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Lest We Forget

This time of year, most people are gearing up for the holidays. For me, the beginning of November is a time for reflection and remembrance. I’d like to get off the well-beaten path of personal finance this week, and share with all of you why this is my most important month.

I’ve always known that my family has a military connection. Though my mom’s genealogy research, I know that I have had ancestors in the American Revolution, the Civil War (likely on both sides, though this research is ongoing), and World War II. My great-grandfather was in the Naval Air Force during World War II, initially flying supply planes, and by the end of the war he was one of the youngest base commanders in the Pacific theatre- he was 24 when the war ended in 1945. He died when I was 10, but my mom says he rarely talked about his experiences. Because of this, I’ve always had a more somber attitude to Rememberance Day than most people my age.

When I was 16, I went on a trip with my school to London, Belgium, and France. 3000 students from across Canada were going for the rededication of a WWI memorial. This memorial sits on what is now Canadian soil, and it commemorates the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Vimy Ridge was a battle that took place near the French town of Arras in April of 1917. The German army had taken position on the escarpment, which was a huge military advantage. The French tried to get it, and couldn’t. The British tried to get it, and couldn’t. Eventually, it was decided that the Canadian Corps would all band together for the first time in history to take the ridge. After months of planning on a scale rarely seen before, they began their assault on April 9th, 1917. Obviously, they won. There were 3598 Canadians killed in the assault.

When the news of the victory hit the streets of Paris, it’s said that a French General didn’t believe it and said “C’est impossible!” When he was told who was fighting, he said “Ah, les Canadiens! C’est possible.” In the 1930s, the monument was built and Vimy Ridge was given to the Canadian government as thanks for the sacrifice.

For the 90th anniversary, the students who attended  were given the name of a Canadian soldier who was killed that Easter Monday in April of 1917. We were to represent them during the ceremony, and because of this we were told to research them and find their stories. My soldier was a man named Edward J. McNaughton. He was a Canadian pipe-fitter living in Detroit who came back to Canada to enlist when the war began. He was in his 30s and married to a woman named Ena. This was all the information I found, beyond his death date- April 9th, 1917.

That trip changed me in many ways. You can’t visit these places without being moved by what you have seen.  I’ve walked along the rocky shoreline of Dieppe, where 60% of the predominately Canadian Allied forces were massacred. I’ve walked Hill 52 in Belgium and marvelled at how possession of such a tiny piece of land could cause such bloodshed. I’ve drawn a Canadian flag in the sand at Juno Beach. I’ve walked through the cemeteries at Tyne Cot, Beny-sur-Mer and the Normandy American Memorial, trying to comprehend that each of the gravestones represents a man who lived, who loved, who had a story. And I’ve walked up the hill at Vimy Ridge, surrounded by classmates, remembering Private Edward J. McNaughton and the life he never got to finish. I still wish I knew more of his story.

Every November I remember the sacrifices that were made for my freedom. I remember people who died senselessly because of differences that didn’t warrant bloodshed. I remember innocent people massacred because of their religion. I remember because if we ever forget, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes once again.

So this November, even amongst the distractions of the American election/thanksgiving and getting revved up for Christmas, please take a few moments of silence on the 11th to remember those who died so we could live. Our generation has a duty to the past and the future. We need to remember how the terrible events of the past came to fruition. We need to learn to read the signs and figure out ways to stop war from happening before it comes to pass. And above all, we need to remember those who died for our freedom. If we do not acknowledge their sacrifice, they will have served for nothing. They will have died for nothing.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
– Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae
May 3rd, 1915


Month From Hell

Well my friends, I really had a tough month this October. I’d actually say this may be one of the worst months of my life.

