“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?



the ethics of austerity

This is not a post providing intelligent macro-level critique of neoliberal economics and capitalism. This is just some good ol’ micro-level whining. I am quite fine living on a serious budget. I’m okay making do with the clothes and shoes that are already in my closet. Although it would be nice to have a computer that wasn’t eight years old or a pay-as-you-go flip phone, they are both doing what I need them to do. And books? Movies? More than happy to be getting those from the library.

My problems are food and beauty products. I need to eat, obviously. Maybe some would disagree, but I think being clean and presentable is also a necessity. These are the two areas of my budget where there is some room for savings. And these are the two areas where, in order to spend as little cash as possible, I make choices that I hate.

Food… I’m vegetarian. I chose not to eat meat for a variety of reasons, and one of those reasons is the way animals are treated in industrial agriculture. I do chose to eat eggs and dairy, fully aware that both of those industries also have some pretty questionable and, okay, downright shitty, practices. I try to limit my dairy purchases but omg, I love cheese. And eggs are just a super easy and convenient source of protein. My dilemma now is that as an unemployed student, I can’t really afford to buy free-run, organic eggs from a local producer. We’re talking the difference between $3.59 and $6.99 per carton. Or, yes, I can afford the $3.40 price difference, but where do I stop? With eggs? Cheese? My organic apple habit? At some point it isn’t a few bucks anymore but an extra $15 or $20 per shopping trip.

Beauty…. Besides the fact that I don’t want to drench myself in a bunch of chemicals, I also have had problems with eczema since I was a teenager. I have a very simple beauty routine and I stick to very basic products. Like the $24 bottle of argan oil. Or that $16 tub of coconut oil. And just like that, I’ve spent $150. The only up side is that the products last for ages so I spend that amount a couple of times a year.

With the beauty products, I suck it up. After years of experimenting, I’ve found a handful of products that don’t make my eczema flair up and I’m sticking to them. With food…. I stand in front of the dairy case wrestling with my conscience and wishing that we lived in a kinder world. Sometimes my desire for yogurt wins out. Sometimes I spend the extra on the organic option. Sometimes I just skip buying it altogether. And none of those choices feel good. The last one seems easiest, but I still have to eat something and every choice opens up a whole new round of questions. How much fuel was used to ship this? Were the workers paid fairly? Was rainforest cleared to grow this crop? And on and on. While all of these issues are so much bigger than my monthly food budget, having money at least provides me with the option of making more ethical choices. Or at least the illusion of making ethical choices….. I’ll get on my greenwashing soap box another time!

wants versus needs: the gift giving edition


The Bank of Montreal’s 2012 Holiday Spending Outlook finds that survey respondents plan to spend an average of $1,610 this holiday season, up from $1,397 in 2011. Shoppers surveyed say they plan to shell out an average of $674 for gifts this year, compared to an average of $583 last year. The top reasons for spending more are having more people to shop for and being better off financially.

Further to the SPUG post… the top reason for spending more this holiday season is having more people to buy for. But do you need to buy for all those people?!? Can we just sit down and have a sensible conversation where no one’s feelings are hurt? Do we really need to do Secret Santa exchanges at work? Do we need to send gifts to every relative, no matter how distant? Do we need to buy something for every child in our lives? For all of our friends? No, we don’t need to and quite frankly, half the time we don’t even want to.

But there are expectations… Many years ago my now ex-sister-in-law sent me a two page letter berating me for not buying my infant nephew a Christmas present. I had just lost my job but that was no excuse. Any gift would have been better than none, no matter how cheap or crappy. He was 6 months old but she assured me that my transgression would “go down in his book of life.” Uh…. only if you tell him, ’cause he’s, like, a baby and doesn’t even know who I am yet. I hate the pressure to buy something! Anything!

The amount of money spent on Christmas isn’t the part that makes me want to run away to a desert island, it’s the waste. People have so much stuff already. And every birthday, every Christmas, every Hanukkah….. more stuff piles up. No wonder we have t.v. shows about hoarders.

Can we let go of this? Just a little bit? Ease up on the expectations, say no to novelty mugs, have a good time and just enjoy each other’s company?

And just so I don’t sound like a total Scrooge, I truly appreciate the thought that goes into every gift I receive. Since the only people I exchange gifts with are those who know me well, it is always something relevant or useful. Like the food hamper from my mom last year (best gift ever!). Or books. Or handmade gifts like jam and knitting. Or booze. :]  But if any of my friends or family want to stop, just say the word. I won’t take it as a sign that you don’t love me anymore.

be a spug

Copyright New York Times

Copyright New York Times

From the New York Times archives (via Treehugger)…

SPUGS RENEW WAR ON CHRISTMAS GRAFT: Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving Issues Its Second Call to Arms. ANY ONE MAY JOIN CRUSADE Mrs. Belmont and Miss Anne Morgan Plan a Big Rally in Metropolitan Life Building.

The Spugs are on the warpath again. This society, formed as a vigorous protest against the growing custom of exchanging gifts at Christmas without sentiment, the custom of making Christmas gifts for the sake of expediency, or under any other form of compulsion, was organized last year, and carried on an effective and spectacular campaign in the closing weeks of the Christmas shopping season. Read more.

sentenced to debt

My Inner Judge: Please state your infraction.

Me: I bought new boots.

IJ: I see.

Me: Which would be okay except I need new underwear. I need new socks. I need a new winter coat. And I need new winter boots.

IJ: The boots you bought were winter boots?

Me: They were fashion boots. But they’re really nice!

IJ: They were on sale?

Me: No. But they look so good on me!

IJ: They were inexpensive?

Me: No. Kinda the opposite. They’re hand made. But they’re very good quality and a classic style…

IJ: Can they be returned?

Me: No. The store doesn’t take returns and I’ve already worn them.

IJ: Could you afford them?

Me: Um…. well, technically. But now I can’t afford any of the things I actually need.

IJ: In that case I have no option but to sentence you to six more months of saggy panties, holey socks, cold feet, and a tatty coat. Court adjourned.

And in related news… Canadians are spending $3,720 a year on impulse purchases. Top three impulse purchases for women? Clothing, dining out and yep, shoes.

free friday!

September is always a hard month financially. As a perma-student, there is tuition. Almost $900 for this first semester. And I bought my house in September so the house insurance is due. Just over $800. AND we got our dog from a shelter around this time, so her annual shots are coming up. Considering that my monthly income isn’t quite $1400, this is a lot to deal with all at once. Time to be über-frugal!

With my empty pocketbook firmly in mind, I managed to have an awesome time yesterday without spending any cash. The morning consisted of my usual routine of walking the dog and watering the garden, followed by some reading for school. In the afternoon I went swimming at the Sherbrook Pool. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy going for a swim and I’m sure I’ll do this regularly now that I’ve found out that all of the City of Winnipeg pools have free swimming times. The regular rate is $6 so going once  week would add up to $315 a year. I can definitely put that kind of cash to good use.

In the evening, I went with a friend to see the Circus of Objects at the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art. The event itself was free but you could buy a light lunch or booze if you wanted. There are two mores Circuses coming up on September 21 and October 6 featuring entirely different performances. Not sure if I’ll go but I’ll be heading back to the Plug In to check out the rest of the My Winnipeg shows.