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  • Writer's picturePat Birnie

Four thought-provoking ways to genuinely improve your finances

It's been a week since our feet hit the snowy ground of Canada, after 2 months traveling through Panama and relaxing in Mexico. We always meet so many interesting people on our travels, mostly because my husband talks to everyone. I mean everyone. I often joke that he finds me so boring he has to start conversations with all who cross our path. (It is kind of understandable; having been together 24/7 for weeks on end, I can't say that I blame him). The truth is we meet so many interesting people from all over the world. There are some incredible stories, and unique people - a medical resident from Austria that was volunteering with Floating Doctors, a group providing medical care to the under-served communities of Panama, many adventurous folks that surf most mornings and work a few hours a day running a biz from their phones. There was a married couple with their 10 year old son Wilson, living on their sailboat, -- this list goes on. I am so grateful that Ian does this - it truly expands our horizons. How does this tie into the title of changing your financial position? Well, Mo from The Netherlands impressed the heck out of us - more on that in a moment.

If I can share a small pet peeve here, and I promise I don't let it get to me too much, it's when folks say "You're so lucky that you get to travel and live the life you live"... I have to tell you, there is more than luck involved. For sure there has been hard work, (like so many of you), there has been entrepreneurship and investments (again like many others) and we took some risks (like some of you;)...So what is the differentiating factor? I truly believe that it is maintaining a reasonable lifestyle, even when your financial situation improves. When I look back about 15 years, we owned a struggling fitness centre, had purchased our first few properties and I worked part-time in corporate. The goal with the real estate was to grow equity for long term benefits. We continued to put money into other long-term investments, even when there wasn't any extra. It wasn't easy to let that money grow when we could have used it, but long term gain comes from short-term pain.

It's time for some gratitude here: I was raised by an Italian mother and and Irish father who grew up in true poverty during the depression. (we are talking times when there was no food for the table, or missing school because you didn't have shoes). My parents were amazing money managers, and could make a dollar stretch. My father worked in a factory his entire life, and with that single income we had a comfortable home, amazing meals on the table and did a two week cottage rental vacation every year. I learned how to economize, cook from scratch, and the discipline of saving even a tiny amount from each pay. Our family ate dinner out exactly once a year. Our annual trip to Niagara Falls, with a visit to a relative on the US side meant dinner in an Italian restaurant. it was amazing!) Enough memory lane - time to get to the nitty gritty!

My TOP 4 tips:

  1. TRACK your spending - I don't do this all the time, but periodically I will track every cent I spend for a month or two. You choose the method - an app, a small notebook, a simple spreadsheet (my choice). I get the receipt for every purchase and total into categories at the end of the week. I can easily see how much I spend on groceries, household, entertainment, personal items. What does this do? It keeps me accountable for where the hard-earned money is going. It is so easy to let money slip through your fingers and have nothing to show for it. If you are on a tight budget and see, for example that your coffee takeout habit is costing you $1000-2000 a year, it may shock you into making your own coffee, even once a day.

  1. Go Meatless 1-2 meals a week - Grocery prices are up, making this the perfect time to look at small changes. Fresh vegetables are also costly but they go a long way. Beans & lentils for protein in delicious vegetable curry or soup, overnight oats for breakfast are a couple of convenient options. One study showed that meatless meals come in at about $1.40/serving. What would doing this a couple of times a week save your family? (Be sure to click on the link above - you'll find a "Budget Meal Plan" with some delicious sounding recipes) Bonus: Buy costlier items such as coffee, meat, fresh salmon etc only on sale. I keep the Flypp app on my phone and can quickly check for the best prices. I NEVER drive out of my way to save a buck, I just know where I need to stop when I'm out and about.

  2. Eliminate Credit Card Interest - This is of course a no-brainer. We know that it is expensive debt, but we also know that it is sometime unavoidable. It could be a combination of my upbringing and my very lean years raising 4 kids on a part-time income, but I am very uncomfortable with credit card debt. Sometimes debt really makes sense, if used to grow your money. This is where Ian & I really balance each other out. He's great at investing and making our money work for us. If your debt is tax deductible and the advance used to leverage higher interest investments then go for it. (This is typically done with a lower interest line of credit) Just be sure to plan how you'll use that investment to pay off the debt. **A couple of credit management strategies: If a big ticket item is on the radar, start saving now, exercise patience and watch for deals. IF you see a great deal you need to snap up, be sure to have a plan as to how you will pay it off. Does your credit card balance get away from you? Try checking your balance online weekly and paying it immediately. No surprises at the end of the month!

  3. My favourite tip - Thrifting and spending fasts. I'm sorry, I just can't help it - I LOVE LOVE LOVE getting a great deal! I was taught by the best how to thrift and consignment shop, and I have been doing it for years. It does take time and you need a bit of flexibility, but whoa boy have I got some deals! A few years back we were heading to a family destination wedding. I found a gorgeous designer sundress (wedding) and a couture shift dress (night-before dinner) at Value Village. I don't care about labels, but the quality is important. The two dresses were $50-60 total. The only problem is that for all the compliments I got on the dresses, I had to blurt out my deal. My husband just shakes his head; what can I say? I'm an open book. There is more to this than cost-savings -we thrifters are also helping the environment. As for a spending fast - try a month of "buy nothing" other than fresh fruit and vegetables. The bonus on this is your pantry will naturally get cleaned out!

  4. My final & most important tip is what to do with all the money we save. What happens when you get a salary increase or come into some extra money is what will determine your long-term financial situation. The story of Mo & her partner is inspiring. They both quit smoking a few years ago; ditching that expensive habit leaves a lot of cash on the table. Most of us would barely notice it due to "lifestyle creep" . This couple is different -- every single Sunday since they quite they put the unspent cigarette money in cash into a jar and save it for travel. They have traveled extensively since then as that money really adds up. Most of us would allow it to be absorbed into our regular lifestyle and barely notice a difference. If you take action on any of these tips and cut your grocery or coffee budget, think about putting those unspent funds to work. Even if it's a few dollars each week into a jar, or moved into an account that you don't touch, it will pay off over time.

Writing this post I realize there is so much more to share. Along with economizing. To make this all happen we had to learn a new mindset (not something we got from our parents) and self-belief. My next post will develop this concept further, sharing how we leveraged these habits to allow us this freedom lifestyle.

My wish for you is that somewhere down the road people are saying to you "you guys are so lucky (arghh!). I really wish I had your life". Then you can share how you made it happen!

Pat xo

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