The Canadian Senate $candal (Through the Eyes of a Debtor)

 
             The Canadian political scene is offering remarkable levels of drama these days. Four senators charged with fraudulent claims for living and travel expenses; a personal cheque for $90,000 given by Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, to help out Senator Mike Duffy; Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused of covering up his own awareness and tacit approval of the Wright-Duffy cheque exchange; the resignation of Senator Mac Harb amidst investigations; colleagues said to have had personal vendettas against Senator Pamela WallinSenator Patrick Brazeau claiming back-room deals . . . Hundreds of thousands of tax payers’ dollars are alleged to have been misspent. And somehow, this is distracting attention away from the fact that former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s gas plant fiasco is costing taxpayers a billion dollars instead of the forty million he originally claimed it would cost. A billion is a thousand million in Canada, so it’s costing twenty-five times more than Premier McGuinty said it would. Hmmmm . . .
            I think I’m supposed to be feeling outrage.How can they justify using our tax dollars so arrogantly?” is the expected response when politicians abuse the public purse.  “He lied to us! He should be held accountable!” “Their story keeps changing. You can’t trust any of them!” These types of comments make sense given the unfolding narrative – in all its variations. But the feeling that strikes me most when I listen to the news these days is a distinct lack of indignation about it all. I don’t find any of it shocking.
            Our journey out of debt has necessitated an honest look in the mirror. As I’ve acknowledged my own faults in dealing with money, I’ve learned to forgive myself and move on. Having done so, I’m not inclined to thirst for revenge when it comes to the faults of others – even politicians. Some senators have apparently overstepped the bounds of justified expenditures. I’ve done that countless times. Many powerful people are denying that they’ve done anything wrong. I know what it is to be in denial. Accusations are flying as different interpretations of complicated spending regulations are put forward.  Didn’t I just write about financial bickering last week?  Senators are claiming they’ve followed the spending regulations as well as advice from their superiors. Their superiors are backpedalling, and the spending regulations are being exposed as a quagmire of confusion. I’ve contributed to the financial chaos that results when communication is lacking and understanding is uncertain. That’s why I’m in debt.
I know that there are limits to a comparison between my personal financial foibles with those of public figures who are using public funds and who must be held to a higher standard of accountability. And of course I want justice to be served. Of course I believe that those who have breached public trust should receive appropriate consequences. But I also hope that there will be no politically expedient scapegoating. And I hope that we won’t indulge ourselves in eager, bloodthirsty assassinations of character.
Here is my advice to our political leaders:
  • Let the investigations continue.
  • Let due process take its course.
  • Clarify regulations regarding expenses and make sure they are effectively communicated.
  • Acknowledge bad practice and formulate the remedy for it.
  • Recognize systemic problems inherent in the current scandal. It’s not just about a few lone senators.
  • Mete out appropriate consequences to individuals, but avoid a witch hunt.
            The mess surrounding this Senate Scandal is familiar to me personally. And given the fact that Canadians’ average debt-to-income ratio is 165%, I think it should be familiar to most of us. Outrage misapplied does nothing but lash out its blame and accusations as it defends itself in stubborn denial. What’s needed here is a disengagement from the chaotic rage-fest. What’s needed is honest discernment and openness to change. What’s needed is sober second thought.
 

Comments are welcome!

I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)

Debt Reduction and Bickering

 

