A Money Coach in Canada

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well, that’s a lie. I didn’t just discover secret shopping. But back to that later.

I did just discover that focus groups pay! A friend gave my name to someone arranging focus groups about the Cdn Military so I signed up and booked last Wednesdays evening off. We showed up only to discover it was over booked so we weren’t needed (us Yellowknifers are reliable peeps!) after all which disappointed me. I had my 2¢ worth to say! (yes to military in peace keeping missions. how Canadian of me). Buuuut… my disappointment was swiftly abated when I discovered we were being paid $100 cash despite not being able to participate!

My friend donated hers to Japan Relief. Me — not so altruistic. It’s been a while since I’ve had a manicure so by the time I type tomorrow’s post, I’ll be doing so with lovely french manicured nails.

Easiest.$100.Ever.

And THAT reminded me of a time years ago when I was a secret shopper for Escents. It was a bit harder work, but a lot of fun. I had to go hang around the store, ask for help if it wasn’t offered and ask a few questions about some of the products. And for that, I got a $75 gift certificate towards their products.

Readers, I’m kinda into this now! Anyone know any legit (operative word!) secret shopper companies or survey takers? And I don’t mean the BS ones that really are about selling me stuff. I mean: I evaluate or put thought into something in exchange for cash or product, like the examples above.

I am so not a handy-person.   But it’s a great way to save money (if you do it reasonably well) and in Yellowknife there’s such a shortage of skilled labour that most work costs folks their firstborn (or in my case, a floppy-eared daschund).

So.  I’m getting bold.  I’m getting determined.  And with the help of youtube, I’m learning how to fix things myself.

Take a guess at what my first project was.  Here’s a clue:

Strong White Boating Rope

A recap of two key thoughts in earlier posts about changing money habits:

1. Your brain has two systems operating together at all times: your rational brain and your instinctual brain. Don’t pit them against one another – your rational brain will nearly always lose. Or, in real life, you will buy the coveted item you can’t afford against your better judgement. Or you will avoid facing facts. Instead, learn to work with both parts to achieve long term change.

2. Playing to your strengths is likelier to lead to success than trying to fix your weaknesses. Think about it a moment. When you are doing something well, you feel good, right? And you usually want to do more of it? Whereas if something is difficult, and you often fail, you prefer to avoid it, right? So. Let’s put your strengths to work, shall we?
_______________________________________________________

The first step is to identify your strengths. Here is an exercise to help you to just that.

Choose 8-12 people who know you reasonably well from your various walks of life. Coworkers. Friends. Teammates. Family. Professional connections. Customers.

Send them an e-mail or a letter asking them to provide anonymous (-ish) feedback about your strengths to you. I did this once for a professional development assignment at work, so trust me, it’s do-able!

Here’s some sample text.
***
Dear ___________________,

As someone who knows me through **XYZ** I would really appreciate your feedback on a personal undertaking of mine. I want to ensure I am making the most of my strengths during 2011. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on what you see as my strengths. I am asking several people for feedback. Your support by way of feedback would be invaluable to me.

If you are willing, would you please list for me 3 key strengths you see in me? If you are comfortable, providing an example of that strength in action will help provide clarity.

1. _________________
example:

2. _________________
example:

3. _________________
example

***

Then, you can provide them a link to a survey on survey monkey, or ask them to e-mail you directly, or to send you a letter back in a self-addressed envelope. Your Call.

Once you receive all the feedback, create a composite of your strengths. This is what you have to work with!

On Wednesday, it will be time to discover how to bring those strengths into play re: managing your money effectively.

For those of you who are daunted by this exercise: You may miss out on some hidden capabilities, but a simpler, more private exercise is simply to reflect on the matter over several days. What have employers said about you? Friends? What are some activities you excel at?

This is a guest blog by a coworker with a lively online persona … but not from my lips or typing shall his/her identity be revealed. I did manage to coax out this guest post on the all-too-common habit of eating out too much for our budgets to handle. Northerners or readers in remote places will particularly relate, I suspect!

Lunch for Wednesday

Having a single income, owning a home with constant repairs needed, and living in the North where the cost of living is at an all time high makes a person consider setting up an IV system instead of paying for real food. Add to this the temptation of working downtown where there are at least half a dozen establishments with friendly staff waiting to take $20 and hand you a quick answer to the question “what’s for lunch?” and I’ve found myself looking at an empty bank account wondering what happened more than once.

