Dipping my Toes into Personal Finance

I recently took on my first full-time temporary contract. For the first time in my life, I will be working full-time! No more studying. No more part-time shift work. Just regular hours, a routine, and a predictable pay cheque for the next few months. Since I just graduated with my M.A. a year and a half ago, it feels like about freaking time! I’m blessed that I could take my time and move at my own pace, but I am so ready for this next step. Not to say that it’s all going to be rainbows and flowers, but I am up for a change.

That said – this week has been an epic week of shopping. Since I spent the last two years going to work in a black t-shirt with anything from leggings to jeans to sweatpants on my legs, I’ve found myself in desperate need of a work wardrobe refresh. My parents and my boyfriends parents have been extremely generous and helpful with this, and I am extremely grateful for their help. This task would be a lot more stressful without them. However, I can definitely see this shopping thing becoming a habit, and I do not want that to happen! Why, you ask?

I’ve just started listening to a personal finance podcast called Mo’ Money Mo’ Houses by Jessica Moorhouse. She’s a B.C. transplant to Toronto who talks about all things personal finance. In the few episodes I have listened to, I’ve become acutely aware of how absolutely lucky I am to have no debt. I was extremely fortunate that my family funded my undergraduate degree, and I received funding and a bursary to complete my Masters. And in a subject that I absolutely loved, no less! However, I acknowledge that many people my age did not have that privilege and now find themselves in a very scary job market with a ton of debt and a lot of confusion. So, I am determined to keep myself debt free, and that means living within my means.

(Please don’t let anyone think this post is about how awesome and adulty I am. I’m really not. I constantly feel like I child playing at being grown-up, and I have a feeling I will feel like that my whole life. Anyone else? Hope I’m not alone in that.)

I grew up in a pretty frugal environment – my family enjoyed luxuries but there were limits that we knew to respect. For example, we went out for supper often, but we seldom ordered appetizers, drinks, or dessert. It was our Friday night tradition to enjoy a meal out, but we never went wild. Appart from the occasional peek at a totally decadent-looking brownie sundae, I was okay with that! That’s the best example I can think of. I want to take a cue from that, and prioritize living within my means – or maybe below! I’ve been doing well so far on my inconsistent (but always modest) income. I see no real reason to start spending more now.

I think the first place for me to start is to actually create a budget. I tried doing that when I first moved out and it wasn’t great. I just set arbitrary limits for my spending that didn’t really guide me very much. I never observed my spending and adjusted accordingly, so it wasn’t very effective. I want to track my spending for the next couple of months to see where my money primarily goes. I have a feeling most of my disposable income goes toward food, but who knows what else I’ll discover! Maybe I’m spending in ways I’m not yet aware of – but gosh do I hope not. In a couple of months I will have a better idea of where my money goes, and where I want to and need to cut back.

I also want to create more savings goals. Has anyone seen that ridiculous thing about “millienials could afford property if they gave up avocado toast?” The reason I cannot buy a house right now is not that I indulge in brunch a few times a month, it’s that the average price for property in my city is over $1.5 million, according to a March 2017 CBC article. That’s a downpayment of over $100,000. It would take years and years of Kraft Dinner and no fun to save that much, and that’s really hard for me to wrap my head around. In an ideal world, I would like to own a home for the security that it offers in terms of eventually starting a family and having somewhere to live in my very distant retirement…but frankly, it seems unattainable now.

Ideally, I want to be saving for a hypothetical home, for my retirement, and for emergencies. Am I missing anything? I need to figure out what the best way to do that is. One of the interviewees on the podcast I’m listening to recommended the Couch Potato method of investing, and I’m going to look into that; I also have a bunch of financial planning books on hold at the library.

I have a couple of really good examples to look at in my parents (unless I’m missing something – we can talk later, mom and dad.) I hope that I can be as smart as they’ve been with my savings and spending.

Do you have any tips about saving and personal finance? Point me to good books, blogs, podcasts – anything! There’s no better time to start learning than now, so I’m eager to get some resources. Also, if you’ve listened to the Mo’ Money Mo’ Houses podcast or read the blog – let me know what you think of it!

Toodles!

