Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Why I'm a Downtown(ish) Dweller


Winter struck Edmonton with a vengeance this week and it doesn't look like there is much relief in the near future. The one positive is that we got a little bit of snow so everything is now white instead of brown but that doesn't nearly make up for having to suffer through -30 temperatures for the next week or so. I really hate the cold weather...I realize I'm not alone in this and that I did decide to plant roots here in Edmonton but complaining about the weather (not risk taking) is about the most Edmonton thing we can do ;) 


One thing this weather makes me appreciate is where I live; there's no long commute for this girl! When we decided to buy a house six years ago the most important thing for us was to be centrally located and we made that happen by buying in Westmount (a great little neighborhood just off downtown). Chances were pretty good at the time that we would both have jobs downtown (which we do) and being close to work to avoid a long daily commute topped the necessity list. 

I grew up in St. Albert (a suburb of Edmonton) and suffered through the commute down to the University for years so when house hunting became a reality I knew that would be a deal breaker. Rush hour makes me crazy (even on my current 5 minute drive) and add winter road conditions to the mix and you get one very cranky Sarah. I don't even have winter tires on my car (I know, sacrilege) because of how little I actually drive. And when the weather isn't so apocalyptic cold I can even walk to work...exercise and convenience. There's also the added perk of cheaper vehicle related costs. My limited driving means that I don't have to allot much of my budget to gas; I usually only fill up my tank once a month and it costs about $45. This also translates to low mileage on my car and less frequent maintenance requirements. I purchased my car brand new in October 2010 and it currently has just over 62,000 kms on it. I've also never had to have anything major fixed on it (I'm knocking on wood right now because my warranty also just expired). One last thing that you may not have considered is cheaper auto insurance. Lots of companies will give you a bit of a discount for having a short commute or for using your car only for pleasure. Less gas and maintenance and discounted insurance all put extra money in my pocket because I made the decision to live and work in the same area. 

The lack of a lengthy commute was the big thing for me but there are also plenty of other advantages to living near downtown. For most cities I've traveled to there tends to be more activities in the downtown core than in other parts of the city and this is certainly the case in Edmonton. I'm sure there are exceptions (my downtown bias might be showing) but most of the good restaurants we have are located in or around downtown whereas the suburbs usually have more chain restaurants. Sure, every once in awhile you might just want Swiss Chalet for dinner and not have any locations near you (this is actually a thing for us; someone bring me a festive special!) but most of the time we go out for a nice meal it's to a local restaurant and not a chain. The same logic also applies to events and festivals. Our new downtown arena has made this even more true but even before that most of the concert venues, theaters and festival grounds are all within easy access to our house and makes it more likely that we'll actually get out and experience things. If I had to drive 30+ minutes to go see a show it would limit how often I'd be willing to do that. 

Living downtown isn't all sunshine and roses, there a few things you should consider. The most common con you hear about buying a home central is that you get less bang for your buck, meaning you'll pay more for a smaller home. This is absolutely true and if square footage is the most important thing on your house hunting list then the suburbs might be perfect for you. For me, this really wasn't even worth considering...more house means more cleaning, and I really hate cleaning. Our current place is about 1300 square feet and it's perfect for us. We'll likely need to up-size if we add kids to the mix but that's a problem for another day and I'll enjoy only having to clean 1.5 bathrooms for the time being. There's also a good chance your dollar wont stretch as far as you might think. If you factor in the added commuting costs to your budget some of that suburb advantage will disappear. 

One factor I can't write off, and has caused us a few headaches, is the age of the homes. By their very essence, central neighbourhoods are old and that means you're likely going to end up with a house that's got a little history in its walls. Now don't get me wrong, I think old homes are charming and mature neighbourhoods have so much more character with their unique (non cookie-cutter) homes and mature trees, but brand new homes give you more stability. If you buy new you aren't going to have to worry about your furnace conking out in the middle of winter, replacing a leaky roof, or lining up pictures on crooked walls. Side note, I just had a complete mental block on how to spell crooked....I've grown to embrace the quirks in our 80 year old home but a small part of me would appreciate not always having a nagging worry about what the next big expense will be. But why can't I have it all?! Maybe that's what you're asking right now, and sure, if you've got the bankroll to do it you can buy a new build in an old neighbourhood. It's going to cost you though...back to the old bang for your buck cliche. That is actually my end goal one day, tear down our current place and rebuild on the same lot. We've got a big, corner lot on a perfect block and I can't imagine moving so now we just have to win the lottery ;) I do think it would be so much fun to plan and design a new place, that might just be the biggest perk of a new build...as long as I don't have to move out to the boons! 

What are your thoughts? Where do you guys fall on the downtown vs suburbs debate? 

Friday, 2 December 2016

7 Ways to Pinch Pennies


Maybe the Christmas season has you seeing red and dreading the January credit card bills or maybe you're wanting to set some money aside for a new car, fancy vacation or just simply increase your cash flow. Whatever the case, everyone can use a little extra cash in their wallets, especially at this time of year. Today I'm going to share a few of my favourite penny pinching tips. 

