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Debt Payoff Report – May 2018

Debt Payoff Report – May 2018

This month was a little hectic with work travel, but I pushed through and made decent progress! In May I bought tickets to Cirque du Soleil, 3 months of Spotify premium, and a dress to replace two that had worn out. Including interest, I’ve paid […]

Behind The Price Tag

Behind The Price Tag

I’m not shy about the fact that I continue to buy non-essentials even though I’m on a journey to be debt free. Today I’d like to share with you some of the random things that I think about when making those purchases. I don’t do […]

The True Burden Of Gifts

The True Burden Of Gifts

You may be wondering why I’m talking gifts right now, when one of the largest gifting seasons is in December. Well, summer is the perfect time to plant the seeds of anti-consumerism in the mind gardens of friends and family. We tend to be outside more, valuing nature and experiences over physical items. The warm, fuzzy feelings of the holidays have faded and the new season’s marketing has yet to be unveiled. Even the most fervent gift givers likely haven’t intensified their holiday shopping yet.

Now is the time to broach difficult and often emotion-laden topics, and set expectations for the coming holiday season. The last thing you want is to try having meaningful conversations about gifts at the beginning of December.

Gifts Are Actually The Worst

I am the Grinch, the Grinch is me.

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That’s what it’s always been about. Gifts, gifts… gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts. You wanna know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me. In your garbage. You see what I’m saying? In your garbage. I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump. And the avarice… The avarice never ends! “I want golf clubs. I want diamonds. I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored and sell it to make glue.” Look, I don’t wanna make waves, but this whole Christmas season is stupid, stupid, stupid!

Don’t get me wrong. There are few joys greater than cozying up with a mug of hot cocoa in your pyjamas and watching holiday movies with the people you love the most. Or in our case, taking a few traditional shots of Patron and then doing those other things.

My concern is with the social and environmental impact of our love of buying stuff in this modern consumerist timeline. We expend staggering amounts of thought, effort, and resources on gifts every year, with surprisingly few benefits.

We’re Overwhelmed By Stuff

There are 300,000 items in the average American home – yet 1 in 10 still rent offsite storage. Women, who tend to do most of the holiday purchasing, will spend eight years of their lives shopping. Excessive consumption is eroding our space and time, and we don’t have much to show for it. We’re stressed, overwhelmed by clutter, and less happy.

Incredible Amounts Of Money Are Wasted

Did you know that billions of dollars are wasted on unwanted gifts every year? There’s actually a term for this in economics: the deadweight loss of Christmas, or the gap between how much a gift giver spends and how much the recipient values the gift. Waldfogel’s research found that 1/10 to 1/3 of the value was lost in holiday gift giving.

I shudder to think about how much each person has spent on gifts that languish at the back of their acquaintances closets. Even if we know each other well, our presents can miss the mark. Between an inspired gift idea and the date it’s opened, so many outcomes are possible – they may have purchased it for themselves, someone else could have had the same inspired idea, or their tastes might have changed. Even if we try to circumvent this by swapping gift cards, $1 billion in balances go unredeemed every year.

Not to mention that we’re often spending money we haven’t even earned yet. As shoppers head into a new holiday season, some are still carrying debt from the previous year!

Gift Guilt Is Real

Guilt isn’t an emotion we commonly associate with the holidays, but as soon as you start looking you’ll realize it is everywhere.

Do you worry that the value of a gift you’ve given won’t compare to one you’ve received?

Do you panic when you receive an unexpected gift and immediately feel pressure to reciprocate?

Do you hold onto things for fear that a loved one might visit and not see your gift lovingly displayed?

Christmas guilt is rampant, and much of it is centered around the exchange of physical items. WTF, friends. Most wonderful time of year, indeed.

Working Conditions Are Still Awful

I think if more of us saw the sweatshops where our glittery baubles and festive stockings were made, we’d be slightly less cheerful about snagging them for half price at the end of season sales.

It just kind of highlighted for me that these people are spending their whole lives making stuff that have no relevance for them in a language they don’t even understand. And then it’s shipped to the other side of the world, where we use it for a week and then probably throw it away. – Gemma Lord

Workers are often labouring long hours, for low wages, and in dangerous conditions.

