Give Me Back My Five Bucks

February 2016 Goals: Recap

I feel really good that I was able to do so many fun things this month – Chinese New Year’s with my family, brunch dates with my favourite people, dinners out with friends, the Elliott Brood concert, celebrating Valentine’s Day with RD, and lots of rock climbing. :)

Last week I was interviewed for an article with The Province newspaper about renting vs. buying in Vancouver. I thought it would be a normal Sunday article slotted in with weekend fluff. But the reporter asked if she could send out a photographer on the weekend … then a videographer the following weekend … and when I finally went to pick up a copy of the newspaper yesterday afternoon, I got a bit of a shock!

IMG_9746 IMG_9745


It’s kind of weird to see myself on the front page of a newspaper when I wasn’t expecting it, but renting vs. owning is a huge topic in Vancouver right now and I certainly have a strong opinion. It’s also been interesting reading what my friends and acquaintances have to say about their experiences and what they hope for in the future.

Related: We will never be homeowners in Vancouver

Anyway, here’s my monthly budget recap:


Over Budget:

  • Utilities – our hydro bill was $197.98 (billed every 2 months). This was our first hydro bill in the new place, and comes to about $98.99/month. Split between the two of us, and we’re paying about $50/month each. It was more than we had expected, but the past 2 months were the coldest of the year, and the tenant before us was paying an average of $50/month. So we will definitely see a decrease in this expense going forward.
  • Entertainment – I had a few unexpected dates with friends come up this month – a brunch with a girlfriend downtown, and RD and I went out with his friends as a last-minute thing a few weekends ago. This made me go slightly over budget, but I’m still happy with the $200 spent as it included the cost of going to a concert.

Income & Savings:

This month I was able to save 47.5% of my income. This is a little off from my goal of saving 50%, but last month I was at 68% so I feel like I’m still on track. :)

I also invoiced out for $4,200 in freelance work this month, and expect those cheques to come through sometime in March.

February 2016 Goals:

  • Find alternative parkingCHECK! My last month paying for parking is March. After that, I’m going to try to snag the free spots available in our work parking lot. You have to be fast to grab them in the morning, but they’re there. If not, there’s a parking lot across the street that costs $6 per day or a few free all-day parking spots on the street (super rare though). I’ve been testing out the parking lot situation for a while, and in 3 weeks I have gotten a spot every day except one. Even if I don’t get parking on occasion and can’t find free street parking, it will still be cheaper than paying $60/month.
  • Save $2,000 in my retirement portfolioFAIL. My contributions rose permanently to $1,550/month thanks to passing probation and becoming eligible for my company’s RRSP match program. But the freelance income I was expecting didn’t get paid out this month. So I’ll try again in March when I receive those cheques.
  • Declutter my closetCHECK! I cleared out one big garbage bag full of clothing, and it feels fantastic. :) I’ll never become a crazy minimalist when it comes to my closet, but I am working hard at keeping classic items that I can wear for years (and that are interchangeable between work and play).
  • Cook one new recipe a weekPASS. We only got to 3 new recipes this month, but I’m still giving myself a pass because we would have tried 4 recipes but we had too many leftovers to get through over the weekend. :) We made a really nice vegetarian lasagna for Valentine’s Day, and also made Vietnamese salad rolls and sushi this month. And we picked up two new cookbooks: Thug Kitchen and Veganomicon.

Starbucks rewards are changing

photo(4)My most recent trip to a coffee shop was when I went to Starbucks on January 13th, and it may have been my last … because if you haven’t heard already, the Starbucks rewards program is changing.

With the current rewards program, you earn one star for each transaction – regardless of how much you spend. Once you reach 12 stars, you earn a free drink or food item of your choice. I’m a plain coffee drinker, so each trip to Starbucks only cost me $2 for a tall coffee. And after 12 trips, I’d typical spend my reward on a more expensive drink – like a latte or frappuccino – or even a breakfast sandwich when I wanted a little treat.

