How Much Did You Spend on Prom?

While watching the news tonight with my husband they had a segment about prom and the associated costs. With me being (almost) 30, prom wasn’t that long ago for me but I was shocked at the numbers they provided. The average prom costs for Canadian kids was approximately $850 with parents covering an average of 81% of these costs. American kids spent more with an average of almost $1,100 in 2014. Wow.

According to the article this included everything from formal wear, flowers, meals, tickets to event(s), rentals etc. Even with all this in consideration I was still blown away. When I graduated I don’t think I spent a quarter of that, even at over 10 years ago that’s a huge increase. Here are a few ways you (or your kids!) can save money on prom costs:

Borrow

I borrowed my prom dress from a friend who had graduated two years prior and it worked out perfectly. Her uncle was a seamstress and custom-made her dress which I only had to mildly alter. Because it was custom, it was a sure way to make sure no one else had my dress (not that I would have cared). If you know someone who you could borrow a dress or tux from, this would be the cheapest option.

Buy Used

The dress is usually worn once, it sort of goes without saying that checking out online classifieds might be a good idea.

Use something other than a limo

We opted to rent a large SUV at a fraction of the cost. We had a ton of fun decorating the entire thing with window paints, streamers and crazy decorations. Also, what happened to borrowing mom and dads car??

Look for deals

I found an online Groupon type coupon to have m hair and makeup done. My only tip for this would be if you’re using a service like this for an important day, check out reviews! The place I used was terrible and I ended up redoing my own makeup. Larger department stores also often offer these types of services for free or very cheap.

Volunteer

My husband and I (yes, we’re high school sweethearts) volunteered on the safe grad committee so we would get free tickets to prom and safe grad (the after party). If I remember correctly they ran $50 each. Not bad for a few hours worth of volunteering!

Prom is a fun time but spending upwards of thousands of dollars is just crazy. Just 10 years ago an expensive dress was $250, now kids are spending $500+ on a prom dress. Parents, it’s important to hold your kids to task. If they want a crazy expensive day make sure they contribute to the cost, you should be responsible for 81% of the cost, especially in these dollars!

How did you, or do you plan to save on prom or you or your kids?

Debt is a Real Issue!

As per my post last week about why students have so much debt (and how to avoid it), one common thing kept coming up, people (myself included) didn’t take their debt seriously, almost as if it doesn’t exist. 

I always knew I’d have to pay my debt back but was very nonchalant about the whole ordeal. I’d tell myself ”it wasn’t a big deal”, that ”everyone has debt” or that I’d just deal when the time came. I really didn’t care that much which is a terrible mentality but I honestly don’t think it was totally my fault.

Most people (think outside of the PF community) have a very misguided understanding of debt. They simply don’t understand it, I certainly didn’t until I went out of my way to educate myself but honestly, most people don’t have that initiative which is what is compounding this huge issue.

Students graduate from their post secondary studies and aren’t held accountable to repay their debt. I received a letter in the mail with my monthly pre-authorized payment which would have me pay off my debt in almost 10 years. There was never any information about the implications of interest rates, how or why I could and should pay it off earlier than 10 years, or how it will really affect my life while I have an outstanding balance.

Instead, I received many phone calls and letters about what to do if I couldn’t afford my monthly payment, interest relief programs and explanations on ways to extend my payment beyond the 10 year period. Not once did I ever ask for this information. It was as if they wanted me to be in debt forever. The letters are worded in such a way it’s almost as if everyone needs these programs and to please call to get assistance setting up. I mean they’re making loads of money off your interest so it is kind of in their best interest to keep you in debt now isn’t it?

My husband’s cousin recently told me she was thinking about apply for student loans (or lines of credit) upon entering her second year of university. Her friends had informed her that it was cheap money and she should apply for the money even if she didn’t need it (which she likely won’t given that she has a great paying summer job and some savings). As you can imagine I did my best to explain why she really shouldn’t do it. I’m hoping she takes my advice and thanks me on her graduation day! Her friends did such a great job at glamorizing loans she didn’t think twice about it but did think to ask me about it so for that I’m glad.

