My year in review

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2019 was definitely one of my most powerful years to date. I recall having only 3 other like this in my life so far: 1999, 2000 and 2006.

These 4 years all have 3 points in common: they involved extensive travels, they were definitely not the most lucrative and I was the happiest ever.

2019 confirmed my long-held belief money doesn’t equate happiness. Happiness is not something you can buy on any stock exchange….

Let’s briefly move back to the end of 2018. I was really not feeling well at that time. I felt stuck. I felt disconnected. I even felt like I had very little to no options for my life! I am not sure how I came to feel that way.

Although I had made some much needed changes earlier on, such as switching to part-time work and starting my MBA studies, it was not enough.

I needed something more “drastic”

My university happens to have a campus near Kuala-Lumpur, Malaysia. I decided to apply to study for a semester there and was accepted.

Early January, I took a 19-hour flight to get there and didn’t look back until mid-April. To write that I thoroughly enjoyed myself is an understatement.

Being away from my usual environment for an extended period was exactly what I needed. I met great people, tasted some of the best food ever, visited 8 countries and learned a lot.

More importantly, I reconnected with myself

I hadn’t felt that way for a very long time.

The disconnection I felt with others was stemming from a disconnection with myself. Since my return, I haven’t had this intense feeling of loneliness that I used to have, and that I couldn’t understand.

That doesn’t mean I don’t feel alone from time to time. I manage my aloneness better than my loneliness.

I finally quit my soul-killing job

This took me some time however. I actually went back upon my return from Malaysia. I needed some income, and I also needed to figure-out what I wanted to do next.

A few weeks back in, I realized coming back was a mistake. At this stage, I wasn’t learning anything new; there was nothing beyond my current position, and the working environment was so dysfunctional that it was no longer sustainable.

I quit at the end of September.

I became self-employed again

Once I decided to quit my job, I started looking for another, but my heart wasn’t in it. Deep down, I knew that I wanted to become my own boss again. So, I did just that. Click here if you want to know more about what I do.

I also became clearer on what I wanted

I certainly don’t have everything figured-out, but I am definitely more clear about what I want as well as what I don’t want.

As a result, I am not so stressed-out all the time, and I have also eliminated a lot of energy vampires from my life, whether being activities, things or people.

I have options

And it’s a nice feeling! It’s liberating too.

Traveling to a couple of third-world countries where I saw extreme poverty gave me a better perspective, and reminded me how privileged I am. I needed that too!

I was so engrossed in my first-world problems that I couldn’t see the forest behind the one tree I was obsessing about.

Money is not the answer to all problems, questions or prayers

I am not saying money is not important. It kind of is. But having money will not solve all your problems, nor will it turn you into someone you’re not. It won’t make you a better person either.

So what does 2020 have in store? Well, I don’t know. I am not a fortune-teller. I have decided to take each day as it comes, from now on.

Avoiding Christmas financial madness

For many people, Christmas lingers for months and months after it is gone. Marketers do an excellent job of making us spend our money on items we neither need nor want.

With Christmas a mere 4 weeks away, it is not too late to avoid the “January Financial Hangover”. If you haven’t planned anything, now is the time to:

  • Prioritize: a short deadline will help you zoom-in on who and what is important to you. If you have a partner and/or kids, talk about what you want from the Holiday Season.
  • Get creative, instead of spending money: if you have a talent for baking, cooking or for crafts, what about using it instead of buying prepared food and gifts? You can also donate your time.
  • Buy your Christmas ornaments at the dollar store, or if you are creative, make them yourself.
  • Send e-cards instead of paper cards.
  • Skip the whole gift-buying altogether: This one can be tough. There is a societal expectation you “have to” give gifts for Christmas. I suggest the following experiment: ask yourself and your loved ones (partner, kids, parents, siblings..) what were their gifts last Christmas. I bet most of them -including you-won’t remember.
  • Be honest: honesty is the best policy. If you can’t afford to spend money or don’t want to participate in a gift exchange, say so. Learning to say no is an important skill. Too often, people want to keep appearances and keep up with the Joneses.  If you are doing this, you are not doing yourself any favor.

