Sunday, 4 May 2014

No, We Can't Just Be Friends - Chapter 4


Retail Therapy

Photo from the movie: Confessions of a Shopaholic

 "A bargain is something you don't need at a price you can't resist." - Franklin Jones

Sometimes we do it because our friends are doing it, sometimes we do it because we're feeling low, we might even do it because we're feeling extra happy; there is no denying that we all make impulse purchases on a frequent basis. Women lean toward clothes, shoes, and dining out, while men tend to go for electronics to satisfy the little impulse devil on their shoulder. Canadians on average have been spending around $4000 a year on items they do not need because it was on sale, or simply to cheer themselves up! That's $300 a month spent on crap, and I'm one of the worst offenders. I have a Tupperware closet, not drawer or cupboard, closet. If Tupperware is on sale, it's coming home with me; I need a Tupperware intervention.

We already know that consumers are spending more than they make, and now we know on what: junk they don't need. Consumers aren't ignorant to the fact either, we know when we've made impulse purchase (Alice in Wal-Martland) and that's the sad part, literally. Impulse purchases lead to regret and buyers remorse - like when I signed on the dotted line with the bank for my second car out of the uncontrollable want for something new and shiny and put myself further away from every owning a car outright. This is a good reminder to keep an eye on your purchases; it's time to ask yourself the question: Do I want this, or do I need this?

Retailers Target Women 
The current generation of women are more affluent than the women of yesteryear. We still don't make what we should be as we work shoulder to shoulder with our brethren, but the playing field is evening up as we take on less traditionally female roles, wait longer in our careers to have children, are sufficiently educated and know to invest for our futures. No matter how many bras we burn or shoulder-padded business suits we don, retails still cast women in the role of dish washer, laundry folder, and floor washer in their commercials. Screw you retailers for pigeonholing us like that in the 21st Century when we vote, drive our own cars, own our own homes, work full time hours, and yes, usually still have to do the dishes and laundry for our family. Nevertheless, we are strong and proud and can afford to hire cleaners. So once again, screw you retailers.  

The problems with retailers targeting women doesn't stop there. They know the stress we are under, juggling careers, relationships, motherhood, cooking, cleaning, driving, and trying to squeeze in an hour at the gym, not to mention the modern pressures in each of those categories: to get promotions at work, spend quality time with our spouses, raise intellectual children in the time of video games and YouTube, learn to cook like the folks on the Food Network, keep an immaculate and enviously decorated home, drive a car that shows everyone how successful we are, and look like one of the women from Mysteria Lane. Wait a minute, those aren't the standards we are holding ourselves up to, they are the standards that the media strongly suggest that today's women hold themselves up to, and advertisers compound the problem by targeting our insecurities. 

Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases and dominate the global marketplace in online spending, and now also account for almost half the spending in electronics, cars, and computer markets. It doesn't end there, women also buy for their husbands and kids; women be shopping! And retailers be paying attention; all of our habits are tracked in order to be manipulated. Advertisers pay big money to track, not just our spending habits, but our social habits as well. They know how many texts we send, what websites we visit, restaurants we eat at, stores we buy from, what we're driving, where we live, and who we live with. It's freaking scary how much they know about us, just by tracking our habits. Target has such an advanced habit tracking system that they can predict which of their customers has become pregnant or is thinking of conceiving.  Before the woman has even told other people about her plans or pregnancy, she will already be receiving infant formula coupons in the mail encouraging her to do her baby shopping at their store. Stalk much? It doesn't end there, they can try to get new customers by buying information about the women in their city based on credit card spending, web browsing and purchases and so on and so on, to hone in on their spending habits and send out flyers and coupons that would be appealing to their 'lifestyle'. You can take my word for it that Target is not the only retailer doing this, they all are, and not just with flyers in your mailbox, they are invading your email inbox as well. Think that junk email is random, it's not. Well, some of it is, like when I get emails urging me to increase my penis size, or when I get those email from 'Crystal' wanting to hook up with me. The rest, you can bet, are targeted marketing emails, sent to you based on your online activity combined with your offline spending habits. But why would retailers go through such lengths to send us junk mail? Because the projected value of eCommerce sales is an incredible $250 billion dollars by 2014, and retailers will do anything to get a piece of that pie. 

More and more, marketers are trying to get inside our heads to understand what women want. Even female marketers don't know what we want, but they can certainly learn what triggers our spending habit loop, searching for our spending willpower kryptonite. When I began my research for this section with an article written by Susan Fabry of Continuum, a market research company, I was insulted by the language used to describe us women who they, apparently, despite our decision making power and earning potential, think are idiots. Describing our shopping requirements to be a lot of handholding and warm and fuzzy feelings, "When women shop, they need to feel comfortable and wanted at every point in the decision-making process..." Here's another, "To reach women, Sprint has refocused away from tech industry jargon." Really? They think our small little lady minds can't understand cell phones? In their defense they did say that we could be CEOs - of the household. Again, what century are we in? In the end Sprint settled on a marketing strategy using photos of profession women and moms, recognizing smartly that they are indeed the same woman.  

Marketers understand, at least, that women are social creatures. We dominate the blog culture, sharing information about whatever interests us, including their products, and so they better be on our good side. Retail stores are spending money and going out of their way to make our shopping experiences comfortable, convenient, and memorable to keep us coming back. 

It's a Trap!
If I haven't already convinced you that we're being watched, an article in the Globe & Mail recently stated that "MasterCard Inc. is analyzing transaction data to help marketers direct targeted advertising at consumers, after launching a controversial initiative to make money from its vast database of retail purchases. This year the credit card network, which processes 34 billion purchases each year, began to help marketers target customers who are more likely to buy their products and services."

I don't know about you, but I feel betrayed. We spend all this time together cultivating a relationship by dinning out, catching shows together, taking long walks through the mall, even vacationing together, and this is how we're repaid? What a backstabbing, cheating, lying jerk! All the more reason to get rid of em'.

But the good old Credit Card companies and retailers who are in on the credit card game don't stop at giving our secrets away, oh no, they also like to play mind games with us. Promises like no interest, no payments for a year, make them seem oh so generous and we brag to our friends about how we got this great deal at the local big box store, but once that year is up, you had better pay up in full before they start tacking up to 30% interest  on that new red couch you just had to have because it went perfectly with your ten thousand pillows from Target.

