The only thing I’m rolling in is pet fur

As per the title, I do not make a lot of money.

I make a few dollars over Canada’s Official Poverty Line ($13.50 per hour at full-time work) but as you’ve seen, I’ve also made a lot of debt for myself.

Go me.

The nice thing about having full-time work is employers tend to also throw in a benefits package for their employees which includes health and dental benefits. Plus there tends to be a registered retirement savings plan of some kind with a matched amount.

What this means is your employer promises to take a certain percentage of your pay each month, move it into a savings account for you, and match a specific percentage of that pay which doubles the amount contributed every pay. It’s to your benefit to max your contribution so you can benefit from compound savings.

(Compound savings are a fancy term that really means the good kind of interest. You know how on credit cards you’re charged interest rates that cost you money? Interest in savings plans earns you money. Then you earn interest on that interest and so on. So say you have a hundred dollars in a savings account with an interest rate of 1 per cent. You’re getting an extra dollar for every hundred you have in there, AND THEN you earn interest on the rest of that money. Cool, right?)

Now let’s talk about the health and dental benefits.

These have saved me a lot of stress because glasses aren’t cheap and neither is fixing teeth from a former pop habit.

When you sign up for benefits, check the packages carefully. Do you have lower back pain from a former injury and it requires you to get massages regularly? Calculate that out and pick the corresponding tier. I had at least 12 teeth which needed fillings plus a root canal and I needed my glasses prescription updated.

I got the highest package, and that saved me a lot of money in paying up front.

This is also important if you have kids or a lot of others on your plan. My partner has four kids and they’ve inherited his and their mom’s teeth foibles, so it makes sense for him to have a higher dental plan.

Don’t forget to check those benefits regularly. Counselling, massages, health plans and sometimes even a coverage of gym or health club fees can be covered sometimes.

I personally, could really use a foot massage.

Make a list of all of your benefits. What’s your incoming pay, how much is in your RRSP or any other accounts you have and how can you best use these to succeed?

Keep that information on you. we’re talking about budgets next.

Make that bank

You’ve haggled down your costs, you’ve raised your credit card limits, and you’ve cut out that streaming service you never use (goodbye, Roosterteeth) and your bills are still too high for you to pay every month.

It’s time to look into raising your income level.

There are a few ways to do this. If you have a job already, you can ask for a raise.

One type of raise is the cost of living raise. You go to your employer and ask for a 1 to 3 per cent raise on your income. Say costs have gone up, you’ve been doing a good job and you’d like to see that represented in your income. Include market research on what someone with your job title makes yearly by going to Indeed.

Ask them to look at your work and if they agree, give you a 2 or 3 per cent raise.

The thing about this technique is that it plants in your employers’ head that even if they don’t agree you’ve done good work or they don’t have the money to give you a 3 per cent raise, they do still have the option of that 1 per cent raise as opposed to losing an employee due to dissatisfaction with wages.

If you don’t want to do that, you can look for odd jobs or a part time job to make more money. I know people who accepted another job and put all the money from that job towards a specific goal, and then gave their notice. That’s an option for you too.

Or there are always passive income streams such as making printables to sell on Etsy or setting up a course in something you know really well with a small fee on Teachables or the like.

I’m not a huge fan of side hustles or the gig economy, but do what you have to in order to succeed at your goal of increasing your income to meet your bills.

I sometimes use Mistplay to earn gift cards to monetize that time I spend playing ridiculous mobile games. It takes a long time to earn anything of substance, however so it’s not a method I’d recommend.

What are your plans to increase your income?

Reducing expenses without eating less food

Now that you have a rough idea of how your income measures up, are your bills more than 60 per cent?

It’s haggle time.

Call your credit cards or loan provider and ask for a lower interest rate, or if you can, ask to increase the limit. If your cards are maxed up every month, the minimum payment you’re making is already immediately gone by the time you pay it because of the interest. You need that extra leeway to make the minimum payment before the interest is charged and you’re charged an overbalance fee on top of that.

Ask for overdraft protection on your accounts, It’ll save you a lot of money if you forget about a bill. Apply for job loss or accident or balance protection insurance on all your accounts where you can. That way if the worst happens and you have no income coming in, you’re protected from racking up more debt.

If I had known this, I could have saved myself from maxing out my credit cards and having the bills sent to collection agencies.

Can you renegotiate the payment on something to make it more affordable or worthwhile for you? Do it!

What about your bills, is there anything you can cut out completely?

Come on, are you actually using that Amazon Prime Membership, self? (No, but I am using it more than my Hubble membership, which I just cancelled. That’s $127 every two months back.)

Check those lines on your credit cards and your accounts. Are there any charges for things you can avoid?

