Act 365

Keep Calm and Carry On

I know for some this is a trivial saying but for me, it’s an anthem for overcoming adversity in difficult times. The history of the campaign inspires me to be better in my work as a designer and publisher and in my life as a mom, wife, daughter and friend.

I’ve been thinking about this post for many months. Had grand plans to thank you as readers for your support and kindness with some sort of dazzling visual doodad. But then something happened.

You see, at about 2:30 this afternoon, my husband phoned to say he’d driven himself to the local emergency room after a crash on the ski hill. He was quickly admitted and put on a spinal board with a neck collar.

In the emergency room we talked about the mundane. The dinner plans, the boys day, how to get the truck home, what time the pharmacies close on New Year’s Eve. We didn’t panic. We sat quietly and waited together. The hospital staff were amazing. The news is good. A “smushed” vertebrae (the actual term the doctor used) in the T area of the spine. No spinal cord injury. He’ll be very sore, off work for a few days and managing the injury with pain medication. A bit higher or lower and it would have meant surgery and possibly worse. That I can’t think about now.

What I can think about is that a year ago today, when I stood on my front porch and decided that on December 31 of 2013 I would find myself in a better position than on December 31 of 2012, I had no idea that it would have so little to do with money and debt given the dodging of today’s bullet.

So my new year’s resolution for 2014 is to Keep Calm & Carry on. Our lives aren’t only judged by our accomplishments, they are judged by our failures and our misfortunes too. How you deal with all of them defines you. I wish you the fortitude to stay calm and the courage to carry on.

So like the story of Keep Calm & Carry On itself, this blog has been my “very simple and warm hearted message to inspire confidence in others during difficult times”.

Thank you for everything and the happiest of new years. Your kindness and support will far outlive my debt. For that, I am eternally grateful.


PS – I will carry on. I plan to revisit previous posts and send updates about how well it worked (or didn’t work) from time to time. I’ll hope you’ll keep following and stay in touch. We’ve still got plenty of work to do.

Act 364

Be nice to yourself

So here’s the thing. We’re awfully hard on ourselves especially when it comes to money. It’s wrapped in expectations, competition, accomplishment, pride, vanity, secrecy, even shame. It’s not really a healthy relationship at the best of times. We measure ourselves by it and judge one another by how we use or don’t use it.

I’ve spent a year trying to dissect my relationship with money and debt. Why I shop, what I buy, why I buy it, how I buy it, what I do it with it and how I got here in the first place. And I’ve learned a great deal. Mostly that you can’t buy happiness. It’s not for sale. It can’t be sold, traded, exchanged or even earned. It has to be cultivated. We owe nobody for our happiness and nobody is responsible for it but us.

I think if we were nicer to ourselves, we might have an easier time of freeing ourselves from our addiction to consumerism. Bigger, better, shinier, newer, nicer. For some people, shopping is a hobby; an all inclusive week in Mexico an annual entitlement; a big screen TV a basic necessity; a luxury car a status symbol. None of this could be further from the truth. We’ve fallen under the spell of keeping up with the Jones, the greener grass on the other side. It’s a pretty crafty illusion if you ask me. That’s why I spent a year peeking behind the curtain. It’s my view that there’s plenty of button pushing and lever pulling going on behind there by the so-called wizards of wealth. It just wasn’t adding up for me.

It’s adding up now. The wizards are just ordinary people trying to do their job, the Jones are in worst debt than you and that greener grass is astroturf. It doesn’t really matter what everyone else has or does, what really matters is what you’ve got going for you. Your happiness. Your dreams. Your family. You. So be nice to yourself. A friend you can count on, always.

Act 363

Make a snow fort!

So you’re halfway between Christmas and New Years and the kids are overtired (so are you) and getting restless. You find yourself searching for options – swimming pool, bowling, movies, anything.

We were feeling a bit like that too. So we stepped outside, grabbed a shovel and started building a snow fort. complete with stairs, furniture, lawn ornaments and a G-T snow track.

It’s amazing how much fun you can have with so little. Just some snow in a yard and a bit of enthusiasm. That’s a solution for many things when money is tight. I’m grateful I’ve benefitted from those lessons this past year. Really grateful. And a whole bunch happier too.

Act 362

Go for a night ski

Looking for a cost effective night out. Consider night skiing. Our local hill offers tickets are vastly reduced rates for a few hours of night skiing. Our cross country club hosted an evening lantern ski for a donation to the food bank. It’s a great evening out. Good fun. Good company. Good exercise and easy on the budget.

New to either sport? You can rent equipment from local ski shops. It’s a great way to try a new sport and its still cheaper than dinner and a movie. Plus, you’re allowed to bring your own snacks!

Hope you’re having a great pre New Years weekend.

Act 361

Get wrapped up now for next Christmas

If you’re willing to brave the stores post Christmas (like you haven’t had enough already), consider using what you might have leftover from your budget to get a jump on next year’s celebrations. It’s a great time to pick up some wicked good deals on wrapping paper, ribbons and Christmas decor if you anticipate needing any new stuff next year. I enjoyed my quick trip to Target, or Tar”jay”, whatever you prefer to call it, today for look see. I don’t happen to need much of anything but I did find some ribbons and I might head back to pick up some wrapping paper yet this week if the mood strikes me.

