Wednesday, December 7, 2011

DIY Laundry Soap

I have a lot of blog catching up to do over this past week.  However, I'll start with a recent project Nick and I worked on: Do-It-Yourself laundry detergent.  (I'm thrifty, but I have to say, this pushed it to a new level for me!).  This post will be pretty similar to the one that gave me the inspiration in the first place, which can be found HERE.  (She also has a link back to the main website where she got the idea from).

I was super thankful that there was a picture posted of the supplies as it made it MUCH easier to locate in the store.  All that you need is:

1.  1/2 cup of Borax;
2.  1/2 cup of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda; and
3.  one Sunlight Bar.

I was doubtful when they said it would all come to around $15, but surprisingly, it was even less, with the Sunlight bars being a package of 2 for $1.99.  (Sunlight bars are what you will run out of the fastest).

It is very easy to make and took only about 30 minutes.  (It is hard to know exactly as we were making dinner at the same time).

STEP 1.  Shred one Sunlight bar with a cheese grater.  Nick informs me that the bars are pretty soft, and it's about as easy as shredding cheese.

STEP 2.  Add 6 cups of water to a large stock pot and put in shredded Sunlight bar.  Stir on a medium heat until the shredded soap dissolves into the water, and looks like the photo below:

STEP 3.  Add 1/2 cup of Borax and 1/2 cup of washing soda to the pot and stir until it also dissolves.  It will start to thicken as well.

STEP 4.  Have four cups of boiling water ready in your kettle (you can put the kettle on during steps 2 and 3 above).  When that boils, pour into a large bucket (2 gallons minimum).  We only had ice-cream buckets, so we just grabbed two of those and treated them like one big pot, pouring everything evenly between them.

STEP 5.  Add all your soap mixture from your big pot on the stove into the large bucket containing the 4 cups of boiling water (or, in our case, into the two smaller buckets where we split everything evenly).

STEP 6.  Water it down even further by pouring an additional gallon (4 litres) of cold water + 6 more cups of cold water and stir.

STEP 7.  Leave for 24 hours and it will turn into a gel which you are ready to use:

24 hours later.  It's hard to describe the texture.  It's "gloopy".  The hole in it is from our first 2 loads of laundry.

In quick summary (in case I confused you), it goes:

6 cups of cold water in pot on stove.  Turn to medium heat.  Add all three ingredients slowly and dissolve.  Grab a big bucket and put 4 cups boiling water in the bottom of it.  Then pour in your soap mixture.  Then top it off with 1 gallon + 6 cups of cold water and stir gently.  Leave sit.

You only need 1/2 cup of the finished gel mixture per laundry load (we pack our washers, too, so it can handle a BIG load).  This works in hot or cold water washes (we tested it).  Just put the gel in the bottom first and let it swish around so that it gets a head start dissolving in the water before you dump a bunch of dirty clothing on top of it. As far as storing it goes, we don't have lids for our ice-cream buckets, so we're just letting it sit out in the open.  Apparently, this is totally fine (we have no young children or pets that will be tempted to eat it, albeit).

Now, I haven't tested this yet, as I JUST made it, but the blog that I got this idea from (see link at top of post), states that this one batch will do about 64 loads of laundry. This sounds about right.

EDITED to say:  I HAVE tested it now, and it will evaporate over time if you don't put a lid on it.  

I "think" I probably have at least 8 more "1/2 cups" of Borax and washing soda in those boxes, which together only cost about $10-$12.  So, if I get 9 batches (rough estimate) of laundry soap out of them, then $12 divided by 9 = $1.33 per batch.  Bump that up to $2.33 as the Sunlight bars are $1.00 each.  So for $2.33 I can do 64 loads of laundry.  Not bad at all!  And my clothes smell great!

EDITED to say:  Now that I have been using this a while, I have two words of caution to add.  1.  If you absolutely PACK your washers like we do, you may find a bit of residue left on pure black clothing items.  I just grab a damp towel and wipe it off before wearing it when this happens.  I'm sure it's probably avoidable if you don't overload your machines ;)   

2.  Because there is no bleach in this, you may find your whites don't come out as white as they used to.  A friend told me that some people put Oxy Clean in it to help with this.  I haven't tried this, but it's worth looking into if you are concerned.  I have a whitening bar of soap that I just scrub on the arm pits and collars of white shirts before throwing them in the wash, and that seems to do the trick.  It's probably better for your clothes overall, but a pain when you have a lot of whites :)

BONUS:  I did a little brief research.  Don't hold me to this as I didn't spend a ton of time on it, but it seems that making your own laundry detergent using these ingredients is a lot better for you/the environment, as they seem to have a lot less of the harsh chemicals found in pre-made, store-bought stuff.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We Are Weird

Nick and are weird... like, really weird.  We can have the same, "What would you do if aliens attacked RIGHT NOW and there was a massive EMP?" conversation every time we drive through the mountains.  (You really have to take the contour of the road and the speed at which you are traveling into consideration if your car were to suddenly die from a world-wide EMP). And it can last for up to an hour each time.  Or, how would you survive if..."fill in very unlikely, and highly random scenario".  I think we would write interesting books.  I believe we had a 2 hour phone conversation about being stranded in the desert, at about 2:00a.m. in the morning, while we were "not quite dating yet", long-distance and both had school in the morning. 

