Friday, October 29, 2010

Competing financial goals: How to manage them?

I have a number of financial goals.  I would love to save a lot of money to invest, my goal is actually around 6,000 a year, which is roughly 10% of my family's income.  I want to pay down my mortgage to the tune of 5-10 grand a year.  I still want to live well, eat well and take luxurious vacations.  So how can I manage all these goals effectively, especially when I am a working mother who works part time and has daycare expenses & educational savings plan to create?

It's a problem that I am grappling with currently.  Its a matter of prioritizing and also wise spending.  I found it funny this past year, when I went on a cruise, one of my supervisors inquired how much one costs and she told me she dreams of taking one.  The thing is that she makes a lot more money than I do.  I spend maybe 200 dollars a year on my hair (if that).  My hair is relatively easy to style, so I find schools do as good as a job as hair stylists. I don't drive, so I spend 70 dollars a month on transportation.  I don't have a cellphone or cellphone plan.  I really don't have that many people to call.  I do rent movies every month.  I do spend money every month at Dollarama.  I buy my clothes and books in batches at clearance sales.

If I contrast with my supervisor, honestly I have no idea what my supervisor's budget looks like. She always has her hair done, she drive a nice SUV, she's got a fancy cellphone.  I know she goes to bars in her spare time and eats out with friends regularly.  If she lived like I did and cut the expenses I know about, then indeed she could take the cruise and save some money in the meantime.  The thing is that maybe the cruise is down on her list of important items.

My personal opinion is that you should look at your budget and prioritize.  Personally I cut down expenses everywhere so I could have a nice home and be able to vacation where I want throughout the year.  She may want to look nice and drive a nice car more than say take the cruise.  This is where personal choice comes into play.

So what I would like you to do is think about 10 specific items you want in your life and then prioritize how important they are to you.  I'm listing my goals and then ordering them in importance.  I will spend the next week talking about each goal and how to get it as inexpensively/practically as possible.

4.) Invest 6,000 a year
2.) Paid off mortgage
3.) Trip to Europe
9.) Alaskan cruise
5.) Digital SLR camera
7.) 500 wardrobe upgrade
6.) New cordless phone set
8.) A day at the spa
1.) Furniture upgrades in my home 1000.
10.) Personal assistant

These are subject to change and certain long term goals are difficult to rank in importance but essentially I should be spending my money on things that I value.  What are your 10 financial priorities?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Establishing a way to reach a goal within your means

I finally found a job that I like doing in the fall.  There are certain downsides of it, it pays less than I expected by about 4 dollars an hour.  Additionally, its a risky job.  I don't care to clarify why it's risky, because I have decided to not discuss current employment issues on my blog posts but basically I could get sick or be injured on the job more easily than many other employment options. The rewards though of finally getting to use my skills and finally working in a supportive and healthy work environment compensate for the downsides of my work.

I've decided to stick this job out mostly because I do like it and I am sure if I found a less risky job I probably would not like it as much.  The pay issue does bother me but I do have other things that I am planning to do to try to improve the situation.  I have a small business I plan to start operating in the next year.  I decided to not quit my second job for the foreseeable future.  It pays even less but isn't really risky and I enjoy the time I spend there. 
So what opportunities do I have at my current situation?

I have free meals at my main job (nice cause I never have to pack a lunch or leave for coffee).
I have the opportunity to train in areas interesting to me at my main job.
I have the opportunity to develop my own programming at my main job.
I have a second job that's letting me create my business plan and presentations.
I also have access to high quality computers at my second job.
I am able to have subsidized daycare (available to all parents if you look hard enough anyways, in my province)
I have good public transportation so I don't use a car or pay for gas.
I live in a major city and know how to get free activities for fun things to do.
I live in a province with the cheapest tuition so I can go back to school if need be at some point.
I can get to all my work locations easily with the metro.
I have provincially provided health care.

I have this plan melted together.  I am able use the jobs where I am at to continue getting ahead which means I owe them my loyalties.  I wish I had a work sponsored retirement program or tuition reimbursement.  I wish I earned a little more or could work more regularly at my primary job. That would make my life a little cooler at the moment.  But when I look at all I do have, in reality I am pretty lucky.  I have a plan.  I will get ahead eventually and for now I am coasting along.

How can you make your situation work for you?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Developing a game plan to reach your personal and financial goals

I've spent a lot of time in the last ten years trying to figure out who I am, who I want to be and how I can get where I want to be, with the resources that I have at my disposal.  Its funny because small steps have inched me closer and closer to reaching my ultimate goal.  

My goals have changed along the way.  I've wanted to do a lot of things basically but essentially everything I wanted to do had a central theme.  I wanted to help troubled youth....something that I was back in my early adolescence.  I don't only want to work with youth though, I also want to impact policy either through research or advocacy.  In addition to these career goals I also want to be paid well enough that I can retire a wealthy woman one day.

I am one step closer to meet my updated life plan.  My life plan is to work with and improve the life's of at risk youth (through research and policy advocacy).  I also want to be a wealthy woman one day.  I have other endeavors I would like to do like write a book or two but I do not see them as being my career. 