On the home front, I’m having to sublease and move out of my apartment. Things with M are NOT working out. I won’t go into detail for now, because I haven’t tied up the loose ends with it and nothing is finalized. However, I’m back to square one with nothing to show for it. At work, it has been hell. I realized early on that I can’t do both my new job and my old one. Both positions are suffering because there’s just too much to do in a day. I pointed this out numerous times, but the timeline for getting someone for my old job just keeps getting pushed back. There have also been a lot of issues that were hidden that I’m just finding now while taking over. Last I heard I wasn’t getting someone else until January. January! Now I’m seeing that there’s been movements to hire someone for AP and put me back in AR. So what was the point of training me for a month and a half if someone else ends up there anyway? I’m so confused as to how to handle this. I can’t prove myself anymore than I already have. I can’t do anything more than I’ve already been doing. There are not enough hours in a day to get this problem under control without some help. I feel like I’ve been set up to fail.

But I’ve asked for help. I’ve outlined my concerns. My problem is that I want to keep my work strong and I just can’t do that the way things are. It seems like no one is listening to me- I get a pat on the head and a “Nice try Meghan, just get it done”. I don’t know how much longer I can deal with this before I snap.

My only saving grace is Jay. These days I feel like he is the only person who supports me 100% with no arguments made. He never makes me feel like all of this is somehow my fault. He does everything he can to keep me on my feet without hesitation. Thank god for him.
ANYWAYS, enough about my problems. I just wanted to give an update and get some things off my chest. How is everyone else?


This Week’s Grocery Trip

Since I moved to Oshawa I’ve been shopping at the Superstore and No Frills. This morning I was running out of food, and I’m running out of money since I just paid my rent, power bill, and cable/internet/phone bill- I had some unexpected expenses throughout August. I had about $75 to last me until I get paid on Friday. I was a little worried so I decided to try out a grocery store one of my friends told me abou that was supposed to be cheaper.

Man, did I ever score compared to what I was paying before.

3x Schneiders Smoke Turkey Breast 125g (0.67 each) – $2.00

2x Lunchables Chicken Nuggets (0.50 each) – $1.00

2x 2L Coca Cola ($2.00 each) – $4.00

Dempster’s Enriched Bread – $1.77

Box of Apple Jacks 345g – $0.99

Parmesan cheese – $2.99

Schneider sausages – $0.99

2x Mac and cheese (0.50 each) – $1.00

Cinnabon bars – $0.99

3x Sidekicks (0.67 each) – $2.00

2x packages of Spaghettini (0.99 each) – $1.98

Hot dog buns – $1.59

Bananas – $0.92

Toilet paper – $0.99

Paper towels – $0.88

Chicken rings – $2.99

Chicken leg quarters – $2.30

With HST I only paid $30.14 to feed myself for another couple of weeks. I’ve definitely found my new grocery store!

How do you save on your grocery bill? Do you have a specific store you frequent for good prices, or do you coupon and stock up?

Why Marijuana Should Be Legalized (From a Fiscal Perspective)

Note: This isn’t something that I want to turn into a hardcore debate. It’s just a discussion.

This stuff does not actually happen when you hang out with drug dealers.

I’ll begin this post by coming straight out into the open- I’ll admit to having smoked some pot in my late teenage years. I don’t use it anymore, and it’s the only drug beyond nicotine and alcohol I have ever touched. I don’t go to the marijuana marches, and I don’t own any bongs. I was also never arrested, I never trafficked, I never became dependent, and I was never “scared straight” by my parents. Therefore, on a personal level, I am not biased towards or against legalization. My experience with pot use was neither good nor bad- to me, it was just an experience. This will be a controversial topic, but the liberal Canadian in me just does not understand what the big deal is- and the accountant in me doesn’t understand why world governments are not taking advantage of all the sweet, sweet tax money legalization would bring in. I’m just looking at the numbers.

Let’s start by stating that in North America, the War on Drugs is not working. That’s just a fact. As of 2011 in the United States, 42.4% of people had tried marijuana at least once; in Canada, that number is 44.5%. That’s just the people who actually told the truth in the survey.