And just to show you how little retailers think of women as individuals and how much they think about trying to get our money, here are some more ways they mess with us while we are innocently going about our business. Everything in a retail environment, from the smells, décor, lighting, light fixture music, room temperature, and uniforms. Even the ridiculously thin and perfect model/sales staff at Banana Republic are meant to entice you to shop there in order to look more like them. All together now: Urgh, gag me with a shovel. If I want to be manipulated, I'll stay at home and watch commercials. It's not enough that you've convinced me through print ads that I need wrinkle cream, but make sure to have a twenty year old have to link arms with me so that I don't wander off or fall down as she directs me to the over priced eye cream section and gives me advice that she won't need for another ten years. Well played Shoppers Drug Mart, well played - "I'll take two bottles, and how do you get your hair so shiny?" "Oh, you use the $120 shampoo and conditioner and $60 follicle treatment found in aisle twelve. Sounds great, let me just get out my credit card." Don't forget to pick up one of the twenty magazines at the checkout that will lower your self esteem even more; grab a Snickers at the cash too to ease the depression you'll feel from reading the magazine, or eat it when you realize how much you just spent when all you wanted was a little eye cream to combat aging. Oh wait, that's right, hush hush, no problem - you put all that crap on your credit card, so it's like you didn't spend any money at all. Phew, you almost felt silly there for a minute. Oh well, where can you go for lunch now that you saved all that money?

I love to shop after a bad relationship. I don’t know. I buy a new outfit and it makes me feel better. It just does. Sometimes I see a really great outfit, I’ll break up with someone on purpose. – Rita Rudner

If the fact that retailers and banks are out to manipulate us isn't enough to raise your blood pressure, here's one more person who is constantly manipulating you into spending your money recklessly: YOU, and the people you love.
Have you ever felt pressured to spend money? Not by a television commercial or really pushy sales person, but by your choice of shopping companion? You can trust that women's shopping habit have studied from every angle and it turns out that when we shop wiht friends we buy more. When I was a teenager, my best friend used to make me buy all the same clothes as her, even the same bathing suit! My boyfriend and I had matching jackets too. I swear, it was all peer pressure, I'm so not one of those people, but it was my money that purchased those items (I've been working since age fifteen). Even now when I shop with other women, we don't buy matching outfits, but I feel compelled to spend more than I had originally planned if they decide we are now on a shopping spree. In the spirit of honesty, I'm just as likely to declare a shopping spree whether with a friend or alone. It just feels good to decide not to worry about the fact that you'll have to cut something important from your budget, like entertainment, once you buy three more spring jackets, doesn't it? Except you won't cut anything from your budget later, you'll repress the fact that you spent foolishly and sink slowly further into debt quicksand.

There was a funny quote I read on "You know your a mother when going to the grocery store alone is like going on vacation." And you are probably spending less money. Moms spend up to 150% more at the grocery store when little Timmy and Suzie are tagging along. Take a look at the products in the store that are positioned at 'kid level', it's not by accident.

Compulsive Spending is something women often get accused of. "Just how many shoes do you need?" "Another purse?" "You only have one set of lips, why do you have twenty lipsticks?" for me, it's nail polish, I have buckets full of nail polish, mostly all are the same colour. I don't know what makes me do, but every time I'm at Wal-Mart, I find myself leaving with ten different colours on my fingers and my usual classic cream nail polish in my cart. The difference between an impulse to buy something that you are slightly obsessed with, like shoes, purses, or nail polish, and the irresistible craving-like desire to get in the car and seek out a mall, is that one is just lack of self-control, while the other is an addiction not to be taken lightly. The term shopaholic is used lightly, but if you think about it, compulsive spenders need to shop like an alcoholic needs a drink, or a gambler needs to hit the casino just one last time, and there really isn't anything funny about that. And like a gambling addict, a shopaholic will eventually get themselves into a world of financial trouble. Who do you think would get you sympathy first, the gambler or the compulsive shopper? Compulsive shoppers have a sickness that requires intervention, but because the majority of people in this world spend beyond their means, how do we know when somebody is an actual shopaholic who needs intervention? The triggers for a compulsive spender to shop are similar to a person seeking retail therapy, except it is never enough to satisfy them. Think of a gambler who can't tear themselves away from the casino, puts themselves into debt, and often gambles away any nest egg they may have saved for their family or retirement, because they just can't stop. So how do you know if you or somebody you know may have a real shopping problem? Here are a few indicators:
  • Instead of turning to the gym or a piece of chocolate, stress and anxiety trigger the incontrollable need to get straight to the mall, credit card in hand.
  • Relationships are strained due to a persons overspending, most arguments are spending related.
  • The thought of not being able to shop is depressing.
  • Purchases are becoming more and more elaborate.
  • The only time they feel normal, happy, and right is when they are shopping.
  • You are struggling to hide your debt and shame.
  • You are in excessive debt, and all your purchase have been frivolous.
  • You are facing serious consequences like not being able to pay rent, mortgage, or are being forces to repay enormous amounts of debt.
Shopaholism should not be taken lightly, if you think you have a serious problem, seek counseling and the support of group therapy. If you think you know somebody who has a serious problem, do the hard thing and confront the; you may want to seek professional guidance before approaching them.  Remember that addictions are usually deeply rooted in and caused by psychological pain and anxiety and should be treated  with love and understanding by friends and family and directed to professionals for  the appropriate treatment.

THIS MONTH'S MANTRA: No, we can't just be friends!

RELATIONSHIP ADVICE: Check out these websites
For The Emotional Shopper:
Lady Spends the Blues from Demo Dirt's Website and How to escape a shopping addiction

Answer this question: What are your shopping habits?

How to Change Your Habits:
Here are some recommended books that will make you an expert on habitual behavior - and master of your own habits. 
  • This Year I Will by M.J. Ryan
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  • The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal
THIS MONTH'S CHALLENGE: Change just one habit.
Changing just one habit successfully creates a snowball effect. Your willpower muscle is strengthened and you will continue to challenge yourself to make changes to better yourself.

Check out sites like Pinterest - All the satisfaction of retail therapy without spending a dime

Good Habits App -  Develop skills by doing a little every day. Get into the habit and don't break the chain! This app is based on Jerry Seinfeld's advice and makes it easy to keep track of your daily habits, with reminders so you never forget what you have to do.

It's Not You, It's Me - Chapter 3



Taking Care of Business

"My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income." - Errol Flynn
Credit Cards are great. You think I'm joking, but I'm not. They are great if you treat them with respect, all relationships need that special ingredient after all. Without respect, things get out of control as I know all too well. The thing with owning a credit card is that if it's not being treated fairly, and by it's own terms, there will be hell to pay. The real problem, however, is the user, at some point we just have to admit to ourselves that we are just not the right person to be in that sort of relationship, we can't commit, we don't keep our promises, and we often find ourselves leering at other cards.

