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2013 Canadian Personal Finance Conference!

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?

Spending Recap: July 8-14, 2013

Monday 8th
$17.86 groceries
$5.25 dinner

Tuesday 9th
$8.91 dinner

Wednesday 10th
No Spend Day!

Thursday 11th
$40.95 dinner & movie

Friday 12th
+ $25 ING Direct referral
$50 gas
$2.75 SkyTrain
$20 Richmond Night Market (admission, food, gifts)

Saturday 13th
$2.75 SkyTrain
$2 lemonade
$5.25 dinner
$2.75 SkyTrain

Sunday 14th
+ $35.69 Great Canadian Rebates
$53.84 groceries

Freelance Income: $0 (+ $60.69)
Expenses- $212.31

TOTAL: - $151.62

With the Perfect Summer Weekend I had, it was a pretty good 7 days. :) I didn’t bring in any freelance income, but I’ve been in negotiations for a few deals, and am still waiting on some big payments to come through. Hopefully before the end of the summer.

I also did a lot of travel research into going to Morocco in the fall. Part of me really wants to save my money and my vacation time for something bigger and better next year. Or maybe do a smaller, local trip with friends. My last big trip (Iceland) was solo, and while I had a great time, I can’t help but prefer to travel with others. It also reminded me of a post I wrote a few months ago, You don’t have to travel when you’re young. So who knows. I think I’ll revisit this Morocco idea again in mid-August, and see how I’m feeling. :)

I’ve also noticed now that I’m not considering a running schedule, I have A LOT more free time on my hands. And I’ve been filling up that free time with social activities. That’s why my spending has been a bit crazy lately. Cannot wait to start running again (hoping for this weekend – a short 5km run to start), so that I can get back on track.

How was your week of spending?

The perfect summer weekend

This year was the year I told myself I’d finally get out and explore Vancouver.

Ever since I moved here six years ago, all I’ve done is work. I worked, worked worked through every summer. Weekends were spent working. Evenings were spent working. I said no to a lot of things. However, I don’t regret any of it, because it has given me so much: a down payment on a beautiful townhouse, a freelance career that helped me live and travel in Europe for 10 months, and the ability to create a secondary income stream for myself.

Related: Time management for the freelancer

But when I made the decision to scale back my freelancing this year, it was to seek a bit more balance. I often say I’ll do something, and then just forget about it because it’s too much work. But this year? No. If I was going to make a conscious choice to lose out on money by losing freelance clients, then I’d better make the most of the free time I’ve created for myself! :)

This weekend was a perfect example of how I want to make the most of my time – but in a frugal way.

Friday

A friend and I decided to venture to the Richmond Night Market for some tasty treats. For those that aren’t familiar with the Night Market (there are actually three of them in Vancouver), it’s open only on weekends, and showcases  hundreds of merchandise booths and Asian food vendors. The atmosphere is fun – lots of games, entertainment, and people watching. The food is delicious, and I was actually surprised to see a few non-Asian vendors: one was selling German pork knuckles, and I saw another one selling Hungarian chimney cakes – yum!

There was a $2 entrance fee, but it was definitely worth it. As soon as I got in, I headed straight for the food. :)

It was a really fun time, and altogether – including transportation and a gift for someone – I spent just $20.

Saturday

I heard via Twitter that there was going to be an Upcycled Urbanism event downtown on Saturday, and since it was designed in part by the UBC Architecture program, Nic and I decided to go and check it out.  It was a fun hands-on project on Granville Street where anyone could go and build structures out of huge recycled polystyrene blocks.

This is the first structure we built: a single wall, supported by beams at the base. It was not sturdy, and pretty much fell on top of me after this photo was taken. :)

Next we created an interesting structure that we built as high as we could before we realized it was useless. So we tore it down.

Finally, we got to building our sturdiest structure, using the popsicle-stick method.

I love free events like this, and all I had to pay for was my SkyTrain fare – which was $2.75 each way.

