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.

Life on Hold

I have had a series of highly geeky musings in the works for over a month now that I’ve obviously neither completed nor published yet, and I’ve had several other “bloggable” thoughts (or rants) in my mind that, for whatever reason, I never firmed up. I hope to get to those eventually, but for now I offer you this musing for the simple fact that I’ve gone far too long without posting anything at aMMusing.

On HoldI don’t like to admit it but I have to: I’ve pressed the Pause button on my life.

That statement sounds depressing, doesn’t it? Yet strangely enough, it isn’t …at least not for me. When I think to how I felt two years ago, I can assert that I’m perfectly fine. Back then, I couldn’t even stand myself; I felt like I wanted to escape by crawling out of my own skin. But three unrelated and quite trivial events that occurred in the last few days have brought the phrase “Life on Hold” to my mind as a “bloggable” topic.

First, I was sitting having a coffee in a park in the Village a few nights ago when this guy, also named Maurice and also born in ’65, sat in front of me to see if I recognized him. I did. We had — or actually, he had — struck up a conversation with me about a month ago. Some things he said back then made me not like him very much, so when that happens, I find it difficult to sustain a conversation with that person afterwards. Clearly having forgotten that he had already posed me the question, he asked me the other day if I was “with someone.” When I repeated my answer that I wasn’t, he asked me for how long I have been by myself. And that’s when it hit me like that proverbial ton of bricks: it will be four years soon! It doesn’t seem that long ago, yet the facts and the calendar can’t lie. At the same time, NowEx does seem like a distant memory but a memory nonetheless: just last night, I had another nightmare in which he featured.

Second, last Thursday evening, I discovered that my bank unceremoniously lowered the rate on its so-called “high-interest” savings account from 1.2% to 1.1%. It’s not a really big deal, except that now I can claim that the bank gives me less than a quarter of what it takes from me in interest on my line of credit. I then figured out that, based on my projections, this tiny 0.1% decrease could represent between 50 to 60 dollars less in incoming interest by the end of 2016 (although I wouldn’t really have the balance being projected since I intend to spend some of it along the way, except it illustrates well the difference ten basis points can make on compound interest). Peanuts, really, but this calculation made me realize the futility of continuing to save as I have — at least for the next few months — while I’m still carrying some debt even if it’s now well below 5K or nearly 85% less than my total reimbursement of so-called consumer debt since Thanksgiving 2011.

Third — and certainly the most trivial — I finally got around to submitting my first reimbursement claim at work for my Internet connection, to which I’m entitled since I work exclusively from home. I’ve said it before: I’m my own worst advocate when it comes to money; I didn’t even submit a claim for my hotel room and train ticket to Toronto in 2009 even though the trip was entirely work-related. So, upon receiving my first reimbursement on the same day I got confirmation that I’m receiving less interest on my savings account, I fired up my uber-complicated but highly effective budgeting spreadsheet and spent hours rejigging it because 50 bucks a month represents more than two years’ worth of power bills …or a very decent dinner out, or a few bottles of non-plonk wine, or a tank of gas, or …well, you get the picture.

As I was doing that — slowly, methodically, yet realizing no sane person would spend as many hours as I have on this thing — I kept hearing one thought in my mind: “Life on hold, life on hold…” Ever since I reconstructed my spreadsheet in late-October and especially after my net debt finally fell to a mere four-digit figure in mid-December, I seem to have declared 2013 as my “last year of sacrifices.” A few months ago I complained that I might be pushing myself too hard on that front, but it seems that I just can’t stop myself. I don’t remember a moment in my adult life when I had no debt AND a realistic hope of staying bad-debt-free, so with that target only four-and-a-half or five months away, I’ve chosen to cut out anything that is absolutely not necessary so that, for the first time in seven years, every cent of my year-end bonus will be all mine and not going right back to the bank.

I’ve developed the discipline of putting aside at least one out of every four dollars I take home without even breaking a sweat! When I first started cleaning up my act nearly two years ago, I knew that my whole budget was a best-case scenario but I told myself that any unlucky break would merely push the target a little bit further. But the bad strokes of luck that did fall onto my path were met with some lucky strikes of almost equal magnitude, so, in my mind, with the target so close, what’s a few more months of austerity if I can gently coast to it? The fact the target is a full four to five months SOONER that my best-case scenario of October 2011 is only egging me on.

Therefore, air-conditioning for the apartment this summer? Forget it; I’ll suffer a bit for one last summer. A nice trip overseas or even to the bloody USA? No, not yet. Finally getting decent furniture? Next year, and that’ll be cash, thank you very much. If I can’t pay for it right then and there or within four to six weeks, it ain’t happening. But, starting in July, I will be using a budget line I haven’t used yet, namely having someone come in to clean my dump once every two weeks. And because I find having only three weeks’ vacation per year isn’t enough, I’ll start buying myself an extra week’s vacation starting in 2014 because I believe my sanity depends on it.

So truth be told, I met the line “life on hold” with a kind of ambivalence when it kept echoing in my mind this weekend. On the one hand, it’s rather pathetic that I should be doing so little these days and I wonder if it’s a mistake to defer living as I am right now. But, on the other hand, the prospect of living well and travelling as so many of my friends and family are able to do, all within my means, is just too damn enticing.