It started again last night, much too late.

Nick:  It's really cold.  We should turn on the heat.

Laura:  No way!  We accidentally left it on for half a week and wasted all that energy and have to make up for it (I am also ridiculous in other ways, as well).  Besides, who wants to sleep in a warm, stuffy room.  That would be gross.

Nick:  Well, we should get more blankets then.

Laura:  Okay!  Get them all!

Much shuffling around and piling of blankets before we both dive freezing cold into the middle of them.

Laura:  So... do you think we could survive like this in 20 below?

Nick:  Maybe.

Laura:  What about 40 below?

Nick:  Well, you would have to create some sort of breathing tunnel...

 I will spare you the rest of the very long, very late conversation.  Just to give you an idea of how seriously we take these conversations, one part of our discussion went like this:

Laura:  We are NEVER going to get to sleep like this.

Nick:  No, I don't think you would sleep.  You would be better to stay awake until morning.

Laura:  No, Nick, I mean RIGHT NOW, in real life.  We need to go to sleep!

Nick:  Oh.. haha.

No, we did not go to sleep.  Yes, the discussion continued on for about 40 minutes in total, with experimental breathing tunnels, trying back to front vs. front to front cuddling to see which way you could stay the warmest (no, that is not code for anything), discussions on snow density in various parts of the country, and finally calling it quits and going to sleep!   

No wonder we have no friends... kidding :)  Though, we are by far the "nerdiest" of all our friends.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Innocence, Heartbreak, Determination, a Miracle, and Multiplication (all in one story!)

Let me share a story with you that was 11 years in the making, a story that I shared with a lady at our church on Sunday.  A story that is finally coming to a conclusion because of that conversation:

When I was 16, I stopped talking to my teddy bears.  You're thinking either, "Yeah, so what?" or "You were still talking to your teddy bears at 16?!"  I decided - made an executive decision actually - that I was much too old to still be communicating with my stuff animals.  It was hard, but I did it.

What you have to understand is my stuffed animals were my most FAVOURITE things in the entire world.  If you gave me money to spend on anything I wanted, I would go and buy one.  I wanted to take the very best care I could of them.  My mom had some soft fabric gloves that I took and put on whenever I played with them.  You know why teddy bears are always softer when they are brand new, right?  Hand grease.  Gloves = eternally soft bears.  (Yes, I know, I was very weird).

Part way through this bear craze, when I was 15, I went on a short-term missions trip.  They were collecting donations of toys to bring to the children in need there.  I carefully choose and donated three stuffed animals.  Buttons, a stuffed rabbit.  Dakota, a stuffed husky.  And a bear that I didn't really care that much about as he was little and green and had a soccer ball embroidered on him.

Now I have to tell you the sad part of my story.  The part that I have been still a little bit angry about even 11 years later.  The part that I still need to remind myself to give the benefit of the doubt and extend grace in.  There was a missionary family down there with a bunch of kids.  They were helping us by giving us a "home base" to come to and share at each evening, and were helping connect us with people in need down there.

One evening as I was walking in their house, I happened to look through an open door into their kids room.  There, in the overflowing toy chest of their children were Buttons and Dakota.  Why I didn't say something right then and there, I don't know.  I was young and shy.  But I was sure upset!  Did I mention the toy chest was already overflowing?  I was especially upset when I saw that my little, green soccer bear ended up in the most disgusting, down-and-out, truly needy orphanage that we helped clean, paint and purchase some toys for.  The little bear that I cared nothing about ended up somewhere where it would be truly appreciated, and my two dear stuffed animals ended up in some fortunate kids' already full toy chest.  (I should clarify that these missionaries were working with middle to upper-class people for the most part, so it's not like they were sitting on a treasure trove of "stuff" while people with nothing were all around them).

I need to stop and say something here.  I don't know WHY that happened.  I really don't.  Heck, maybe their kids saw them, loved them and offered to trade in two of their toys into the donation pile so that they could have mine instead.  Maybe they just happened to have two identical stuffed animals.  Maybe they are Christians and missionaries and still, lo and behold, human, and made a bad call like we all do sometimes.  I don't know.  I probably never will.  (Despite the fact that I still have those people's email address and contacted them the other month to ask them for some information for someone I was trying to find.  Really resisting asking them about it!)

Anyway, I got back to Canada grabbed half of my stuffed animals and put them in a duffle bag.  I told God that THESE ones would be for people who really needed them and I was going to make sure of it.  In 11 years, I gave one away to someone in need.  The other 12 teddy bears in that duffle bag stayed there.  They moved from place to place with me.  Even when Nick and I lived in 417 square feet and ate on the floor, that duffle bag was still taking up at least 3 of those square feet!  I had not yet found somewhere for them to go that was truly needed.  The Salvation Army or anything like that just wasn't cutting it for me.

