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2013 Canadian Personal Finance Conference!

canadian-personal-finance-conference-2013

I haven’t mentioned it much on this blog, but this September will mark the 3rd Annual Canadian Personal Finance Conference – a conference I co-founded and organize with Preet Banerjee. This year’s speaker line-up includes some of the best writers in Canada – including Rob Carrick (Globe and Mail), Ellen Roseman (Toronto Star), and Dan Bortolotti (Canadian Couch Potato)… and over the weekend the conference sold out! Click here to put your name on the wait list. :)

Anyway the reason why I’m mentioning this is because this past week, I realized there’s only two months left until the conference. I didn’t have my flight booked, and had no idea where I was going to stay.

Last year, I stayed close to Kensington Market, and really liked the area. I snagged a great deal: an entire apartment for $70/night. The owner was new to AirBnB, so I think he was just trying to figure out how much he should be charging… because when I went to look at his listing again over the weekend, I realized his rates had risen to $125/night! Yikes. I liked him and his apartment, but not for that amount of money.

Related: My review of AirBnB (via FrugalWanderer.com)

I finally found a listing near Kensington Market that was going for $79/night. It was free for the days I looking for, so I e-mailed her right away. She was friendly, and pre-approved me to book the room. The only problem was when I went to go book online, she had increased the daily rate to $88/night. I was annoyed, because while it’s still a good price (and still the cheapest in the area), I felt like it was pretty sneaky. So I e-mailed her back and told her that I noticed that her rates had increased, and if she wouldn’t mind giving me the lower price – since that’s what made me want to book her room in the first place. She was very apologetic, and agreed to the lower rate. Great!

Related: Truth – If you don’t ask, you won’t get

So I ended up paying $304 for 4 nights in Toronto. Much cheaper than a hotel, and cheaper than any private room in a hostel as well. Sure, I could have stayed in a hostel dorm room (and I would have, if this was a vacation trip), but because it’s a business trip, I like having the extra space and privacy to get work done when needed.

As for my flight? Thanks to my new Capital One Aspire World Travel Mastercard, my flight was free. :) I’m pleased that a card I’ve only been using since February has already earned me enough points to get me a $600 flight.

Now all I have to do is worry about my spending money. Because I’ll be pretty busy with the conference (and can only take a few days off from my full-time job), there’s not much time for socializing. I think I’ll budget $250 or $300, and that’s being pretty generous.

Toronto is a great city, and I’m so excited to be back. There are plenty of people I can’t wait to meet, and old friends I’m excited to see again. :) Two months to go!

Budgeting for freelancers

I was thinking the other day about a recent post I wrote about how I became a freelancer. I talked about the anxiety I felt not having a steady stream of income, but I didn’t talk about what I did to remedy the situation.

Last year I created monthly budgets like I normally do, but with irregular payments coming in (and no full-time salary to anchor my income), it ended up being a somewhat frustrating experience. I didn’t have enough cash flow to bridge the gap between payments, so sometimes I was caught a little short on cash. :| It would have been relatively easy to dip into my (non-EF) savings account, but with PC Financial, taking money out of a savings account takes one business day. Besides, I had to figure out a better way.

Related: When does a freelancing career take over?

After the first few months, I realized I needed a better system that accounted for income fluctuation. The first step was to project my monthly income, and there are generally two methods to doing that:

  1. Average monthly income. Add up your monthly income from the past year, divide by 12.
  2. Minimum monthly income. Take the lowest earning month you have had in the past year.

When I was working a full-time job and freelancing, I based my budget on my minimum monthly income – which usually ignored any freelance income I earned. That way, I was sure I was satisfying my budget, without having to look at fluctuating secondary streams of income to compensate my spending.

However, as a freelancer, I didn’t have anchor income (or even many anchor clients) that would provide me a steady stream of money I could rely on. So I decided to change my approach and work my budget around my average monthly income instead. Then, I would pay myself a bi-weekly salary, as if I was still working for someone else – instead of just randomly spending/saving the money as it came in. So I went back and added up my freelance income from the past 12 months, and divided by 12 to get my average monthly salary.

That made me feel really good. I knew approximately how much I would bring in each month, and I felt secure that I could meet all of my financial obligations, and still have enough left over for the fun stuff – like travel. :) But my only problem was, if I was already starting short on cash flow, how would I build up a salary base so that I could start giving myself a bi-weekly salary?

It was then I realized why I’m always so overly cautious when it comes to my money – for exact reasons like this. I had about $5,000 set aside in a savings account (my $10,000 Emergency Fund is separate from this). I took out enough to pay me a bi-weekly salary to start, and started to used that savings account as my business account.

