September to November Monthly Reports

Hi,

The last few months of the year are when I really started to feel the effects of having little income. And the Canadian dollar kept falling. So I had to tighten my belt a bit more, so to speak.

Please note that as of September 2015, I began using a $1.35 USD-CAD rate.

September 2015

NAME JULY 31, 2013 SEPTEMBER 30, 2015
Mastercard $6,123 CAD $12,427 CAD
Visa $8,653 CAD $35 CAD
B-school loan $96,800 USD
($125,840 CAD)
$76,504 USD
($103,281 CAD)
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan $20,931 CAD $2,249 CAD
Student Line of Credit (LOC) $9,678 CAD $0
TOTAL $171,225 CAD $117,992 CAD

I reduced my CAD$ debt by $1611 , but since the CAD$ fell yet again and my US loan accumulated over $500 USD interest, my total loan balance went up. Depressing.

October 2015

NAME JULY 31, 2013 OCTOBER 31, 2015
Mastercard $6,123 CAD $11,977 CAD
Visa $8,653 CAD $0 CAD
B-school loan $96,800 USD
($125,840 CAD)
$76,940 USD
($103,869 CAD)
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan $20,931 CAD $1,719 CAD
Student Line of Credit (LOC) $9,678 CAD $0
TOTAL $171,225 CAD $117,565 CAD

In October, I paid off $1015 CAD of my Canadian debt, but again because of exchange rate and interest on my US$ loan, my total debt only went down by just a few hundred CAD dollars.

November 2015

NAME JULY 31, 2013 NOVEMBER 30, 2015
Mastercard $6,123 CAD $11,777 CAD
Visa $8,653 CAD $685 CAD
B-school loan $96,800 USD
($125,840 CAD)
$77,462 USD
($104,574 CAD)
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan $20,931 CAD $486 CAD
Student Line of Credit (LOC) $9,678 CAD $0
TOTAL $171,225 CAD $117,522 CAD

November was the same story as in October. Actually, it was worse…as my total balance was only down $43 CAD, although I poured in over $1400 CAD into debt…

I’m trying to focus on a bright side, anything: I only took home under $3000 CAD per month in income, so being able to put $1400 of it towards debt was not bad. Depressing though it was to the overall picture…

In my next post I will do my 2015 year end report.

April to August Monthly Reports – Some Progress

Hullo, it has been a while! I hope you have had a great holiday season!

The main reason I haven’t been updating is because I haven’t been making much progress. At least compared to before. Also, the Canadian dollar is still freefalling so I don’t know how to keep track of my progress anymore. Do I keep updating the conversion rate? In which case, my balance will keep increasing and not really decreasing. Or do I continue using the rate I had been using the past few months before I stopped updating? But if I do that then my balances would not be truly reflective of how much I have to pay…

I really didn’t/don’t know what to do. However, instead of letting decision paralysis continue to prevent me from posting, I have just now decided that I am going to use a 1.30 USD-CAD rate for April to August and then a 1.35 USD-CAD rate for September to December.

SLIGHT DETOUR

Also, today the program I was using to track my finances basically erased all my entries from the end of July onwards. Well, technically it wasn’t the program’s fault, but the fault of my cloud sync provider. But the main thing is that I do not have any transaction data from July onwards. So I am going to have to redo my financial tracking for those months. The hard part will be redoing the cash transactions as I can barely remember the transactions I did in December, much less going 5 months back…Sigh.

I really hope this is not indicative of how my financial situation will be in 2016.

Thankfully, I had a separate file where I was storing my balances at the end of every month so I can post my end-of-month balances here so you can see the little progress I made.

BACK ON-TOPIC

To sum up what you are about to see though:

INCOME

I did not get money owed from overdue client. I stopped working for them in April. But I only just found out a couple weeks ago that even the part payment I was promised at the end of this year is not possible. They have no money. So I am writing off that $50K+ of income. I did end up taking that other longer contract with another client, a very low-paying one, starting in June. Let’s just say my take-home income for half a year at this job is less than half of $50K. But it had income consistency to the end of Jan 2016.

As of today (this post actually being written Jan2016, though “published” Dec2015), I am planning to proper dive back into independent consulting full-time by the end of February. I will also apply to a few full-time positions then and if I get a really good job offer somewhere I will take it.

Basically, as seems to be my status quo in my life, my future is uncertain and I am not sure where my income will be coming from, if any, in a couple months. But I do know that I am a hustler and I will try my best to make it work somehow. And maybe other people will be able to pick up some tips from me.

As an example, although I haven’t been earning much, I did still manage to pay off something.

EXPENSES

I won’t go into detail about my expenses the past few months. Basically, I had a good summer. I went out and socialized quite a bit. Dated and had fun. I also moved downtown in summer as planned and then at the end of September I decided to stay where I am as I have a decent deal ($900 rent for a shared 2Bed/2Bath condo) and it was much more convenient with getting to and from work (bike share + public transportation). Will explain more in a future post.