We learn from our mistakes. If only that were true. I mean, for the most part it is true, but not when it comes to money. That is why we continue to overspend on credit cards when we know we shouldn't.

Keeping Up With the Joneses
We didn't have a lot growing up with five kids in our family. My father worked in the smelter and my mother was a custodian at my school. Apparently our neighbours coveted anything that we had because they always seemed to have to do us one better. My parents picked up this old used tent trailer one summer and parked it in the backyard for us to use as a clubhouse, it was awesome, and within just a few weeks, there was a big fancy boat parked in the neighbours yard. Same goes for any new (always used) cars my Dad would acquire, before long there was a shiny new vehicle right off the lot gleaming at us from next door. This went on until the day that we noticed the boat, the car, and the massive BBQ were all gone. I overheard my parents saying that the neighbours had to claim bankruptcy. Years later, we did some renovations on our home, I guess that was enough to send them reeling because they moved shortly after to a nicer part of town. My parents still live in that house, still by their means, and they are two of the happiest and most down to earth people I know.

Great Expectations
I have fallen many a times into this mind trap, I spend money before it reaches my bank account. Especially if I know I have some money coming, like say a tax return, or my birthday is coming up and I can always count on the hundo from Mom and Dad in the mail. The problem with this is another psychological conundrum - when spending anticipated money, we tend to spend more than what's actually coming, as though spending the extra is like getting some sort of ethereal discount. For instance, as I said, I know that birthday money is coming, so I go shopping for a new birthday dress. I find one I love that costs $150 and rationalize that really, it's like I'm only paying $50 for it since that other hundred is on it's way. The big red beacon of a problem with this is that I had exactly $0 left in my budget for clothing this month. Doing this throughout the year will throw off your budget and set you back.

We Want Our Kids To Have What We Didn't
I will never forget the day that I realized I was being spoiled by my mother, who could not afford to spoil me. I was around thirteen, I spend most of my weekends roaming around the mall with my friends and dreaming about boys. My mother had a very different upbringing, she was literally raised in the harsh Canadian back woods with five brothers. She went on to have four boys herself and then a girl (me). So I guess she might have been living vicariously through me a little bit because I was feminine and wild, and she grew up under strict parents with no access to make-up, hair products, or malls. She started buying me gold jewelry, necklaces, rings, whatever I wanted when we were out at the mall. We picked up this awesome suede tasseled jacket with a cinched waste on one visit into town and I felt like a movie star in that thing. She gave me a glorious gold watch (that I still have) for Christmas that year, I remember feeling very important wearing it and not understanding why she would give me such a lavish gift. I knew fully well that we were on the bottom rung socio-economically in our little town, it didn't bother any of us kids, we were taught from a young age not to take stock in what others think, we were happy with what we had. One day we were out at the mall and came across these cowboy boots that made my heart stop, I was in love. They would go perfectly with my suede tasseled jacket, they were also a hundred dollars. This was the first time my mother said no when I asked her to buy them for me. The younger me, would have accepted the no and moved on, but the recently spoiled me challenged the no. To be honest, I had a hissy-fit right there in the store. I would not let up. I remember her saying that she just couldn't afford them. But I had to have them, and eventually she relented and bought the damn boots. That night I was racked with guilt, her words 'we can't afford them' playing over and over in my mind. I realized that we couldn't afford any of it - the boots, the jacket, the rings. I felt terrible. I didn't know back then that you could return items to a store, maybe I would have suggested returning the boots, I don't know, but what I did know was that I would wear them everyday forever so that the money didn't go to waste, and I never asked my mother to buy me anything again. I got my first job about a year later and bought whatever I wanted with my own money. Lesson learned right? Then why am I writing this book? Because, I guess I forgot that lesson until now.

Now that we've taken stock of our lives and know which direction we would like to see ourselves take, we need a plan. We need a budget to get ourselves on the right track and paying off our debt. Taking control of our finances will be tough, but rewarding in more ways than what are obvious. We are rebuilding ourselves with every month that goes by into a stronger, healthier, and happier person. We will have confidence in spades once we see that this mission is achievable and that we can do it. I know it sounds a little corny, but you'll see. Once you take control of one aspect of your life, change your habits, and start seeing results, every other obstacle in your life will shrink and fade away. Like keeping a food journal when dieting (which Dr. Oz agrees is essential), creating and keeping track of your budget daily is the financial equivalent if you want to succeed at your goal. It's not easy, it takes commitment and consistency to manage and stick to a budget. It's not something that you put together and then forget about, it's constantly changing, just like you, and needs adjusting to make sure you stick to your debt repayment budget which includes your debt repayment plan.
I can't imagine my life without my budget spreadsheet. I would never get my bills paid on time, and I would definitely never get my debt paid down. Checking my budget spreadsheet has become an obsession, I will update it every morning after reviewing my bank account, to make sure my bills are covered and to play around with my debt repayment options, dreaming about the day that my salary will actually belong to me again and not the Crappy Credit Card company. I can see why people might avoid using budgets, maybe they don't like spreadsheets or computers for that matter. Maybe they simply don't want to face the truth, or maybe they are so rich that they have their accountant worry about the silly little details while they are busy relaxing at the spa, which they have in their home, next to their movie theatre and indoor driving range.
Laziness, Denial, Pride, are some other reasons people might avoid using a budget. Ignorance is bliss, I've always loved this concept because it is true, until reality sneaks up and bites you in the ass. These people think that if you can't see it, it won't hurt you. Guess what, you can't see the poisonous gasses that could be emitted from your furnace, and that's exactly why we buy those detectors, to warn us if we're in danger.
They Are Hippies. I hate being told what to do. I'm a free spirit and restricting myself to a budget really impedes on my self expression. However, so does bankruptcy.
There is more than one way to create a budget. They can range from high level budgeting to tracking every dollar you spend. My budget is somewhere in between, but I will offer you up a few different types of budgeting ideas and you can choose whichever best suits your personality. For me, keeping a Corporal type eye on my spending, saving, and debt repayment is necessary to keep my financial goals top of mind, like the dieting journal I mentioned before.
If I haven't already convinced you to start a budget, take these things into consideration:
It builds character.
Your life will stop spiraling out of control because you will want to organize all aspects of your life as a result of creating a budget.
You will stop spending money like an out of control child.
You will actually be prepared for an emergency.
Others will envy your self-control.
You can watch your debt shrink and your savings grow.
Power is power - you will no longer be stressed over bill payments.
You will have a better quality of life, buy better quality items and pay for them in cash.
Here are a few high level budget approaches that do not require the use of a spreadsheet. I call these, the loosey-goosey budget planners.

