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….

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….

 

Life update and musings

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I am aware I haven’t blogged that much lately. Actually, I haven’t blogged much at all this year, with a total of 18 posts, including this one. I guess 2018 was a little bit complicated and full of changes for me. The first half was actually not that great.

CAR ACCIDENT AND INNER QUESTIONING 

In October 2017, I was involved in a minor car accident that resulted in whiplash and soft tissue injuries. Said injuries lingered for over 6 months. This period was difficult, both physically and mentally.

On top of this, I started resenting my full-time job like never before. The only silver lining with this accident is that it really put my current life into perspective. I realized I had been putting off a lot of items, and that it was no longer sustainable.

FIRST WAVE OF CHANGES

I also realized I wanted more out of my life. “More” however is still proving elusive to define. I am working on it. Career-wise, I narrowed a path down to 2 options that I am really interested in. To do so, I decided to obtain an MBA.

Subsequent to this, working full-time was no longer doable or sustainable. Initially, I had given my resignation. After further discussions with my boss, I decided to stay on a part-time basis.

To cope financially, I refinanced my mortgage and leveraged against my condo. I had personal savings as well, but leveraging gave me more options. I don’t regret doing it.

Since then, I have seen drastic improvements in my life, particularly health-wise. I am feeling much better. I am finally taking better care of myself and addressing issues.

There are still a few key aspects of my life that are not satisfying and that I need to spend time on. But, I don’t want to make any rash -or rush!- decisions.

More changes are coming to my life and 2019 has the potential to be a powerful year for me. I can’t wait!

THE FUTURE OF THE MONEY SAVVY BLOG

This leaves me with the future of this blog. To be honest, I am undecided at this stage. One of the things I want to do is definitely being more offline. Maintaining an online presence is exhausting, as well as time-consuming.

I don’t know when the next blog post will be. I simply have more important priorities to take care of at the moment.  I am totally fine with that. Thank you for reading my posts and visiting my blog over the years.

Why I don’t really blog about my own finances

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A lot of fellow PF bloggers share their most intimate financial details online. How much debt they have, their net worth, their spending, their income….you name it, it is out there.

While I did share my debt amount, and how I repaid for it, I chose not to share many details on my finances , and here is why.

privacy concerns

Once you share something online, regardless of what it is, there is no way to get it back. No matter how hard you try, it will stay online.

I am of the opinion people don’t need to know everything about my finances, whether they are complete strangers , friends or acquaintances.

unhealthy comparisons

Society in general, and the PF community in particular, is using net worth as a measure of self worth. The 2 are actually not related.

If you are not killing your monster debt in less than 2 years, something is inherently wrong with you! Or if you haven’t saved a million by the time you are 25 , you are bad with money. If you are bad with money, you are probably bad with other things as well.

Does the above sound familiar? I bet reading about it wasn’t really helpful. It may even have made you feel bad.

Our own story is unique. We all have different lives. Knowing so-and-so paid x amount of debt or saved x amount of money won’ really do anything for us, at an individual level.

not a financial planner or advisor

A lot of PF bloggers have lists and spreadsheets of all their investments on their blog. Some of them even talk about their “top stocks” or favorite ETFs. I previously mentioned the majority of PF bloggers have no formal qualifications or certifications in Financial Planning.

I won’t be one of these bloggers anytime soon. I believe there is a level of personal responsibility when advertising or promoting financial products to complete strangers you don’t know anything about.

Final word

My blog is to share my passion for personal finances, but not necessarily to share everything about my own personal finances or my life.

I consider my blog to be a peephole into my life, but definitely not the complete picture. There is so much more to me than the contents of my blog….but I choose to keep it offline.

Could your cosmetics be bad for you?

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Most people are concerned about their food intake. A lot is written and said about what we should be eating, what we should avoid, what is “good”, what is “bad” etc..etc…

But, what about the stuff we put on our bodies, namely moisturizer, soap, shampoo, make-up?

Because it is for sale doesn’t necessary mean it is good for you or safe.

LOOSEY-GOOSEY REGULATIONS

Shocking? I know. In North America, regulations are minimal and losely enforced. I have lived here for 12 years and I have yet to hear about a beauty product being recalled because it was deemed unsafe.

Yet, a lot of cosmetics contain components that shouldn’t be in there in the first place. These components are well-known to cause allergies and act as hormone-disruptors.

I recently did a mass clean-up of my bathroom cabinets, after educating myself about some dangers of our everyday cosmetics. Here are some tips.

LESS IS MORE

Cosmetics companies are very good at convincing us we “need” one product for each part of our bodies. We “need” day-cream, night-cream, lip balm, make-up remover, hand-cream, foot-cream, body lotion, eye-cream, neck-cream….the list is endless.

