We’re Preparing for Another Big Change…

There are some big changes coming our lives…I already mentioned that selling the blog was change number one, change number two and the biggest reason behind me needing to let things go is that we’re expecting again!

ultrasound

Though not totally unplanned, we were both totally shocked to be honest. I was not planning on being pregnant until sometime in May/June but I guess we can’t always have full control over these things. I was actually pregnant before our trip away in March though we didn’t find out until the week after we got home. I’m due the third week of December and selfishly praying I’m not in the hospital for Christmas (explaining this to my four year old won’t likely go over well!).

I started this blog while on maternity leave with Maria and I can say with 100% certainly that this blog, and community, is the reason why we can now plan for a second, much less stressful maternity leave. Since starting this blog 3.5 years ago, we’ve paid off tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt and are now in a position where we will be able to have me take an extended leave from work. Though I will be getting some money from our federal employment insurance program, I’ll be without about 60% of my income for a year and it’s ok.

This is only possible because of the debt we’ve managed to pay off (though still have some to go), the fact that we have an emergency fund, and a budget with some flexibility. I’ll talk more about how exactly we’re going to adjust to the changes later but for now I’m just happy we can be excited about this pregnancy and not worrying mostly about the financial side of things as we did with pregnancy #1.

So far this pregnancy has been less stressful for many reasons. Finances aside, my pregnancy with Maria was anything but stress free or ‘’normal’’. Every appointment left us with something new to worry about and it was overall a very unpleasant experience. I’m thankful that just over 15 weeks in and everything is looking great. I realize there are still 25 more weeks to go but it’s nice to know your OB is happy so far and not sending you to the high risk floor for bi-monthly checks at this point.

One of the big things with Maria was that aside from her developmental concerns in utero, I ended up suffering from literally debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome. Like most all pregnant woman, I held extra fluid but not in my feet and legs, all the fluid was being held in my hands and wrists which, combined with my job as a dental hygienist, led me to experience some of the worst pain I’ve experienced in my adult life. The round-clock sharp, shooting, pain in my hands and arms ended up forcing me off work almost two months before my estimated due date. It was an added stress in our lives since we were not planning on me being off without pay for an additional two months.

Though I am praying it doesn’t happen again with this one, if I was to be put off two months early we’d be fine financially. Such a good feeling to have.

In Canada I am entitled to 15 weeks ‘sick time’ (i.e. my OB putting me off work prior to due date) and a combined 52 weeks parental leave. I plan on using all 52 weeks and look forward to being home with our new addition, as well, being home to see Maria start school next year.

I’ll update with more detail of exactly how things are going to be changing for us on the financial side of things but for now I just wanted to share the news with you all and would love any advice on going from one to two kids!

Enjoying Our Summer, On the Cheap

wpid-20150615_161256.jpgThere seems to be this need to spend money come summer time. Take summer vacations, enroll the kids in 2568 different activities and camps, gardening and in general, stay super busy. Living in a climate where we do experience four seasons, I certainly understand wanting to soak up all that our few warms weeks seems to offer us, but it doesn’t have to mean dropping a few extra thousand dollars to do so. Over the years we have found plenty of fun ways to enjoy the summer months, without breaking the bank.

Camping

This is one of our favorite summer activities. I get that it’s not for everyone but we love it. If we stay relatively close to town we can get away for the whole weekend for less than $100 which includes camp fees, gas and food. We save money by packing our own groceries instead of doing a separate grocery store haul just for weekend food; instead of buying those overly expensive mini camping propane cans, we bring our big propane tank from our home BBq to use as fuel for our camp stove and lanterns and we usually pick campgrounds which are easily within an hour drive from where we live, which saves on travel.

We have a very well stocked camping gear collection which we have been accumulating since we were kids which definitely helps. If you’re new to camping and don’t have some basics like a tent, sleeping bags, or camp stove, then it can be quite expensive initially but since we have access to anything and everything we’d ever need, it’s usually a fun cheap family activity for us.

We’re Choosy With Kid Activities

I totally understand the desire to keep kids busy come summertime but it can get expensive, fast! The last two years our summer activity choice has been soccer. It’s a great activity and especially compared to other sports, it’s cheap. We paid $100 for Maria to play soccer this summer for 10 weeks. She plays twice per week and the $100 also included a jersey, shorts, socks and a soccer ball, all for her to keep. It’s a great price and a fantastic sport which she really enjoys playing.

