Just black, please.
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We spent all our grocery money and now we’re out of coffee

We’ve done a great job of spending all our grocery money every week of the magic jar experiment (we’re in Week 3). Routinely, we just pluck a few bucks from our “Entertainment” jar when “Grocery” runs dry. This works because we planned for a lot of money to be spent on Entertainment. I guess we imagine ourselves as big partiers.

This week we spent all the grocery bucks in one go at Co-Op. I blame this partly on shopping right before dinner (I bought pizza pops and a bottle of Yop), but also we were victims of not shopping the sales as well as we could have. For example we bought frozen lunches that often go on sale for 50% off at full price of $4 each. Very budget unfriendly.

But another big hit to our food budget were the non-edibles like toilet paper and kitty litter. (Our cat likes both).

We need to plan ahead for those larger expenditures by socking away a little grocery money each week instead of spending it all. Alternatively, we could adjust our grocery budget and entertainment budgets so they better reflect where our money is going. Once the month is through we’ll see about that.

Overall though, the experiment is going well. I’ve reigned in my spending, which was necessary post-Christmas, and we’re more thoughtful about where our dollars are going when we leave the house. Being self-employed means I can adjust my schedule to hit Happy Hour for cheap tacos, which I think is very smart budgeting.

If only we had some coffee…

How we fared budgeting using Gail Vaz Oxlade's magic jars for one week
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We blew all our magic jar money this week, but it was a good thing

I knew when we started the jars last week that I would have to spend some of our booty on my trip to the optometrist.

I hadn’t bargained on the eye checkup and contact fitting to cost nearly 50% of our entire budget for the week (maybe one day Alberta Health Care will cover eyes). We technically completely blew our budget this week because of it. But because I didn’t bring that much cash to the eye doctor, I stuck the bill on my debit card and chalked it up to a learning experience.

Because lucky for me, we’re in the learning stages of budgeting, not the eating vs. paying bills stage that we hope to stay away from forever. However, it was a stark reminder that in another scenario going to the optometrist would be out of the question without a proper savings account in place.

Eye appointment aside (and I’m totally happy with my new optometrist and contacts, by the way), I think we did well with our budget jars this week. Sometimes money evaporated quickly, but other times jars stayed full because we were more thoughtful than usual. Here’s a breakdown of where the money went and what we gleaned from it all.

Where our money went this week

  1. We efficiently dispensed of our “Food” jar by Day 5. The best thing we did was making a grocery list, so I spent $50 at Superstore instead of the usual $[inaudible shame of not planning ahead]. I think we could have kept this budget tighter, though, because we were a little loosey goosey with our grocery planning outside of that Superstore list.
  2. Since I’m the only one driving to work right now, our “Transportation” jar was only dipped into once for a gas station trip. I filled up before gas jumped back up to 93 cents a litre, so we still have a few bills in the jar. This is a good thing, because Jason is in the market for new tires.
  3. Our “Entertainment” jar, which held about the same amount of cash as “Food,” became a bit of a fallback jar if we needed tortilla chips for homemade nachos or a croissant from the bakery nearby because I was grumpy that I had to go to the doctor. It was also where we pulled cash for a drink with friends at the pub. If we had to, we could cut way back on our entertainment budget, and I dunno, go to sleep earlier.
    You call that a cell phone?
  4. Speaking of the doctor, I used moolah from “Everything Else” to pay for antibiotics, another unexpected expense, but at least a more manageable one than the optometrist bill. We still have some left in there, too. I might have to dip into it for an outing this evening.
  5. Finally, our “Clothes/Gifts” jar remained relatively untouched. This makes sense, as such things tend to be larger purchases. Jason bought me some chocolate from here just because, and those might even last into Week 2! I’ll also be drawing from here for his V-Day gift, but he’ll probably end up with a homemade card. Can’t win ‘em all.

Did we learn anything about budgeting this week?

Oh did we! A few things Jason & I noticed:

  • Seeing how much money is available for the week made us think twice about every purchase. I think it saved us a few frivolous indulgences. Sometimes thinking twice just reminds you how clever you are, though!
  • You can’t plan for every cost that will arise, whether it’s getting sick or a flat tire. So just plan for all unexpected costs by putting aside emergency fund money so you don’t have to forego essentials (like eggs and Internet, not so much fresh-baked croissants) in a bad situation.
  • Plan expenditures whenever you can. Our grocery list was useful, but if it was tied into a menu plan for the week, it would have been way more efficient. Planning=saving. Plus, planning meals ahead might save us from going out to eat one night, which in turn could save us $50 really easily.
    Homemade pizza date
  • If we’re spending most of our budget on food, we may as well make it entertaining. Homemade pizza night gave us an hour of date time in the kitchen together and delicious pizzas just for the cost of mozzarella and olives (which we paid for with a Christmas gift certificate) as everything else was in our pantry or fridge. We’re probably pizza snobs, so this was important.
  • It is possible to leave the house and not spend money! Shocking though it may seem, you can achieve this with such things as thermoses filled with coffee and a granola bar in your purse.
  • When you do go out to spend, there’s always a $5 lunch option you could choose instead of the $10 one. Most meals out are bigger than what you’d serve yourself at home, right?

