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.

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?