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Are you getting a holiday bonus?

Do you get a year-end bonus from work around the holidays? I haven’t worked for a company that has given out annual bonuses for a while, but now I am, I’m faced with the problem of how I’m going to spend the money. A good problem to have. :) And while I’m tempted to spend it on a new laptop or a trip somewhere tropical, I know this small windfall will give me the opportunity to achieve a few financial goals I’ve been putting off.

Here are a couple smart ways I’ve spent my annual bonus in the past:

Pay off something

Do you have a small balance on your credit card, an outstanding medical bill, or are you six months away from making your final car payment? Using your bonus to pay off your bills will help lower your debt obligation – giving you more breathing room each month. When I was paying off my student loans, I would throw any extra money I had towards that debt, and was able to eliminate it a lot faster than I had originally anticipated.

Improve your home

This is a big one for me now that I’m a homeowner. I’m finding there’s always something that needs to be done, and often times I put it off until the last minute. But things that are barely working will break down eventually, and using the bonus money to get them fixed now will save me money in the future. I know that not only will these improvements make me happier hanging out at home, but it will likely also increase the value of my home in the process.

Start a side business

If you’ve been saving money to start a new business, or if you want to take your existing business to the next level, using your bonus is a great opportunity to invest your money into your future. I have definitely spent bonus money on improving my websites, office equipment, and buying hosting. And I have a couple of friends who have received bonuses and invested that money that into a real, legitimate side business. One used the money to buy supplies and launch a store on Etsy.com, where she makes anywhere from $300-500 in extra income each month. And the other friend was able to buy additional baking equipment, which allowed her to offer more items to her clients.

Buy insurance

Set the money aside for the next time your home or car insurance comes up for renewal. That way you won’t be scrambling to find the money when the time comes. I used to get a small bonus every year from one of the companies I worked for, and felt pretty triumphant when it came to renew my car insurance, and could pay for the entire year in cash. Small win, I know. But back then, it was a major accomplishment. :)

Pay for a financial advisor

A financial advisor will be able to help you develop a personal plan of attack, and provide the peace of mind knowing that you are working with a sound investment strategy – and that you are on your way to achieving all your financial goals. Look for a fee-for-service advisor – unlike other financial advisors who might charge a percentage of your income or by trade, a fee-for-service advisor charges a flat fee or an hourly rate for providing specific services.

This year, I’m leaning towards getting a plumber in to fix my sink, and then putting half into my TFSA, and the other half onto my mortgage.

If you are getting an annual bonus this year, what will you spend it on?

It’s time to go back to school

It was my birthday earlier this week, and have spent a lot of time reflecting on what I’ve done so far in life. When I was younger, I always thought I’d be married with kids, and have a beautiful house as well as a flourishing career by the time I was 30. Well, I don’t have any of these things, but life isn’t so bad. :)

I don’t have a house, but I do have a townhouse. Buying my own home was a goal I’ve had for many years, and paying for it myself makes it extra special. It took me 6 years to save for that down payment, but when I finally had those house keys in my hand… it was definitely worth it. As for owning a house? That’s a dream I’m going to have to let go for a long time if I want to stay in the Vancouver area. I’m not willing to live any further out in the suburbs than I already am, and in fact my next move (whenever that is) will likely be closer into the heart of Vancouver.

I’m thankful that I still look young enough to get ID’d buying lottery tickets and alcohol. And while my field hockey skills are definitely fading, every year (when I’m not injured), I’m able to run faster and longer distances. I’m also healthier than I’ve been in years, and have successfully transitioned to a vegetarian diet, which I’m happy about.

I’ve had some pretty great relationships even though I’m not married. Some ended poorly, yes, that’s true. But some ended well, and I got to explore the world, learn about myself, and figure out exactly what I want. Which leads me to today, where I’ve been dating a great guy and we just celebrated one year together. :)

As for my career, that’s a funny one. I used to think I was doing really well for myself. I was confident in my full-time job, and I was working hard at my side projects. But then, life happened. I started focusing on buildng stronger relationships with my friends and loved ones. And then all of a sudden, I didn’t have time to work 80 hours a week anymore. Or rather, I didn’t want to.

And now, I feel like my career has stalled a bit. Sure, I still believe I’m employable. I have well-rounded skills, and even in a tough job market, I’m always able to find work with good companies. But I’m not growing, and I’m beginning to realize that in order to be happy in my career, I need to continue to learn and develop my skills. I’m not satisfied where I am, and education will help me take the next step in my career.

