Budgeting In Items For Work Usage

Hubby’s cell phone bill is an average of $115.00/month that we have to pay. Insane right? If we didn’t pay for the minutes that we do, the bill will get to well over $200.00 (and has many times). Hubby’s phone starts  ringing and beeping like crazy from the time he wakes up until the time he goes to bed at night because of his job. He talks to many people all day in different locations around the province for varying companies. Given that his phone is a necessity for his job, don’t ya think he should be comped for it? 

If he didn’t have the phone/email requirements that he does, his phone bill would be a much more respectable amount (under $50.00/month). This sort  of makes me crazy. There has been ‘talk’ in the past about him getting some compensation for work usage (90% of his cell phone time) but it never comes to fruition. Friends of ours, who are on their phones a whole lot less than hubby is, are comped which adds to my frustrations.

He does gain gas mileage for work out of city which ends up working out to more than we pay for gas (we make money when he goes away from mileage vs reimbursement for gas dollars spent).

For me to work, I (legally) have to pay an annual licensing fee to maintain registration with my provincial regulating body (which gives me my malpractice insurance and registration with the national regulating body). This sets me back $625.00/year. Although it’s income tax deductible I still hate that I have to pay it, in my mind, it should be an expense my employer pays on my behalf, I’m sure he probably benefits from the tax break more than I but it’s not something he does, this goes for most of my classmates too.

Who has their job compensate part(s) of their monthly budget items? Am I alone in thinking we shouldn’t be paying for these things?


How We Eat On $300.00/month- My Meal Planning Guide

I’m surprised by how many comments and e-mails I’ve received about how, and what, I eat for $300.00 a month. I’ve always loved cooking and finding recipies that can make inexpensive foods taste great so I will start posting some budget friendly recipes for anyone who is interested.  For now I will give an example of our meal plan/grocery trip.

I don’t worry about breakfast or lunch too much. We eat basic cereal or toast/bacon for breakfast and usually a sandwich/yogurt/fruit for lunch, I only worry about dinners.

I use a list very similar to this meal planner made by Life in Yellow (which you can download for free! so head on over to her site!)



If I have meat in the freezer I will usually try and cook around that first. I had some pork loin chops left this week so one meal will include pork. Once I look through the freezer, I go to the weekly sales and see what meat is on sale. This week boneless/skinless chicken was on sale, as was oven roast so this will act as our starting point for meals. I always have ‘side staples’ on hand and buy as we run out  (long grain rice, potatoes (my favorite!), salad ingredients and frozen corn or broccoli). I only buy what I need for the week so if I’m out of rice but don’t include rice as a side for any of my dinners I won’t waste the $4.00 buying it this week if I’m not eating it until next. I don’t like to have money tied up in food.

In terms of chicken specifically, hubby and I share a chicken breast when cooking. I don’t know about where you live, but the size of the chicken breasts(and almost all meat for that matter) at our grocer are more than twice the recommended portion size for meat so 90% of the time I cut it it half. The exception being if we BBQ the breast then we tend to have our ‘own’ although we never finish them and the meat usually ends up in a salad for a lunch next day.

I plan meals and after looking through the cupboards and my recipe book, I only write down what we need (down to every tiny spice), if it’s not on my list I have it at home.

Meal 1: Sweet and Sour Pork Chops (with rice)

Need: 1 can of pineapple tidbits, cornstarch, 1 can of chicken stock 

Meal 2: Spicy Grilled Chicken Sandwiches (with fries)

Need: 1 Chicken breast, 2 buns, fries 

Meal 3: Grilled chicken salad (with garlic bread)

Need: 1 Chicken breast, salad kit, loaf of french bread

Meal 4: Dinner out with family-separate budget from grocery funds.