This is simply not true. Using too many products will be ineffective and will result in an “overload” on your skin. It will also increase the risk of allergic reaction. Not to mention the strain on your bank account.

You can replace all of the above by coconut oil, which is 100% natural and way cheaper. Both your skin and your wallet will thank you.

THE FEWER INGREDIENTS THE BETTER

Have you noticed the sheer number of ingredients on many beauty products? The more ingredients, the more processed the product is. Chances it contains “scary stuff” that shouldn’t go anywhere near your skin.

It is also best to choose a product that does not have an extended shelf-life, ideally it should be between 6 months and 1 year.

INGREDIENTS TO AVOID

Unless you are a chemist, the list of ingredients in your beauty products most likely sounds like a foreign language to you. Here is what to avoid:

  • BHT & BHA: hormone-disruptors; possible carcinogens. Banned in Europe, not in Canada.
  • DEA ingredients: allergens
  • Phthalates: whether as a single word or chain ones. Hormonal disruptors; potential cause of birth defects.
  • Formaldehyde: allergen; carcinogen
  • Parabens: whether as a single word or chain words. Hormone- disruptors.
  • Fragrance/Parfum: companies are not required to disclose the composition of fragrance/parfum. Allergen. Possible hormonal disruptors.
  • PEGs: carcinogen
  • Petrolatum (petroleum): Allergen; carcinogen
  • Siloxanes: hormonal disruptors
  • Triclosan and triclocarban: these are like pesticides. Yikes! Disrupt thyroid function.

If you want to use safe cosmetics – I bet you do!-, you can check EWG Skin Deep.

My health is my most precious asset

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I have had some health issues lately, requiring quick action on my part. It also put things in perspective, and not just heatlh-wise.

OUR HEALTH LARGELY DETERMINES HOW WE LIVE OUR LIVES

When we are not doing well, whether on a temporary or chronic basis, there are many things we cannot or no longer can do. Physical ailments can impact our mind and conversely.

It may cause us to move-out of our home, relocate, be bedridden, switch to part-time work or quit our job altogether.

OUR HEALTH IMPACTS OUR PERSONAL FINANCES

Medical treatments are costly, and more so if they are not covered by public or private healthcare providers.

Our capacity to earn income is our best insurance for both our present and future. Disability insurances are not nearly adequate to provide any real financial safety.

THERE IS NO PRICE TAG ON HEALTH

The personal finance community is obsessed with net worth, savings, stocks, bonds, ETFs and mutual funds.

Health cannot be quantified or bought on the stock-exchange.

Health is priceless.

My health is my most precious asset, and I will strive to keep it that way for as long as possible.

Can money buy happiness?

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Back in 2010, the University of Princeton published a study on how people making $ 75 000 per year were reportedly happier than those earning less than this amount.  A lot of media outlets and people immediately jumped to the conclusion that money buys happiness.

Well, I kind of disagree with this statement…no point in writing a post otherwise!

you can’t buy happiness at the supermarket

Happiness is not a tangible product. It is not something you can see or touch. There are lots of variables when it comes to happiness.

If you ask 10 people what their definition of happiness is, I bet you will receive 10 different answers.

Before haters jump all over me, let me tell you about my personal story a little bit.

I actually grew-up poor. My parents were considered as low-income class. They didn’t have any money besides to pay for their bills, and even that was difficult at times. My parents were also terrible with managing the little they had.

They had no long-term vision or planning skills. Saving was a foreign concept to them. Growing-up I certainly did not wear designer clothes or vacationed in exotic, far-away places, unlike some of my friends and classmates.

YES, the lack of money can be a source of stress…

So yes, the lack of money was stressful and bothersome in my family. But it is actually not what made me unhappy at times. For the most part, I would say I was happy growing-up. What actually made me unhappy had absolutely nothing to do with money.  I will stop there with my childhood memories. There are many things I do not wish to share online.

…but having money does not automatically equate happiness either

Fast forward a few decades later, I reached that $75K mark. I didn’t necessarily feel happier to a greater extent, although it sure was nice to be able to save for retirement, pay for my bills and vacation in exotic, far-away places.

Except that, for me to be fully happy, I needed something else. Something that has nothing to do with money, and that money actually cannot buy.

Recently, I decided to switch to part-time work. Working full-time was simply no longer sustainable for me. Doing so means a huge pay-cut and possible depletion of my savings. Guess what? I am happier now than when I was earning a full income.

attempting to define happiness

As mentioned above, everyone’s definition of happiness is different. I personally like the definition offered by Happiness International:

Happiness is when your life fulfills your needs“.

