Monday, January 31, 2011

Time To Go

The time has come for my quick getaway to a warmer climate. Back next week. Have a great week Everyone!

Photo credit: California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) Poppy Field Poppies by mikebaird

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tax Time

Well, I've gotten my taxes inputted on my online software site. I owe a small amount (under $200 but subject to change as I have yet to receive my tax slips from investments) as I invested under my rsp umbrella this year.

As D was first hired as a contractor for his current company, he has a more complicated tax return this year. I don't think he is liking it and is hoping he will stay full time for the foreseeable future so he will not have to do it again.

We are pretty sure that D will be putting some money in his rsp this year as well. As more info trickles in, he'll know better.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Our heating bill isn't on the "budget billing" option whereby you are allowed to pay the "same" amount all year round, calculated from last year's billing.

The reason we didn't opt for it is because I want to know just how we are doing with our gas usage even though it means paying more during the winter months. For some reason, I think I would be less aware of my thermostat otherwise.

Every quarter, some companies calculates actual usage and will adjust payment amounts if it is looking like things are getting out of hand. Another company will wait until the winter season is over and charge a one time "catch up" payment which could be an unwelcome surprise.

The quick survey of my colleagues' offices landed my office utility increases in the middle of the bunch. One person's bills have nearly doubled for heating and 50% increase in hydro. The other I asked had numbers close to mine but couldn't comment with heat due to budget billing.

In other news, I am starting to wonder if I made an error booking a flight with LAN. I've had 3 changes so far with the first one pretty extreme ie. as of April, LAN has decided they will not fly out of Canada anymore...

This particular trip won't be coming around for months. I just hope there will not be anymore 40 min phone calls...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Work Utilities

There has been a significant increase in our utility bills at the office vs at home. Heating so far this winter has been 50% more than what we pay at home.

I realize commercial utilities as well as property taxes are higher than residential but seeing the numbers for real can still be shocking.

I'm going to ask my other colleagues who also run their own offices if they have seen a jump in their bills. Not that we can do too much about it outside of weatherstripping but it is nice to know if I'm far off the mean.

We are nearing the end of Jan and I am just starting to feel like I'm catching up. I'm grateful work has been busy enough. There are still casual return calls to be made to friends, cards to send, books to read.

In the ideal world, we'd be hibernating and have time to slowly get to everything. But in our working world, those of us non retired people must keep going even though I would prefer to take a nap.

Monday, January 24, 2011


We are in the midst of investigation some new technology that doesn't help us save any money per se, but will increase our lifestyle flexibility.

With Rogers it is called a "rocket hub", with Telus it is called a "smart hub" and with Bell it is called a "turbo hub". What it is, is a portable wireless modem that plugs into an electrical outlet allowing up to 15 devices to connect to the Internet via the wireless network.

Currently we have no land line or Internet at the cottage. This device would allow us to go to the cottage say on a Thurs night and D would be able to work from there on Fridays, thus allowing us to avoid the typical Fri night traffic. I would be able to do my administrative work from there as well.

The cost of this hub is $150 for the unit and a min plan of $35/month.

The coolest potential feature is the ability to use this across Canada. You are likely realizing where I'm going with this... it would replace the Internet service we currently pay at the ski condo.

It can work at airports and hotels that do not offer WIFI. And should we ever decide on a property out east, it can work there.

We could use it at home or my business but there are data limits depending on the plan and D didn't think we could depend on it for daily life.

We need to ask more questions. They offer a 15 day money back guarantee just in case we take it up north and get no reception.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Took The Plunge

Well I took the plunge and decided to reduce my work hours slightly by 2 hrs a week. I do not expect this move to adversely affect my earnings.

It will just serve to condense my time and work more efficiently. As this time cut lands on a Friday, I will also get to start my weekend earlier. Yeah!

My first trip of the year is coming up soon and I'm keeping fingers and toes crossed no major snow storm is going to hit Atlanta or the eastern seaboard. The way winter has been so far, they have had their share of flight delays.

Running your own business has its share of headaches. We are finding that out. If it isn't technology, it is people including myself! If it isn't people, it is the banks.

I run a pretty simple operation. Can't imagine wanting to do this much bigger than it already is.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tough Start to the Year

We just found out a friend has lost her job.

She is 43 yrs old, single and has been working in her industry for 17 yrs. No one in the office saw it coming.

The business is going to shut down with no attempts to sell it as the owner has had enough and just wants to retire.

She just bought a house 2 yrs ago. There is little equity and the mortgage is a slight stretch as it is.

I don't know if she'll want to sell and downsize. Her industry is one that has been steadily declining over the last 5 years.