-S

Giving Yourself Permission

Hello beautiful souls,

I’ve noticed a theme in my conversations lately, it’s this curious idea that we as a culture (all genders included) have this antiquated notion that we always have to be constantly proving our worth to the outside world or constantly raising the bar in terms of physical appearance in order for us to even allow ourselves to believe that we are enough. We as a culture do not give ourselves permission to just be, to love ourselves as we are. We constantly need validation or outside permission in order to even allow ourselves to think about loving who we are. Every single person I have spoken to about this always tells me the same thing, I will be enough when… I will be enough when I fit into a size XYZ or I will be enough when I finally get those abs or I will be worthy of acceptance when I achieve this or look like this person. We as a society are always comparing ourselves to people we idealize and put on a pedestal. We are always looking for the next best thing, this “thing” (which doesn’t exist) that we believe will finally make us the person we believe is worthy of love and of acceptance.

I hear it from all walks of life, I hear it from young girls who are influenced into believing that there is only one standard of being and if you don’t meet those standards then you are immediately unworthy, unattractive or are no longer seen as enough. I see young women struggling and suffering to keep up with these ideals of beauty that society has placed on them and that we affirm with our words. There isn’t enough representation of body acceptance and self acceptance on social media, there are some really amazing movements out there but they always seem to be overshadowed by what the next IT model is doing or what this weeks social media superstar is doing (all of which have been carefully edited before being posted on social media). There are some incredibly beautiful women out there who in society’s eyes may not be seen as “ideal” but are out there representing what is real and fighting everyday to show that self acceptance and self love will always be more important than having the “perfect” body. I know that I have been sucked into this vortex of self-hatred, body shaming and comparison. I would spend hours on social media outlets or looking in magazines at these gorgeous women and think to myself, “I will never be or look like these women, this must mean that I am unattractive and unworthy of being loved” or “I don’t look anything like these women, why is my face so weird and different? Why is my body not shaped like these women?”. This dialogue would run through my brain all day long for years on end before I stopped and realized that everything I was telling myself wasn’t really about me, it was projections of society’s standards of beauty that I was placing or rather pressuring myself to attain. It took some time, but I finally reached a place where I no longer compare myself to other women, I can see them and appreciate them for what they are but still give myself permission to love  and accept myself even if I am different and don’t meet these ideals of beauty that no human being will ever meet. I think it’s important that we have these conversations with our younger generations, teaching them that these ideals of are not real and that no matter what they believe about themselves, that they are beautiful, worthy and more importantly enough, that we teach them the power of giving themselves permission to love and accept who they are.

I also hear it from men who think that by being or attaining a certain physical ideal it will immediately make them attractive and we as women affirm this belief by choosing to make that a standard by which we choose our partners. We all play a part in this vicious cycle of doubt and insecurity even when we don’t realize it. We could change this by giving ourselves permission to choose partners based on standards other than physical ones, looking at the soul of a person instead of that body that carries it, because let’s face it we are all so much more than our physical bodies and it’s time we start honouring that.

I also hear it from mothers and other female relatives who not only make negative, self-bashing comments to themselves but pass them down to the younger generations in their families. We aren’t always aware of the things we say to ourselves and to others and the impact that these words have on our identities. I hear mothers and grandmothers saying that they were once beautiful before they had children, they used to be thin and more physically attractive, instead of owning the beauty that they have now, it may not be the same as it was but it doesn’t make it any less valid and worthy of acceptance. I hear mothers telling their daughters that things would be easier or better if they looked at certain way or behaved a certain way, instead of affirming that who they are now is enough and will always be enough no matter what. I think it’s time that we as a culture stop defining ourselves by outside standards and by physical appearance itself and instead start embracing and affirming who we are right now, in this moment. We need to learn, especially us women, to allow ourselves…to give ourselves permission to be enough just as we are. We need to learn that we don’t need anything more to be beautiful or acceptable, that we are beautiful and acceptable right now in this moment. We are all human beings which implies that we are and always will be imperfect, flawed beings but you know what, that is okay. We have been taught to believe that our bodies will never be enough, that we have to keep reaching for impossible standards that honestly don’t exist. We have been taught that our natural bodies as they are (cellulite, stretch marks, blackheads, large pores and all) are unnatural and therefore unworthy of being accepted. The truth is your natural body as it is right now is real and is beautiful and always will be and no one can take that truth away from you except yourself. We need to stop taking on society’s opinions and ideals and making them our identities, who we are and who we choose to be is unique to each individual and until we start owning that power, that uniqueness, we will always be limiting ourselves and our potential for greater things. It breaks my heart to hear women and men as a collective shaming themselves because they don’t fit a certain mould, I say it’s time to break that mould and build a new one that is unique to each of us. To stop taking outside noise and using it as ammunition against ourselves because when you think about it the only person you are hurting is yourself.

