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. We don’t mix money and family unless your life is hanging in the balance.

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. 

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?

Thanks for joining me on my journey. Get updates by jumping on the mailing list or follow me on Twitter.  

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. 

Measuring Privilege

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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Meet the Frugalwoods

This weekend, I read Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence through Simple Living. I was hesitant to write a review of this book because I was afraid I would not find the words to explain my feelings from the book, or how it was presented.

The book is a first-person memoir-style accounting of the life of “Liz Frugalwoods”, as she is affectionately known online. Liz tells her tale which starts with the end of university, and entering into the real world as a young adult. Without telling any part of her story, she weaves you into this dreamlike state where you follow her as she becomes a married woman still seeking her own definition. You will want to cheer for her, you will want to nudge her in the right (or different) directions, and you will simply not be able to put the book down.

It’s been three days since I read the book, and I want more. I want to know what happened next, what new things they discovered as a family, etc. That’s the impression it made on me.

There are many reasons it moved me.

Liz is so resourceful and frugal! Listen to the lessons in the book. There were tons of choices that they made as a couple that the majority of us would likely have chosen different, like the apartment they stayed in. She made a comment in the book about how their friends had already inflated their lifestyles by renting or purchasing larger homes, and she and her husband were still in the basement apartment. They resist joining the race to have what the Jones’ have, they choose to use what they have, and they recognize that what they do have is enough.

Related: More about the Jones’

It’s enough.

I don’t know where you hail from. Maybe you are a low-income earner, fighting poverty. You could be someone who is newly single and looking to change your life. Or, you could be part of a family and want something different than your folks had. I don’t know your story, and it doesn’t matter because this story is for everyone.

Liz opens the book with a conversation about privilege. It’s important to understand privilege, and it’s been a very sore subject for me for some time, and I think I found out why. I was angry that I felt like I had to apologize for being privileged, like it was my choice or my fault I was born white, or heterosexual, or identifying with a female gender, or coming from two parents that are still together, or being raised with a roof over my head, and food on my table. However, by learning more and more about privilege, the reason why I was so angry was because I wasn’t.

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I wasn’t as privileged as I thought.

I thought I was. Yes, all those things I mentioned are all factors that contributed to my life. It’s much more than what some others have had, and I recognize that.

However, and my parents will deny much of this, we were raised in scarcity. There was never a guarantee of anything. We were always told how fortunate we were to have a bed, a room, a home, etc. I recognize now that those statements created guilt, not gratitude, for me. We knew that we would be fed, but there was unstable employment throughout my childhood (a side-effect of living in an auto city that lost much of its auto work), which made my parents angry and likely felt hopeless, or at least desperate and embarrassed. They would tell us that we have cable – for now. We have food, but where’s the next meal coming from? It was truly confusing for a child, or at least for me. We had food stored in the basement that we put away when it was on sale, and yet we never felt as though we could just help ourselves without permission in case it was a meal for later. It always felt like we were two steps away from not having anything, and the small bit that I thought I had as a child – my room, my belongings, my space – was never mine. It was always the parents’ space, and there was not respect for space. Yes, my parents would argue that I didn’t clean my room enough, or that I forgot lunches in my school bag, or that they found inappropriate notes between friends… and I would come home and my space, my sanctuary, had been thoroughly gone through, things were re-organized, furniture relocated around the room, and the nest was gone. It was not mine to be safe in, it was always theirs.

Post-secondary education was a necessary luxury. 

I did not have education paid for, and it was never discussed that it was my responsibility to find out that there were exorbitant fees associated with the prescribed post-secondary education that one is expected to obtain. There was no instruction about money, other than the lecture that I should put some of it away because my father said so, or how funds were always limited, and cherish every dollar you had. I remember going to the mall when I was a teenager, and my friend wanted to purchase a snack. I was looking for the cheapest alternative at that place, and bought a brownie. It was one of the cheaper options on the menu, yet I remember having enough money for a brownie, and probably more, but I was buying something non-essential, and without permission. I always felt guilty about spending money. 

When freedom cost nothing but dreams.

When I was 18, there was a situation that led me to move out on my own. I recall having $2,000.00 in the bank, and thinking it was so much. I had college starting in a few months, and I found work in a local call centre. They paid enough, and I recall sitting in my cubicle, calling people to talk about going to a free seminar, or signing up for this or that event, and having people get really angry with me just doing my job. (Side note: whoever thought blowing a whistle in the phone would stop the telemarketers, please stop. We are just doing our job, and now we are doing it with hearing damage.) 

