Sunday, 15 October 2017

Vacation Planning

  
Cruise ship in Vancouver

I love to travel but, having just come back from two weeks away, I also acknowledge that I love to come home.   My pets play a large role in that as well as my at home daughter but I like my home and my small town as well.  I know where everything is and how to get around.   I'm going to make some observations about my vacation while it's still fresh in my mind.   In the Stop Budgeting, Start Dreaming mindset, travelling is one of my dreams.

Although one of my dreams,  I still love to get a deal.      I am content to spend money on a dream but I  find it difficult to be extravagant, unless it is something really special.    Plus, it's a challenge, the thrill of the chase that's part of the whole process.   Spending a lot doesn't particularly improve the enjoyment, I have often found.   Sleeping in a tent on an African safari wasn't terrifically comfortable but the elephants and giraffes were equally enchanting.

An important part of travel planning is to know yourself.   How would you like to spend your vacation?  Using a metacognition strategy,  think about your thinking. Were you annoyed to be waiting in line?   Do you hate to get dressed up on vacation?  Do you dislike crowds or thrive on the hustle and bustle?  What did you like and not like about previous vacations.

Try to obtain different opinions about destinations and vacation options.   Some people who work hard physically  on a daily basis feel they want to sit on a beach and do nothing.   If you are used to being active, following that course may only feel good for a day or two.  On the other hand, sightseeing is hard work.  If you go to Paris planning to see The Louvre in the morning and Versailles in the afternoon you will simultaneously exhaust and disappoint yourself.   You can't do justice--or enjoy--either under that plan.


  
Roller skating on a  Royal Caribbean cruise ship

We wanted to take a cruise to Hawaii.   Cruising can be a real bargain . . . or not.   You can spend ridiculous amounts of money reserving a Neptune Suite complete with a grand piano and your own butler.   We didn't do that.     If you are looking at cruises, research what the different lines offer.   Will the male person in a couple be happy to wear a suit or tuxedo to dinner and the female person, a gown?  (that would be Cunard)  Or will you both be unhappy with that requirement.   It's a problem if you're on different style wavelengths.   How about a cruise with a go cart track, a bowling alley, a skating rink and/or a climbing wall.    If you don't fancy that, remember your cruise fare will build in those costs even if you don't use them.   Think about the costs to get to your departure port.   Best if you can drive to it or at least only fly one way.    Lots of information on Cruise Critic.

Next week I'll give some specifics as to enjoying a cruise vacation for the best price.


Sunday, 8 October 2017

SUBSTITUTE

   



There is an alternative, or substitute, for almost anything you might need.    Do you remember the tables in cook books or perhaps from your home economics class that showed how you could substitute something else for an ingredient you were missing.    Cocoa, which is less expensive,  can be substituted for chocolate baking squares, usually with the addition of some butter.  During World War II, government pamphlets and homey advice from the popular Betty Crocker publications encouraged homemakers in their quest to make wartime rations stretch to feed a family.


Sometimes you will need to substitute because you don't have an item or it is too costly.   Regular vanilla is an example of an expensive ingredient as is saffron.   Other times, it might be for health reasons that you substitute  applesauce for half the butter in a recipe.  Just google substitutions for . . . and prepare to be enlightened.   Just do a little research and be leery if the substitute involves a complicated chemical formula.    Some substitutions for sugar have had bad publicity.


What about substitutions in other areas of your life?   Can you substitute a night at home with Netflix and whatever snack pleases you (and is likely more healthy than movie popcorn) for a visit to your local multi-plex at the $16 a person ticket price?  I find it a great advantage to be able to pause the movie for various purposes.  I still remember missing a vital part of a three hour movie during a trip to the washroom, inconveniently located.   There was no pause or rewind button there.

Make it a creative challenge.   If you have a goal or dream  that is truly worthy of your carefully nurtured funds your so-called deprivation will be easier.  I have paid for too many entertainments in the past that were ultimately forgettable.   Sporting events and concerts can be a disappointment if the team loses or the band seems apathetic.   Taking the family to a major league hockey game or musical concert including tickets, parking, gas to the event, and snacks  between periods or at half time will cost you in the several hundred dollars.  I remember buying tickets for one of the boy bands of the past (Back Street Boys?) as a treat for a pre-teen daughter who was crazy  about the and desperate to go to the concert.   By the time the date of the concert rolled around, some six months later, she was so over them it was laughable except for the money I'd paid.   And I sure didn't enjoy watching them gyrate.  

