Friday, 29 January 2016

High Fashion VS Low Fashion

High fashion or low fashion
I don't particularly like this about myself but I am a total sucker for cheap clothes and accessories. You'll often find me grabbing a couple of items from Joe Fresh when I'm doing the weekly grocery shop. Not proud of it, but I can't seem to help myself! The 'fast fashion' industry that includes the likes of Joe Fresh, Forever 21, H&M, Old Navy, etc. thrives on our consumerist desire to buy quantity over quality. And I completely get that temptation but I'm starting trying) to change my tune. I am one of those people who have a wardrobe full of stuff but, more days than not, find myself flipping through my clothes and not wanting to wear any of them. I'm starting to get the appeal of going minimalist on my wardrobe and investing in some quality, classic pieces that I'll actually enjoy wearing. 

There's been quite a bit of negative press surrounding the 'fast fashion' industry lately because many of the companies don't exactly score too highly on the 'being a decent human being' scale. Most outsource the making of their clothing to countries that have little to no labor regulations and employee people who have to work in horrible situations and get paid hardly anything. Think about that the next time you throw a $10 blouse in your cart...hey, you'll feel good in your heart and your wallet ;) Another issue is the amount of waste that is created in clothing that just doesn't last. Sure it's nice to constantly rotate your wardrobe but just think of what happens to all that clothing you get rid of. The Council for Textile Recycling estimates that the average American throws away 70lbs of clothing and textiles every single year! That stat blows my mind! 

Now I'm not trying to nag you or make you feel bad (well maybe a little) but I think we (me very much included) should take a hard look at what we're buying and think of those stats before deciding how necessary those cheap shoes are. 

If you want some more info, this article from The Atlantic is a great read. 

John Oliver also did a bit on 'fast fashion' that is worth the watch:



What do you guys think, are you all about the bargain or do you prefer to save and splurge on quality? I hope by this time next year I can land solidly in category two! This will never be an all or nothing venture for me (unless I win the lottery). My budget likely wont ever allow me to stock a full wardrobe with high fashion items, but I think filling some gaps with 'low fashion' is ok. We can't all be perfect, but if everyone tries a little harder it will make a big difference. 

High fashion or low fashion

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Winter Bucket List

It's January 26th in Edmonton and it's...RAINING!! What the what?!? Ok, I'm sure this has happened before but it's kind of blowing my mind, and it's supposed to go up to 8 degrees on Thursday. Anyways, the beautiful and mild weather we've been having has made me (very much a cold weather hater) want to embrace winter and get out and do things. 

Here's what I want to get to before spring shows it's pretty face. 


Image credit: icecastles.com

1. The Edmonton Ice Castle
I've seen so many pictures of the ice castle and really can't wait to go and see it for myself. It's cheaper if you buy tickets online before you go and also cheaper if you go during the week instead of on the weekend. Now just to decide whether to go during the day or at night...or maybe right at dusk and get the best of both worlds. 


Image credit: The Freezeway Pilot

2. The Edmonton Freezeway
Being able to explore the Freezeway pilot project down in Victoria Park is pretty much the only reason I got skates this year. I love the idea of encouraging people to get outside and be active in the winter but I'm not sure I'm sold on extending the project so people can skate to work. Either way though, I'll take it and am actually excited to go skating for the first time since I was a kid. The Freezeway is open from 10am until 10pm daily and is free. 



3. Swing 'n Skate Sundays
To keep with the skating theme, City Hall is hosting Swing 'n Skate Sundays from 1pm to 4pm throughout January and February. You can check out swing dancing inside or skating outside and local bands will be playing each week. There's no charge to attend and they even have free skate rentals if you don't have your own. 



4. Flying Canoe Volant
Head on down to Mill Creek Ravine between 6pm and 10pm and La Cite Francophone from 6pm until 12pm on February 5th and 6th to check out the Flying Canoe Festival. There will be lots of activities including light displays in the ravine, live music, and a winter patio. 