If you are dealing with a little (or a lot) of debt you can check my post here to help you get started on a repayment plan. Every little bit of extra money really comes in handy to when you're trying to kick start your debt elimination. 

Here we go folks, try a couple or try them all and make sure to brag about how much you cut out of your budget in the comments. 

Ditch Unnecessary Monthly Expenses
Perhaps you're a sucker for magazine subscriptions, still have a home phone, or maybe you pay for Spotify premium and hardly ever use it (note to self...) Whatever your weakness is, monthly expenses can do some serious damage to your budget and save you some serious coin if you're willing to let go. The easiest way to do this is pull up your last couple months of bank account and credit card statements and see what you are actually paying for. If there's anything you can live without cancel it, right now, you can always get it back later if you find you really do miss it. If you've got a magazine subscription and maybe one too many TV streaming services that can be cancelled you could save yourself around $15 a month or $180 a year. That's not nothing folks. Or maybe you can go even bigger and cancel your cable all together, even if you just do it for the summer months when you're likely watching less TV you'll save a ton of money. We still have cable in this house but I would be a-ok cancelling except for watching sports. We're big Oilers fans and there really just isn't a great option to live stream sports at this point. I know Sportsnet has a streaming service for all their channels but it's $25/month which is as much as our basic cable package...seems crazy. 

Negotiate with Service Providers
It really is worth your time to run through your list of recurring bills and make a few phone calls to negotiate a lower rate. Even if you're still under contract it's worth giving it a shot, there might be something you're paying for that you don't really use; a specialty TV channel package, or voicemail on your phone (who doesn't hate voicemail). If you're out of contract then it can be even more worthwhile as you can use the threat of leaving to get the most bang for your buck (ask for the retention department as they are usually the ones who can give the biggest discounts). Do some research before calling to see what other providers are offering to new customers and use those numbers in your negotiations. And if you're not having much success, don't be afraid to switch providers. We switched our TV and internet to Telus last year because they offered us a really fantastic promo. Just remember that promo rates are temporary, so make sure the regular rate is cheaper or comparable to what you're currently paying so it doesn't end up costing you more in the long run. These tactics can be used for internet, cable, cell phones, insurance...just about anything you have to sign a contract for. 

Make a Budget and Stick to it
You don't need some crazy detailed, elaborate budget but you do need to figure out what money is coming in and going out every month. Run the numbers to work out how much you actually need to live on each month and set that aside, whether that's kept in your chequing account or you take it out as cash. Don't forget to leave yourself a little room in the budget for fun. I'm a big believer in living for now and living for the future...it's a balancing act. Living on a too tight budget can just end up making you frustrated and not having enough motivation to stick with it. Budgeting is just like dieting, you need to leave room for the odd treat to save yourself from eating an entire pizza. Any leftover cash flow will go towards savings or to pay off debt, and I want you to set these up as automatic payments. That way money goes where it's supposed to as soon as it comes in so you're not tempted to spend it on that pretty blouse you saw at the mall (or online, because who still goes to the mall). Give yourself a couple of months to tweak the amounts if needed but if you're serious about this you want to stay strict with yourself. Your budget can be as simple as a post-it note on the frige but there are also great apps you can use so your budget is always accessible on your phone. I like Mint, it's free and links up with most Canadian banks and let's you track bank accounts, investment accounts and credit cards. 

Sell Stuff
Have a basement overflowing with stuff you don't use anymore? Get listing on Kijiji and make some extra cash! What could be better than getting paid to purge?! I know some people really hate cleaning out their closets or getting rid of things but I actually love it. I find it so frustrating to pull something out of my closet that I hate or have kitchen cabinets overflowing with appliances that never get used. As long as the things you want to get rid of still have a little life left in them then you should definitely be listing them on Kijiji instead of tossing them in the trash...environmentally and economically friendly. You can sell just about any household items on Kijiji, another's person's junk right. Make sure to set realistic prices (check out some similar listings) and be prepared to barter with people. If your item does sell within the first few days it's a good idea to delete and re-post the ad so it goes back to the top of the list, older ads tend to disappear into obscurity. 

Get Paid to Shop Online
I love getting my shopping done online and you can often get better discounts than you can in store, especially if there's free shipping available. I don't think I've stepped foot in a brick and mortar store for Christmas presents yet this year, everything has been done either online or at a couple of local craft sales. Another perk is that there are sites you can use to get rewards for buying stuff online. My favourite is Ebates because you get actual cash back from shopping at lots of online stores you're probably buying from anyways (think Amazon, Sephora, Old Navy, etc). Swagbucks is another good option and lets you earn rewards for online shopping but also doing surveys and other tasks. For both sites you set up an account and then link through there to any of the sites they partner with and then do your online shopping just like normal. For Ebates you will earn cash back and they will send you a cheque when you get to $25. Swagbucks is a bit different in that you earn points (Swagbucks) and you use those points to redeem for gift cards.


