The Frustrations of Expensive Work Costs While Living on a Budget

wpid-img_20130830_100750.jpgCertain careers have more rigorous professional requirements. Mine is one and certain parts of it drive me crazy. I sometimes feel like there is a lot of money grabbing (rather than true professional development) going on and while living on a budget it can be especially frustrating.

I make pretty good money. I’m not complaining about my income, especially since receiving a raise just a few months ago. My frustrations are not directly with my employer rather my professional (national and provincial) work associations. In order for me to be able to work I have to pay an annual licensing fee of $630.00 (and increasing every year). It wouldn’t matter if I worked one hour per week or 50 hours per week. We’re all required to pay the same fee. Annoyance number one.

I understand it costs money to run national and provincial regulating bodies. I’m also required to maintain one million (plus) of malpractice and liability insurance which is covered within these fees. For me and my (near) full-time job I realize it’s an expectation for me to be able to work. What irks me is that on top of my $630 annual fee, I am required to attend many continuing education courses.

Again, I totally understand that I work in an industry where continuing education is important and expected. Some courses are free but most are not. I have a three-year cycle where I need to complete a certain number of credits in varying areas (example: some on professionalism, some hands-on stuff). Not only are most not free, most are quite expensive. This year alone, I’m looking to spend about $500 more for courses on top of my licensing fee. This is a good year. Just under $1,200. If I do not complete these courses I cannot work, I have no choice.

I attend all the free or super cheap ones that I can but I’m maxed out. I’m now in the process of registering for courses that cost $150+ (some upwards of $2,500). The most annoying thing is that most of these expensive  courses are on topics I have zero interest in and honestly believe will provide me with a skill set I will rarely, if ever, use. When I inquired with other professionals (in my field) about getting a large quantity of points, their suggestion was to attend one of the national conferences. These are literally held on the other side of the country and would cost thousands of dollars for me to attend, especially while on a budget, this is NOT happening.

I’ve started saving additional money for my continuing education but these are funds I won’t get back. CRA (Canadian revenue agency) is getting strict about what is considered a work-related expense and more and more courses are not allowed for tax credit. It is literally money out of my pocket I can’t get back. Some courses I gladly pay for as I really enjoy the subject but I would say 70% of ones I am or will be registered for are of zero value to me. I’m completing them for no reason other than points. Wasted money?

How do you deal with variable work expenses in your budget??

Detoxing Your Budget

I’ve never been a big spender. I’d watch friends go on monthly shopping sprees and wonder how they’re doing it. We had similar incomes, if anything I had an advantage with the added income from my husband, but I certainly couldn’t afford to go shopping like they did as often as they did. As an adult I have never been in a situation to just spend.

Before we got real about budgeting and financial control to pay our debts off our finances were all over the place. I simply had no control over the money coming in and out. Even though we make significantly more now, our disposable income was probably better than given we were renting and not homeowners, but we never seemed to have much ”fun money”.

In the past three years, since we’ve become serious about paying our debt off, we don’t have much disposable income by choice. While I can now see how friends of mine may have been able to go on monthly shopping trips, I also see how they weren’t maximizing their financial potential (student loans, mortgages, vehicle loans). Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had essentially forced my budget onto a detox.

Given that I’ve never had an opportunity to really spend money, to this day, I don’t. Long term I can only see how this would be a good thing. Detoxing ones budget is like a dietary detox. Cut out triggers.

Clothes, gadgets, shoes, books.

Whatever it is, stop buying it. After a while the urges will go away and you’ll gain a real perspective on what you really do and do not need.

For me, the little disposable income I did spend was often on home things, decorations and DIY supplies. I would get an idea in my head and before I know it, drop $50 on supplies for a half-thought out plan. I really love doing things around the home but once I put myself on a self-imposed detox I gained a lot of perspective.