5. Edmonton Oil Kings Game
We've been to a couple of Oilers games this year but haven't made it out to watch the Oil Kings yet. I definitely want to catch a couple of games before their seasons over. Tickets are so reasonably priced and it's really good hockey...they're actually sitting in a playoff spot right now, which is more than you can say about the Oilers. 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Miss Bree's Rescue Story

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm an animal lover and further proof comes from the fact that we share our home with two dogs and two cats. We have Baxter our boxer who we got from a breeder five years, our two cats who both came from the Edmonton SPCA as kittens and then Bree who we got from a local rescue organization. The rest of our critters grew up in the lap of luxury but Bree had a pretty rough start to life and I thought I would share her story with you and maybe (hopefully) inspire you to adopt, foster or donate to local rescues. We've obvsiouly gone both ways with rescuing a pup and buying one from a breeder and let me tell you, I'm a convert. Don't get me wrong, Baxter is fantastic but he does have some health issues that often come with a purebred dog and adopting a rescue can just be so rewarding. 

Almost four years ago I was set on getting a second dog and was browsing the websites of some local rescues when I stumbled upon this picture: 
I was instantly sold (those ears though!) and knew she was the one. The bf however was less than convinced. He was not into the idea of adding a second dog but I was determined. I actually tricked him into going to an adoption event that Bree was at, hoping he would change his mind. It was love at first sight for me and I knew the moment I met her that she would mine...and let's just say that I tend to get my way if I'm determined enough ;) 

Anyways, after a bit of a battle I won out and Bree's foster mom brought her to our place to see how she got along with Baxter and our cat. Everything went smoothly and she's been living with us even since. 

When we got Bree she was only about 1.5 years old (best guess) and she had grown up on a reserve just outside of Edmonton. She had to spend the first chunk of her life outside and fending for herself. When she was taken in by the rescue she was painfully skinny, shy, losing her fur and worst of all she was VERY pregnant. After only a few days in care Bree had a litter of 11 (!!!) puppies. Even in her weakened state she did her job as mom and still acts like the momma bear, especially with our cats...always the babysitter. Flash forward about 8 weeks and many of Bree's pups were getting adopted and that was when she came to us. 

Very pregnant but still showing ribs.

Looking tired with 11 puppies.

Sweet momma. 

Way too skinny after giving birth. 

Bree has come along way since those early pictures but it wasn't always the easiest road. Rescue dogs are amazing but they often come with some quirks. Bree was not used to living in a house, we were lucky that she came to us house trained but she had a case of separation anxiety and was just not comfortable in enclosed spaces. We wanted to try and crate train her but that was a no go, she was able to break out of any kennel within seconds! There was also one scary experience where she escaped from our house...from the second floor! We had both dogs in our upstairs bedroom and one day I came home and Bree was gone...she had broken out of her crate, pushed out the window and jumped a full two stories down to the ground. I was freaking out and thought she must have for sure broken her leg. I ran out the front, around the corner and there was Bree, happily sniffing around the neighbor's yard! She even came running up to me when she saw me after after a thorough check-up I confirmed that she was no worse for wear. After that she got free roam in the house and there was only minimal destruction...dogs are why we can't have nice things! 

Almost four years later and Bree is much more relaxed, an absolute sweetheart, and more than a few pounds heavier. 

Looking healthier this past fall.

Curled up in her spot.

Out for a hike.

Posing for the camera.

If you're considering adding a critter to the family I really recommend checking out local rescues to find your new addition. The rescue we got Bree from is no longer running but here's some other great places to look at. 

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Let's Talk TFSA's

Tax-Free Savings Accounts

It's that time of year where questions about TFSA's come up over and over again so today we're going get into the nitty gritty of them and why they can be so useful. 

The government introduced TFSA's in 2009 and they are available to all Canadians who are over 18 years old. Each year you get additional contribution room in your TFSA so in 2016 the total contribution room is $46,500. If you didn't turn 18 until after 2009 your room would start adding up in the year you turned 18. The contributions started at $5,000/year and were set to grow with inflation but only in $500 allotments, hence the increase to $5,500 in 2013. Then the Conservative's decided to increase the contribution room to $10,000/year in 2015 but that was withdrawn by the new Liberal government so we're back down to $5,500 this year.