Meal 5: Greek Chicken Wraps (with my roasted potato)

Need: 1 Chicken breast, tortilla wraps, garlic/sea salt spice grinder

Meal 6: Chicken Divan (with rice)

Need: 2 Chicken breasts, broccoli 

Meal 7: Slow Cooker Roast  (with corn and mashed potato)

Need: Roast, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, bag of frozen corn.

Next I make my list adding the other necessities I need like milk. I also try and estimate the prices so I have a general idea before I go what I expect to spend at each store (I shop multiple stores chasing sales), so my grocery list will look like this:

Store #1:

-1 package B/S chicken (~$10.00)

-Milk ($3.50)

-Cereal ($2.50)

-Bread ($2.50)

-Salad Kit ($2.00)

-Tortilla Wraps ($2.00)

-Buns ($2.00)

-1 box of Kraft Dinner (Canadian staple, I love it!) (.65)

Total: appox $23.00

Store #2:

-3lb Oven Roast ($6.00)

-2 cans of soup ($2.50)

-pineapple ($1.50)

-Box of cornstarch ($3.00)

-French Bread ($1.50)

– Bag of frozen broccoli and corn ($2.00/each)

-Spice grinder($4.00)

-Fries ($3.00)

-Nutella (my weakness so only buy on sale) ($3.00)

-Chips ($2.50)

Total: approx $31.00

Store #3:

-Diet pop ($5.00+bottle depo $1.20)

-5lb bag of apple ($4.00)

-Bananas ($2.00)

-2x Granola bars ($2.00/box)

-Yogurt {This week a local grocer had a huge overstock of yogurt and was selling it for 0.25cents/4pack, Score!}

-Eggos ($2.00)

-Eggs ($2.00)

-Bacon ($4.00)

-Ketchup ($3.00)

Total: approx $22.00

Weekly Total: $83.00

Not included in my grocery money is cat food and cleaning supplies/TP. We budget for the cat food separately and I started setting aside a few dollars each week for TP and cleaning supplies since they’re so sporadic.

So there ya have it, an example of my weekly spending on food. Some weeks are more expensive when I run out of all ”basic” cooking stuff (always at the same time) but that’s usually only once every few weeks for stock ups. I try and keep my weekly spending between $65.00-$85.00.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with Canadian Budget Binder but if you’re not, check out his weekly grocery store challenge to see how other bloggers stick to their budgets!

Are Undergraduate Degrees A Way Of The Past?

I recently read a great post over at The Outlier Model about wanting a job in the science field. I started to reply and quickly realized I was writing a book for a reply so decided to do a post about it instead.

First, head on over and read the above blog post, it’s a fantastic post about the realism behind getting a job in the scientific community (biology mainly but applies to chemistry and physics as well).

I have two university degrees, my first being a BSc in Biology. I really can’t say any education is wasted because it’s not but unfortunately good education isn’t free. If I could turn back time I would never, ever, ever, ever go into a ‘basic’ undergraduate program with a declared major. Nor would I ever recommend a high school student pursue such a route. I did very well in high school, graduating with scholarships and on the principal’s lists (top ranked graduates of the high school in Canada) but at the ripe age of 18 I didn’t know what I wanted in life, I thought I knew but I didn’t. I knew I liked, and was good at, science and of course sciences have more job prospects than arts, or so I was told (I don’t really believe this).

I really don’t think most 17-18yr old high school students really know what they want upon graduation. There is such a pressure to graduate high school and immediately pursue post-secondary education but, especially in today’s economy and the rising cost of tuition, I really don’t think it’s the smartest thing to do. I know a lot of parents fear that if their child takes time off between high school and post-secondary that they might not return to academia or that nothing will become of their child. I have to tell you that some of the most successful people I know were the ones who took a year or two off, traveled, worked and really discovered the person they were- outside of the high school walls. Most people don’t come into themselves until after graduation. Are you the person you were in your senior year? Most likely not.

Choosing your lifelong career path in the hype of hormones and emotional turmoil is not the smartest idea.