It was during this detox that I started a blog, something that feeds my creative side way more than my half ass attempts at DIY anything. Detoxing our finances allowed me to gain real perspective on our spending on what and when we really need things. For years ”complete kitchen backsplash” was on my priority to-do list, often ahead of things like ”pay off student loan”. Though I’d like to eventually do this, it is so not a priority, though it would look nice, I can certainly live without it!

Some people go on spending fasts, no-buy months. But for me it’s too generic. I know my triggers (books, home stuff, kids stuff). By not buying anything of any given category for a certain length of time, it realigns exactly what my needs really are (recognizing that kiddo doesn’t need another dress, I want it only because I think she’d look awfully cute in it, therefore we don’t buy it). Not buying things I think I want was how I learned the rule: If you have to justify a purchase, you probably don’t need it. Something I still live by.

Do you recognize your spending triggers? How do you avoid them?

How I Plan on Kicking Ass in 2015

I have some pretty lofty goals for 2015. I sort of want it all. I want the heat pump. I want the family vacation. I want our budget to stay on track and I want to pay off a crap load of debt. Back in November 2013 I arbitrarily said I wanted to pay off 20k worth of debt in 2014. I really have no idea where that number came from but we did it. On top of my massive list of wants for 2015, I also want to pay off another (minimum) of $20,000 worth of principal non-mortgage debt, including paying off a huge consolidation loan (we’re already at 60% paid off!) and a massive chunk of our vehicle paid off- set to be done by June 2016 (vs February 2018). That means we need an average of about $1,700 per month for principle alone (and we all know how nasty interest  is).

I think we can do it though. To start, we need to watch our spending. We need to stay on plan which means staying on budget. Given that I have our budget completed until August 2014 I think we can do this. In the past, little things I have forgotten about were always the budget busters- tire change, Mother’s day…those sorts of one-off things. I either totally forget to budget (like the $60 to have tires changed and balanced in winter/spring) or underestimate ($20 for Father’s day won’t cut it, I know we’ll spend more so I allocated more). I have been staying on top of our spreadsheet and making sure I don’t forget anything and one month in we’re good ;) I have definitely learned from past mistakes!

By the end of 2014, I managed to increased my income and decreased our expenses, both a huge help for our 2015 goals. Between my income increase and our expenses decreased, we have about $300 (net) more per month to work with. This over and above what we manage to earn through our freelance/online work.  This is a huge reason why we’ve been able to even consider doing what we want to do. Over and above our budgeted amount of income, each month we’re looking to earn an additional $500. We’ll accomplish this again through online work, me working more frequently at my job and Mike’s overtime and expenses earned. Me working only one additional shift per month combined with two of my guaranteed writing gigs puts us quite close to this goal so I know it’s possible.

I’ve always tried to maintain a sense of realism though this journey of paying debt off. While I’d like to pay off $30,000 this year I’m not willing to compromise the life we have created to do so. Part of kicking ass is actually enjoying my life too. If we stay on par I’m confident by the end of the year we’ll really be able to increase the speed at which we’re moving…We just need to get through the first eight months of the year first.

2015 will be a great year if we can manage all this. Though I’d like to have another $4,000-5,000 for debt, I’ll be super proud of us if we stick to the plan and save enough for the heat pump since I know it’s something we’ll enjoy and be proud of ourselves for seeing a short-term goal through.

How are you reaching your 2015 goals?

How to Start the New Year off Right by Fixing Your Credit

As we move further into 2015, your New Year’s resolution may be to fix your credit report. Here are a few tips to start the New Year off right and do so without breaking the bank.

  1. Get Your Credit Score

Consider your credit score as the most important number you should know this New Year. Not every credit reporting agency will issue a credit score. You do want to know what your score is to ensure you can have a bright financial future and obtain the best rates. One of the best places to get your credit score from is CreditKarma which doesn’t cost anything.

  1. Pay Off Your Past Due Accounts

There is a bit of confusion when it comes to past due accounts versus those with a collection agency. First, realize how your credit score is weighed.

