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September 2013 Goals: Review

Well, I was under budget this month. This was a bit unexpected, but I attended a conference for 4 days (where all food was provided), and then was gone to Toronto for 5 days. So, because of that my grocery expenses were down, I was too busy to be super social, and I also didn’t drive that much.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to stay under budget for October as well. It should be doable, since I’ll be spending 18 days traveling – and 8 of those days I’ll be traveling for work, so the majority of my expenses will be paid for. Anybody have any travel tips for Lyon, France? Also, do you think I can somehow claim macarons as a business expense? :P

Anyway, here are my results from last month:

09 - September Recap

Over Budget:

  • Clothing – I bought a pair of cold weather running tights from Lululemon.
  • Travel – went a little bit overboard on my spending in Toronto for #CPFC13, but for the most part I kept my spending under control. :)
  • Personal Care – this included renewing my skincare products (I use Origins, if you’re curious), as well as a desperately needed hair cut.

Net Worth Change+ $1,283 (+ 1.49%)

September 2013 Goals:

  • Run 120 km. FAIL. I injured my foot a few weeks ago at field hockey practice, and it still hasn’t fully healed. It isn’t serious enough for me to stop exercising at this point, but if it gets any worse, I’m going to have to serious reevaluate my fitness goals this year. Deep in the back of my mind, I’m pretty sure it’s a stress fracture. But I’ll be going to see my doctor soon for an evaluation. As a result of this injury, I only ran 75km this month.
  • Earn $2,000 in extra income. PASS. I only got paid $1,495.64, but I would have made an extra $1,500 if I had actually been paid on time by some of my clients. So I’m giving myself a pass, because I know I’ll get that money in the next week or so.
  • Bring my lunch to work Monday-Thursday. FAIL. I bought my lunch two extra times this month. Whoops!
  • Stay on budget while in Toronto. FAIL. I had budgeted $150 for the 5 days I was there, but ended up spending $176.98. Although to be fair, I had decided not to go to the Blue Jays game (Thursday’s conference social event). But at the last minute, I decided to go (albeit I missed the beginning of the game). The ticket was $25, and if I hadn’t gone, I would have been almost exactly on budget. Still, it was worth it.
  • Get my business cards printed in time for CPFC13. CHECK! Although I kind of screwed up and I think the type is too small for the pulp paper I chose. Still debating whether to keep them, or print them again with a bolder font. :|

This is why your budget doesn’t work

My story is probably similar to yours: I didn’t create my first budget until I was 22 years old and halfway through college. I always knew I had to make one, but the process seemed overwhelming and I didn’t know how to even start. I knew I was spending more than I was making, but I didn’t have the discipline to stop, or the energy to figure out a way to make my situation better. So I kept chugging along, going deeper and deeper into debt.

During my last year of college, when I knew graduation and “real life” were just around the corner, I tried to create a student budget that I thought was realistic – but it failed. I’d get frustrated with myself, adjust the numbers, and fail over and over again. After a few months, I gave up. I ignored my bank statements and didn’t try budgeting again until I graduated with over $20,000 in debt.

When I look back at why my budget kept failing, I realized it was for four specific reasons:

No knowledge of past spending habits

It’s pretty hard to create a realistic budget if you don’t have anything to measure your numbers against. If you’ve got no clue about how much you spent on restaurants or entertainment last month, how will you be able to spend less next month? It seems like common sense to me now, but back then, I didn’t have a clue.

The basics of budgeting begins with figuring out how much money you will have for the month (your income), dividing it up based on what you want to do with it, then tracking where your money actually goes.

A budget is supposed to provide guidelines and goals to strive for, and when you’re accurately recording your spending habits – whether it’s in a simple spreadsheet, or with budgeting tools like Mint or Quicken – the numbers don’t lie.

I had never saved receipts before, or recorded my spending habits, so when I went to build my budget, I started arbitrarily plugging numbers into the spreadsheet that sounded reasonable to me. I had no idea that the $100 I thought I spent on groceries each month was actually closer to $250. And the $20 I thought I spent at Starbucks?Well, that number was actually closer to $50.

Related: Can you feed yourself for $100/month? 

No defined goals

Most people budget because they want to achieve a financial milestone – like paying down their debt faster, saving for a down payment, or making a big purchase. While these are great goals to have, they aren’t specific enough to be truly motivating. Sure, I’d love to pay down debt and get ahead, but what do you actually need to do in order to achieve those goals?