There will be severance and unemployment insurance after but the real challenge will be income replacement for her position is pretty high up and not the easiest to find.

A lower paying job in the same industry may not pay the bills.

I told her that being single can mean flexibility with job location. As much as she may not wish to move, she can, if the right opportunity comes up.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Clipping Along Coldly

Since I've been at my new office location, my morning commute has shrunk. One consequence has been my lack of cold weather acclimatization this year. I haven't been able to keep warm since Nov.

My lazy body knows what the answer is -- cardio and it shall start today.

D and I both got our Nexus pre-applications back and we are scheduled in for interviews in the next few weeks. The timing is perfect as I will be flying out of the States soon. The interview is supposed to last 1/2 hr.

The Bank of Canada rate announcement on Tues ushered in no changes so our mortgage payments stay put for now.

D started contributing to his employee stock ownership program and the results are slowly trickling in. There is something to having a small amount of money taken beforehand and seeing how even it can slowly add up.

Me, on the other hand has invested $9000 in stocks in both my non registered and registered accounts. The later to help lower my taxes owing this year.

As with each start of the year, I'm anxiously waiting to file my taxes, just to get last year over with. There isn't much satisfaction as I have to wait for the various investment slips to arrive which won't be until Feb.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Exit Strategy

There may be an upcoming glitch with my new office.

I rent out space to a colleague whose side business may be getting to the point where they will no longer need to rent space from me.

I'm happy for them and their future opportunities. In the last few years they have been discontented with their primary work and have been looking for alternate ways to earn/replace their primary income.

They are anticipating in the next 6 months of making a real breakthrough.

So, I've been re-working my cash flow spreadsheet in light of the news. So far, the impact would affect my savings and some re-prioritization will have to happen.

Playing around with the numbers, I figured out if they quit today, I will still have achieved my prepayment goal for the year.

So anything beyond today, I will be achieving the next savings goals on the list which is beefing up my working and non registered accounts.

I do not require their income to afford my office.

It has been a good exercise for me to remember what it means to depend on others to afford things and how I don't like to do that.

We will be having a talk tomorrow about their exit strategy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fun Planning

I am starting to compile a wish list for when my mortgage prepayment duties are done a year from now.

In no particular order:
  • new sandals
  • 40" LCD TV
  • new clothes
  • art classes
  • dance classes
  • degree courses
  • work one day less (will depend on how much my activities will cost..)
  • some sort of tablet computer
  • getting some coats tailored
  • a newer car
  • a new stereo for existing car
  • grand canyon hike
  • visit Asia
  • take a month off

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Nexus Cards

D has gotten it in his head that we ought to apply for the Nexus cards so that our cross border trips and flights in/through US customs will be quicker and easier.

It costs $50 US for 5 years and in order to apply you have to do this pre-application which takes a while so that you can be issued an online log in whereby the real application can be done.

He haven't figured out if we pay whether we'd get approved or not. Once the application is processed and approved, we have to show up at a border office to get interviewed and should be pass that, our pictures are taken and ID card issued.

D got his pre-application done last night. I haven't started mine yet and am not convinced I want to due to sheer laziness right now. Otherwise I feel the idea is sound.

What if only one of us is approved? How will border crossing in the same car work then?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Toys

It was a good thing we are eating our way through our freezer because the money we didn't use in our food account was needed to pay for some household supplies that all decided to run out at the same time.

Isn't that something? So no satisfaction of watching that account grow a bit. Well, at least we won't have to buy all that stuff again for a long while.

D got his bonus last week and he couldn't help but overhear numerous discussions around his work area of peoples' intentions with their money.

The number one item on peoples' minds were new large (60 inch) flat screen TVs.

I must admit, I have been wanting one (40" LCD) for movie watching in a different room for a while now.

D and I were at Costco yesterday buying all the household supplies mentioned above and I took a few minutes to look at all the TV choices.

I chuckled because if and when I do pull the trigger on a new TV (to replace my 19 inch tube one), it would be the 2nd TV I'd have ever bought in my life.

The same situation when I replace my current car. Now how many people under the age of 40 can say that?

Monday, January 10, 2011


Great poem recommended by AONC.

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

-John O’Donohue

Friday, January 7, 2011

Recommended Article

I was looking around the travel section of the Globe and Mail and stumbled upon a great article.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Have a Great Weekend!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Weird Behaviour

I got a gift from D the other day. I would say I reluctantly accepted it. He would call me impossible. It is an Origami calendar. I've wanted one for years but would not spend the money to buy it.