Well, I am pleased to say that they have a home now!  I emailed the pastor's wife at our church and told her my story.  I said that I would love for these critters to find their way back to Mexico where it all began.  She turned around and told me that they were leaving this Saturday and would love to bring them along and personally hand them out to the kids in need!

Our church is connected with a very poor, very remote, very needy village down there.  We help out with a boarding school for children who have barely anything to eat at home and some have hardly a home at all.  They were bringing backpacks down to those 90 children, which children at our church made for them, and were looking for something to put in those backpacks!

I've managed to find some other people who wanted to help out as well, and those kids will be getting my old bears along with a whole treasure of other stuff.  So suffice it to say, I'm sure glad Buttons and Dakota ended up in that toy chest, because now there are a whole lot of other toys taking their place.

Meet (top row left to right):  Cotton Candy, Paws, Joey, Faith, Hope, and Clover; as well as
(front left to right):  Grace, Hope Jr., Clyde, Peace, Noel and Sammy.

(Okay, I will admit that I did really have to think about some of those names to remember them).

Meet SOME of the gang that is accompanying them to Mexico:

If you notice, there is a husky and a bunny on the left.  Appropriate, I think :)

Annnnnddddd someone from my work has graciously offered a whole bag of small stuffed animals to be added to these, which I will hopefully be picking up tomorrow.  So thrilled!

God is a big-picture kind of guy, I think :)  He was probably saying, "Oh Laura, it's okay, just give it 11.5 years and it will all turn out even better for this".  He's pretty amazing!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Money Matters (Final / Part 4) - Making a Variable Income Steady (and the perks that result!)

 Okay, so I kind of got off track with my Budget Blogging mini-series.  You can find the beginnings of it here:

Intro / Part I (Our Three Foundational Financial Steps) / Part II (Creating Your Budget) / Part III (Money Saving Tips)

I used Part II and Part III to expound on the first financial step we took (creating a budget and finding ways to save in that budget).  The second foundational step, found in Part I, was living a month ahead.  I was going to go into more detail here, but I listed all the advantages and explained it pretty well within that original post, so I think I'll go ahead and just skip to the third/last thing we did in our attempt to manage our finances wisely as a young couple starting out in the big city - making a variable income steady.

Here is an excerpt from what I originally posted:

3.  I am on salary, which is great, but Nick has a variable income.  He can make $5,000 one month and $600 the next.  How on earth do you make a budget around that?  How can you know you will make $3,000 a month when one of you may not bring in enough or bring in too much?  What do you do with the extra money?  This step takes a little figuring out.  You need to look at last year.  We looked at how much Nick made in 2008.  (This wasn't much because he was still in school for part of that!).  We added it all up.  Then we divided it by 12 (for each of the months in the year).  That gave us his monthly AVERAGE.  That is what we said his "salary" was.  Now we were both on salary.  When he made more (which he inevitably did as he was not in school part time in 2009), we took ALL that extra money (yes ALL of it) and created a "slush fund".  Whenever Nick makes more than his "average", we do NOT spend it.  It goes straight to that fund.  Whenever Nick makes less, that's okay cause we have a slush fund to take money from and "top his salary up" back to what it should have been for that month.  And, as mentioned above, this makes it okay even if we have to chase clients for an extra month to remind them they still owe us!  (I will go into more detail in a later post about what we "cap" the slush fund at, and what to do if we made even more after the cap).

The only think I didn't really add on here was "raises".  We sit down each December, and if Nick made more money than he did the previous year, then his salary goes up.  And vice versa, of course.

The Perks:

I'll use this opportunity to do as promised and go into a little more detail about what we do when we reach the "cap".  We chose three months of Nick's "salary" as our cap.  We took Nick's average "salary", which we figured out as stated above (by taking his previous year's earning and dividing by 12), and multiplied it by three.  When we have 3 months of his salary sitting in our slush fund, then we stop sinking every extra penny he makes into there.  (Note:  remember to raise this cap each time you raise your salary!).  We find three months to be a great safety net and enough to cover things when it gets really slow in the winter, or when bigger clients haven't paid their invoices yet, or even when the finishing up of projects gets delayed, and thus, so does the invoicing of them.  We may even consider 4 months in the future when I'm home with kids - God willing.

We only actually cap out our slush fund about once a year just because of the nature of Nick's work.  He makes a ton of money in June, July and August, and comes in under budget most other months of the year.  We normally top it off, and overflow it, in the summer, and then gradually drain it all year long until we reach the summer again.  (Generally speaking - there are exceptions).  June and July normally help replenish it (especially if we have raised the cap amount due a "raise" in Nick's "salary") and by about August, we find we have topped the slush fund right back up again (to three months' worth) and have even extra.  We take that extra and split it in two - half for Nick's business and half for the home.

This is where we find the money for bigger purchases around the house.  It's how we buy a new mattress, or deck furniture, etc.  It goes towards those things in life you want that are just too expensive to really save for otherwise.  You may find a more "fun" use for it, but we think it's fun to be able to buy new furniture, etc.

But we only do that with half of it.  The other half is for Nick's business, but in a fun way.  Business needs throughout the year we just make work because we have to.  But this is where Nick can buy his toys tools for his trade.  Last year it was a new computer.  This year it was new speakers. 