As I indicated here, I have no problem being a bit of a Financial Grinch over the Holidays. I have never gone into debt for Christmas and don’t plan to.

Mindful consumption

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No, this post is not about me lecturing you on how you should completely change your habits overnight, such as becoming a vegetarian or only use public transit. These, quite frankly makes me cackle more than anything else.

 What I would like to accomplish with this post is the start of an internal -or not- dialog when it comes to our excessive consumption. Being more mindful of what we consume is definitely good for the environment, but also very good for our wallets!

FIRST, SOME BASIC RECYCLING STATISTICS

  • Plastics: at best twice. 90% of plastics in Canada aren’t recycled, even when you put them in the applicable recycling bin. Most plastics are actually not recyclable. 
  • Batteries: once. it is crucial to recycle these, as some of the metals they contain are highly toxic and polluting. 
  • Electronics: once. Most materials are 100% recyclable. 
  • Paper: maximum 10 times. I used to think paper could recycle indefinitely, this is not the case.
  • Metals and glass: infinite, including cans.
  • Never recyclable: Styrofoam (polystyrene), aerosols, ceramics, Pyrex, household glass (mirrors), standard incandescent bulbs

The above can help anyone make better choices when shopping. Have you noticed how much stores love plastic packaging? or packaging in general? They can charge you more money for that! 

SECOND, SOME pollution STATISTICS

Most polluting sectors:

  • Energy: transporting people and stuff accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions due to the burning of fossils (aka fuel)
  • Electricity: particularly if produced with coal
  • Industries in general: what we produce and how much we produce 
  • Agriculture: yep, what we eat too has an impact on our environment. Livestock account for a large portion of methane production
  • Land use: the way we use land can be either polluting or helping the environment. 

the real questions IS “how much”? 

North Americans are trapped in an excessive consumption cycle. Their European counterparts are also racing close by.   

The single most important question we need to start asking ourselves is “how much stuff do I really need?” This needs to cover all aspects of our life, from our closets to our home, from our garage to our fridge, our annual vacation, our gift-giving habits and so on. 

The best part is that we actually don’t need to drastically change our habits to help the environment….and our wallets at the same time. 

  • Do you really need to eat meat 2 or 3 times a day? Could you reduce it to once a day? You are not asked to become a vegetarian.
  • Could some of your errands be done by walking or taking public transit? You are not asked to ditch your car. 
  • Do you really need 2 cars? if not, you can definitely ditch -sell!- one. 
  • Do you really need to take far-away vacation every year, or several times a year? Could you find a closer spot? You are not asked to stop taking vacation. 
  • Do you really need 10 pair of shoes? Could you do with 3 or 4 instead? You are not asked to stop buying shoes. 

What we are all asked is to be more mindful of our consumption, and to reduce it when appropriate. In order to do so, honesty is required, as well as the ability to distinguish “want” from “need”. 

FOLLOWED BY “WHERE” AND “WHO”

If we all collectively did the above, the environment would be in better shape. And so would people. Behind our excessive consumption, also come the questions of “where” do the products come from and, most importantly, “who” made the products we are about to consume? 

The majority of items we use on a daily basis are made in China or neighboring Asian countries such as Vietnam or Sri Lanka. The quality is usually pretty poor, meaning we have to throw away and replace these products more often, and yes consume more!

But most importantly are the labor conditions. How much are the employees paid in these countries? Are they provided with benefits? How many hours a day do they work? Could children be working? 

These are tough questions most of us, in our quest for the cheapest bargain, do not want to face.  Our consumption habits contribute to and subsidize modern slavery. This is a very inconvenient truth….

PC Express review

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Please note this is not a sponsored post. This review is based on my experience only.

PC Express is a click-and collect service owned by Loblaw Companies. Various stores offer PC Express, including Real Canadian Superstores in British Columbia.

As a PC Insiders‘ member, I don’t pay to use PC Express, so I decided to give it a try. Non-members have to pay a $5 “convenience fee”, which quite frankly should be renamed “inconvenience fee” instead. 

ONE BIG INCONVENIENCE INDEED

The process is very simple. You shop online, select your pick-up time and wait for the store to notify you when your groceries are ready. That, in itself, went without a hitch. This is when I was notified my order was ready that things went downhill. 

