How many hours did it take you to buy that?

Now that I’m working full-time at an hourly rate, it’s almost too easy to quantify purchases in time. This habit of calculating my spending in terms of hours worked has been dormant as a freelance writer/blogger when my income was all over the place and seemed to be in no way correlated to the amount of hours I worked. Now I know exactly how much I’m paid per hour work, and the result is time is my new metric for what’s in my bank account.

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If you’re getting excited because you’re salary translates to a high hourly rate, slow down. Your net disposable income is probably less than you think! First, you have to take off 20% to 30% just for things like income tax, CPP, and EI. As a result, what hits your bank account is actually only about 70% of yoru gross pay. Say you make $25 per hour:

$25 x 70% = $18.75 net hourly wage

Not bad right? But realistically you don’t get to spend everything you make. Some (most?) of your income goes to meeting a heap of financial obligations, not the least of which is keeping a roof over your head and food in your stomach. If your needs take up 50% of your income (assumption: 30% housing, 10% transportation, 10% other including groceries) and you’re a diligent saver putting at least 10% away in savings, then you’re disposable income is only the remaining 40% of your net income:

$18.75 x 50% = $7.50/hr disposable income

Now, that actually isn’t too bad, considering it’s for every hour of every workday. What it is good for is quantifying potential purchases with time instead of money.

A $5 latte takes 40 minutes of work to afford. Since a latte doesn’t even take 40 minutes to drink, is it really worth it?

Maybe you’re better off working only 16 minutes to afford a $2 drip coffee instead.

Suddenly you see that $100 pair of shoes takes 13 hours, or one and a half workdays, to afford. If you’re having dinner with friends tonight, you’re spending nearly 3/4 of the day working for it. And so on. If you’re a daily spender, this quick calculations should help reel you in in not time. If you’re naturally less spendy and only buy 1 latte per week, then working 40mins out of your whole workweek for that treat might seem more reasonable.

If you’re in debt:

How many hours of your life are already spoken for to payoff you past? 

Even if you owe something as small as $5,000, you’re on the hook for the next 16 weeks — and that’s assuming you don’t spend any of that $7.50/hr of your disposable income on anything but your debt! Thinking of your spending in the context of the hours it takes to work for it can be discouraging, but remember it works the opposite way too:

Saving now reduces the number of hours you need to work later — and often at an accelerated rate!

As you saw in my latest post how saving $100,000 in my RRSP by age 33 would net me over $500,000 by retirement, which means that’s a full $400,000 I wouldn’t have to earn. How many hours would it take to earn $400,000? In my working lifetime, at $40 per hour, that’s a full 10,000 hours or 5 years of a full-time income (that’s 10 years if you assume my obligations take up 50% of my paycheque!). Saving now means not having to work later.

So next time you’re about to make a purchase, ask yourself, how many hours do you have to work to afford that?

And if you’re really into this concept, I encourage you to check out the movie “In Time” on Netflix which I’ve recommended previously just because it’s such a cool idea to quantify our lives in minutes instead of dollars!

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New Job, New Budget

As you may have heard, my internship hunt finally came to an end and I’m 2 weeks into my new job.

I’m paid hourly and work 7.25 hour days. While I normally would welcome the life of leisure that is a less-than-40hr-workweek, as a starving student I want all the hours I can get. If I miss a day of work (like the two I’m missing next week to go to Toronto), I am not paid for that day.  I don’t have any lengthly vacations planned this summer so I don’t expect to miss many days, but it sucks to know even a sick day will result in lost income.

My first payday is next Friday, which should give me a good idea of what my income will be and that will let me make a budget for the next three months. For the past 9 months, I’ve been living on income from my entrance scholarship, the blog, and freelance writing. While I’m ever grateful I even was able to sustain myself on that, it was by no means glamorous! But that’s going to be changing now because:

$1,000 of blog income as my only source of income = not enough to pay the bills

$1,000 of blog income in addition to my full-time income = major boost

Sadly, it doesn’t mean I’ll be living it up! I still have to pay for school and I want to start saving again so my net worth can go up instead of down for a change.

To take my 2 summer school courses, one of which is a half course, I paid $3,500. From this I’m estimating the remaining cost of my MBA to be $7,500 in the fall and $6,000 in the winter. Including the cost of books, I’m rounding this up to get a total of $14,000 remaining to complete my MBA. I’m hoping to get a few thousand in scholarship income but otherwise I’ll be paying out of pocket each semester.

I’m hoping to keep my essential living expenses around $1,500 per month.

I’m moving to a cheaper apartment with a longer commute, but I don’t mind spending more time getting to/from school and work if it means I get to keep some extra cash. I have no plans to reduce my fitness obsession, so my healthy-eating grocery bill will remain high. Other than that, my only costs are cellphone, internet, and netflix which have been the same for years.

I plan to save small: only $250 per month.

This will primarily go to replenishing my emergency fund which I pillaged to help pay for summer school. I miss the days when I was seeing over $1,500 per month going into my TFSAs and RRSPs, but with my tuition costs what they are, that’s simply impossible right now.

Leisure spending will be about $400 per month.

