Collect-me-not: This Girl Isn’t Going Down Without A Fight.

April Showers bring May Flowers…

Spring isn’t arriving very quickly here in Ontario. We are in the tail end of what we are hoping will be the final blast of winter. The beginnings of tulips and daffodils are starting to pop through the dirt, and the birds are singing. We are still inside, though, waiting for the sunshine and warmer weather.

There have been a few changes lately. I read that mortgage rates will continue to rise in Ontario. I’m personally seeing the stress test affect buyers, and house sales seemed to have slowed down. (Some say it hasn’t, but here’s an article that spends more time debating it then finding out the facts.) Plus, the standardized lease for residential tenants and landlords takes effect in a couple of weeks.

Life As I Knew It…

As you know, I’m battling an old student loan debt with a collections agency, and I can’t say it’s going well. A couple weeks after I reached out to the company, I still had not received my statement of loans. I did, however, receive a letter from them. Inadvertently, I may have made a comment about income. Bad move! The letter said, “we have learned that you are employed. If we do not hear from you within 10 days with a repayment plan, we will be recommending legal action be commenced against you.”

I called them immediately. How dare they send me a letter threatening me, when I am still waiting for them to prove authenticity of the debt!

My (Not So Humble) Opinion

When you are in collections, it seems like the rule of thumb is to not contact them until you have means to pay. While that may not be the right thing to do, it seems the safest.

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Do Your Due Diligence

I can say I did my due diligence. I called the government. I called student loan centres. I’m satisfied that I owe this debt, but that doesn’t lessen the desire to see a statement.

When I had spoken to the supervisor at the collections company, he had recommended a few different ways to pay off this debt. It seems to be a standard list of suggestions, most of which made me inwardly laugh. If I had access to most of these suggestions, I wouldn’t be in that position in the first place!

Payment Suggestions

Suggestion: Pay it in full. Great idea. I don’t routinely keep $10k sitting around, so that’s not so much a thing.

Suggestion: Borrow money from family. Gee, why didn’t I think of that? Sorry, not an option in my family.

Suggestion: Get someone to co-sign a loan. Umm… see above.

Suggestion: Cash advance on credit cards and pay off loan. Yikes! This option is not a good one. Borrowing to pay off debt is never a good option, and cash advances are not like your regular charge on a credit card. Cash advances are charged daily interest, and are the last segment of debt paid off when you make payments against your balance. Most cards have a limit as to how much can be “cash advanced”, and its usually lower than the limit of the card.

Suggestion: Play the balance transfer option on credit cards until it’s paid in full.  SMH.

Suggestion: Fill out a transparent budgeting sheet, complete with account numbers, institutions and whatever else they desire, and make a repayment plan. I gave my permission for the company to send me the form. This was the only option I could take.

I started to work on the form, and decided I was not comfortable disclosing all of the information they requested. I called up the company, and she said I could block out the account numbers. Their only interest was to receive confirmation that the numbers on the budget were in fact accurate.

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When the Hustle Isn’t Working

Here’s the part that really got me.

Once I had completed my due diligence, my intention was to hustle like I’ve never hustled before. I wanted that debt paid off in full as soon as possible. That blemish was holding me back, and in combination with other debts I am paying off, it was keeping me up at night, and distracting me during the day.

I started throwing as much money as I could at it. The payments that were once directed at credit card debt were now covering the minimums and going towards this account. I had made four different payments in two weeks, paying off a whopping 3% of the amount owing.

She said they still want an agreement because of my history.

I wanted to shout. Scream. Cry. What history? The history of the collections company saying there was no statement to provide? There was no history, as I had no idea this debt existed! But it did. And I hadn’t been paying. I suppose that makes sense. If I was the creditor, I’d be even more aggressive. But I’m a person.  So naturally, I was offended, and yet, I understand.

Hey, You. Yes. You.

There’s a big part of me that hopes this post is never useful to you, because that means you have not, or are not, going through debt problems. I am only human, which tells me it’s more likely I am not alone. I know, however, that many people will not talk about these problems as they are embarrassing, humiliating perhaps, and entirely annoying. Don’t let your pride or your perceived pride get in the way of taking care of your debts. You can’t run from them, and there’s no way to make them disappear. There’s no bankruptcy from Canadian student loans.