It's a way that about once a year, we can each make big purchases that otherwise wouldn't really be justifiable.

 That about sums it all up I think!  Any questions, just let me know :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Money Matters (Part 3): Money-Saving Tips

Okay, back on track with the budget blog.  To finish up my blog from the weekend, Creating a Budget, I wanted to share the creative and not-so-creative/common-sense ways Nick and I have found to save money, so that we have more to spend or save as we like.  (I will use the same categories as I listed in my previous blog.)  I will also see what photos I can dig up off my computer to give a bit of a glimpse into how we actually applied these ideas over the past couple of years. 

Rent  (OR, if you own:  Mortgage, strata fees, property insurance, property taxes, sewage/water).

Now, how much you spend here really depends on your goals in life.  If you plan to always rent, and owning a place down the road isn't a super high priority, well, then obviously you might not want to get the cheapest, smallest rental place possible.  However, Nick and I did want to own a place within a few years of getting married, so we got creative with our rentals.  We rented two places before buying.  (The reason for two places was because our first landlord was a microbiologist, combined with being OCD.  I left a single hair on top of the shared drying without realizing it once, and boy did I get a lecture!  That is another story, however).

Both places required a 45 min - 1 hour commute to work, as we saved hundreds of dollars by being willing to live outside of the city.  And both were very small.  The second place was 420 square feet (wall to wall - this counts for counters, etc. as well, so NOT 420 sq. ft. of floor space by any means).  We learned to live with this much storage space (plus whatever we could squeeze under the bed and into the kitchen cupboards!):

And we had many dinners at our small Ikea coffee table, as we could definitely NOT fit a real table in that place.  We also successfully managed to have a bunch of people over after church for lunch and games around that same small coffee table.  It was way more of a memory that way! 

Okay, okay... maybe we STILL eat on our coffee table even now that we have a proper one:

Nick worked off his laptop in the bedroom when I needed the livingroom to teach piano, and we made it work.  All the money we saved by only paying $700-$750 in rent (all utilities and internet included) helped us save for our downpayment on our current place.  If we had been paying $1,000 or more in rent, we would have used up at least $300 more a month than what we were paying at $700.  Even that over one year ($300 x 12) is $3,600.  There's half of a downpayment just by living cozy!

I could write many blogs on how to save money when buying a place.  Suffice it to say, go HERE for the full story.  Long story, short - we bought a fixer-upper and foreclosure and worked hard for a good solid month.  Foreclosure sale + $5,000 in renovations + one month of weekends and evenings + a lot of help from family and friends = us being able to sell it for about $25,000 MORE than we paid for it just a few month after we bought it.  Not that we did, cause we're sticking around after all that work!  But, we saved about $20,000 (after paying back the money we borrowed for the $5,000 of renos) by just buying something that wasn't move-in-ready. 


Do your best to not SHARE these with other tenants or the landlords upstairs.  I have had so many friends try to save and conserve.  Even Nick has been there with his bachelor place.  And the people upstairs jack up the rates for everyone!  Try to get these fixed as part of your rent, and then you will know what to budget for.

If you have coin laundry:

My mom was pointing out to me the obscene amount of underwear that we own.  (I was doing our laundry at her place one weekend this summer).   It is far cheaper to buy more socks and underwear so that you can go 2-3 weeks without doing laundry, than it is to be forced to do laundry every time you run out!  Calculate how many loads you need to do and how many times a month you need to do them.  We take out $20 in quarters every month and that holds us over just fine.

Also, don't do we what did.  Do NOT give away your drying rack because you don't think you will ever need it.  Then your bedroom will look like this if you forget to pick up enough quarters to wash AND dry your laundry:

Also, here is a short video to demonstrate how NOT to spread your clothes out to dry if you find yourself in a similar situation:

Bank Fees

Know what they are.  Budget for them.  If possible, find an account where they will waive bank fees if you keep a minimum balance in there.  (If you live a month ahead, as I briefly touched upon HERE, then you should be able to keep that balance in there.  Also, we use a no-fee credit card for everything instead of a debit card, so we don't have to pay extra for exceeding the amount of allowable monthly transactions.  Just make sure you don't use the credit card for money that isn't ALREADY in your bank account!

Transit Pass / Car Insurance 

If you can transit, please do!  (You get 10-15% back on your taxes!).  If you have a job like Nick's that requires a car, then try to get all the discounts you can.  The car was originally mine when we got married.  But at ICBC, I "gave" it to Nick, or "sold" it for $1, because he has one more year of driving than I do, so his insurance is slightly cheaper.  It is also cheaper if the principal driver is the one who pays for the insurance.  Again, that would be Nick.  And if Nick ever gets another speeding ticket, or something that hurts his discount, then we will legally "give" the car back to me, and I will insure it!  Also, if the only people that drive your car have been driving for 10 years or more, you get an additional discount.  We will be getting that next year, as one of us has been driving for 10 years now and the other for 9.