Winter seems to have finally arrived in Toronto and just like that my socializing has significantly decreased. Hopefully, this break will continue for a little while for my wallet.

LIABILITIES

Please note that I converted my 2013 USD balance to the $1.30 rate. The new balance gives me a mild heart attack every time I look at it…

April 2015

In April, in an effort to reduce my interest payments, I took advantage of a 0.99% interest rate offer I got from MBNA to transfer over most of my OSAP balance ($13,500 CAD). This was when I thought I would at least get back $10K from overdue client. This special 0.99% rate is supposed to go til around May 2016.

NAME JULY 31, 2013 APRIL 30, 2015
Mastercard $6,123 CAD $13,635 CAD
Visa $8,653 CAD $38 CAD
B-school loan $96,800 USD
($125,840 CAD)
$77,571 USD
($100,843 CAD)
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan $20,931 CAD $4,109 CAD
Student Line of Credit (LOC) $9,678 CAD $0
TOTAL $171,225 CAD $118,625 CAD

The Canadian dollar part actually went up by $8 and the US dollar amount went down by only $413.

May 2015

NAME JULY 31, 2013 MAY 31, 2015
Mastercard $6,123 CAD $13,966 CAD
Visa $8,653 CAD $651 CAD
B-school loan $96,800 USD
($125,840 CAD)
$77,296 USD
($100,485 CAD)
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan $20,931 CAD $3,895 CAD
Student Line of Credit (LOC) $9,678 CAD $0
TOTAL $171,225 CAD $118,997 CAD

I traveled a bit in May – twice for work and once for fun, all three times to the US. So there were some extra expenses in May. Also, I had a massive amount I had to give to the government for taxes and HST payments I collected. So my debt went up that month :(.

June 2015

In June I tried to make up for the previous month, although I had more expenses in June because that is when I moved out of my parents’ home and into a downtown condo share. Rent of $900/mth, including utilities and internet, begins here. This was also the month where I started to work full-time hours for a client (VERY low-paying but consistent hours).

NAME JULY 31, 2013 JUNE 31, 2015
Mastercard $6,123 CAD $13,265 CAD
Visa $8,653 CAD $35 CAD
B-school loan $96,800 USD
($125,840 CAD)
$77,311 USD
($100,504 CAD)
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan $20,931 CAD $3,673 CAD
Student Line of Credit (LOC) $9,678 CAD $0
TOTAL $171,225 CAD $117,477 CAD

It was a tiny miracle that I was able to bring my debt down by $1520 CAD that month.

July 2015

In July, started to realize that overdue client would not be able to pay me all that was owed so ensured that I start putting away a little of my measly pay cheque to savings, instead of putting all dollars into my debt as I was tempted to do.

NAME JULY 31, 2013 JULY 31, 2015
Mastercard $6,123 CAD $12,974 CAD
Visa $8,653 CAD $15 CAD
B-school loan $96,800 USD
($125,840 CAD)
$77,097 USD
($100,227 CAD)
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan $20,931 CAD $3,450 CAD
Student Line of Credit (LOC) $9,678 CAD $0
TOTAL $171,225 CAD $116,666 CAD

My overall debt went down by just $811 in July.

August 2015

In August, I decided to stop making payments on my US$ loan by the end of that month. I had prepaid the minimums to June 2017. At the end of August the CAD$ was worth $0.76 USD. I was hoping that the Canadian dollar would rebound a bit. Even if it only went back to $0.81 USD by the end of 2016, I would only have lost an extra $1000 or so. Whereas if it did well and rebounded to anything over $0.82 I would be better off. So far, my bet seems to be going horribly wrong and it is looking like not only will I NOT get back the extra dollars lost from the exchange rate, but I will also end up quite a ways in the red. Yet another sign that I should never try gambling….

Anyways, without further ado, here is where things stood at the end of the month:

NAME JULY 31, 2013 AUGUST 31, 2015
Mastercard $6,123 CAD $12,794 CAD
Visa $8,653 CAD $122 CAD
B-school loan $96,800 USD
($125,840 CAD)
$75,988 USD
($98,756 CAD)
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan $20,931 CAD $3,226 CAD
Student Line of Credit (LOC) $9,678 CAD $0
TOTAL $171,225 CAD $114,898 CAD

I put all my extra money into the US$ loan because I wanted to reduce the principal by as much as I could, before it started collecting interest again. It was also quite satisfying to get my US dollar debt to below $100K CAD. That satisfaction was very short-lived though, since the Canadian dollar kept falling and also interest started to pile up on the amount owed….But for one brief period it was below that $100K. And I managed to make a whopping $1768 dent in my debt that month!