You could buy a CD or DVD of a music group's performance and listen to it many times over.  Or you might find that rather than being a spectator, being a sport or musician yourself is ultimately ore rewarding.  I get a lot of pleasure out of playing the piano and since my parents were kind enough to pay for the lessons I took in childhood, ongoing expenses are limited to occasional music purchases and tuning the instrument from time to time.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Heirloom/Vintage/Dated/Old Junk







Those words could be used to describe the same item, whether it is clothes or furniture.   What do you see when you look at the items pictured here?     If you see this table in an antique shop window does it seem more valuable than if it is stored in your grandparent's basement?     Young people, starting out their independent life, used to be happy to accept offerings from relatives.   The price was right.  Perhaps there were memories attached to the piece.  I still own a table similar to the one above.  So useful;   the extension leaves fold under.   Many family meals have taken place around this table.

It can be easy to be caught up by advertising or visits to furniture showrooms or even more affluent friends' homes.    Flat packed furniture from big box stores can seem to be part of the transition to independence and adulthood.     Fast furniture, like fast fashion, doesn't seem to last very long.   I'll confess to buying my share over the years but when I look around my home now, I don't see many things that have survived.   The sheen seems to disappear rapidly.

Sometimes I have watched house hunter type of shows from foreign locations.   I cringe a little when what appears to me to be a perfectly acceptable kitchen is disdainfully dismissed with the comment, "That will have to be gutted."   The realtor/host/spouse nods in agreement.   Easily arranged, it seems.

I have had the thought that as we get older/because we are getting older we start to value older things.   We don't want to be placed in the old junk category!   I would prefer to think that we get wiser and appreciate quality materials and workmanship.    Younger people are not immune to this point of view, however.







No post next week as I'll be on vacation. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Cost of Housing

Small house in Bhutan


We've just started a new internet promotion, courtesy of our still living-at-home university  student daughter who qualifies for a special rate.   It's a win, win situation. Part of the deal includes HGTV, otherwise known as Home and Garden TV.   On this channel there are many, many House Hunter programs filmed all over the world, ranging from tiny off grid  houses on a remote island to luxury mansions in exotic locations.  

It's all a bit staged and I have read that the couple or family on the program has already purchased a home  and two more are added to the mix to make a show featuring three different properties.   I am certain realtors cooperate as the publicity would no doubt help sell the other properties.    You get to see what's available and a quick look at the different areas.   The results can be interesting.  Some couples seem to have granite countertops as their main priority.

 Recently, a family was looking for a home in Lusaka, Zambia.   I happen to have been there so that made it especially interesting.    I stayed  with the relative of a relative in a gated home complete with a rifle toting local employee patrolling the grounds even though it was in the embassy part of town.   When I thought of going for a walk, I was advised 'better not.'    Accompanying our hostess on a routine shopping trip meant tipping a parking lot attendant to ensure her vehicle wouldn't be stolen.   I've seen this in Mexico as well.   Safety is important to most.

The couple looked at a basic, somewhat grungy home in Lusaka which was priced at $1200 USD.   Going way out of Lusaka to a neighbouring town a home with unreliable electricity and water (but a back-up well) was more appealing to them at $500 a month rent.    Yet on the tropical island of Roatan, a destination for cruise ships and expats in the Caribbean, off the coat of Honduras, a much better home was available for $700 and included waterfront. 


This Roatan vacation rental is $1000 a month

I've seen families in Bhutan who could rent a basic (almost primitive) house for $50 a month and American style  homes in Papua, New Guinea for $5000 USD monthly.    Western Europe is uniformly expensive but it is possible to rent an apartment in Tirana, Albania for $500 a month.

You might have a mental image of some of these places.   I certainly did as far as Papua, New  Guinea  and Manaus, Brazil were concerned.  Let's just say my image did not at all fit the reality.    Prepare to have your assumptions challenged.   Spend a few months on the ground to find out if you can put up with or preferably enjoy the differences, both the culture and accommodation.    Or maybe you just shrug your shoulders and exclaim, 'It'll be an adventure!'.

It's sure to make you think about what you're paying at home.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Replace the Shopping Urge with the Creating Urge




Many of us have had the shopping urge well ingrained in us.    Trained by media forces and habit from almost infancy, shopping becomes the thing to do, whether on vacation or on Saturdays or as a thing to do with friends or family.   You set off on your day trip, cruise excursion or outing with friends not needing to buy anything in particular.   Will you find something you like and want to buy?   Almost without doubt something will catch your fancy.   It wasn't something on your list of need to buy.  You do keep such a list, right?   Oh, how easy it is to talk yourself, or let yourself be talked, into taking out your wallet.   There's a little euphoric hit as you hand your credit card over to the cashier and watch the item being wrapped in tissue paper and put in a fancy bag.  How long does the thrill last?   Have a look at these shopping triggers at the Money Crashers blog.