For example, I would often rack up an easy $100 every month in what I like to call convenience charges. I worked at a market where everyone only took cash but there was an ATM nearby, so I could take money out. It wasn’t one of my bank ATMs so I was charged an ATM fee for using it and then another fee for withdrawing money from someone who wasn’t my bank.

On top of that there were the amount of times I used my debit card. At the time, the account I was using only cost me $10 a month in bank fees but limited my transactions to only 10 a month. So every time I swiped that card somewhere I was charged an extra $2. Make sure you’re using your accounts properly and if you’re not, move to one that works better for you, even if it means changing banks.

You work hard for your money (I assume) and you don’t want to waste it.

Reduce your bills until they’re only costing you 60 per cent, or until you’ve haggled and changed accounts until you’re sure you’re not losing money to things you can prevent.

If your bills are still too high, there’s more you can do.

Have you ever haggled down an interest payment?

Budgeting for dummies (me included)

Budgets tend not to be spoken of in fair terms.

When we hear about them, we immediately think limitations, bills, and the opposite of fun.

Fair enough, but what if we switched the language on that?

Budgets make it easier for you to save some money, pay your bills and have enough money to actually call it “fun money”.

I don’t want you to feel too stressed about this next process, but I do want you to be realistic and make good plans for yourself.

Your first step before you go any further is to make a list of all of your bills.

Go back for quite a few months and make of list of everything that comes out, what the amount is and when it’s withdrawn from your account. There are some standard bills such as housing, cell phones, car payments and the like which rarely every change in amount.

Then make a list of all the variable bills. These are the ones that aren’t the same amount every single month and tend to fluctuate. Think heating and lights, or gas costs or groceries. Average them out.

App suggestion time. If you’re having difficulties figuring this one out, I would recommend using Intuit Mint. Again, they’re not paying me to say nice things about them, but their super useful linking to all your bank accounts makes you more aware every time a bill is charged and it can even help you figure out some basic budgeting. It’s also handy for setting up bill payment reminders.

For the more experienced, it also gives you a handy breakdown of your net worth, the amount of cash you have, the amount you owe in loans or credit cards, and your investments.

I use a 60/20/20 system for my budget. That means 60 per cent goes towards bills of all shapes and sizes, 20 per cent goes towards savings and 20 per cent goes towards entertainment.

I apply this to every paycheque I have because I am essentially living paycheque to paycheque right now. So I take those amounts and divide them as per my system.

The easiest budget you can use is one catered specifically to your income and costs and goals.

Start thinking about those goals. What do you actually want to do in life? I assume it’s not work six days a week and stay home because you’re too broke to do anything else on the seventh day.

Make up a list of priorities and how you want to spend your time. How can you budget around that?

Personally, I would like to rest more.

No pressure, but what do you want to do with your life?

Let’s talk debt

It’s safe to say I could use a long lost relative suddenly passing away and leaving me a fortune. Or winning a lottery. Or an unclaimed wallet on the sidewalk full of cash I get to keep.

But that’s not how the world works.

I’d be a crappy relative if I never got to know all the relatives I could, I don’t play the lottery and I would feel seriously uncomfortable with keeping someone elses’ wallet.

I need to get my money a different way.

But before I can get excited about any income I make, I want to talk to you about my debt.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I was not responsible about finances when I was younger. I maxed out two credit cards and they both went to collections, I went to university and worked all throughout it but I never saved any of it. I took out a student loan and blew it all on junk.

I still have “brain wave” cat ears from some of those spending sprees.

My grandparents had money saved up for me in a Registered Education Savings Plan but that paid for just one year of my university education, and because I was undiagnosed with depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD and PTSD at that point, it was difficult for me to finish in the standard 4 years. I also switched majors.

All this to say, I have some MAJOR student loan debt. I’m currently on a repayment assistance plan for those with permanent disabilities (the only good thing about having major depressive disorder) but in total, my student loan is at (according to Borrowell) $28,048.

That’s the price of a new car. And uh, fyi? I am super envious of the people who have gotten that coveted letter from the government congratulating them on paying off their student loan.

That’s not the only debt I have. I have three credit cards amounting to roughly $5,300.

I also owe personal loans to some people in the amount of $2,300.

Do you see what I’ve done here? I’ve laid out all my debt. I know my credit score, and I have an idea of what the minimum payment plus interest payments are for all of these.

That’s your very first step. I suggest signing up for Borrowell (and they’re not paying me to say this) because it’s an easy way to combine a lot of your financial information into one page.

Make a list of all of that information. Take note of your credit score. (Mine’s the low end of 600.)

Take a deep breath. You can work with this.

Here I am, trying to stay accountable

You may not realize it, but I am scatterbrained.

That’s right, behind my bullet journals, calendars and many sticky notes are appointments I have to set a half hour ahead of time in my reminder app so I have a hope of getting there on time. That’s pretty standard for someone with ADHD of course. We have a tendency to hyperfocus on one thing at a time if we are able to focus at all and it’s something that tends to be unhelpful to daily life such as the use of bugs to determine areas.