What’s up for magic jars week 2?

The worst TV shows are those where characters don’t learn anything and keep making the same dumb mistakes week after week. We’ll endeavour to not be those dummies. I see more planning in our future so we can keep socking away our extra dollars for fun things like RRSPs and bagels in New York City.

Tune in next time for more! Got any tips for us? Please, do tell.

Budget jars full of money
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We’re turning to magic jars of money in hopes of socking away a few bucks

We put the money in the jars today.

It’s part of a budgeting exercise popularized by Gail Vaz Oxlade on her show Til Debt Do Us Part and it’s a devastatingly simple to spend more wisely, or at the very least understand your spending better.

In case you’re not familiar, let me give you a quick run down. You plug in some numbers into Gail’s spreadsheet (i.e. your monthly earnings, your monthly expenditures) and her calculations spit out how much money you can/should allot for each of five jars. It’s a bit like a vending machine, except instead of giving you a bag of Hickory Stick-flavoured regret, you get financial planning.

It can be jarring at first to see how much money you have to spend on each area of your life in any given week.

It can be …jarring… at first to see how much (or little) money you have to spend on each area of your life in any given week. Above is a dramatization. We have more than zero dollars this week.

Her calculations come with handy “shoulds” like how much you should aim to spend on housing (no more than 35% of your monthly income) and how much on debt (15%) and savings (10%). It’s a quick way to see whether you’re spending, for example, a little too much on “Life” (should be 25%) and nothing on savings. If you need a reason to start saving 10% of your income, just Google yourself to your bank’s retirement calculator and find out your chances of retiring before age 95. Or don’t and just spend that 10% on wine instead.

Our version of the magic jars

In a flurry of optimism Saturday, Jason suggested we give the jars a shot for February. I must have finally subtly mentioned a budget enough times for him to narrow his options to: capitulate or distract me with a Downton Abby marathon.

He agreed to jarring up our funds for the next month just before realizing February was pretty much upon us. But that didn’t dissuade him. We tallied up some approximations of our spending for Gail’s spreadsheet and he volunteered to gather the cash while I was at work today.

I came home to an envelope of crisp, maple-scented polymer bills just waiting for me to tuck them into their new vessels.

I did this jar budget a few years back when I was living the single life and trying to spend more consciously. This time around, my goal is even less defined. Naturally, there’s the nebulous end-game of wanting to have a little more money in my account between paydays. But there’s also the spectre of a shaky Alberta economy (oil at $48.24 a barrel and the Canadian dollar at $0.79—not a fun way to celebrate Throwback Thursday) and tax season looming (just in time for me to finish paying my 2014 taxes). It just seems like a smart time to get on top of our money before… it gets on top of us, I guess? And evaporates?

Day 1 on the magic jars

Our jars aren’t especially lean. We’ve started with numbers based on what we think we spend in a variety of areas, like groceries, entertainment, clothes and gifts, and our vehicles. It shouldn’t be hard for us to keep our spending within the world of the jars. Shouldn’t. Maybe we’ll slim them down in subsequent weeks.

We mostly tapped into the Food jar today. We spent on such essentials as Soy Milk, Miso Gravy and a brownie. No feelings of deprivation to report! Before we went on our brownie mission (decided we needed something to assuage the windchill after temperatures have dropped about 20 degrees Celsius since last week), Jason momentarily forgot we were drawing our loonies and Bordens only from the jars. If nothing else, we’ll probably save a few dollars on debit fees this month.

My guess is we’ll have some serious bank left at the end of the week. No promises on what we’ll do with it. We do have an empty Bulleit bourbon bottle where we’ve been stuffing our small bills as a makeshift, rye-scented piggy bank. Maybe an RRSP would be wiser? Or just more bourbon?

Will keep you posted. Anyone else ever try the magic jars? Did you have success?

Tweezers ought to be found in every woman's toolbox.
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Advice from my mother (on tweezing)

I found a black hair growing out of my chest after a shower today. It was just a wisp of a thing. Downy soft but so dark it stood out against my pasty January skin like a vegan at a salami festival.

My initial thought was, “ugh, not again.” While it is the season for letting hair explore new frontiers, I have no interest in managing another crop. My second thought was more pensive.

What would my mother say?

I never intend to tell my mom about such personal things. I know she’ll show interest in anything I bring up, because of all that time I spent in her womb, but she’s a busy woman and my self-indulgent stories can drag at the best of times. Yet somehow things like what is growing out of my chest inevitably come up in conversation, especially if she’s plied me with a so-called “quick drink and hello after work.”

But it’s worth bringing up the little things with mom. She’s always got something to say to put life’s little annoyances into perspective.

So I thought about what mom might say, were I to tell her about my follicular visitor. Imagined responses include:

“Was it grey? No? Nothing to worry about.”

