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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Bad Housemate

My friend Sophie (name changed to protect her identity) moved away from her parents’ home right after high school to go to college.  She could have stayed home and still go to college with an ok commute, but she chose to move away.  For obvious reasons, her budget was very, very tight and her parents were not in a financial position to help her much with money.  So Sophie moved in with a friend from high school, Robert, who was also enrolled in college.
Robert used shopping as a hobby but could not keep up his lifestyle.  He dropped out of school and started working full-time, but his low-paying retail job was not enough for him to buy food, clothes and pay rent.  So he started eating Sophie’s food from the kitchen.  When Sophie would confront him, he replied that (sheepishly) that he was hungry.  Sophie had to start hiding food in her underwear drawer so that it would last and not be eaten by her housemate.  When the lease expired, Sophie moved. However, financially, she had been feeding Robert AND she had to pay for her move (Robert did not have the money to move!).
Another friend of mine had a system for paying rent: one student (my friend, Steve) would collect all the money from the other roommates and, with the bills in his name, would pay all the bills.  Except one of his friends would typically only pay partial bills because he would allocate part of his rent money to buying music.  He would then honestly explain:’ no, I did not have the full money for rent because I wanted to buy some music’.  Steve was stuck paying the bills.
Having good roommates is important and the financial (as well as emotional) burden of having housemates who won’t pay their share can seriously affect your lifestyle.  There are ways to partially protect yourself, although you are never truly protected: choose roommates who can afford the bills and seem responsible; put half the bills in your names, the others in the name of other housemates; rent from a landlord who will divide the lease and not make you responsible for each other’s rent; have a lock on your bedroom so you can keep valuables outside of others’ reach; finally, discuss at the beginning of the co-habitation what is common and what is not (do you share salt and pepper? shampoo?) and how will you identify private property in common areas (your ketchup and my ketchup).
Finally, don’t tempt housemates: don’t leave money lying around, electronics where they can be broken, and account information in plain view.  Housemates are acquaintances, and maybe friends; but they won’t remain friends if there is doubt about honesty.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Raid your parent’s house before hitting the stores

I’m a mom, living with my husband and three kids.  Over the years, we have accumulated many duplicated items, such as extra blankets, sheets (we buy new ones but rarely throw out the old ones), cutlery, dishes, waste baskets, etc.  Of course, if the old items are still usable but we feel that we’d like a more current model, we may buy it when it’s on sale.  Sometimes, we are surprised by a nice gift from a friend or relative.  The point is, we could live with less ‘stuff’, but are often reluctant to give some away or throw some out.
The advantage now is that as our eldest is leaving for university, and we have a tonne of stuff she can raid from our house and therefore be well equipped in residence for free.  Of course not everything works out (she has a double bed at home so we needed to buy single sheets), but overall, there’s lots she can take from home.
Here is a list of items you may be able to raid from your parents’ house when moving into residence or even an apartment or room.
- Sheets, towels, beach towel, comforters, blankets, cushions, pillows, mattress cover, window covering (many families keep the old window coverings that don’t fit the new home anymore!)
- Waste basket, rags, broom, clothes hangers, clothes hooks, sewing kit, scissors
- Basic tools: hammer, screwdriver, flashlight, night light
- Alarm clock, wall clock, CD storage, fan, plastic storage containers
- Umbrella, clothes dryer and clothes hamper, iron and ironing board, mirror, scale, small radio, bean bag chair, stools, shoe shelf, closet shelves, power bar, lamps, foldable work table,
- Kitchen stuff: dishes, cutlery, lunch containers, insulated mug, can opener, pots and pans, tea towels, microwave oven, coffee maker, blender, cake and muffin pans, measuring cups.
- Furniture if where you will live is not furnished: it could be a bedroom set (the one you use at home or an extra one from the cottage), an old couch for your shared living room, a couple of coffee tables.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, just comfortable; after, we all know people whose best storage furniture consists of milk crates!
Notice that on this list I did not put any consumable; this is because there is no use ‘stealing’ mom’s shampoo if she’s going to have to buy more.  A better idea is to watch the sales the summer before you go away and to buy before you need any of it; if you do not have easy access to a store at university, ask you parents to take you when and if they visit you, or do one large trip every other month: the taxi fare may be worth it.  Or find the store that is on an easy bus route (maybe not the closest one, but the one that is more convenient for you) or carpool with one person who has a car (and treat them to dessert from your cart!).
An extra tip: advertise with relatives and friends of the family what you need a good 6 months before going away – this way people who know your family will ‘save’ for you what they would have otherwise gotten rid of.  For example, one of my friends let me know she was buying a new set of dishes and called me to know if my daughter wanted her old set.  As well, high school graduation presents (if any) can be gifts that will be useful for college and university (a new duvet or coffee maker, or at the higher end of the spectrum, a new laptop or cell phone).  Finally, if there is something that you’d like but do not NEED, ask for the item as a birthday or Christmas present!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The no-spending challenge

Once a while, when I see that I spend too much, I will challenge myself to a zero dollar week.  My challenge is to not spend any money (unless absolutely necessary – like paying for a photocopy) during 7 days (or course feel free to make the challenge longer).
This means no shopping, eating from the cupboard and the fridge, no going out, etc.  I cut down my spending to only essentials for one week. But if I’m doing the challenge for only one week, am I not going to simply delay my spending by a few days and not change anything overall in my annual spending? Actually, no.
This challenge makes me realize that I can live quite well without spending money.  I may have to be a little more creative at finding gifts, going out, eating, and designing outfits from my own closet.  It forces me to enjoy other things than purchasing new items.  This helps me have a mindset of not spending.  If I repeat the challenge every so often, my mindset is geared more and more towards not spending.  After doing the same challenge 4-6 times, I end up not enjoying spending money that much (really; I’ve done it!).
A ban of spending, even temporary, makes me appreciate how much I already have.  I do have food in the pantry and clothes in my closet.  I have activities that I enjoy that do not involve me spending money.  This, again, resets my thoughts towards not spending money.
It is possible that I may need to delay purchases during my no spending challenge week.  A few things can happen with this: 1. I simply purchase the item after my challenge is over; 2. I realize that I don’t need the item and change my mind about purchasing it; or 3, I go back to spending in my original way, but not having a ‘catch up ‘ period for my lack of restaurant meals for a week (i.e., I can go back to restaurant meals twice a week, but I won’t have 4 restaurant meals the week after my challenge to make up for the challenge week).  In two out of three of these options, I end up saving money overall (options 2 and 3). 
You also do not have to do the challenge perfectly: if you are planning on going to the movies on Saturday, you can plan on not spending until Saturday morning.  If not spending for 7 days seem too easy, try 10 or 12 days.  You can also alter the challenge so that it excludes food from the grocery store – especially if you are ‘due’ for grocery shopping.  If you are buying a gourmet coffee and your lunch out every day, a day without spending may be the best way for you to start.
The no-spending week challenge is an effective way to change your view on spending money.