Debt, especially student debt is such a huge issue. It’s so real and tangible. I could go on forever about the need for financial literacy but I won’t preach to the choir. Last week I mentioned to a teacher patient of mine that I wish financial literacy was taught in schools, his response? ”We need to focus on straightening out the core subjects before investing in less essential subjects”. I feel like we have a long way to go so for now, I will do my best to let people know our story and for them to see how real the issue of debt is, how it affects every aspect of your life as long as you’re in it. Debt is a real issue and we can’t forget that!

Things I’ve Done To Make or Save Money

If it came down to it maybe I could sustain myself on my kids cooking?

If it came down to it, maybe I could sustain myself on my kids cooking?

I’m sure we’ve all done a few crazy things to either make or save a few bucks, myself included. Sometimes it was out of desperation, other time because I was just too cheap. Some things I’m not proud of, and were a little disingenuous, but some I think I was pretty clever. Let’s see if you agree and make sure you let me know if you’ve ever done any.

Asked for cash discounts

Every year (pre-kids) for my husbands birthday we used to get a cabin (or cabins) for a weekend where we would hang out with friends for a day or two eating and drinking too much. It was always a good time and I would often, if possible (sometimes being dictated by crowd size) ask if there was a cash discount for booking. This was something my mom used to do when we went on vacations. A lot of businesses (especially smaller, family-type) are keen to either offer a discount or something like tax free if you pay with cash. Considering our tax rate is 15% it usually equates to a pretty decent savings.

Complained about a product or service

When I was in university someone told me if you put in a formal complaint with pretty much any major company, they would either offer your cash back or product replacement. One day I decided to try. I went to a movie with my friend and after seeing the (terrible) movie I called the manager and told them I wasn’t happy with our ”movie going experience” (the movie sucked and there were two kids who wouldn’t shut up the entire time). No more questions asked, I had two movie night out passes (even though I only paid for one ticket) which include admission and snacks. I also called a diaper company a put in a (legitimate) complaint about the condition of the diapers upon opening (the elastic was missing from one side). They asked a few questions and put a coupon in the mail for me to use to replace the ones I had bought with zero restrictions on size. Even though I only bought a smaller (maybe 40) pack I capitalized on the no restriction coupon and bought the largest family size pack the store had (likely 220).

Worked like a maniac

Though the efforts I’m putting into my debt repayment now is a league of it’s own, when I was in third year university I worked two jobs in the summer, totaling 75+per week, every week. I was exhausted but desperately wanted the money (now if only I can remember where it all went…).

Sample ”theft”

I admit that I’ve taken my fair share of hotel ”samples” and drained my sample stash of shampoo/soap/toothpaste for no reason other than to avoid buying my own. I’ve never stolen a product from a store (unless you count the $0.25 plastic pig I put in my friends raincoat pocket to try and get her in trouble when we were like eight years old because I thought it was hilarious. kids). To this day I live off the toothpaste and toothbrush samples we get at work (which he pays for), though it’s no secret kept from my employer.

Been Involved in Clinical Trials

In university I signed up for a clinical trial of a vaccination. I normally wouldn’t do something like this but it was a vaccination that had already been approved and on the market via Health Canada and they were only testing the efficacy of two-vs-three doses. I had to go to maybe 6 appointments for about 15 minutes each over something like an 18 month period and they paid me $20 per appointment plus giving me the vaccination (which was one not covered under my insurance and currently ”selling” for almost $700 for the three rounds). It was a positive experience that I would do again.

DIY

We have DIY’d a ton of stuff in our house. It helps that we have a mecca of talent in the family too!

What sort of things have you done to save money?

Why Students Have So Much Debt and How to Avoid It

Students all over the world are finishing their studies and planning out their next step. In a few weeks student loan departments will be ramping up as the applications start pouring in. Unfortunately with the cost of tuition, many, if not most, students rely on some additional funding for post secondary studies. Student loans being the most common.

Student loan are given to students who need them to either fully fund a post secondary education or supplement other financial streams. The goal being you obtain the education, use it, and repay said loan. Though student loans should be the last resort, only following scholarships and personal or parental savings, they are still a massive reality for millions of students world-wide.