Pack a Lunch
Everyone already knows this but it's worth the reminder because it really will save you a ton of money. Eating out is expensive so if you can cook most of your meals at home you should. I'm horrible at making a lunch but we are good about cooking dinner at home so I try to pick dinners that will have enough for leftovers the next day. If I have to make a sandwich in the morning I'm setting myself up for failure but if there's a container of leftovers I'm good to go. Plus, I hate wasting food so I'll make sure those leftovers get eaten. The hardest part of sticking to a bag lunch plan for me is resisting the temptation when co-workers go out. My office is terrible for eating out way to often so we've made a deal (that we try very, very hard to stick to) that we can only eat out once a week. 

Use the Library
I only just got a library membership last year but holy man is it ever amazing! Depending on where you live this might not be as great for you but the Edmonton Public Library is seriously awesome. Membership is 100% FREE and they have a huge selection of books, ebooks, movies, music...pretty much everything. Sure, sometimes you need to need to go on a waiting list for more popular books (I think I'm still number 1 million and some for 'The Nest'), but if you're an avid reader there is no other way to read as much as you want for free. The EPL website is easy to use and you can download ebooks, save books to read in the future, and access online resources. When you put a book on hold they even transfer it between libraries so you can always pick-up at the most convenient location while still having access to resources across the city. And, if there's a book the EPL doesn't have you can request it and they really do listen!

There you have it, 7 ways to limit to expenses and free up some extra money to pay your bills or stash away for the future. If you'd like to share any of your favourite penny pinching tips feel free to post in the comments.  

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Barcelona

I am kind of in shock that it's already been two weeks since we got back from Barcelona, it honestly feels like we landed too days ago...jet lag is for real folks! I'm finally getting down to business though and have put together the following recap of our trip and to share the wonderfulness that is Barcelona.

First off a quick shout out to AMA for helping us out and organizing a fantastic trip that ran smoothly from start to finish. If you're a regular follower of the blog you may remember my moment of rage when initially trying to get things sorted out but that has all but been forgotten. 

Travelling overseas is always a bit of a hassle because of the crazy long and painful flight but we flew KLM and were really impressed. It's still just plane so keep your expectations moderate but all of our flights were perfectly on time and they feed you, like a lot, and even offer free booze. Perks! There's no free WiFi but the on flight entertainment had a big selection of movies and games. There's a direct flight from Edmonton to Amsterdam (that has been available for really low prices so keep your eyes open) and then it was just a quick flight to Barcelona. The Amsterdam airport is pretty big and we had a bit of a layover on the way there to explore but our connection on the way back was tight so we had to hustle...the only stressful part of the flights. 

Once we got to Barcelona we jumped on the bus (they have a cheap airport shuttle that went right close to our hotel) and went to our hotel to get settled. We stayed at the H10 Urquinaona Plaza which I have no qualms about recommending to anyone. It was only a couple of blocks from 'Las Ramblas', which is the big touristy spot in Barcelona, and we were able to walk to almost everything we wanted to see. Our room was also pretty spacious with a king size bed and a small balcony with a nice view of the Plaza. If you happen to stay at the hotel I would request a room that faces the square instead of one of the interior rooms as those looked to be much smaller. 

Boring stuff over, now onto all the sights....and all the pictures :)

Barcelona is known for it's architecture and Sagrada Familia is by far the most famous so of course we had to visit. I actually studied some of Gaudi's work in a random art history class I took in University but trust me when I say that pictures do not do this place justice. The details in the stonework are ridiculous, the ceilings are so high and it's so bright and open inside compared to any other church I've been in. We went on an organized tour (with a guide who looked like a young Robert De Niro) and it included a trip up one of the towers. There's an elevator that takes you 65m up and then you climb down a tight staircase back down to the ground. The views on the way down are beautiful (top right and bottom left below) and make it a worthwhile add-on. Sagrada Familia is still under construction (has been since 1882) but they are hopeful it will be finished in 2026 (the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi's death). I would love to go back when it's all completed to get another look. 

The second organized tour we took was up to Montserrat, a monastery built up in the mountains on the side of a cliff. We did a tour that included the cog train ride up, which was pretty cool and looked to be an easier ride up than the bus. We did however bus back down and the road is steep and twisty; I'm known to get car sick sometimes but survived the trip and was happy to do it. The views are beautiful and the monastery itself is an impressive feat...how they built such an intricate building in that location blows my mind. Make sure to grab some cheese from the sellers along the road, we brought a couple of blocks back home with us (so delicious!) 

We also had to pay a visit to Park Guell, another attraction that showcases Gaudi's unique architecture. It was crazy windy the day we went but that didn't take away from the whimsical architecture that is featured throughout the Park. There is a free access area with hiking trails up in the hills but you really want to buy tickets and get access to the monuments section to really get the full impact. I loved all the detailed mosaics, they're so colourful and fun.