Use those cheap 3-month promotional offers to try out another company.  We did and found that we didn't really like company A all that much.  So we told them we were switching to company B, which had a great 6-month promotional offer on.  Company A got very worried that we were leaving and offered us $10 internet for a year!  Yes, our modem is a bit slow, but seriously... $11.20 for internet each month after tax?  For a year?  So worth it.  You play phone companies against each other for the best deal.  It totally works the same way with internet providers!


We ALL spend too much money on these little devices.  I have one question that can save you lots depending on your answer.  Do you REALLY need data on your phone?  Nick most definitely does.  I do not.  Sure, it would be nice.  But I have internet at work.  Internet at Starbucks, McDonald's etc.  And I have it at home.  I am sure I can LIVE without internet for a few hours a day while I commute.  I also did not NEED an iphone.  Nick bought me a used one off the internet for my birthday that we could use without data.  Also, PLEASE call your company and ask them to reduce your rates, or shop around!  I pay $25.00 a month for my phone (2,500 texts, voice mail, call display, free incoming, etc. etc.) and Nick pays $60 or $65 and he has all I do and more plus data with the latest Iphone.  You do NOT need to be paying $100s for phones!  They are JUST phones!  (Note: I called three times, threatened to quit, DID quit and then signed back on to get my $25 deal, so you do need to really work at it to get it THAT low!  Plus, I took over a friend's phone with a grandfather plan on it, which was the main enabler there.  However, even if you know of a friend with a good, recent plan, get their number, call the provider and say you want THAT plan).

Speaking of phones - I am selling my old one for $10 with charger and car charger - any takers?

Seriously, please buy it so I can help pay for my new computer :)

Credit Card Payment

We borrowed money from savings to pay this off (or you could maybe even ask family), which had no interest to pay back.  Then we paid THAT back instead of our actual credit card company which was charging us around 20% interest.  We also had friends that took out a line of credit from the bank and used it to pay off their cards.  Now they are paying their line of credit back which has SIGNIFICANTLY reduced interest rates.  (Don't use these tricks to go into MORE debt, of course!)

Student Loan

Pay this off last.  We get a tax break on the interest paid.  Hit your other loans first and foremost.  However, don't treat this debt like it is nothing.  JUST because Prime is really low right now, and makes payment really affordable, doesn't mean it won't increase in the future, making this debt a much bigger pain in the butt!

Life Insurance 

If this is something that interests you, look into it now rather than later.  The younger you are, the cheaper your payments will be!


As Christians, we give 10% of our before-tax dollars to God.  Obviously, this doesn't apply to if you aren't a Christian.  Tithe by definition of the word is technically 10% so I don't really have any money saving tips here!  Um... make less?


Use the bus when you can.  Carpool when you can.  Walk if you can.  Budget out how much you need each month.  Keep an eye on it.  When you have established a good amount, and you still see yourself going over, look for times where you can transit, or catch a ride with a friend.


Superstore / no-name brand / Costco are your friends.  Buy bulk if you can and portion into meals.  (We picked up a free second small freezer just so we can make a Costco card worth it).  Look for coupons and deals.  Find cheap meal ideas and create a menu that rotates them in often.  Perogies.  Pasta.  Burritos with refried beans.  Soups.  Salads.  etc.  Buying individual size anything will kill your food budget.  Spend a bit more money up front to buy bulk and portion meals out.  Also, if you are going to a party and have to bring snacks, spend 40 minutes and whip up some cookies.  So much cheaper than buying pre-packaged stuff, and everyone loves home baking anyways!  Figure out how much you need and stick to it!  If you are running out, and the month is only half over... well... you'll get really healthy eating salads and soup for a while until you can go buy what you like again!  Oh, and don't use this fund to eat out.  THAT will kill it faster than anything!


The best money-saving tip I have found here is use what you have!  Seriously, how many bottles of STUFF do we have under our sinks?  Shampoos, conditioners, samples, make up, lotions, face cleanser, etc.!  Don't go buy yourself something brand new until you use what you have!  I just avoided buying face soap for the last two months because I dug under my bathroom sink!  Also, research less expensive alternatives.  A coworker just pointed out to me that rose water acts as a good toner and can be picked up in the ethnic isle of Superstore for just a few dollars.  That sure beats the tens of dollars you would spend for something in a nice bottle!


You know what I'm going to say, right?  Value Village.  Yes, it takes longer, but you get quality stuff for affordable prices.  Yes, I do buy stuff at the mall occasionally.   I give myself $15 a month for clothes, and if I choose to spend it at the mall, then so be it.  Or if I choose to spend my "allowance" at the mall, then that's cool, too.  However, $15 will buy me a couple pairs of pants at VV, and only a cheap shirt at the mall.