The Environment Is Suffering

I had a bit of a moment last Christmas when I watched a young child tear into gift after gift, filling a box with wrapping destined for the landfill and piling plastic toy on top of plastic toy. She had it down to a science: acknowledge gift giver, tear open, dispose of packaging, pile gift, say thank you, repeat. It broke my heart in entirely new ways that this is what we’re teaching the next generation, and it reminded me of similar childhood experiences of my own.

Producing new items is often resource-heavy and environmentally destructive, not to mention the accompanying wrapping paper, packaging, and cards. Figures from Britain showed 227,000 miles of wrapping paper thrown out in a season – enough to reach almost to the moon.

Donations Are Losing Their Lustre

Donating tends to give us an emotional boost, and so we perpetuate the cycle of building up purchases and then purging them in marathon declutter sessions. As soon as we drop an item in a donation bin we simultaneously shed responsibility for the final destination of it and feel satisfied that we’ve done something good for someone who needs it.

Increasingly though, people don’t need or even want our donations. There is a glut of mass produced, often low quality, items on the market. The sheer quantity of second-hand clothing imports has devastated local industries in Africa. Donations are still valuable and appreciated in many cases, but we need to be careful about letting that absolve us of responsibility for our purchases.

Why We Need To Be More Materialistic

The problem isn’t that we value items too much; it’s that we’ve stopped valuing them at all. We need to treasure our possessions again – not to the extent that we idolize them, but so that we consider their entire life cycle. We’ve turned everything disposable, and so we dispose of everything.

When making a purchase, in addition to determining whether that item is needed or wanted, we should consider:

  • finances
  • ethics
  • sustainability
  • storage
  • disposal

This sounds like a lot to think about, and it is, but making small gradual changes in our purchasing decisions can add up to a significant impact.

I’m In! But What About Everyone Else?

I think most people hate our current gift giving practices, but hesitate to say anything about it. It’s possible that we’re just trapped in a cycle of unhappy politeness. In fact, a recent survey found that nearly 70% of Americans would skip exchanging gifts if family and friends agreed, and 60% would focus on time with each other instead. If most of us want that, let’s make it happen!

Here are some ways that you can try to decrease the negative impact of your gift giving:

  • Ultimately, mutual respect is key. Understand that you may have competing values – some people show love by giving gifts and that’s valid. Don’t belittle someone for their consumption. At the very least, that’s a promise that they’ll be defensive and will never change. Start conversations early, and focus on new directions rather than assigning blame.
  • Identify what you and your loved ones really want. Gifts are rarely about the item itself. They represent love, thoughtfulness, familiarity, and effort. Find ways that you can show someone that you care for them without giving them a physical item. Find ways that your loved ones can show that they care for you.
  • Emphasize the value of consumables. If you absolutely have to exchange tangible items, it’s better to receive something that you can use up. It won’t take space in your home, you don’t need to keep and display it for future visits, and it’s easily regiftable. Bonus points for low or zero waste packaging!
  • Buy local. Support artisans in your community whenever you can. Purchasing products made in your area stimulates the local economy, helps keep your neighbours employed, and promotes a sense of community. Also, it’s somewhat easier to track the life cycle of the product to make sure it’s sustainably and ethically produced according to national standards.
  • Focus on progress over perfection. You’re not going to change ingrained habits overnight. Choose one thing to implement this year and make it a new tradition. There are so many interesting ways that you can incorporate sustainable practices into your holiday season: implement a monetary cap on gifts, challenge everyone to use only reusable gift wrap, have a cookie exchange, switch to a secret gift swap rather than buying gifts for everyone, take a family trip in lieu of gifts.

Gifts are an emotional subject for a lot of people, and can be interwoven with personal identity. I don’t have anything against the spirit of gift giving, but my hope is that we can continue our traditions in a way that causes less damage to our mental and financial health, other humans, and the environment.

Have more ideas on how to give gifts in a way that aligns with your values? Let me know!

Saving For Retirement Without Losing Hope

Saving For Retirement Without Losing Hope

Retirement is always a scorching hot topic. Money issues are emotional to begin with, but it’s easy to feel hopeless considering the rising costs of education, housing, childcare, and healthcare. Add to that the unrealistic advice we receive (occasionally in the form of shame masquerading […]

Debt Payoff Report – April 2018

Debt Payoff Report – April 2018

I feel like every month I just want to comment on how quickly the month passed. (Except January, because January lasted 74 days this year.) April was kind of a blur of work-related stress that I’m glad to put behind me! In April I bought […]

Everyone Needs A Fuck Off Fund: The Relationship Edition

Everyone Needs A Fuck Off Fund: The Relationship Edition

YES, E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E! Even if you’re in a relationship and you have joint savings, you each still need your own Fuck Off Fund.