DH = Dear Husband

            Last night, I was in a shopping mall, and I decided to buy Halloween candy. I felt rather wise. There have been many years when we’ve scrambled to the store in search of candy and a pumpkin after work October 31, and here I was being proactive. Getting ready in advance. Taking the time to consider where I’d buy and what I’d buy. Last year, it had been mini-chocolate bars and bags of chips, but we’d had too many left-overs November 1, so yesterday I limited myself to the chocolate bars. There were 90 in the box, and if we gave two to each trick-or-treater, that would do it. Done! Halloween candy taken care of for a grand total of $16.43.
            Wouldn’t you think that H would be happy with his wife’s careful consideration? In our journey out of debt, we’re trying to make more conscious decisions about where our money goes. I in particular am trying to break old habits of chaotic spending.  There was no chaos here. “I bought Halloween candy last night,” I told H this morning. “Why did you do that?” he asked. Silly question. Halloween is coming up. We’ve bought candy for October 31 for decades now. But somehow it all degraded. “You treat our common money like it’s a bottomless pit. I want to set things up so that you see that money has an end . . .” I’ve included the emphasis on “you” to make a point. When the discussion turns into a blame game, I check out. I left the room, fuming. “You can’t run away from this!” I heard through the closed door. Watch me! I thought.
            I went downstairs to the kitchen and started cleaning up dishes that had been left overnight. I picked up some of H’s mess and then paused. He can clean up after himself! I thought, putting it down in triumph. I reconsidered. No, I’ll be the big one here, and with self-righteous indignation, I furiously cleaned away. H eventually came downstairs. He made a weak effort at light-hearted humour, but I maintained a stony silence. “You’re mad at me,” he said. “Yes I am,” I responded. “Well talk to me,” he said. “I don’t speak to negative people who just want to complain and not find solutions,” I snapped. “I want solutions,” he said as he picked up a towel to dry the dishes. “Give me a solution.”
            So we talked. “The problem with our common money,” I said, “is that we don’t sit down and budget together regularly enough. You always think you have more important things to do.” Now who was blaming? I stopped myself. “I follow a guy on Twitter who schedules two budget meetings per week with his wife – every Wednesday and every Saturday. We can’t even manage one per week.” H conceded that this was an area we should work on. Listening, drying the dishes, agreeing – he was DH again. For his part, he said he didn’t think that expenses for Halloween should be paid from our common money because they weren’t essentials. He suggested that we each split the cost from our respective discretionary accounts. (See “Discretionary Money: His and Hers”) I was fine with that.
            Are DH and I the only ones who bicker about money? I don’t think so. Troubles with personal finances combine to be the number one cause for marital break-up, and I for one can see why. Managing household accounts is not always pretty – particularly when there is the stress of too much debt or not enough income or unexpected expenses or a combination of any of the above – and maybe a bad night’s sleep or a stressful week of work thrown into the bargain. The peace-makers among us can make the mistake of avoiding conflict and compromising too much. The bull-headed among us can make the mistake of shutting out any point of view but our own. Most couples will face some harsh lessons in emotional intelligence as they take on the challenge of reducing debt. We clearly have.
            But all is well for now. The tension of this morning has given way to harmony. And for any children who come by our house for Halloween, there will be two chocolate bars ready and waiting.

Comments are welcome!

I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)

Welcome to New Readers

DH = Dear Husband
            I was interviewed by the host of CBC’s Ottawa Morning on Tuesday, and many people have checked out my blog as a result. I’d like to welcome those of you who are new readers. As you know from the interview, my husband and I have been on a journey out of debt – $257,000 worth – since June of 2012. I’ve written 75 weekly posts since that time, noting progress, obstacles, and lessons learned along the way.

 Progress

We paid off $50,000 in our first year. That’s more than 300% what we had paid off the year before. There was not a significant difference in income between these two years. There was a huge difference in focused intention.

Obstacles

Obstacles to debt-reduction fall into two categories: Those that are beyond our control and those that are within our control. Beyond our control have been the obstacles of slow business months for DH, who is self-employed, in the spring, and huge expenses, including a new roof and tree removal, in the summer. Within our control have been obstacles like my excessive love of eating out and DH’s rare but powerful compulsion to splurge on something decadent.

Lessons Learned

Lesson One: The level of personal debt in today’s society is extreme. Twenty-five years ago, the average debt-to-income ratio in Canada was 90%. So for every take-home dollar, 90 cents was owed in debt. Today, we’ve shot up to 165%. That’s $1.65 owed in debt for every dollar we take home. “Everybody” is in debt these days – just as “everybody” smoked in the ‘60s. It doesn’t make it a good idea.
Lesson Two: There is a Debt Matrix out there. Banks, credit card companies, and merchants of goods and services combine to bombard us with messages from which it is difficult to unplug. Often our friends and family add their voices to those messages: You only live once! Buy it now! To get out of debt, you can’t go with the flow – you have to go against it.
Lesson Three: Your debt is likely, at least in part, a result of your pettiness. That’s a humbling thought. I like to think of myself as being bigger than envy and too lofty to need to keep up with the Joneses. But I’ve had to come face-to-face with my less-than-stellar qualities in my fight against debt.
            If you’re interested in getting an idea of our journey out of debt so far, I have listed below seven posts that give an overview of it. I publish a new post every Saturday morning. I’ll make a plug for comments here. I love getting comments from people who read my blog. Comments that add insight to the issue under discussion; comments that encourage; comments that challenge a point I’ve raised . . .  Your comments make my day.
            Thanks for your interest. If you are someone who is hoping to make a dent in your own debt, I’d like to cheer you on. Let’s share the journey.

