Slow But Steady She Goes!

MovingIt’s really going to be a weird winter.

After my posting last week, I picked up my new glasses and then spent much of the rest of the weekend looking online for a new apartment. It was a discouraging experience because it became increasingly clear that I would have to settle for a one-bedroom given how much prices for rent have gone up. And all the while, I kept thinking about how much I hate the logistics of moving, made all the more complicated by the fact I won’t be allowed to drive starting this coming Tuesday.

And then I fell onto something I couldn’t ignore: a huge two-bedroom apartment in a sixplex, at the right price, only a few blocks from my current place. But the catch was that it was available three months too early. So I began consulting with family and friends to ask if it was crazy to consider paying two rents for three months to secure what seemed like the ideal spot.

I calculated that I could afford doing that. But more importantly, it would allow me to stay in a neighbourhood I love and would eliminate the stress of moving on a very fixed date and not having a car. I could carry a box or a suitcase of unessential stuff every evening and consider keeping the personal and office move separate. The more I thought about it, the more I felt this convenience was worth the high price.

I did investigate getting out of my lease a month or two earlier than scheduled (given that I’ve been an otherwise model tenant and all of that and the building managers would probably gut this apartment before leasing it to someone else), but I was refused. Worse, I will not be allowed to keep renting my garage space, something I didn’t anticipate given that I know of at least two people who live outside the building who rent at least three spaces. It makes me wonder what’s the point of being an excellent tenant for six years if you end up being treated the same way as a troublesome tenant. But no point being bitter, I suppose.

I’m going to sign the sublease at 6:00 pm today. Earlier this afternoon I spent some time looking again at Kijiji and, for a brief moment, I wondered if I didn’t go too fast. But what keeps coming back to my mind is not only the hugeness of the new place but also the convenience of its location given my circumstances this winter. What’s more, I will no longer have neighbours above me, and the area will be much more quiet than where I am now. So, reminding myself that I have literally months even after the move to come up with a permanent parking situation, I’m saying to myself that there are times when it’s okay to be a bit impulsive.

And you know what? Given how time goes by so quickly, I know that on April 1st (when everything will be done and over with), I’ll look back at December 1st (today) and feel like it was just a month ago. Plus now, as I imagine myself living in the new place as of mid-January, I’m getting excited about something that I would normally dread.

So now I’m off to run a few errands to take advantage of my last 30 hours of driving for the next three months. I still think that’s going to be weirder than the odd move I just concocted for myself.

Big Changes in the Works

PlanningLast week’s news is forcing me to come up with a new plan.

I have to admit that, each time I drove this week, I thought to myself, “Man, I’m really going to miss this!” I think 10 days is the most I’ve gone without driving since September 1991 (when not travelling outside the country, of course), and that would have been when the motor of my previous car had blown up. But I’m determined not to get into more trouble by risking driving without a valid permit.

I spoke with my sister earlier this week about leaving my car with her, but I got the sense that with winter and snow removal and so on, that’d be a big pain in the ass for her. However, I wasn’t warm to the idea of simply leaving my car keys with my nephew here in Montréal in case the car had to be moved on very short notice. What if he was out of town or just not reachable? Hence today I woke up with a bunch of ideas that constitute a plan.

  1. Last Sunday morning I bumped into my (very sexy, by the way) Venezuelan neighbour in the garage and I confided to him what’s happening. And this morning it dawned on me: Why not leave the car keys with him? I don’t doubt his honesty but, just to be above board, we could sign a piece of paper saying that I’m confiding my keys with him from December 3 until my permit is reinstated and that he is not to give me the keys under any circumstances until then. That would prevent us from appearing one day on L’Arbitre (Québec’s equivalent of Judge Judy) to argue that no, I didn’t lend or give him my car. However, if the car needs to be moved, he could move his and then mine. So that would save me a trip to Chelsea next weekend and not encroach the plans my sister had nor impose a PITA on her this winter.
     