We had a total of eight days in Barcelona which sounds like a long time for one city but we were busy everyday and never ran out of things to see. On our second last day we actually did a hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus tour so that we could see all the sights we hadn't made it to. We did the tour on a Sunday which worked well because the city really grinds to a halt on Sunday with most businesses closing up but all the tourist attractions are open. The tickets were kind of expensive and you could easily use public transit (the bus or metro) to make your way around the stops but the bus tour made things easy and efficient. Here's just a few highlights we made stops at: 

Gaudi's Casa Mila (La Pedrera)
Gaudi's Casa Batllo
MNAC - Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
1992 Barcelona Olympics Flame
Parc de la Ciutadella
Barcelona Cathedral

Arc de Triomf
A must visit (another one) in Barcelona is the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Bouqueria, which is a huge food market situated along Las Ramblas. If you're any sort of foodie or just like to eat this is the place to be! It's overflowing with local vendors featuring everything from fresh sea food, to cured ham, to handmade marzipan. You HAVE to grab one of the fresh juices (lots of stands have them) and the displays look so stunning with their bright colours...I may have had two and if I could bring one thing from Barcelona to Edmonton it would 100% be those juices. There's also a bunch of tapas restaurants within the market and it's a great way to grab a quick bite. 

When you travel with a guy with a not so slight obsession with fish tanks you have to make a visit to the aquarium. It wouldn't ever be at the top of my must-do list but I was actually pretty impressed. There are a ton of tanks featuring all sorts of fish and sea animals and a huge underwater tunnel with sharks and stingrays. And they had penguins, who doesn't love penguins? 

One of my favourite things about Barcelona were all the tiny, intricate alleyways in the Gothic Quarter that are lined with shops and restaurants. You could walk for hours (and we did) up and down tiny alleyways and never find your way back to where you started. It's such a unique layout for a city (nothing like the big wide, non-pedestrian friendly streets of North America) and I absolutely loved the old school charm. There's also graffiti art painted on many exterior doors so even when stores are all locked up it still feels really welcoming. 


Probably the only part of Barcelona that was a bit of a let down was the food. I shouldn't be surprised though as Spain is really known for it's Paella and that's just not really my thing. Obviously we ate some and it was really good but even the best Paella in the world wont make it to my top foods list. They did however have giant jugs of Sangria and you can't go wrong with that. We also ate our body weight in tapas over the trip and I became hooked on the croquettes that you could find everywhere. This isn't to say we didn't have great meals during our stay, we had some really yummy sushi and a delicious burger at an Irish pub (because sometimes when you're hangry after a long day of exploring you just need a burger).

Phewf, longest post ever! To sum up, Barcelona is awesome...go visit!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Keeping Up With Christmas


Well hey guys, it's been awhile! I've been out of the groove since I got back from vacation and finally have a few minutes to sit down and write. I'm also working on a re-cap of our trip to Barcelona but am still trying to sort through my many, many pictures! 

Anyways, it felt like Black Friday was the perfect time for us all to have a little chat about Christmas and it's crowded shopping malls, overspending and January denial....


I'm kidding, mostly, and I am in no way above all of those things so there's zero judgement here! Up here in Canada we really don't even do Black Friday anywhere near the extent that our Southern neighbours partake but hey, you do you America...we'll just chill up here in the great white North with our polar bears, not so controversial (in comparison) politicians and add extra letters to words. Off topic, let's get back to it. I'm not here to tell you to stay away from Black Friday sales, in fact I think it's a great time to sift through the sales and buy those gifts you are going to be buying anyways. Just make sure you stick to your Christmas list and aren't buying crap just because it's on sale. I actually checked the bf off my shopping list this morning by picking up his much desired Nespresso machine at a great price on Amazon. He was also given a not so subtle hint about a low price on a robot vacuum that would make me very happy on Christmas morning...because I'm old and a vacuum is where it's at.

I love everything about Christmas; the decorating, the parties, the gift giving, the gift getting, the food...so good. But in order to save yourself from the January hangover it's important to keep yourself organized, stick to a strict budget and don't get carried away with the season. There are plenty of ways to show people you care without having to splurge on expensive gifts. A small token, a coffee date or even a sweet card will often be more meaningful to your friends and family that that hot ticket item. I find this is more and more true the older I get because I really just don't need that much stuff. My preference would almost always be a nice dinner out or tickets to a show instead of a new outfit I likely wont wear or another kitchen gadget to clutter up the counter. 

My two non-negotiable rules for the festive season are:
  • Make a REASONABLE budget. Don't short change yourself and make it impossible to stick to but know your limit and let your frugal side rule.
  • No do-overs! Your budget is set and stone and there are no exceptions based on the adorableness of that ornament. 

