A Money Coach in Canada

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Photo Credit: mysza

One of my girlfriends dreads gift shopping events – birthdays, weddings, and above all else, Christmas. She feels like whatever she purchases just won’t cut it with the recipient. Similarly, a former client of mine deliberately traveled out of town on any occasions involving gifts, holding the firm view that she’d rather choose what she wanted for herself rather than accept whatever someone chose. Fair enough. (No, they weren’t sisters!).

Me? I enjoy the process of selecting gifts, for the most part. Most of the time, I’m reasonably confident that the recipient will enjoy what I’ve purchased, at least enough to have made the effort. And usually once per season, I find That Perfect Gift which goes over particularly well. For instance, when cds were just coming out (yes, I’m That Old), I found a christmas album (The Hollywood Bowl Christmas Album, recorded in 1957) which had been a christmas staple in our family, but the vinyl version had long since been all scratched up. It wasn’t spendy, but it was quite a hit. And usually once per season something I was less confident about ends up being a surprise hit. Perhaps I have particularly polite friends and family, but on the whole, selecting gifts is pleasurable.

I’m curious: do you enjoy selecting gifts, or hate it? Do you have any awesome “find” stories to share? Or any disasters?

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Photo Credit: Angie22

I saw Twilight this weekend. Allegedly it’s as popular with the yummy-mummy crowd as its original teenage target market.

I can see why. While the acting was wooden and the dialogue banal, there’s no question that the eye-candy factor was off the scale. More importantly, and I expect this is the real appeal, it had all the themes of a classic high romance. Edward Cullen, a vampire, is entirely smitten with the gorgeous, strong-but-innocent Bella. So smitten is he, that he will wrestle down his most primal blood-lust urges in favour of offering her his love, his protection and his fierce yet tender care. Again and again he comes close, so very close, then with difficulty pulls himself back and practices Restraint of the Highest Order.

What woman wouldn’t respond to a gorgeous man who denies himself so entirely, for her sake and the sake of their love?

I couldn’t help but wonder:  does a woman or man who practices self-restraint with their money (I’m not talking cheaping out here, I mean practicing self-restraint for the greater good) have any sex appeal at all?  Any?

I’ve had a couple tough days.  I’m off work, ill.  Headache, achey bones, and a fatigue that’s taken me down for the count.  I hate being sick!  Additionally I’m missing a lot about Vancouver these days.  Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoy Yellowknife – but there are experiences and places and shops and wifi and people who are only to be found in Vancouver.  So in addition to bone and head aches, there’s some ache-of-the-spirit in the mix.

This evening I did what all sick people do to console themselves.  I made the treck to the video store.  Alas, I came out empty.  No The Wire.  No BSG til late July apparently.  I forgot to ask about Firefly (anyone seen the series?  I saw one episode – are they all as awesome?)

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Plan B:  buy some chocolate. One idiosyncrasy of life up here is that the majority of shops shut down at 6pm but not, thank goodness, Shoppers.  I went the distance, folks, I selected a beautiful Lindt milk chocolate bar, went to the til — and my debit card was declined.  And declined.  And declined again.  It’s payday and I work for the Gov’t so I’m guessing Central One’s servers went down, but in any case, so much for my chocolate.  Life was beginning to spiral downward.

Until a lovely thing happened.

The young woman at the til, seeing my crestfallen face, told me to hang on one sec.  She punched a few buttons on the til — handed me the chocolate bar, smiled, and said, it’s on me.  Not on the house.  It’s on me.

I stood dumbfounded.  Eventually I stammered out my thanks, and happily accepted the chocolate bar she had just bought me.

It cost her $1.50.   Not much in the grand scheme of things, but its impact was multiple time a buck-fifty.  It was a lovely, unexpected, random act of kindness.

I don’t know if I’ll make a point of paying her back or if I’ll pay it forward or quite what I’ll do.

I thought I’d start by simply sharing.

Readers, have you experienced a Random Act of Kindness?  Care to share?

ps: I got home, and reached a vancouver friend who, of all things, is also housebound.  He’d rented One Week, and I was able to find it on iTunes for rent, so we’re sharing a movie, virtually.  Life is lookin’ better.

Dr. M. Elizabeth Snow
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Why I Bought A Smart Car

I am a thoroughly cheap frugal person. I’m sure it comes from the many, many years I spent as a starving student1. So when I got a car that required me to have a car, “how much is a car going to cost me?” was one of the first things I wanted to find out. The two3 main things I considered were: (a) how much the actual car would cost and (b) how much gas would cost me.

I knew the following things:

  • I will be using the car mainly for driving to work (35 km each way) and then driving around to various sites in the Lower Mainland for meetings. This driving will pretty much all be on my own.
  • The other thing I will use my car for is to drive to hockey, where I’d either be driving on my own or with one other passenger.
  • I don’t need any bells or whistles. Truly, the only requirements I have for the car is that it it fits me and my hockey equipment and has a cup holder for my ever present travel mug of coffee.

a. Cost of the Car

I have long had a crush on the smart. I also loved my old Honda Civic. And being a member of the Car Co-op, I’ve driven all sorts of different cars lately, so I know that I like the way the Toyota Corolla drives, but I hate the Toyota Yaris.