The Government of Canada has an easy to follow guide on how to make a budget and stick with it. Here are a few other budget styles that I've researched, I've also included my own budget style. Use whichever one works best for you - and stick with it! You'll be back in the black before you know it.

The Bucket Budget
How it works:
You will have three bank accounts, two checking and one for savings. Your paycheck will go into the first checking account.
Speak to your bank about the best savings account for you, then setup an automatic transfer to this account of an amount that you can afford to put away.
Whatever is left over from your pay will go into the second checking account from where you will pay all your regularly monthly bills.
Calculate how much money you will have leftover after your bills are paid and transfer one quarter of that amount back into checking account number one for 'other' expenses like food and clothes etc.
The trick is that the weekly amount that you allow yourself is all that you can spend. You are forbidden to transfer more money into that account until the following week, and you can't use any credit cards either, so don't even think about it.
This budget seems reasonable, yet a little annoying with the three accounts. But hey, if it works for you, that's fantastic, don't forget to calculate your debt repayments, as outlined in the previous chapter, and include them in with your monthly bills.

The No-Budget Budget
Pay your bills as often as you get paid - weekly or bi-weekly for instance.
If you get paid bi-weekly, split your bills in two and arrange automatic transfers from your account on pay day for half of each of your monthly bills - actually pay half of each of your bills with every paycheck. The trick is to setup these automatic transfers for the next six months. Whatever money is left in your account the day after payday, is what you have to live on for the next two weeks. Again, don't forget to include debt repayment and savings in those bi-weekly transfers.

This budget plan also suggests that you setup a secondary account where things like, rent, car insurance and savings for Christmas presents will go. The idea is to make your budget at the beginning of the year and stick with it. Personally, I don't see how anybody can do this without a spreadsheet, maybe they just write it all down on paper, but you definitely have to keep track of what's going where and why, in my opinion. This approach can take off the stress of getting your bills paid on time, I'll admit, but I don't know about you, my bills fluctuate. This may have it's benefits though, in that after six months you will have a bonus month with lower balances on the bills you've been paying off religiously. Or not, you may end up owing more depending on your usage for say Internet or your cell phone. I don't know because I haven't tried this approach to budgeting, but it seems to be for old people with simple lifestyles. Again, just my opinion. If it's a jump-off point to get you budgeting - all the power to you and you have my full support. If you want to hear more about it, go to YouTube and search up The Secret to Budgeting - Part 2.

Gale's Way
My way, below, is my adaptation of Gale's way. Go to her website and use her budget worksheet to get started.

My Way
You don't have to have a fancy printout or even a template, just a blank spreadsheet to fill in. I colour code mine into the following categories, just to make it look pretty:

BLUE - Family
I use this category for the things your entire family uses or 'needs' such as Groceries, Clothes, Cable, Day Care, Cell Phones, and Entertainment including eating out, and Gifts. Why don't I have cable and cell phones under utilities? Because they aren't necessary to keep you alive, that's why, and these are the type of items which you could take a second look at if you need to save a few dollars by cutting back. Gifts is a savings marker for birthdays and holidays, start small and add a little more each month so that you aren't scrounging when little Timmy's birthday rolls around. Make sense? Great, let's move on.

GREEN - Transportation
Simply to budget for car insurance, gas, car loan payments, repairs, etc. For things like repairs, it's a good idea to start small and add a little each month, it's a way of saving for an emergency. Nothing is worse that the feeling when your car starts making strange noises and little cash symbols and question marks start floating around in your head. Be prepared.
PINK - Loan Repayments
Use your calculations from chapter two to fill in this section and create automatic monthly payments online so you have no excuses.

PURPLE - Survival
Here is where I keep track of my Mortgage Payments, Property Taxes, Hydro, Gas, the basic essentials for making it through the winter.
Now that we have our expenses listed in pretty colours use the following headings to further organize them: Due Date/Expense/Monthly Amount/Notes. Finally, use the sum function to calculate the total amount of your monthly expenses, your "Outgoing".

For expenses that are billed bi-monthly, quarterly, or yearly, just take the total average amount and divide by the appropriate number of months to know how much you should be putting aside to pay for the expense each month. For instance, my Property Taxes come out quarterly so I divide what the payment will be by four. Let's say that amount will be $400, to make this easy, meaning I will put aside $100 in month one that will not be spent, then $200 in month two, and so on until I've save up the $400 in time for the payment to be due.

You can revamp your spreadsheet each month or use the tabs to create monthly tabs, whatever you are comfortable with.

Great, so we have our expenses all sorted out, now what? Now we complete our budget by adding a tracker to the spreadsheet. In a free column, in another colour, if you like, insert your pay dates, net payment amounts (after taxes and any other deductions), any other income you may receive, and a line for your current bank balance. Insert the numbers and use the sum function to add them all up. This is what you have to work with for the month, your "Incoming". Now, go down a row and enter the word "Overall" in one column and beside it use excel to calculate the difference between your monthly Incoming and your monthly Outgoing. If this number is a negative, you will have to review your expenses, see where you can make sacrifices (without touching your loan repayments), and keep working at it until you are back in the positive Overall.
The key with keeping a budget is updating it, once you've paid a bill, remove it from your expense column. If you go out to the movies, take the amount spend off of what you have budgeted under Entertainment because that money has now been spent. Update your Account amount daily by reviewing your bank account online every day. If you do all these things, your budget will always be up to date, you'll always know if you have enough money to pay your bills and you'll keep closer track of your spending.

Your tracker should look like this:

Jan 1st       $1500
Jan 15th     $1500
Account     $  500
Incoming   $3500

Outgoing $3000

Overall    $500  

Now, stick to it. Watch your savings grow and your debt shrink. Right now is a great time, since you are looking at your finances, to take a look some other important and grown up things such as Life Insurance and Retirement Savings, these two items should not only be part of what makes up your budged, but they should be coming right off your paycheck as a number one priority.

So How Much Should We Be Saving?
According to Gale, we should be saving 5% of our monthly income. This is an absolute must and your other expenses should work around it. In other words, cut back on non-essential expenses to accommodate for your savings.