My best friend jokes that he and I would make up a really great, really random and specific trivia team for useless knowledge.

When I have goals I sometimes find it hard to reach them. Like posting on this website more for example. It’s not that I don’t want to, I just get caught up in everything else.

When it comes to my finances, this is a serious problem.

It’s easy to forget abut my long time savings goals or the debt I have to pay off when I see a really great impulse buy in front of my face.

Enter Our Bill Pickle.

This blog is written by a friend of mine I roomed with during high school. We met in an intro to literature class at a time when she was pursuing journalism and I was pursuing law. Now I’m in journalism and she works for the government.

Tara is an excellent writer. She worked as a journalist for a long time, and she’s accomplished at communicating difficult-to-understand information in an entertaining and comprehensive way. I enjoyed reading and catching up on her posts regularly and I’ve learned a lot.

Now, Tara has a life outside of her work and her writing. She’s recently become a mom (congrats!) and of course, she’s going to be busy, which means she’ll be a little distracted (to say the least) when it comes to her blog.

So now I have to hold myself accountable, and that is going to be difficult.

I’m in a very different place financially than Tara. I did not work and save up on summers, I did not get really good grades and nabbed scholarships. (Seriously, she is an impressive human being!)

I have struggled a lot when it comes to finances and I’ve had to learn a lot on the fly and where applicable, a lot from Tara’s site.

The best way for me to continue this journey is to hold myself accountable again, and I plan on doing that with a personal financial series here. This way, other people in their early thirties or earlier or later who need some help taking those first steps can have some encouragement.

Stay tuned, I’m going to take you from the absolute basics, all the way (hopefully) up to having emergency funds, sinking funds and more.

And if I don’t post? Get at me! Be my accountability buddy!

Time to spill the tea

Have you ever heard of kombucha?


It’s a slightly fizzy, slightly sour drink made from tea culture left to ferment. Why am I bringing this up? Because I am going to teach you how to make your own.


Look, the pandemic is still ongoing, and Canada is projected to have only the first vaccine shot (you need the shot twice) sent out to every resident within this year. So if you’re anything like me, you’re swinging back and forth between too much to do and absolute boredom.


During this pandemic, we are in a high state of adrenaline and not only is there nothing we can do, but we’re spending the majority of the time locked up in our houses or tiny apartments. We could focus on all the awful things but that won’t get anything done and it won’t help us feel better. So if you can’t do anything about the main plot, let’s concentrate on some side quests.
If you know anything about me, then you know at one point I had an almost symbiotic relationship with Pepsi. If I had an addiction, that was definitely what I was craving. At one point in my life, I was drinking 4 litres of Pepsi a day, every day, for more than a year.


Yeah, I know.

I tried multiple times to quit and I finally ended up reducing my Pepsi amount to a bottle or a can every day. Then, I stretched it to every week. What finally determined the issue was over two thousand dollars of dental work, and the determination to keep a promise to myself. I was staring out the window at home one day and I went through all the cons of drinking Pepsi. There was a lot. And the only benefit to drinking Pepsi was it fulfilled my cold caffeine craving in the afternoon and my desire for fizzy drinks.


Enter kombucha.


Kombucha is caffeinated, has a fizz, and even works as a probiotic which means if I drink it, my gut health prospers. Kombucha is what I use to replace my craving for afternoon caffeinated fizzy drinks and to be honest, it’s a lot cheaper to make it at home.


Granted the first time I saw a living culture within a kombucha I was squicked out, but it grew on me.


Ahem.


If you take a whole bunch of tea, let it ferment for a week in the right conditions with some sugar, it will develop what is called a SCOBY or a mother. A scoby is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. You take the liquid out of that jar from that scoby and that’s what you drink.So here is what you need to start your kombucha side quest:

  • a gallon glass jar
  • a cup of sugar
  • some cheesecloth or coffee filters
  • at least 6 black tea bags
  • a wooden spoon or plastic spatula
  • a SCOBY and a cup of kombucha starter liquid

Now, the only hard thing to obtain here is the scoby and starter tea, but there are a few ways to get around this.

  1. Ask a friend who already brews kombucha if they have extra scobys you can have
  2. Order a scoby online (I’m using this one from Amazon)
  3. Make your own using a bottle of raw kombucha from the store (admittedly an advanced and difficult technique)

Let’s start by collecting these items and the next time I post, I’ll take you through the steps of setting up your own kombucha.

Will you give kombucha brewing a try? Do you have a favourite flavour of kombucha? Mine is definitely grape-flavoured kombucha.

He opened the door to find her standing there, crying.

Clark sighed and crossed his arms, hooking the door edge with his right foot.

“This can’t keep happening,” he said in a gentle voice, fighting off the urge to invite her in.

