Attention Shoppers: Let’s Not Blame the Consumers for the Death of Shopping Malls

This morning, CTV published an article titled, “Attention shoppers: Your online shopping habits are killing the neighbourhood mall”. And boy, do I have a lot of things to say about this finger pointing.

First, let’s beat the dead horse. Wages are stagnant and living expenses are going up. Here’s some statistics surrounding cost of living in Canada, in case you’re interested. But unfortunately, that isn’t enough because our finance minister, Bill Morneau, is also saying that Canadians should get used to short term employment… So why the hell would I waste any of my time at a shopping mall when I could be saving for an uncertain future? Shopping malls are literally designed to make you impulse purchase!

Second, of course people are going to buy goods online. It’s incredibly convenient! However, instead of condemning people who choose to shop from the convenience of their own home, we should also be asking, “what has contributed to this paradigm shift?”

One great example is, when I first moved to Alberta, I briefly worked at a lingerie store. You wouldn’t know it looking in, but the sales associates were put under a tremendous amount of pressure because employees weren’t just placed under sales targets represented in dollar figures, but also a certain percentage of customers who entered the store had to make purchases.

Why on my spare time, would I choose to go into a building where store after store, they’re going to use high pressure sales tactics on me? That’s not my idea of a fun Saturday afternoon.

I am not saying that we should just let malls die but instead of complaining about poor sales and the explosion of e-commerce, shopping malls should be embracing what makes them sets them apart: the human element. Neighbourhood malls need to try more things to bring consumers into the building in the first place. Why don’t malls host events like fitness classes, kids activities, DIY classes, or public speakers? Why are there always dirty marketing tricks with high pressure sales tactics? Or just disingenuous staff members?

Obviously this is a loaded topic, and I could go on for hours, but if Canadian malls want to stand a chance in 2017, they need to bring back a strong sense of community. If they keep going with business as usual, it’s going to be a very slow death to many, many jobs with management throwing their hands up saying, “I just don’t know what happened”.

niagara square

10 Steps I Am Taking to Control My Finances

I haven’t posted in a while because I have busy with studying for my first exam through online university and writing exams. I am finally done! And I highly recommend Athabasca U to anyone who is considering pursuing a higher education but just can’t commit to a tradition 4 year program.

Anyways! I have been thinking a lot about my determination to get out of consumer/student debt and I have compiled a list of the 10 steps I am personally taking in order to get out of consumer debt.

Step 1: Writing down all of my debts, the amount they carry and interest rates.

Step 2: Tracking all my monthly expenses for an entire month and onwards. Also, seeing what I can get rid of in order to lower my monthly commitments. (Started in October 2016)

Step 3: Tracking all variable expenses over 3 months to see where I can trim the fat. The biggest difference was my husband’s boss actually had a spare coffee maker and we’ve both started making coffees at home! I’m already amazed at the savings. Also, children’s activities can be extremely pricey, so I’ve had to start planning better.

Step 4: Kept all grocery and food related receipts for two months so I could take an honest look at my spending habits. This step was actually the hardest because it forced me to be extremely honest with myself and my snacking habits and how much they were actually costing me. I had to accept that you know what? I LOVE popcorn, so I’m just going to buy the Costco sized bag at the beginning of the week and accept who I am.

Step 5: Honestly had to figure out what was important to ourselves as individuals and the family. I realized some of the things I care about and are willing to spend money on are: pet food, vitamins, quality shoes, contact lenses, etc.

Step 6: We made a budget! I don’t like categorized budgets; they just don’t work for us. So we took our projected (monthly income * 0.85) – monthly expenses = monthly budget. I also update a whiteboard in the kitchen every morning so my husband and I can both easily see how much we have spent per month and how much we have left. Also, although I’d like our savings to double to 30%, that is unfortunately a goal that will take time as our debt total is too high currently.

Step 7: We went through the home and sold/donated what didn’t bring us joy, what we didn’t use, etc. We plan on doing this a few times but I’ve sold children’s clothes, maternity clothes, a makeup bag (?!), baby carrier, longboard, motorcycle jacket, etc. It’s incredible what people will buy. Bonus points if you put extra money earned from selling possessions directly on your debt. We plan on doing this seasonally to try to discourage clutter.

