Act 271

DIY birthday cake and loot bags

Yes, I know life is busy. Busy is the reason we do many things. Like ordering birthday cakes from the grocery store or buying pre-made loot bags. Yup, it’s easier. but it’s not cheaper.

I’ve always made my kids’ birthday cakes with help from Betty Crocker. This year, I went old school and made them from scratch. And rather than fret over loot bags, I spent about $40 at the dollar store including containers and let the kids make their own, which they loved. You can’t be disappointed when you make your own.

We made home made sandwiches, chip dip and corn dogs too. So my $200 birthday budget of years past was cut in half and, I kid you not, pun intended, it was one of the best family bday parties ever.

Simplicity, authenticity, honesty – that’s what we really strive for. I’m tired. My house is a mess but my kids are happy. And the extra work was worth every minute.

Enjoy an old school birthday. That’s the stuff kids really remember.

Act 270

Don’t despair!

You know, the truth is, there are worse things than debt. Much worse. Divorce for one, illness for another. Worry seeps into our lives and finds its place until something worse comes along and then you wonder why you worried about the other thing in the first place. I admit that I’m a worrier. Even as a single, unattached, un-mortgaged, debt-free, childless grown up I worried. And now I wonder why I spent so much energy on that whole scene.

Today I awoke in a worrisome mood. Will it be enough? Will it make a difference? Can I pull this off? And, to be frank, I was a bit cranky too. But then, I looked around, and realized that my particular concern (the success of my son’s birthday party), was, in the grand scheme of things, infinitesimally small. In fact, shamefully small.

So rather than sulk, I decided to get on with it. Make the plan. Move on. And leave the worry behind. I feel better. I still have the same questions but for the moment, I will worry not. I’ll keep it for when I really need it. Don’t despair. It won’t do you any good. Just make a plan and move on. Your energy is better spent that way. It really is.

Act 269

Doesn’t hurt to ask – in fact, it might save you a few hundred

I’ve been reading my bills. I know, fun, right? Turns out MBNA is owned by TD Canada Trust. MBNA offers 9ish % interest on its true line card. I looked it up. I’ve been a TD Canada Trust customer for 20 plus years. So I called to say “hey, what’s up? you extend 9.99 to my husband who has virtually no history with you but I pay, let’s just say, significantly more?” I was first transfered to the call centre in India. In India, there are only so many changes they can approve, so they transfered me to a lovely young lady from Quebec with the suggestion that I ask for an Emerald Card, which I did. And now I have one. And it’s way cheaper. Not as cheap as I’d like – but I’ll find a copy of my credit report to make sure it’s not telling creditors things it shouldn’t (I suspect it might be) – and call back to get an even better rate.

Two phone calls this week (one to Rogers, one to TD Visa) have saved me approximately $1,000 for the next year alone. It really doesn’t hurt to ask. In this case, it actually hurts not too. So pick up the phone. But call from your landline and save yourself the minutes. I spent over an hour on the phone with TD. But for the money I saved, it was time well spent.

Act 268

Read your phone bill

So, it came as quite a surprise to me today to discover that I pay $9.99/month for protection on my i-phone. In business, protection is a euphemism for insurance. It can also be a euphemism for hidden costs and rip offs. When I phoned to ask about it, I was told that the deductible was $200. So if I did lose my phone, say two years into my contract, I will pay $440 to replace it. Ahead of time. Ugh.

That’s not insurance, that something quite different. Two words. First word starts with B. Second word rhymes with it. Bye bye to that. Read your phone bill too. You might have been told that your plan “included” protection. Included doesn’t mean part of the price, it means they added it on for you.

They also added on a skookum 12 dollar charge for international and US texting. Which I don’t need. Nor do I need call display or “visual” voice mail, whatever that is. Because we have 2 phones with this “upcharge”, my total savings (or not spendings) will be $408/year. Per YEAR. Which I’ll happily keep instead for home insurance – to which I can add a personal item policy if I want. $400 will buy you a fair schwack of life insurance and a decent amount of content insurance. So once again, tell the telcos that their insurance policy is one conversation you need to cut short.

Act 267

Plan for a plan b.

I think debt is often a go-to solution for problem solving. Something’s broken – pay for it on the credit card. Something’s needed – use the line of credit. Couldn’t help it. Needed doing. Debt is the cost of living. Or so I might have thought once upon a time.

If we just stopped and thought about it and offered ourselves a non-debt solution. I had two such issues recently. A repair – which absolutely must happen – in my urgency to solve the problem, I did think about using the credit card. But I took a deep breath and reached out to someone who knows more about the issue than I do. Might have saved me a bundle. At least I have another option to contribute to solving the problem. Then I had a purchase, which was much needed – but before I lept into it – I came up with a plan b. It will take more time, but it will cost me nothing.

If you’re going to get out of debt, you have to believe in your ability to come up with a plan b, or as I know like to call it, plan be out of debt.

Act 266

Be productive in the produce department

I always thought that bulk purchases would be cheaper than single units in the produce department. Turns out, I was wrong.

When you’re shopping for produce, be productive and do the math. I managed to save a few bucks by reading the prices despite the chaos that is created by pricing some things in pounds and some things in kilos. Do you think they do that on purpose?

