheap $20 massages! It's one hour and they do your full body and they usually include a few minutes with hot stones and stuff. Downside, you have to tip them $10 a person or they will cuss you out (as told to us by my cousins). I love hitting up Lee's Sandwiches for late night eats and bubble tea type drinks and slushies. They have these baked Deli Manjoo's that are the best things in the world. They are like those HK style pancake balls but with custard inside. Super addictive treat!

                                                                     A Deli Manjoo

Orange County
It's hard not to head to Little Saigon for some affordable eats and cheap $15 massages! My aunt use to make us drive one and half hours all the way here from San Diego to go grocery shopping and drive back home! My other cousin now lives like ten minutes from Disneyland and offered her place for us to stay and even offered to drive us so we save $17 USD on parking and a crazy amount on AirBnb. We made pit stop by the 99 cent store for a few items like straw hats to wear to Disneyland. Honestly, it was the best 99 cents I spent all trip! I hate hats but it really saved me from the sun, and I didn't want to go with an umbrella for shade (insert old Chinese lady joke here). They have everything you could want there. It's like a full dollar store and grocery store but it's not as cheap as I remembered!

Line up for security check, done! Now line up to enter with pre-bought tickets!

Visiting Disneyland: You can imagine the countless articles and websites I found just on this topic. It was really intimidating. I wanted to get the most out of the day I could. At $100 USD a person, and with our incredibly sad Canadian dollar the cost of the tickets came out to about $270 for two entrance tickets. It's best to pre-buy and pre-print the tickets to avoid another line to buy them in person. There are people and lines ups everywhere! I thought September would be easy since most kids are in school, but nope! This is F&*^ing Disneyland: The Happiest Place on Earth! Believe me, I looked up every which way to find discount tickets and even asked my little cousins who go all the time to help me. No such luck! The good news, you are able to bring in food and drinks as they don't really search your bag too through. We took in frozen water bottles that we drank from through out the day. It was so bloody hot, that I was surprised I didn't pass out from the intense heat.

Food wasn't as expensive as I remembered when I went about 12 years ago, but I also didn't have a job and any money back then hahaha. We were able to get a burger and small fries for $11 USD. Not bad, considering we split the mini-meal. My cousin made sure to feel us well at breakfast to brave the hot day on our feet. It also got a bit chilly at night so I'm glad I brought a sweater. Comfortable shoes and clothes are an absolute must! It was a weekday and it was still rammed, we still waited about an hour for some rides. The best part of Disneyland are the fast passes. You are able to grab one ticket per admission ticket every couple of hours. It pretty much gives you a time you can come back and go straight into a by pass line that is way shorter! We didn't know how important the admission ticket was until we lost one and was so sad we couldn't fast pass together, but we found out you can go to customer service and they'd assign you another one for free. It's so great! Not all rides have fast passes, and you just go to a machine and put in your admission ticket. It then spits out your ticket and another bypass ticket with the time you are to return. If you're late, but super nice and they will still let you through, but don't lose your fast pass as they collect them in line!

- Stock your bag on snacks and frozen water bottles. You can save most of your money by not eating park food and the crazy line ups that come with them. Who doesn't like saving time AND money? Do what I do, eat in line, the whole two birds with one stone thing. It was so hot that I didn't want to eat anything and just drink cold water. (Side note, bottled water everywhere we went was insanely expensive.  It's about $3.99 USD for a small 12 pack and that's if it's on sale!)
- Go to city hall and ask for a free button. They have one for almost every occasion. Winton and I got birthday badges as ours are so close to each other. All day Disney employees made sure to say Happy Birthday to you and it was nice!
- Buy your Disney merchandise before going into the park. It seemed like everyone was wear or sporting Disney apparel. It is so expensive! I wanted some Disney ears and they were $20 USD. They had some cool Mickey balloons and I almost crapped my pants that they were $14 USD. I later found out that some of them can light up at night, so you can a cool glowing balloon. If you're with a small child. I'd probably pre-buy them a disney toy they would like and stuff it in my bag. When they get too antsy for not buying anything I'd bring it out without them noticing and tell them I bought it when they went to the bathroom. Smart huh? hahaha
- Stick around for the Electric Parade. I wasn't interested in seeing a parade at the end of the day, but the streets were so crowded there was no room to walk around. Then we saw the park dimmed their lights and a crazy parade of lit up floats and characters walk by with crazy infectious music. It was so much fun and made the $100 ticket worth every penny.
- There are a bunch of photo spots with Disney photographers to sell you prints, but they are more than happy to take a photo with your own phone or camera for free so you don't have to buy anything.
- If you do have to eat before you enter, there are a bunch of restaurants on the street before the entrance. Entrance is probably at least a five minute walk from the street to the turnstile to enter the park.
- If you want to take pictures with the popular characters, prepare for a line up! Line ups are inevitable and it takes so much longer as they "play" with you for a couple mins. I just wanted my picture and leave. There are less popular characters walking around everywhere and they are usually good for a quick selfie!

Hope that gives you some insight in planning your trip!

Eros and Pookie

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Ramping Up The Savings

Hi Everyone,

I'm back!