MY ORDER WASN’T READY AT ALL

Upon arriving, I called as instructed. I confirmed my credit card payment with the employee….and then waited….and waited for my order to be delivered. 20 minutes in total. 

People who arrived after me were served before me. This leads to me to believe the store only prepares your order when you call them, or that they forgot my order. 

no substitution available….allegedly 

When I called, I was notified 3 of the products I wanted were not available, and there was no susbtitution possible. I really questioned this, given the 3 products I had ordered: chicken thighs, pork shops and spinach leaves, all very common. 

After my order was finally delivered, I went to the store as I actually needed these items for my meals. 2 of the 3 items were available. The chicken thighs were available in the same brand as only, and the spinach leaves were a different brand. The only item that was not available in the quantity I wanted was the prok shops. I bought an alternate format. 

VERDICT: NOT WORTH IT

In total, I spent 45 minutes on an errand that should have taken 10 minutes, at the maximum. 

When I left the store, I had the impression no care was taken with my order, and that my time had not been respected.  It took me more time than if I had gone to the store directly with my grocery list. 

The only silver lining is that I didn’t pay for the service.I will definitely not renew the experience. 

The click-and-collect concept is getting old and outdated. Loblaw should look into deliveries, like all  pretty much all their competitors do….

 

Book review: The 4-hour work week by Tim Ferriss (buy!)

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Please note that I am not paid to review books. 

I haven’t reviewed any book on the blog for some time.

I recently came across the 4-hour work week by Tim Ferriss. Although this book was initially released 12 years ago, it has been recently updated.

the title sounds like a scam

To be honest, this was my first thought. I guess the author wanted to be provocative…well done.

This book is anything but a scam. The premise of the book is that there are options beyond the traditional 9 to 5 job, and there are also options beyond the traditional F.I.R.E. movement.

This really resonated with me. I know I will never retire with $1 million in the next 2 or 3 years. To be honest, I don’t think I will retire with $1 million. Tim, however, introduces the concept of mini-retirements, which is something I recently experienced when I went to Malaysia for 4 months.

This concept definitely appeals and talks to me. I want to do more of these in the future.

the book is a lot about time-management

Whether you are pro at it, or not, you will find sound advice and new ideas. I personally found the section on “elimination” very helpful. There is also a whole section on “automation” which I liked. In the PF community, we tend to emphasize a lot on “doing everything ourselves” as a way to save money. Sometimes, outsourcing is definitely more efficient.

the book will get you thinking (outside the box)

I think it is definitely the goal of this book. It helped me come-up with a few ideas and options for myself.

The book has something for everyone.

but there is no magic formula

It is not a get-rich-quick scheme. In order to enjoy the life of the “rich and famous”, money still needs to be earned at some point…..

Being consumer-debt free: one year later

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A year ago, I finally became consumer-debt free, after being a slave to my monthly payments for close to 8 years.

I am happy to report that I have not incurred any new debt in the last 12 months. Although I am aware it may change in the future, for the time being, I am pleased with myself.

Getting into debt was, in retrospect, very easy. Getting out of debt was not. I definitely still feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

Being consumer-debt free also impacted my life in very positive ways: I switched to part-time work, decided to obtain an MBA and took off for 4 months in South-East Asia.

If I still had all this consumer-debt, I am not sure I would have been able to do all of the above.

Something else also happened shortly after making the last payment towards to my consumer-debt: retirement came front and center.

Although I am still relatively far from retiring, I started thinking more about it. How I want it to look like. How much money I need to save. Before, it was more of a blurry concept.

I knew it was something I had to figure-out, but I left it at that for many years. I saved and invested some money, but that was about it. Not anymore.

Overall, I definitely feel like I have more options since becoming consumer-debt free. In fact, it is more than just a feeling. I actually do have more options as well as the time and freedom to explore them.

Although I am consumer-debt free, I am not completely debt-free. I still carry a mortgage. For the time being, I am not in a hurry to burn it -unlike Sean Cooper-. Making additional payments is definitely a future goal though.

For the time being, I will enjoy this fleeting moment of hopefulness….