One solution to this is to stop eating. A BETTER solution to this is stop impulse eating. When I moved out of my parent’s place at age 17, some of the advise my mom gave me was “always lock your door”, “cook big meals that can be frozen”, and “learn to budget”. The last two I’ve really taken to heart recently. Every pay day, I sit down and think of what I want to eat for the next two weeks until my next pay cheque. On my last shopping trip, I got everything I needed for breakfasts and lunches for 2 weeks for about $45, and everything I need for suppers for $50, including snacks and desserts. That is every meal I will need for 2 weeks for under $100.

When shopping for food, people tend to do it all in one place, which is understandable, but tends to lead you to do all of your shopping at higher end grocery stores where the meat and produce is fresher and readily available. Unfortunately this also means that the frozen and boxed items are more expensive. Frozen foods, preserves and dry goods are made to the same factory specifications, which from a freshness standpoint makes it a moot point as to where you actually pick them up. A can of soup is a can of soup. My tendancy now is to pick up all of my dry/frozen goods at a grocery store down town, which is the cheapest in YK, and then pick up my fruits/veggies and meats at a store closer to my house.

Another way I save on my food bill is to make a big meal every weekend and freeze the majority of it in single serving containers. If I make a soup or stew on the weekend in my slow cooker (which is a marvelous invention might I add), that will do me for a week or so. Now, the same soup for lunch every single day tends to get quite dull, which is why I make something different every weekend and stockpile my frozen meals. Lasagana here, stew there, pulled pork every once in a while, and I’m happy.

We as Canadians tend to waste a lot of food. One reason being that we buy too much of it, and we buy it on an impulse. When I got home from the store, I used to have to clear out some space before I was able to put any of it away, and a lot of the new items I was putting in the fridge was the same stuff I had just tossed out because I didn’t use it the last time. Just because it sounds like a good idea in the grocery isle, doesn’t mean that you will use it. I’ve also taken to looking at my grocery cart a lot instead of what’s on the shelves, either planning meals in my head and making sure I only get what I need, or just trying to aviod the “oh shiny” reaction to a new flavour of chocolate coated something-or-other that may catch my eye. When it comes to treating myself, I could justify pretty much anything, so long as there was carmel filling involved somehow. Now, it’s 1-2 treats tops per pay period.

All in all, this has made for a much smaller food bill, and a much healthier diet. No more coming home from the store feeling like I accomplished something, then realizing that I spent $100 or so on treats, and only have enough real food for maybe 4 meals. Who knew that taking my mom’s advise would work out so well :).

-Luggy Deadnick

Readers: I eat out for lunch maybe once/week, tops. That’s partly due to the fact that I can walk home – in -30C, mind you – every day for lunch. How often do you buy lunch, and what do you attribute it to?

Details Halloween house, Vancouver Downtown 2

I don’t know about where you live, but I’d say it was somewhere in the mid-2000’s when Halloween became an event rivalling Christmas in Vancouver. It became seriously epic! A little warmer than in December, Oct. 31st is the perfect time of year to walk through neighbourhoods not trick-or-treating (albeit tempting) but looking at the spookily bedecked houses. Folks go all out – sound effects, coffins pop open as you walked by and gravestones are scattered eerily across formerly friendly lawns. (Check out this haunted house in Thornhill, Ontario!) And costumes are no longer just for the kids. Halloween has become a time when everyone can express their creativity and ghoulishness…. as you walk down Broadway or Robson …

It doesn’t seem to be quite as big a deal up here in Yellowknife, perhaps because it’s hard to wear costumes over parkas, but still it has a strong presence (as Nanook the SuperHero demonstrates).

Canadians are going to spend $1.5Billion on Halloween this year, an average somewhere between $60 – $75 per each and every Canadian.

I’ll fess up. Things have been so hectic for me the past few weeks that I haven’t spent a dime on halloween this year. Not a dime. It also means I’ve bunkered down in my apartment so nobody comes trick-or-treating – how lame is that! How ’bout you? Do you get into Halloween? How much did you spend? And what made it worth it?

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