What Should our Expenses Look Like?
It's a good idea to compare these percentages to your currently budgeted expenses and make any necessary adjustments. This is another eye opening exercise to see how you've been living up until now. Here are the general recommendations for how much we should be spending on average per month.
Housing: 35% of Income (rent, mortgage, land tax, home insurance)
Food 15% of Income (groceries and dining out)
Utilities 10% of Income (electricity, water, gas, phones, cable - keep in mind phones and cable are not life sustaining utilities)
Transportation 15% of Income (car payments, gas, insurance, maintenance, bus passes)
Other Expenses 25% of Income (debt repayment, clothing, entertainment, savings)

I'm sure I've already mentioned this, but getting involved with the wrong kind of credit card will leave you broken hearted and in serious debt. Ever hear that you are who you go out with? Poor credit scores and minimum payments woes will have you reaching for the ice cream to drown your sorrows. And what's worse? If you spend too long making only minimum payments, your past can come back to haunt you, in other words, the bank will start forcing you to make monthly payments that you may not be ready to make because you haven't been budgeting for your debt repayment. That ends now. The days of ignorant bliss are behind us and we go forward with eyes wide open, fully aware of our interest rates, our debt repayment plan and knowing that we are finally looking after our own best interest, pun intended.

THIS MONTH'S MANTRA: You deserve better!

RELATIONSHIP ADVICE: Don't stress the big stuff - deal with it instead.
Do you want it or need it? The heart wants what the heart wants, right? That's all fine and good, but it doesn't mean that you need it, or even deserve it, until you've saved up your money for it, right? Right.  Walking away from something you love isn't easy, but if you don't have the money for it, then maybe it was never meant to be.
Now that you're free, make sure you know where you stand by checking your score and closing any old cards that have no balance. Just because they aren't being used doesn't mean that they aren't showing up on your credit score as money that you could potentially owe. As I mentioned before, you can get a free credit score through Equifax or Credit Union by going on-line or giving them a call. We are entitled to know what our credit score is.

Call up a Credit Counseling Agency and see what they have to say about your situation. They are there to help and will offer you guidance on which direction to take if your debt cannot be simply managed through aggressively tackling it with a budget plan. There are many trustworthy Agencies around, but do your homework and choose wisely, because there are imposters out there who like to take advantage of people when they are down.

When paying off your credit card debt, try to pay off the cards with the highest interest rate first to free up the money being wasted on interest every month.

Money Lover - Expense Manager
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Get a Grip - Chapter 2


Get a Grip


"Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are." - James W. Frick

So you've found yourself in a bit of a pickle have you? Don't feel bad, I know the feeling well myself. You're stuck in a relationship that just isn't right for you, and you feel trapped under a mountain of debt. There comes a point in all our lives when we feel we need to take stock, sit down and take a good hard look at what we've been doing and decide on a new path. This phenomenon usually occurs when we are at a low point, unhappy, depressed, or stressed and stretched to our limits emotionally and physically. Personally, I find that I have to take stock of my life every few years, and readjust my course before I carry on. It's not easy admitting where we have faltered or floundered, especially with our careers and important things that could effect our future happiness, relationships, and goals. Taking stock every few years, could save us from these pitfalls. If you feel like you're going in the wrong direction, stop, and turn your feet in the right direction. It might take you a while to get where you want to go, but if you are heading in the right direction, you'll get there eventually.

In order to figure out where I'm going I had to figure out where I am, what my monthly expenses are, and how much I can put onto my debt to pay it off in the next three years. To really understand your spending, download a couple months of transactions in your banking account and on your credit cards into a spreadsheet. Sort by description and start adding. The first time I did this exercise, a few years ago, I realized that I was spending hundreds on fast food - hundreds!! So I made some changes, got over my fear of the grocery store and that big white cube-shaped thing in my kitchen, and started cooking at home. I saved money and lost weight - BONUS! There are so many other things that we spend too much on, you'll see a pattern if you do this exercise, trust me. I'm about to do this exercise again, I'm afraid of what I'll find, but I know it will help me get a grip again on my spending. Ironically, I think I've been overspending on groceries now. I'm not very organized with my shopping, and I always end up having to make mid-week runs to the grocery store.

Another great way of tracking your spending is to hold onto your receipts. Sometimes a purchase at Wal-Mart, for instance, can be broken into different categories such as food, entertainment, and décor. Spend a little time at the end of each month adding things up into categories to see where you may be going overboard.

I try to stay away from stores like Wal-Mart  and Target because I usually walk in with the frugal intention of buying a razor at a "rolled back" price, and walk out with a cart full of stuff I didn't really need. It's like entering into an enchanted forest, you loose your senses and have encounters with floating happy faces who encourage you to buy six movies from the 1980s that you've already seen just because they are $5.00 each, and more throw cushions because they are just so pretty and reasonably priced, even though they will leave you with no more room left to sit on your couch. All these little things add up fast and you're left with your head spinning as you come down from your retail high at the cash register.

Take an inventory of your spending this month, where does your money go each month and what are your impulse purchases costing you?

There's another problem that we department store floozies create for ourselves, it's called deficit spending. When we go to the store with the intention of spending a certain amount of money but end up with a whole lot more at the cash, what do we do? We rationalize that this purchase can no longer come out of our grocery or entertainment budget because it is just too varied, so we put it on our credit card and into a category called 'let's pretend that didn't happen'. The problem is that, because of our guilt and shame over the silly purchase, we literally forget that it happened and do not make the note to put that money back onto the card within a month. Then what happens? Those fluffy and inexpensive throw pillows that are taking up all the real estate on your couch start costing you more and more money every month while you live in denial of the not so soft facts about your purchases.

Facts and Stats
What is your debt really costing you? Let's turn to one of my personal heroes, Gale Vas-Oxlade, to teach us a thing or two about what our debt is really costing us. I am such a fan of her no-nonsense approach to personal debt. On her TV show, Till Debt Do Us Part, Gale sugar coats nothing and tells couples the cold hard truth about where their debt will leave them in five, ten, and twenty years time if they don't start paying it off now. Most people think that using a credit card and paying the minimum balance is like renting to own. What we fail to realize is that only a small portion of that minimum payment is going toward the actual purchase. Since we are committing to break up with Johnny Debt, we won't be using our credit cards to make these sort of silly purchases going forward, so let's focus on how to get rid of the dead weight. Paying off debt in three years is a good time frame because it should be manageable, and any longer will cause what Gail refers to as Debt Fatigue and, me thinks, depression, which we all know just leads to more shopping!

Here is a way to calculate how you will pay off your debt in three years and also see what your debt is costing you monthly.

Let's start with the first card - and I know you have more than one - let's call it the Crappy Card. Your Crappy Card currently has a balance of $5,000 (I'm not judging you). Lookup the interest rate on the Crappy Card, I'll wait while you dig up your last bill that 'fell' behind the fridge. Now, let's say that the interest rate is a 18%, perform the following calculation: Balance times Rate divided by 100 and then divided 12. This will give you the amount that your debt is costing you each month (if you make no further purchases of course). In our scenario that number would be $75.00. Seventy-five dollars is being added to your balance every bloody month!! Ouch - I bet your minimum payment isn't even covering that seventy-five dollars, so how could we possibly think we are ever going to reduce our balance if we go on this way? To pay the interest and start bringing down our balance, we have to suck it up and pay more, it's that simple.