Don’t let your pride or your perceived pride get in the way of taking care of your debts. You can’t run from them, and there’s no way to make them disappear. Click To Tweet

The Plan

With that said, I am still on the hustle to get this paid off. I started my first freelancing writing gig (I write for a retail gift site). I’ve applied to positions that allow me to work from home (more work, less transit time). Some sites offer payment for use, and there’s aways surveys, mobile apps and affiliate referrals. I am saving up as best I can, and I am cutting spending at the knees.

Have you noticed my Virtual Assistant page? I started a new course to help me build up my side hustle business. It’s called $10k VA with Kayla Sloan. She is so friendly, helpful, and really supportive. Now is the time to start if you are thinking about it, because her prices are going up. As they should – so far I’m loving the material.

Staying On Top Of Finances

I track my spending in a planner, much like an Erin Condren Life Planner. It’s dedicated to finances only, and I mark each bill or authorized withdrawal in it. Every two weeks, I get paid, and I look at the calendar to see what is coming up for the next two weeks. I deduct those expenses, and I write down every transaction that has gone through my accounts over the last two weeks.

By writing each transaction down, I can see if there are any fraudulent entries, and I can take note of any spending issues or habits forming. It’s great for lifestyle creep as well.  I also make note of how much interest I was charged on my credit card balances, if I carry one.

Every two weeks, I also have a chart that I fill out. It lists my main accounts (chequing, travel, emergency fund, all credit cards). I write in the balances of each account, and monitor that they are going in the direction they should be.

The travel account is added to automatically each payday. This is my saving grace of accounts. I know I could be directing this money to debt. I also know that a vacation helps my sanity. I have a small amount going to the travel fund so that my partner and I can go away to a budget-friendly resort at least once a year. It is comforting to know that, while I am giving up spending and hustling so hard, I will be rewarded by that vacation no matter what happens.

The emergency fund is an account that just sits and collects dust interest.  My emergency fund is low, usually around $1,000 – $1,500. This account is for the true emergency. (I am going to admit: Worst case, I rely on credit while I am paying off the debt.)

This is my life right now. I hustle at work, and then head home to try to find more hustle opportunities. Malls and stores are visited on a need-only basis, and the only shopping I’ve done lately is for cat food, litter and toner for my printer – which died right in the middle of printing my tax return.

Do you have any recommendations? What do you do for side hustles or extra income? Tell me in the comments, or join me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. What the heck, click a few ads or two, that would be fun too!

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you choose to purchase through these links. Please see my disclosure for more information. Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by providing links to Amazon.ca and affiliated sites. 

5 Hard Truths about Blogging & The Best Advice

Blogging Truths

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April marks the 6-month point since I started blogging. I originally started with a different site, and changed it over two months ago to this one, and changed everything to SiteGround. That was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Like so many other bloggers, I started out reading a couple blogs, hearing about blogging on podcasts, and saw the income reports that people posted. I fell in love with blogging. It felt so good to write in a public forum! At the same time, there were some hard truths to learn, and for anyone thinking of starting a blog, here’s what I’ve learned over the last six months.

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5 of the hardest lessons to learn about blogging:

1. Bloggers are everywhere.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of bloggers in each niche. If you have dreamt it, chances are that someone has blogged about it somewhere. There are bloggers from every part of the world and no matter what niche you are in, it’s doubtful you will ever be alone.

2. Profits are not instant.

If you are part time like me, it can take years of effort to be noticed and read, and to start turning a profit. Do not ever go into blogging and think you can start bringing in money immediately… and if there is, share it with me!

3. Information is expensive but worth it.

There are two ways to go about blogging: one way is to reinvent the wheel, and the second is to learn from those who have reinvented the wheel and learned what works. One takes time, persistence, patience, and there’s no guarantee to find the best way. The second takes money and the willingness to learn from others.

Don’t discount the courses out there. There are some amazing teachers that can show you the foundations and the basics, but be ready to invest heavily in yourself if you do not have a background or foundation that supports blogging already.

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4. Monetizing via affiliate marketing still takes time.

Affiliate marketing does not equal overnight income. Need I say more? Many bloggers make a lot of money from affiliate marketing, but it requires traffic to your site. As a newbie, chances are you are not getting a ton of traffic yet, and that’s ok. I’ve been told that the time you invest today and tomorrow sometimes takes a year to come back around.