Unfortunately student loan debt is an increasing problem as tuition prices rise and job markets demands increase. Gone are the days when a standard undergraduate degree was a guarantee for job. There has also been a decrease in students applying for more professional programs such as engineering or finance and an increase in jobs with lower job prospects such as fine arts. Though the huge increase in tuition rates combined with pursuing less lucrative degrees may be the largest factor in how much student debt one takes on, it is far from the whole picture.

The other big, huge, reason, that there is so much student loan debt is that we simply borrow too much money. I certainly did it, as did many of you I’m sure. Especially for certain programs, loan issuers literally throw money at you. If you get into a medical or dental program in this province, walk into any bank and you’ll walk out with upwards of $250,000 in the form of a line of credit. A QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS. For the unexperienced budgeter that’s a recipe for disaster. Even if you get into a field with good job prospects (like myself) trust me when I say you don’t want to use every dollar that’s offered to you years working towards paying it off.

In order to avoid taking in so much debt you need to start with the basics.

Find out exactly how much you’ll need. Look at your tuition bill and figure out what it’s going to cost over and above what  you already have (which should, at the very least, be what you saved in the summer between high school and starting post secondary). If you don’t need anything (congrats) do NOT borrow the money. I know of so many situations where people had enough money but were talked into borrowing because of low interest rates or whatever, just don’t do it! You’ll thank yourself on your graduation day.

Learn to budget. It doesn’t have to be complicated but budget all your expenses for the academic year and stick to it! Plan for fun too but stay within budget. If you know you’ll be going out of town for the weekend to celebrate a friend’s birthday then work it out rather than scrambling (or borrowing on credit) when the time comes. If you think a spring break trip will be in the works figure out a way to make the money.

Look for opportunities to make money throughout the school year. If you can’t hold a part-time job look for other opportunities that work around your time such as tutoring, resident assistant or weekend event opportunities. I had friends work campus events a few times per semester (think beer-hosted type party events for Halloween etc) and make a decent chunk of change. When you’re not in school, work as much as you can!

Capitalize on student discounts! There are SO many discounts out there for students from free banking, discount on groceries, travel, free public transit. If you’re unsure if a place may have a discount, ask! You may be surprised how much you can save per year.

I don’t think student debt is (always) a bad thing. Though I regret borrowing as much as I did I don’t regret taking on the loans I did to obtain the education I received. Certain circumstances required me to borrow the money (very last minute sort of thing) but I’m in a good field that allows me to now pay the loans off. Though I wish I was more informed on the process, I’d do it again.

Why do you think students have so much debt and not working towards paying it off?

The Benefits of a Self-Invested Personal Pension

If you’re looking for a personal pension plan offering more control and flexibility over where your pension money is invested, then a Self-Invested Personal Pension (SIPP) may be the one for you. As a HM Revenue & Customs registered pension scheme, a SIPP enables you and your financial advisor to enjoy far greater investment flexibility, allowing you to have full control over planning your wealth in your retirement. It is rather different to traditional bog-standard pension schemes in which your investment choice is limited to funds run by the pension company itself, or funds that are managed for you within a pooled fund. Here are just a few of the advantages that a SIPP can offer you.

Tax Savings

Benefits from the normal tax relief system are available on SIPPs too, which means that basic tax relief can be claimed on contributions into a SIPP and then be added to the fund. This means that to invest £100 it will only cost you £80 if you pay the basic rate of income tax. Meanwhile if you pay higher rate tax then you can claim the remainder back through your tax return.

Provided you’re a British resident, you can receive tax relief on contributions as high as 100% of your earnings in some cases. There is generally no limit on contributions, but if your contributions in a tax year exceed the annual allowance stated to you then you may have to pay a personal tax charge, known as an annual allowance charge. Furthermore SIPPs are set up under trust, which means that you can separate your pension fund from your other assets, enabling you to save on inheritance tax or capital gains tax.

Property Investment

A major advantage of a SIPP is that it allows you to invest directly into commercial property, which means any business premises and the rental income received from them can be put into retirement savings. There are all sorts of good reasons to put property into your pension. You can use existing pension monies to fund the purchase, and then not have to pay tax on any growth in the value of the property as long as it remains in the pension scheme.