Comments are welcome!

I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)

Breaking Debt

DH = Dear Husband
DH and I were walking across the parking lot towards the grocery store from our car last week-end. “I wonder if you can Google the recipe for crystal meth,” he said. I burst out laughing because it was such an unlikely musing, and his delivery was completely dry. I knew exactly where it was coming from though. We have recently become addicted to Breaking Bad. In case you don’t know, it’s a TV series about Walter White, a chemistry teacher facing cancer and money stress who goes down the path of “cooking” crystal meth to finance his medical treatments and to provide for his family. The series recently had its much publicized grand finale after five seasons, but we just started watching season one a couple of weeks ago. We’re already well into season two.
Multiple Episode Brain-Permeation
There’s something that happens when I watch multiple episodes of a show in only a few sittings. The tone of the drama permeates my subconscious and ends up spilling out. I’m a high school teacher, and one morning this week before classes began, I had to speak to a boy who had snuck his backpack into the library. It’s a rule at our school that students have to keep backpacks and purses in their lockers. My style of discipline is gentle but direct, so I quietly said, “You’ve got your bag here. You’ll have to take it to your locker.” He stood up, leaving some of his friends behind, and started walking towards the door – very slowly – with that swagger particular to teen boys wearing over-sized jeans. I sensed a little hurt pride and a brewing passive-aggression, so I followed silently but close behind to make sure he actually left. Not about to let me win, he stopped, turned around, looked right past me, and coolly called out to his friend Adam, as if our power struggle wasn’t happening. “Yo yo, Adam!”
The words escaped me, quiet but fierce, before I had a chance to filter them: “Yo yo, get out of here.” Stunned by what I’d just said, I watched for a response. The young man simply turned back towards the door and left. Every high school teacher needs to find his or her inner-tough guy, but this was something else. Breaking Bad was spilling out of me. If you haven’t seen the show, there is a character named Jesse who sells the meth cooked up by Walter. Jesse frequently says “Yo!” and “Yo yo!” My best guess is that it means, “Hey!” – only it’s laden with attitude.
Connections with Debt
Now what does this have to do with debt? Here it is: I realized as soon as I confronted that student with the words, “Yo yo,” that I had indulged in too much Breaking Bad. I’ve backed off the show because I’ve consciously chosen not to subject myself to its influence – at least not in multiple-episode doses. I’ve also directed myself back to a balance in lifestyle that offers more wholesome input – including things like reading and jogging. Similarly, anyone who lives in our western society is subject to “multiple episodes” of consumerism and debt promotion every single day. Billboards, displays, ads on TV, the radio, in magazines, newspapers, buses, popping up online . . . Images of “the good life”- that you can have right now – and messages about the promise of fulfillment through credit permeate our collective subconscious. And it all comes spilling out in the form of our record high levels of personal debt. The slightest nudge of desire initiates a purchasing transaction before you even realize you’ve swiped your credit card.
It’s almost impossible to “back off” from this chronic exposure to consumerism. But it is possible to become critically aware of it so that it doesn’t just flow into your brain and out of your wallet without resistance. And it is possible to counter it by consciously choosing to subject yourself to the influence of voices that weight the balance against rampant consumer debt. Almost every day, I take the time to read an article or two about debt-reduction – usually by one of the people I follow on Twitter. An article or two per day isn’t much when compared with the bombardment of marketing coming at me from banks, credit card companies, and merchants of all kinds of goods and services. But it’s enough. It sharpens my awareness. It helps me to stay on track. It acts in resistance to consumer addiction, and it’s my ally in breaking debt.
 