Now that the new year has started, it is on sale for 50% off and I still didn't want him to buy it for me because I wanted him to save his money. I didn't even want to buy it for myself because I don't know, I was being cheap to self.

So D grabbed the one left and stormed off to buy it, all the while mumbling how difficult it was to have me accept a gift.

Now that I do have it, I had fun folding my fifth origami character today. It is a stress release because you don't think of anything else while doing this activity. I'm glad I accepted D's gift.

If you ask D, he'll tell you I spend almost no time if the item in question is over $500 but when it is under $50, watch out, I can spend hours mulling it over and apparently also valid for other people's money.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Travel Tips

I've been asked how I go about finding my travel deals. There really isn't a secret method but there is a pattern of search.

First of all, I do not use a travel agent. It's nothing personal, I just find it easier and quicker to look up stuff online. If your itinerary is complicated ie. round the world tickets, needing multiple entry visas, then I would look up an agent that specializes in the area to help expedite if I cannot figure things out from the various embassy websites.

Right now, my travel locations of choice are pretty much all 1st world countries so accessibility isn't a factor.

If there is a national airline to the country of choice, I start there. Searching there will give information re: What the main airport hub of choice is. Sometimes, it can be cheaper to catch a flight deal out of JFK or Boston. Then I would compare flying out of Canada.

Know the travel seasons as it will make a real difference in price. I tend to travel in low season ie. winter time in Europe and colder countries and winter time (my summertime) to warmer countries (southern hemisphere).

I subscribe to email notifications from my favorite airlines as well as travel compilation sites like Travelzoo and Sherman's. They will email once a week with the best deals on the web and I've seen some great stuff there. It's also too tempting some days.

Recently, I got to playing around with multi-locations searching on the airline sites. Two of our trips this years has been a result of that. For some reason, direct flights were pricing much more expensive than if I hit 2 countries instead. So if you are flexible, give that a try.

Just remember, the one country has to be the main hub for the airline. For us we wanted to get to Amsterdam with KLM. We paired it with Rome, Prague, London, Bucharest and picked the best deal which turned out to be Rome -- Amsterdam combo for $705 vs. Amsterdam alone for $1150.

I tried the technique again with Icelandair and ended up with a good flight to Reykjavik and either London or Stockholm. I chose Stockholm. Flights to Scandinavia are not known to be cheap and I got my combo flight for $843.

When I am just searching for fun and do not know where to start, I use Expedia to get a general idea of who is flying where and what hotels are available. D is a big fan of Hipmonk as a flight search engine.

For hotel feedback, I'll read a few comments on Tripadvisor. Combine what people have to say with a grain of salt, use your common sense and go from there. Then I go to Homeaway to look to apartments which when available have beaten hotel pricing every time.

I collect travel points from all sorts of places. Right now my favorite is with Delta Skymiles. I find I earn points faster and because their flights code share with KLM/Air France, I do better than if I were to collect Flying Blue. There are some airlines I like to fly who don't give great miles. British Airways is one of them so I don't worry about it.

My primary Visa is a travel card as well. As soon as I get enough points for a flight, I will use the points. I'm not one to save for years and years in hopes of getting a first class flight. Too impatient for that and with points expiry to keep track of, I can't be bothered to remember. My card will allow me to use my points on flights if I book with them. This is the only time I will use a travel service.

The limitations I've found with a travel service linked to a travel card is that they control the reservation. Sometimes you cannot get all the information from airline sites about your reservation or are you allowed to pick seats on a long haul flight (very important to me).

Case at point. I just used up my points to fly to Buenos Aires this summer (a rebook of the trip I cancelled last summer due to my work place move) with LAN. I didn't have seats and tried to book seats online which didn't work completely.

When I called the travel service, they told me I had to contact the airline directly. They were really great about it and I got most of my seats and will have to call back in a few months to confirm the last leg. Much easier when you can manage everything online. Had I booked with LAN online, there wouldn't have been any issues but this is one cost of using points.

Another points issue is the amount of work needed to the get the flight of choice when the reward flight is coming from the airlines themselves. What I've found is that the best flights go first and go early.

I've booked at least 6 months in advance for some routes (high season) to get direct flights. Otherwise I have to tolerate an extra hop or 2. Aeroplan and Delta have been tough ones to find good flights on points.

All the hoops just forces me to be organized and to think 1/2 yr to 1 year in advance in order to save the most money.

Some final scattered thoughts.

I don't use a service to book rail tickets. It is cheaper and easier to buy non high speed train tickets once in the country. Same with ferry.

Other than a cruise, I've never been on an all inclusive vacation to a tropical country so cannot comment on how to get the best deal there.