5. Negative people still exist online.

There will always be nay-sayers and haters. So what? Ignore them. Everywhere you go, you will always find people who put others down, who challenge the best intentions, and blogging is like any other field.

Why blog, then?

It’s a question a lot of us ask sometimes – why bother? Because we have things to say, and we want to help others. At least, that’s why I do. I started this blog after hearing a podcast talk about other personal finance bloggers, and how there were few bloggers in Canada in the personal finance realm. What a surprise to me when I find more and more every day! However….

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Here’s the amazing parts of blogging:

I have discovered a community of people who are truly well-spoken, well-educated, and interested in sharing financial woes and successes in order to help others. Bloggers are dedicated, and usually offer incredible support, positivity in spades, and while we are all running a business, it’s not competitive in a negative way. There are a few rules, and no right or wrong way to share your own stories.

One resounding piece of advice:

I am a nerd about learning: I listen to podcasts about blogging, finance, running businesses and side hustles, and even real estate. Continuously, I am reading as much as I can, and anything else I can get my hands, eyes and ears on. One question I hear time and time again is: What piece of advice would you give bloggers?

Be genuine. Tell your stories and share your information in your own words and your own voice. No one writes exactly as you do, and no one experiences everything exactly as you do. Don’t try to emulate someone else. Just be you.

Be genuine. Tell your stories in your own words. Don't try to emulate someone else. Just be you. Click To Tweet

On that note, I enter my 7th month of blogging, and ask you to sign up to my email list so you don’t miss anything coming up! I have some great interviews with home inspectors to share, and I will be starting a Spotlight Side Hustle series shortly. If there’s anything you want to read or know more about, send me a comment! I love question and answer posts!

As always, join me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, and have a fabulous day!

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you choose to purchase through these links. Please see my disclosure for more information. Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by providing links to Amazon.ca and affiliated sites. 

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My Colossal $10K Mistake

mistakeBackground 

When I was 18, I went to college for the first time. I studied Social Service Worker, in hopes of working with people who had addictions, relationship rescues and job coaching. I had recently left my childhood home, and was on my own for the first time. I hadn’t really planned on it, as it was a sticky situation surrounding my move out. Like every other student, I applied for student loans, and thought, once I became an adult, I would be making lots of money to pay this back.

Oh, How Life Mocks Me!

I started working in a call centre to tide me over until I found that “real job”. I called out to those who had mail ordered pantyhose for three months, and then the campaign ended, leaving us out of work. A newer centre was starting up down the street, and I hadn’t found that amazing opportunity yet, so I applied and was hired on there.

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What I Didn’t Know Could Fill A Swimming Pool… 

Lessons in money were never my strong point when I was in my twenties. I lived like others did, I ate out, spent money quickly, and barely paid my debts. Rent was always paid on time, and I always had work, but never made much of a living. I thought I’d paid off everything that I owed.

After I had left the call centre world (which is a story unto itself), I had been married, separated, a home owner, a landlord, and went from having my life moving into the right direction to having it stop completely, and start a slow slide to the bottom.

Career Change, Life Change, Pocket Change…

It was time for a change, and so I attended college again, this time focusing on law studies. I received my diploma in Law Clerk two years later. I need to interject for a moment: my (ex)husband and I had discussed my return to school, and had thought that working as a law clerk would be something I would enjoy, and would supplement our income nicely. The position was never intended to be one that brought in a lot of money, as my (ex)husband was in IT, and was doing well.

Fast forward to the second month of school, and I was unemployed, and newly separated. I was in school fulltime, and the program required a lot of time and effort. It was rumoured to be the toughest at our school. I did what any student would do – I turned back to student loans to make it through the years.

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A Super Short History Of Student Loans 

In Ontario, student loans are divided into two sections: provincially funded and federally funded. The loans were structured very differently the second time I attended school, as the first time I had a bank I could walk into and discuss what the loan repayment structure looked like.

The second time around, I had no one to speak to, and received the odd piece of mail. I moved a few times, being a student without a home for a bit. Throwing myself into my new career, I started at the bottom of the ladder, making a measely $12 an hour. Not enough for a single person to live on, and to make payments of student loans when they wanted $400-$500 monthly. No sir, their payment plan nearly rivelled any rent I paid. So I did what I had to do to keep food on my table.