I recently started a position working with youth.  The job is pretty ideal for me and it offers the possibility for advancement.  It also offers the possibility to do some of my own programming there and participate in research projects.  It is not full time and I am pretty confident that I can get my little consulting business off the ground while I am working there.  My new position covers my living costs.  My second job (which I had prior to starting my new position) is in a computer lab helping students with homework.  I rarely have to do much aside from opening the center and closing it.  So I spend my ample free time, perfecting my business content, eventually I plan to complete a web page.  My second job doesn't really pay me much money but the quiet time in front of computers is really nice.  I am making up for the lack of compensation with my business content getting completed and organized.  There are also interesting networking and learning opportunities there.  So I plan to stay there a while even though it is minimum wage.  I think it is helping me reach some goals.

There are people who would hate my new position (the hours, violence, emotional related work and pathogen exposure make it not a job for everyone) and my second very low paying part time job is well very low paying.  These two positions are ideal for me with my current goals.  I see a lot of possibilities working with these two different organizations.  I am not earning much but living frugally I am able to invest up to my goal, which is maxing out my tax free savings account each year.  It's my retirement vehicle of choice.  I am young enough that if I manage to max it out every year then I should be able to retire a rich lady.  I am also able to spend plenty of quality time with my family with my working hours.

Your game plan can change.  I could decide if my business takes off, that the part time work I do at the computer lab is no longer worth my time.  I honestly thought I would have already quit but I really like that time to myself.  I could get offered a better position at some other organization and switch companies if it seemed like a better fit for me.  I could realize that my business idea is not really ideal and modify it.  The thing is that by making a plan I am getting somewhere.  I am working at a career position I am excited to go to everyday that does pay me well per hour.  My second job is paying me to set up my business and it is also time I can use to do other hobbies.  I am excited by the possibilities for my future.    

So my question is what is your career goal and how are you going to get there?  

Monday, October 4, 2010

Getting a good deal on a cruise

I have been bombarded with questions about cruises since I posted that I went on a cruise.  People want to know how much it costs, how much I really paid, and whether it was worth it. My response is that it depends but I will break down how to get a good deal on a cruise.

When you book a cruise the price of the cruise is as important as the cost to travel to the port of debarkation.  You have to travel to the port.  If we'd gone with a port that was further away from home our cruise would have been more expensive.  We drove 8 hours to get to our port and camped with my sister overnight.

When buying your ticket you should consider doing a last minute cruise especially in this economy. The price per person was pretty good but we bought our tickets just weeks before we were set to sail.  This also means we may have lost the opportunity had someone gotten our tickets before us. If you find a good cruise know that a couple hundred dollars in taxes is going to be added on per person.  It's related to port charges from what I can tell.  So if the post says the cruise is 700 dollars, it is more likely 950-1100 with the taxes.  Plan your travel budget accordingly. 

Additionally from what I gather, the cruise lines make their money from extras while on the cruise such as the casino, extra dinners, soda, excursions. They hit everyone up for money.  If you have trouble saying no, avoid the "free educational seminars".  You can stick to the free food on the ship, the free activities and not pay for any excursions and still have a good time.  Its what my husband and I chose to do. 

We spent some money on board in the gift shops, on a modest amount of alcohol, I put 10 dollars into the casino, and we payed for transport in Boston.   The only regret is that we probably should have paid for an excursion in St. Johns, NB.  It was dull and industrial.  The rest of the cities we were fine on foot with a baby.

We paid roughly 2600 dollars for our cruise (including gas and gifts).  It was more than worth in my opinion.  I saw plenty of shows, relaxed, had delicious food (carnival is apparently renown for their food), and got to see 5 cities I never saw before.  I loved that I could get back on the boat for lunch and exit again if I wanted.

I do have a couple of critiques.  I thought they hit us up too much for more money. The staff were very fiscally focused, the seminar on weight loss was focused on selling their spa services.  The seminar on Chinese medicine was only to sell their herbs.  I did not like how they managed the casino and if I ever go again I will not use their casino.  When I wanted to stop playing (after I was 4 dollars ahead) I could not stop.  You had to have played for a very long time in order to withdraw your money (or was it that you had to have a lot of money in your bank?).  Anyways I felt that was dishonest and I was very happy it was only 10 dollars that I put in.  Imagine had I put 50 or 100 dollars in and could not withdraw it as I wished.  They.  They didn't really offer anything for my daughter even though she is only a couple months under two and very used to daycare. The one kid dance I saw, they would not let her in because it was for 4- 6 year olds.  The thing that was frustrating, is that there were only like 12 kids on the boat in total so how her dancing with the 5 4-6 year olds was a problem when we were present is beyond me.  Instead she danced with drunk adults which I cannot think was an improvement but again we were present and her safety was never in jeopardy.

While I say these criticisms.  I really loved the trip.  I had a great time.  I will travel with carnival again.  I would recommend cruising to almost anyone.  The only person who its probably not good for is someone with out financial restraint.  It could have easily cost us 5,000 had we taken the excursions we wanted to take, got a spa treatment and each gambled a little.  You have to have a budget and try to stick to it on these adventures.  Its not hard to do if you stick to free activities and don't let the sales men talk you into over-spending.

So Carnival gets a B + from me.  Pleasant staff, great food, great activities and shows.  It was worth the expense in my mind.  Now just to save up to be able to do the same thing next year.