All that to say that it’s time we start owning who we are right now, giving ourselves permission to do something radical, to love and accept ourselves. Accept and love our outside by focusing on the beautiful things we have inside us. If you can be kind and loving to other people, why don’t you try harnessing that love and giving a little to yourself first. Try focusing on the things you have to offer the world like your intelligence, your compassion or your passion for whatever makes you happy. At the end of the day, those “inside” things that we don’t really give much attention to will always be what’s more important. As our outsides change, the only thing we have to rely on is who we are internally and as the saying goes, people who choose kindness and love will always be beautiful. It’s time we start affirming the things that truly matter and passing that down to the younger generations, showing them people who are real and are fighting for things that are real. It’s time to revolutionize our world and put emphasis on being human, on being a good person and helping to build their confidence in substantial ways so they can go out there and change the world. It just takes one person to look at themselves in the mirror and say, you know what, I am beautiful just as I am, I am enough just as I am and I am worthy of everything beautiful because I exist. It takes that one person to start the tidal wave of change that this world desperately needs. So go on and love yourselves because you are beautiful and worthy of it.

All the love,

Melanie

#igivemyselfpermission

Let’s start a revolution, a mission if you will to give ourselves permission to embrace whoever we are in this moment. Share this with your friends, family, strangers, acquaintances and post a photo on social media with the hashtag #igivemyselfpermission. It’s time to change the conversation.

 

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (or something like that): on Imposter Syndrome and Feeling like a Fraud

Last week I bought a size 8 pant and a size small top. Size 8. Size small. SMALL. Since I was verging on a 16 pant and extra-large shirt in April, this is a something of a milestone. I haven’t worn a size 8 in nearly 10 years, and a size small? Who even knows. I’m so, so pleased to see my hard work paying off – so of course I bought that adorable, teeny tinie outfit!

However, I couldn’t help but notice the little monster inside my head telling me “it’s a size small, but you’re not small. You’re not a small person. These brands must be made bigger than average.” While I’ve worked hard to lose over 40 lbs since April, my brain is having a hard time catching up to my body. I still feel big even though the clothes I’m buying say otherwise.

I think I’ve always struggled with this kind of impostor syndrome and feeling like I’m “less than.” I felt it accutely in grad school, when everyone else seemed to be smarter than me and my contributions were never good enough to actually come out of my mouth during seminar; sometimes I felt like I shouldn’t even be there. Now, in theory I know that’s note true: if I’m adequately prepared, I know my contributions are as valid as everyone else’s. However, to emotionally understand that is a different story. It’s hard not to feel like everyone else is doing better than me.

When I started my health focus last April, I was blind to my usual fear that if I succeed, I won’t be worthy of my own success. I knew I had to do something about my steadily climbing weight, and I did. Somewhere down the line, those self-defeating thoughts crept in, and I became scared that even when I’d lost 50 lbs that somehow that still wouldn’t be good enough. Or rather, I still wouldn’t be good enough. Well, sorry to disappoint you, little monster inside my head, but I am so much more than my weight, and everything that I am is pretty awesome.

I walked out of Winners today with my tiny clothes, feeling simultaneously proud of and down on myself. I know now that I’ve got a little work to do mentally to get where I really want to be right now, which is capable, confident and independent. It’s time to let myself succeed and stop getting in my own way! I’m going to try to catch myself when I start thinking I’m “lesser than”but I know there’s a lot of work to be done if I want to have those thoughts less often in the long run. 