  2. Given the span of time my suspension will cover, I won’t bother getting the winter tires installed, which they have to be by law in Québec from December 15 to March 15. However, since my tires are stored at Canadian Tire and the storage fee is seasonal, I’ll just pay the storage renewal before December 3. Then, when I’ll be back on the road mid-March, I’ll renew it for another season and get the oil changed.
     
  3. I just got word that the three pairs of glasses I purchased two weeks ago are ready. Good thing: The place where I bought them is a bit out of the way by public transportation. So this afternoon, I’ll go get them, go to Canadian Tire, and possibly get my hair cut.
     
  4. Some errands are just more easily done with a car and I have until December 2 to get them done. I just have to think about what those errands might be. But the biggest pain I obviously won’t be able to do before then is the next point…
     
  5. Last weekend I also got notice that my rent is going up $10/month. The amount doesn’t really bother me (although there’s a story I won’t get into that should make me bothered about it), but it’s giving me the little push I needed to get off my duff and move on April 1. Since that falls on a Tuesday and I have to think about the impact of moving on my job, I’ll use that extra week of vacation I plan to purchase for the move. And since I’ll have to rely on public transportation to view apartments, it’ll be a great test of suitability for my new digs. If a place is hard to get to by métro and bus, it’ll have to have a lot of counter-balancing positives to make it rise to the top.

    My first line of attack will be to call the new building managers to see if they have some vacancies coming up for April 1. I know I would be changing landlord but, from what I’ve seen in the last few months, these people take very good care of the buildings they manage. It’s crazy that I’m just on that line where I can’t get a mortgage but will have to pay as much as a mortgage payment in rent, but whining about this fact won’t change it.
     

It’s all very boring but I have a lot to think about and do in the next four to five months. And there I was wondering what life without debt would be like? Sheesh!!! I forgot that there are other curve balls in life than being in debt up to your eyeballs!

Some Things Just Bite, But What Can You Do…

Cop LightsIt looks like I’m going to have a “different” winter.

Remember when this happened in December 2011? In addition to the fines, that speeding infraction cost me 14 demerit points. Then, last month around Drummondville, QC, en route to Moncton to celebrate Mom’s 85th birthday, I got pulled over for a much lesser speeding offense that added 2 demerit points. But, in Québec, when you reach 15 points (for the first time), your license gets suspended for three months. Or so it says in the registered letter I just picked up this afternoon…

My suspension begins December 3, 2013, which falls on a Tuesday, and ends on March 3, 2014, which falls on a Monday. But “ends” simply means that’s when I can apply for a new license after passing a written test. Now I know the feeling of humilitation my father felt when he had to reapply for his permit, although he had lost his on grounds that his illness may have had rendered him insufficiently alert to drive.

Thankfully I live a block away from a métro station and there’s a grocery store right next to it. I don’t really need a car in Montréal. It’s just that, for me, not having a car is like a cowboy without a horse. It’s going to take some getting used to.

I also know myself well in some respects: As much as I have the willpower to accomplish some things and avoid others, I’m not convinced I can swear off driving with the temptation of a car downstairs in the garage. So, I’m thinking that I need to remove that temptation, and the first solution that came to mind is to bring my car to my sister’s and leave it in her driveway for the winter, if she’s willing.

As for the rest of my plans, I even figured out how to get by transit to the place where I will need to write my exam, and how will plan weeks in advance to take a vacation day from work or make arrangements to accumulate a day’s worth of overtime because, of course, that exam is only given on weekdays.

I’m not tickled about any of this, but I’m not totally miserable about it, either. Being miserable about it wouldn’t change the facts. Of course, if I’m reading the documents correctly, had those two extra points that pushed me over the edge appeared on my record two months and three days later exactly, I wouldn’t be in this situation since the points from December 2011 would have dropped from my record. It’s all the more unnerving given that I’m still not convinced that I was going the speed I was alleged to be going back then, but didn’t have it in me to contest.

So, it is what it is — and an even quieter winter than I was expecting.

Is Home Really So Sweet?