Taking time off never even had the chance to enter my mind, I was going to university to study biology and be a science rock star. I knew I wouldn’t pursue biology as a full on career (ie doing a PhD of sorts) but I also didn’t really think I would end up in year 3 of 4 in my undergrad and realize I had essentially wasted 3 years of my academic life pursuing a degree with little to no job prospects. High schools do such a good job at sugar coating university for the ‘smart kids’ that they tend to neglect the important information like, there are NO JOBS. Are high school teachers paid commission from the universities or something?

In my 3rd year I knew something had to change. I was about to graduate with 40k debt and the only job prospects paid slightly better than minimum wage. I went through university with my two best friends. We all graduated with our BSc’s and I was the only one to pursue more education. They both work full time for slightly better than minimum wage, one girl working full time and 2 part time jobs to stay afloat.

I guess the ironic part is that I ended up in substantially more debt to get my career but at the end of the day I know I made the right choice. I went back to university and became a Dental Hygienist. I graduated with my choice of job (although the market is a little saturated now but still work available) and making 3 x what I would have I stopped with my BSc. I love my job and so glad I made the choices I did.

When talking to high school students who I know want to go directly to university I tell them to apply into a program that lands you a job even if it’s not something you think you may want to do because like I said before, you really don’t know what you want at 18. Most programs have similar first year foundation classes regardless of the program so if you don’t like the program after your first year you can chose to then apply into something else but you have the security of knowing you will graduate with a degree that will get you a job should you chose to stay. The undergraduate programs I’m mainly talking about would be engineering, nursing or finance, all of which you can apply into from high school (vs. programs that require at least first year prerequisites to get into).

My sister in law was going to apply to do her basic BSc because she was thinking about pharmacy or nutrition as careers but wasn’t sure. I encouraged her to apply into nursing (something she didn’t think she’d like) and if she didn’t like it, apply to the other 2 programs after her first year  because they both require first year pre-reqs which can be satisfied through nursing (1st year bio, chem, math etc.). That conversation took place 7 years ago, she’s now a successful OR nurse and loves it. She has job security with amazing benefits, I’m so glad for her.

I don’t want to sound like I’m bagging on all undergrad programs, on the flip side I know many successful people who have stayed in their fields and done very well but they are few and far between. It sickens me to see such well educated people not be able to use their skills and education. What use to be an honor and necessity for jobs, basic undergraduate degrees are a way of the past I think.

There are still many great university and college programs out there, but try and get into something with more definition and job prospects. Or take time off, figure yourself out and then pursue your career so you don’t end up with a degree for the sake of having a degree and debt because even if your education is paid for, it’s wasted money if you can’t get a job.

How Losing $1500 in Monthly Income Changed Us For The Better

I’m currently on maternity leave. In Canada, through the Employment Insurance program (EI), you’re entitled to maternity and parental leave for a combined 52 weeks at the rate of 55% of your gross income to a maximum of $457.00/week. Some employers then give you top-up bringing you to 75-100% of your income, so for some, being on mat leave has little to no financial change. Not so much for us.

I work as a Dental Hygienist for a family practice. The dentist doesn’t provide top-up, one of the downsides of private industry. There are only a few employees and he needs to pay someone to fill my position while I’m off.

On EI I’m receiving $838.00 every two weeks. Pre-baby my net bi-weekly income was around $1500-1600 every 2 weeks (I’m paid hourly so it varies a little depending on my patients). That’s about $1500 a month in lost income. My question is, how the eff did we ever have money problems?

I’m so mad at myself when I think about how much money we were wasting rather than getting serious about our debt. It took us having a baby to really get serious about our budget and paying debt off. We always paid the minimum requirements but when I think about, what I now know we’re capable of, it sickens me.

Where the money was going…

-In all honesty we were probably spending $500/month in groceries throwing anything and everything in the cart when we went…for two people! Now we spend about $300/month and don’t want for much, we’re just much better at planning.