Blog Anniversary: 5 years

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5 years ago, I published my very first post on the Money Savvy Blog. Its title was the cost of eating-out.  5 years and 181 posts later, my view on this particular topic hasn’t changed. When convenience becomes a daily necessity, it will derail most financial plans. I still refuse to pay for these by the way.

A number of things has changed in my life in 5 years. I became consumer-debt free, traded houses, switched to part-time work and decided to obtain an MBA. This one thing, however, hasn’t changed.

As for the topic of Personal Finance, my overall perspective has drastically shifted. I realized Financial literacy alone wasn’t enough, that some of the advice dispensed out there was way too generic, if not downright judgemental. It is not all about avocado toasts and lattes. It is more about focusing on the big picture and increasing income. There are Financial killers way more potent than lifestyle inflation. And, oh, living in the suburbs isn’t necessarily cheaper; and sometimes renting is the better option.

There are a few topics, however, on which my perspective hasn’t changed. I don’t see any change happening in the foreseeable future. Debt will always be debt; whether good or bad, it still needs to be paid off. The necessity of an emergency fund is not up for debate, regardless of how it is structured. A line of credit is not an emergency fund per se. While saving for the kids’ post-secondary education is not a requirement, saving for retirement is. To do so, becoming proficient in investing is a good start.

Last but not least, net worth has nothing to do with self-worth. It is also OK not to be into F.I.R.E. In the grand scheme of things, health is more important, as well as being grateful. Happiness can’t be bought on any stock exchange.

To conclude, here are the 5 most read posts for each year I have been blogging.

The value of time

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I recently received shocking news.  An acquaintance of mine passed away after a 3-year battle with cancer. She was 35. Although I hadn’t seen her in a long time, her untimely death still upset me.

It immediately got me thinking about what I would do if my doctor told me I had less than 5 years to live.  How I would spend my time and with whom.

The value of time is both an economic and financial concept. Most of us are regularly paid for our time, whether as an employee or a freelancer/entrepreneur. If we invest our money, we also receive various payments on it, over a period of time. Said period can be very long.

There are a few things I definitely like about the concept of time in itself.

TIME DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE

It doesn’t care about your gender, the color of your skin, your age, your background or your feelings.

TIME IS EQUAL

Everyone has 24 hrs of it, every single day. Yes, the amount of money we have , what we do or our health will significantly  impact how we use our time. But in its core concept, we all have the same amount of it on a daily basis.

ONCE IT IS GONE, IT IS REALLY GONE

Unlike, you are straight from Outlander, you can’t have time back. Time is only moving forward. We have less of it, as each day passes.

The reminder of these key concepts makes how we value our time – and to some extent our money- crucial.

I believe most of us -myself included- do not value our time correctly. How much of it do we waste on a daily basis? How easily do we do it?

It goes from the most simple matters such as TV binge-watching , random, endless web surfing or social media trolling to more complex ones such as these:

  • Procrastination and indecision
  • Hanging-out with negative people or with people who are wrong for you
  • Staying in a relationship that does not fulfill you
  • Staying in a job you hate
  • Constant complaining
  • Gossiping
  • Waiting for something to happen
  • Solving other people’s problems
  • Doing other people’s jobs
  • Engaging in illegal activities of any kind

I took a long look at the above list and am certainly guilty of engaging in several of these activities. Is that really what I want to do with my time?  Definitely not!

The most important though is what I am going to do to rectify the situation.

Ultimately, wasting time is really unhealthy and leads to an unproductive and unhappy life.

Too bad it usually takes a dramatic event to realize this….

 

Forgot to file your taxes, now what?

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If you are an employee, the deadline to file your taxes with Canada Revenue Agency was April 30th. If you are self-employed, you have until June 17th to file….but if you owe you had to pay by April 30th.

If you happen to not have filed your taxes by April 30th, you may be wondering what you should do next. Let’s take a look, but first a reminder.

INCOME TAXES ARE LEGAL IN CANADA

Just in case you thought otherwise. It has been so since 1917 when the War Tax Act was first introduced. The act was modified in 1948 to become the Income Tax Act.