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I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)

“Holy Moments” of Debt-Reduction

DH = Dear Husband
            I remember watching an episode of Oprah years ago, featuring the often-visited issue of weight loss. Miss Winfrey talked about the dieter’s “holy moment” – when the cookie jar is right there, the desire is high, and the choice is yours to make. If you decide, For now I will not eat any of those cookies, you’ve grasped your “holy moment” with victory. Success or failure in weight loss is essentially determined by such moments and your cumulative responses to them.
            We recently faced a “holy moment” in our debt-reduction efforts. Our wedding anniversary was approaching, and it was a big one. When a couple’s anniversary ends in a -0 or a -5, it’s not uncommon to do something special. A colleague of mine celebrated his 15th anniversary this summer by going to Cuba with his wife. He surprised her by having pre-arranged a ceremony on the beach where they restated their wedding vows. That’s pretty special. 
            For two years, DH and I indulged in an overnight get-away for our anniversary, at the resort where we had spent our honeymoon. DH’s business was going well, after a long time of under/unemployment, and we felt entitled to this yearly treat. It’s important to invest in your relationship. It’s only once a year. You’ve been through a tough time career-wise, and things are looking up. Enjoy it! You work hard; you deserve to spoil yourselves once in a while . . .It was perfect – complete with champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, his & her massages, delicious food, pool, hot tub, tennis courts, and beautiful scenery. Although it all lasted under twenty-four hours, it felt like a real break. At a total cost of about $800. 
            Eventually, we realized that the deep hole of debt we had dug for ourselves – including an $80,000 line of credit to finance DH’s business – wasn’t going anywhere on its own. A friend gave us a CD of Dave Ramsey’s audio book The Total Money Makeover, and our journey out of debt began. We considered every expense in a new light. “You deserve to spoil yourselves . . .” didn’t cut it anymore, and last year, we spent our anniversary at home – for a fraction of that $800. (See “Romance While Getting out of Debt”)
            But this year was a big one, and DH was gunning for the get-away. “I work from home, and I don’t really get a break unless I get out of the house,” he said. Our camping trip in July had been marked by cool weather, legions of mosquitoes, and my back-and-forth visits as I started teaching summer school. It hadn’t been much of a break. So wasn’t it a good idea to do the anniversary get-away thistime? Wasn’t it important to “invest in our relationship”? The cookie jar was right there.
            It went against the grain for me, but I said it wasn’t a good idea. I brought up the fact that we hadn’t paid anything off our debt for months. We’ve had huge expenses lately ($12,000 worth of new roof and tree removal), and we’ve been feeling the discouragement that seeps in when progress slows down. Was it wise to slow it down even further with an expensive get-away? Hadn’t we enjoyed our inexpensive anniversary last year?
In the end, we didn’t go. But our anniversary was lovely – complete with champagne, delicious food, and even chocolate-covered strawberries that DH discovered at a local business. It is important to invest in relationships, and we did – at a fraction of that $800. I like to think that some day we will go back to our get-away anniversaries. Maybe we’ll even go to the beaches of Cuba. But for now, we won’t. I’d say we grasped our “holy moment” with victory.
           

Comments are welcome!

I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)

 

Analogies for Debt Reduction

DH = Dear Husband

The Road Race Analogy

                When DH and I first started our journey out of debt in June 2012, I compared debt reduction to a 10 km road race. That analogy works in many ways. You start off with adrenaline, confident that you’ll finish the race, daring to hope that you’ll beat the time you’ve set as your goal. After the first kilometer or so, the adrenaline has drained, and you establish a steady pace.
                We did indeed start our journey out of debt fuelled by adrenaline. We had just read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover; we were psyched; and in an unfamiliar state of complete unity on our finances, we ran a great “first kilometer”.  In the six months from June 2012-November 2012, we paid off over 10% of our huge $257,000 debt. Our second six-month period, from December 2012-May 2013, was strong because it started out well. We paid off just over 9% of our original total. But after this point, the analogy of the road race doesn’t work. We haven’t settled into a steady pace. DH is self-employed, and his business had an alarming slow-down in the spring. Then through the summer, we had huge expenses amounting to over $15,000:
          rotting tree had to be cut down – $2,000
          new roof needed – $10,000
          van repairs – $900
          vet bills for dog’s kidney stones – $1,300 (Ugh!)
Our third six-month period is turning out to be dramatically lower than our first two. In the four months since the beginning of June, we’ve managed only our regular mortgage payments. So far in this “third kilometer”, we’ve paid off just over 1% of our original total. Hmmm . . . Doesn’t sound like much of a road race.