There seems to be a misconception that the smart car is really expensive (perhaps it’s because it’s made by Mercedes Benz?), as evidenced by the countless people who have said to me “Aren’t those EXPENSIVE?” when I say that I’ve bought one. But here’s a quick comparsion4 of the cost of each of the base model with no extra options added for each of these cars (and a few hybrids thrown in for good measure):

Car Cost After Taxes & Other Fees
Toyota Yaris Hatchback (2008) $15,144.45
smart fortwo Pure (2009) $16,227.75
Toyota Corolla (2009) $18,070.85
Honda Civic DX Coupe* $20,792.00
Toyota Prius (2008) $30,591.65
Honda Civic Hybrid* $32,385.80

*Honda doesn’t indicate on its website to what year’s model they are referring.

And not all base models are created equal. For example, the Corolla didn’t include things that the smart fortwo comes with standard, like keyless entry, power windows and a first aid kit and the Toyota website allows you to choose the older model (2008 or 2009) of their cars, which may not still be avaialable, so if you have to go with a 2009 or 2010 instead, the cost would be slightly more than what I’ve listed here.

So, you can see that the smart is a fair bit cheaper than the other cars I’ve considered and significantly cheaper than the hybrids. (The only one that is cheaper is the Yaris Hatchback, which I *hate* driving).

b. Cost of Gas

The other big thing to consider is how much gas is going to run you. So here’s a comparsion of the fuel economy of these cars. The measure of fuel economy is given in litres of gas per 100 km. So the lower the number (i.e., the fewer litres of gas you burn when you drive 100 km, the better). The measure also gives you an easy way to see how much gas is going to cost you – for example, if gas costs $1/litre, then a car that gets 5l/100 km will cost you $5 in gas for every 100 km you drive.

Here is the fuel economy given for each of these cars on their respective websites:

Car Fuel Economy (L per 100 km)
City Highway City & Highway
Combined
Toyota Yaris Hatchback (2008) 7.0 5.5 6.3
smart fortwo Pure (2009) 5.9 4.8 5.4
Toyota Corolla (2009) 7.5 5.6 6.7
Honda Civic DX Coupe
(manual transmission)
7.4 5.4 not given
Toyota Prius (2008) 4.0 4.2 4.1
Honda Civic Hybrid 4.7 4.3 not given

You can see from this table that the one cars that get better fuel economy than the smart are the hybrids, which cost almost double what a smart costs to buy. I also noticed that all the cars except the Prius get better fuel economy for highway driving than for city driving – I dont’ know what the signficance of that is, but it kinda jumped out at my when I was compiling the numbers.

And then there’s financing

There are a number of financial incentives to buy the more eco-friendly vehicles. My smart car had no Provincial Sales Tax (P.S.T.) due to a provincial incentive for buying an eco-friendly car and there was a $1250 “spring rebate.” The dealer was offering 3.9% financing, but I chose to go with the Vancity Clean Air Auto Loan, which provides lower loan rates for people who buy fuel efficient cars. Specifically:

Only the smart car, the Prius & the Civic Hybrid fall into that first category. The Civic, the Corolla and the Yaris, along with 13 other cars, get the slightly higher prime + 2% rate. Given that the prime rate is so low (2.25% on the day I got my loan), prime + 1% is a pretty sweet deal!

So there you have it. In addition to the fact that I’m totally in love with the smart – so cute, fun to drive, less impact on their environment than most other cars, parkable in the tiniest of parking spaces, high safety rating – it’s also a pretty good deal financially speaking.

Also, for the record, this blog posting is not paid for in anyway – I just love my smart and want to share my smart enthusiasm! Actually, I’m becoming something of a smart car evangelist… perhaps I should ask them for commission? 😉

.1People talk about the “ivory tower” of academia, but let me tell you – they must have spent all the money on ivory, because they certainly don’t spend it on grad student salaries2
2Assuming you are getting any salary at all.
3I assumed car insurance would be the same no matter what car I bought, since I knew I wasn’t going to be buying a Ferrari or anything.
4These prices are all taken from the car companies’ respective websites, which conveniently have a “build your own car” tool that allows you to pick whatever options you like and find out how much the car you want will cost after taxes and fees. The price for the smart fortwo is the price that I actually paid.

Dr. Beth in Dr. Car

Dr. Beth in Dr. Car,
originally uploaded by Kalev.


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I’ve been adamant about not stepping foot inside the local Walmart store here in Yellowknife. You know all the reasons:

But the company is starting to challenge my ideas about them.

Back in 2006 they switched to LED lights for their refrigerators, and that was before I even used LED.

And today, Walmart Canada announced that their “home office” (presumably their headquarters in Mississauga) is a zero waste facility, with plans to adopt this across all their stores.

Even more impressive, I learned that as early as 2005 they have committed to three goals:

  • produce zero waste (clearly they’re moving forward on this)
  • be powered entirely by renewable energy (they just signed a contract with Bullfrog Energy to provide their energy for their home office, and stores in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.)
  • make more environmentally “preferable” (whatever that means) products available to consumers.

Much as I love to hate big box stores in general, and Walmart in particular, I have to admit:  These are powerful commitments, and if a monolith makes these kinds of changes, surely it will not only have a positive impact in its own right, but also motivate others to adopt similar policies.

Readers:  What do you think?  Should I start shopping at Walmart?  Are they Going Good?

Photo Credit:  Jason Mundy

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