If you haven't made a Christmas budget yet you should go do that now...I'll wait right here :) Then add up any purchases you've already made and let's hope you're not already in the red and have to sell your cat. Rules are rules! Now that you've got a spreadsheet running your life you'll be able to knock off those last few Christmas gifts and enjoy that post shopping bliss. 

Instead of falling for the materialism of Christmas let's remember what it's really about...spending time with your loved ones and eating all the food ;) There's no need to be the house with the most Christmas lights, or the tree with the most presents, or the person with the fanciest dress at the office party. Make your own traditions that don't cost a dime and you'll find yourself more content and less stressed out when December 25th comes around. 

If you're looking for a few ways to reduce your Christmas budget you can check out my '10 Tips for a Money Savvy Christmas' post from a few weeks ago. 

Thursday, 17 November 2016

10 Gift Ideas for Gals


Yesterday's post gave you a few suggestions on what to buy for the men in your life so that means tonight we're switching focus to the lovely ladies you have on your Christmas list. Here are a few of my very best gift ideas to treat your moms, sisters, wives or girlfriends to a little luxury on Christmas morning.

Cashmere Blend Cardigan
Let's be honest, wrapping yourself up in cashmere just makes everything better and helps you survive the long cold Edmonton winter. I love the shorter sleeves on this sweater and the long length is really popular (and extra cozy) this year.

Classic Box Set
If you've got an avid reader to buy for there's a pretty good chance she will be a fan of Jane Austen. This box set includes all of Jane Austen's classic novels and the illustrated covers would be a beautiful addition to any book lovers bookshelf.

Pretty Tea Mug
I'm a big tea drinker in the colder months and the mugs from David's make drinking loose leaf tea super simple with the included strainer and the lid that doubles as a drip tray for the strainer. I especially love this colour blocked version with the pretty turquoise and gold finish. Wrap up this mug with a few tea samples like this set and you're good to go.

Diamond Nail File
A nail file? Really? Actually yes! This is no standard nail file (hence the price) and I can guarantee that it will be used over and over for many years by the lucky lady you gift it to. I've had my diamond nail file for over five years now and it's still in perfect condition. It makes quick work of filing my nails and can just be rinsed off for the next use without ever getting dull and useless.

Lipstick Set
Sephora does Christmas right and their gift packs are a great way to try out new products at a discount. Smashbox makes a really good lipstick and this pack has a good variety of colours that will get you through any occasion.

Delicate Necklace
Jewelry is never a bad option and if you stick with simple, delicate pieces you really can't go wrong. Jen Ellis Designs makes really gorgeous jewelry that is well made but also affordable. I bought my mom one of her necklaces last year and she wears it ALL the time. This triple ring version is one of my favourites from her current collection.

Spa Day
Another gift that is always a good choice is a gift certificate for a spa day or specific spa treatment. I don't think I've ever met a girl that doesn't dream of spa day. Find a local spa with good reviews and treat your lady to a day of being pampered.

Unique Art Print
The prints from FauxKiss are really affordable and would make a perfect gift. They are all done on pages from vintage dictionaries and there's a huge selection so you'll be sure to find something for anyone.

Microfiber Sheet Set
I'm obsessed with my microfiber sheets and probably missed them more than anything else (ok, except my critters) when we were traveling. They are as soft and cozy as flannel sheets but much more breathable so you don't end up overheating. They also dry much faster than normal sheets and come out of the dryer with no wrinkles. Good sheets are one of those things that are wonderful to have but always feel like a luxury you don't want to spend money on.

Robotic Vacuum
If you're buying for someone who has fur babies you might just become their new favourite person if you gift them a robot vacuum. It can be a real lifesaver to keep things clean and pet hair free when you're just too busy (or lazy) to haul out the real vacuum. This is a great starter option as it's much cheaper than other options (even the cheapest Roomba is $400) but still has really solid reviews.

If you'd like even more ideas you can check out my 2015 gift guides:
Holiday Gift Guide: The Guys
Holiday Gift Guide: The Ladies
Holiday Gift Guide: The Kiddos
Holiday Gift Guide: Little Things
Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

10 Gift Ideas for Guys


It's already the middle of November and that means that the countdown to Christmas is already on. Usually I'm pretty on the ball with Christmas shopping but not so much this year. If you're in the same boat I'm putting together a few gift guides to help you (and me) get things rolling. What do you guys have on your shopping lists for this year? 

First up I've got 10 suggestions for the men in your life that cover a variety of tastes and budgets.

Concert Tickets
I love the idea of buying some an experience instead of a material gift and a concert would be perfect for a music lover. Coldplay is currently touring and they've got a tour date here in Edmonton next September with tickets still available. If that's not your thing, there are plenty of other acts coming to town or you could go for a hockey game or comedy act instead. 

Jersey
A new jersey for your man's favourite sports team makes a perfect gift and if you're feeling extra generous you could even pack it up with tickets to an upcoming game. 