Now, just a quick side note before I’m blasted for advocating giving drugs to children: I’m not saying the government should let every single person have unlimited access to marijuana. I definitely agree that there should be an age floor for any type of drug, considering anything in excess for a growing teenager is  bad for the body. However, I remember that when I was 18 years old, before I hit the magical age of 19 where you’re all of a sudden responsible enough to drink or buy cigarettes in Ontario, it was cheaper and easier for me to buy ganja than it was to buy liquor or cigarettes. I’m talking exponentially easier. You would pick up the phone and within minutes, you’re making awkward small talk with some random dealer (because they always think they’re your friend, but they’re not your friend). Mere minutes after that, you’re on your way to the munchies.

This wouldn’t happen as often if marijuana was legalized, regulated, and taxed. Government regulation is not perfect, but with alcohol it cut down drastically on bootleg drinking. When was the last time you drank anything that came out of a still? Never, I’ll bet. Nowadays you need I.D. when you go to the LCBO or the Target or the corner store or wherever you can buy alcohol where you live. With marijuana, regulation would cut down ease of access for teenagers; it wouldn’t be as simple as calling any random friend.

Let’s get to cost-cutting, which is a big deal to Americans especially right now. According to the FBI, 45.6% of all drug sale/possession arrests in the United States consist of marijuana possession. That is an insane amount. What police department wouldn’t love to cut their costs by 45.6%? That’s not to mention the amount of people in prison just for marijuana possession, and how much that costs per person. In 2010, 51% of American inmates sentenced were found guilty on drug charges. It costs $44000 in the US to house an inmate for 1 year. With the number above, the government would spend $4, 288, 768, 000 to keep those drug offenders in prison for a year. That’s written correctly.  Four billion dollars. Divide that by 45.6%, the amount of possession charges grouped in there, and the government is spending $1, 955, 678, 208 a year to house people who were only caught with marijuana on their person. That’s not trafficking, or other drugs… that’s the cost of possession, on it’s own. That’s a nice little slice of the deficit there, isn’t it America?

In 1998 the Canadian government guessed that the drug trade was worth up to $10 billion annually. THAT IS AN INSANE AMOUNT OF MONEY TO BE PASSING UP. Assuming a 13% tax on $10 billion, our government could be making $1.3 billion a year from the tax revenue alone.

So my question is this… we have the United States with $17 trillion in debt and Canada with $590 billion owing. It has never been proven that there are any real serious health problems caused by marijuana (and in fact, it helps people with critical illnesses). Most people, clearly, have done it anyway, and those who do it on a regular basis clearly don’t care about the law. Deterrence hasn’t worked since the War on Drugs began in the first place. The governments have billions in potential revenue and billions in cost cuts at their disposal. So why on earth is no one advocating legalization?

The only immediate problem with legalization I can see that makes any sense is the fact that law enforcement officials have no way to quantify the amount of THC that is acceptable in a body while driving, nor do they have the ability to test for that acceptable amount by the roadside. And there’s also the fact that the governments did way too good of a job blaming the drug for all of life’s ills, and it would take a very long time to convince the public that smoking pot doesn’t actually give you reefer madness.

I think that eventually, common sense will prevail and marijuana will be legalized. I’m tentatively guessing twenty years.

What’s everyone’s opinion on this? From a pure economic standpoint, ignoring everything else, does legalization make sense to you?

Debt Hangover

The last couple of weeks I was so relieved to not have any debt, that I completely forgot that I was supposed to be controlling my spending.

Don’t worry. I didn’t get back into debt. I did, however, get lazy, spent too much on eating out, and didn’t save much.

I really think I should give myself a bit of a break from the PF save craze. Not stop completely, obviously- that would be going backward. However, I’ve been limiting myself to essentials since March. I have highlights grown down to my ears and ratty old clothes that need to be replaced. I also need new contact lenses, work shoes, to pay my step-dad back for my share of my mom’s birthday present, and to fix my phone screen- it has been shattered since April, and I’m starting to be able to shake shards loose. Basically, I need to shake off this hangover left from my debt and realize that IT’S OKAY TO SPEND MONEY AS LONG AS I HAVE IT. I’ll continue to make good choices, but I realized I was starting to hyperfocus on my net worth, which is never healthy.

