Five of the Easiest Ways To Get a Handle On Your Finances.

The other day, Josh and I sat down and made the beginnings of some very big decisions. Actually, a long time ago we did that. We made some very vague goals for our future a few years ago, did a couple of quick meetings with advisors (who gave us some vague advice) and patted ourselves on the back. We are great at being adults, we thought.

We, of course, followed through on nothing and a few months later felt stuck-again. Like hamsters in a wheel, I tells ya. So we made some more decisions and some promises to each other. We would simplify our spending and budget more. We would look at our big goals and dreams and work towards them. We started some of them- One of the most important being that Josh started a new job with more promises of upward mobility and a more stable income. We patted ourselves on the back. Look at us be great grown-ups!

But over the months we spent $20 here and there for entertainment and little trips and eating out and house improvements and on debt. Paying down our debt made us so proud of ourselves that we didn’t really notice how much money we were leeching out on stuff we didn’t really need. I can look at my bookshelf right now and point out 5 unplayed video games and 30 unread books. Which isn’t bad in itself- if we stop the spending and actually use them eventually. All tallied together, it put us in a position that (even though we are “responsibly” paying off debt), we are always broke. Being asked out for drinks or coffee meant a serious tally of what was left in our account. If you add in the fact that on paper Josh actually makes less per paycheque….it was time to make some actual financial goals.

As kids, finances were either seen as something to fear and avoid (my family) or something so behind the scenes that we didn’t learn anything (his family). I didn’t get allowance as a kid, so didn’t learn early on how saving some of it would feel and when I started working when I was 14 years old I spent my entire paycheque the day I got it. Also, my family was always just making ends meet. Calls from the bank were something to be stressed over and ignored. If we did have a teensy bit extra, my dad’s attitude was; “$5 can’t buy anything and you only live once, so let’s spend it. Let’s go buy ice cream bars!” so I never learned what would happen if you kept that $5 and let it add up. Josh was given allowance but never taught how to use it in a mindful way, as most parents did then, and other reaches of finances were never discussed with him in an educational way. There were no inspiring discussions with either of our families of how to distribute funds, how to save, when to spend and the best way to prepare for bills. It isn’t their fault, everyone’s parents do as well as they can, but here we are.

As adults, we are paying towards our debt and have RRSPs set up to save over time, as well as other things, which I won’t go over here. (Finances are largely private, people! That’s all you get!! Haha). We are fairly responsible with our money, yet, every 5 years we say that in 5 years we are going to be able to buy a house. I really, really, really, want to own a small house or townhouse with a small yard. But if that isn’t going to happen, I need to know so that I can settle because I can’t handle being in limbo! However, ideally I want a small house with a small yard.

So what was our mistake, if we are so responsible? NOT SETTING PROPER GOALS. I’ve heard it over and over: Set quantifiable goals with an end date. Did I pay attention? Nope. Not until now. Instead, we keep saying, “One day we will have our dream” and then going off on our way and spending $40 at the dollar store, $20 on crafts, $30 on video games, $100 on yarn (that one is my bad. I have a crochet addiction) and so on,  over the next few months. We saw several financial planners and didn’t take any of their advice, did we?

I think we were hesitant to set goals because – 1) what if it made life dull and 2) what if we failed?

‘We are fairly responsible with our money, yet, every 5 years we say that in 5 years we are going to be able to buy a house.’

So we sat down this time and we made some decisions. We set quantifiable goals that we can make ourselves accountable for, with a solid end date.

First, we asked ourselves this giant question : 

“What do we ultimately want out of life?” (Big picture goal!)

Then, we asked ourselves, “Why???” (a few times) to make sure we have the right motivations for wanting it.

Finally, we asked, “How?” and “When?”  to make sure we had a solid plan this time, instead of a vague notion and a hope it would just happen for us, out of thin air.