Sunday

I was feeling pretty good, so decided to go on a short hike in Lynn Valley. It was my first form of exercise in about two weeks. I was a little nervous to see how I would feel, and even though I walked less than two hours all day, my body was not happy with me afterwards. :| Hopefully I didn’t delay any healing, but I really thought I’d be better by now. Or at least able to walk more than a few hours at a time.

Anyway, I couldn’t believe how packed Lynn Valley was. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been there in years (and when I was there, there was nobody else around). But it was still a lot of fun, and a nice way to spend a few hours on a beautiful day.

The cost was free, except for the gas… which P.S. is up to $1.51/litre here!

That was my wonderful summer weekend… what did you get up to?

A half marathon training update

Trying out my new Nike runners

Nike 3.0 V5 runners – these are surprisingly comfortable over long distances!

I haven’t written much about how my half marathon training has been going. Now that I’m on Day 11 of not being able to run for 3 weeks (it’s killing me not to be able to run, BTW), I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to blog about my 4.5 month love affair with running so far.

This is the longest sustained effort I’ve put towards running in my life. Sure, I constantly ran while I was an athlete, but only because I had to – it was part of my training program. And I ran cross country from grade 3-10, but the season was only 2-3 months long… and I was only doing it to become better at field hockey. I’ve never been into running on my own time just for the sake of running, but for some reason, it’s really starting to agree with me.

The farthest I’ve run so far is 17.4km – which was June 29. I felt tired emotionally, but not too tired physically. I know my body can handle running another 3.6km to get to my half marathon goal, but actually willing myself to run for that long is hard. It’s boring, but I don’t think I can run with anyone and have a conversation.

With 3 months to go until my half marathon, I feel confident, yet a bit nervous. Confident in that I can run 21km, but nervous that I’ll disappoint myself with my running time. I know, I know. My goal should be just to finish the race. And publicly, that’s my goal whenever anyone asks. But I do have a secret goal of finishing within a certain time. I used to think it was possible, but over the last few weeks I’ve really plateaued with my pace, and being off for 3 weeks (hoping for 2 weeks) has me doubting myself.

So for the next 2-3 weeks, I’ll work on stretching, and maybe do some light weights. I’m not allowed to do anything strenuous, which aside from running, means no hiking or cardio of any kind. And then once I’m able to run again, I’ll probably have a couple of tough weeks getting back into shape, but in theory (at least that’s what my running friends tell me), my body should still be able to run 17+ km.

I’ve also fulfilled my goal of signing up for two 10km races: the Richmond Oval 10km and the Vancouver Eastside 10km as part of my running club at work – so my entrance fees are covered by my employer. :)

Hopefully I have some runner friends/readers out there who can give me a bit of advice on the following things:

There’s one more running accessory I’ve been needing to buy: a way to carry water when running. It’s not really a problem for runs less than 10-12km, but for anything longer, I think it’s needed. Especially in the summer. My last three 15km+ runs have been difficult without fluid. I’m not into waist belts or hydration packs, so I’ve been looking at handheld options that strap to my hand (so I’m not actually holding onto anything). If you’re a runner – how are you carrying water with you on longer runs or hot days? Any product recommendations?

Also, I’ve been super curious… do compression socks actually work? I see girls on running blogs wearing/promoting them all the time. But it just seems so hardcore to me, and I feel like I’m not fast enough or running long enough distances to justify the purchase. Still. If they can help my legs stay fresh, it might be worth it.

And running skirts? I’m really liking the idea (as a field hockey player, I wear a skirt to work out all the time as part of my uniform). It seems unnecessary in running, but I have yet to find a pair of shorts that don’t, well, ride up, when I run – so I’ve been wearing compression capris. It would be nice to wear a skirt during the hot summer months, but am unsure. I don’t really like the idea of running in skirts (it seems really girly to me). But at the same time, I’d like to be comfortable and not pulling at my clothes every 2 seconds. Does anyone else wear running skirts?