It wouldn’t help.

“I know,” she sobbed, rubbing the tears with the heel of her hand as she shook. The streetlight flickered, casting a strange grey hue on her face. She smelled like petrichor and mothballs, a faint odour of cedar chips coming from the paisley pink dress.

“I just miss you so much, you know?” Her eyes flicked up to meet his, and his shoulders began to hunch upwards, the hair on the back of his neck slowly rising as he tried to swallow the lump in his throat.

Her eyes were bloodshot red, making the blue of her pupils vibrant.

“Jessica, I can’t help you.” He said gently. His fingers ached to brush back her long copper hair behind her ear, like how he used to.

They had been an attractive couple in high school, with her pale skin, wide blue eyes and long, wavy copper hair and his tanned, muscular length, sun-streaked hair, and warm brown eyes.

His hair was white at the temples and he was lean rather than trim. His eyes were tired and framed by deep worry lines and wrinkles.Time had not been kind to Clark and neither had Jessica.

Her petite hand rested briefly against his doorjamb before she flinched back again. The back of her flat dropped off her heel as she leaned forward towards Clark, almost like she was magnetically attracted to him.

He knew better than to lean forward.”Why did you leave me, Clark? I was all alone.

“The plaintive question, delivered in her querulous voice made him recoil slightly, as he gripped his arms so tightly his knuckles turned white.

“You left me first.”

He remembered it like it was yesterday. They were on their way to a graduation party of their friend Rebecca and a tire blew on his dad’s station wagon. He hadn’t been able to safely exit the highway, and his abrupt swerving flipped the car. Jessica had screamed so loud…

He insisted on being at her bedside every single day in the hospital, holding her slender hand almost lost among the tubing as a machine fought to make her breaths for her.

Every single day, he was pushed in from his wheelchair, until he began hobbling in with the help of crutches, and a cane while his legs slowly recovered.

Jessica came out of the crash with severe spinal cord injuries, a nasty head wound and a serious loss of blood. She fell into a coma shortly after she was operated on and for the longest time, it seemed like she would never wake up.

Until she did, for one day, her tired face smiling briefly at him before her eyes closed one last time.

“I came back. I’ll always come back for you.” Her voice was more sinister now, a slight wheedling tone to it.

He blinked at her, as her face elongated slightly and she hissed at him almost reflexively, the delicate nails on her fingers being more claw-like.

“You shouldn’t come back for me anymore,” Clark told her, trying not to move back. Jessica didn’t like it when he walked away from her when she was talking.

She also didn’t like it when, after five years of grieving for her, he had gone out on a date with her former best friend Rebecca. It had ended in quick, furtive sex in Rebecca’s car and a slight sense of embarrassment afterwards when they agreed to just be friends.

Rebecca had been insistent she was being followed, and Clark hadn’t listened.

She was found in her car, stabbed to death with barely any blood left in her, although the police hadn’t been able to figure out what happened to her blood.

Clark had moved, shaken by the events in the little town he had grown up in. He ended up in Toronto, dating an older woman named Annie who let him move in three months into their relationship while he studied for his masters.

Clark found Annie in the bathtub in July on the same day he had flipped the car those five years ago. Her blood was unaccounted for as well.

He stopped dating completely and became career-focused until he got the news his dad had suffered a heart attack. Clark moved back home to take care of his dad until he passed away. His mother joined him shortly after and then he was left alone in what used to be his childhood home, grief-stricken and an orphan at 25.

Then Jessica came calling.

Every year on their anniversary in September, she showed up on his doorstep in the twilight and begged him to let her in. Every year, strengthened by some intuition, he didn’t understand, Clark never did. He knew. After a few minutes of conversation, Jessica would become enraged and vicious and threaten him.

Her teeth would seem longer, her eyes redder than they should be from crying and something would say to him -Something would say in the back of his head, in a scared, low voice, “That is NOT Jessica anymore.”

Her fists slammed against the doorjamb and she made an awful wailing noise.”Please, Clark. You’re all I have left.” Her sniffles dried up, and she looked at him, right down into his soul and smiled cruelly.

“I’m all you have left too.” She snarled, her fingernails cresting into the doorjamb and her teeth digging into her lower lip.

Clark stared at her, his heartbeat pounding in his ears, as he thought of how lonely he had been for the past 13 years and how right this monster-that-looked-like-Jessica-but-wasn’t-Jessica was.

He heaved a big sigh and dropped his arms.

“I think you might be right,” he said softly.

“You know I am.” Her voice purred in an obscene way that made the hairs on his arms stand up.

Clark looked down at the dark green carpet of his childhood home, then looked back at his high school sweetheart, framed in the doorway by streetlight.

“All right,” he said hesitantly. “You can come in.”The last thing he saw was Jessica swooping across the threshold and then there was the pain.

Then nothing.