With the new changes, the amount of stars you earn is determined by how much money you spend – so for every $1 spent you’ll be getting 2 stars. And you will need to collect 125 stars to earn a free item.  That means it would cost about $62 to earn a free Starbucks reward that previously cost me $24. Not cool.

If you’re consistently spending $5 each time you go to Starbucks, then the changes don’t affect you much (because you were already spending $5 x 12 = $60). And if you were buying $7 sandwiches or anything else with a bigger price tag, then you’ll get your freebie even sooner than before.

Related: Would you tip your Starbucks barista?

I get that Starbucks rewards program will benefit people who spend a lot each time they go. But that’s not me. So now there’s really no incentive to go to there over another coffee shop anymore. And actually, it kind of makes my 2016 goal of not going to coffee shops (for anything other than socializing) a lot easier. So, see ya Starbucks. It was fun while it lasted.

What do you think of the changes to the rewards program?

It’s not how much you make, it’s how much you save

2013-05-03 09.09.21Recently a friend and I were chatting over coffee about a mutual acquaintance who just got married. “She’s so rich now – combined her and her husband make over $240,000 a year,” my friend told me.

This bothered me. Not because I was jealous of our acquaintance’s healthy household income, but because my friend automatically assumed that because of the salary they were making, they were automatically rich. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started this personal finance journey, is that when it comes to money, you can’t judge how financially savvy someone is by their salary or their appearance.

The definition of the word “rich” means to have a great deal of money or assets. Well, if our acquaintance is making $240,000, but also spending $240,000, then she isn’t rich – she’s just living a $240,000 lifestyle. A big pay cheque doesn’t mean a thing if you have nothing to show for it, and we just didn’t know what their financial situation is to know if they are actually “rich.”

From 2006 to 2011 (5 years) I grew my net worth from -$20,000 to +$63,000. That’s a difference of $83,000 (or an average of $16,600 per year)! And I did that all on an average annual salary of $44,000. My salary was quite low, but my savings rate made me feel rich.

Now that my income is higher (I’ll earn around $85,000 to 90,000 this year), I’m trying really hard to curb lifestyle inflation. Because let’s be real, the more money you make, the more you have to spend (and the more you likely will spend). More money equals upgrading your housing, buying nicer clothing, more frequent Starbucks trips, and more vacations. I’m guilty of some of those things, but I’m trying the best I can. :)

Below is a chart based on an average month of spending for me in 2007, 2013, and 2016:


Related: Can lifestyle inflation be avoided?

Let me be the first to tell you that I’m not rich. I do not earn large pay cheques, and my net worth is only about $120,000. But my monthly expenses (as shown above) aren’t that much different than they were 9 or 10 years ago. My rent has only gone up by $100, and I feel like my groceries and entertainment budget have increased by a normal amount.

So while my $120,000 net worth isn’t much to celebrate now, that number will continue to increase every month. And 2016 could turn out to be a great year for me, as I have the ability to save nearly $40,000 if I stick to my budget.

I’ve blogged about it before, but I no longer aspire to earn more money. If it happens, it’ll be due to working hard at my full-time job or becoming more strategic with my freelancing. But I’m not going to sacrifice my lifestyle in pursuit of more dollars. :) So that means I’m never going to have a enviable salary that my friends can talk about behind my back. I’ll never wear high fashion brand name clothes, or fly first class, or hire house cleaners (but actually that’s mostly because RD refuses to let me). I just want to be comfortable.

My method of getting rich is by being smart with the money that I already earn. I want to save at least 50% of my net income this year, curb lifestyle inflation as best I can, and grow my wealth in a healthy and sustainable way. To me, this seems like a way better plan than trying to figure out a way to earn millions of dollars, or buying Lotto Max tickets in the hope of striking rich. :)

So whenever you hear of someone who earns the kind of salary you could only dream of, just remember that comparing yourself to others (while tempting to do) is never a good idea. There are always going to be people who make more money than you, but you can live a fulfilling life on your own terms by keeping lifestyle inflation in check and saving your money.

What are your savings goals for 2016?

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