I feel a bit guilty spending more on fun than I’m squirrelling away in savings, but what’s really bringing this up is one essential cost:

I need to buy new work wear!

I haven’t bought new clothes since last Fall, which is something even I have a hard time believing. As a result, much of what I own is starting to show some serious wear and tear. I have only one pair of flats and zero pairs pants that I can wear to the office! I’ve been wearing dresses every day but it doesn’t take long for me to turn over my whole closet. I’m thinking I’ll buy one workwear item every week to rebuild my wardrobe, starting this Friday with a new pair of shoes (I have a gift card to Nine West so we’re off to a frugal start!) and then a pair of pants next week, and so on.  A limited budget means I have to be strategic about shopping!

Mostly I’m just glad the stress of paying for school has been seriously relieved and I have money to do stuff with again. Sitting at home because I couldn’t afford to go out was miserable, but now I don’t have to say no to fun for the rest of the summer!

Have a Frugal Period

The few male readers I have may ignore this post, but I thought it would be an interesting one to visit for women! I think often we’re so caught up in the physical misery of having a period we kind of forget that it sucks to pay the financial cost as well. Granted, it’s not that expensive to menstruate, but it’s still a cost that men don’t have to factor into their budget! In this post, I only address the cost of a period using my own calculations, but if you want an excellent read on a similar topic, this Jezebel post shares How Much It Costs To Own A Vagina: An Itemized List. Waxing is a real budget killer. Ouch!

How much does having a period cost?

Someone please buy this because it's amazing. Available on Etsy.

Someone please buy this because it’s amazing. Available on Etsy.

The average period lasts 3-5 days. For a regular 28 day cycle, a woman will have 13 periods per year. How heavy or light your period is will determine how many tampons or pads you purchase during this time, but for the sake of simplicity let’s assume you buy one $5 box of tampons or pads every period, for a total of $65.

I know right now you’re thinking, “$65? That’s nothing!” and you’re right, it’s not very much. But I also know that you know it does not cost only $65 to have a period, because I know you spend money on ibuprofen, chocolate, rom coms, or whatever other little treat you need to get you through that week. I bet whatever you buy to console yourself costs more than the box of tampons. Furthermore, you will spend this money every month for every year of your life from the time you are 12 years old until you are 45.

33 years of $150/yr of period spending is nearly $5,000.

I can think of a lot of things I would rather spend $5,000 on in my lifetime than my vagina (that would be one of those, “did I really just type that?!” moments. I did.) Unfortunately, we cannot avoid nature entirely but that doesn’t mean we can’t reduce the cost of having a period. And I am going to tell you how, because I am your favourite blogger that addresses totally random, sort-of-gross, but absolutely relevant topics that I know you care about, like the price tag of your period.

How To Have a Frugal Period

diva-cup21. Use a reusable menstrual cup instead of tampons.

Choices like the Diva Cup have been around for awhile, but I’m not sure how many people have converted. I recently purchased a similar product called the Ruby Cup through an Indiegogo campaign (now closed) to help keep girls in school in Africa. These reusable cups are made of medical grade silicone and, unlike tampons, can be worn up to 12 hours. Menstrual cups are priced at $30 to $40 ea., but this is a one-time investment! Since you just wash & reuse, not only are you avoiding spending money, you’re also keeping used tampons and pads out of landfills. A menstrual cup is frugal and eco-friendly!

lunapads-maxi-pad__93781_zoom2. Use reusable cloth pads instead of synthetic pads.

If you’re not down for a menstrual cup, you can purchase reusable pads like Lunapads (or even make your own). These work just like traditional menstrual pads, except they’re made by super soft cotton which means no synthetic plastic against your very sensitive skin. Unlike the menstrual cup which you can wear up to 12 hours, you will need to change your reusable pads as often as you did disposable pads. However, like the menstrual cup this is a one-time investment of $60 to $150 (depending on what kit you choose) and then you reuse pads so you don’t have to keep buying more every month. This also keeps pads out landfills. With over 20 billion used pads and tampons getting sent to North American landfills annually (EW, just ew), making sustainable choices with our periods is really important! The only downside of reusable pads is you will have to wash them, but they can be washed by hand or as part of your laundry so it’s only a little bit more effort.

loovral213. Change your birth control pill  or get Depo Provera to get periods only 4-5 times per year.

Slash your period budget down to 1/3 and make yourself 300% happier simply by getting the depo shot or changing how you take your birth control pill. One popular route is to take 3 months of pills back-to-back, then have 1 week off, effectively getting your period only 4 times per year. It’s a very common misunderstanding that your body needs, or even should, have a period every month. Realistically, having a period every month is not natural OR healthy! I was shocked when I learned this (in a Malcolm Gladwell book, of all places!), but it makes sense: since our hunter-gatherer ancestors spent so much time pregnant and breastfeeding, they only had approximately 160 periods per lifetime, and now we’re having over 400 and it’s hard on our bodies! Having periods less often can lead to a load of health benefits, including preventing cancer and osteoporosis. While it seems unnatural to regulate your body with hormones, it turns out it might be much more unnatural than to just let it do its own thing. Serious downside? Contraceptive hormones in urine are feminizing fish. So while it’s frugal and much more comfortable to be on birth control, it is pretty harmful to the environment. Before anyone gets excited, I understand that some women can’t take hormonal birth control because of severe physical (or emotional) reactions to the pill. You have my utmost sympathy, but you’re saving the fishes and that’s a good thing.