Stay tuned for my next update on my progress from September to the end of 2015.

Debt and Retirement

Hi all,

Today I woke up thinking about the future. The Canadian dollar keeps falling, my debt is going down but is still massive and I have not saved anything for retirement.

Ok, that last part is not entirely true. I have around $30K in assets. This contains cash, savings, TFSA savings and a $1,150 TFSA investment fund which I was proud to finally open a couple months ago. However, because of my current income situation, I am basically disregarding most of the amount I have saved, because I can easily see myself depleting the saved amount by a monthly average of $4K in the next 6 months, if things continue as is cash flow-wise.

Sad eeyore
Anyways, as I was saying, I have been thinking about my future. More specifically, I have been thinking about my lack of retirement savings.

Every time I think about retirement I think about finally starting to invest, to start that retirement savings train up. However, the thing that has always stopped me from turning the ignition is my debt. Even now, any gains made from my beginner investing in stocks and/or ETFs are likely to be less than the 8.13% interest rate on my high 5-figure US$ b-school loan. Also, the fees for a small-time novice investor like me are terrible.

However, I am 31 years old and self-employed. So, besides actually saving for a rainy month or few, I need to start saving for retirement. Properly. And that means dipping my toes in the investing water, in order to possibly pay off debt faster and mostly save more quickly for the future.

Unfortunately for me, one of the things business school confirmed was how much I dislike finance. I like accounting but hate finance. So my efforts in core finance classes were the bare minimum and I avoided finance electives like the plague. Well, unless they concerned venture capital and related topics. That I love! I am a techie after all so it would be bad to not care about venture capital. But besides VC stuff, most of what I learnt in finance classes has long since left my brain. Thus, whenever the thought strikes me to turn to investing to increase my net worth, I start regretting the fact that I don’t like finance at all. I usually then spend a ton of time reading investing sites and personal finance blogs to get tips for first time investors. This was the case today, and a couple months ago.

A couple months ago, I woke up with the same things on my mind as I did today. Two months ago, I decided to finally take the plunge. Or more like a little dip. I plopped $1,000 in a Tangerine TFSA Balanced Growth investment fund. The 3-year annualized return from it is 12.97%. I hope to pay off the remainder of my debt in 3 and a half years. If the fund continues as is or does better then I will come out ahead, even considering that investment money diverts from the b-school loan payments. If things end up a bit worse, I’m hoping it won’t be much worse than the 5-year fund return rate of 8.71%, which is still higher than my loan interest. And if things end up dismal, well you will understand my line of thinking about that in a couple sentences.

I also set up automatic monthly payments of $75 to the fund (today increased to $100).

In my mind, I could afford to risk losing the entire $1000 initial deposit and $100/mth is an amount I could also afford to lose if it ever came to it that I lost everything (Queen of Positive Thinking here, remember?). Today’s mind wandering into worrying-about-the-future got me thinking though that, instead of dumping 98% of my savings into savings accounts with no more than 1% interest, I should be putting more money in investing options. Even if I stick with a fund instead of doing my own thing, I am more likely to get a return greater than 1%.

At least 10% of my savings should go to investing!

So as a start, this upcoming year, if I ever start getting income again, I plan to put 10% of my savings into investing. I will start with the Tangerine Balanced Growth investment fund now and the Equity Growth one sometime in 2015, because they are tailor-built for lazy investors like me with assets under $50K. Then, maybe one day I will enter the world of self-managed investment portfolios.

EDIT: Thanks to reader ricodilello, I realized that it is better to put my money first into an RRSP, at least as it concerns paying off debt more quickly. As he highlighted in his comment on this post, if I put $5,500 in a TFSA fund and got a 10% return, I’d be looking at an extra $550/yr to pay down debt. However, if I put that same $5,500 in an RRSP savings account I would lower my taxes by over $1,500, which is basically the same as saying I’d get an extra $1,500 to pay toward debt. And if I went a step further and put that $5,500 in an RRSP investment fund then not only would I lower my taxes by $1,500 but I would also likely have a return, hopefully of at least $550 (10%).

Whatever the case though, all money invested will be untouchable. Separate and apart from an emergency fund. Once my money goes towards investing I will consider it dead to me, until retirement :).

sheepish smiling eeyore

November Monthly Report – What’s Going On?

Hi all,

The news coming out of the US the past couple weeks have been depressing, especially as it concerns the Brown and Garner cases. Added to that is the fact that, after October, November was the month I took in the least amount of money since last year when I first started working for myself. So money is tight going into the holiday season. Also, the Canadian dollar is still struggling against the US. For these reasons, my mood going into the holidays is a bit somber.

With November being the second straight month of barely any incoming funds I was unable to put as much money towards debt. I cut down my expenses a little more too, as I am now on the path of spending as though I expect no income for 6 more months.