I have discovered the world of highlighting my hair!  Super fun.  Super expensive.  I've done it only twice, on sale, in the last year.  And now I'm on a break until probably the spring when I'm up to spending my "allowance" on it again.  In the meantime, I cut my own bangs, and live with naturally brown hair.  (Some places will give you bang trims for free if you get your hair cut there - worth looking into!).  I get my hair done at Mastercuts (nothing fancy), and Nick gets his done at the barber down the street.  Nick can get his done for $18 and I can get mine done for $23.  I do mine 3-4 times a year, and Nick does his every other month.  We added it all up, divided by 12, and set aside $20 a month for it.  (Also, go to schools of hairdressing!  I have a friend that goes there and can get super cute cuts for $15.)  When I have kids, I am going to learn to cut hair while they are still too young to care.  Right now, I am avoiding styling...:

Long-Term Savings 

I will admit that we currently don't have anything in this category.  Right now we will save more money long-term by paying off as much of our mortgage as possible.  We also have a real blessing in my parents making an agreement with us to rescue us temporarily (i.e. we stop paying extra on our mortgage and then pay them back asap) from any emergencies that pop up while we focus hitting our mortgage as hard as we can.  If we did not have this agreement, we would be putting aside whatever we needed to have at least $5,000 in there as quickly as possible for unforeseen special levies, car issues, etc.

Okay, now here's the part where you aren't trying to cut back or give just enough.  Here's the part where you want to do the opposite, but should probably reign in!

Nick's "Allowance"  
Laura's "Allowance" 

For the above three categories (personal spending money for each of us, and money to spend on fun stuff together), we have made lots of adjustments.  (These are also the first thing to get adjusted if we have a really hard month and want to cut back and conserve.  We each currently get $55 a month to spend on our own and $70 to spend together.  (We just gave ourselves a raise - it was a lot less for a long time).  This is the stuff we eat out on, and buy each other presents with.  (We decided to let our "gifts" category be just for Christmas, and if our friends have birthdays throughout the year, we use our allowances for it.  I honestly don't know whether some would consider this a lot or a little!

We just went $55+$55+$70 = $180.  $180 x 12 = $2,160.  Then we said to ourselves, do we REALLY need to spend more than $2,160 on junk food and fun times, and whatever we want a year?  Mmmm.. probably not.   We learned that no matter how much or how little we make these categories, we will almost always spend them within the first 10 days of the month... entirely... lol.  (Well, I DO tend to save my allowance longer than that, but then I buy computers and cameras and expensive stuff, so I never really have money to spend cause I'm always saving up for something bigger!).  You just need to decide what you're comfortable with spending.  Add it up for 12 months, and see if you're okay "blowing" that much a year :)  (Albeit, gifts for friends isn't necessarily "blowing" it, but that majority of it is not used for that!).


This is not to top up your entertainment fund when it runs out.  This is to top up OTHER more important expenses when you run short.  (No, not your allowance either).  Trust me, I know how tempting it is.  This was an "extension" of our entertainment for over a year, before we realized that we never had it when we needed it then!

This is for the girl guide who comes to the door and you don't want to say no.  This is for when a wedding comes up and you need to buy a present that would ordinarily wipe out your allowance.  This is for when you use a lot of gas one month for some reason.  We put $45 a month aside, but again, this is a personal decision.  This is for pesky passport photos and the like.

Car Repairs

This amount technically doesn't fall under stuff you want to throw a lot of money at.  However, I'm doing these in the order I previously listed them.  This will depend on how old your car is.  This needs to cover oil changes, wind shield wipers, new tires when you need them, and general repairs.  This is so you don't go "oh, oh" when your engine light comes on.  Well, you still would probably say that, but it wouldn't be QUITE as bit of a concern.  This fund has also financed a couple tickets over the last two years :S :S


Netflix, cable, whatever you like.  We do Netflix because you can watch t.v. shows on it, and it's only $7.99 a month.  We'll cut it first if we ever need to, but this is our treat.  (Notice how cable and internet are separated?  Yes, one is more of a need than the other in today's society).


We like to give God an "allowance".  I know, that sounds really cheesy.  But we like to have extra money to give to people in need or the homeless on the street.  We want to support the churches we are a part of with our tithe, but we also want a little spending money on the side to help those who need it.  I can't tell you how much to put here, because 1.  you may not even be a Christian (in that case, substitute charitable donations here), and 2.  it's a personal decision and has to do with what God has put on your heart.


Christmas time :)  We used a simple formula here.  Nick's family draws names, so we will get two names a year from them.  My mom and dad makes 4 people total.  Then we added a few others we like to buy for as well.  Then we decided how much we wanted to spend on a Christmas gift for a person, multiplied that by the number of people we wanted to buy for, and divided by 12.  Saving for Christmas all year long :)

Yes, I save ribbons from year to year, too.

Short-Term Savings

Travelling time!  We figured out how often we could feasibly see our families, added up the gas for each of those trips over two years, and divided by 24.  (We didn't do 12 because we sometimes only make it out to the prairies every other year).  Just decide where you want to go, how often you want to go there, and start saving up.  Guilt free vacations right here :)

P.S.  Driving is much cheaper than flying ;)

Notice Nick's eyes are on the road.  This is because we are safe drivers and never speed... ever... 