So now that we know what our debt is costing us, let's figure out how to calculate what our payment will need to be to get us all paid up in three years. Ready? Here we go. Take Your balance and divide it by his 36 (36 months in 3 years), now add your monthly interest to that and voila, your new monthly payment. Again, our scenario should yield a monthly payment of $213.89. This is a simple way to calculate your payments but it does not take into account the fact that your interest amount will gradually become lower. It will, however, act as a good guideline to getting you where you need to be and even a little faster as a bonus.

Below is a table based on our Crappy Card scenario that will give you the actual amortized amounts for getting us paid out in exactly three years which, as I said is slightly lower, and maybe a little easier to swallow. You can find a plethora of debt calculators online, this one is from The total amount of interest paid would be $1507.45. The total amount of payments paid would be $6507.36. That's $1,507.36 more than what we currently owe, and that is why interest is evil.

$5000.00 at 0.18 over 3 years.
Monthly payment= $180.76

So what if we just keep making our minimum payments? Let's take a look at how that will look. As an example, the bare minimum payment would be 2% of the total owing - in our case $100 for our $5000 balance on the Crappy Card. According to the Government of Canada's Credit Card Payment Calculator Tool, that would take us 7 years and a 10 months to pay off, cost us $4,311.18 in interest, and we would end up paying $9,311.18 for our $5000 debt. Not to mention the fact that we would just give up at some point and start piling it on again.


Credit cards are for borrowing, not for spending. Why didn't anybody tell me this sooner?
At, I learned about a little something (depressing) called Opportunity Costs - basically, it's the money that you went and purchased on a credit card and are now paying interest on when you could have foregone that silly purchase and put your money into something that appreciates, as in will gain money, like an investment portfolio plan or a home etc. They also point out the fact, on this website, that credit cards make us dumb (I'm paraphrasing). Having access to credit cards, as I've said time and again, gives us a false sense of security. We go buying things willy-nilly without thinking about the actual cost, if we were paying in cash, we wouldn't buy a quarter of the crap that we do. Think about your last ten purchases on credit. Seriously, go look them up - would you have paid cash that you will no longer have available to you in your account for even five of those items? The truth hurts sometimes, we're emotional spenders, you and I. We love our money and hate to part with it, but for some strange reason, we feel OK putting things on credit cards that will eventually end up costing us more. It's not just a local or national phenomenon either - look at Greece. They wanted to provide services to their people, and they did, but forgot the tiny detail of actually paying for those services. Interest added up and now all hell has broken loose over there causing ripple effects across the globe. Way to go Greece, way to go. They'll come back eventually though, hopefully better than before with lessons learned, just like you and I will too.

Here is a list of issues that getting into a relationship with a bad boy (credit cards) can cause:

Sucky Credit Score
Big Brother is watching and reporting you to the Credit Bureau. The more debt you have without increasing your salary the lower your credit score drops. Get in touch with Equifax or TransUnion to get your free credit score information. Free is going to be your new favourite word, I want you salivating like Pavlov's Dog every time you hear the word free, but more of that to come later in the book.

Getting Cut-Off
Similar to getting cut-off for drinking more than you can handle and making a complete ass out of yourself while drunk-texting your ex at the bar, the bank can cut you off too if your Credit Score drops. They can even force you to start paying them back by automatically withdrawing a preset dollar amount from your bank account monthly, similar to sticking their finger down your throat to get the booze back, catch my drift? Not fun.

High Interest Payments
The more you owe, the more interste you'll have to pay. Also, if you try to get a new card to play a little switch and bait with your debt, the new cards will come at a higher interest rate because the banks know you can't be trusted. But, they do trust you not to pay off your debt and to keep them in the business of screwing you out of your money.

Nobody Will Hire You
Going back to that old Credit Score one more time, be careful when looking for new employment with a higher salary to pay for your indiscretions, you might not get hired if they check your credit score. If your Credit Score sucks, they might come to the conclusion that you aren't as reliable as your resume says, and maybe aren't the type of person they are looking for after all.

THIS MONTH'S MANTRA: Drop it like its hot!

Get out while you still can! The time is now. I'm sure you've gone through trials in your lifetime, we all have, and therefore we know we are capable of enduring. We can do this and we can make it fun, I know you don't believe me right now, but you'll see. Once we do the hard work of scrutinizing our spending and calculating our debt repayments, and creating a budget, we can get to the fun stuff. But for now, roll up those sleeves and get ready to kick your credit cards and your debt to the curb.

Well, I did it. It was painful and humbling to see the way that I've been spending my money. I used four months' worth of data  (as described above) to discover were I've been blowing my budget. Here are my results:
  • Apparently I love to hate to love Wal-Mart, I've spent $1,711.55 at Wal-Mart over the last four months! That's about $425 per month. Ever since they added a grocery section, I stopped going to the grocery store regularly with my fiancé like we used to, it has thrown my shopping right off track. We talked and agreed to do our groceries at least every second weekend together at the grocery store like proper adults.
  • I spend an additional $175 in groceries per month at the actual grocery store monthly (for a total of $600 in groceries monthly - does that seem excessive to you?)
  • Coffee and Donuts - I spend on average $10 per months, not too shabby thanks to my drink coffee at work trick.
  • Dining Out in Left Field - I spend an average of $150 per month on eating out for lunch, with friends, or when I don't feel like cooking.
  • I also love going to the movies, I've spent $186.65 at the movies over the last four months (about $50 a month). I will go to the movies with anyone that asks, I love the movies, I really do!
  • Dress to Impress - I spend an average of $125 on clothes per month - in my defense, I needed a new bathing suit for our trip back in May and a great dress for an event coming up this month.
So what does it all mean? Now I have to compare my finding to the budget I setup for myself last year. I think I should have a drink first before I get started.

Conclusion: Because I budgeted $500 per month for groceries and food including restaurants, and another $100 for what I call my Sanity Fund for movies and clothing and hair, I've been spending on average $330 per month over my budget. That would explain why I have not been making a dent in my credit cards this year. Yes, I'm ashamed, but I'll get over it.