-Bank Fees we were spending between $30-50/month on bank fees. Since switching to PC we pay nothing. It’s great and we’re super happy with them.

-Eating out. This was huge…between hubby and I we were probably spending $300/month in lunch and dinners out. Mostly lunches when we, again, didn’t plan and would end up eating out at work. I’ve always cooked most all our dinners, we’d usually just have one dinner out-usually pizza or something when I didn’t feel like cooking Friday night after an exhausting week of work and long commutes. Now we budget for one meal out per week and we’ve been pretty good about sticking with it.

-Hobbies/Life/House. We have never been big shoppers/spenders on ourselves for clothes etc but I’d go to Michaels/Home Depot and drop some cash for my newest craft/DIY project. Hubby and I both love tinkering with house stuff and playing with tools. Not that I would consider this money wasted per se, we just cut it out entirely when I went off work.

How we’re managing…

-Given our huge debt load losing the $1500/month was really hurting us. Our minimum monthly debt payments alone were about $1500. A huge help was hubby getting a very generous and much needed raise, it was great timing.

-Starting the DMP and getting serious about budgeting and honestly, growing up when it comes to our spending habits. We now think about every dollar we spend. We were never really crazy racking up credit cards or spending beyond our means we just didn’t allocate the funds properly or responsibly.

-Paying interest only for my student loans. Of my debt, most of it is in the form of student lines of credit which offer no relief should you lose your job/mat leave etc. For government issued student loans, in Canada at least, you can apply for interest relief where the government makes payments on your behalf for a period of time, I didn’t qualify for this because I made too much money last year and they don’t take current financial situation (me being on mat leave) into consideration. I am however making interest only payments for the current time saving me about $180/month.

When I go back to work…

I will be working four instead of five days a week so I can be home with baby an extra day. I’d love to say me being home would save us money with the cost of childcare but it won’t. Daycare shouldn’t cost us more than $30-35/day and after taxes etc I bring home just over $160.00/day. Not to mention we simply couldn’t live off hubby’s income alone. I love my job and can’t wait to get back to seeing my patients and the routine work gives me but I also hate the idea of her being in daycare without me. We’re hoping hubby can work from home one day/week so she really only needs daycare 3days/week. Finding part-time care is a challenge though…

On top of the childcare expense we need to start buying bus passes for me which set us back about $80.00/month we only have the one vehicle and can’t justify the money for a second one when it would only be for me to drive to and from work which would cost probably $200/month in gas and another $200/month to park the stupid thing for the 8 hours I’m at work, no thanks. Public transportation is fine for me.

I do struggle slightly with giving up my one day/week. I desperately want to be home with baby girl. My mom worked so much when we were kids I hardly saw her and I knew when I had a family I would be home more and involved in her life more. A huge reason behind my career choice is that dentistry is usually a M-F, 9-5 type of job, important when it comes to family life. When I think about the extra debt I could pay off with me working that day though it kills me a little. In the end though I think she’ll only be young once and our parental influence is probably most important now. Once she’s in school full time and not care so much about her parents maybe I’ll go back 5 days…we’ll see!

When I started my mat leave and realized just how tough things were going to be we were panicked but in the end it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to us. It was the kick in the ass we really needed.

My Week Of Huge Financial Mistakes

This was a bad week.

I made mistakes I’m not proud of but will never do again. Ever.

It all 100% stems from not having an emergency/life fund. This is something we’re working on but won’t have the extra funds to start this for a week or two.

Last week my husband was diagnosed with diabetes. Long story short, he never had a family doctor growing up-or one he liked I should say- so never went. I finally got him on with mine and our daughters, and the diagnosis came in, in 26years he’s never had blood work done until 2 weeks ago. His blood sugars are crazy high and the doctor thinks given his age and how uncontrolled they are he’s most likely had it his whole life but it went undiagnosed. Talk about scary. In hindsight is 100% explains pretty much everything that’s ever been wrong with him in the 10 years we’ve been together.