In fact, if I discount the money I gave my Mum and loan interest payments, in November I only spent $458 in total. Most of it was on health and dining out.

DINING EXPENSES

SEPTEMBER OCTOBER NOVEMBER
$440 $172 $133

I reduced my dining out by a bit. A good chunk of the dining spending above was work-related. The only non-work-related dining expense was treating my family to Popeye’s takeout one Saturday night ($55 fed close to ten people – there is a reason poor people eat a lot of fast food). I was lucky in that often my clients paid for lunch if we had a lunch meeting. However, sometimes I ended up buying my own lunch when my meeting was just before lunch time. A few other times I was good and packed my lunch with me when I knew my work meetings downtown were scheduled to be done at lunch time and I wanted to go work at the library afterwards. I may have to go back to packing my lunch more frequently if my situation continues as is.

ENTERTAINMENT EXPENSES (TRAVEL, DRINKING/PARTYING, RECREATION)

AUG SEP OCT NOV
$68 $0 $30 $13

That $13 was for a movie ticket.

If things continue as is I will have to suspend giving my Mum money and cut down further on dining as well as miscellaneous expenses, until I start receiving income again. For instance, no more delicious lattes every now and then at Starbucks – it will be all about the cheaper tea/bottled water during my meetings. Every little adds up when trying to cut down on spending! I had also been hoping to do a holiday trip (or rather, a January trip) somewhere but that doesn’t look possible at the moment.

On the bright side, since I am in the suburbs with my fam again, far away from the temptations of downtown living, and since it is cold again here in Canada, my desire to go out and spend money is much lower. So I am not yet really feeling the crunch.

Anyway, here is where things stood at the end of November:

NAME JULY 31, 2013 NOVEMBER 30, 2014
Mastercard $6,123 CAD $0 CAD
Visa $8,653 CAD $0 CAD
B-school loan $96,800 USD
($109,142 CAD)
$81,802 USD
($92,346 CAD)
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan $20,931 CAD $18,421 CAD
Student Line of Credit (LOC) $9,678 CAD $0
TOTAL $154,527 CAD $110,767 CAD

October’s balance was $112,940. So that means that in November I only paid off $2173, falling short of my minimum threshold of $2500/month. I am, nonetheless, thankful that I was still able to pay above the minimums for my loans (which combined currently equal around $1091), despite two low-to-no incoming cash flow months. And I’m very thankful that my situation is not so terrible yet.

In December, I hope I will be able to pay off enough to get to $45K paid off in 17 months.

October Monthly Report – Cash Flow Woes

Hi everyone.

My end-of-month report for October is due. So here I am!

October was a little bit of a rough month income-wise because I didn’t get any money coming in for the projects I am working on. One of the clients was late with payment, main client, but they have been late the last few times so I was kinda expecting it.

I actually had to dip into my savings to make payments towards debt. I felt comfortable doing so because my savings are still enough for now. Not one year’s worth like I want, but maybe enough that I could make the money in it stretch to last me 6 to 8 months if I get no income for a while, without reducing my debt reduction rate. Although I have a feeling that my cash flow will continue to be bad for the next month or so, here’s hoping it won’t come to the situation where I’m looking at 6 to 8 months without income!

Anyway, since I kinda knew I wasn’t going to have any money coming in, I limited my spending throughout the month. Glad to report that my spending for this month is the lowest it has been since February last year, a few months before I got my first contract. Back then I was on such a spending diet that my monthly spend for the month, minus credit card interest payments, was $400 or less. So this month my spending was the lowest it’s been in a year and a half. Definitely a record.

Granted the main reason my monthly expenses fell was because I cut back my spending, knowing or rather suspecting that I wouldn’t get any cash coming in this month. But it’s nice to know I can easily make $500 plus reductions in spending if really needed.

As part of my reduced spending plan in October I went out less. Part of this was prompted by the fact that early on in the month, after a late night out and a few minutes waiting out in cold weather in clothes that were not meant for cold weather, I impulsively decided to get a cab home. That ride cost me over $40 as opposed to the $3 the bus was going to charge. I felt so guilty about that that I skipped going out at night for a couple weekends. I also hate cold weather. So the way I see it, my guilt was another excuse to not go out in the cold.

My dining expenses for October amounted to $172. Thankfully, that’s a marked decrease from the previous 2 months. The last time it was that low was in June.

DINING EXPENSES

AUGUST SEPTEMBER OCTOBER
$371 $440 $172

The $172 is close to my ideal of $150 or less and within my budget of maximum $250. So I’m feeling better about it.