From my initial Get a Grip a while back, I started to suspect that Tim Horton's was putting crack in their steeped tea, so I quit cold turkey. Two positive things came from this: I stopped hemorrhaging caffeine money and also stopped eating donuts their massively addictive Timbits. I even wrote a break up letter to Tim Hortons on my blog. Instead I started buying Hazelnut flavoured instant coffee for work which satisfied my need for speed and my sweet tooth, and saved me about at least $40.00 per month!

There are a slew of apps out there that can be used to calculate debt repayments, just be weary of entering personal information, you are, essentially, putting that information onto the internet.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Time To Break It Off - Chapter 1




 Dear Baby, Welcome to Dumpsville. Population: YOU! -Homer Simpson

I've lived paycheck to paycheck since I started earning a paycheck, and I know I'm not alone. There are two types of women in my situation, those who have no extra money but spend like they are making six figures, and those who have no extra money and try really hard not to spend more than they have. Who do you think has more fun? Here's a clue, my shoes do not have red soles and I'm not on a first name basis with the cute bartender at the local nightclub. What I do have is a very embarrassing amount of credit card debt that I told myself was accumulated by making emergency purchases. It turns out, after taking a closer look at my statements, that I may have been stretching the definition of the word emergency all these years, and it's time to stop lying to myself.

There are two paths a woman can take when faced with the consequences of her spending habits, suppress the embarrassment and guilt and blindly shop herself into a retail coma, or make some serious lifestyle changes as I'm about to do. I think that I can empower myself to have more fun, get in better shape, decorate my house, save for retirement, climb out of debt, and stay within a modest budget, if I just cut the cord on my cards.
I've decided to spend the next year sans credit cards, saving for the things I want to buy while living large on a budget. I'm going to put a plan in place to pay off my debt, but will I have the patience to wait until I save up the money to buy that new couch, get that long overdue haircut, take that trip, or buy that dress? There's only one way to find out, I will create a budget, track my spending and my savings, and look for new, creative, and frugal ways to have fun, live better, and pamper myself. It's going to be great! I hope.

In order to bid my credit cards farewell, I will have to put them into a category called Debt and leave them there. I must convince myself that any money I put on my credit cards is not money that is magically now available on my credit card to be spent, which has been my fatal mistake all along. Like breaking up with a boyfriend, I have to remind myself how bad the relationship has been for me. Credit Cards have given me a false sense of security, manipulated my weaknesses, charged me interest on my love, and made me look bad in front of my friends when they get cut off at the bar. There are serious trust issues too, as I lay awake at night tormented, thinking of what they are doing with my credit score. No matter how many times I push them away, they always come crawling back asking for limit increases and tempting me with time sensitive offers. Sure I get some nice things once in a while out of the relationship, but I'm left mostly with bad memories of 50% off sales gone terribly wrong and Friday afternoon lunches leaving a bad taste in my mouth. It's time to put all my credit cards in the debt category and remove their number from my little black book. I have to break up with Johnny Debt.

It is said that knowledge is power, but according to Raj K. Chawla and Sharanjit Uppal's article on Household Debt in Canada, the majority of households with the largest amount of debt also claim to be the most financially literate. On one hand, that makes me feel better about my situation since, not only am I not alone, but I'm among the elite. On the other hand, that information is kind of depressing given that even the self-proclaimed financially savvy are not safe from the false sense of security that bank loans and credit cards seem to conjure up for us. Based on a consumer study, the debt to income ratio has increased from 66% in 1980 to 150% in 2011 and the aggregated household in Canada owes $1.50 for every one dollar that they earn. In layman's terms, we're screwed.  However, there is another way to look at it, by breaking down the debt into categories. According to, 67% of consumer debt is from loans, and 33% of consumer debt is from credit cards, and to break it down further, we know that loans are typically secured and credit cards are not. This is where financial literacy comes into play, almost all loans are entered into by an individual who is making informed decisions, weighing their options, and signing contracts locking them into payment terms and amortisation periods. Also, the bank has the right to refuse those loans if they believe the individual does not have the means to pay it back under the terms of the contract. Unfortunately, credit cards are so much easier to get our hands on, and as a very bleak result, many people who end up having to file bankruptcy usually have anywhere from 8 to 12 credit cards and thousands of dollars in debt.

The point I'm trying to make is that loans are fairly cut and dry, they are typically a set amount and we take full responsibility for their repayment, whether the initial loan was a good idea or not to begin with. Credit Cards take on a very different psychological meaning to most consumers. The truth is that most people subconsciously think of credit cards as free money, since we can spend big and pay back small at our own free will, while choosing to ignore the accumulating interest. In essence, we are Mormons when we take out loans and free wheeling rock stars when we use our credit cards. And what happens to hotel crashing, drug abusing rock stars? Eventually they end up either arrested, dead, or sad and alone and completely broke.

Being a credit card holder is like being accepted into a socialite club. When you pull out that card to pay for not only your meal, but, your friends meal too, you give the air of being of a slightly higher class of individual whom banks concur is a solid outstanding citizen with strong morals and unlimited worth and means. Why else would you have a credit card if you weren't amply able to pay it back every month while using it as a very convenient form of payment all over town? The truth is that almost any idiot can be a part of that club and as soon as you pull out that card you are subjecting yourself to a sociopsychological and emotional game that will not end until you gain control of your ego, stop spending recklessly, pay off those cards and start living within your means. Come to terms with the fact that you are a pauper, not a princess. Unless your name is Kim Kardashian, you should not be buying lunches for your buddies to give them the impression that you are doing well financially. If they are truly your friends, they will be happy to pay for their own meal, or just meet for coffee instead.

In Tom McFeat's Personal Finance article on CBC News Online, he points out that Canadians have 50 million Visa and Master Cards with interest rates as high as 20%, and 24 million more retail cards with retailers charging up to 30% interest on unpaid balances. More and more retailers are joining the game every year, offering points and incentives. Banks play the game as well offering six months of no interest to get you to use their product and get you hooked. You know what they say about drug dealers, the first one is always free, that's how they get you addicted and coming back for more. It should be illegal the way individuals are being manipulated into spending money they do not have.

You don’t have to hit rock bottom to change the path you are on, you just have to make the decision to regain control of your life and your finances. Making the decision is the easy part, it’s setting the goals, timelines, the steps to take, and actually doing the work, that is the hard part. The good news is that when you change your perception on how you view your credit cards and start creating new habits, there will inevitably be a ripple effect into all areas of your life. When you reprogram your habits and develop new automatic behaviours you are strengthening your willpower. So balancing your books will lead to weight loss, becoming more organized, and an overall increase in your fabulousness, You'll see!

