While it has been a rainy start to our summer so far, there are still many things for us to look forward to. Summer camp activities, weekends at the cottage, and family vacations; all of these things require a careful amount of planning. This month's collection of articles are geared towards helping you allocate your resources, both financially and mentally, so that you can enjoy your time away.
Peter, Richard, Claudio and Joanna
How to Create a Spending Record
by Alan Schram - June 2013, canadianfinanceblog.com
If you've ever watched the television show 'Til Debt Do Us Part, the first thing that Gail Vaz-Oxlade does is confront her clients with their spending record. She will go over their finances for the last couple of months and track every single dollar spent. She then categorizes these expenditures and averages them out so that she (and the client) will have an idea of how much money they are spending, and where it is going.
What Is A Spending Record?
A spending record is simply something that tells you where your money went. For example, when I started to get serious about understanding my finances, I created a spending record. It was simply a piece of paper where I wrote down every expense over the last few months. This was right after I had moved to North Vancouver, where things (groceries, transportation, etc) was more expensive. In addition, I started working a manual labour job, so I was eating a lot more than I was used to.
Back in Abbotsford my monthly grocery bill was between $100-150. I was shocked when I realized that I was spending around $300 a month in food! To me, this was unreasonable. It was way too much money to be spending every month just to keep myself fed. This didn't even include eating out, which was a whole other category.
Finding out how much money I was spending shocked me into saving more. It wasn't hard to buy less expensive or luxurious foods. I just stopped buying the frozen ready made meals that I craved because I was tired after work. I made smarter eating decisions, which also saved me money.
Why Have a Spending Record?
A spending record provides insight into your spending habits that you otherwise wouldn't have. For all you know, you might be spending $600 a month at the grocery store. You might be wasting $150 a month buying coffees and muffins. You may be drinking yourself into debt. By recording your spending, you are not passing judgement on yourself. You are simply reducing your ignorance and becoming aware of your habits as a consumer. You may come to two conclusions from this exercise:
1. You will be repulsed by your lifestyle.
For me, I was disgusted that I was spending so much money on junk food that I didn't need. Becoming aware of that spending allowed me to recognize my problem and take action to eliminate the issue. Perhaps you are leading a life that you don't like. You might go out drinking because you are so stressed over your finances. If you stop drinking, you might have to stop worrying about your finances. By taking the time to fill out a spending record, you are allowing yourself to become aware of the problem, and that does end up leaving you open to the risk that you may not like what you see.
2. You can plan for the future.
Perhaps after going over your spending record you will see that you don't spend any money on yourself. All of your money goes to bills, rent, clothes for the children, etc. This means that going into the future, you can see exactly how much money you are going to need every month to keep yourself afloat.
Instead of laying awake at night, worrying whether or not you will have enough, you have an exact number that you know you will need. Once you have that number, you are okay. You can stop stressing, you can relax. The bills are taken care of. If things are tight, or if you wish you had some more money but there is nowhere to cut anything, then you know that your plan for the future is to make more money.
How Do I Create My Spending Record?
There are a number of potential ways to keep track of your spending.
Pen and Paper
This was the first method I had of tracking my spending. I took a notebook, created one page for every month, and I just started to go through my old credit card and bank account statements. I labelled a few broad categories (groceries, eating out, bills, and other) and started listing things in whatever category I felt.
I soon realized I wanted a few more categories, so on the next few months I made a section for alcohol, entertainment, and gifts. After I had three or four months completed, I went back and totalled each category. That gave me a number of how much money I spent on each month in each category. Finally, I totalled those numbers, which gave me a monthly expenditure report.
Using pen and paper, while effective, was a time consuming process. I also am a bit of a perfectionist, so if I made a mistake, or wanted to change something to make it more efficient, I essentially had to start over. So I moved all that data onto my computer. Here I was able to create a new spreadsheet for each month, which would give me a quick overview of how much I had spent that month (or was in the process of spending). This was my preferred method of keeping track of my spending, though it is time consuming to input all the data manually.