Capitalize on Free

Pay attention to what’s free in your city. We have SO many free activities it can be overwhelming to choose. Through an initiative with our library system we will be able to get into all our provincial libraries for free this summer using our library card to download a museum pass- we will definitely be capitalizing on this!

There are many other fun, free activities which are always available. Spend a day at a beach, have a picnic, enjoy local free parks and playgrounds. Sometimes we can be so pre-occupied with other more expensive options for activities that we forget how fun simple things like a picnic and family walk can be.

Our summers are short and sweet, I don’t like the idea of too much extra spending in a two to three month span so we do what we can to limit costs. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the summer without breaking the bank.

How do you keep costs down when it comes to summer activities?

In Defense of Suburban Living

sunsetPeople seem to hate the suburbs. And I get their arguments. Paying more to live in the city usually means overall lower expenses; less in transportation, more free time with lower commute, and more amenities within walking distance. So why doesn’t everyone aim for that lifestyle? I certainly want more time with my family every day, and who wouldn’t love lower costs in any category? After all we did just buy a second car- arguably not necessary if we lived in the city. The honest truth though? Not everyone wants to live in the city. Here are some of the reasons why city life isn’t for me.

I Like Quite

The city I live in isn’t even that busy when compared to other major cities in the country, but it’s too much for me. I know because I work smack downtown every day so I get deal with it for eight hours a day. Come 5 o’clock though, I want to get out. I enjoy the option sitting on my deck in the summer evenings and hear absolute nothingness, in the daytime it’s a familiar buzz of lawnmowers and children playing. No cars. No yelling. No too-close neighbours. Just quite.

I Like My Yard

No one can argue that suburban living (especially in older neighbourhoods like mine) will have larger yards than those of a city. City living for some means forgoing a yard all together and I couldn’t do it, especially with a kid. There is something so nice about being able to sit, enjoy and play on your own little piece of land. My yard has gardens, trees which I’ve planted, a playhouse which my daughter loves to play in and a driveway that is always well decorated with chalk drawings. I’ve lived in an apartment, I know what it’s about and I didn’t like it. While some love the lack of maintenance, we get enjoyment out of maintaining our yard and would hate to give it up.

Lower Price Tag is Nice

If we moved to the city, for the same type of home and size of land we’re on now, we’d be looking at an easy 100k more. Not only is our mortgage less, our current property taxes are some of the lowest in the city, downtown (and surrounding area) it would probably be about double where what we’re paying now. Yes we have trade-offs (like the second car) but honestly it doesn’t bother me when we’re talking about at least a $700 per month difference in mortgage, property tax and home insurance. Our car is not costing us $700 more per month.

Not Everything Happens in the City

I currently work in the city but my husband does not. He actually works closer to our home and suburban living. Other than my job, we have no reason to come to the city and we’re perfectly happy with making our occasional trip in for a dinner out or hockey game. Everything we need can be found near our home in the ‘burbs. I would actually actively look for a new job closer to home, in the suburbs if the time was right.

Our lives happen in the suburbs. I would much rather be close to our friends and family than my job. Don’t get me wrong. I have days where I love the idea of walking out of the front doors of my office and walking home in about 10 minutes…but then I think about everything I would be giving up and suddenly my commute isn’t so bad.

Do you live in the city or the suburbs? Why?

Why Paying for Extracurricular Activities for My Child is Non-Negotiable

wp-1452556234373.jpgIt’s no secret that our main goal is to pay off our remaining non-mortgage debt. We’re pretty keen to get this done ASAP. Even with things like buying a second car this year, we’re still hoping to have another loan paid off by the end of the calendar year. I’m pretty proud of our progress in the last few years. We’re not perfect though. Far from it. We still have budget-busting moments and probably spend money on things others wouldn’t, but I feel like we’re in a pretty balanced place right now between debt progress and living life.

One area we bleed a lot of money is our kid. Really though, kids are not as expensive as some experts would have you believe but if all was the same and we didn’t have a child we’d have close to $800 more in our budget per month when you consider things like daycare and extracurricular activities.

Extracurricular activities is an area you could arguably find ways to cut if not eliminate, but for us, this is an area that is 100% non-negotiable.  Right now Maria plays both soccer and does ballet. Soccer is pretty cheap. Ballet, not so much. But she enjoys both so we won’t be asking her to stop anytime soon. It’s about so much more than money spent.

Yes we spend a small chunk of money for her to dance every week but we’ve seen a change in her that makes it worth every penny. Since she could sit unassisted, this kid could dance. She loves to move and when music is playing she is sure to be dancing her way around it. She asks all week if it’s time to see Miss Julia (her teacher) and if it’s ballet time yet. In the summer every time we drive past ‘’her field’’ she asks if she can play soccer yet.