Step 8: We are planning for our upcoming expenses. Christmas, husband going back to trade school, and upcoming home ownership are all things that have to be prepared for.

Step 9: We are still saving an emergency fund. Since we don’t currently have 6 months worth of expenses in a savings account (yet!), I am currently putting 10% of monthly income into savings which will inevitably be the emergency fund, and 5% of the savings directly onto debt. For clarification, we are using the Debt Avalanche Method in order to get out of debt. This may change in the future but for now it works.

Step 10: Remembering our why. Actively trying to get out of debt takes a lot of emotional effort and it takes a lot of sacrifice. For us, it just comes up naturally (a lot!) but I can’t wait to get out of debt so I can have the financial flexibility to a small town, have a garden, solar energy and a dog.

DIY Haircuts + A TV Obsession

 

When I started my frugal journey, I started by writing down all of my monthly expenses (rent, insurance, cell phone, etc.) and looked as to where I could cut trim the fat. Fast forward to now, and I’m looking our variable expenses (groceries, clothing, diapers, etc.). Coincidently, both my oldest son and my husband desperately need a haircut at the same time and I thought… Hey, I could give it a shot.

xander 1xander 2

This is the before and after picture of my son. We went to the store, picked up a $25 kit and gave it a go. Not pictured is the BIG patch that’s missing from the back of my son’s head from when he moved. But if I took anything from this experience, it’s that you can’t get better at a skill if you don’t try… And hair grows 😉 Plus, if I can cut both my son’s hair, that’s an estimated savings of $400 a year!

america unplugged

In other news, has anyone else watched America Unplugged?! I’m obsessed.

It’s a mini series on Netflix, (8 episodes), which highlights Americans who are living off the grid and have homes which are completely sustainable and self sufficient. The elaborate power systems, water systems and gardens that people have is incredibly inspiring.

With hydro costs soaring in Ontario, I can’t help but wonder what the long term savings vs up front investment would be to install solar power, or how reliant we are on grocery stores despite soaring food costs. Anyway, it’s a wonderful show for some self reflection and with 20 minute episodes, it’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon 🙂

Happy Easter everyone!

Zero Waste

Trends come and go but environmentalism will always be in style – at least that’s what I hope.

I’ve always been very passionate about the environment. I recycle, abstain from eating meat, and if possible, always choose biking over driving. However, I’ve been increasingly curious about the “zero waste lifestyle”. I’ve finally had a chance to look into it and wow, what some earthlings are willing to do is pretty freaking awesome.

By no means am I advertising that everyone should immediately give up all forms of plastic, live off the grid and buy a goat. However, while learning about the Zero Waste lifestyle, I couldn’t help but think about how the habits the lifestyle is promoting, could save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

Think about it. When one is committed to living zero waste, there is a lot of self reliance involved. Gardening, creating your own products (ex. cleaning, hygiene, makeup), purchasing clothes second hand, purchasing your food in bulk, etc. For God’s sakes, who in this day and age knows that you can make your own toothpaste out of baking soda and coconut oil?! I sure didn’t.

If anyone is still reading this; in which case… Hi! I really encourage you to watch the videos listed down below. It’s extremely thought provoking, especially from a financial standpoint to think… How much money am I throwing away on marketing, branding, distributing, etc.? And hopefully we can encourage better habits in each other!

 

 

Weekend in Winnipeg 

This weekend I flew to Winnipeg to visit my best friend of thirteen years! She came to visit us at Christmas for a few days so I promised to return the favour, (especially since flights are cheap right now; thank you, New Leaf!)

I am by no means the most frugal person in Canada. I won’t have a TLC special anytime soon, but these are some of the things I did to have a modest trip to Manitoba 🙂

The Airport 

  • I only packed a carry on/backpack. I know this can be difficult for some people, especially if you’re going for a week or longer. However, baggage fees have become outrageous in Canada and if you can manage with just a carry on, that’s around $40 saved!
  • I brought an empty reusable water bottle to fill up once past security.
  • I’ve also heard of people bringing an empty thermos with teabags (or coffee), and then just getting hot water once you’re past security 🙂
  • Packed an absurd amount of snacks. Flight delays and travel hiccups can happen to anyone.
  • Also, don’t forget to check in online once you have the opportunity to, to ensure you get a seat on your flight.
  • Brought an absurd amount of entertainment; podcasts, music playlists, an empty notebook, a book or whatever pleases your heart 🙂

Also, while on vacation, CASH IS KING. 