Is it possible to substitute something else for the shoppers' high?   What about a creators' high?   Can you train yourself to get a kick out of being creative and producing something either beautiful or useful or maybe both.    A family member collects shells on the beach and with some acrylic paint and shellac spray finish produces beautiful artistic pieces.   Pinterest and Youtube is rife with ideas.   There's a special satisfaction in artistic creativity.   Don't fall into the trap of investing a lot of money, though.    There are always ways and means to keep the cost minimal.   Someone else has likely given up the pursuit you want to try.

What about achieving proficiency on a musical instrument?   Once you own the instrument, there are plenty of online guides to improve your skill if you don't want to/can't afford to invest in lessons.   There are many pianos available just for the cost of removing them from someone's home.   If you want something smaller, harmonicas can be had for less than $20.

Try to conjure up a new recipe.   There are sites that let you enter a couple of ingredients you have on hand and will then come up with various recipes for you to consider.  For example, try here.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Budgeting/Dreaming/Spending


 




What kind of spending seems worthwhile to you?   This was the question posited in this article by Adam Jusko in the blog Proud Money.    He decided to contact a range of people to find out what was worthwhile  to them after deciding that live performances by favourite artists made the cut for him.

Health is an important expenditure, especially for those who don't have the government safety net to make them feel secure, at least about emergencies and critical care.   Some find contributing to charity especially meaningful.   Travel gets several mentions as a purchase not regretted as does spending to improve oneself, either for employment or personal growth.





Similar to the exercise I describe in my book, this is useful to determine whether you are getting value for the money you trade your life energy for a la Your Money or Your Life.    No one seemed to mention a roof over their head or a car to get around in.   I suspect that those questioned considered those items a given and were considering their disposable income.   Unfortunately, for many, after they pay the bills for items they have previously committed to there isn't that much left for the meaningful stuff.  


Something to think about.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Small and Local Stores

                                                             



I like the idea of patronizing small and local stores.  It feels like the right thing to do.   After all, if no one shopped locally, my hometown would just be a collection of houses.   Local businesses support some local activities and events and make me feel like I am part of a community.  Unfortunately, it can be difficult if it means buying a lesser product for a higher price that you have to pick up yourself.  

I moved to my new hometown a year ago with the intention of shopping locally.   However, at less than five thousand inhabitants, some items are not in sufficient demand to be stocked locally.   There are not enough people buying yarn, for example, to warrant a yarn store.   There is a local hardware store but it is small and seems to have fallen into the general store trap of attempting to stock a wide variety of products like pet food and children's toys which lessen the amount of space for true hardware items.   Then there's the most consistent problem:   everything costs more, sometimes considerably more.

My hometown isn't set off in the middle of nowhere, thereby limiting choices unless one wants to travel a hundred kilometres.   No, there is a bigger town 20 km. to the south, complete with some big box stores and a little over thirty-three kilometres (about twenty miles) north there is a city of one hundred thousand inhabitants.   But I like my little town with its scenic vistas and peace and quiet.  

I'm looking for a more unusual purchase at this time, a children's ukulele.   Not a toy; I want to encourage a hopefully budding musician.  But I had a $50 budget in mind.    I go first to one of the major suppliers of instruments in my province and easily find a suitable one in a choice of colours, made with a rosewood fingerboard and basswood sides and back.  There is a store in the city 33 km away which will be a 45 minutes drive each way.  Annoyingly, in order to see the full price, I had to open an account with my e-mail and address.   I don't like this all too common practice; it feels like I am being tricked and setting myself up for an endless stream of promotional material.   Particularly in this case when the added shipping costs of $16 put the item well over my budget.    I closed the screen and didn't make the purchase.  Sure enough when I check my e-mail the first of no doubt many contacts  was awaiting me.

I check with Amazon and hone in on one product, available in various colours, that is under my $50 budget, at $37, and with free shipping.    Plenty of five star reviews.   Perhaps too many to be believable.   No details of where the product is shipped from or who the manufacturer is.   Oops, one reviewer provides the information that they are shipping from China. Another  writes that the ukulele is all plastic even though the product description states it is made of Basswood.   I check the few three star and lower  reviews and they seem more valid and provide more information.   The only manual is in Chinese -- that wouldn't be helpful.

Decision time.   I've been burned a few times with deliveries from China not arriving within the specified time frame or taking several months.    Even more importantly, I've read and seen videos about labour practices and product safety practises in China.   Basically, I avoid buying from that part of the world, if at all possible and definitely not food items.



  




I liked the Youtube video from the local company.   I also have somewhere not too far away to go if there's a problem.  Their product is a little more expensive but definitely better quality.  I'm going with the one at the top of the page but will wait a couple of weeks until I am making a trip to the 'big city' and save the shipping costs.

Shopping can be so complicated but price is definitely not everything!  And I do feel good about shopping (kind of) locally.