Christmas Sweater
A red sweater is just festive enough for Christmas dinner but will also get lots of use for the rest of the winter. No tacky light up reindeer noses here. The button-up high neck on this one is a little different and works for the coldest days. 

Warm Scarf
Scarves are an essential accessory for our cold Alberta winters and if you buy a nice one it can also add that extra little something to your outfit. This option from Simons is really soft and cozy and the muted colours will match with just about anything. 

Messenger Bag
I don't know about your dude but my bf uses a messenger bag for work everyday, it's a less formal and easier to carry option instead of a briefcase. This is a nice looking, reasonably priced option that is big enough to fit a laptop, bagged lunch and all his other accessories. 

Cologne Sampler
Fragrance is a great gift but unless you're a mind reader it can be nearly impossible to pick one out for another person. Shoppers Drug Mart has a brilliant system where you can but a sampler pack of some of their most popular fragrances and then there's a coupon to redeem for a full size version of any of the options. Tough decision solved! 

Board Game for Grown-Ups
Who doesn't love getting together with a group of friends and spending an evening in with a few good board games? The Voting Game poses a bunch of different questions (ie. Whose Google search history would you most like to see?) and vote for which player you think is the most fitting...hilarity ensues. 

Nespresso Machine
I'm not exactly a coffee connoisseur but we had a Nespresso machine in our hotel room in Barcelona and it really is leaps and bounds ahead of any of the other single serve machines I've tried. It is certainly not the most economical option as both the machine itself and the cups are more expensive than other options but if it can limit the Starbucks trips then it might just be worth it.   

Nintendo Classic Edition Console
Ok, this isn't exactly the best option at the moment because the consoles are currently sold out but if any pop up before Christmas you could be a hero. I know one of these classic Nintendo units is at the top of the bf's wish list 

Series of Books
If you've got an avid reader on your shopping list then the Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch could be just what you're looking for. The bf is hooked on these books and has recommended the series to just about everyone we know. This set includes the first three books and will provides many hours of reading enjoyment (they're long books) for whoever you buy them for. 

If you'd like even more ideas you can check out my 2015 gift guides:
Holiday Gift Guide: The Guys
Holiday Gift Guide: The Ladies
Holiday Gift Guide: The Kiddos
Holiday Gift Guide: Little Things
Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers

Thursday, 3 November 2016

10 Long-Haul Flight Essentials

As you guys know I am heading off to Barcelona right away and am busy getting some last minute details organized and finishing off my packing. Today's chore was packing up my carry-on so I don't forget anything and can have the most comfortable flight possible. I am not a great flier, I find it nearly impossible to fall asleep on a plane (or car, train...pretty much anywhere that isn't my bed or couch) and overnight flights always seem to make me feel quesy and just plain gross. Since that is the situation I'll be dealing with this time I'm hoping that with a little advance preparation (and maybe a sleep-aid) I'll be knocked right out for the majority of the flight and wont even need any of the entertainment options I'll bring along. 

Here's a few of the things I'm packing up to help get me through the overseas flight... 

1. Travel Pillow
Ok, this pillow looks weird as heck but it is the most highly rated travel pillow on Amazon so I am giving it a shot. It actually feels pretty comfortable, from the quick trial I did sitting on the couch. It's air-filled so it folds up really small and only takes a few deep breaths to inflate. When you're on the plane there's a draw string that attaches to your headrest and also a strap that attaches to your seat belt so the pillow stays in place. I'm hoping all the good reviews are true and this actually gets me some sleep. 

2. Facial Mist
You know that gross, grimy, dried out feeling you get from being on a plane? A facial mist is an easy and refreshing way to make yourself feel more human when you land. I got this one from E.L.F. as a free add-on last month and I actually quite like it. This isn't the kind of product I want to fork over much money for but you can pick this one up for only $3 (or free!) making it an affordable luxury. 

3. Chapstick
Your skin always falls victim to the dry air on planes and my lips are always the first thing that bug me. Having an extra moisturizing chapstick on hand is essential and this Vaseline lip therapy is my go to (I've raved about it on here before). I especially like this rosy lips version because it gives a hint of colour while also soothing dry lips (it also smells delish) so you look slightly more put together after climbing off a red-eye flight. Because it's basically Vaseline you can also use it to as a hand cream in a pinch. 

4. Travel Size Deodorant
No explanation necessary, long flights can leave you a little funky and since you wont be able to shower until you're at your hotel it's a good idea to touch-up your deodorant before you land. 

5. Good Book 

I'm a reader and you'll usually find me powering through a book if I'm stuck on a plane. I'm already behind on my reading goal for 2016 so I'm hoping to play catch up on these long flights. I'm really looking forward to reading Emma Donaghue's new book The Wonder. Her previous book (Room) is one of my favourite books ever so I have high hopes for the follow-up. 

6. Cozy Scarf
More often than not planes are freezing and there never seem to be enough airline blankets to go around so I always make sure I have a warm scarf with me that can double as a blanket. This Vinyasa Scarf from Lululemon is a little pricey but the fabric is so soft and cozy and you can wear it a bunch of different ways.