I LOVE our new car, but since we got it I've tried to make an effort to really ramp up my savings to fill the giant hole it made in my various funds. We are also eating much better quality foods, so our food budget's gone up slightly. Don't worry, I still love getting items on sales and with coupons, but if it's only a bit more for organic I'm more open to grabbing it. We also celebrated both our birthdays recently and had a pretty big bonanza for it. It was my 30th birthday and I wanted to go to Las Vegas to visit my cousins and show Winton the sites, go to Disneyland, see more cousins and even drove to San Diego to see even more cousins! They were very generous and we didn't blow any money on accommodations and even saved a ton of money with local discounts, offers to give us rides to places and even eating for free. Winton and I made sure we bought a lot of meals when my family would come out to eat with us to show our gratitude for their generosity. I'll write another article about how we saved money on our trip. Anyhow, long story short, our vacation fund is low now and I want to stretch out every dollar I am currently bringing in to throw into my various savings account and in particular my retirement fund.

Here are some of the steps I've been taking to reduce my living costs

1. I love my junk food! I love it so much that I would never say no when I wanted something unless it was too pricey! I've stopped buying tons and tons of junk food and am trying to buy even more fruit and veggies as my snack. If I really want something, I'll get one or two items but I walk by a lot of items on the shelves instead of just throwing them in my shopping cart. It's so very hard but I'm determined to save money and hopefully my waistline as well. I think this is my biggest weakest and my biggest financial leak in my budget.

2. I've re-jigged my budget to show a more realistic amount of what portion of my income was going to where and have set weekly goals to meet. Before I would just pay off an important fund for the month and then the next. I'm paying off each of my funds each week no matter what. This way, each fund is important and is getting what's owe instead of one or two funds getting shafted at the end of the month if I happen to run out of money.

3. I'm made a huge jump and everyone is giving me crap for it. I'm made the switch from Fido to Wind Mobile. So far, yes there are issues with signal and how slow the data is but I've had it less than a week. I remember a time where I refused to jump on the data bandwagon to save $$$, and then I don't know what happened. I know the coverage is smaller but I never go outside the city and I'm paying almost half of what I'm currently paying and for far more perks. I've tried to negotiate with Fido on three different calls to customer retention but they wouldn't budge and it was still going to be more money. Yes, it's not part of the Big 3 but I'm getting 10 GB's a month before they cap it and slow me down! Plus, I'm willing to go with a smaller provider and give a chance to the little guy than letting Fido rip me off. On a serious note, I know I'm not going to use all my services and I expect some frustrations but my expectations were set too high with my Fido account and I was gladly paying for it. They had pretty decent signal and yes LTE is much faster than 3G. I don't talk on the phone anymore unless I'm at work, I just email and text. Mostly iMessaging with friends, just now they have to text my email than my number. I'm either at work or at home so wifi is usually not a problem there. But, I'll be saving about $30 a month! That's A LOT and worth the frustrations and some inconvenience. Fido offered me $30 in savings spanned over 6 months of service. C'mon, that's ridiculous!

4. I also upgraded my President Choice MasterCard to the World Elite. How does this save me money you ask? I pay my card in full within a few days of usage, so I never carry a balance and avoid the shock than if I let it rack up the entire month. The card's interest rate, limit, and fee (or lack there of) for the card hasn't changed. All that's changed for me was a physical new card, with a new number I have to learn and POINTS! I'm all about the points to get free groceries and I would be getting 50% more than my current rate and new places to acquire even more points like at Shoppers Drug Mart. There are also other perks that I would probably never use like concierge service but it's cool to have. With PC, I love that I don't just get free food but I can use my points to buy gift cards for other stores and services. It's great for Christmas time when money can be tight for all of us!

5. While this may not be so much of a savings measure, it is a reducing stress one. I'm going to be relying more on funds to cover expenses. I have to admit that once I've saved some money, I can be pretty stubborn about using money in that fund. I would find ways to make even more money or stall a payment on another fund to cover those costs. It actually would hurt if I had to pull out money from a fund. Sometimes it feels like I'm in constant survival mode and I will never have enough money to feel secure. It's a strange feeling! Part of my anxiety I suppose! I know I will never go hungry and that bills will always be paid but it can be hard to escape that mentality. Just some more work to do on my part!

6. Friends! As I get older my group of friends become smaller. I'm just more selective. I truly believe your friends can make or break you. When I first started writing about saving money and couponing I had a natural fear of being judged by my peers. Then I grew a backbone and said screw it. It's something I was interested in and wanted to share. Since then, tons of friends have come out to help me and ask for advice and I love it. I grew closer with some people and let others go. What I love more is that I can be me and not ashamed about how important this was to me. Having good friends who share similar views is so important, life became more about spending time doing whatever with them, than who spent more money on what. It also might just be an age/life thing but who knows!

I'm happy to say that four months after purchasing the car, I've been able to replenish most of the funds I had to borrow from. I still have a bit of work to do and with the holidays around the corner trying to derail me I'm determined to stay focus and on track.

Happy Saving!

Eros And Pookie