It makes it easier to not go over budget when you have to visualize your money disappearing from your wallet 😉

Cut the Cord + A Coffee Alternative

There are countless articles online about people happily cancelling their cable, so I’ll make this brief… WOOOOOOHOOOOOOO!

Last night my husband cancelled our cable, Crunchy Roll account AND lowered our Netflix from 4 screens to 2, therefore saving us roughly $50/month. This is a huge deal because he’s been very attached to cable in order to watch NHL/NFL, so I’m incredibly proud of him. I really, really encourage you, (if anyone is reading this), to look through your monthly expenses and see where you can trim the fat. Entertainment is huge because I’m hoping our family can transition from the time we spent watching tv/movies to doing puzzles/colouring/stories/family walks/etc. instead 🙂

Here are some stats about television viewing in Canada:

  • In 2016, approximately 202,000 Canadians cancelled their cable from the largest seven providers, a number which has been rising since 2014
  • As of 2015 in Canada, the average television subscription cost $66.08… That’s $792.08 per year!

Also, a small confession… Since my second son was born about a month and a half ago, I’ve been going to Second Cup almost every day and spending $5.30 on coffee per day. That’s completely unacceptable with the amount of debt my husband and I have.

But I have found the holy grail of almond milk, caffeinated drinks so (hopefully), no more take out coffees! If you’re hooked on take out coffee, and are trying to kick dairy. This is totally for you.

And of course I buy the large size for $5.99/1.4L each because 1. Saving money and 2. I am very, very tired 🙂

Rome wasn’t built in a day and my debt sure won’t be gone in a day either, but I’m getting there 😉

Rewards Programs Aren’t That Rewarding

loyalty-rewards-cardsThere are very few absolute truths in the world; death, taxes, and everyone likes free things. This would explain why 90% of Canadians have loyalty reward cards, and a surprising 40% have at least 4 rewards cards! While it can feel great to see your points add up, and the bliss you experience when you can finally collect a reward – I don’t personally use them because I feel that the cost does not equal the reward. Here’s why.

Loyalty reward cards encourage consumerism. In my personal experience, loyalty reward cards encourage spending. This is particularly problematic because they encourage spending at one single location. Take groceries for example. I have heard people say countless times that they shop at X store because of Y benefits. But if you commit to this mentality – how likely are you to shop around for deals? Read flyers? Find the best price? You’re not.

The benefits typically aren’t that great and you can easily lose more money in the long run. From what I have seen on the Canadian market, the rewards you can receive aren’t that great and not worth the hassle. It can take months, possibly even years to see any sort of benefit. For example, with Shoppers Optimum points, you earn 10 points per dollar spent… However, for the first tier of rewards, you need 8000 points (aka spend $800), in order to save a measly $10. It’s just not worth it.

They’re often tied to credit cards. Full disclosure: I loathe credit cards. I have one in the event that I need to rent a car/hotel/parking/etc but they’re awful. I feel that even the most disciplined people can struggle with using a credit card correctly (ie paying it off in full and never carrying a balance) – which is why I personally feel that it’s better to ignore them altogether. Plus, who in good conscience can charge consumers 19.99%+? Pure robbery.

The “rewards” can change at any time without the consumer’s consent. Remember the Air Miles fiasco that happened a few months ago? In 2016, Air Miles realized that it was bad business having unpredictable liabilities as they couldn’t predict when consumers would cash their “miles”. To combat this, they implemented a rule that miles expire after 5 years… And Air Miles consumers collectively lost their minds. And even worse, a lot of people ended up with garbage they would not have wanted in the first place. Unfortunately, rewards programs can change without notifying the consumer which could lead to a headache later on.

All of this being said: I’m definitely not perfect. I have 3 rewards programs cards currently in my wallet right now. But personal finance is about progress and not perfection, right?