Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Money Books (#s 46, 47)

For those of you who know the real me, the non-virtual Deanna, you know that I'm a worrier. I fret a lot. I spend a lot of sleepless nights pondering things as random as why I'm so obsessed with True Blood this season and how on earth I'm ever going to finish the book I've been writing the last few years. A recurring theme in my sleepless nights is listmaking. I find that if I get up and write down a list of all the things I can actually do to assuage whatever is bothering me at that moment, I can actually get some sleep. One of the main things I consistently write down has to do with money: paying bills, managing accounts, moving things around, and debt.

Debt and I have quite a history together. For years I thought of debt as free money. I thought of credit cards as a means of filling in the gaps. Maybe it's because I wasn't really taught proper money management as a kid (and that's not the fault of my parents; it just wasn't something we discussed and then there was a lot of tragedy that sort of took over...). I was in my early 20s when I truly started to understand how money works. And with that understanding came a glimpse of a day when I wouldn't have to worry about it all the time. I learned that it's not just important to be in control of your financial situation but it's also necessary to understand the true cost of things.

So, over the years I've read a number of money-related books: Suze Orman, David Bach, and many, many more. These books all pretty much say the same thing: buy a house, keep up with extra mortgage payments, invest wisely, blah de freaking blah. It's the same advice packaged in fancier ways: Women and money. Going green and your money. Getting married and your money. Yawn.

I didn't need any more "whys." What I needed were "hows." Enter Kerry K. Taylor's excellent 397 Ways to Save Money. When I read this book in manuscript form before we published it, I honestly sat at my desk, skipped lunch, and then wrote an exuberant note to her editor about how smart and savvy I thought it was. It's a little bit of the "whys" but it's mainly pages upon pages of good tips about how to save money. How and when to reduce, reuse and recycle. How to shop smarter. How to make your resources stretch further and longer so that you aren't looking down the barrel of double and triple-digit credit card debt month after month.

Then I learned we were publishing a book called Debt-Free Forever by Gail Vaz-Oxlade. I'd never heard of her nor had I watched 'Til Debt Do Us Part (both situations I have now rectified). I read it, too, in manuscript form and am only going to say that it's changed my outlook entirely on budgeting (always thought it was more trouble than it's worth) and living within your means (what's the difference if all the bills get paid anyway).

I've also been doing a lot of thinking about money in general and what it means to my life. Truly, it's a means to an end; it's a way for us to finish the house but, it, inherently, doesn't have any value. What do I mean? Well, it's not worth fighting over. It's not worth worrying over, and it's certainly not worth killing yourself (or others) for. Over the course of my reading, I'm going to share some of the "revolutions" I'm trying to make over the next little while. Again, if I share the list, I'm going to stick to it, right?

1. Use what I buy. Like so many people who work above a Shopper's Drug Mart and down the street from Sephora and Holt Renfrew, I've got cupboards full of make up, creams, gift baskets, foot massagers, shampoos, etc. I keep buying more and more -- it's on sale, I'm there, I like the smell, and I used them, but our shower's all clogged up with half-empty plastic (natch) bottles. I've vowed to use up every single last bit of something before buying something new. That includes all the samples I've been saving for goodness knows what and the umpteen travel kits I've bought from Dermologica over the years. Good for the environment and good for the wallet. Although if you see me wandering around with fuzzy, dried out hair and clumpy mascara, you know why.

2. Use up my gift certificates. I don't know why I hoard these things but I do. I think that it's not a good idea to spend them so I've got them tucked away into all corners of things. Redeem all my points for more certificates and use up those too? The best thing I've done? Cash in HBC rewards points for MAC makeup and Levi's jeans. Oh, and a new coffee maker for the cottage. All FREE. Well, sort of free because we have so many points from renovation costs that we've cashed in on HBC gift certificates. Um, also, did you know you can use your AirMiles points for a TTC pass? Yeah, that's what I'm doing in October...

3. Wear what I buy. See #1 above. This one's harder because I've lost a pile of weight due to the almost-dying appendicitis nightmare and none of my clothes fit. Like, none of them. It's a good thing I own some belts.

4. Use cash. I've put my RRHB and I on a budget that we're going to try to stick to over the next few months while we try to make a pile of payments on the renovation debt. It's not easy. And it's not something we've EVER done before.

5. Engage in some serious staycation activities. We did some of this at the cottage the other weekend when we went to Petroglyphs Provincial Park. Even though gas isn't cheap, I put a little extra in our transportation budget so we can take advantage of fun things we can do within driving distance. Also, we're lucky because we have a cottage. That doesn't mean we won't take a vacation, it just means that we'll be finding some new and interesting things to do that don't involve spending $100.00 at the movies. This will be hard. I love to go to the movies.

6. Garden more. Both indoors and out. It's hard to do during the winter, I know, but I'm already planning our garden for next spring/summer because we ate so much of our own homegrown food this year that makes the effort worth it. What I won't do? Spend obsessive amounts of money on more and more seeds.

7. Pay all our bills on time, including our taxes. I'm usually pretty good at this but tend to let the taxes drift and drift and drift...

8. Take care of the important but really boring things like RRSPs, wills and other financial planning. I always put these off as "oh, I'll get around to it one day."

9. Try to find ways to write more for me. This isn't necessarily money-related but it does go to the whole idea of the true cost of the things in your life. The more I write the more potential I have for becoming a "real" writer one day. The more I write the less it becomes a hobby and more the job that I've always wanted it to be.

10. Become more crafty. And not how the Beastie Boys meant it. But more like discovering the girl that grew up making pinecone decorations and sewing. This will also be hard. I feel as though I am terribly untalented in the crafty areas. It's not a skill I inherited from my truly crafty and wonderfully creative mother.

5 comments:

rachel said...

wow. your sleepless nights are a mirror of mine. I wake up, roll over,worry and budget. I keep a post-it pad on my nightside table and spend a lot of time worrying.

DEBT !

I have never actually read a book on money or budgeting ( mainly blogs and articles ); but your worrying habits sound so similar to mine, I am going to pick that one up ( with a gift certificate *natch* )

Melanie said...

I agree with everything you've said here. And I really need to read that book. I have read hundreds of the types you mention, on all the whys - I need some hows. Usually the offered tips are things I am doing (and always have done) anyway. And I love your list.

b*babbler said...

We have a huge love affair with Gail Vaz-Oxlade around our house. Ever Friday night finds Mr. Babbler and I watching countless episodes on Slice.

Somehow I was fortunate enough not to get into the debt problem, but am trying desperately now to reduce my purchasing. I've managed to beat the endless bottles of lotion/shampoo/makeup, but am now working on not overbuying food. Somehow when you grow up without enough, it is easy to never see the cupboards as full enough. But working on it is the first step.

Zesty said...

I think this is an excellent action plan!

sassymonkey said...

I love Gail...though she kind of scares me. And I used to read Kerry Taylor's blog. She has some great checklists on it.

Hmm I think I feel another one of those reading kicks coming on. I think it's time to hit the library request list. ;-)