Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Penny Pinching

On first impression, I might not strike you as someone you'd call "frugal" - I have a fondness for scotch and cigars, drive a luxury car, enjoy travelling, etc. - but I'm something of a penny-pincher in other areas of my life, which helps to cover the defray the costs of Cuban robustos and single malt.

I'm always on the look-out for new ways to save money without making sacrifices. So, I'd like to share some of my cost-cutting strategies and would invite you to post yours, as well.

1.) Skype: Although I've only started using Skype recently, I'm absolutely hooked. The best feature by far is the $3/month dial-out service, which covers unlimited calls to anywhere in North America. Based on this, I've been able to trim back my Rogers cell phone plan by another $17, plus tax.

Savings: $15 per month x 12 months = $180, or the cost of a very fine dinner for two at AquaTerra.

2.) Insurance: When it comes to car insurance, I like my coverage low and my deductible high. Having a $2,000 deductible vice a $500 deductible saves between $200 and $500 per year - though I am careful to ensure that I do have liability coverage of at last $1M, which actually isn't that expensive.

I'm also careful to read through the cardholder agreement for credit cards, so I know whether they cover additional warranties, car rental insurance, travel insurance, and so on. I've saved at least $700 in hotel and restaurant costs as the result of travel insurance, alone.

Savings: $1,200 per year, or a week-long trip to Costa Rica during the low season.

3.) Rewards Points: I'm careful to compare the different Visa cards and the rewards they offer. When I switched to a RBC Avion card from the CIBC Aerogold*, they waived the annual fee and gave me 15,000 travel miles, or a free $350 plane ticket (tax incl). If I put on another $15,000 on my card over the year, that's $700 in free travel.

Savings: $700, or three boxes of Cuaba Exclusivos and a bottle of 16 y/o Lagavulin.

4.) Low-Cost Banking: All of my banking is either done at PC Financial (which has no fees) or with institutions where I have the minimum balance to avoid monthly fees. StatsCan says that the average Canadian spends $15 per month on bank fees, or $180 per year.

I also don't allow my credit cards to carry a balance. I've said this before, and I'll say it again - credit card debt is the financial equivalent of a sucking chest wound. It's nature's way of telling you to slow down. I don't even want to think about what average credit card debt is, but I've seen estimates of around $2200 per person, which sounds about right to me. That's around $400 per year, just in interest.

Savings: $580, or enough to purchase sufficient premium gasoline for 5,400 km in an SUV.

5.) Brown-bag Lunch: Before I worked from home, I was one of the few people in my office to bring a lunch with me. Even those who did bring a lunch usually brought some sort of frozen dinner. I'd estimate that the price difference between a cafeteria and a brown-bag lunch is around $6 per meal. It doesn't take long before that starts to ad up in a big way.

Savings: For an employee who eats at the cafeteria every day for 49 weeks a year, you're looking at an annual cost of $1470, or 80 pounds of gourmet, fair trade, shade-grown coffee.

Okay, your turn...

*For a while, I quite liked CIBC Aerogold - then Aeroplan waited four months to inform me that my reward flight had been cancelled, thereby causing me to lose my hotel deposit. When I confronted them about this, they told me to pound salt. When I explained my situation to RBC, they very kindly offered to waive my first annual fee and give me the points for joining.

My favorite part was when I cancelled the CIBC card and they - quite naturally - asked why. At the end of my tirade, all they could say was, "Oh, I see."

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Back in the Blogosphere

It's been a long time since I last wrote anything here. In fact, I probably wouldn't be writing anything right now had I not partaken in a comical ice-induced wipeout while leaving an elk farm, thereby negating my ability to exercise this afternoon. So, I'm going to blog instead.

This has been going around, so I figured it would be a good way to get back into the game...

Do you like blue cheese? Yes. I like it best crumbled atop a nice hunk of filet mignon, preferably with some particularly strong red wine.

Have you ever smoked? I have two humidors full of cigars, but I rarely smoke them any more. I do still enjoy a pipe on occasion. As for cigarettes - and I'm not proud to admit this - I have occasionally pretended to smoke them to facilitate hitting on smokers of the lady persuasion at bars. But I never inhaled.