Welcome Mistake #1.

We get paid Monday at midnight. On Tuesday I get groceries, spending our weekly food budget. After hubby’s diagnosis we ended up back in the grocery store on the weekend to pick up a few more diabetic friendly foods (the man who skips breakfast now has to eat it and we didn’t have anything at home other than my cereal which he truly hates). We didn’t spend a whole lot (less than $25.00) but the fact is we didn’t have any room in the weekly spending budget to account for that. I have a slight contingency built in to our weekly monies (ie 20-30 bucks that’s not accounted for) but that was spent on the new prescriptions we had to pick up for him (Thank God we have insurance that covered 80-100% of everything or it would have cost us hundreds). Where did that 25.00 come from? Our billing account, the mistake being I full well knew our insurance was due to come out Monday. I took a gamble thinking our pay might get deposited before the withdraw happens. It didn’t.

Cost of mistake #1? $90.00 in NSF charges ($45 for house ins, $45 for car insurance) plus our insurance charges a fee of $25.00/claim so another $50.00 I seriously had ZERO idea NSF charges were so high, until this week I have never had one. So our $25.00 grocery trip actually cost us $165.00. I’m ashamed.

Mistake #2.

Hubby was put on insulin. When we went to the pharmacy to pick up his new prescription the pharmacist gave us a vial of insulin. We thought hubby was supposed to be on the pen-loaded cartridge insulin but due to some miscommunication between us and the pharmacist (he confused us greatly) we ended up leaving the pharmacy with the vial before checking with the doctor to confirm he wanted vial vs. cartridge. He wanted cartridge so we unnecessarily paid for the vial.

Even with insurance, the cost of this mistake: $14.52 vial prescription we can’t use, plus the new prescriptions, about $32.00…total cost of mistake #2 $46.52. Ugh.

Mistake #3

This really isn’t a huge mistake but may have lessened the blow of mistakes #1 and #2. Put too much gas in the car. I have a budget for weekly gas but put more than normal in this week thinking we would be going away this weekend with the family. We’re not going away now so ended up tying about $30.00 in gas money up, it’s probably less gas that we’ll need this coming week so will even out but that $30.00 would have come in handy.

Total of mistakes: $241.52 

I know people are sick of blog posts about emergency funds/savings but this is my personal blog about personal experiences and I’m just now seriously realizing the importance. Next pay, even if it’s $5.00 will be put into savings and NOT touched.

Here’s hoping for a better week next week. Happy Weekend 🙂

First Hand Experience: The Importance Of Rental Insurance

Before the Mr and I bought our house we had a sweet little one bedroom apartment we called home for two years. Quickly growing out of it and longing for a ‘space of our own’ we bought our current home but not before making good use of our rental insurance….

Hubby came home for lunch one day only to grab something for work; I was at work and not due home for a few hours. While he was walking down our hallway he noticed the floor outside our neighbors door was wet…so was the floor in front of ours…water was pouring out from under our door. Hubby’s first thought was that he’d left a tap on but when he opened the door he was greeted with a face full of steam, we had a hot water pipe explosion in the bedroom, underneath the exterior window.

The water had most likely been pouring out for hours. There was thousands of dollars’ worth of damage both to the apartment itself and our possessions. Thank God we had rental insurance. A quick phone call to our insurance company brought an adjuster in to assess the damage.

Did I mention it was 2 weeks before Christmas?

Yeah, it was great fun.

Our apartment was unlivable. They had to tear out walls, floors and dehumidify the place.

In case you didn’t catch that, it was two weeks before Christmas. Our tree was up, the presents were wrapped and decorations hung. The presents were under the tree, on the opposite side of the apartment so although they got wet, thankfully nothing was ruined but it was a huge pain in the butt to deal with.