Money is not the only need we have; not all our needs require money either.

FINAL WORD

It is probably more accurate to say that money can contribute to happiness to a certain extent. The Princeton study that started this post also revealed that people earning more than $75 000 per year did not report increased levels of happiness…..

That time I decided to work part-time

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As I previously wrote, a few things have changed in my life recently.

I became consumer-debt free, decided to obtain an MBA and recently switched to part-time work.

BUT, WHY DID YOU DO THAT?!

You might ask. Well, studying for an MBA is not the same as studying for a certificate or a diploma. A lot more reading and researching is involved, and it is definitely more challenging.

But it is not the only reason.

i desperately needed better work-life balance 

Working full-time was sucking all my time and energy. For the last 2 years, I would leave my home at 7.00 am and would never be back before 5.00 pm, from Monday to Friday. I was constantly tired and had not much energy for anything else during the week.

I was only living for the week-ends and vacation. A lot of personal matters were put on the back burner and my health also suffered. This is simply no way to live. I started resenting my job.

Other issues within my workplace made me resent my job even more. I reached my breaking point in February.

I FINANCIALLY PLANNED FOR THE TRANSITION

Although I was at my breaking point, I decided not to hastily quit my job. Been there, done that!

While I was paying off my consumer-debt, I also saved money. It was equally important for me to also have some serious savings. My full-time income allowed me to do so.

It definitely took me more time to get rid of my debt, but I also built a nice cash cushion that could allow me to remain without any income whatsoever for several months.

If I made any type of income, I would be able to work part-time for about 18 months with said cash cushion.

If I had kept working full-time, said cash cushion would have paid for my MBA. But I switched to part-time, so it is a moot point.

i waited for the last car payment to go through

I wanted to become consumer-debt free with my income rather than dipping into my savings.

i refinanced my mortgage

Since I had decided I would work part-time, I had to figure-out the tuition payment. I did not qualify for student loans, but I actually didn’t want to take any. I also did not want to do a line of credit or another personal loan.

So, I refinanced my mortgage and slightly leveraged against the equity of my condo.

By doing so, I only have one monthly payment to take care of. A portion of said payment is also going right back to the equity in my condo.

Most importantly, I can afford to pay for my MBA and to work part-time for the next 2.5 years.

final word

I have been working part-time for a month now and am already reaping the benefits. I have more energy and feel  more positive. My health is improving as well.

 

When Financial literacy is not enough

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A lot is being written about Financial literacy. In its basic definition, Financial literacy is is the possession of the set of skills and knowledge that allows an individual to make informed and effective decisions with all of their financial resources.

There has been a lot of lamentations over the fact Financial literacy is not taught at schools. Although things are starting to change on that front, and I totally agree with the importance of this subject, I believe Financial literacy alone is not enough.

Let me elaborate a bit.

YOU NEED SOME MONEY TO APPLY FINANCIAL LITERACY CONCEPTS

Yep, that’s brutal and cynical but it is the (hard) truth.

You initially don’t need money to learn about Financial literacy, but you do in order to implement what you learned. For example, debt repayment and investing are 2 pillars of Financial literacy.

If you don’t have any -or enough-money to pay off your debt or to start investing, you won’t go very far with your personal Financial plan. The money conundrum needs to be sorted out first.

YOU NEED TO ADDRESS YOUR PERSONAL BELIEFS ABOUT MONEY

So you think your Financial decisions all come from a rational, logical, cold place? Think again!

A lot of our decisions come from deeply-ingrained beliefs we all have about money….as well as other aspects of our lives and ourselves. Some beliefs can be very limiting and hold us back.

Behavioral Finance is a relatively new subject field that studies the psychology behind financial decision-making. We all can learn a lot from this. Some common beliefs around money can trigger overconfidence, avoidance or inertia.

If you want different results with your money, look at the belief system behind what you are doing and how you are feeling. This can work in other aspects of your life, by the way.

The first step is to identify the belief and accept it. Then you can figure-out how to change it, if it is a possibility.

CONSISTENCY IS KEY

In order to be successful, you need to consistently apply the Financial literacy principles you learned as well as addressing your beliefs in an equally consistent manner.

This is where most people fall off the wagon. It can take time to change deeply-ingrained beliefs. Relapses are to be expected. If money is lacking, you may think it is pointless to apply these principles. Please, don’t do this!

Consistency and perseverance is what will yield results.

final word

I look at Financial literacy as being one leg of the “Financial chair”. If you are missing the 3 other ones -money, beliefs and consistency-, the chair will be, at best, shaky.

Financial literacy is a good start. But it simply is not enough.