My other big expenses excluding loan interest, for the next few months, will be health (mainly dental), gifts (including monthly amount I give my Mum) and entertainment. Health should be a fairly constant $250 – $350 for the next few months. Gifts will ramp up during the holidays. My family is thankfully not big on gifts, but I do like to buy presents for my friends and also treat my huge family to a few dinner/lunch takeout meals. Entertainment is the other regular expense. That includes travel, drinking/partying, recreation, etc.

I no longer really have a grocery bill. So from now on I will track entertainment expenses instead. In October it was pretty low, because I barely went out and my bus tickets for travel were bought in July. Here is a comparison of my entertainment spending the last 4 months.

ENTERTAINMENT EXPENSES (TRAVEL, DRINKING/PARTYING, RECREATION)

JUL AUG SEP OCT
$404 $68 $0 $30

In other news, the Canadian dollar keeps falling. Earlier this month I started feeling a bit of debt fatigue as I considered how the balance feels like it has barely moved the past couple months. And I felt a bit depressed when I considered how much longer the Canadian balance on my b-school loan is going to take to go down.

I am feeling a bit better now as I am focusing on small steps at a time (that by the way is great advice for life!). When all was said and done at the end of October, here is where things stood:

NAME JULY 31, 2013 OCTOBER 31, 2014
Mastercard $6,123 CAD $0 CAD
Visa $8,653 CAD $0 CAD
B-school loan $96,800 USD
($109,142 CAD)
$83,589 USD
($94,364 CAD)
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan $20,931 CAD $18,576 CAD
Student Line of Credit (LOC) $9,678 CAD $0
TOTAL $154,527 CAD $112,940 CAD

September’s balance was $115,652. So that means that in October I paid off $2712, meeting my minimum threshold of $2500/month but falling short of my real goal of $3000.

My US dollar amount is going down but, as aforementioned, my Canadian balance feels like it is not moving much. I think part of my sadness came from accepting that I am not going to be able to pay off $50K by the end of this year, a stretch goal I had. Perhaps if the dollar was not dropping so fast and the end of this year was not looking to be filled with cash flow worries…Ah well.

The MBA And The Greyhound: Traveling Frugally

Hi everyone!

I want to start with a story…

The other day I took a trip to visit a very good friend in NYC, also a b-school graduate. It was for a wedding actually. At the wedding, I chatted with some friends and acquaintances, all business school grads, most of whom are bankers. It was funny watching their reactions when I told them I took the bus from Toronto (and I had no qualms correcting them if they assumed I had flown).

I am certain that all the b-school grads at the event are earning well over six figures. And they know that I am also a b-school graduate, same year as them. We all attended top 20 business schools in the US. So I am sure they rightly assumed I was earning good money, maybe not as much as they are earning (since I’m not a banker) but decent money, even working for myself. With these ten-percenters and five-percenters, the Greyhound is not on their radar for travel options. I’m guessing they assumed I was the same. So whenever I mentioned that I took the bus and was planning to take it back, some of them were unable to mask their expressions: First expression, the bus? As in the Greyhound? Second, did she have to take the Greyhound because she is earning so little that she couldn’t afford a $300 plane ticket from TO to NY. Third, damn it must be rough for her.

Thankfully, based on my income alone, I could easily afford a plane ticket. So I didn’t feel the sting of their pity as I would have were I really in a rough spot. However, as you all know, because of my debt burden, I feel like I can’t really afford a plane ticket and felt very happy to have paid under $100 for my round-trip bus ticket. Because, as I have stated before, I am living as though I were a student, travel included.

That brings me to the topic of today’s post. Today I want to talk about saving money when traveling.

traveling

I am not the type of girl who is into clothes, shoes, bags, electronics, shopping or any material thing really. However, I do like to travel.

When I was younger, I would save up my money to go live for months at a time in new cities or new countries. Money I saved on clothes or eating out in my home city were put towards my travel fund. I have lived in a number of countries and traveled to quite a few others. I like thrusting myself into new cultures, especially ones where the majority speak a language that is not my native language. I like meeting new people, wandering around in a new city and learning about a place through firsthand experiences. I sometimes practise extreme frugality in certain areas in order to be able to take once-in-a-lifetime trips. Mainly thanks to this quote.

Charles Twain - Twenty years from now

I like all those aforementioned things but I have always been frugal. So I was a frugal traveler, especially once I got to my destination. However, nowadays I have cut back on the ticket prices to my destinations. So my travel destinations the past 3 years have been contained within North America. Thankfully, there are still many cities here for me to discover.

Traveling on a budget – the frugal traveler

Below are a few of my frugal traveling tactics and my travel stories.

