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:

gratuitous kitten post

My little gal turns 17 sometime around now. She showed up in an April snowstorm in 1998 as a tiny kitten. Like palm sized kind of tiny. She’s still a wee cat, weighing in around 6 lbs, but size is not a measure of worth. She’s my therapy, my entertainment, my alarm clock, my constant companion. Together, we’ve lived in eight different places in three cities, with twelve roommates (not including O or my mom), three other cats, two dogs, and five foster dogs. She’s been a trooper through it all. She has cost $348.99 so far this year (yep! I keep a budget) and probably thousands overall, but I consider every cent of it well spent.

Cleo’s here with me on this latest adventure, while my other cat and dog stay with my mom in Manitoba, because she has kidney failure and requires special care. I have no idea how much longer we’ll be together but I hope it is many, many more months. And money will not be the reason we part. In two decades that have seen a lot of upheaval, she has been a source of stability and comfort. If it doesn’t sound too sucky to say, I don’t know how I would have managed moving here without her. And so, without further ado…. pictures! Really, this whole post is just an excuse to post pictures of my cat. I wish I had some baby pics but they are all in a box in my mom’s basement so you’ll just have to imagine how big her ears were.

cleo loves the sunny spots  (me too!)

cleo loves the sunny spots
(me too!)

one of seven million pictures of cleo and rufus spooning

one of seven million pictures of cleo and rufus spooning

cautiously exploring our new back yard

cautiously exploring our new back yard

i’m baaaa-aack!

Back in school, that is. Again. And back to living hand-to-mouth. So let’s celebrate with a song!

For pretty much all of my adult life, whenever I’m most broke (like, so broke that I want to run out and be crazy irresponsible and buy new shoes and eat fancy food and splurge on an expensive bottle of gin… like, that kinda broke) THIS is the song I get in my head.


winnipeg cheapskate

In the middle of reading The Official Guide to Being a Winnipeg Cheapskate by Jeremy Bradley. Was planning to read it and write a review but I can tell you right now, I won’t make it to the end. Let me save you a few bucks or a trip to the library.

I’ll start positive. The biggest plus is that it doesn’t centre around shopping and consumption. There is a segment on the CBC morning show called “money saving moms” that is all about shopping for the best deals and it totally bugs me. Here’s a tip…. want to save money? Then don’t go shopping for a bunch of cheap crap you don’t need. This book does talk a bit about coupons and online deals, but it’s overall focus is on being frugal by doing things that are fun and cheap / free.

My biggest complaint is that is has nothing to do with Winnipeg, other than the premise that Winnipeggers are cheap. I was really hoping for some home grown tips like places to go and things to do in Winnipeg, not “have a garage sale” or “clean the house.”

There was also some pretty lame advice. Bradley suggests making extra money by getting crafty. Okay, but…

One idea – thanks to a school project from back in the day – is accordion-folding a page and tying it in the middle to make a butterfly. When you are done, set up a table outside and sell your art (p.7).

What?!? I mean, c’mon… this is not a serious suggestion. If it had started “One idea for your kids…” then maybe. Maybe. Though… I might make some money this way because my neighbours would feel sorry for me for being so pathetic and buy my stupid butterflies. And then talk behind my back about how I was totally losing it.

In the chapter on birthdays, he talks about surprise parties and suggests that a surprise guest list is better than a surprise event. I’m still with him at this point. Then he tells a story about bringing in a distant relative, in this case, a long-lost grandson. But wait…. who is paying for this distant relative to get to the party?  I guess it’s a cheap surprise for the organizer if the grandson is paying for the flight. Anyway… the whole thing didn’t seem well thought out.

I don’t want to diss the entire book. There are tons of really practical suggestions, like considering whether you can afford to live in the area of town you want and in the big house that you want before you actually buy a house. Being house poor sucks so maybe you’re better off starting lower and working your way up. So yes, excellent advice. There just didn’t seem to be anything mind blowing. Read blogs and read other books. There is already so much great information on being frugal that this book hardly seems necessary.

2 stars out of 5 (and both those stars are because Bradley seems like a really sweet guy).

employed! but…

The great news is that I’ve found a job. The bad news is that it is a one-year term position at 6 hours a day. Thankfully it pays halfway decent so I’ll be able to manage. I’ll actually have more cash in the bank than when I was living on my scholarship but working will also incur expenses that I didn’t have when I was a student, like purchasing a more professional wardrobe.

But I’ll be back in the same position a year from now: looking for work, any work. Would be nice if it were meaningful and related in some way to my education and experience but I’m sure I won’t be too picky. Listened to a really depressing documentary today called The Double Grind, all about the difficulties university graduates are having finding work. I could totally relate. I was applying to anything and everything, including coffee shops, when my current position came along.

The documentary mentions going to college as an option to university but that’s no guarantee either. I was at a meeting recently for the Library and Information Technology program at Red River College. The people who run the program were pleased that they had a waiting list to get in but they wondered if graduating 30 students every second year was flooding the market. They asked if graduating 15 students every year might be a better approach. The general answer from around the table was that either way, there wasn’t enough work in the field. Many graduates from the 2011 class are employed in other fields, working part-time or contracts, or underemployed in the library field. Media and the government constantly bring up unemployment stats, but I think underemployment is a huge problem that isn’t being talked about enough.

I’ve been in the labour market since I was 15 and I can’t remember a time when finding a job was so difficult. While I’m completely relieved to have work (and good work, at that) thinking about going through this whole process next winter just about sinks me. My plan for this year is to replace our dying fridge and pay off as much of my small student loan as possible so if I end up as a barista working for minimum wage next year I’ll be able to live lean and not have a pile of debt hanging over my head.