For example, instead of creating a specific goal like, “I want to save an extra $100 per month to put into an Emergency Fund,” or “I need to pay down my debt by $300 each month,” I just knew I wanted to stop going further into debt, and didn’t take it any deeper than that. So without defining a way to get me there, I ended up lost. And my goal of stabilizing my debt (while I was still in school) remained a distant dream.

Quitting too soon

I stopped using my budget midway through my third month. I spent weeks creating a budget and kept track of the money coming in and going out of my bank account. But I was always going over my budget, and constantly spending more than I was making. It was frustrating not being able to see results, so I took the easy way out – I quit.

However, budgeting – much like exercising – takes time to see real results, and I was too impatient. I wanted to see immediate, concrete evidence that my efforts were paying off. For some reason, I had it in my head that I could eliminate my debt just as easily as I accumulated it. :) But at that point, I hadn’t even figured out how much my average income was each month. And I also hadn’t taken the time to identify what areas I was constantly going over on my budget. If I had just taken an extra step or two to average out my numbers and figure out a way to decrease my spending in the categories I was constantly going over, I likely would have seen improvement over the following few months.

Related: How much is your car costing you?

Not realizing what a budget is meant to do

I saw budgeting as a restriction; a way to stop me from having fun. I knew I had to do it, but I wasn’t happy about it, and because of that, I had a really bad attitude.

I didn’t understand that the purpose of budgeting was to help me manage my money so that I could have even more fun with my life. And once I realized that my debt (and my unsustainable lifestyle) was going to always hold me back from achieving the goals that I wanted for myself (like home ownership, travel, and potentially starting a family), it finally clicked. A budget wasn’t about deprivation, it was about empowerment! By choosing where my money went, and living below my  means, I was creating a better future for myself.

What do you think is the hardest part about creating (and sticking to) a budget?

Spending Recap: September 16-22, 2013

Monday 16th
No Spend Day!

Tuesday 17th
$10 dinner

Wednesday 18th
No Spend Day!

Thursday 19th – Toronto
$3 transit
$6.35 dinner
$25 baseball game
$1 snack

Friday 20th – Toronto
$2 breakfast
$4.10 coffee
$22 lunch
$34 dinner & drinks

Saturday 21st – Toronto
$4.38 Starbucks

Sunday 22nd – Toronto
$5.37 Starbucks
$40 dinner

Freelance Income: $0 
Expenses- $157.20

TOTAL: - $157.20

This was a stressful week. With a conference and event to plan at my day job during the first half of the week, I was in Toronto for the Canadian Personal Finance Conference during the second half of the week. It was a lot of fun. I loved seeing familiar faces, and meeting new people at both conferences, and it’s getting me very excited for my conference in France next month. But right now? All I want to do is sleep. :)

That being said, I think this is the turning point of GMBMFB. It was a quiet summer around here, but I’ve just drafted my editorial calendar for the next few months, and am looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. If there’s anything specific you’d like me to write about, please let me know! 

How was your week of spending?

3 questions to ask during your next job interview

Let’s face it, job interviews are stressful. Not only do you have to do a lot of research on the company before hand, but you also have to somehow figure out a way to make yourself stand out from the other candidates. Then once you’ve got all that sorted, you have to remember the little things – like how long it’s going to take to get to the office, what you’re going to wear, what the names are of the people interviewing you, and the questions you plan on asking them.

If I’ve ever met you in person, you might have noticed that I can come across as shy, and maybe even a bit awkward. I’m not great at small talk, and I get nervous easily. This definitely makes things like networking (or even first dates) kind of a problem, and it should also make interviews a nightmare. But for some reason, I’m good at them. Still haven’t figured out why that is!

My boss told me that I won my current job over another candidate with more directly related experience (I don’t know anything about nuclear science!) because I showed that I was confident, passionate, and believed in what I do. When I was less than a year into the workforce, I was offered two different fairly high profile jobs (which both required 5-7 years of experience), and once during the final round of interviewing, a city manager told me that I had a quality about me that he couldn’t pinpoint, but found very appealing.

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

Now, I’m not saying all of this to boast. It’s to illustrate my point that your resume and experience might get you the interview, but it’s how you come across in person that will win you the job. At least that’s been my experience in my industry. With a 2-year technical diploma, I’m likely never going to be the most qualified person – but I make up for it by showing enthusiasm throughout the entire interview. And I think one of the best ways to do this is near the end, when they ask “do you have any questions about the job?”