7. Yummy Snack
Plane food is the worst but if you are on a long flight you don't always have many options so it helps to bring your own snack. Trail mix is easy to carry-on and packed with protein to it will help sustain you. We picked up this one from Superstore for a hike earlier this year and it is a real winner. I love chocolate and coconut (who doesn't?) so having those added to the usual nut/seed mix is a nice change and makes it a sweet and savoury treat. And if surviving long-haul flight doesn't mean you deserve a treat then I don't know what does!

8. Eye Mask
I am prone to distraction (people watching) whenever I'm in public which is a big reason I have such trouble sleeping on planes. Being able to block all of that out and focus just on sleeping will hopefully be the cure for getting some shut eye this time. This one from Chapters is cute too so that doesn't hurt. 

9. Headphones 

Lots of people recommend noise-cancelling headphones for flying but I don't like using them in everyday life (not being able to hear any background noise freaks me out) so I'm not willing to spend the extra money just for travelling. I've had Bose ear buds for a few years and would never go back to the cheap ones that comes with your phone. Even after wearing them for hours my ears never hurt, they stay put even during exercise and the sound quality is great. If you're looking for new headphones I recommend adding these to your Christmas list. The link above is for the Android / Samsung version but if you're an Apple user you'll want to grab these ones. 

10. Warm Socks
My feet are always freezing on planes and no one wants to have to walk barefoot through airport security so socks are essential. These ones are nice and cozy but not so fluffy that they wont fit in your shoes. Two thumbs up.

Monday, 31 October 2016

October Highlights


Happy Halloween everyone! Anyone have any big plans? Not here, I'll just be home handing out candy...it's always so lame when Halloween falls on a Monday. That also means it's the end of the month so it's time for my recap and this month was a good one with lots of exciting things going on. Here are a few of my highlights. 

The Oilers Home-Opener
The most hyped event of the month for me was most definitely the Oilers first game in the new arena. I've been a loyal fan for as long as I can remember (and even before that) and having a new rink was finally something we could look forward to after years of disappointment. I've talked about the rink before but just a quick recap...it's fantastic! I did however think that the pre-game ceremony stuff would have be a little more impressive. They delayed the start of the game and asked fans to be in their seats an hour before puck drop but then we ended up just watching warm-up for half that time. Sure, there's some pretty exciting new features like the new laser show and gigantic jumbotron that they were able to show-off but other than that it was really just a couple of videos and the normal roster introductions. Oh well, the actual game more than made up for it. We crushed the Flames 7-4 giving us lots of reasons to score and even witnessed Connor McDavid score on a penalty shot. That big win seemed to set the team off on the right foot too as they're off to the best start in years. Keep it up boys! 



The Strumbellas at The Winspear Centre
Oh my gosh you guys, this concert was AMAZING! Obviously I liked The Strumbellas (I did go to the show) but after watching them that night I am now completely infatuated with them. It tops my list for the best concert I've ever seen and anytime they are back in town you will find me there....fan for life. Let's start with The Winspear, we are so spoiled to have such a perfect venue in Edmonton. I've been to a few events there but never a concert like this and it works so well. The sound is amazing and we had seats in the fifth row which made the whole experience super intimate. I know not everyone feels the same but my favourite part of concerts is when the band is really interactive and actually talks to the crowd. If I just wanted to listen to your music I would listen to in at home, I want an actual experience. The Strumbellas gave me all that and then some, they even brought this little boy on stage to join them for a song and he was out of this world awesome. I loved every minute of the show and if you have a chance to see them in concert in the future I would highly, highly recommend going. 






video

Carrie Underwood at Rogers Place
Two big concerts this month and they couldn't have been much different. I am not a country music fan but my bff and I were itching to check out a show at the new arena and this was the first one that sounded alright. And yes, that was based on knowing next to nothing about Carrie Underwood...turns out her music goes from super churchy to crazy man killer. Ok, even with that glowing build-up the actual show was really fun. Her music is fun, she's got a great voice and the new arena takes concerts to a whole new level of spectacle. One thing though, apparently they bump up the already expensive beer prices by another buck for concerts...that's $12.50 for a pint of beer. What the what! Make sure you get your pre-drink on people. 



Paint Nite
Sometimes you need to break out of your usual going out rut of dinner, drinks, movie and change things up a little. Has anyone else gone to a Paint Nite event? We went with another couple after I was tasked with figuring out something different for us too do...it's your on fault folks. I'm not going to lie, as much as it seemed like a good idea when I bought the tickets we were all dreading it as the date neared. Not one of us had any experience painting and aren't exactly the most artistic crowd you'll ever find but you know what, it was kind of fun and I would do it again. Not tomorrow, but at some point in the future. If you don't know what a Paint Nite is here's the jist; you go to a bar, drink some drinks and paint a pre-determined picture with step by step instructions from an instructor. I swear I registered us for an 'easy' level class but the painting we ended up doing was ranked 'moderate'. None of our finished pieces will be going up on the wall but they actually don't look too bad, much better than expected. Tickets are regularly $45 but we got ours for $25 each as they have coupon codes that seem to pop up on their website constantly when you're booking so definitely don't pay full price. If you're looking for something different I think it's a fun way to spend an evening. 