Tactic #1: Try to spend as little as possible to get to your destination

Debt Squasher - transportation options train plane bus suitcases

  • Be sure to check out fares by bus or train and compare with the cost of flights and travel time to see if something else could work for you. I use the Greyhound (including the Ne On bus) and Coach Canada (including Megabus) more often than the train or plane when traveling within North America. Sometimes I take the bus partway to a cheaper airport.
  • Ride-sharing is an option to get someplace too. From Craigslist to Ridejoy to other newer sites, you may be able to find someone going where you are headed and the cost of chipping in gas money could be cheaper than any other means to get to your destination.
  • Car rentals and peer-to-peer car lending such as RelayRides are also options to check. Be sure to include gas costs in your calculations to do a better comparison with other options.
  • If you are going to fly, check nearby airports for cheaper flights. In my case, the Buffalo airport is often significantly cheaper than flying out of the Toronto airports. So I will take the bus to the Buffalo airport then from there take the plane to my US destination.
  • Some years back, when I lived in Europe, I took many a trip to other cities and countries. From the beginning, I made sure to use comparison sites to check airfares and often went with the low-cost carrier rather than the airline with all the (unnecessary) frills.
  • Protip: Another trick I discovered was that, if you check out an airline/plane/bus site as if you were from your destination city then you sometimes get cheaper tickets, i.e. try to navigate a website in the language of where you are going or with your country set to the destination country. For instance, when I was booking a train from Paris to Rome I checked the train sites based in France and the train sites based in Italy. And when I was on the Italian train site, Trenitalia, I set my language to Italian. Whaddya know? The fares were cheaper on Trenitalia when I set my language as Italian!
    Note that I don’t speak Italian but I knew a little Spanish and could figure my way around. Plus, forms where you enter your departure and arrival cities and times are pretty standard in most languages, at least the Latin-based ones. And Google also came in handy for those words I didn’t understand and couldn’t guess. When I was going to Spain, I put my country as Spain on Ryanair’s site (Ryanair is a low-cost European airline). Bus to the Netherlands? Didn’t speak a lick of Dutch but I set my language to Dutch and fumbled my way through in order to compare prices.
  • Avoid booking tourist packages, such as the ones that include hotel and transportation to different places. In my opinion, those things are money traps. You can create your own package by booking your flight/bus/train yourself, booking a hostel/Airbnb/hotel yourself and setting up your own itinerary.
  • Sometimes you just want to get away and you don’t necessarily have a destination in mind. Or if you do, you would be open to other places. In this case, look for specials to get you out of your city and use the cheapest destinations as your starting point for where you want to go. More than once I have taken a trip to somewhere I’ve never heard of or thought about, mainly because fares to that place were cheap.

Tactic #2: For accommodation, look into alternatives to hotels

I can safely say that when I have traveled on my own and paid for it (i.e. almost all the times I have traveled), I have never stayed in a hotel.

Oh you fancy huh

Some alternative options to a hotel are:

  • Couchsurfing – I am a proud member of Couchsurfing. When I first started traveling, couchsurfing proved a great way to get to stay in a city for free, meet cool people and better learn about a city. Couchsurfing is an online community of travelers, many of whom welcome others into their homes. Guests get a free place to sleep, the opportunity to interact with locals and better learn about a city. The host gets the chance to learn about a different culture or practise language skills. Everyone gets to make new friends!
    You don’t even have to stay with a couchsurfer to meet up with him/her. You can also schedule a time to meet up for coffee/drink/a meal/activity/event. It is nice to meet up with a local who can often give excellent advice for things to do and see. And, if you are traveling alone, it is even better, especially if you also want to spend at least one night out on the town. Having company for that sort of thing is great.
    People often tell me I am crazy to do couchsurfing as a single female. Even moreso because I stay in the homes/apartments of men. Maybe I am crazy but, let me tell ya, some of my best traveling experiences came from couchsurfing!
  • AirbnbAirbnb has become my go-to site to check for accommodation when I am visiting another city. To me, Airbnb is a step up from couchsurfing, mainly because of the protection aspects. In reality, the difference between the two is that with Airbnb you do actually pay, although the rates are very reasonable and often much cheaper than a hotel. On Airbnb you can book any type of sleeping arrangement (couch, room, entire apartment) for any period of time and there are policies in place to protect both the host and the guest. Note that there are now a lot of similar sites, some of which are more popular in certain countries (Wimdu is one that comes to my mind).
  • Hostel – Hostels are pretty good in certain places. In my experience the ones in Europe are decent but hostels definitely have different levels of quality in different cities. So do some research to find out which cities tend to be ok and then, within cities, which hostels have a good reputation. For instance, I stayed in a 4-bed room in an amazing hostel in Germany for something like 11Eur/night. The room was immaculate! In fact, that hostel and room was eons better than the sketchy hostel and even sketchier 2-bed suite I booked in London for 50 pounds/night! Better even than some far more expensive hotels in Paris!
    By the way, Protip: Some people think hostels only have young people, twelve to a room, one shower for an entire floor…that sort of thing. Those aren’t the only ones. There are a variety of room types in a hostel. You can even get a suite as I often did, where you are by yourself or with up to 3 others and the people in that suite get their own washroom, and sometimes even a kitchen, just for the suite guests. Often, hostel suites still work out cheaper than a hotel room, especially when traveling alone.