Act 360

Take precautions if you’re away for a few days

We will be heading off for a few days to spend time with family in the next town over. Before we leave, I’ll be sure to take a few precautions. Turn down the heat. Check that the water isn’t dripping. That the stove is off, that the Christmas lights are turned off, that the dishwasher has drained. I’ll make sure our neighbours knew we’ll be away too.

It’s such a busy time of year, you might feel rushed to get away in time. But it’s worth the extra 10 to 15 minutes to do a proper tour around the house. The last thing you need is an insurance claim to deal with when you get home.

Safe and happy travels!

Act 359

Maximize your income earning potential

Not very holiday like as a topic, but as I inch ever close to the 365 day mark, a year’s worth of effort, I am coming to terms with what this adventure has taught me.

I’d have to say that my chief take away is that I have not maximized my earning potential these last few years. I’ve maximized my education and experience. I’ve enjoyed my work – but I’m leaving alot of money on the table and it’s cost me on many levels.

Of course, a shortage of cash has also taught me many things. How to save. How to make due with what I have. How to bake. How to make salad dressing. It has been a wealth of learning opportunity to say the least.

This can likely be said of many small business owners. You’d be surprised how many of us don’t draw a paycheque after all is said and done. We create our own jobs, especially in small markets where the ability to match your skill set to the jobs section is a bit of a leap.

Of course my evidence is anecdotal at best but I have spoken to many business owners in the last year. We share this irony. We provide jobs at the cost of our own.

We rack up our personal credit cards and borrow against our homes to capitalize our businesses because banks don’t lend to micro businesses. They don’t. It’s that simple. If you believe otherwise, you’ve been fooled by the silly bank ads. I guarantee you they spend more advertising their support of small business than they actually lend to small business. And by small I mean micro – under five employees – who fuel 90% of the economy. I’d even go as far as saying that micro business owners are the reason personal debt levels are so high. But I’m at a loss as to how to prove it beyond any reasonable doubt (not that I haven’t tried).

Still, the lesson for me has been that I must work harder to maximize my personal income earning potential. Which is short hand for I need to find a better job. If I worked in the public service, I would make, quite literally, fives times more than I take home now. But the multiplier effect on the local economy would be significantly less.  So you tell me, how is that sustainable?

If all the small business owners who are in the same position I am in called it a day to get a more typical job, you’d see how much impact they have on the economy.

I don’t think the banks do enough. Not nearly enough. With records profits they could afford to take slightly (not massively) but slightly more risk supporting micro businesses. But they won’t. They are protected from most risk with government-backed business loan guarantees, CHMC protection and student loan protection, mortgage and credit card insurance.

And this doesn’t make me a socialist, or worse, a communist, it makes me a realist. A humanist. An economist (U of Ottawa, B. S. Sc. Economics 1989 just for the record). That corporations as powerful as the big five either don’t know or don’t bother is troubling to say the least.

If I actually had a say, something I’ve tried to do with the blog, I would meet with each President of each of the big five, TD, BMO, CIBC, RBC and Scotia and challenge them to take a small percentage of their annual profits and offer a limited number of unsecured 10 to 25 thousand dollar lines of credit to micro business who gross under $250,000 a year and have five employees or less. They’d make money, our cash flow would improve. Together, we could power the future. And we wouldn’t need multi billion dollar pipelines or massive foreign investments to do it. We could do it one small local economy at a time.

Like water, money must flow. That there are buckets of it sitting idle in corporate bank accounts means that our economy is slowly dying of thirst.

Perhaps Samuel Taylor Coleridge said it best in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Act 358

A gift is something that is new to you.

We scaled back on Christmas expenses quite a bit this year. My boys asked for a computer. I’d set aside a bit of money to make it happen. When I realized what I’d have to spend to get them what they needed, I realized I didn’t have enough set aside. I called a local computer repair shop to ask if they sold refurbished desktops. I found what I needed for the budget I had. One son got the tower and the cables and mouse, the other the monitor and keyboard. Together, they are assured productive hours of building complex worlds on their favourite game called Minecraft. They are happy. And I made it through the first Christmas ever without putting a major expense on credit. Phew.

I’m relieved. And happy they are happy. Also, a bit frazzled and tired. Grateful for the season. And ready for my long winter’s nap.

Merry Christmas. Your support of this space has added much happiness and meaning to my 2013. Thank you. Sweet dreams.

Act 356

Don’t waste a perfectly good wish on money

Today, for a brief moment, I found myself wishing for more money. And then I thought better of it. What a waste of a wish.

Part of me believes that we only get so many wishes in life and we mustn’t waste them. The wish for a healthy child, a happy family, a meaningful existence.

Please don’t waste a wish on something as foolish as money.

Wish instead for the courage to change your circumstances.
Wish instead for the commitment to meet your obligations.
Wish instead for the satisfaction of making due with what you have.
Wish instead for the creativity to problem solve.

A good wish can go a long way. You have it within you to make what’s important happen. Wish for nothing more and nothing less.