One of my goals for 2014 was to start looking into management programs, and I think I’ve narrowed my choices down to two programs at two different universities. Both are part-time (one is completely online, and one is evenings and weekends), and both will give me a business management certificate.

To be honest, the major reason why I haven’t aggressively pursued further education until now is the cost. I’m not willing to take out student loans, and I’ve had so many other life goals I wanted to achieve before I put my money into myself. But now’s the time, and thankfully it looks like my employer is willing to entertain the idea of helping me with some of the cost.

I’ve signed up to attend information sessions for both of these programs, and have emailed briefly with the coordinators. There are significant differences to these programs – the major one being the length of time required. One is 6 courses, and the other is 14. I’m leaning towards the longer one, but can’t say for sure until I learn more about them at the info sessions.
My goal is to be taking classes as early as January (more realistically, the spring/summer), and by this time next year, I’ll be well on my way to bettering myself and my future.31 was a fun year, but I think 32 is going to be pretty great as well. :)

The pros and cons of being in a union

BF and I often talk about unions and how effective they are. He is part of a union for a very large national company, and loves it. Meanwhile I’ve worked in a union environment on 3 separate occasions (provincial government x2, municipal government), and left all 3 times. Plus, with everything going on with the BCTF strike here in BC, I think the pros and cons of unions are on everybody’s minds these days.

Now, I completely understand the benefits of being in a union. Unions are put in place to protect workers, give them fair wages, and make the workplace safer. But having worked for companies whose non-union employees complain that unions can be detrimental to growth, and having seen so many people abuse the benefits of being in a union, I have to wonder… as an employee, over the lifetime of your career, is being in a union beneficial? Will you earn more, will your career progress, and will you be happier? Or perhaps it depends on the type of work you’re doing.

The pros of being in a union:

  • Health benefits. Most (if not all?) unionized workers are entitled to extended health and medical benefits. This is a huge bonus. Especially if you or anyone in your family has major health issues. Not only are you potentially covered for hundreds of thousands of dollars over your career, but you’re also protected by the union in that your job seems more secure if you have to take extended leaves due to illness.
  • You have job security. When you aren’t part of a union, you can be fired for no reason (I’m reminded of when I was unfairly fired a few years ago). But when you’re part of a union, it’s pretty hard to get fired. It has to be pretty serious, and even then, you can still file a grievance.
  • You can speak up. You don’t have to be scared to speak your mind or stir the pot if you think something is unfair. The union is supposed to be there for advice, and for support.
  • Seniority. Of course this differs between different unions, but for the most part, seniority can be a factor in determining who gets a promotion, or even who gets to keep their jobs if there are layoffs. When a union is involved, employers are usually required to let go of the most junior employees. This is supposed to eliminate favoritism in the workplace.

The cons of being in a union:

  • People know how to abuse the system. There is so much abuse, because people know all the loopholes and know they can’t really be fired unless they do something completely inappropriate. I know someone who spent most of her time at work doing personal tasks (like printing cookbooks off the internet, or reading celebrity gossip websites). I know someone else who requested vacation days, got denied, and just didn’t show up for those days anyway. Neither of them got fired, or even disciplined.
  • It rewards employees that might not deserve to be rewarded. Even if you put in minimal effort, it’s nearly impossible to get fired. You get your pay grade steps regardless of how hard you work. I found this demoralizing and it made me want to put in less effort, since 1) I would get a raise regardless of how hard I worked, and 2) the person next to me did nothing most days, and still got paid more than me for the same job.
  • It can hold you back. Because seniority plays such a huge role in unionized environments, sometimes the best person for the job gets passed over because they don’t have enough seniority. So I feel like unions can stunt a good employee’s professional growth. Although, I’m only talking about my experience in an office environment. I’m not sure if that’s the case in every organization.

Anyway, those are my big picture thoughts about unions. I can completely understand both sides, and how unions can benefit or stunt an employee. Obviously since I’m choosing to work for non-union organizations, I’m making my choice. But I’m specifically coming from a government background, and I have flip flopped before – and recently. I know plenty of people who work in union environments and love it. So I’m left continuing to wonder about whether the pros outweigh the cons.

Do you work in a union? Do you find unions beneficial?

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