That being said, I will still post- just not quite as often, because there’s less to say. For 2 years my life was all wrapped up into the fact that I had this consumer debt on my back. I guess I need to figure out who I am without the debt before I can move on from it!

So, I’ll post here maybe once a week, I’m still on twitter, and I’m also contributing over at Chic Darling as their book reviewer. I’m hoping to be back going strong once I’ve had a little vacation time.

Sayonara for now!

Sacrificing Cash For Location

…by how many crack deals you’ll see.

Since I’ve moved, I’m not really as shy about sharing where I live anymore. In fact, I’m actually pretty excited to announce that I now live in Oshawa, Ontario.

Oshawa is a city of about 150 000 and is pretty much as far east in the GTA as you’re going to get, situated between my hometown of Whitby and Clarington on the other side. If anyone remembers Jann Arden’s gaff a few months ago, Oshawa is the city she called “the middle of nowhere”. The economy is mainly supported by the GM plant in the south end of town, but they keep closing auto lines and laying people off. The city has the highest teen pregnancy rate, violent crime rate, and prostitution rate in Durham Region. The poverty rate in the south end is through the roof and in the areas surrounding downtown it’s almost guaranteed that there is a drug dealer on every street. It’s also home to Durham College (my school) and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in the Northern part of the city, which is a lot nicer and nicknamed “Poshawa”.

I was born in Stouffville (north of Toronto), but my parents moved to Whitby when I was 2. I spent 19 years in Whitby, if you count the year I lived in Waterloo going home every couple of weekends. Frankly, growing up in Whitby caused me to become a sheltered little brat. When I went into Oshawa, it was only to go to their mall because ours sucked. When I started driving, I’d lock my doors every time I drove through the city. So when M and I started our apartment search in May, we were skeptical of the dirty Shwa. When M got nowhere finding an apartment in my hometown and suggested we at least look east, it took a little convincing. However, now that I’ve been in Oshawa a couple of weeks, I have to admit that I love it. The cost of living is a bit cheaper, we picked a quiet area with a lot of seniors, and the rent is dirt cheap at $875 a month. The same apartment in Whitby would cost around $1200, just because of the location. As a plus, there have been no problems since I moved in (beyond coming home to see 9 cruisers, K9 and SWAT sitting outside my building, but that’s a hilarious story for another time).

Anyone from the GTA reading this is most likely laughing at me, but it’s true. I’m really proud to live here. There are some great people here, even if the city is a bit rough around the edges. Honestly, in certain lighting, I’d almost call Oshawa beautiful.

This pleasant surprise really made me think about the sacrifices people make for location. As far as Toronto is concerned, people try to stay out of Scarborough if possible while looking for a home. Depending on the area, you’re spending an extra $200 to $500 a month to live elsewhere in the city. Toronto is an extreme example as there’s been an increase in gang related violence in the past couple of months, but I’ve noticed that many people pass up housing opportunities based on an area’s reputation- even if the area really isn’t that bad. At the same time, others really don’t care where they live as long as they get the best price. I’m somewhere in the middle; I’m willing to move into a slightly less desirable area to cut my rent expense. At the same time I’m willing to spend enough money to not end up living at Jane and Finch. It’s a fine balance between being a miser and being too paranoid, and I think I mastered it the first time out on my own.

So out of curiosity, now I’m asking you: do you insist on spending more money to be in a better neighbourhood, or are you happier when your rent is as low as possible?

Back in Black, Baby!

My debts are paid, 2 months ahead of schedule, and I couldn’t be happier today. I actually sprouted some tears.

Thank you all for the support. This is such an amazing community that I’m glad to be a part of.

I’ll be back tomorrow to start blogging about how awesome being debt-free feels; I can’t even describe it right now. It’s too overwhelming.

Bigger and better things await!