Mortgage Savings 

This is only because we have anniversary payments where we can pay extra one a year.  Everything that we make above and beyond our above-budget goes here.  Tax returns go here.  Money from teaching piano goes here.  Christmas bonuses, raises, etc. all go here.  We are a little bit hard core in this department (though note, we did give ourselves a spending money raise this year!).  That's just because we have a goal we are trying to reach, and need to hit the mortgage hard in order to do so.  Soommmeettimmmeess we will use a bit of this money to buy a new mattress for our bed, for example, but we have other ways to get extra spending money for house-hold stuff that I will touch upon later.  Basically, we're really happy with the amounts we have allocated everywhere, so we don't really need to begrudge putting everything extra here.  If we did begrudge it, we would sit down and re-evaluate stuff :)

Okay, phew!  Long post!  I think this one "should" be the longest of them all.  Okay, now to go watch some Netflix with my hubby :)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Money Matters (Part 2) - Creating Your Budget

First off, happy Thanksgiving :)  I have found a place that is not perpetually raining to celebrate it, and will post pictures when I am home again :)

For now, as promised, I am going to elaborate more on my previous post.  If you remember, I stated three basic principles that we have found helped us allocate our money wisely.  They were:  

1.  Figuring out how much you need to live on each month.  In other words, creating a budget.  
2.  Living one month ahead of your needs.
3.  Creating a slush fund for variable income.  I.e. Turning inconsistent income into a salary.

1.  CREATING A BUDGET:  (This one will take more than one post to explain.  But we'll start here.)

The first of the three steps I listed is to figure out how much you need to live on each month.  What is your budget?  What categories do you need?  

Categories aren't set in stone.  Our budget continually gets modified as our needs change.  For example, we used to have three categories for debt - credit card, personal debt, and student loans.  As debt is eliminated, so are those categories.  They are replaced now by things like savings, extra money for mortgage anniversary payment, etc.  

Some people like to have just a few categories that encompass a lot of things.  For example, they may have "Food" as one category.  This could include groceries, toiletries, eating out, ordering pizza, getting slushies at 7-11, etc.  We prefer to micromanage a lot more than that, so we have a good idea of exactly where our money is going.   It is also good to have a more exact idea of how money is spent if you share a bank account.  

Nick and I would never dream of having a separate bank account, though I know lots of husbands and wives do.  We are in this thing (marriage) for the long haul and divorce is not an option for us.  We are two people sharing life together until death does us part, so there is no reason why our finances should not be shared as well.  But THAT is a whole blog in and of itself, so I digress.  

The first thing you need to do may seem obvious to those familiar with budgeting.  However, for those just starting out, bear with me while I state what is obvious to you :)  You need to figure out your "fixed" expenses.  These are the expenses that you HAVE TO PAY no matter what.  Rent = fixed expense.  Clothing = not so much.  Both rent and clothing are important, but the difference is, one you can't "pass" on for a month if you wanted to, and the other you could.  


Rent  (OR, if you own:  Mortgage, strata fees, property insurance, property taxes, sewage/water).
Bank Fees
Transit Pass / Car Insurance 
Credit Card Payment
Student Loan
Life Insurance 
Tithe (obviously not if you aren't a Christian)

Now, there are some things in life that are a necessity, but are not completely "fixed" - i.e. you can control greatly how much you spend on them.  Let's call these variable expenses.


Long-Term Savings (for emergencies and the future)

The last category we'll call discretionary expenses.  These are the ones that you really can live without, but are really nice to have.  It will be the easiest if I just give you what we have for examples:

Nick's "Allowance"  (spending money that he can do whatever he wants with without me caring)
Laura's "Allowance"  (spending money that I can do whatever I want with without Nick caring)
Entertainment  (when we go out together, or together with friends)
Discretionary  (in case we run out of money in another category and need to top it off, or in case of unforeseen expenses)
Car Repairs (we have a separate category for this apart from savings)
Netflix (or cable t.v.)
Giving (separate from tithing)
Short-Term Savings (we mainly use this to save up to visit family or travel)
Mortgage Savings (we are allowed to pay extra money towards our mortgage principal once a year so we set aside extra money for this throughout the year, though this could also count as savings for a downpayment, if you are looking to own in the future).

When making your budget, allocate money to the Fixed Expenses first, then to the Variable expenses and IF you have some left over, then you can create Discretionary Expenses.  I will spend some time in my next blog post explaining how to decide how much money to allocate to each of the non-fixed expense categories and also tips on how to save money in each category (even in the fixed expenses categories).  

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Money Matters (Part 1)

It is 7:38 in the morning, and I have already been at work for about 10 minutes.  Yawn...  So early!  The good news is, we have established that driving takes just as long as transit if you leave before rush hour really kicks off.  The bad news is, we totally did not need to leave so early.  Albeit, Nick had a meeting at 7:30 downtown anyways that he is only going to be slightly late for instead of really late for so it all works out.  And besides, it gives me a few minutes to blog before starting my day.

Nick was trying to help me brainstorm and come up with ideas of what to blog about - a theme or topic, if you will.  30 days is a lot of blogging, and my life seriously is not THAT interesting.  So yesterday's post "A Penny Saved..." was the start of something.  It was the start of me sharing what Nick and I have found "works" for making it financially as a young couple starting out in a big city.  Don't get me wrong, I am certainly no expert, but, through trial and error, we have come up with some pretty workable ideas that I thought I would pass along because it would have been great to have someone sit down with us when we first got married and share a bunch of ideas to get us started.