Hope you found this post informative and money-saving!

Don’t Let Your Money Go Up In Smoke!

At the age of 18, I took up smoking. As a painfully shy and awkward person, it helped me meet new people and socialize. That sounds weird to non-smokers, but college smokers bond lighting up during breaks and between classes. And there is no better conversation starter than “got a lighter?” Flirting is much easier for smokers…

After a few half-assed attempts to quit and an eight month stint where I actually did quit before going back to it, I finally quit smoking in June 2012.

Did I quit because it was gross? No. Did I quit because I was concerned about my health? No.

I quit because I didn’t want to spend the money anymore.

At a pack a day each (sometimes more on weekends when drinking) for my husband and I, and approximately $7 a pack, we were collectively spending over $5,000 a year on an unnecessary expense. On college student/minimum wage salaries. Don’t even try to do the math, it doesn’t work. I have NO idea how we purchased all of those cigarettes.

About a month after I quit, my husband quit too, freeing up said $5,000 a year plus future medical payments due to health deterioration. Thankfully, we did this before it really hurt us financially or health-wise, but I wish neither of us would’ve started.

But at least we quit. If we had chosen NOT to quit and continued to smoke for the next 40 years, we would have to spend $200,000 on cigarettes alone. We could raise a child from birth to age 18, buy a home, or pay for all of our expenses for around six or seven years with that much money. And imagine what that cash could do if invested in a decent mutual fund.

Holy shit. That’s embarrassing.

While I’m glad I quit, I’m going to say something a bit unpopular. Smoking rocks. It speeds up your metabolism, is awesome after eating, while drinking, or after, um, couple’s cardio, and is really helpful for awkward people who need to socialize. I thoroughly enjoyed it. But, not only is it terrible for me, it costs way too much to be worth it. Seriously, worst. investment. ever.

If you smoke, quit. Like yesterday. Even though it rocks. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. It’s a total money pit — the cash you will spend on smoking could literally change your life if you forgo the habit. Also, the whole “killing yourself slowly” thing is something to consider…

Are you a smoker? Have you ever been? What would you do with $200,000 over 40 years?

The Best Websites & Apps To Manage Your Money

Pay off debt and accumulate assets ASAP should be everyone’s goal, and one of the things that makes the whole process bearable (and dare I say fun) is having the right software to measure our progress.

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Ready For Zero 

By the time word of Ready For Zero finally got to me, I was nearly debt-free. I remember hearing about the program before, but I think I misunderstood what it was or how it worked. Much to my surprise, when I checked it out recently I noticed it was FREE and had a really nice interface for tracking and managing your banking. The site boasts they’ve helped users pay down $150 million dollars in debt. They provide you with a personal plan that helps you get your finances in order and allows you to track everyone on your computer and through a mobile app.

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Money 4

I’ve been singing the praises of Money 4 for years, and it’s still the app I use for myself. Not only does it offer money tracking and budgeting tools, you can put in the holdings of your stock portfolio and it will update those values in real time. I LOVE seeing my entire financial picture in one place! You might be staring at the pricetag and thinking nearly $40 is too expensive for an app (especially when all the other options on this post are completely free!), but when it comes to managing your money, the one-time investment in solid software is worth it.  But if you’re still hesitant, there is the option to try before you buy: you can download a free trial. The downside? Unlike Ready For Zero which pulls from your bank accounts like Mint, Money requires you to enter spending manually. You can set up regular bills and paycheques in the scheduler, but otherwise you’re on the hook for remembering to enter in how much you spent at the grocery store.

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I regularly receive emails asking for investing advice, which tells me that many people don’t know what the good investing resources are. I’m still learning the ropes of the stock market, so I don’t offer too much investing advice on MAG. LearnVest fills the gap. This site does offer debt repayment help and budgeting advice, but it takes it one step further than Ready For Zero and Money 4 by offering investing plans. LearnVest pairs you with a Certified Financial Planner who walks you through setting up a portfolio and helps you monitor your investments. I haven’t tried this site yet myself but I really dig the idea of an online helping hand when it comes to investing.

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NetWorth IQ

One of the main attractions of personal finance blogs is seeing how someone else spends and saves their money. If you really want to scratch your voyeuristic itch, NetWorth IQ is the perfect site to creep on other people’s financial progress. Most of the profiles are anonymous (with the exception of some that link back to various personal blogs) and list all assets and debts of that individual overtime. Some people are uber-rich, some people may never recover from financial ruin, some people are lying. Regardless, one of the funnest things you can do is use the comparison tools to see where you stand relative to others in your age group, income range, or profession. I don’t use NetWorth IQ anymore, but sometimes I still like to peek in to see what other people have as far as personal wealth goes.

Any more best-of apps I should add to the list? Let me know in the comments below!