Credit Cards are so sexy when you're getting to know each other, acting all supportive of your dreams and desires, inflating your ego, buying you new clothes and cocktails, but what you don't realize right away is that there are strings attached in the relationship. That dress that you paid $100 for will cost you a lot more in additional interest if you don't pay Mr. Credit Card back for them within thirty days. But he doesn't mind in the least if you don't pay him back right away, that way he's got a firm grasp on you and he knows that you aren't going anywhere, except back to the mall.

Why do most of us neglect to pay back our purchases in full every month? Because we are spending above our means and can't afford to pay back our purchases, it's that simple. When I look at how I've accumulated so much debt, I don't remember where it all began and how it got so out of control. Vague images of limit increases, treating myself to dinner out when I didn't feel like cooking, and that retail store that always has the best deals, flash before my eyes. How did it add up so quickly and why wasn't I paying the money back? The answer, I guess I thought I was paying it back with monthly payments of whatever I could afford or bare to part with from my paycheck. If I was a little wiser, I would have realized that I was spending so much more than I was paying back each month. I was clearly in some sort of drugged state for many years where I thought that little fairies were coming in the night to pay for all the extra crap I bought on a whim, without a second thought and almost without noticing I was doing i

I have a friend who will not make any purchases on credit. She told me this years ago and I marvelled at the idea, how is that even possible? The last time I saw her, she told me that her new thing is to attend estate auctions with her parents and she thinks she's becoming addicted to it. I remembered what she told me about never buying on credit and I asked her if that was still true. She told me that yes, it was still true, but she used her card here and there for small purchases. She told me that her current credit card balance was (I'm still in shock) a couple hundred dollars and that she would pay it off before the end of the month. She's my hero. I don't know anybody with a balance under a thousand dollars and who is willing to pay it anytime in the near future. I have another close friend who is so far in debt that she had to move back in with her mother! And then there's me - I've been slowly paying down my debt, moving money around, getting creative, but I'm still in it up to my ears because, like I said, I have the bad habit of spending on my cards after making payments to them. So just like a smoker, drug addict, or alcoholic, I have to cut myself off and go cold turkey. I'm scared. Seriously! But maybe since I'll be keeping a diary (this book) of my successes and failures, I might just be able to do it.

So what finally motivated me after all these years to make such a drastic change, you ask? It was a combination of things that I think most people in my situation can relate to:

  • I've reached a certain age where I should be stable in all areas of my life, and my balance wheel is seriously deflated in the monetary category.
  • I'm tired of all my money being 'spent' before I even get a paycheck.
  • I have no cushion if I lose my job tomorrow and is down right scary (and likely since I spend most of my time writing/blogging/or on pinterest)
  • I'm tired of having a complete meltdown once a year over my financial situation.
  • I have next to nothing saved for retirement, and I really want to see the world someday (she said with a childlike twinkle in her eye).
  • I recently got engaged and realized that I can't afford to have a wedding, even a modest one, without going further into debt.
  • Having no control over my money makes me feel weak and that's just not acceptable any longer.
  • I want to buy my grandchildren stuff someday and go on vacation with them.
  • I don't want to leave a bunch of debt behind for my family when I die, you know, eventually.
  • I want to give to charity but I feel like I can't afford to.
  • I'm pretty sure this is effecting my blood pressure.
  • I'm afraid to check my credit score.
  • I would be more motivated at work if I actually got to see the money I make.

    None of these feelings are brand new to me, I've had them since I left college. So why haven't I done anything about it until now? Because it requires willpower, determination, maturity, and a complete lifestyle change. When I was in my early twenties, I wasn't about to let a little bit of debt get in the way of my smoking, drinking, and highlighted hair. In my thirties, I had long quit smoking (a sure sign of maturity) and I stopped going to the bars many years before, so why was I still hemorrhaging money? Because, although my habits changed, they did not necessarily improve. I found ways to access more credit and then I used it to buy clothes for work, colleague lunches, dinners out, and I discovered manicures and pedicures - in other words: Spa Days! I would go for what felt like long periods of time without treating myself to new clothes and then I would go on a shopping spree as a reward for my efforts. Silly girl!

    Putting yourself on a budget is like going on a breakup revenge diet except your bank account gets fat, and you can finally fit into that knock em' dead red dress. It's a win-win, no-brainer, let's do this situation! Where do we start? We have to start at the end - the goal. The goal is to get out of debt in three years, or 36 months. In other words, take all your debt and divide it by 36, that will give you your monthly payments and determine your course of action. More on this in the coming chapters. Right now we are at the starting line, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, let's have a bit of fun while finding out what our real goals are. If you like spreadsheets, great! Fire one up. Make a column for each month of the year starting with the month you are in. Use this book to fill in your goals as we go through each chapter. Every chapter will have a "This Month's Goal" section that you can use to fill in your Goal Chart each month. You can add pictures, little green dollar signs, and check marks to make it a little more fun, like a vision board.  The only thing scarier than making changes it regretting not making those changes right now. Are you ready to do this?

    THIS MONTH'S GOAL - Just Walk Away
    Goals can only begin once we decide that we want to make a change. Mentally prepare yourself for all the challenge, and it will be a challenge. Ask yourself what you want from this experiment. Make a vision board or put some pictures around your house, car, work, and in your wallet of an old woman on a yacht or sipping margaritas by the ocean, whatever will motivate you and get you into the mood to get your ass out debt and into a better situation. Maybe keeping pictures of elderly women living in cardboard boxes would be a better inspiration to get out of debt, but it would mean a lot more explaining and, well, it's just not pretty to look at. That's called negative motivation and I'm all about the positive, but it's up to you.

    What’s your story anyway? Spend some time thinking about how you got into this mess in the first place, I mean really think about it. Did you spend blindly and tell yourself lies like I did, or did you just say screw it and spend, spend, spend? Reflect, forgive yourself, and commit to moving forward. This year is going to be all about you. You're going to treat yourself better than ever before without spending money you don't have. You're going to get health and happy and creative. You're going to get yourself into a better situation and forget all about the bad feelings and embarrassment that come with drowning in self-inflicted debt.

    HERE IS THIS MONTH'S MANTRA: Dump that loser!
    Psyche yourself up to break it off with your credit cards, we'll do it together, like breaking up with our boyfriends before going off to college, it's going to be a trip! A little willpower and a lot of humour will get us through this next year.

    Don't put it on your card unless you've got it in your bank. Do yourself another favour while you're at it and remove all the shopping websites you have saved under your favourites online. Just get rid of them. Just by making it a little bit harder to access, you're removing some of the temptation to shop online with your credit card.

    Top 100 Break up Songs for Android application has long been the perfect prescription for a break-up. This application plays the full tracks of 100 songs all about breaking up.