Does anyone have any strategies they’d like to share about how to banish imposter syndrome to the curb, or stories about how you’ve dealt with this yourself? As always, we want to hear.

With strength,

Stephanie

On Bell Let’s Talk Day

Since both Melanie and I have struggled with our mental health to varying degrees, I figured it was important for us to make a post to mark today. Bell Canada is dedicating today to mental health awareness, and donates 5 cents toward mental health initiatives for every text sent over their network, and every Facebook post or tweet of theirs shared.

I’ve always liked that they do this – for about a month leading up to Bell Let’s Talk Day, there are posters in the subways and scattered throughout the city. They even have commercials! It’s basically impossible to escape the ads. Bell’s Let’s Talk Day is only one day of raising funds, but it’s probably close to a month of awareness raising. A lot of people I know are very open about discussing mental health over social media, so this isn’t unusual for me. I see a lot of articles shared about anxiety, depression, and personality disorders every single day, and I’m proud that I know so many people who are open about their struggles or acknowledge their friends’ conditions in this way.

I’m also aware that most of the world doesn’t communicate so openly about mental health. There is still a huge stigma around the topic, and I am privileged to be part of a group that discusses it relatively openly.

I also recognize that Bell Let’s Talk isn’t perfect. Every single one of their spokespeople is privileged in their whiteness and their wealth. On the flip side, that’s just a biproduct of a larger societal phenomenon – most of our celebrities, the people that we’ll recognize in an advertisement, are white and wealthy. I hope people look at the ads and think, “Oh, Clara Hughes! I remember her gold medals from the Olympics. I wonder what she’s dealing with.” or, “Hey, I’ve seen Howie Mandel on TV – what’s up with him?” When you realize that people who struggle with mental health can overcome that and succeed in spite of their struggles, that’s powerful. We aren’t lost causes just because we aren’t “standard”.

I hope the Bell Let’s Talk campaign can come to a point where it explicitely can bring our attention away from celebs and back to our neighbours and family and the person next to us on the subway, but it’s also important to take the first step and look at Clara Hughes and realize that people who struggle with mental health can have fulfilling lives without hiding what they’re dealing with.

I encourage everyone to keep an open mind not only today, but on all the other days of the year. Let’s work to get to a point where all people have access to mental health services, and where we can treat therapy sessions just the same as any routine medical checkup. There’s a lot of work to do, sure, but this is a start.

And, of course, since it does not go without saying – if you’re struggling with anything and you need someone to listen: I may not understand what you’re going through, but dammit I’ll try.

-S

The Feminine Perspective Special Edition: The March for Human Rights

Today was an inspiring, empowering and powerful day. Today millions of people across the globe came together to stand in solidarity, to stand up loud and proud for what is GOOD, what is RIGHT and what is FAIR. Today the world witnessed a unity and a strength beyond anything that has ever been seen before. Today the world witness the greatest revolution and movement of love, peace and equality. No matter what you believe in you cannot deny the power and impact the march that took place today created. It went beyond the scope of women’s rights, it became a movement of human rights and it became the greatest show of unity and love. It showed the world that there is still good left, that there are still people who are willing to band together to make this world a better place. Today people from all walks of life showed up and supported what truly matters, not just nationally but internationally and that is the right to be respected, the right to be treated equally as a human being, the right to a choice, the right to a choice about your body, the right to choose who and how you love, that no matter the colour of your skin or the religion you choose to honour or whether you were born in this country or not, that you are SEEN, that you MATTER and that you are VALID.