I feel like it’s common knowledge to have a few standard questions to ask, but I’ve been surprised over the years when conducting interviews, many people just say no. Then the interview is over, and it’s been completely one-sided – with one person asking, and one person answering. You wouldn’t go on a date and not ask any questions, would you? So it shouldn’t be any different with an interview. Sure, they’re interviewing you for the job, but you’re also interviewing them to see if they’re the right employer for you.

These might be pretty generic, but here are my favourite questions to ask employers:

1. Is this a new position to the company?

This is by far my favourite question to ask, if I haven’t already been able to find the answer online. It can give you a lot of seriously good insight into what the position is all about.

If it’s a new position, the follow-up questions become pretty important: why the position was created in the first place (was it to go in a new corporate direction, take the burden off of another employee, or because they’re expanding so rapidly?), or where they see the position moving to in the future. Is there room for growth?

Sometimes with completely new positions, they don’t really know what they’re looking for – just that they know they want somebody. In my current position, I was hired to write. But in the 9 months I’ve been there, I haven’t done any writing, and I knew that based on the interview. I was the first and only hire in the newly created marketing position, so I knew I would take on everything else that marketing encompasses, like trade shows, graphic design, event coordination, website maintenance, etc.

If the position you’re interviewing for is to take over for somebody else, asking why that person is leaving is also a good question to ask. Usually LinkedIn will provide clues as to whether the company has a high turnover rate, or if their employees stay long-term.

2. What is the corporate/company culture like?

For me, this is an important one because I want to know what it’s going to be like working there on a day-to-day basis. What are my co-workers like? Is everyone social, or do they keep to themselves? It’s also important because it shows the employer that you’re likely interested in staying long-term, and that you’re looking for more than just a pay cheque.

Usually you’ll learn things about the corporate environment (open space vs. offices), and sometimes they might even bring a few employees in to talk about what it’s like there. I really appreciate it when they do that. Getting to talk to potential colleagues makes it real, and you will likely get a much better feel for the company that way. Not that I want to make best friends out of my co-workers, but it’s important that you like the people you work with.

3. What direction do you see the company headed in the next 5 to 10 years?

I like this question because you will be able to see how your position can affect the company’s short-term and long(er)-term goals. If they’re looking to expand, perhaps that means there will be opportunities for advancement or movement/travel to different offices. If they’re looking to chase competition, that might mean exciting opportunities. If they’re looking to go a different direction, you will get a glimpse into whether you want to go that direction as well.

Related: Are you a job hopper?

As a side note, I think there’s a fine line between presenting the best version of yourself that you can be, and being fake. Once, I crossed that line. I got caught up in the personalities of the two people interviewing me, and I started to act and answer questions in a way that I knew they would like, but wasn’t me at all. In the end, I got the job… but once I actually started working, we all quickly realized that my day to day personality was a lot different (and that came across in my writing, which is what I was hired for). I was let go within my probation period. It was a hard lesson to learn, but a good one nonetheless.

What are your favourite questions do you ask during job interviews?

Spending Recap: September 9-15, 2013

Monday 9th
$31.50 Translink Faresaver tickets (x10)

Tuesday 10th
No Spend Day!

Wednesday 11th
$265.63 flight Lyon-Marrakech
$10 movie

Thursday 12th
+ $300 freelance income
$41.07 gas

Friday 13th
$15.06 dinner

Saturday 14th
$9 parking
$41.69 lunch

Sunday 15th
+ $396.89 freelance income
$5.25 lunch

Freelance Income: + $696.89 
Expenses- $419.20

TOTAL: + $277.69

What a great week! I was able to book my outgoing flight from Lyon to Morocco. My original plan was to go Lyon-Fez, but the connections were horrible, so I ended up scrapping the idea and am going to Casablanca as well. Maybe I’ll regret that decision – because I heard Casablanca is pretty boring compared to Fez – but with not much time to squeeze in a vacation, it had to be done. That meant no cheap RyanAir flight. :| Still, I’m happy with the price I got for a roundtrip flight, and will just have to figure out how to save money elsewhere.

I finally started pulling in some freelance income, which I’m pleased about. There should still be about $1,700 coming my way, and I’m hoping it comes around this month.

How was your week of spending?