The yearly breakdown has gone as follows: 

2009 - $5,000
2010 - $5,000
2011 - $5,000
2012 - $5,000
2013 - $5,500
2014 - $5,500
2015 -$10,000
2016 - $5,500
2017 - $5,500
TOTAL - $52,000

When you put money in a TFSA you buy a variety of investments within that account; like stocks, mutual funds, bonds, GIC's, etc. This will depend a bit on where you hold the account because some institutions are limited in what they can hold. Now this is where the advantage of a TFSA comes into play, when you buy something in your account and it grows you will be able to sell the holding at a gain and not pay any tax on it when you pull it out to spend. In a normal non-registered account that growth would be counted towards your income and you would pay tax on it. 

Another good thing about TFSA's is that you can withdraw funds from them at any time and you will get that contribution room back the FOLLOWING year. This makes them a good place to save towards both short term and long term goals. 

One of the things that comes up quite a bit, especially in our current market conditions, is moving investments from a non-registered account into your TFSA. You can absolutely do this and do not need to sell off your investment prior the transfer. What will happen is that if the investment you hold is worth more today than when you bought it you will have to pay the tax on that gain when it's moved. This is just like selling it but you wouldn't, you would still hold the investment in your TFSA and any future growth would then be tax free. If the holding is at a loss you wouldn't pay any tax but you also wouldn't get to use the loss when filing your taxes. Usually when you sell something at a loss you can use it to balance out some gains you have. This means that the best time to move investments into a TFSA is when it is as close as possible to the price you bought it at. Crystal clear? I hope so but feel free to post questions. 

If you want information on whether it would be better for you to contribute to an RRSP or a TFSA you can check this post where I talk more about that. 

TFSA's are a really good tool to use for your savings and I recommend opening one up if you've got a goal you're savings towards. The process is simple, you can usually just do it online with your bank or through your financial advisor. 

Tax-Free Savings Accounts

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Debt-Laden: Stopping the Cycle

How get control of your debt

No matter how much you plan for it, spending always seems to get a little splurgey over the holidays and leaves a lot of people feeling strapped for cash in the New Year. Whether you've got some recent debt to get paid off or have been struggling to keep up with your bills for awhile, there are a couple of methods you can choose to help get you current. 

This feels like a timely post because not only are people struggling with holiday bills but, as we all know, the economic conditions in Alberta are less than stellar. Too many people are facing a job loss, and it is so easy to get into debt when you don't have money coming in the door, even if it's just for a few months. I get it, debt has become such an accepted part of our lifestyle but let's see if we can get organized (and motivated) to kick that habit and start getting ahead.

There are two primary methods for debt repayment, and we're going to look at both of them. In my opinion the first option is the way to go, but both options will work, the most important factor is getting started and sticking to either system. The other thing you're going to need to do is stop charging things and increasing debt. You're going to have to start living off cash and debit, at least until all your debt is cleared. As I've said before, I'm not against using credit cards for your spending, but I am if you're not paying off the balance in full every month. 

One little tip to do before you choose a method is to get on the phone with all of your credit card companies and ask them to lower your interest rate. It might not earn you a huge drop, but even small amounts on a couple of cards will add up. I think it's a worthwhile step if you've got a bit of time.

The Debt Avalanche Method
Up first we've got the ladder method where you basically pay off your debts from highest interest rate to lowest interest rate, simple right? What you want to do is make a list, on a napkin, post-it, fancy spreadsheet; whatever you want just go and do it. The information you're going to want to jot down is what the bill is, current balance (approximate is fine), interest rate, and minimum monthly payment. You'll need this list for either method so seriously, if debt is a problem for you go do this right now....I'll wait. Ok, done? Perfect, for the ladder method you're just going to order that list from highest interest rate to lowest interest rate. Now the organization part is done, so easy. The hard part (but rewarding!) comes now that you actually have to start paying! What you're going to do EVERY MONTH is pay the minimum amount on all of the debt items except for the highest, for that one you are going to put on every last dime you don't need to live on (time to get cheap folks). Then once that top one is paid off you just keep moving down the list until everything is all paid up in full, and then celebrate...but not on credit :)

DEBT NAMECURRENT BALANCEINTEREST RATEMINIMUM PAYMENT
The Bay Card$390.0018.99%$11.70
MasterCard$12,325.0011.90%$370
Visa$870.0015%$26.10
Student Loan$10,500.005%$315.00
Car Loan$4,500.003%$135.00
The ladder method will end up being saving you a few bucks in interest charges over the life of your debt which is why it's my first choice, but if you think you would benefit from some quick wins, then you should keep reading as the next option may be a better fit. 