Today and every day from this point on, I ask that you STAND UP, RISE UP, get in formation, and fight with a fierce love in your heart for what you believe in. Understand with every cell and fibre of your being that who you are and what you stand for is worthy, is valid and matters. Repeat this to yourself every single day, and don’t let anyone tell you any differently: YOU ARE WORTHY. YOU ARE VALID. YOU MATTER. Use your voice. Tell your story. Move through this life with a fierce love and kindness. Fight every single day for who are you and what you believe in. Understand that the colour of your skin, the religion you believe in, the country you were born in, the person you choose to love, or the sex that you identify with, that they may be a part of who you are but understand that you are also more than that, you are a human being and that makes you enough, that makes you valid, that makes you matter and that you are SEEN. Stand proudly in who you are because you are beautiful. Don’t let anyone take that fundamental right away from you, the fundamental right to be treated as a human being with equal rights and equal amounts of respect and don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed of who you are. Stand up. Stand proud. Rise up. Be fierce. Use your beautiful heart, fierce mind and passionate soul to fight for what is fundamentally yours. Raise your words, not only your voice. Speak from a place of compassion and knowledge. More progress is made when it is made from a place of peace, compassion and knowledge. Never stop fighting for what is good, what is right and what is fair. I ask that if you are a parent, to educate your children on these issues, make them aware that they too have a voice, that it is powerful and that their opinions are valid. Teach your daughters that their bodies are theirs, that they have a choice and a right to decide how it is treated. Teach them that they are more than their bodies, that the size of their bodies is irrelevant. Allow them the space and support to own their bodies. Teach your daughters to be more than beautiful. Teach them to be fierce, to be passionate, to be compassionate, to be kind and loving. Teach them that they don’t need a man to validate them, to make them feel worthy and loved. Teach them that they own that power, teach them that true validation can only come from them, teach them to love themselves and believe in their own worth. Tell them every single day that they are loved, that they are enough, that they are worthy, that they matter and that they are valid. Teach your sons that women are not objects, that they are more than bodies. Teach them to treat women as human beings. Teach them respect, compassion and the true meaning of love and acceptance. Teach your sons that true strength is a measure of how gentle and kind they are. Teach your sons that emotions and sensitivity is a human thing. That it is a natural thing .That to feel is to be human. Allow them to feel, allow them to own their emotions. Tell your sons that you love them, that you are proud of them, validate their emotions and teach them that being sensitive doesn’t make them any less worthy or manly, it makes them human. Allow your children the space to choose how they want to be in this world and honour that. Teach your children what it means to be human, to be kind and accepting of all people. Changing the world starts there. Today is just the beginning, this revolution that has been reignited has a lit a fire in people heart’s and souls. This fight isn’t over and it won’t be over until real change has been made.

And to those of you who believe that this won’t change anything, I ask you to look to the women’s rights movement from the 60’s or the civil rights movement or the LGBTQ movement, all of those people fighting for what they believed in and for what was/is rightfully theirs were told the same thing but they never stopped fighting. Each of those movements respectively won in the end. Persistence, determination and the unrelenting faith/belief that we will get what is rightfully ours will allow us to win again. The fact that you doubt that this will do anything is what fuels us to keep going until we win, again. For those of you who do believe in fundamental HUMAN rights for ALL, keep the conversation going. Keep talking about it, talk about it loudly and proudly until no one can deny the truth anymore. Do what you can with what you have to make your voice and your story heard. Talk to everyone and anyone about it. Support people who have the same values as you. Use your social media for more than selfies and pictures of food or your latest purchases, use it to spread truth, to spread love, to spread kindness and acceptance. Use it to support the things that matter to you. Use it as a platform for what you believe in. Do good things with the time you have here on Earth. Help make a change in this world that truly matters. Keep shattering the glass ceilings. Stand up. Rise up. Power to the people.

Forever a passionate feminist who loves all BEINGS,

Melanie

(Header Photo Credit to sheknows.com and the Amplifier Foundation’s art winners who created this rad pieces of art for the march, there are more images on the site that you should definitely check out!)

Must Read Alert!

YOU’VE! GOT! TO! READ! THIS! BOOK! (and you’ll appreciate how beautiful the grammar of that statement is once you do.)

I just finished reading a great book, and I can’t go another second without telling you all about it. Seriously, it was that good. Heart-warming, funny, thoughtful and just a little bit weird – Lily and the Octopus was the perfect book for me to read to kick off the new year.

lily_and_the_octopus_2016

If there is anything you need to know about me, it’s that I love dogs, I love reading, and I love crying. Well, maybe I don’t love crying, but I cry at just about everything. Especially when “everything” is dogs. Lily and the Octopus had me in tears as soon as the end of the first chapter, and I took that as a good sign.