With respect to cruising, it is a great way to see a number of places (ie. Russia, Scandinavia, Asia, Alaska) that may be hard to get to otherwise. The way I see it, if I really like the place, I'll go back and stay longer. I use cruise review to read up on the various ports.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Finishing Up

D and I will be eating our way through our fridge until all the food is mostly gone before buying more. We have cut back on meat consumption so much that we feel there is too much of it in the freezer and that bothers us. Plus I don't want some of it going bad from being in there too long.

I'm looking forward to the positive effects it will have on our food budget as we will only need to be buying fresh fruit, veggies and staples for the next little while. Some extra monies built up in the food account would be great. It makes me feel like we are ahead of the game.

I spend an hour or so getting the rest of my 2010 bookkeeping completed. It is looking like I may owe taxes above and beyond the installments I've already paid. So, I am playing around with potential RSP contributions vs. just paying what I will owe.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Donkey Time

I want to start the new year with a funny story (might not have been funny at the time depending on who you were) about my donkey ride up in Santorini. For new readers, I am a huge fan of donkeys and English Bulldogs -- Perhaps my stubbornness streak is showing.

Santorini can be approached by boat and plane. If you come by boat, like I did, you have to make you way up. You can do it in 3 ways. Walk up the 600 steps, take the cable car (ski gondolas) or ride the donkeys.

When you get off the boat, you are intercepted by a really tanned shepherd guy who is kind of shouting at you to take the donkey ride up, "only 10 min to the top". Later you find out it costs 5 euro, just slightly more than the one way cable car ride fare.

So those who are game are pointed in the direction of a fairly narrow alley whereby all of a sudden you see the donkeys and other shepherds in a tight little space. As no one volunteers to speak in English, you just stand there until you hear someone shout "up! up! up!".

I didn't know they were talking to me because they were a bit ahead and I had no one else to talk to about this. I thought that was the way they call the donkeys...It was too late to bring out the Greek language cheat sheet out of my purse.

After the embarrassment I walked over and stood there on the ledge. The donkey stirrup was 3 feet away and neither it or the shepherd were going to maneuver any closer. I'm not tall but I am flexible so a mini splits later, I clambered on the donkey wondering what I've gotten myself into.

When you go on a trail ride say in Arizona, you are given helmets, some instruction and a waiver to sign. Afterwards you are grouped together and led from the front and back by experienced guides.

In Santorini, the donkey gets a pat on its behind and off you go, with no way to steer, no helmet, no waiver and no guide or direction. Nor do your stirrups get adjusted if one is longer than the other.

Shortly after departing upon rounding a corner, I saw my first donkey rider. She was at a complete stop and was trying to convince her donkey to start walking. She had been stopped for about 10 min, the time it was supposed have taken to get to the top. The donkey didn't appear to understand English.

She turns around and said that she hopes her donkey will start up if it sees my donkey. Meanwhile, I'm hoping my donkey wouldn't decide to stop alongside her donkey. Luckily mine kept going and hers did start up for a couple of steps before stopping again.

A few turns later, I meet up with the lady's husband who is stopped on his donkey. We both decided that this ride was going to take much longer than the 10 min advertised. We ended up riding up the rest of the way together as his donkey seemed to like walking with mine.

The thought came across my mind that should I fall off the donkey, I wasn't sure if I'd attempt to stop my donkey and climb back on. We decided that we'd cross that bridge should we get there and hopefully if we did fall off, it was towards the rock wall side and not the cliff side. And he would deal with his wife being near the bottom of the steps later.

I'm not sure if it was a deliberate donkey thing or maybe donkeys do not have a good 3D sense but my donkey started to walk really close to the edge and very close to the rock wall. I had a time ducking under trees, rocks out juts and having my stirrup leg and ankle scrape along the rock. A few times I had to lift my leg out altogether.

It was closer to 30 min by the time we sort of got to the top. The donkeys suddenly slowed down and diagonally parked themselves against the wall. I think they had their own parking spots! So here we are sardined amongst other donkeys that were already parked. How to get off when you barely have 1 ft of space between donkeys.

I waited for about a minute and decided I just had to get off and squeezed my way down between donkey bodies and hope I wouldn't get kicked. It was fine. It was the first time I really got a good look at them.

I was worried that I would find donkeys not in great shape and overworked. To my surprise they were all looking very healthy, good coats and not exhausted. They work all year and Santorini is hot in the summers.

We had to walk up a little ways to get to the top and a bit more to get to the center of town. On the way, I saw a couple of women who decided to take a donkey ride down. They were screaming in fear. Hope they made out alright. I never did get to say goodbye to the fellow I rode up with as he went in search of his wife.