  • 35% Payment history
  • 30% Amounts owed
  • 15% Length of credit history
  • 10% Types of credit in use
  • 10% New credit

So, 35% is a large chunk of your credit score. It’s imperative to pay your bills on time to have a positive payment history. Just because you are behind, does not mean you can’t catch up. Begin paying any past due accounts 90 days or older first. Those accounts hold the biggest negative impact against your credit score. Next, you can focus on your 60 and 30 day past due accounts. You’ll gradually notice the improvement of your score. More information about the cost of having bad credit and how you can turn it around.

  1. Adhere to the 24 Month Collection Status Rule

As stated, a collection account is to be handled differently from one simply past due. This account has a grave negative impact on your credit score; however, it is not reported monthly hurting your score any further. Once you have caught up on your past due accounts and possibly paid a few off, you can start paying on your collection accounts that are less than 24 months old.

Do be warned that you may see a drop in your credit score since now there will be a paid history on this account. Once you are close to paying the account off, ask the collection agency if they will agree in writing to delete the activity from your report.

  1. Ask Creditors for a Good Faith Adjustment

The most common problem that most consumers in need of fixing their credit is that they do not ask enough questions. You’ll never know what a creditor can do until you ask them. Remember, it’s not always in their best interest to offer you a deal. So an important question to ask any creditor you have a late payment or two with is if they will grant you a good faith adjustment. This is simply a courtesy adjustment to remove the late payments from your credit report. The worst that they can say is no, and it will have no impact on your score if they do.

      5.  Decrease Your Debt-to-Credit Ratio

Just owing a lot of money is not what hurts your credit score, it’s having too high of a ratio of your debt to available credit. Working to decrease your debt-to-credit ratio can be tough, but it will drastically improve your credit score. Here are a few tips:

  • Ask your current creditors for a credit line increase. Do not use that additional credit though.
  • Open a new credit card with a low-interest rate. This will give you an additional credit line and help you pay your balances off faster.
  • Work on paying your revolving debt first rather than your installment loans. They have a greater weight on your credit score.
  • Consolidate your credit card debt to a personal installment loan. Some banks do not report this on your credit report at all. If they did, it weighs less against your score.
  1. Get a Secured Credit Card

If your credit score is low, you want to generate as much positive activity as possible. Not everyone can open a traditional credit card. So, apply for a secured credit card. A secured credit card is secured with a pre-funded amount for you to use. You must pay the balance in full at the end of each month. It’s much easier to obtain one for this reason than a standard credit card. Be sure to apply for a card that reports to the three major credit bureaus each month.

Why Debt Repayment Has to a Be Self-Imposed Fixed Expense

I recently had a conversation with a friend about how I budget, to anyone who budgets, you know how loaded of a question this is. She was curious specifically about where I planning on pulling the money out of for our upcoming heat pump purchase. She couldn’t understand how I was managing to pull money from seemingly ”fixed expenses” and she was right, where I chose to (temporarily) pull the funds from was just that, a fixed expense.

When I establish our budget I begin with inputting all of our fixed expenses (or non-negotiable as I like to see them) and fill in the ”blanks” around them. The ”blanks” being our variable expenses, stuff like groceries, eating out, gifts, gas. Bills that we have control over and can make cuts if and where needed. Pretty basic stuff. Our budget has been established long enough that our variable amount is the same every two weeks within about $25. Our variable (or ”blank filler”) is so refined that we can’t cut it any more, especially if we’re looking for an additional $3,500 before the month of July. Finding $3,500 from these monies isn’t going to happen. I do however have room to play with one of our ”fixed” expenses- debt repayment.

I have always viewed debt repayment as a fixed, non-negotiable expense. Even in the years we only ever paid the minimum required, it was still paid, no questions asked. Now that we’re in super pay-off mode, we have increased the ”minimum payment” within our budget.