Couldn’t say the same for the stuff in the bedroom. Pretty much everything was ruined, the bed, all bedding, TV, furniture, clothing, storage under bed, all had water damage and black silt all over it (from the inside of the pipe).

Our landlords were very accommodating and put us in another (furnished) unit while stuff was getting sorted out.

Upon inspection the welder said that the pipe broke due to a weak solder joint where the pipe had bent around a corner. The landlords seemed to agree and nothing else was ever said to us.

We were back in our apartment two days before Christmas, sleeping in our new bed! It was nice.

The threats didn’t start until after the holiday season.

The landlords approached us on behalf of the property owners sometime in January looking for damages.

Ummm WTF? Damages?!

Apparently, the property owners decided it was our fault the pipe broke because apparently we left the window open (in -10 degree Celsius weather none-the-less) and apparently we didn’t turn the heat on enough to move the water properly through the pipes?!

Ummm, Yeah. Ok.

They were after us for over $3000.00 in damages to pay for the flooring and dehumidification of the apartment (which, by the way was run out of our unit so was therefore added to our power bill…).

We said NO. It wasn’t our fault your pipe was a piece of crap and broke when we weren’t home, had a window open? Or didn’t turn the heat on?!

They didn’t care. The property management called us personally and told us ”Your credit rating will be affected if you don’t pay us because we will have to SUE you and court settlements ruin your credit rating”. I’m not kidding. Thank God again we have even half a brain to realize these are empty threats and completely untrue.

The point of my story is that a week before the flood happened I suggested to hubby we cancel our rental insurance and save the $18.00/month. I am so thankful my husband said no.

What was I thinking?

Our insurance reimbursed us for everything and then some (gave us monetary replacement value for stuff we considered to be crap) more than that, they dealt with the property management company after we called them to tell them about the threats we had received. Truthfully I don’t know what the end result ever was. We moved in August of the same year and although they kept our damage deposit (for ‘damages’ haha) I didn’t ask what ever came about with the situation I wanted to remove myself as much as I could and let the big boys deal with it.

The $360.00 we spent in renters insurance over the 20 months we lived there was probably the best $360.00 we’ve ever spent. It paid for itself 10x over in terms of item replacement and a million times over for dealing with the a-hole management company.

Moral of the story: Get rental insurance if you don’t already have it, it could be some of the best invested money ever spent should you require it.

Saving While In Debt

This is something I struggle with. There’s something almost oxymoronic about having money in a bank account when you owe so much money.

Our savings account is currently at $0.03, I kid you not. We’re just starting everything and have yet to make a deposit. September is our catch-up month before starting fresh in October with the debt management program. We will be contributing to savings but when our (minimum payment) debt load is about 23% of our monthly income I cannot justify the suggested 10% savings. It is simply not going to happen.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

5% I can do, but not monthly. Hubby and I are paid bi-weekly I will be using our ‘extra pay months’ to top up our menial monthly savings to an annual total of 5%. The ‘leftover’ money from the extra pays will be put into savings as well for irregular ‘life stuff’ such as oil changes, home repairs, vet appointments etc. Again, I have a hard time savings, say $50/month for ‘home repairs’ when I might only need $200 a year.  I would much rather just set money into a ‘life savings’ account to be used only when needed, if needed at all.

Which brings me to my second point, since this is money that will only be used, if needed, do I really need to distinguish between the 5% annual savings for rainy day/emergencies or just have one account for everything? I mean we’re not using the money unless needed so do I really need to separate the two? Should I take the 5% and invest it?

I’m having a hard time defining how I should be saving and where the money should go (TFSA? RRSP? Sav acct?) I just feel like, for now, we should work up to a few thousand in an account incase we have an emergency but maybe not commit the money into a RRSP/TFSA until we’re done with the DMP, at which point we will have more freedom in the budget to allocate to ‘proper savings’ (RRSP’s etc).

Any insight or tips about what works for you would be fantastic!