The Weight-Loss Analogy

In some ways, the analogy of weight loss works. Again, there’s that strong determination and discipline at the beginning, resulting in a quick and encouraging shedding of pounds. Then there’s often a plateau period, when the scales don’t budge despite a continuing effort. That fits with our debt-reduction experience. Furthermore, an injury can make it impossible for the person losing weight to exercise for a period of time – just like DH’s lower income in the spring slowed our progress for a time. But here is where the weight loss analogy falls short:   Never is anyone forced to eat too much. Holidays and celebrations can make overeating difficult to resist, but no one with a weight-loss goal ever has to eat a huge amount. By contrast, the debtor trying to shed debt sometimes does have to pay for big expenses. We’ve certainly had to.

The Uphill Cycling Analogy

Dave Ramsey, our debt-reduction guru, gives another analogy for debt-reduction in his book The Total Money Makeover. He compares it to a tough uphill bicycle ride that ends at the summit and that is followed by an exhilarating downhill coast. As an overall picture, the uphill cycling trek works, but it needs detail. When you’re in the midst of the long period of debt-reduction, you’re keenly aware of the different gradations involved. For us the slope, while always uphill, has at times been very easy. In the month of December 2012, for instance, we paid $10,000 off our debt in one fell swoop. At other times, the uphill slope has been extremely steep. Over March and April, when DH’s income was at a low, we could make no payments against the debt. And then there are those times when you have to stop and go off the side of the road to replace a leaking inner tube or to realign wheels, and there’s no progress until that bike is ready to go again. It’s been like that for us these last few months. We’ve had to pull off the road, pay off some huge expenses, and get ourselves ready to continue the uphill effort.
          We paid off Debts #1 ($8,600) and #2 ($12,800) along with some mortgage debt ($4,500) in our first six months – almost $26,000.
          We paid off $19,500 from Debt #3 ($80,800) along with some mortgage debt ($4,500) in our second six months – $24,000
          Two-thirds into our third six months, we’ve paid about $3,000 off of our mortgage. And that’s it.
But we’re road ready again, and eager to pedal against the slope.

Comments are welcome!

I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)


Debt and Safety



                Disasters rarely happen in my city. Here, we read in the paper and listen to the news about devastation experienced by people in other parts of the country and the world: lethal floods, storms, shootings, accidents . . . We are generally protected by geography, economic stability, and a culture of reserve. But a few days ago, a city bus on a local transitway collided with a passenger train that intersected it. Six people died, and ten went to hospital in critical condition. Ours is a small enough city that when disaster strikes, there are likely to be only a few degrees of separation between any individual and “ground zero”. My daughter has a friend whose aunt died in the crash. A friend of mine works at the college attended by one of the young men who died in the collision. “We feel as though we were all on that bus,” writes Olivier Cullen in a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen September 20. “We are all in shock.  We are all a little lost.”
The investigation into the cause of the accident will be a long one. There is talk of mechanical failure and challenges to visibility. There is talk of the safety of level rail crossings in an area with rapid population growth. For at least ten years, that intersection has been on the municipal radar. Our mayor of 2002 identified it as a “very, very severe public safety issue” (Curry). One year earlier, a senior coordinator of technical services from CN (Canadian National Railway Company – which was in charge at the time) wrote a letter to the city that “flatly rejected the idea of level crossings. They’d be acceptable for a maximum of two years while under- or overpasses were built . . . And the Transitway crossing of the track was simply out of the question . . .” (Reevely). Projected costs of constructing an underpass, originally $40 million, shot up to $111 million, “and the city and CN sat down to reconsider the problem” (Reevely). Time has ushered in a new mayor and a different railway company (Via Rail), and the concerns of politicians and technicians of years gone by have been put on the back burner. Until now.
In large-scale terms, I am reminded of the Lac Mégantic disaster, almost certainly brought on by cost-cutting measures. (A Debt Owed to thePeople of Lac Mégantic) In personal terms, I am reminded of the rotting tree in our backyard that we knew was dangerous, but that we left standing for far too long because it was expensive to deal with it. (Debt and Denial) Whether it’s a matter of personal, corporate, or government finances, safety is too often compromised when money is tight.
There are many motivating factors when it comes to getting out of debt, saving emergency funds, and investing in the future. One is certainly that with financial strength, individuals, companies, and governments can absorb the costs of keeping things safe. We’re less inclined to put necessary expenses on the back burner. We’re less likely to rationalize a “very, very severe public safety issue.”