I have to do it this way. If I don’t, I will find ways to spend that extra money (intended for extra debt), and fail at my goals. For us, debt repayment, including all additional funds, are a non-negotiable fixed expense. The loan we’re working at paying off right now has a minimum payment of $445 per month but in our budget the minimum payment is set at $1,100, $655 more than the bare bones minimum required. When we need money for something, I can’t take it away from this fund as it is a minimum payment, rather, we need to find it somewhere else or earn it (In this example of heat pump, the only reason I am pulling funds from our fixed expense is because I have already projected to recoup it in the latter half of the year).

Setting your debt repayment as a fixed expense ensures that your budget must work around it which means you’ll finds ways to balance it through cutting expenses and/or earning more money. Both of which we do.

If you do not set debt repayment as a fixed expense, and set yourself up to pay as a requirement, like mortgage or rent, you won’t be as motivated to find the money. The mentality of ”pay the minimum” can be killer. If you want to actually get the debt paid off you need to raise your standards and work at the goal, no and’s if’s or but’s.

If we set our minimum standards higher and make debt repayment a priority we’ll be much more successful at reaching our goals.

The Benefits of an Executive Education

If you’ve reached a career plateau, you may be considering augmenting your existing credentials and experience with a vocational qualification. While it’s possible to climb your way up through a company’s ranks with dedication, hard work and a little persistence, in some scenarios, you have to go the extra mile to breach the echelons of upper management. This is where a professional degree such as the Executive Master’s in Business Administration can help.

What is an MBA?

In order to make a success of a senior management role, you need a way to harness your raw talent and put it into good use. To run a business, you will need an insight into all aspects of its operation, from keeping the books in tip-top condition to understanding the function of a marketing strategy. MBA courses are designed to give a grounding in these critical skills, in order to better position you to achieve that next career step.

Will it disrupt employment?

Many employers will look favourably on your decision to invest the time, money and energy into improving your value as an employee, and fortunately, you can pursue an MBA on a part time basis. Masters programs tend to make it easy for students to attend lectures and seminars remotely online, allowing you to attend in person as seldom as once a month, as MBA students tend to have demanding lives.

What are the professional benefits?

Despite the dynamic nature of business, the MBA qualification is still considered an essential tool to some institutions, so much so that 42 CEOs of the Fortune 100 top companies have an MBA. The financial incentive is also considerable, given that the average salary of an MBA graduate is in the region of £80,000.

Are there any personal advantages?

The MBA course will immerse you in a group of talented people from all walks of life. Not only is there insight to be gained from this alone, interaction is encouraged throughout the course, which will forge invaluable personal and business relationships. MBA holders tend to be confident communicators, excellent problem solvers and credible among their peers. You will grow as a person considerably.

Our Banks And The PPI Mis-selling Saga

The most serious scandal to have hit the UK banking industry is the PPI mis-selling saga, and so far millions of people have claimed back fees on mis sold policies.  The Financial Ombudsman Service only just announced at the start of 2015 that there are still so many more expected to do so and there is no sign of things slowing down.  Could you have a valid claim, and are you missing out on an industry average £2750 payout?

The banks have been forced to set aside many billions of pounds (over £20bn so far) to pay back customers who have been mis sold policies, and we have so far helped many people make successful claims, so let us help you, too.

The PPI Mis-selling Scandal Explained

Payment protection insurance (PPI) is there to keep up the monthly repayments on a loan, mortgage or any other form of credit agreement in the event the holder is made jobless involuntarily, or can’t pay due to ill health or serious injury.  The problem is not with the policy, but with the way they have routinely been sold to people in a manner not within the regulations.

When you were sold your policy the lender should have adhered to strict regulations laid down by the law and the then known Financial Services Authority.  In many cases these were routinely overlooked.  For example, you should have been given the chance to look around for the cheapest deal, but in many cases customers were led to believe they must take a policy from the lender.

The regulations have now been rewritten and the PPI refunds saga continues, and there are many more forms of mis selling that have consequently come to light.  Some people were even signed in to a PPI policy without knowing it – it was simply just added on to their payments without their knowledge.  You have a basic legal right to claim back charges on mis sold PPI policies.