After we asked all of these questions, we sat down and made a plan. Here is what we came up with:

  1. Set a quantifiable goal: Ours is to have a house downpayment in 3 years. At the end of the 3 years, we will sit and discuss our next goal. How are we going to do this? We plan to shift our focus off of ONLY debt payoff and start saving, too. You know, like we should have been all along. We will divide our spending in to categories and set limits accordingly.
  2. Limit big spending: Anything that costs more will be a mindful purchase. For example, Josh buys shoes that are at the cheaper end of the scale. They last 6 months. Next time, he will invest in some great quality shoes and take good care of them, thus eliminating that cost every half a year. I will stop buying unethically produced cheap shirts that I have to replace every few months and spend $40 or so on shirts that I will love and that will last. That way, I will have to shop less frequently and will be less tempted to spend. Win win. The biggest decision we made was this: We will remain a one car family for longer than originally planned. Most of the time, I can wait to travel to the further reaches of the city until the evening, which is when I would have access to a car. During the day, short trips don’t make sense on the bus, since the bus has to stop at every stop and it takes nearly as long as walking! Our final decision was to upgrade our car with Honda one last time and get all of the safety features that our car now is missing. It means payments for a few years longer, but we decided it was worth it. It was not an easy decision and we only made it after we swore this car would be driven into the ground and not leave us in a few years. As a result of that decision, we realized it didn’t make sense to have two cars and two car payments. We can’t if we want to get ahead. Instead, we will invest in a great bicycle for me with a lot of storage bags/baskets so I can take it on errands around my area. I was inspired to try this when I heard a radio broadcast (on CJSW 90.9, I think) on bike trails around the city. A woman they interviewed gets everywhere by bicycle and has lived in several Canadian cities: she cited Calgary as second only to Vancouver for bike accessibility. I think I can do this! So, starting in the late spring we will be getting me a bike instead of a second car. Not only will this be good for our wallets, but for my cardio health and the environment as well. I may even get special tires so I can ride on mild winter days. (You need special tires, right?). I haven’t owned or ridden a bike for many, many years so I am kind of nervous/excited. I will be using this mode of transportation for at least a year.
  3. Decluttering: The more stuff we had, the more I wanted! I also found I was getting addicted to the thought of neat storage to store all of the stuff. Recently, I read the Konmari method book and watched the documentary Minimalism on Netflix. Even though it sounds counterintuitive, having more stuff means feeling the need to own even more stuff. Even after just beginning my Konmari journey, I stopped buying as much junk because- Where would I put it?- on that desk I just successfully cleaned off? Although I don’t want my place to feel empty or sparse, I still need to have less. If you have stuff you truly love and very little of it, you appreciate it more and need less stuff to feel whole. I have found this to be true in my decluttering journey but MAN it is HARD. I grew up without much money so abundance means wealth and comfort for me. I am working to change that. Less stuff, less problems.


  4. Budget: Our biggest mistake was declaring to each other, “We will spend less!” and feeling that was enough. It isn’t. From now on, we will have everything from our bills to our grocery budget written out, including “luxury” money. I need to go out once or twice a month for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or I will only speak to my children all year. We can’t be shut-ins. There has to be balance. So we will have bills, groceries, fun money and everything else budgeted out with a max limit. Anything extra at the end of the month goes into savings. Since our grocery bill is very erratic and I (very shamefully) throw out a lot of food every month, I am going to start planning meals….. then the next day I will make meals using that meal’s leftovers…. and so on. Grocery trips will be twice a month for the main meals. We will be more mindful with our eating and it will be easier on our wallets.
  5. Don’t Get Distracted: This goal is for me. I am like a crow, distracted by anything shiny, and immediately in desperate need of that new shiny object. I need to stay on track with our goals. I am a very visual person, so I am going to turn a part of my work whiteboard, which I sit in front of every day, into a vision board. If you’re not particularly vision oriented, maybe a post-it declaring your goals on the fridge is enough. There is no right way to do this. I have also unsubscribed and unfollowed any mailing list or account that is about selling me stuff. I don’t need the temptation!

So there you have it. Our plan for the next three years, give or take.

If YOU feel like finances are bringing out the worst in your relationship lately, or you just seem like you are on different pages with many issues, please see THIS PAGE at for counseling resources. Help is out there!

Anyone else in Calgary own a bike and use it exclusively? Thoughts?

How many of you looked into the future and set goals? 

How is decluttering going?

*This post may contain some sponsored or affiliate links*

You may also enjoy reading…..

Decluttering and Unexpected Emotions.

The Konmari Method and Saving Money

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