The Debt Snowball Method
The snowball method was made famous by personal finance guru Dave Ramsey who's an author, speaker, blogger, etc. If you want some more reading his book 'Total Money Makeover' is a good read, it can get a little preachy but his basic concepts are solid. In his method, you are going to take that same list of all your debt but instead of organizing it by interest rate you are going to rank it my current balance, and this time from smallest to largest. Then you do the same thing, pay the monthly minimums on all but the first (smallest) balance and knock them off one by one. The idea behind this is that the small and quick wins at the beginning will boost your motivation to tackle the larger balances down the page. 

DEBT NAMECURRENT BALANCEINTEREST RATEMINIMUM PAYMENT
The Bay Card$390.0018.99%$11.70
Visa$870.0015%$26.10
Car Loan$4,500.003%$135.00
Student Loan$10,500.005%$315.00
MasterCard$12,325.0011.90%$370
Everyone picked their poison? Honestly, don't think too hard on this one, just go with your gut and move on. The real brain power will come when you start working out your budget and figuring out all the ways you can pinch some pennies to get the debt repayment rolling. I've got your back though, keep your eyes on the blog for a post in the next couple of days. 

How get control of your debt

Friday, 1 January 2016

Best of 2015: Books Edition

I set a pretty lofty goal for myself through the Goodreads Reading Challenge to read 50 books in 2015 and I did it...finished my 50th book on the very last day of the year! I'm pretty proud of hitting it but I'm going to lower my goal a bit (I'm thinking 35) for 2016 because the last month was not all that enjoyable. I can get a little nuts about finishing things so when I was only about 6 books away at the beginning of December I just had to get it done. This however meant that I added in a few short books that I probably wouldn't have read otherwise and it just wasn't that enjoyable to be forcing myself to read so much. 

Now onto the books, I'm going to list all 50 books I read below by what I rated them (the good to the bad). If you want more information on any of the books you can check here for plot summaries and more reviews. 

  1. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
    • My Rating: *****
  2. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
    • My Rating: *****
  3. The Martian by Andy Weir
    • My Rating: *****
  4. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty 
    • My Rating: *****
  5. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
    • My Rating: *****
  6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
    • My Rating: *****
  7. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
    • My Rating: *****
  8. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
    • My Rating: *****
  9. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    • My Rating: *****
  10. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
    • My Rating: ****
  11. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion 
    • My Rating: ****
  12. This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
    • My Rating: ****
  13. Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
    • My Rating: ****
  14. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    • My Rating: ****
  15. The Big Short by Michael Lewis
    • My Rating: ****
  16. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
    • My Rating: ****
  17. Quiet by Susan Cain 
    • My Rating: ****
  18. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
    • My Rating: ****
  19. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
    • My Rating: ****
  20. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
    • My Rating: ****
  21. The Wealthy Barber Returns by David Chilton
    • My Rating: ****
  22. A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbet
    • My Rating: ****
  23. Yes Please by Amy Poehler 
    • My Rating: ****
  24. The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
    • My Rating: ****
  25. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
    • My Rating: ****
  26. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
    • My Rating: ****
  27. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
    • My Rating: ***
  28. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell 
    • My Rating: ***
  29. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn 
    • My Rating: ***
  30. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
    • My Rating: ***
  31. The Power of Why by Amanda Laing
    • My Rating: ***
  32. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
    • My Rating: ***
  33. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon 
    • My Rating: ***
  34. The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey 
    • My Rating: ***
  35. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 
    • My Rating: ***
  36. Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
    • My Rating: ***
  37. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    • My Rating: ***
  38. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
    • My Rating: **
  39. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
    • My Rating: **
  40. The Walled City by Ryan Graudin 
    • My Rating: **
  41. The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel 
    • My Rating: **
  42. Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
    • My Rating: **
  43. The Mystery of Mercy Close 
    • My Rating: **
  44. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris 
    • My Rating: **
  45. The Stranger by Albert Camus
    • My Rating: **
  46. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards 
    • My Rating: **
  47. I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi 
    • My Rating: **
  48. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
    • My Rating: *
  49. The Dinner by Herman Koch
    • My Rating: *
  50. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham 
    • My Rating: *