My Crown Heights, Brooklyn

My first place was the second floor of a house in a “bad neighbourhood”. The upper street was lined with half-way houses for parolees, addicts and anything inbetween, and the hospital was down the block. I had a bedroom and a second room that was converted into a kitchen, and I shared the bathroom with the thirty-something-year-old man who lived across the hall in his mirror bedroom/kitchen suite. I had orange shag carpeting, and a cinderblock basement that flooded on one half when it rained. On the dry end, there was one washer and one dryer. Thankfully, the laundry machines were included, but we were told when we could use them and use was monitored, as was our comings, going and visitors.  

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It was my then-boyfriend who helped me get settled, and the rules of the house were no opposite-sex sleepovers. The older couple who lived below were used to having exchange students upstairs, so I was an anomaly for sure. During the first month or so, I didn’t speak to my parents, and six weeks into living on my own, the relationship with that boyfriend ended. He was my support system, and a friend for many years, and the loss of that relationship devastated me. Never had I felt so alone. 

The change in relationship status did not change my living arrangements. There was no happy homecoming, and the efforts required to obtain parental consent for student loans (which is how things were in the late nineties) were phenomenal. My parents had to remit forms that shared their income, and ability to assist me, and they were so secretive with the information that they mailed the application themselves. My student loans were half of what they could have been, but there was no financial support, and little emotional support, due to our broken-down relationship. 

As time passed slowly, the relationship between my folks and I started to improve. We kept our distance, as there were a lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Other relatives weighed in with their opinion of a half-concocted tale they felt was the truth.

The summer before college

I worked hard that summer, and learned what it was like to be independent. My mode of transportation was either bus, walk or bike. I had a bicycle that I would ride to work, and around town. Like many, I learned how to fetch groceries with a backpack and a bike ride, or taking the bus. It meant choosing what I purchased, not in the best price per unit, but how many bags could I actually carry. I adopted my first kitten, and found out how heavy kitty litter really was when carrying it from the store to the bus to the house. I walked other places, and started to learn the neighbourhood I was in, and pushed the limits as I was a naïve, bull-headed 18-year-old on a mission, going to college alone and not knowing enough about life to warn me about the years to come.

I was a naïve, bull-headed 18-year-old on a mission, going to college alone and not knowing enough about life to warn me about the years to come. Click To Tweet

That’s the digest version of the first 18 years of my life. No family vacations, no educational symphonies or operas throughout my childhood. No summer camps, no big school trips, no escape to Paris for a week. I’ve never been a girl guide, and never been skiing. The big family outing was driving an hour away to shop in a different mall once or twice a year.

It was enough. I was enough. 

I was privileged enough to have a bed to sleep in, friends who cared, family who fed me and loved me in the ways they knew how, and to be in a good school district. I acknowledge this. I also acknowledge that life could have gone very, very differently. My parents were high school graduates, and my father returned to school for a post-secondary education after a number of lay-offs. I worked hard because I knew there was no one else to count on if I didn’t.

Perhaps that’s my privilege.

Besides talking about goals, frugality, family, and alternate ways to make things happen, the book makes the reader think. It’s possible that anyone could strive for the same kinds of goals, and I know that it created a discussion or three with my partner. He was raised in a similar income bracket, but he had more measurable privilege than I did. The home was more stable, employment was stable, and above all, his mother taught them about having enough.

We have so much, and we forget to acknowledge that it’s enough. When we have the basics, we can look forward, and create goals and have dreams. The book encouraged me to ask my partner where he saw us living in the future. While I do not have a dream of owning a homestead or living in the woods, I dream of a small home on water, where the winters are held off and tropical trees have a chance to flourish. This magical place is likely in British Columbia. I am nervous to go there in case I do not come home.

We have enough.

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We have enough. We have each other, a roof, food in our cupboards, and jobs that pay us enough. It will never be a “banker’s” salary, and we will likely not see a high income, but together, we have as much as anyone could ask for, and that’s enough privilege for me. Thanks to the book, we have a goal that we will work towards together, for one day we will wake up and have coffee on our deck, overlooking the water and the mountains, and know that anything is possible, privileged or not.

Thank you, Elizabeth Willard Thames.

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