I’ve just realized that these three all have one thing in common (if you do the room option in Airbnb):

sleeping with strangers

It doesn’t have to be weird, you guys!

Another option for those who are very risk-averse and just cannot see themselves staying in the home of a stranger:

  • Stay with friends – One time I stayed in a lovely apartment with a great outdoor pool, in Madrid, with a friend I made in another European city. On all my North American trips so far, including my recent trip to NY, I’ve stayed with a friend. And I have a number of friends living in other countries just waiting for the day I can afford to visit :P. Of course, this option is limited by your ability to make friends from other places or your luck with having friends who move to or who live in other places. No worries. I think this option is yet another reason it is good to make friends from other countries. Of course your motivation for doing so shouldn’t be so you can have a free place to stay in some exotic location. However, by making connections with people who come from a different city you may end up with that lovely by-product of having a place to stay next time you venture that way.

Tactic #3: Don’t spend (much) money on tourist traps

View of Eiffel Tower from Sacre Coeur

  • Guided tours can sometimes be expensive. E.g. those open-deck buses in Toronto or San Francisco are hella expensive. Look for the free walking tours that many big cities have, often in multiple languages. I have done 3 hour ones in Europe. Some people do walk away not paying anything to the free guides but the free tours aren’t really free. They are more like pay-what-you-can. Nonetheless, 5-10 Euros or $10-$15 is much less than the price of the official tours and, in my opinion, they are just as informative. Try to find the free ones!
  • If you don’t want to spend any money on paid or “free” guided tours you can find other ways. When I first started traveling, I found it hard to spend money on tours. So I created my own self-guided tours. I’d often research the best places in a city using TripAdvisor and other travel review sites. Then I’d make a list of what I wanted to see, usually sticking to free options only. Then I’d map out the places. Then I’d walk around these places with a hand-drawn map and notes on the different starred places on my map (I never use my cellphone in foreign countries – roaming is too expensive). Nowadays smartphones have built-in GPS that can sometimes work without internet so you may not need your piece of paper like I did. When I was strapped for time or too lazy, I would look up complete self-guided itineraries online, print them off and use them. And so I did “2 days in Venice” and “1 day in Amsterdam”, among others. Again TripAdvisor worked well for me but I’m sure there are other good sites out there.
  • I avoid tourist traps in general. Or rather, I avoid paying to go up or inside a tourist trap. Different people have different priorities though. For me, when I travel, it is more important to get a feel for the city as a local. So, for instance, while I love the Eiffel Tower and it is one of the first places I visit whenever I go to Paris, I have never actually been UP the Eiffel Tower. I prefer going up to the Sacré-Cœur and getting a similar view FOR FREE. It is also why I went by the London Eye and wished it well. I sure as hell was not going to spend a ridiculous amount of money for what essentially amounts to a ferris wheel ride. At the same time, there were some things I felt were worthy of me spending money on to see what all the fuss was about (e.g. the Sistine Chapel). Make your list of non-free things you have to visit or see and things you can pass on.

Tactic #4: Enjoy the local cuisine!

currywvrst

should say that one of the things I most look forward to is learning about the culture of a new city or visiting cool places. But I think the thing I most look forward to is the food! I LOVE food. I love trying new food. So, even when I am being my most frugal, I usually make it a priority to have at least one sit-down meal in a restaurant/cafe serving traditional food of the place I am visiting. This is another area where couchsurfing comes in handy. Usually locals know the good, cheap, non-touristy places. And, if you don’t have company, sit down meals are great for people-watching. Depending on my budget and the type of food that is popular in a city, besides the one real restaurant meal, I will also try to eat popular, local fast food. Belgian fries, currywvrst and everything from FEBO (!!) are a few of my favourite street food in Europe.

Please note that, in some countries, especially developing countries, eating street food can result in traveler’s diarrhea (which I’ve also unfortunately experienced) so be careful.

Tactic #5: Meet up with locals!

A lot of the activities above are made better with the help of locals. Don’t be too scared to meet up with locals, whether they are friends, acquaintances or strangers you meet through friends of friends, couchsurfing, meetup or other similar sites. You will learn a lot more about a city that way and you may also make a new friend!