Consolidate Your Pensions

Many people find that they accumulate more than one pension, as they switch between jobs and industries thanks to our modern working culture. A SIPP allows you to manage your funds efficiently in one place. Then when it’s time for you to retire, your drawdown pension can usually be taken from the age of 55, but SIPPs offer flexibility on taking benefits including flexible and capped drawdown.

Many Advantages

SIPPs offer a wide range of advantages for people looking to build their pension whilst retaining flexibility over their future. They are offered by a wide range of companies like James Hay, so take a look around and see what’s on offer.

How To Make Money From Your Computer

With so many people already working from the comfort of their own home, it stands to reason that there are so many ways to make the most of new technology and opportunities so that more people can make money from their computer too. If you’re looking to invest your money and reap some dividends whilst working from your home computer, there are many interesting ways for you to do this. Here are some tips about how and where to start…

Online Stocks

Online trading is a popular and simple business for anyone to get into. You can find a variety of websites like City Index that offer simple interfaces with all the information you need to get into trading quickly and easily. If you’re new to trading then you can get to grips with the technical nuances of trading with the charting tools available on most trading websites that make it easy to navigate and learn anything and everything you need to know to succeed.

If however you are an experienced trader then you will get access to an archive of technical and analysis data, with powerful interactive charting packages available that allow you to annotate charts, see price and volume data in a way that suits you, and overlay indicators and patterns at the touch of a button. You will be able to assess and analyse market patterns with ease, giving you everything you need to make money out of your investments.

Forex Trading

Also called foreign exchange or FX, forex trading is all about betting on changes in the exchange rate between currencies. It is a massive $4 trillion a day industry that presents all kinds of opportunities and attracts many different types of investors. When you trade forex you are betting that one currency will rise or fall in strength against another. So, if you buy GBP against USD when £1 is worth $1.50, and then it subsequently rises to $1.52, you have made a profit. If it falls to $1.48 meanwhile you will have made a loss. You can trade forex with a variety of companies including SpreadCo, who offer 38 different currency pairs for you to trade with.

Bitcoin Mining

For a popular open source virtual currency that is lauded by experts as secure and untraceable, bitcoin is the hot topic online today. To make money out of bitcoins all you have to do is dedicate spare CPU cycles to running a bitcoin desktop client. Your computer crunches numbers to solve encryption problems, and if it solves the problem then you get 50 bitcoins — and one bitcoin is equal to nearly $600 at the time of writing. Only just beginning to gain traction outside the tech community, bitcoins are gradually entering the public consciousness, with Expedia being one of the latest firms to accept them as a form of payment.

Making Money

There is plenty you can do to make money from home by investing just a little time and money into a project, and also the right technology.

 

Two Years Ago Today My Life Changed Forever

Time has seemingly been getting ”faster” in the last 10 or so years. When I started university I remember how fast the standard academic year felt. I’d blink and it would already be May with final exams approaching. After graduation time started speeding up even more. Before I knew it I was married and signing mortgage documents. Then I had a child and suddenly I find myself having zero grasp of time. Seasons change so fast I feel like I don’t even notice. I continue to be amazed at just how fast time really moves.

Two years ago today I was getting ready to go under the knife and deliver our baby girl. I had a scheduled section a few days away (due to a very complicated pregnancy), but the medical team decided she needed to come early after a routine ultrasound. Two years ago today my life changed in ways I could never imagine.

newborn mariaI was more than ready to become a mom. Parenthood isn’t for everyone, I get that, but for me, I wanted it more than anything. What I didn’t expect was just how much this blue-eyed beauty would teach me about myself, my husband, our families and honestly, this world.  Just how amazing this world can be, which is so easy to forget sometimes.

I thought I knew who I was before having her. I was confident in myself and my life, but in the last two years I have been shown more of this world than the previous 28 years combined.  All thanks to her.

She’s an amazing little person. So loving. Sweet. Intelligent. Silly. Confident. Beautiful.