How to Make Successful PPI Refunds

If you think you have paid for PPI and it was mis-sold to you in any way, you may very well have the grounds for a PPI refund claim case.  You may have more than one PPI policy in your possession.  Have a look through your paperwork relating to any credit agreements you may have currently or in the past (even up to 10 years ago).  Remember, PPI may also be labelled as Loan Cover, Credit Protection, or Accident Sickness and Unemployment Cover, among others.

If you use our PPI claims calculator you can find out how much you may be entitled to claim back from your lender. However, for a more accurate assessment, why not talk to one of our claims advisers?  We have a team of experienced claims advisers who can help you get back the fees on your mis sold PPI policies. We will handle your claim for you on a no win no fee* basis, so that you are not left out of pocket if we are unsuccessful. We have already helped many people make successful PPI refunds claims, and we are confident that our experience in the field means we can help you get back the fees you have paid into any mis sold PPI policies.  You can make a claim direct against your bank yourself, though for an easier and stress free expert approach, see what we can do for you.

Reality Check: Paying off Debt Takes Time!

Every now and then I look at the search terms that navigate people to my blog. Not for any SEO practice but because I’m nosey and like a good laugh. Though some of them are outright hysterical, for the most part they’re pretty boring and what you’d expect for a personal finance blog. In the last few weeks though I have had a few terms of the exact format:

How do I pay off (insert huge amount of money, >100k) in (short period of time, 3,6,12 months).

We’ve all read stories about people who have accomplished the seemingly impossible. Those people who manage to pay off all of their debt, including mortgage in a very short period of time. While I am genuinely happy for anyone who pays their debt off, these stories irk me a little, not for me but for the general public. Stories like these give an unrealistic expectation of how long it should, and will, take to pay their debt off.This in turn often discourages people, the opposite of the story’s intention.

For most people, debt accumulates over time. They often don’t go out and blow a bunch of money in one day and wake up the next freaking out. It takes time to accumulate debt and time to pay it off.

Though I think you should work on paying your debt off as fast as possible you need to get real too. Unless you can sell every single thing you own, including your house, move back with your parents/friends/boss and eat PB and J for the next nine months, there is likely NO way you’ll pay off $136,000 in nine months, (sorry guy who searched my blog this week).

Part of the reason it takes time to pay debt off, is that you need to establish a foundation of understanding first. Rarely does someone decide on Monday they’ll pay debt off and Tuesday execute a flaw-free plan of paying off $2,000 per month. First you need to educate yourself on your debt. Why are you in the situation you’re in? If you skip this step you will fail. You may get the debt miraculously paid off but there is an almost 100% chance you’ll be right back in it since you didn’t figure out how to avoid it in the future.

You will also need to build and emergency fund first before paying debt off. Sounds sort of stupid to put money in the bank when you owe it to them on a loan does it? Not really though, because when the shit hits the fan and your car insurance deductible needs to be paid because some a-hold just slid into you in an icy parking lot, that money needs to come from somewhere or you’ll end up taking on more debt.

Because Mike and I (really) started this journey while I was on maternity leave, it took us a solid year just to establish these two steps. Understand our situation, learn mistakes, learn how to budget for us, save the ER fund. It took time and I don’t regret any of it. It was not time wasted. I learned more in that one year then I did my many previous years of financial knowledge, combined.

Paying off debt can be a long road, while I absolutely think you should do what you can to pay it off ASAP (for my husband and I, we earn more money), expecting it to vanish by shaking your Visa bill (a-la 2013 Christmas ad style) won’t happen. Going into debt repayment with unrealistic expectations is recipe for disaster. Educate yourself. Make a learning opportunity from past mistakes and come up with a kick-ass plan like we did.

Did ever you have an unrealistic expectation of a financial goal? How did it go?

Small Change Adds up- Make it Work For You!

Sound too good to be true? Think again.