I’m pleased to see that Christmas oranges have made their way back to the grocery store. So pleased in fact, I considered buying a great big box in an effort to get a good deal. $5.99 for 5 lbs. Only to discover that I could buy them as singles for .99/lb. Same for carrots. I was committed to a 5lb bag for $4.99 when I discovered I could buy them for .89 a pound as singles. I saved a few bucks by doing the math. Who says math’s not useful outside of school. It’s plenty useful. So use it. Especially in the produce department.

Act 265

Go to a council meeting

First off, this is post 265 – 100 yet to go in case you’re keeping score. 

Back to the topic. Council meetings. On the surface, they can seem a bit boring and formal but the truth it what happens at those meetings can have a profound effect on your livelihood. Take this evening, for example. A proposal to rezone a former pub to an artisan coffee roasting company. I was in favour. For many reasons. It increases the livelihood of the neighbourhood. And lively neighbourhoods are good. Good for community. Good for property value. Good for business. Good for, well, a decent cup of coffee nearby mostly. 

Municipal government collect your money and spend it on your behalf. We really do owe it to ourselves to follow what’s going on. And if there’s an issue that’s close to your heart or your wallet, attend a meeting, speak at a public hearing or write a letter if you’re not the public speaking type. It’s a right that’s important to exercise. It’s how community happens. 

Act 264

Have a yard sale. But don’t expect to sell the yard.

Over the last few weeks I’ve brought together quite an assortment of things in my house that I no longer need. Kitchen gear, sports equipment, clothes, books, even tires.

Today we set up shop in the front yard to sell it. And we sold a few things. But not as much as I would have liked. It’s no wonder, really, that my neighbourhood wouldn’t convene on a cloudy Sunday in my front yard to buy all the stuff I can’t be bothered with anymore.

But the sale isn’t the most important part. It’s the parting with items you realize you no longer need that’s important. So, what’s left will be donated or possibly sold online ’cause it isn’t coming back into my house. And what was made will be stashed away for another day. I have less stuff and more money that I did yesterday. And I can live with that.


Act 263

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

Now, I live in a relatively small town. And while we might not have all the amenities of a big town, most every weekend, there are great community events to attend. Wine fests, hockey games, concerts, plays, fundraisers, gallery openings. What most of these events have in common is the need for a bartender.

To tend bar in BC, you need a Serving It Right certificate. A friend of mine, who happens to organize many of the above, suggested that I should get my Serving It Right. For $35, I could go online, study the course and take the test. Then I could work a few of these events. So I did (and I passed thankfully – it’s been awhile since I had to take a test for anything).

I’ve spent most of my life working in an office. Except for my first job. I worked at McDonalds. I learned a lot, worked hard, made a bit of spending money. My favourite part was working with the public. I miss that.

Last night, I worked my first shift tending bar at a community concert. It was fun. I saw many friends, listened to some great music and made a bit of money while I was at it. Go figure, I still like working with the public.

I hope to do a bit more of it in the months to come. It’s a great night out. I learned alot, worked hard, made a bit of spending money. That first job at McDonalds taught me plenty. Plenty indeed.

Act 262

Raise a little hell

Sometimes, it needs doing.

Here’s my rant. I’ve been a Rogers customer for 13 years. I purchased an I-phone 5 earlier this summer and signed on for another 2 years. Do the math, I’m now a 15 year customer. My lifetime value to date is approximately $25,000. My future lifetime value is about the same.

I owe Roger $200 from my September 6th bill. Today, exactly 12 days after my last payment, I got a call from Rogers credit office asking me to consider clearing up that balance by using their convenient mobile credit card payment option. I don’t mind the friendly reminder. I admit I’m 12 days late. But ask me to put in on a credit card and I unhinge. I reminded the snarky credit caller of my long time custom and my so far unblemished payment record as well as my choice to renew my contract with them as opposed to their competitor. She couldn’t have cared less. Her response? That she regularly phones customers who have been with Rogers for 15 to 20 years. The call ended. And not that nicely.

I then phoned customer service to share that concern. I appreciate that I am 12 days late and that I owe $200. What I don’t appreciate is a snarky credit call after 12 years of custom in exchange for my decision to spend more money with Rogers in a single month than I’d ever spent before. He was equally as snarky. So I asked to be transfered to the customer retention person, which I was. Twenty minutes later, I got an apology and a $50 credit in exchange for  an agreed upon payment date. Was that so hard? Customer retention people are well trained. They know a pissed off customer will go to another provider. Customer service and credit callers, not so much.

We need a consumer bill of rights. Even if I owe money, I abhor the abusive strategy of credit calls that do not take into account 1) that all customers have a lifetime value and 2) that all customers deserve respect and 3) credit calls should be placed with a customer’s credit history in mind. Their approach seems to be that everyone who owes money, no matter how insignificant, is a dirt bag. And nothing could be further from the truth. They treat people like this for a living and we let them. So raise a little hell. You might just get a credit.

Rogers will get its $200 (well $150 now) as they should. But what they won’t get is my soon to be teenagers phone accounts. And that’s what the call will have cost them. Expensive if you ask me.

It’s not what you ask for, it’s how you ask for it. That an oligopoly the size of the telco industry doesn’t get it or doesn’t think it needs to is, well, off the hook.