If you don’t like crying, I don’t recommend this book to you – but if you don’t mind, you’re in for a treat.

I remember once in a playwriting class I wrote a monologue about my dog who had just died as a writing exercise . One of my classmates, instead of offering constructive criticism on the style or form of the monologue, just wrote, “No one cares about your dog.” OK. Thanks. It was pretty crushing – maybe no one else cared about my dog, but my dog mattered a lot to me! I wanted people to enjoy my writing, but I also wanted to write about things that mattered to me; it was hard to find balance between the two.

Steven Rowley has 100% succeeded in what I couldn’t figure out. As it turns out, I didn’t need to convince one grumpy guy that my dog’s death was worth writing about. People who get it just get it, and that’s enough. My hypothesis is that the relationship between a man and his dog in the book is so complex that it transcends whether or not someone likes dogs – the book is all about their relationship, not what species they are. I know how hard it is to say goodbye to a dog, and this book brought me back to that place in a really cathartic way. If you’re more of a cat person, you’ll have to let me know what you think of this book so that I can test my hypothesis!

I liked this book so much that I was grumpy walking it back to the library. I stood by the return box for a little while before gently dropping it in and bidding it adieu with a, “Bye, Lily.”

Have you read anything good yet in 2017? Let us know in the comments!

Peace and love,

Stephanie

 

On Yoga and Getting on the Mat

Melanie and I are both welcoming 2017 by (re)committing to our respective yoga practices. Our fave YouTube yoga guide, Yoga with Adriene, is hosting another 30 day schedule to kick off the New Year right! Since 2016’s been a bit of a whirlwind, we’re looking forward to the feelings of balance and groundedness that our yoga practice brings.

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A tree among trees

I tried this at the beginning of 2016, and I made my goal to do “yoga every darn day!” but I didn’t follow through quite as thoroughly as I wish I had. I think in order to keep my goal a bit more manageable, that beyond this yoga challenge I hope to continue to practice 3 times a week, hopefully with some jogging and other cardio on 3 other days throughout the week. I did so well on my 2016 goal to improve my diet that it’s time to incorporate the activity goal!

I started practicing yoga years ago – maybe in 2011? My brother had a coworker who was training to be a yoga teacher, and we were regularly attending her practice classes at our local yoga studio. I remember very vividly one adjustment she gave me: we were in a wide-legged forward fold (one of my favourite postures to this day) and she pressed her palm from the base of my spine to my neck to help me lengthen. It was such a hot room, and I was so sweaty, but I remember thinking it was amazing that she wasn’t shy to connect that way under the circumstances. In that moment I fell in love with something about yoga.

Through the years, my practice has been a bit of a rollercoaster. There are months where I practice 4 times a week, others where I don’t practice at all. I go through periods where all I want to do is build strength through yoga, and other periods where I really just need to chill out and relax on the mat. My goal this year is to be more consistent about the frequency of my practice – no more many-month hiatus’! I will not tolerate it! – but I’m very okay with the fact that the way I practice will forever be changing. Some days, weeks, months, years, I will be all about the power flow, and others I will just need to satisfy my yin craving. That’s all okay, because my yoga is about listening to myself and finding what feels good to me.

What I love about yoga is that it encourages me to check in. It’s an activity where I can’t help but notice what’s going on in my mental world. When I’m lying in savasana at the end of a hard practice, it’s impossible for me to ignore how I’m feeling. Some days the final resting pose is easy peasy and I’m able to turn off and just breath and relax; others, my mind races so fast that I could jump out of my skin. Both of those extremes are okay, and so is everything in between, and it informs the way that I move through the rest of my day.

I am lucky that right now I work at a yoga studio and get to observe the way a whole bunch of people practice, from teachers to seasoned yogis and new ones, too. I basically talk about yoga all day so it’s impossible for me to not learn something new to incorporate into my practice or ponder. Everyone has something different and important to teach me if I keep my mind open.

So – there’s my goal for the year: more activity, more yoga, and an open mind to accept that my practice will always be in flux. What do you want to do more of (or less of!) in the New Year? Share with us: we want to cheer you on!

Love,

Stephanie