In today’s economy, an extra buck can go a long way. From a trip to the local coffee shop, or a new lip gloss, simple, daily purchases are part of our lives and can quickly pile up and add to debt. But you can also make the little amounts work in your favor – by saving or earning a little here and little there it adds up.

Don’t believe me? Here’s an example. My college-student brother was home for Christmas and was griping about the lack of money in his bank account. Of course, he didn’t want to take on a job while he off from school for almost a month, that’d be too much work. Finally, I convinced him to try and sell a few things of his that were just sitting around collecting dust, like a few video games he had already completed multiple times.

“But they’re so old. They are only worth a couple of dollars,” he said.

To prove to him how quickly a “couple of dollars” here and there can add up, I sold them for him. At the end of his Christmas break, I’d sold almost $50 worth of his stuff (he did give me permission, don’t worry!). The best part is that most of it was earned a couple of dollars at a time.

Introducing Qmee

qmee

Qmee is a free search-loyalty, cash-reward browser app installed easily into any major browser that rewards you with actual cash micropayments, for clicking on results you otherwise would click for no reward. Essentially anytime you do a search using a browser such as Google or Yahoo, the app pulls up any relevant results it has and they will appear on your screen in addition to the results you would normally see.

Each click on a Qmee search result that matches what you’re looking for will usually earn you between 4 and 14 cents. These are real cents and the payments are made in actual currency to your PayPal account. A typical user will collect about $5 per month. That may not seem like much, but that’s $60 of free money per year just for doing what you usually do. Just image what you can use that $60 for at the end of the year. You might even be able to put it toward a Christmas present for yourself!

Now, we all know how a little extra change here and there can add up and take you over the spending limits you set in your monthly budget, so why not take advantage of a little change adding up if you’re going to be searching the internet anyway? In addition to the cash you collect through searching, Qmee will also reward you with $1 in your piggybank for every referral you send when that person becomes a Qmee user.

qmee2 qmee3

To learn more, watch this video on Qmee, or visit their website to try it for yourself. You won’t be sorry you did!

New Grads: Finding the Perfect Job in Banking

So you’ve gone through school and now you’re on the hunt for the perfect banking job? Like any new grad, the job search process can be overwhelming but don’t let it discourage you. With a little effort you’ll find, and land the ultimate banking job.

Before the Search Begins

Before you even consider looking for a job make sure your resume is up to date and relevant. I personally don’t think you can have enough people read through your resume to gain input. Highlight the strong points you feel are most important and be concise. Wordy resumes are hard to read. Remember that your resume gets you the interview and you get yourself the job.  Make them want to interview you!

Seek Out the Best Jobs

In 2015 the job search process is so diverse. There is no shortage of places to search for positions in banking. The internet is a great tool that connects people from all over the world. There are very few professionals not using the internet to post their positions so it stands that it is likely the first and best place to start. Having both digital and paper copies of your resume available means you’re ready to apply everywhere.

Prepare for the Interview

We’ve likely all bombed an interview. Try to learn from past mistakes and be prepared! Make sure you read up on the company that is interviewing you so you have a good understanding about what they stand for. Have questions of your own prepared, you need to know if they will work for you just as much as they need to know if you’re a fit for them.

You will also need to prepare yourself. Don’t overdo it. You want to look professional but not too over the top, like you’re trying too hard. Aim for a professional, well dressed version of you. Limit stuff like perfume and cologne during interviews as well, the scents can be distracting, trust me.

Nail it!

If you’ve made it to the interview, nail it! Make eye contact; be you; after all they want to see you! Make sure the major highlights of your resume are discussed. Don’t leave them any room to question why you’re the best candidate for their open banking position.

Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer to a question (but that you’re more than willing to find out the answer). There is nothing worse than someone either lying or clearly uncertain of the answer and making something up. Tell the truth, it’s always the best option.

Working in the banking industry is can be a life-long career with many perks and rewards. Congrats on making the banking industry your career of choice and go nail that interview!