If you haven’t read A Story of a Fuck Off Fund by Paulette Perhach, it’s a must! Perhach refers to the Fuck Off Fund as ‘financial self defense.’ For me, it’s always been about insurance. None of us wants to imagine the life we’ve built with the person that we love falling apart, but it happens every day. Saving for that possible eventuality isn’t a sign of uncertainty about your relationship – it’s just prudent financial planning.

In a recent money survey, Glamour magazine found that 31 percent of readers said they’ve been trapped in a relationship because of financial reasons. That’s 31 percent too many!

What’s Mine Is Yours, Except For My Fuck Off Fund

I get that for many couples, it’s not ‘his money’ or ‘her money’ – it’s ‘our money.’ I get that you’re a team. I get that having joint accounts helps you work together on your goals and dreams. That’s awesome!

You still need your own money. 

What if the person you’re with decides that they’d rather not be with you anymore? What if you decide you don’t want to be with them? What if they cheat? What if they become abusive?

Don’t Trust The Lock To Which Everyone Has A Key

If you’re in a couple, you each need your own fund in a separate account to which only you have access. Not a joint savings account that either person could drain, not a joint credit card that either person could cancel. A readily-accessible-in-your-name-only-just-in-case account. You need to be able to get a place to stay, keep or find a job, and feed yourself while you figure things out.

This is particularly important for someone in a couple who is not working outside the home and doesn’t have access to an income.

What’s the harm in one extra account each that you don’t even need to touch except in case of an emergency? If you prefer joint accounts, you can still manage most of your money and spending together. Sure it’s one more account to think about, but is a slight inconvenience worth jeopardizing yourself?

If You Love Someone, Set Them Free

When did we decide that commitment and trust required completely joint bank accounts? There are many other ways to show someone your love that don’t risk your safety or independence.

Saving an individual fund is not an indication that you’re uncommitted to your relationship.

Are you uncommitted to driving safely when you buy car insurance? No. You’re preparing for the future, and anything that might happen in it. It means you know that something could come up at any time that isn’t within your control. If anything, reducing your financial dependence on each other can show a greater commitment – it means that you’re staying together because you choose to be with each other, not because your money is inextricably linked. That sounds pretty romantic to me!

Saving an individual fund is not an indication that you don’t trust each other.

A separate account doesn’t have to be secretive or shady. If you have open lines of communication and have established mutual trust, the location where someone stores money shouldn’t be a concern. If you need to monitor every transaction to make sure that they’re not cheating or overspending, you already have a trust issue! In cases of addiction you might need to monitor someone’s spending to ensure they haven’t relapsed, but for most of us there’s no reason to be wary of separate funds.

Saving an individual fund is not an indication that your relationship is unstable.

I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of people who have been together for 10, 15, or 103 years with one joint account from the beginning and they’re happy to rant to you about how it’s the only way. That’s fantastic for them, truly, but there are so many other people with completely combined finances who found themselves in a financially disastrous or physically dangerous situation.

Let’s talk about that.

Recognizing and Protecting Yourself From Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is often used as a form of control in relationships, and can be present throughout the relationship or begin and escalate when a victim attempts to leave or has left. Cases of financial abuse can include:

  • Forbidding the victim to work.
  • Sabotaging work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace or causing the victim to lose her/his job by physically battering prior to important meetings or interviews.
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities.
  • Controlling how all of the money is spent.
  • Not including the victim in investment or banking decisions.
  • Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts.
  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance.”
  • Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns.
  • Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts.
  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family income.
  • Withholding funds for the victim or children to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine.
  • Hiding assets.
  • Stealing the victim’s identity, property, or inheritance.
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay.
  • Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victims’ credit score.
  • Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits or threatening to turn the victim in for “cheating or misusing benefits.”
  • Filing false insurance claims.
  • Refusing to pay or evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets.

Researchers found that 99% of domestic violence survivors had experienced financial abuse. Financial abuse can happen gradually, with the victim becoming increasingly trapped in the relationship. Without access to money, survivors are often forced to choose between homelessness or returning to their abusers. Financial abuse is not a victim’s fault, and is not a result of their choices.