It works the same as the pen and paper. Each month has a series of categories for my spending. There's a "food" section (groceries, eating out, alcohol), a section for fixed expenses (housing/bills, debt repayment, saving, transportation), and a section for everything else (clothes, gifts, entertainment, bank fees, and other). The beauty of this system is that you can have the spreadsheet automatically calculate how much you have spent in each category, as well as a monthly total.
If actually going through the process of writing out your purchases is too difficult or time consuming for you, consider a website that serves the same function. Regular readers of Canadian Finance Blog will recognize that I have recommended on multiple occasions using a website like Mint. It gives so many options to track, plan, and budget, that most people are really doing themselves a disservice not using a program like Mint.
How do you track your finances?
View original article here.
Five secrets to finding a better work-life balance
by Gerald McGroarty - June 2013, brighterlife.ca
Regardless of your age, I can almost guarantee that your parents balanced their work with their lives outside work better than you do. That's not to say they had it easy (far from it), but please don't tell me their work culture operated 24/7 like ours does today.
For many of us, there seems to be no boundary between when our workday begins and when it ends. With technology two steps ahead of us, we find ourselves constantly catching up with the latest updates on projects, meetings and emails.
I saw a video recently with Jason Fried, co-author of the book Rework. Fried posed a question to the audience that really hit home with me. He asked, "When do you get most of your work done?" Before you read further, ask yourself the same question. Now, keep reading.
"Early in the morning before your co-workers get to work or early evening when many of them have left" usually tops the list. "Later in the evening at home" comes in a close second; in third place, it seems the commute by car, train or bus provides the perfect setting for getting things done. Sound familiar?
Since we seem to get so much work done outside of work hours, you have to wonder what we're actually accomplishing during the day.
Work-life balance is anything but balanced. The scales have tipped so far to one side that we accept our crazy work hours as normal. But they're not normal and they're also not healthy.
With that in mind, here are five ways you can put more life in your work and less work in your life:
Work: Focus on the projects and tasks with the highest priority. It's important to list what's important and what can take a back seat. Put 90% of your energy into the things that count.
Life: Make a list of what's most important in your life and schedule it in. For example, booking a fun weekend activity with your family can help ensure you take a break from weekend chores and errands to spend some quality time with them.
2. Ask for help
Work: Don't be afraid to ask for assistance when you have too much on your plate. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it's a sign of someone who knows how to get things done for the good of the team.
Life: If the going gets tough, go to the people who can help. There is strength in numbers and if stress is building up don't hesitate to talk to others. If you're fortunate enough to work for an employer that offers a wellness or employee assistance program, make sure to take advantage of it.
3. Leave work at work
Work: Most of your co-workers understand there is life outside of work. If they don't, remind them. Try to avoid checking emails after hours and working on presentations. More often than not, they can wait until tomorrow. Just give your co-workers a heads-up on what you're doing (or not doing) and see it how it works.
Life: By taking the recommendation above to heart, you can spend this new free time with the people at the top of your priority list.
4. Just say no
Work: Sometimes it pays to say no and although it might be tough at first, the more you say it, the easier it becomes. Whether it's someone asking you to work on a new project or to work weekends, there can be power in saying no to the things that knock your life off balance.
Life: Requests and demands from others are a fact of life, but there comes a time when no means no. You can't please everyone, so say yes to the musts and no to the "I-think-I've-got-better-things-to-do-with-my-time" requests.
Work: Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of putting out work fires that we forget to take a step back and breathe. Make time for yourself during the day to get some fresh air, eat and take a break somewhere you can wind down free from distractions. Fifteen minutes of downtime will pay huge dividends in productivity later in the day.
Life: Depending on your situation, your life could be as busy at home as at the office. Paying bills, running errands or driving the kids around all weekend can run down the energy meter really fast. It's imperative to make time for yourself. An unhealthy you is bad for everyone, so schedule me-time - it's a must.The foundation of a healthy work-life balance rests in getting our work done in a timely manner during a regular workday. If we can do that, our free time actually becomes free time.