“That’s just your Italian side showing.”

“Tell me about it when it’s two inches long and growing out of the side of your neck on your first date with the first guy who answered your phone dating ad.”

I wondered what she would actually say. I asked. I was not disappointed:

Texts with MomBut mom wasn’t done there.

Texts with mom

It’s almost like she’s done this before:

Texts with mom

0117-alert-meerkat
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I forgot about that old photography hobby of mine

It used to be when someone asked my hobbies, rather than giving them a blank stare, I mentioned I liked photography. I’ve loved taking photos since I first learned how to use a camera, but I think as phone cameras have increase in quality, it’s been increasingly easier for me to leave my DSLR in storage.

I dusted off the ol’ Nikon D80 today and brought it to the zoo, where I joined the 800 other people who had cameras around their necks. I may have been a walking cliche, but I not only got to check out what the animals were up to (they were pretty active on a warm winter day), I got do so while remembering what all the buttons do on my camera.

It wasn’t until our second hour there I remembered to check my ISO. But I think baby steps are a good thing if it means I’m doing something I love for fun again.

(I couldn’t give up one of the perks of the cameraphone though: filters. I used Autodesk Pixlr on these.)

Draft Posts that may never be anything more
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A selection of blog posts I never published

I was being a diligent blogger recently, re-categorizing old posts and going through draft posts to see if there was anything interesting I’d written but neglected to publish.

Oh, was there. A mountain of half-baked ideas, neglected buds of stories, and rants that sounded cleverer in my head. Some were hundreds of words of narration that went essentially nowhere (“My chiropractor likes Battlestar Galactica” 433 words), while others were just a semblance of an idea, likely sketched in the midst of other work (“Fashion advice from my mother” 50 words).

I’ve started and abandoned almost more posts on this blog than I’ve written, including three in a row last spring. Brutal. So much potential flushed down the internet tubes. Wanting to turn this into a learning experience, I noticed there are a few different reasons I might abandon a posts.

I had good intentions, then forgot

Sometimes I use WordPress as a place to jot a quick idea for a post. But with no system to return to these posts and turn them into something bigger, they become abandoned. Other times, I write a quick first draft with every intention of getting back to it soon, but again, with no system, it’s forgotten.

Example: “Is it writer’s block or are you lazy?

“What was once a habit of staring at a blinking cursor has morphed into a distraction of epic proportions!”

Example: “Should I get rid of this stuff I’ve had since university?”

“Sometimes, you just have to throw it out. The advice makes sense when it comes to that expensive loaf of whole grain bread you left to rot on top of the fridge. (Guilty.) It also works with that threadbare t-shirt that doesn’t fit properly anymore unless if by “fit properly” you mean the white one that “stretches way too tight across The Girls and shows a sizeable sliver the no-man’s-land between navel and the start of too-low-waisted pants”.”

Vignettes that didn’t go anywhere

It’s not that these vignettes have no potential, only that I dove into writing them without deciding what that potential might be. Sometimes I can write myself into making sense, but more often I’ll get further with an outline from the outset.

Example: “Don’t use my towel”

“Now, there are a lot of towels at the Disneyland/California Adventure gift shop. It’s Disneyland. They have a bit of marketing power under their giant foam heads. But somehow, my brother and I ended up choosing the same towel to bring home.”

Example: “The Classic Vomit Story”

“The time I threw up in the theatre on a date to see Pirates of the Caribbean 2.”

Ego got in the way

These posts started off good, but my writerly ego convinced me not to finish post them. I let my ego stop me from creating a finished product because an unfinished product can’t be sub-par—it’s unfinished. It’s a safety net. Something that represents itself as complete has to face a whole new set of standards.

Example: “Do I have the intestinal fortitude to write a novel?”

“Writers often fail to prepare for the physical and psychological toll of their craft. There’s a reason, after all, why so many writers throughout history and in your English 201 class were called tortured artists. I won’t get over dramatic here, because that’s not my style. No realistic description of me anywhere would conjure images of a tortured mind in a dark corner of my own psyche.”

Shy about fiction

Fiction is a scary place where anything can happen and there are no rules except the ones you make. If I’m responsible for every part of the world being interesting to the reader, where’s my scapegoat? I need a scapegoat! Or maybe I should just suck it up and write more fiction, because it’s fun?

Example: “No-Pants Twitter”

“Ugh,” I huff. “I’m sorry. It’s just, I’m worried we’re falling into a routine. The kind that ends with high blood pressure, piles of crushed Coke zero cans and rice cracker crumbs in my cleavage.”

Kyle stared at my chest a moment before his eyes flickered to the remote in his hand, then the ambitious pile of unread Walrus Magazines stacked at the edge of our futon-shaped couch, the half-folded laundry next to the sink, three pizza boxes beside the garbage, then back to me.

If there’s a conclusion to be gleaned from all this, it’s that a) I need a system for my writing if I want to put more of it out into the world in a finished form and b) I need to ditch excuse-making and capitulating to my ego if I intend to be more productive.