While some may see that she’s just learning dance moves or how to play soccer, I argue it’s so much more. Paying for her to be involved in these activities has allowed her to learn so many more skills beyond the lessons each class.

This weekend was her final ballet recital (for the whole school). We had to be at the auditorium for 10:30am for a 12pm performance (their piece was about five minutes of the total show) where the kids then had to sit through for another two hour show. They’re four years old.

I was so skeptical about how long this day was and how they would behave but these kids were rock stars. They listened so well to their teachers, never having to be asked more than once. Took direction, payed attention and were more respectful than some of the parents in the audience. They pulled off a great performance doing exactly as instructed and I knew at that moment the class was worth it.

She is learning SO much more than just how to dance or play soccer. She’s learning about team work, respect, listening to her instructors and most importantly, confidence. So, for us taking out a little bit of money from our budget just so we can pay our debt off a little bit faster isn’t worth it when you weight these things out. Extracurricular activities are very important to us and our family, and will remain as a non-negotiable item for now.

How do you feel about extracurricular for kids? Are they important or a luxury expense that can be cut?

We’re Officially a Two Car Family Again

I’ve mentioned many times that we had every intention of buying a second car. When my husband (then boyfriend) and I were first together, we had two vehicles but since mine was a little old beater, when we moved into our first place together we decided to sell my car. Our new apartment only came with one parking spot included, and my husband’s Jetta was in much better shape.

Other than me getting to and from work we really didn’t need a second vehicle. So, I sold my ‘ol Corolla and relied totally on public transit and our one car. It’s worked pretty well for us (for seven years) until this point in our lives.

Like everything, changed happen. As we added a kid to our roster and our jobs, though the same ones we both had seven years ago, have changed a bit too. Mike’s job has him at a lot more job sites and traveling, and the kid is growing up and now has a demanding schedule of her own. The fact that I live 30-60 minutes from my job (depends on day and traffic) and rely on public transit just wasn’t cutting it anymore. We could officially no longer have me picked up at the depot by 6:15pm when kid has to be dressed at the soccer field at the same time. Given that we’ve made a conscious decision to live where we do (I totally understand and respect the city vs. suburbs argument), we’ve accepted that a second vehicle was now a must for us.

We’ve been actively looking for about six weeks. We wanted something reliable, no issues, up-to-date MVI and within our $6,000 budget. The $6,000 also had to include all extra stuff like registration and taxes. I really thought it would be easy but it really wasn’t. We were optimistic with one vehicle, a VW Passat which we went as far as paying a mechanic to have a good look over before taking negotiations any further only to find out it would need an entire new transmission…we walked away.

As frustrating as it was to pay the $50 only to find out the car was a lemon, it validated my need to pay a 3rd party professional mechanic to look over and purchase we were thinking of making. My husband knows basic car stuff like breaks, and fixing minor issues, but things like fixing a transmission is way out of our element, and likely an issue that would have gone undetected until it was too late had we purchased that car. $50 well worth it.

It took us about 10 more days, and literally hundreds of private and used car lot ads before we found the car we ended up buying. The car came within our budget (at the top end, but it was there). Brand new two-year MVI (which was again checked out by a mechanic), two brand new sets of decent tires and recently detailed (no one wants to buy a dirty used car). It was also at a used dealer lot which was convenient because it meant they could deal with all the taxes and DMV paperwork so we could avoid an extra step and it was in great shape.

We ended up buying a Nissan Sentra and we’re very happy so far. I learned to drive on a Nissan. My mom only gave her beloved Nissan up when my grandfather passed away and she was gifted his new Camry from my grandmother. It was time though, her Nissan had 320,000km on it and had lived a good life.

I wasn’t prepared for how exhausting it would be to look through so many cars. So far the car has been a happy addition. It’s much better on gas than our larger SUV/Crossover and will provide us with some much needed flexibility. The process of dealing with the used car dealership has also been really great. After we bought the car, even though it was just re-inspected days before, we noticed what ended up being a minor sensor issue. No questions asked, they ordered the new part from Nissan and will install it for free, all this after we bought, paid and drove home. In all honesty, of all the dealerships I’ve personally dealt with over the years they have been some of the most honest, down-to-earth and helpful people. No fancy suits, no over-the-top sales pitches, and genuine helpfulness. It was refreshing.