Of all the suggestions I've heard about getting things done during regular working hours, Jason Fried has the best. He suggests if we can have casual Fridays, why not have no-talk Thursdays? No one is allowed to talk to, disrupt or socialize with each other. Everybody does his or her work in peace and quiet, just like you would do if you got in early or stayed late. What a concept!
View original article here.
Dream vacations on a budget
by Helen Burnett-Nichols - June 2013, brighterlife.ca
With summer just around the corner, many students and young professionals are ready to book that dream vacation, pack their bags and explore the far corners of the globe.
But those big trips can come with a high price tag. If you're on a tight budget, can you still get to your dream destination and experience all it has to offer?
Although "Canada's Adventure Couple," Dave Bouskill and Deb Corbeil have been travelling the world for more than a decade and sharing their experiences at The Planet D, the pair still seek out the best bang for their buck wherever they go.
"We're budget travellers, just because that's what we can afford, so we're always looking for the best ways to stretch our money. We find that anyone can really do adventure travel," says Corbeil.
Experiencing the trip of a lifetime on a budget is achievable, say experts. But to do it successfully, there are a few key tips to keep in mind:
1. Explore your flight options
Flights can be one of the largest expenses for backpackers and younger travellers. Bouskill and Corbeil recommend using rewards credit cards as a great way to help pay for your plane tickets. Bouskill also says travel agents can sometimes offer a better deal than you'd get booking your flight online.
Allison Wallace, media and communications manager at Flight Centre Canada says if your trip involves a long-haul flight to Europe or Asia and many stops once you're there, consider using a bigger airline for the overseas flight and low-cost local carriers for the shorter flights. Students may also be eligible for cheaper airfares.
2. Opt for budget accommodation
Hostels are a good choice for saving on accommodation and meeting other travellers, but Bouskill notes that short-term apartment rentals can also be a cheap option, especially if you can share them with other people. For longer-term visits, he suggests house-sitting or house-exchanges as another economical possibility.
While it can be easier to find economically priced guest houses or beach huts in cheaper travel destinations like Southeast Asia, Bouskill and Corbeil say reasonably priced accommodation is also available in traditionally more expensive locales.
"We've travelled Europe quite a bit recently and we've been able to do it on a tight budget. We camped through Europe," says Corbeil. Many campsites are located on beaches or close to major centres and often include free shuttle rides into the city - all for a fraction of the price of a hotel.
3. Avoid the high season
Some of the best times to travel to any destination are the shoulder seasons, says Bouskill - just before or after the high season, when most attractions are still open, but you can possibly get discounted accommodation and flights.
Wallace agrees, adding that if you have to travel during peak periods, even being flexible about your departure date within a couple of days can make a big difference, as can choosing to travel on certain days of the week, depending on your destination.
4. Book locally
Rather than reserving your guide, tour or transportation in advance online or by phone, Bouskill and Corbeil suggest waiting until you arrive at your destination. This lets you barter or even find like-minded travellers with whom you can split the cost.
5. Skip expensive restaurants
Spending tens or hundreds of dollars a day on food will quickly blow your travel budget. Instead, Bouskill and Corbeil recommend more creative options, such as buying food at a market and picnicking, eating where the locals eat, or even bringing a camp stove and cooking your own meals if your accommodation allows.
6. Seek out free activities
In many destinations, hiking, trekking in the jungle and visiting national parks are free, says Corbeil.
"When we first started travelling, we did adventure travel on a budget, big time. Doing things like climbing Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka is completely free and that's a really exciting climb," says Corbeil.
In the city, be sure to do your research to find out when attractions may have free or cheap admission. In many European cities, says Corbeil, museums offer discounted evenings or free admission on a certain day of the week or month.
Ultimately, the more money you save on the day-to-day expenses of travelling, the bigger your budget can be for those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
"If you can find ways to cut accommodation and food costs, you can then put the money you save into your adventure," says Corbeil.
View original article here.
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