the kindness of strangers

Leaving work today, a woman asked me for $4. She said she was from Winnipeg and they were short money to pay for parking. Quite frankly, she had me at “from Winnipeg” but I’ve long been annoyed by the high cost of hospital parking. So, basically, I was giving this woman $4.

First, a small side rant on hospital parking. It’s like kicking people when they’re down. You don’t park there for fun. You’re probably already stressed out. Everybody needs to go to the hospital at some point, regardless of economic means so it’s not like they’re only targeting the symphony crowd. Grrr. But let’s get back to the topic of this post…

For three years, when I was in my early 20s and working a series of low-paying retail jobs, I made an annual income that was under the poverty line. I sometimes couldn’t pay my bills. I occasionally didn’t have enough money to buy food. And all I had to do was ask family or friends, and I was helped. With a loan. With an invitation to dinner.

As a perma-student, and especially in grad school, I had so many people offer to help. During my MLIS, I borrowed $6500 from my sister and several friends (mostly paid back!). My mom regularly sent me gift cards for SuperStore and looked after my pets for a year (food and vet bills included). Another friend re-gifted $85 in Timmies cards. This is in addition to all the emotional support I received. Why? Because they love me. Because they’ve been there. Because they want me to succeed.

Here’s a paraphrased joke I heard on Laugh Out Loud. Wish I could remember the comedian who said it.

I was walking down the street with a friend and this guy came up and asked us for change. I reached in my pocket and gave him a couple of bucks. My friend said, “You shouldn’t give people money. They’ll just spend it on smokes and booze.” I said, “Well, what did you think I was going to spend it on?”

So what if this woman was lying to me and buys smokes and booze rather than paying for parking?

I don’t care. I know there are all kinds of good arguments for not giving people money. I usually don’t but will offer to buy food or a coffee instead. I guess I probably should have gone with her to the parking meter and paid her ticket. But I didn’t…

I’m unbelievably lucky. I always have people in my life who love and support me. I now have a stable job and a decent income. I have food in my belly and a roof over my head. I am thankfully in a position where $4 means very little. And sometimes it just feels good to be able to help someone out, minus the judgement and suspicion.



frugality & wealth

Two new posts from Katherine on Treehugger:

In Praise of Frugality

Gen Y’ers don’t like to credit the frugality and financial conservatism that dominated their parents’ and grandparents’ mentalities. Frugality isn’t cool or hip. It doesn’t advertise well. It doesn’t gratify instant cravings for new things; but, like it or not, frugality has played a very big role in the financial success of previous generations.

I’m going to add Gen X’ers to that as well. So many people I know seem to be doing well on the surface (decent jobs, houses, cars) but they are in debt up to their eyeballs. And they also fall into the “I want what I want when I want it” trap.

Important Wealth Advice

Interestingly, many of the same practices that save money while freeing oneself up for more adventurous, non-materialistic experiences are also good for the environment. Frugality is intimately linked to living a greener, less wasteful and consumerist lifestyle.

And a link to the Globe & Mail article she references: Feeling Lucky?

living clean and dirty

When I started grad school, I knew that the last semester was going to be financially tough. I will more or less run out of money mid-October. Have a small GIC coming due October 25th that will allow me to squeak through to December 12th but it really will be squeaking through.

Although living like this is incredibly stressful, it has meant that I’m doing some seriously clean living this year as one by one I have been giving up my vices. Stopped drinking booze in January (except for the odd beer at a school social event). Stopped eating chips, jelly bellies and basically any other store bought junk in September. Have two bags of coffee on the shelf but once I get through those, I’ll be drinking tea until the tea runs out. Have seriously curbed my cheese habit and will give it up altogether if I need to. Less alcohol, less caffeine, less fat, less sugar, less salt…. I’m sure my body is thanking me.

Since I’m only here for 83 more days (but who’s counting?) I also don’t want to stock up on anything. Trying to make my shampoo and conditioner, dish soap, laundry detergent and cleaning products last until I leave. Now that my hair is longer and I’m not using so much product, I’ve stopped washing it everyday. As for cleaning, if the first two semesters are anything to go by, it all kinda goes to shit in the last month anyway. This is not exactly the way I want to be living but it’s all for the greater good. Right?!?