Related: Time management for the freelancer

This was a good short-term solution, but if I were going to make freelancing a full-time career, I would have done a lot of things differently:

  • Set up a separate business chequing/savings account. I should have done it before I left, but it just wasn’t a priority (even though it should have been).
  • Stay more on top of admin work. I’m still guilty of this. I have a really hard time replying to e-mails (especially advertisers/sponsors) in a timely manner – because all I want to do is write, write, write! But when I’m my own business, no e-mail can go unanswered.
  • I would have cared more about making money from my blog. Monetization has never been a big thing for me. A lot of bloggers make a killing with sponsors and banner ads and affiliate marketing. Sure, the money would be nice. But it’s just not something I care enough about. I’d rather cultivate personal relationships with companies. That’s why I focused on my partnership with HostelBookers, and a few other smaller companies last year.
  • I would have worked harder. Okay, well maybe. Last year I worked about 25 hours/week and earned about $57k. That’s a pretty decent salary, but if I were going to make freelancing my career, I would have gone at it harder. Pursued more opportunities. Said yes to all media interviews (I said no. Often.) Worked a full 40-50 hour/week. Of course, that was impossible to do while I was traveling so much… and that’s a choice I made.
  • Saved up for a business emergency fund. The only thing that was keeping me calm was my $10,000 personal Emergency Fund. I should have had a savings account set up for my business – so that if I lost a big client (I did while I was away), I could supplement my bi-weekly income until I found a replacement income stream. Thankfully I had additional savings outside of my EF that I could use if needed.

Anyway, that’s how I dealt with money during my year as a freelancer. Like I mentioned in last month’s post, freelancing gave me so much anxiety. But, I think that if I had created a better game plan (aside from: yep, I make enough money to quit my full-time job!), I would have been more successful at being less stressed out about finances last year. :)

Freelancers – do you have any budgeting tips to share?

Are you a job hopper?

Press conference at work!

Yesterday, I read a great BBC article by my pal Bryan Borzykowski called Are You Job Hopping To Nowhere? In this article, he examines whether job hopping can help or hurt your career.

He says that the nature of employment is changing, and more young workers are job hopping due to a variety of reasons – there’s a lot more contract or part-time work, combined with layoffs and salary freezes that can push people around to different jobs. But frequently moving around doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll climb the corporate ladder faster, and staying put might not earn you significant salary increases.

I look back at my career so far, and it’s obvious I’ve been a job hopper:

  1. Writer in the provincial government (6 months)
  2. Marketing Coordinator in municipal government (12 months, + $17,000)
  3. Marketing Coordinator in non-profit (8 months, – $5,000)
  4. Marketing Coordinator in real estate (18 months, + $6,000)
  5. Marketing Coordinator in apparel (20 months, + $2,000)
  6. Freelance Writer (12 months, + $7,000)
  7. Marketing Manager – current job (6 months, + $8,000)

But, aside from one job move (this is when I moved to Vancouver), my salary has increased (sometimes significantly) over the previous position – to the point where I’ve more than doubled my salary since I started working. If I were still working in the provincial government, I’d likely enjoy modest cost-of-living increases, and perhaps a promotion or two – but I’m pretty confident there’s no way my salary would have increased as much had I not kept jumping around.

The article says that people who stay long-term with a company often take salary increases when offered to them, but don’t necessarily know what they’re really worth compared to people outside of the organization. And I think in a lot of cases, that’s true. But there are plenty of good reasons to stick it out with a company – great people, great benefits, flexibility, believing in what you’re doing, etc.

That being said, I’ve never stayed long enough at a job to be promoted, or really feel like I’ve made a difference or contributed in a significant way. I think that will change with my current job. I see myself here long term. There’s endless opportunities to grow the position, as well as myself as an employee, and I think that’s what I’ve been looking for while I was job hopping. None of the other positions felt right. This one does, even if it’s in an industry I might never would have considered early on in my career.

Bryan’s article concludes by saying the best resumes show a combination of loyalty and leaving. After making a few moves to different companies, it’s in your best interest to spend longer amounts of time with a single organization – and after job hopping for so long, I would agree with that. The way I see it, it’s kind of like dating. When you first start dating, you might have a few relationships (and break-ups) before you really figure out what you want, and what works best for you. And once you find something that fits your personality and your goals, well, you hang onto it. :)

Are you a job hopper, or have you stayed loyal to one or two organizations over your career?

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