Home Sweet HomeSo I’ve been living in the same apartment for five years now. It’s not unusual for me to remain in the same place for that long if not longer, even though I did do more than my fair share of moving in my 20s. Indeed, in February 1995, I moved into my 6th apartment in Halifax since September 1987, but then I stayed in that place for 10 years and my 7th place was one storey down in the same building for the three years up to my move to Montréal. So, frankly, I haven’t given serious thought to moving from my current pad …until about a few weeks ago.

In September 2012, I wrote about how the old woman who’d been the super of the building for decades left. She was replaced by a middle-aged woman from Cape Breton who, I’m afraid, didn’t live up to expectations: this September, we learned that the owner hired a property management company and she was replaced by new supers a few weeks later. What’s more, for the last month, I’ve endured major noise as the apartment directly below me is being gutted and renovated.

That’s only one of the numerous projects that have been undertaken: the garage has been hosed down to an inch of its life, the front of the building has been landscaped, “emergency plumbing work” requiring the water supply to be turned off a whole day was completed, and minor repairs were done in my bathroom to stop water from leaking downstairs which, I’m told, has probably been happening but left unreported for years. What’s more, the west side of the building — fortunately I’m on the east side — has been plagued with a resurgence of bed bugs. The furnace will be replaced before winter and apartments are going to be renovated as the tenants vacate.

In the six weeks or so since the company took over, more work has been done to the building than in the five years I’ve been here. I spoke to the workmen on a few occasions and they’re clearly intrigued by what’s been happening (or, more precisely, not happening) around here because, as they put it, the whole place is in sad, sad shape. My bathroom is considered shot, but it’s difficult for them to gut it while someone is living here. I expect the rent will start going up considerably and, considering all the work that’s being put in, it’d be quite justified …except that it doesn’t look like I’ll be seeing much in the way of improvements in my own apartment. What the people at management companies like this one don’t get is that, except for real emergencies, tenants tend not to rock the boat even if they see things going south if it means the rent doesn’t go up, which mine hadn’t until last April.

As a result of all of this, I’ve been thinking that perhaps I should move. It’s ironic because things are finally looking up for this place and I had been thinking of doing some improvements of my own once out of debt as I am now. But now I’m wondering if it’s even worth it.

What’s discouraging, however, is looking at the cost of rent in Montréal these days. When I first started toying with the idea of moving here in ’99, rent was amazingly cheap; now the prices have caught up with other major Canadian cities (except Toronto and Vancouver which remain very expensive). It’s starting to look like the odds of my getting another two-bedroom around the price I’m paying now that’s not in a neighbourhood I’d feel isolated or unsafe are pretty slim. For roughly the same price, I’ll probably have to settle for a one-bedroom apartment, which I’ll consider provided that it’s large enough to create a comfortable yet separate area for my office and includes a garage space.

I find $1,000/month in rent paid by one person is getting to be a little bit much. Rent is not like a mortgage where you have something to show in the end. My rigorous approach to budgeting in the last two years has shown me that I can afford $1,000 and still put some money aside for emergencies. But I’m considering finally joining a savings-matching program for retirement contributions that my employer offers, so I’m worried the combination of the two will get me to cross that line where I’ll have no wriggle room left even though participating in such a program is a sound investment.

Should I consider moving in a part of town I wouldn’t like as much but where the rents are better? Should I consider getting a roommate? Neither option turns me on, and a huge part of me feels I shouldn’t have to be considering such options.

Indeed, Now What Do I Do?

Now What?Haven’t we all wondered what exactly a dog expects to do if it should catch the hubcap of a moving car? Of course, the answer is that the dog doesn’t know; it just feels compelled to run after the car.

This notion came to my mind last Thursday morning — October 17th — when I reached my financial milestone of complete debt elimination, except that I’m not totally clueless as to what I’m going to do next, but more about the order of my next milestones. However, without a doubt, reaching this point has been quite a ride.