And now, a song that sums up my feelings on being broke:

two book reviews

Although I have no time to read these days, I keep adding books to my list of things that I want to read someday. After hearing an interview with Sarah Lazarovic on CBC Radio, her book A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy became #235 on my list of books to borrow from the library at some unknown point in the future. I love the concept – painting pictures of the things she wanted but didn’t actually purchase. This would work well for me since I’m not much of an artist and the stuff wouldn’t look particularly appealing once I was done with it. Lazarovic’s paintings, on the other hand, are very charming. And since I have never been much of a shopper, her philosophy is one that I can easily relate to.

Lazarovic’s philosophy essentially boils down to that familiar, grandfatherly saying “waste not, want not”, but with a noticeably different take. In Lazarovic’s late-capitalist world, it means something like “shop less wastefully, and your wants may actually subside, allowing you to live a happier, less overwhelmingly consumption-driven life.” But I’m sure that when my grandfather muttered those words over breakfast, he was referring to his experience of a Depression-era economy – don’t waste anything because you never know when scarcity will strike. The problem with our current economy is not scarcity, but the opposite – overabundance. It is up to us to choose how we interact with it. Read the rest of the G&M review.

On a similar theme is James Wallman’s book Stuffocation: Why We’ve Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever.

He gives the following five reasons for why experiences are better than material possessions at making people happy:

1) Experiences are prone to “positive reinterpretation,” meaning you’ll instinctively turn a bad memory into a positive one, whereas a bad purchase will stay sour in your mind.

2) Material possessions are prone to “hedonic adaptation,” which is a fancy way of saying the novelty will wear off. An experience, on the other hand, is wonderful in the moment and re-livable in retrospect.

3) Experiences can’t be compared in the same way that stuff is, which makes everyone’s experience unique.

4) Experiences contribute to our personal identities in a way that material possessions do not.

5) Experiences bring us closer to other people. They are a great conversation-starter and make us more interesting.

Read the rest of the Treehugger review.

go-go version

Was looking for a good version of this song to celebrate my upcoming birthday. “Another day older and deeper in debt” seems to sum up my both the year I’m leaving and the one I’m heading into. I was leaning towards Johnny Cash when I stumbled on the go-go version (WTF?!?) by Ernie Ford. It’s so odd. Are those dancers wearing coal miner’s daughters costumes? And could they be any more happy about owing their souls to the company store? Anyway… enjoy!

“dream crushing”

Holy shit. How did a middle class girl from a supportive family end up with $150,000 of student debt?!? I do not recommend going to school my way (i.e. at a snail’s pace, dragging out the process a long as possible and putting off higher earnings and pension contributions in order to stay out of debt) HOWEVER…. racking up a huge debt load is not the way to do it either!

Her parent’s are clearly debt-aderse, so how did she end up in this situation? Banks kept loaning her money, for one thing. Looking at her nice clothes, nice hair, nice toys, I’m guessing that a good chunk of her money did not go to tuition and books. But I think she brings up a really important point at the end: we need to talk about this more. It’s easy to criticize her and the many others coming out of university with massive debt and shaky job prospects, but the consequences affect all of us, not just the poor (literally) grads.

I think we not only need to talk about student debt, but also our system of higher education. I say this as someone who is currently part of the system, and who has no idea what kind of job I’ll be able to find in seven months time. It is in the universities’ financial interest to keep cranking out grads, but is it in ours?


two soapboxes

Soapbox 1: Was strolling through Superstore a couple of weeks ago and there were two displays, side by side, in the clothing area. 100% cotton, white, men’s tank tops for $6. Two feet to the right, 100% cotton, white, women’s tank tops for $8. Any difference? A small one… A-back vs racer-back. Oh, c’mon! Yes, I know it’s only 2 bucks, but why is the women’s tank 25% more expensive. Well, I guess it’s because. That’s right… because.

Soapbox #2: In a related rant, $6? $8? I think John Oliver can do a much better job on this one than me. See also: article in Huffington Post.