Curry, Bill. “The Globe and Mail.” The Globe and Mail. Phillip Crawley, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <http://www.
theglobeandmail. com/news/national/crash-follows-calls-for-safer-rail-level-crossings/article14396344/>.
Reevely, David. “Ottawa Citizen.” Www.ottawacitizen.com. Canwest, 20 Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <http://www.
ottawacitizen.com/Decision build level crossing where train still mystery/8935347/story.html>.

 

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Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)

Debt Reduction and Elite Athletics

DH = Dear Husband
DD1 = Dear First Daughter
DD2 = Dear Second Daughter
                According to an an article posted by Investors Group July 2012, Canadians spend an average of $1,658 per year on their children’s athletics. According to a second article posted by Investors Group the same month, Canada’s elite athletes spend an average of $15,743 per year to train. So what do you do when you’re trying to get out of debt, and one of your children turns out to be an elite athlete? What do you do when two of them do?

 DD1’s Athletic Rise When We Were Strapped

                I remember the sinking dread I felt as DH’s hi-tech career came to an end (See “DEBT #2: The Story Behind aDead-Weight Debt”) just at the time when our first daughter was showing signs of promise in her sport. The idea of accepting circumstances as they were and allowing her to be cut off from her potential was unthinkable. Stressful as it was, and for me it required many steps outside of my comfort zone, we creatively financed her athletic pursuits. DD1’s coach gave her a great deal of training in exchange for odd jobs that she would do – like painting – and for her assistance in coaching younger athletes. I sought out sponsors who offered support with money and air mile points. There was a very fine balance of acknowledging tight financial boundaries, swallowing pride and seeking support, constant logistical planning, and hard work. For the most part, it was DD1 who made it all happen. And it did happen. She won significant championships; she traveled to fifteen different countries around the world for training and competitions; she forged rich bonds of friendship with other athletes and coaches. And she developed the traits of character that parents hope to foster in their children when signing them up for sports:  initiative, confidence, the pursuit of excellence, an ability to work with others as a team, and a lasting value of physical fitness.

 DD2’s Athletic Rise When We’re Getting out of Debt

                Things are different now. DH is gainfully self-employed and we are no longer in that limbo of paralyzing career and financial uncertainty. We just have a huge debt to pay off from our years in limbo (not to mention decades of poor financial management) and possibly only six years to go before we retire. So now that DD2 is rising in her sport, would it be wise for us to spend the thousands that we simply didn’t have when DD1 was rising in hers? In a Financial Post article entitled “Are your kids’ athletic dreams worth breaking the bank for?” (August 4, 2012) Gary Marr writes, “The hardest part of creating any sort of budget is deciding what to cut out. Now try and pinch pennies on your child’s dream . . . [T]hat’s the task parents of elite athletes face, designating tens of thousands of dollars of their household budget to help their child’s athletic career blossom, a sacrifice that impacts everything from daily spending to retirement. . . Where does it all end? . . . How can you say no?” (Marr, 2012)
                DD2 has been selected to take part in a winter training camp in Hawaii, and it will cost over $3,000. Last week-end, we held a fundraiser. People could either support through a tax-deductible donation to an athletics trust fund set up for DD2, or through a purchase of the services DH provides in his business, with the understanding that money paid would go to DD2’s training. Again, it was a significant step outside of my comfort zone. We were asking friends, family, and colleagues for money for our daughter’s training. Many of them are financing the pursuits of their own children. How would they respond?
          Dryly: “Well, I’d like to go to Hawaii too.” (Just smile and nod.)
          Enthusiastically: “She has got to go! I’m going to write a cheque. You must be so proud!”  (A great big “Thank-you!”)
          No response at all. (Were they put off by the invitation? No, I will not let myself worry about it.)
The combination of donations and of orders for DH’s business adds up to cover the air-fare and then some. DD2 is putting aside money from her part-time job, and she’ll be visiting
local businesses with her sports résumé and a request for sponsorship. She has at least one athletic grant coming her way. She’s headed for Hawaii.
                Getting out of debt doesn’t mean stifling your children’s dreams. It probably means that you have to get creative, and it might mean that you have to get uncomfortable. But there is also a good chance that it means your children will get more out of the experience than they would if you could hand it all over to them on a silver platter. DD2 is grateful for the efforts that we’ve made and for the people who are supporting her. And she is stepping up with efforts of her own. I believe that when she walks out of that airport into the sunshine of Hawaii, her appreciation for the opportunity will be all the higher because of her understanding of what it has taken to make it come about. A team effort is setting the stage for her to reach her potential. She’s focused and determined. Her dream is alive, and she’s going to run with it.