After giving much thought during my three-week sick leave from work in September 2011 to the notion of when did I last feel content and in control of my life, I got up on Saturday, October 1, 2011, one week after returning to my job, and began working on a spreadsheet. Indeed, it occurred to me during the time I was putting everything about myself into question that one of my many bad decisions in the previous years had been not to pay attention to my finances, for I was very fortunate in that there seemed to always be enough money coming in to cover all the bills and simply glide by. Of course, having the bailiff show up at my door on the morning of my very first appointment with Lucy brought home that I wasn’t really doing such a great job at gliding by.

So, that October morning, I mustered up the courage to look at my accounts online to see how bad things were. I found just over $21K of debt which I immediately consolidated onto my line of credit, and tried to think of all the unusual expenses I would have to cover in the coming months, like weekly appointments with Lucy and the divorce. But then two questions popped into my mind.

  1. From March 2006 to August 2007, somehow I had managed to clear almost that much debt. Mind you, my monthly expenses are somewhat higher in Montréal than they were in Halifax back then, but not insurmountably higher. Why can’t I do that again? Have I allowed my list of wants to grow into my income?
     
  2. Why is it that, when someone is paid every two weeks, there really isn’t two “extra” paycheques per year?

That second question in particular is what brought me to think about cash flow for an entire year rather than month by month and Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “magic jars” in which she gets people to put cash for a specific purpose (food, transportation, etc.). I combined and adapted those two notions by listing all my recurring expenses like rent, phone, insurance, steady debt repayment and so on, figuring out how much they each cost per year, and dividing each of those figures by 26 — the number of pay periods in one year. This exercise confirmed that I was very lucky to have more than enough money left over for food and vices, and with some trimming back here and there, I could put even more on debt repayment.

So, after resetting the counter at zero and figuring out my expected cash flow for the next two years, I implemented my plan starting with my paycheque of October 6, 2011. My best-case scenario, which included paying for my (failed) therapy to quit smoking and my divorce lawyer, projected total debt elimination by the beginning of 2014. “Best-case scenario” was the operative term; I hadn’t thought through vacation travel and couldn’t anticipate hefty fines, car breakdowns, or the need to buy new tires or dress clothes. However, I also assumed no salary increase, no extra pay for overtime or no better-than-expected year-end bonus, and no elimination or reduction of recurring expenses (e.g., getting rid of my land line in favour of a MagicJack, closing the account I no longer needed at my backup web host, closing dormant resold accounts with my web host that I’d simply left open for no good reason, etc.).

In the end, in precisely 743 days (or 2 years, 1 week and 5 days), I paid off just shy of $28.5K. To achieve this, though, I placed exactly one-third of all income during that time on debt reduction and I don’t recommend that anyone else do the same because, unlike myself, people have a life. I had lived below the poverty line for the 10 years prior to March 2006, which is how I got into debt in the first place, and my best gross income before that was one exceptional year in the early ’90s when I made a hair over $30K. In other words, I’m accustomed to getting only what I need and not what I want — within a few exceptions, of course, owning a car being one of them.

Now that’s not to say that I think I’m more virtuous than everyone else! I just think that most people, when they attain a level of financial security, quite naturally allow themselves to indulge more in what they want. I mean, despite appearances, I feel I’ve done quite a lot of that since 2006, at least by my standards. But just like a diet will fail if you’re depriving yourself to the point of always feeling hungry, an aggressive approach to debt elimination as the one I adopted is doomed if it makes you feel resentful for depriving yourself so much when you know there’s in fact enough income coming in that you shouldn’t be feeling deprived.

At any rate, now that my debt is finally at zero, I still have about two months left for my plan to be finalized, for now I have to refill the virtual “jars” from which I borrowed to get out of debt faster than anticipated. However, by New Year’s Day, I’ll have a few Ks of savings with which I can do whatever I want, which brings me to the dog chasing the hubcap. I know what’s first on my list: buying an extra week’s vacation for 2014, assuming my boss allows me to do so. As for the rest, well …that’s a topic for my next blog entry.