She’s learned so much in the last 24 months I honestly can’t fathom it. The above picture is exactly 24 months ago and today she looked at me and said ” I want a purple freezie please”. A sentence… with words… that make sense…

Her compassion for others amazes me. This isn’t something that I believe can be taught. It’s within her soul to want to kiss boo-boos. Give hugs and snuggles based solely on your body language as if to say ”I need comfort”. She’s always looking to make sure the other kids (anywhere) are ok, as if in her two years experience she could help a hurting soul.

She’s a leader, but not bossy. This will take her far.

She’s ridiculously silly like her father and for that I am so thankful. He is, without a doubt, the funnest, silliest, most loyal best friend anyone could ever ask for. I see all of these qualities in her already. She will make an amazing friend and, ultimately, partner, for someone.

I am so proud to be your Momma. You have ignited my life in ways I can never explain to you.

Happy 2nd Birthday Sweetheart!

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How to Make Money with a Blog

If you are someone who is looking for a way to make money online, making money with a blog is a great way to do so. Therefore, today we will be discussing how to make money with a blog.

Buy a Domain Name & Bring in Traffic

The first step to generating an income from a blog is to get your domain name and hosting in addition to bring traffic to your blog. The following ways are ways that you can start gaining traffic:

  • Promoting the blog on social media
  • Guest posting on blogs in similar niches
  • Comments on blogs in similar niches
  • Including your blog in the signature area of forums that you are active on

Alternatively, if you have the budget you can bring traffic by paid ways such as advertising on Google or purchasing banner ads on blogs in similar niches as yours.

Provide Readers with Quality Content

Getting traffic is not the hardest part of running a blog. Instead, the hardest part is getting though visitors to turn into loyal visitors. The only way you are going to do this is if you are providing them with quality content that matches their interest. Therefore, before picking your domain name you need to know what niche you want your blog to be in. We do not suggest taking the general route because it is going to be hard to build up your following base. . If you aren’t great at writing you can hire a content writing company.

Once you have your niche figured out start writing quality content regularly. Provide readers with answers to their questions or solutions to their problems. Once you have a loyal base of readers and quality content you are ready to start monetizing your blog.

How to Monetize Your Blog

Once you have the content squared away and the loyal readership base you are ready to start monetizing your blog. This can be done in any of the following ways:

  • Affiliate marketing
  • Selling ad or banner space
  • Selling your own products and/or services
  • Or charging a membership fee that allows readers to have access to certain perks

It is recommended that you do not try to make any money off your blog until you have a decent amount of traffic coming in and have high quality content being published on your blog regularly.

Things to Keep in Mind

When you are trying to make money blogging, you have to make sure that you keep your quality standards high, especially if affiliate marketing is one of your monetization methods. You worked hard to build up your followers and they trust that you will not steer them wrong. Therefore, when you have ads and banners running on your site, or even text links, it is important to make sure that these are legit offers that you use, or would use yourself. Once you lose your followers trust, you will not make the maximum amount of money possible. Keep in mind your followers are what makes your blog, which means they are the ones who help you make money. Without them, your blog is going to be a lost cause.

My Favorite Things To Buy at Costco

NutellaWhen hubby and I first became homeowners we rushed to our local Costco to get a membership. It was like a right of passage with homeownership. We finally had room to store the 46829 rolls of TP and a cupboard large enough to hold the mega-container of Nutella! Except a funny thing happened, we almost never used it. We went very few times and if anything, bought more things that we didn’t need than actually required, essentially wasting money. We didn’t renew the following year and instead opted to have our in-laws pick up the few odd items we may actually need from them which was pretty infrequently.

Then we had a kid and suddenly Costco became a Mecca for us. I don’t know what changed but suddenly we were buying more from Costco than ever, both baby and non-baby items. I’ve become such a Costco frequenter that I know exactly what I want and how much I can expect to spend. This helps for when I want to get something from Costco as well when sales come up at regular grocery stores and I need a price comparison in order to deem it a ”deal”.

Though we don’t buy everything from Costco there are a few things we do frequently get and the price and/or quality is almost never matched for what you’re paying.