Thanks for reading and here's to more excitement in November. 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Why I Love the Shoppers Optimum Program

It feels like every single store in the universe has some sort of rewards program they offer and if you're anything like me your wallet is loaded down with all sorts of cards. At least now lots of places have apps so it's your phone that gets laden instead of your wallet (much easier to carry). Of all these programs though, one of the longest running and most rewarding is the Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum program. I've been collecting Optimum points for years and years and have received hundreds (probably even thousands) of dollars of free stuff over that time. There were concerns back in 2014 when Loblaws bought Shoppers that there would be big changes to the program and then us Optimum members would get screwed. That really wasn't the case though, they have kept things almost the same and Loblaws actually adopted it's on PC Points program that is also quite good.

Why is it so Great?
On it's face the program doesn't look like anything special. You show your Optimum card when making a purchase at Shoppers and you'll earn points at a rate of 10 points per $1. You'll need to build up at least 8000 points to make a redemption and would get $10 at that level. The redemption levels look like this (usually, more on that later):


Now, having to spend $800 just to get $10 back does not exactly sound very generous but the big advantage of the program are the constant offers they have available to boost those earning amounts. I don't even bother shopping at Shoppers Drug Mart unless there's an extra points offer available because their normal prices tend to be a bit higher than I can find elsewhere. Just as an example of the type of offers available, right now I have a 10,000 bonus points if I spend $60, 1000 bonus points if a buy a Tresemme product or 800 bonus points if I buy eggs. If I spent exactly $60 (before tax) and used all three offers I would get 11,800 bonus points plus my regular 600 points. That would give me enough points for $10 of free stuff and points leftover. Oh the wonder of it!

Sure, it's a bit of work to figure out what are the best days to shop and the best offers to use but it's worth it. Try to save up your purchases and do a bigger shop on the days that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. It also pays to take a look at the flyer for the week to see what products are on sale or may have bonus points available. I don't actually shop at Shoppers a lot, but usually once a month I'll plan a trip and stock up on the essentials for the next while. The best offer days to hit up are when they have 10x your points when you spend $50 or more or when you can get 18,500 points on a purchase of $75 or more (that one is happening this weekend, October 29-31). Make sure you also download the app because you'll get offers specific to you and your purchase history.

The Big Redeem
The best part is obviously the day you get to redeem your points for free stuff but there's also a few tricks to make sure you get the most bang for your points. You can tell just by looking at the table above that it makes sense to hold onto your points until you reach the 95,000 level. The lowest level gives you a return of only 800 points per dollar whereas the highest level will bring that return up to 558 points per dollar. An even better reason to stock up your points is that once in awhile there will be a 'Spend Your Points' event and your points will be worth even more. There's no guarantees on the actual amount but the last couple have bumped up the 95,000 level to $200 (extra $30) worth of free stuff and the 50,000 level went up to $100 (extra $15) of free stuff. Now we're talking!

Let's look at a quick example. If you only shop on the 10x your points days and only do the maximum redemption on a 'Spend Your Points' day you would need to spend $950 to get $200 back. That's a pretty good perk if you're buying things you would have to buy anyways!

Beauty Boutique
I've talked about my Sephora addiction before and that doesn't seem to be decreasing at any point soon but Shoppers also offers a high-end beauty product boutique so you can earn Optimum points at the same time. They offer a lot of the same brands you'll find at Sephora (think Clinique, Stila, Benefit, Dior, etc.) and also have free shipping over $50 and free returns. Keep your eyes open for special points offers on products you already use and sign up for their email list for even more promotions.

So Long Credit Card
Some of you who are already Optimum point pros might be thinking, hey, what about the RBC Shoppers Optimum Mastercard and debit card? Well, both options have been halted and no new applications are being taken. At this point, existing customers are still able to use their cards and earn extra points but I wouldn't be surprised if you find yourself searching for a new card at some point. If you want some more information about the split you can check out this article. This isn't that unusual, if you're also a Costco member you probably remember when they switched their allegiance from American Express to Mastercard last year. 

The credit and debit card options were a good way to earn extra points and even earn points when you shopped at other stores but I never had either and have still done pretty darn well collecting points. Hit up those extra points days and hoard your points until special events and you'll end up walking out the door with a cart (one of those adorable Shoppers mini carts) full of free goodies. You'll also get to bask in the jealous stares of the people behind you in line when your $200 bill drops right down to ZERO


Check out the Shoppers Drug Mart website for more information on the Optimum program and make sure you download the app (Apple or Android) so you can take advantage of your specific offers.