P.S. The title is supposed to be a play on words, JUST in case your brain is as foggy as mine is at this early hour.  Don't go thinking I'm putting too much emphasis on the importance of money.  I just want to share ways we have found to be responsible with it - not to make it our "god". 

Okay, I like the cute pigs.

I don't know if anyone can relate to where we were at, but I'm willing to bet that a lot of people might.  We were married at 23 and 24 with a good student loan, some credit card debt and throw in some personal debt to family members as well.  I was just starting a secretary job at a good, but still base salary and Nick was on Craigslist trying to break into the film industry.  Both of us had spent about a year's worth of school on what we were doing, though I did have piano teaching to fall back on, but no students as I had just moved here!

It was pretty tight.  However, we took a moment (and advantage of the fact that we were on our honeymoon for two weeks so had less expenses), and figured out a few primary things that our entire budget/financial plan is based upon.  I'm going to share what  those things are for this blog and, yes, I have already used up my 10 minutes I allowed myself to type this.  However, I'm not even supposed to be at work for another 10 minutes and I've already been working, so I will help myself to another few minutes to continue this.  I will unpack each of them in a subsequent blog post, but for now, here is an overview: 

1.  We sat down and figured out how much we needed each month to pay our bills and our debts and realized we could live on about $3,000 a month all inclusive.  We added up our rent and our other "fixed", unchangeable expenses.  We made a plan of how to pay off our debt.  The end figure was $3,000 a month. 

2.  We postponed paying off debt aggressively and postponed saving for the future.  Both of those things are what any financial planner will tell you are super, duper important, but we put them on hold for a minute.  Instead we socked away as much money as we could for a while, scrimping and saving, and paying minimum payments on everything until we had saved up about $3,000.
    Then, on November 1, 2009, we had $3,000 in the bank and we started to spend it.  We didn't TOUCH any money we made in November at all.  All of  November's expenses were paid from our $3,000 in savings.  Then on December 1, 2009, we started to spend the $3,000 we had earned in November while living off our savings, and didn't TOUCH any of the money made in December - until January 1, 2010.  You get the picture.  We were living one month ahead.  This has huge advantages that, in my opinion, made it SO worth it to do this rather than just attack our debt right away.  Some of the advantages are:

          A.  We never have to worry about such and such a bill coming out of our account on a certain date.  We didn't have to check and see if one of us got paid before we could take money out to pay for our phone, etc.  The month's expenses were ALWAYS ready to be taken care of.  Our bills and our paycheques do not need to dance around each other in perfect timing.

          B.  When we had a really bad month and did NOT make a full $3,000, we knew we had to cut out everything (including our bit of spending money, etc.) in order to make it work.  We knew this on the first of the month and could change our spending accordingly.  We weren't left sinking deeper into a hole at the end of the month because of unexpected shortness of cash.  We knew exactly where our "tough times" were because we had a month's advance notice.

          C.  This is SO MUCH LESS stressful, which makes for a happier marriage in general.

          D.  We always have a "back-up-plan".  If Nick breaks his ankle, or can't find work, etc.  That's okay, because we have a month's savings at all times. 

          E.  We don't waste $100 a year on bank fees.  (Add it up - that $8.50 you pay to have a bank account each month adds up over a year!).  We have an account that lets us pay no bank fees as long as we have a minimum balance of $2,000, which we do because as we spend it, we are getting paid and the money is going right back in getting ready for the next month.

          F. Nick does not always get paid right on time.  Sometimes a project drags out, or clients are late paying their bills.  We don't need to panic in these situations because we have bought ourselves a little extra time to chase them down if they are a week or so late in paying.

3.  I am on salary, which is great, but Nick has a variable income.  He can make $5,000 one month and $600 the next.  How on earth do you make a budget around that?  How can you know you will make $3,000 a month when one of you may not bring in enough or bring in too much?  What do you do with the extra money?  This step takes a little figuring out.  You need to look at last year.  We looked at how much Nick made in 2008.  (This wasn't much because he was still in school for part of that!).  We added it all up.  Then we divided it by 12 (for each of the months in the year).  That gave us his monthly AVERAGE.  That is what we said his "salary" was.  Now we were both on salary.  When he made more (which he inevitably did as he was not in school part time in 2009), we took ALL that extra money (yes ALL of it) and created a "slush fund".  Whenever Nick makes more than his "average", we do NOT spend it.  It goes straight to that fund.  Whenever Nick makes less, that's okay cause we have a slush fund to take money from and "top his salary up" back to what it should have been for that month.  And, as mentioned above, this makes it okay even if we have to chase clients for an extra month to remind them they still owe us!  (I will go into more detail in a later post about what we "cap" the slush fund at, and what to do if we made even more after the cap).

These three things formed our financial foundation and have been the springboard for a LOT LESS stress in our life and marriage.  I will unpack each of these further in future posts, and go into more detail, but for now, there you have it.  (I also promise later to show how we still have fun and treat ourselves.  It's not all hard-core saving and work - just at the beginning to get started and slush funds built up, etc.).

Now, it's getting light outside and I have to go work :)