1) Diapers. I have used every single diaper out there. Any parent out there (who uses disposable) will tell you they have a favorite brand and a ”I WILL NEVER AGAIN BUY” brand, both for varying reasons. Price being a huge reason. We started on Pampers when she was a newborn (she was wearing newborn diapers for quite some time as she was so tiny) but as she started growing, and our diaper party stash started dwindling, I started experimenting with other brands. I only ever had one brand that I hated but couldn’t justify the price of either Huggies or Pampers for the duration of diaper-wearing days. On a whim I tried the Kirkland (Costco brand) diapers and was really happy. They are from what I can all pretty much identical to Huggies diapers. The price is less than any name brand and Costco stands behind their brand 100%. If you don’t like anything about them, return no questions asked.

2) Kids Clothes. Though I almost always check second-hand stores first for kiddo’s clothes, you can’t rely on them for everything and Costco is a great place to get young kids clothes. Just this weekend we (my Mother-in-law) picked kiddo up a Carter’s summer outfit at full Costco price of $7.99! The set has two outfit options and Carter’s is a great quality and brand, probably the best and truest to size I’ve ever used. $8 for two outfit options is a great price. I also love their baby/toddler pajama options.

3) Clothes for Adults too! I love their Yoga pants (especially for $16) and hubby has picked up a few really nice shirts. Like anything it can be hit-and-miss (though they always have the yoga pants). I also bought nice Adidas sneakers for work for less than $35.

4) Fruit (specifically berries). I have never purchased any food from Costco and been disappointed. I would rather spend $6.87 on a 2lb container of blueberries from Costco than $5.47 at the local grocery store where I’ll likely end up throwing 1/3 in the garbage because they’re usually rotten or picked WAY before they’re ripe.

5) Hummus. We eat a TON of hummus in this house and short of making it myself, Costco is the cheapest and best quality. For less than $7.00 (regular price) I can buy two 454gm containers of hummus. I pay $3.99 for 260gm at the grocery store. 3.5 times the amount, better tasting and for half the price...#nobrainer

6) Garbage bags and TP. The Kirkland toilet paper is my favorite. Regular price at our local Costco is still cheaper than any sale I’ve ever seen advertised around here for top-selling brands. I also find their brand garbage bags to be of great quality with little issues with bags ripping or breaking. One box of garbage bags last us almost a year too!

7) Books. Yes we still read actual books and Costco is always cheaper. We buy a lot of kiddo’s books from here too.

So there ya have it, you can expect when I go to Costco to see some or all of these items in my cart :) Do you have a favorite thing to buy at Costco?

May 2014 Debt Repayment: Unexpected Expenses Edition

10405561_10100392901040909_3393354726436473836_nOh May. I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot, but I’m glad you’re over. The weather sucked. Though it’s finally turned this past weekend, less than two weeks ago we were still having FROST warnings. Insanity.

It wasn’t all bad though. I finally broke my weight loss plateau but a whopping two pounds in May! Just yesterday I walked over 20k steps! That was a total of 16km moved. Thanks kid for keeping me active. Two walks with her and a walk on my own when she went to bed! I’ll take any progress :)

I also picked up another writing gig that I’m pretty excited about. Though I love writing and my whole freelance writing gig, but man, I could never do it full-time. I admire those that do but not for me. Erika posted on this recently and I totally agree with her!

May was expensive. Mother’s day. Broken lawn mower. Extra fuel for the car I’m borrowing for two weeks while sister-in-law is gallivanting around the UK. Some expenses were foreseeable but not all. Though we were able to put a little extra towards debt I did fall short. I’m hoping we have a successful June though. Fingers Crossed!

Our target is $2068 per month and in May put $1568 towards our non-mortgage debt. $500 that I’m hoping to make up in June somehow :)

Our little girl turns two next week. I don’t know how I have a toddler but I am enjoying watching her grow so much. She no longer tries to figure stuff out and instead really interacts with them. The vocabulary is crazy too. She has opinions and talks to me.

Parenting tip: If you ask a two-year-old what flavor ice cream she wants and her response is ”purple”. Don’t try to fool her with pink strawberry frozen yogurt.

How was everyone’s May?