Have you bought a used car? How as the process?

A Look at Why I Love CIBC’s New Smart Account

The following is a sponsored post from CIBC. All opinions are mine.

cibc smart

I’ve banked with many banks in my life. From credit unions to online-only banks, I’ve tried them all. It wasn’t until we went to a mortgage broker when we were buying our house a few years ago that I had any connection to CIBC. Long story short they offered us the best rate and over the next few years we went from having a mortgage to switching everything over to them because they were so great to deal with. Features like the new CIBC Smart™ Account are one reason why we continue to bank with them today.

Additional Bank Fees SUCK.

There are a number of reasons why we enjoy banking with a traditional ‘’brick and mortar’’ bank (over online-only bank) but we still enjoy using a lot of online features our traditional bank offers. In particular we seem to send a lot of Interac e-Transfers which, at the end of the month, can really add up in additional fees. We had one month where we sent almost 20 Interac e-Transfers and had to pay quite a bit in additional fees. We’ve accepted we’ll have monthly account fees with a traditional bank, and we’re happy to pay them, but no one likes extra bank fees. With CIBC’s new Smart Account, we no longer have to worry about things like Interac e-Transfer fees. This is one great feature of the new account system.

A Look at CIBC’s New Smart Account

How this new account works is quite simple. A CIBC representative told me that the CIBC Smart Account monthly fee starts at just $4.95 for up to 12 transactions and caps at $14.95 for unlimited everyday banking transactions, which now includes Interac e-Transfers. This account is the first of its kind to offer unlimited Interac e-Transfers. The monthly fees may also be waived if a minimum daily balance of $3,000 is maintained and if you have a recurring direct deposit or two pre-authorized payments each month.

For us this is actually a huge help considering the sheer volume of Interac e-Transfers we send. Last month I was involved in an important local fundraiser which involved sending small $5.00 e-transfers to the host upwards of twice a week. It was so nice to not have to think about the $1.50 every time, especially for such a small amount.

Before CIBC came out with its new Smart Account, there have definitely been times where I have been late paying someone back because I would rather use cash and avoid the fee. This can be super embarrassing sometimes but whenever I had used our ‘’two free e-transfers per month’’ (a feature we had in our old account) I hated sending money knowing we’d have an additional fee associated.

I’m a big fan of this new Smart Account setup. We definitely have months where we use our bank account quite a bit and other months when it seems we do nothing but allow the auto-withdraws to come out with very little additional activity. I’m now assured I’ll only ever pay for the volume of transactions I use that month and not a generic one-size-fits-all fee. For reasons like this we’ll continue to bank with CIBC.

For additional information please check out CIBC.com.

Under New Management

Welcome to Plunged in Debt! If you’ve been here before, this is the big change that Catherine mentioned last week. You may notice that things have changed slightly as this website is under new management of District Media Finance LLC.

District Media Finance LLC is a family-owned personal finance blogging empire, ranging from basic to more advanced finances. We are dedicated to educating, encouraging and inspiring our readers to reach their greatest potential by improving their finances and ultimately living their dreams. We believe that anyone can take control of their finances, live authentically and freely in their relationship with money and ultimately create more good in the world.

We plan to continue on what Plunged in Debt offers to readers, as a personal finance blog and Catherine will still be around as one of the writers. Please welcome Amanda, who will be on-board here as one of the writers too. You can check out her first post here.

Be on the lookout for some exciting and good changes in the following months!

How You Can Invest Without a Lot of Money

Invest Without a lot of Money
You’ve done your research. You have picked the stocks and markets in which you want to place your money. You’ve even brushed up on the stock market lingo, but you don’t have thousands of dollars to drop. Good news, you don’t have to have thousands to invest.

Making your first investment is an exciting and terrifying task. However, many people are under the impression that, in order to invest, you need to have a lot of money. That is just not the case. In fact, many successful investors have started small and worked their way up. Here are a few ways to start your investing journey small:

Get a plan through your employer

Placing money into a mutual fund or 401(k) through your employer is a no-brainer. There is no minimum required investment for many of these plans. You will simply have it automatically placed into the 401(k) from your paycheck. Many employers also offer a matching contribution as well. Usually you have to stay with the company a certain number of years or have put a certain amount in the 401(k) to have the company match your contribution, however, it is definitely worth it. If you put $1,000 in, the company will put $1,000 in as well, giving you $2,000. Some companies offer a percentage match or up to a dollar amount as well (capping at $5,000, for instance).