Comments are welcome!

I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)

Debt-Reduction and Hair

DH = Dear Husband
                When the hi-tech bust happened around the start of the millennium and we experienced DH’s loss of income, one of the things we did to economize was to buy a hair-cutting kit.  It cost around $30.00 and came complete with a buzzer, comb-like attachments, scissors, clips, an instruction manual, and a video demo. Within months, we had easily saved ourselves the cost of the kit, and over a decade later, I’d say we’ve avoided spending thousands of dollars in visits to the hair salon and barber shop.

My Smug Frugal Lack of Vanity

                It is not uncommon for a man to get his haircuts at home. But here’s the thing: DH cut my hair too. Every single woman who has found out has said something along the lines of, “I would never let my husband touch my hair!” I had a bit of smug pride in my frugal lack of vanity.
I was in my late thirties then, and I remember being quite committed, in keeping with my “frugal lack of vanity”, to the idea of letting my hair go gray when the time came. The time came in my early forties, and I caved. I started to dye my hair. Hmmm . . . Not much lack of vanity in that case. But I was frugal. Most women I knew had their colouring and hi-lighting done professionally – in one case, to the tune of $200 every six weeks. I, on the other hand, was spending about $10 every two months. So I managed to salvage some of my smugness.

My Pixie Cut Trauma

Many women experience at some point in their lives a deeply troubling hair episode. I’m no exception. When I was a child, the youngest of five, my mother would have my hair cut “pixie” style. “Pixie” is a cute word (and Michelle Williams, above, wears it beautifully), but I developed a strong loathing for it. Like my sisters, I was often mistaken for a boy, and I found it mortifying to an extent I can’t adequately convey. As soon as I was old enough to have a say in my hair style, I let it grow.

Robert Plant and the Trigger Effect

The whole being-mistaken-for-a-boy trauma was decades in the past when I walked into school one day and greeted a student of mine – a good-natured boy and a bit of a hippie – who was strumming his guitar in the hallway. “Miss,” he said in a flash of recognition and admiration, “your hair is like Robert Plant’s.” It was an innocent musing, but you can guess what feelings it triggered in me. Robert Plant is a boy! As soon as I had time, I googled images of the guitarist for Led Zeppelin, and it was undeniable. My hair looked like Robert Plant’s. I bought a hair straightener.

Straw Hair Dilemma

Fast-forward to this past spring. After years of dyeing my own hair and straightening it far too often, it turned into straw. It was a dramatic transition that left me with two options:  treat my damaged hair, or cut it off. I chose the former, but I didn’t know what to do. On the advice of my daughters, their friends, and a concerned student, I applied everything from olive oil to Moroccan oil to expensive shampoos and conditioners that promised miracles. I got softer straw for my efforts.