Do you own a gun? If you mean, do I have a firearm that I have purchased for personal use? Then no. If you mean, is there an assault rifle under lock and key that has been assigned for my professional use, should the national security of Canada require it? Then yes.

What flavor of Kool Aid is your favorite? Kool Aid is perhaps one of the last things I would every drink, somewhere between Clamato and a rain puddle with a fine layer of gasoline on top.

Do you get nervous before dentist appointments? Nope.

What do you think of hot dogs? Tasty, but it's hard to think of something worse that you could ingest into your body. The one exception would be the Buddha Dog in Picton, which does a mean gourmet hot dog (with a wide range of cheeses and sauces to choose from).

Favorite Christmas movie? Elf.

Favorite thing to drink in the morning? Francesco's Coffee, Guatemala French Roast, with proceeds going to my charity.

Can you do push ups? I don't think they let you become a Sergeant in the Forces without doing your share of push ups.

What's your favorite piece of jewelry? My grandfather's watch - though I don't know if you could call it "jewelry".

Favorite hobby? Travelling. I like planning the trip, exploring the country, taking photos, writing about it... all of that.

Do you have ADD? I usually have pretty good focus. Not all the time, but usually. When I am distracted, it's because of my tendency to procrastinate, rather than ADD.

What's one trait you hate about yourself? My tendency to procrastinate.

Middle name? John.

Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment.
1. Why did I slip on that ice? The guy even warned me on my way out the door. I'm going to have a wicked bruise.
I'm hungry. I should go have some pita and hummus.
3. The damned cats better stay away from the flowers.

Name 3 drinks you regularly drink. Coffee, Water, Wine.

Current worry? The usual - that some lunatic will attempt to take out the school, our Director, our students, or some combination thereof.

Current hate right now? Said lunatics. Though, to be honest, it's more of a pity than a hate.

Favorite place to be? Floating in an innertube at the lake, beer in one hand and cigar in the other.

How did you bring in the new year? At the condo, celebrating with a few good friends.

Where would you like to go? Andrea and I are putting together an around-the-world trip for next year.

Name three people who will complete this. No idea.

Do you own slippers? Not really necessary.

What shirt are you wearing? My favourite golf shirt - the blue one I picked up at Barba Roja in Costa Rica. It has a picture of a Jolly Roger with a red beard and a pipe.

Do you like sleeping on satin sheets? I wouldn't mind it, but I prefer cotton.

Can you whistle? Kind of.

Favorite color? Dark green.

Would you be a pirate? Not so much a pirate, more of a privateer sailing under a letter of marque. It has all the romance of being a pirate, but I'd still have the sense of serving some sort of grander purpose. (Clearly, I haven't given this any thought at all...)

What songs do you sing in the shower? You know... a little Ludacris, every now and then.

Favorite girl's name: I really haven't given this any thought.

Favorite boy's name: Same. But I would like to see my Grandfather's name (Kenneth) continue on.

What's in your pocket right now? Nothing.

Last thing that made you laugh? This is actually a little embarassing -

What vehicle do you drive? A 1999 Mercedes-Benz ML430 SUV. It's about as politically correct as punching an orphan in the kidneys.

Worst injury you've ever had? 3rd degree ankle sprain I suffered during basic. It was pretty nasty.

Do you love where you live? I love our condo, but I wish Ottawa was a bit more lively.

How many TVs do you have in your house? One. That's enough.

Who is your loudest friend? I think I have to give this to a collective - my immediate family. Whenever we get together, we always try and talk over one another, gradually increasing the volume as we go.

Do you have any pets? Two cats - Whiskey and Socrates (a.k.a. Socks)

Does someone have a crush on you? No idea.

Your favourite book? Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein.

Do you collect anything? I like picking up entertaining golf shirts when I travel.

Favorite Sports Team? The Team Canada Hockey Team. Otherwise, the Calgary Flames - but I'm not a huge sports guy.

What song do you want played at your funeral? Troublemaker by Weezer.