Schwab Index Funds

Investing firm Charles Schwab offers five conventional stock-index mutual funds and three bond-index funds. Each of these has a $100 minimum. It has U.S. stock market fund options, international-index fund and bond-market funds. Any or all of the three would make for great portfolio holdings and none of them require a huge amount of money to get started.

Actively managed fund

Some investing firms will waive their regular minimum if you agree to making a recurring deposit. For instance, if you don’t have a lot of money to invest now (only $100), you would agree to have $50 withdrawn from your account monthly for a specific period of time.

Online Brokerages

Online brokerages have made it easy for many people to start investing. With as little as $500, you can open an account. Some online brokerages don’t require any minimum deposit. With these brokerage accounts, there are ways to pay no commission and buy/sell investments for very little money (about $10 is standard).

Acorns Investing

If you have never tried it, Acorns is an app through Intuit. It allows you to create a portfolio based on your investment goals. You can set up recurring deposits or you can start with a small amount (as little as $5). Acorns also allows for a “Round Up” investment. This means that every time you swipe your credit or debit card, the app rounds up and places the change in your investments account.

Any account with only $100 or $1,000 won’t do you much good. If you want to gather a decent amount of cash, you will have to save as much money as you can. When you have extra money, place it towards your investments.

Do you have any additional funds or investments that don’t require a high minimum? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you. 

Photo: Flickr: 401(K) 2012

Could You Handle a $1000 Emergency?

Source: Free Digital Photos

Source: Free Digital Photos

I feel like most people who are involved in the personal finance niche, either as a contributor or reading admirer, may not necessarily follow within these statistics but the fact is that 2/3 of Americans making between $50k and $100k wouldn’t be able to handle a $1000 emergency. The statistic is even worse for those making less than $50k, shooting up to a staggering 75% not being able to handle the $1000 emergency. One would assume though if you’re making over $100k per year you’d have absolutely no problem coming up with $1000 but the fact is that 38% of these earners still say they’d struggle to find $1000.

I Couldn’t Handle a $1000 Emergency

Though these statistics are quite alarming to read, the fact is that it wasn’t that long ago I put myself in this group of people and I totally understand how it’s possible. Five years ago coming up with $1000, no questions asked, would mean knocking on the door of the bank of mom and dad. Despite our well-earning incomes we had no savings. Part of it was my mentality. I couldn’t justify having money sitting in a bank account, seemingly doing ‘’nothing’’, when we owed so much money. At the time I was relatively fresh out of my second degree, newly married and a new homeowner. Why, when I owed over $100,000 in various non-mortgage debt would I sock away cash for a rainy day? Well I get it now.

When I went off on maternity leave, losing 60% of my net income and for the first time I felt financial constraint I hope to never experience again, I realized how close we were living to the edge and how stupid and dangerous it was, especially with a child now in the mix. It took us almost a year but soon enough we managed to save that $1000. It was a life changing moment, really. We no longer had to rely on someone if there was an emergency. We were educated adults, parents, who no longer had to rely on anyone to temporarily bail us out if something happened and it was a glorious feeling.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Just Start Saving?

It seems easy. You’d think after people read an article like this that they would smarten up and just start saving but the fact is that finances are complicated. In order for us to save that $1000 we needed to not only ‘just start saving’ but do a complete overhaul of our finances. We needed to learn to budget. We needed to face big scary personal numbers. We needed to get real. And it was hard. Really hard. It took us almost the entire year to get a good thing going where we were comfortable in our budget. We make colossal errors and screwed up more times than not, but we stuck with it because we realized it was the only way to live. Not everyone understands this though. Humans are naturally averse to taking the hard road. It seems much easier to live with your head in the sand and pray an emergency never happens than deal with the hard reality that is your own personal finance.

Aside from just being difficult there are other, real things, working against people saving too. Lack of proper living wages, low to minimal raises, growing expenses are all working against people in terms of both short and long-term savings. It is possible though. Hard, but not impossible. There are a ton of resources out there to help you get started. The Simple Dollar, Money Crashers, and Gail Vaz-Oxlande all have great posts about getting started.

Living a life assuming an emergency will not happen to you is not realistic. We’re all prone to them. While you should eventually build your savings beyond $1000, most experts agree that this is a great starting point. While we’re actively paying our debt off, we will keep a modest emergency fund of $1000-$1500 cash on hand but will increase once we’re debt free, also remembering that emergency funds aren’t a one-size-fits all.

Could you handle a $1000 emergency? Was there ever a point where you couldn’t?