Now this is out of the way, here what you need to do if you didn’t file your taxes.

file, whether you owe or not, whether you earned or not

Even if the deadline has passed, you can always file your taxes. Start by doing just that.

It is always a good idea to file, even if you don’t owe money to the government or haven’t earned any money. There are 3 reasons for this:

  1. Qualification for a number of government programs is based on reported income, such as the GST/HST rebate or the Canada Child Care Benefit. If you are not reporting your income, both eligibility and amount for these types of benefits can’t be assessed.
  2. Tax refunds are not automatic. As long as your taxes are not filed, your tax refund will not be released, if you happen to be eligible for one.
  3. Notice of Assessment: if you want to borrow a large amount of money, such as a mortgage, lenders will ask for this document.

if you owe money

You really need to file….and pay what you owe. If you don’t, CRA will come after you at some point. You will also be assessed penalties and interests. They start at 5% of the balance owing plus 1% per month until it is fully paid. The 1% interests compound daily!

If you are a repeat offender, you could be assessed a penalty called “repeated failure to report income”. It currently sits at 20% of the most recent income amount you should have reported. Ouch!

what if you haven’t filed for several years 

Yep. That happens. If this applies to you, you will need to be a bit more proactive.

I suggest you contact CRA and see if its Voluntary Disclosure program could help you. This program will only work if CRA has not already contacted you in regards to your back taxes. If you qualify for the program, you will avoid further prosecution. Penalties will still apply.

Of course, you should file as soon possible! H&R Block and TurboTax can help you file taxes going back several years. You can file them online.

don’t expect your tax problems to go away

This is particulalrly true if you owe the government. The agency can be very aggressive and has a lot of means at its disposal to collect, including freezing your bank accounts, putting liens on properties and/or garnish wages.

The best way to avoid the above ordeal is simply to file your taxes on time. If on one occasion you are unable to do so, don’t let it become the norm. After all, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. Benjamin Franklin (1789). 

Opportunity cost

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If you are a reader of the blog, you know I decided to obtain an MBA. I have been studying for almost a year now.

Last September, an opportunity came across to study for a semester on the Malaysian campus of my university. After careful budgeting, I decided to accept it.

I have been in Malaysia since January, and it has been a bliss! To get the financials out of the way, the semester is all paid for. It was paid by my personal savings as well as an insurance settlement. I would also like to add that I don’t have any consumer debt, which made it easier as well.

In total, I spent a little over $22K. Since becoming consumer-debt free, retirement has been front and center on my mind.

I had been thinking about transferring $ 20K to my RRSP. Well, it is not going to happen. At least not yet. Why? Because I chose to go to Malaysia instead.

OPPORTUNITY COST

This post is totally related to a concept that I am currently studying in Economics: opportunity cost. It is defined as ” the benefit that is missed or given up when an investor, individual or business chooses one alternative over another”.

In my case, the opportunity cost is the benefits foregone by not contributing to my RRSP. These are: big contribution that would most likely have triggered a bigger tax refund; tax refund that I could have put back in my RRSP; additional dividends and interests; long-term compounding on the latter.

OPPORTUNITY COST IS NOT JUST FINANCIAL

Being a PF blogger, I obviously had to talk about the monetary side. But there are other aspects to opportunity cost, such as time, pleasure or usage.

To go back to my own example, the benefits of going to Malaysia outweigh the opportunity cost of not contributing to my RRSP, including in the long-term.

The truth is that I hadn’t been doing well or feeling well for some time. Last year was difficult. It was the culmination of a few years of growing dissatisfaction with my life. I felt very stuck with no idea of how to unstuck. I was also plagued with health issues.

I needed a substantial change, but not necessarily a drastic one either.  I needed to step-out of my comfort zone for an extended period of time. Being in Malaysia definitely brought me that and much more. My health issues are gone, primarily because my lifestyle here is very different from my lifestyle Canada. I intend to bring it  back with me, as much as possible.

I have a totally different perspective on my life, on Canada and on myself. Contributing to my RRSP would not have given me any of the above…..

FINAL WORD

Opportunity cost happens to all of us on a daily basis. Most of us are probably unaware of it. We all make choices. There is always an opportunity cost behind our decisions, no matter how trivial these decisions are.