 

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I know that traveling is the last thing some people think about when trying to reduce massive debt. However, you may be able to eke out a trip somewhere while paying off debt. Over the past year, I have taken long weekend trips (4 days/3 nights) where I spent a total of $100, including travel, food, drink and accommodation. That works out to $25 a day and that was when I was not really counting my pennies when it came to food. So don’t automatically discount traveling because you think it will be out of your budget. Especially if you can scrimp even more in another category and put the money towards a small travel fund. Furthermore, the sharing economy (such as that offered by Airbnb or RelayRides) is a part of our new reality as we seek cheaper and more efficient ways to get things done. And, in my opinion, by virtue of being more popular, sharing with strangers is not quite as dangerous as it used to be. Us frugal babes and men get to benefit from the rising popularity and that includes taking trips that fully utilize the sharing economy.

If you have to save on travel and really cannot afford to squeeze money from any other category, that’s totally understandable. But if you have a little extra to put towards travel or if you can be extremely frugal in other expense categories so you can put money towards travel, then try it sometime!

I have had a number of amazing experiences that came from spending little money or much less than the average. Be sure to try some of my tactics above on your next adventure.

Do you have any tips to add?

N.B. None of the sites mentioned paid me anything to promote them in this post.

September Monthly Report – Home Again

Hi everyone.

I come to you shame-faced and more than a little disappointed in my progress for September.

September was a busy traveling month for me. I was barely home.

The month started with a visit by two of my best friends from business school for the Labour Day weekend. That was an expensive long weekend! Probably the most expensive one in a while since my friends were foodies who wanted to try as much of the cool food/desserts in Toronto as possible. Including one of my favourite Canadian meals, also probably the most unhealthy thing one can eat.

poutinePoutine is the most delicious heart-attack-in-a-box ever!

Anyway, a few days after my friends left, I moved back home. However, within a few days of moving back, I left again. On a long weekend trip to visit a friend in Montreal. Then the weekend after that I went on a five day trip to attend my best friend’s wedding in the US. I saved greatly on transportation to visit these friends.

I saved money on the travel costs to visit my friends (more on that later) and, for the first trip, was actually pretty good on minizing spending once I arrived. However, for my friend’s wedding I spent more. Mainly because of gift-giving. I didn’t skip on the gift for my best friend and her husband. Also, I treated myself to a couple extra purchases there (namely the always-expensive fro-yo and a nice meal).

My Pinkberry fro-yo was great but I think my $6.57 could have been spent much better. Or not spent at all! This is my dilemma whenever I buy Starbucks coffee, coffee from independent coffee shops or little treats such as frozen yoghurt from specialty shops. I always think how I could have bought a meal for the same price as one little cup of coffee. A meal would have been much more filling and much less of a waste of money. That’s my Third World Mentality coming through. But seriously, if I never had to meet clients in coffee shops I would hardly go to coffee shops. They are a money drain!

Moving right along!

I thought August’s spending on dining out was bad but September got it beat by far.

DINING EXPENSES

July August September
$237 $371(!) $440 (!!!)

I am beginning to accept that dining is the category that benefits from my extreme frugality in other areas. I save extra hard in other areas so I can put a little more towards dining without feeling too guilty. Because I love trying new food. So I’m ok with spending a little more on dining, now that I am earning more money. However, I would like to keep my spending in the category to maximum $250 per month and ideally $150 or less.

I had only one week in the condo in September but I spent a whopping $62 on groceries. To be honest though, some of that was money I gave my Mum to buy me some things at the supermarket once I moved back home.

July August September
Dining Out $237 $371 $440
Groceries $94 $101 $62
TOTAL $331 $472 $502

All in all, minus rent, my total spending for September was $2133, which is just slightly less than August’s total. But September’s total includes only around $645 of interest payments for August, compared to the closer to $1000 figure it had been for the previous 3 months.

Also, unlike in August, in September I did not put much money toward debt. My spending total was around the same but my incoming cash flow was less in September than in previous months. So I was hesitant to throw extra money at debt.

As of the end of September, here is where things stand.

Oh, before I get to that, I decided to use the $1.1275 USD-CAD exchange rate to keep track of my progress from last year July til now. So my 2013 debt numbers will change a bit from this post onwards. Of course, now that I am using the $1.1275 rate though, looking at the currency history for this week, I am wondering if I shouldn’t just use a rate like $1.3 just to be safe…Hmmm, I will revisit this rate in 6 months.

Also, the credit card balances are not overdue. Just haven’t paid them yet but will do so in full before the balance due dates.

Ok, here is the latest:

Name July 31, 2013 September 30, 2014
Mastercard $6,123 CAD $57 CAD
Visa $8,653 CAD $167 CAD
B-school loan $96,800 USD
($109,142 CAD)
$86,650 USD
($96,698 CAD)
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan $20,931 CAD $18,730 CAD
Student Line of Credit (LOC) $9,678 CAD $0
TOTAL $154,527 CAD $115,652 CAD

August’s balance at the same rate was $118,011. So that means that in September I paid off $2359, which is below my monthly minimum goal of $2500 – hence the reason for the shame-faced greeting.

Sigh.