For more information or to get help, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (US) or the Ending Violence Association of Canada. If you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety, call 9-1-1.

Fuck You Fund Magic

I hope by now I’ve convinced at least some of you out there to start saving your own money – just in case. If not, maybe these stories will inspire you.

Money can give you new opportunities.  

“Having my own income helped me to leave a bad marriage. On top of many personal issues, the financial aspect of our breakup was critical: he was a compulsive spender (don’t ask me what he was buying, as I still don’t know) and put us in major debt. When I decided to leave, I realized that I could save 30% of my salary each month – despite losing his income! When we had two salaries we were struggling, while alone I rocked it. Now I’m married again (with a prenup!) and we’re on our way to early retirement within 7 years.” – Agata

“I broke up with my boyfriend unexpectedly and I called professional movers to move my shit IMMEDIATELY and I threw money at it like it was nothing. I felt like a badass and I was gone with the wind in a day!” – @jmm_2104

Money can give you peace of mind.

“It is comforting to have that cash in my name only in case I need to run. I’m not worried about the division of assets for this. I’m protecting myself in case my husband turns out to be abusive (which I hope is never the case). But I don’t care and I need to feel safe.” – @CoupleOfSense

Money can give you an escape hatch. 

“I’m so glad that I didn’t combine finances with my former spouse. When I left my toxic marriage, I had $1,000 in a savings account in my name. I wish I had $3,000, because I still had to borrow money from my family to leave. I think that saving money is extremely important, especially for couples that have a disparity in incomes. If the marriage is sound, having a buffer that each person is aware of shouldn’t be a big deal – as long as you agree on it. Personal finance is personal and you need to make it work for you and your life – however that manifests for you. That being said, everyone should save money!” – @veefrugalfox

The Part Where I Beg You To Save Money

If you’re in a relationship and you have completely combined finances, please consider opening separate accounts for each of you. If you earn the only income in the household, please consider setting aside a portion of that income for the other person to save. There are too many cases where a person (read: usually a woman) provides child care and household upkeep (read: beneficial, unpaid labour for the family) for years and ends up at a severe disadvantage because of it. If you feel like you don’t have any money to save, try to find even $5 somewhere and go from there.

Ideally you’ll never need to use these accounts, but it doesn’t hurt to take the precaution. The alternative, almost one third of us staying in an unfulfilling or abusive relationship simply because of money, is too heartbreaking to think about. 

Photo by Ethan Robertson on Unsplash

An Insider Guide To The Instagram Debt Free Community

An Insider Guide To The Instagram Debt Free Community

I owe a lot to the #debtfreecommunity on Instagram. I started an account as an online diary to track my progress and keep myself accountable in paying off six figures of student loan debt. At the time, I didn’t even know that an online debt […]

Are We There Yet? Persistent Gender Differences In Careers And Money

Are We There Yet? Persistent Gender Differences In Careers And Money

We achieved gender equality when women could vote and work, so we no longer need feminism. Right? Looking into the history of women and money in Canada, and many other countries, it’s easy to feel like we’ve come a long way – and we have. Legislation […]

Debt Payoff Report – March 2018

Debt Payoff Report – March 2018

We’ve finished the first quarter of 2018! I’m close to last year’s numbers for spending and debt repayment, so we’re looking good.

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra tempted me this month – I bought tickets to two of their summer shows! What is money for, if not to watch Harry Potter movies with a full orchestra playing the score? Bliss.

Other notable purchases include a muffin pan and baking rack, sunscreen, and a pair of work shoes (Clarks Endvale Opal Slip-On Oxfords, if you’re curious). Can we talk about how awful shopping for shoes is for a second? Stylish, professional, comfortable, ethical, sustainable = pick two.

Anyway, on to the crushing of debt!

Including interest, I’ve paid $3,784.92 to my debt this month!

March Milestones

This month was brought to you by my tax refund. I did have to use some of it for work expenses, but I was able to pay an extra $1,000 which is always exciting.

I’m under $85,000 total, and for the first time since I started this journey my monthly interest was under $300!

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What’s up in April?

Next month should be another business as usual month – other than dropping into the $70,000s which I’m very excited about! I’m not expecting anything to catch me off-guard with the budget – but we never do, do we?