I Stopped Making Payments

Yes, today I hang my head in shame and think about all the things I could have done differently, and how I chose to not. I chose to stick my head in the sand and pretend that it would go away. My income rose, dollar by dollar, over the years, never really keeping up with inflation, and I changed employers like I changed addresses. I was looking for the right fit.

Eventually, the Canada Revenue Agency sent me some scary looking letters, and I arranged a payment plan with them. I had been paying for a couple of years by that time, when I received a telephone call from a collection agency. This collection agency said they had received my student loan from the government, and they were collecting on their behalf. Thinking it was fraud, I demanded a statement. The representative said they couldn’t provide me with one, and I hung up.

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Fraud or Not? 

This company continued to call me, and I continued to dodge them, as they were your stereotypical collection centre: give me money or you will be sued! Who wants to speak to those people? Not me. Finally, about six months after that, I answered the phone and told them again, I want a statement. The girl on the phone again said it was something they couldn’t provide, so I told her that I would not be willing to pay them money if they couldn’t prove what it was for.

September 2017, I Started Blogging 

Fast forward to the beginning of my blogging days here, about six months ago. I had started researching investments, and getting serious about paying off debt. My partner and I had cut back on services that we didn’t need, and we worked together to reduce our expenses. I decided to start blogging about my journey, as I had studied ways to save money, ways to make the dollar stretch, how to cut out expenses, but I had never looked at investing, or how much debt really costs. I wanted to share all of this with others in the same boat, as I was sure there were others.

If any of you recall, I had applied for a new bank account with a local credit union. I found out that I had been declined because of a collections on my credit bureau. Sure enough, it was this collections company representing the unknown portion of student loans.

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Yes. It’s True. It’s All Mine. 

What a depressing moment that was, to see that I was another ten thousand in debt than what I originally had thought. I cried. I don’t admit that too freely, but I cried. I got mad at my partner because I can’t fix it tomorrow. I felt guilty at spending money on anything, and felt guilty to the point of eating food because it cost money, and not eating food as waste costs money as well. I started telling myself I didn’t need the extras, and then I would swing to the other side. My husband is an enabler. He supports me if I don’t spend, and supports me if I do. He just floats along with the thought that we will always have debt, we will always have to work, and there’s nothing that we can do to change it.

I’m mad. Fired up! Angry!

I’m really angry at myself, and at the choices I made. Did I think I could just outrun this debt? Why did I accept so much? Why did I spend it all or try harder? What was I thinking, all those years ago?

I wasn’t thinking. Instead, I was thinking about new clothes, a trip to Las Vegas, paying my share of groceries and rent, adopting pets, etc. It’s embarassing to admit this to everyone, but I am hoping someone reads this and thinks twice: 

1. You can’t run away from debt.
2. Student Loans need to paid back.
3. Think twice about your lifestyle.

1. YOU CAN'T RUN AWAY FROM DEBT. 2. STUDENT LOANS NEED TO PAID BACK. 3. THINK TWICE ABOUT YOUR LIFESTYLE. Click To Tweet

In July of 2016, I quit smoking. I was a pack-a-day smoker, and more on weekends. Did you know cigarettes cost over $10 a pack for the brand I was smoking? Literally, I was wasting over $300.00 a month, for twelve years. I could have paid my student loans off FOUR TIMES. When I realized that smoking was costing me that much money, together with the fact that I don’t want to die a horrible death I may have been able to prevent, I quit. (Still smoke free, actually.)

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Owning My Mistake.

This is my $10k mistake. Perhaps it’s more like a $50k mistake, all things considering, but the debt is around $10k. It’s time to annihilate this debt and to make my credit work for me, and not against me. It’s time to pay for my education.

Time to Hustle

So watch me hustle, spend less, do more, find freelancing work, find any work, write hard, blog harder, etc., because I really want this paid off in four months. Yes, four months. My current salary will not support even half of that, so it’s time for some hustling.

Are you hiring? Do you have any freelancing work for me?

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This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you choose to purchase through these links. Please see my disclosure for more information. Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by providing links to Amazon.ca and affiliated sites.