Hair Care, Discretionary Money, and Gender

DH and I each have a discretionary fund from which we purchase, among many other things, products like shampoo and conditioner, and services like haircuts if we so choose. I approached DH, ready to negotiate.  I explained to him my belief that we weren’t operating on a level playing field. Hair care for women is simply much more expensive than hair care for men – except in the case of those admirable women who really do let their hair go gray and who carry off the Robert-Plant-Pouf with dignity. I told him that I didn’t want to cut off all my straw hair, that I wanted a professional to have a go at it because it was clearly beyond me, and that I didn’t think it was fair for me to have to use my discretionary money to do so. No negotiation followed. “I know that most women go to salons to get their hair done. You should be able to,” DH said. In fact there was, in his BNI group (a networking group of self-employed business people) a woman who owned a spa. He would touch base with her and we’d get this thing rolling.
I have been to my free consult. I have bought hair repairing product – with money from our joint account – and I have made a first appointment with my very likable and knowledgeable hair stylist. I will probably see her every two months or so. Again, without draining my discretionary fund. Will this have a negative impact on our debt-reduction efforts? I don’t think so. Part of debt-reduction is to take care of yourself so that you don’t burn out and give up. And part of good financial management is to get real. My discussion with DH was real – open, honest, frank. I believe that in being mindful of this new expense, we’ll become that much more mindful of our money in general. But you can think differently. I believe we’ve made a good decision, and I’m grateful for DH’s understanding. I am also very happy to give up entirely any remnants of smug pride in my “frugal lack of vanity.”

Comments are welcome!

I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)


Card Cutting as Part of Debt Reduction? Why It Didn’t Happen

DH = Dear Husband
DD2 = Dear Second Daughter
 
                I was certain that in my debt reduction efforts this summer, I would cut my credit card. It didn’t happen.

Why did I want to make the cut?

1. I’m following Dave Ramsey’s advice in getting out of debt. He says, “Stop using credit cards.”
2. Statistics indicate that people spend more when they use credit cards.
3. Studies show that people pay less attention to price and that they forget how much they’ve spent when they use credit cards.
4. Points and rewards offered by credit card companies distract us from the consideration that if we used cash instead of credit, we’d spend less and save more real money than any points could be worth.
5. Credit card companies make their profits from people who get sucked into credit card debt – and stay there.

What were my obstacles to credit card cutting?

1. DH isn’t for it. He recognizes the pitfalls of credit cards to society in general, but like many people, he believes that he is winning the credit card game:
-He pays off his cards each month.
– He doesn’t believe that he personally spends more because of his use of credit cards.
– Credit cards allow him to travel and to buy online conveniently.
– He takes advantage of the points he earns.
2. In order to get a Visa debit card, I would have to open an account at a bank that charges service fees. At the beginning of our journey out of debt, DH and I switched to PC Financial, a small bank with no service fees (See “A Mess and anEmergency”). PC Financial, unfortunately, does not issue Visa debit cards. Does it make sense to pay service fees to use a Visa debit card when we pay no interest with our Visa credit card? Probably not.
3. As DH has pointed out, the small emergency fund that we have now – $1,000 as recommended by Ramsey – has not always been enough to cover the unexpected expenses we’ve had to pay in the last year. Most notably, DH had to pay $2,500 last July because of an emergency visit to a hospital in the U.S. His credit card came in very handy at that time.

 What has to happen to make “the cut” tenable?

                I was surprised at how disappointed I was to concede defeat in my determination to cut my credit card. I don’t see it as a permanent defeat though. Things might change to make the cut more tenable:
1. Visa debit cards might become more common in Canada. I have learned that Canada is behind our neighbours to the south in terms of the Visa debit card. I phoned PC Financial this week and asked if they would consider issuing it. The person I spoke with said that many people had made the same request, and that he would forward mine. The day I can get a Visa debit card without having to pay service fees to do so, I will.
2. At a later stage of our journey out of debt, we will save a large emergency fund – as recommended by Ramsey. Once we have it, DH will probably feel confident enough to let go the idea of credit-card-as-safety-net in the case of unexpected expenses.
3. DH might become as convinced as I am that getting rid of our credit cards would be a good idea. I don’t think that I’ll be the one to convince him though.
                I think that the main reason why I wanted to cut my credit card was, to borrow a phrase from Jack Black’s character in The School of Rock, to “stick-it-to-the-man”. I wanted to disengage from the credit card companies and their campaign to encourage consumer spending and to profit from consumer debt. DH and I responded to Visa’s “Smallenfreuden” initiative with our own “Cuttenfreuden” effort, but in the end, we won’t experience “the joy of cutting credit cards into small pieces.” At least not now.

Comments are welcome!

I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)