Thursday, August 28, 2008

True Hourly Wage

If you've read Your Money or Your Life, then you should be familiar with the concept of your true hourly wage. In a nutshell, it is a number that takes into account all the additional time related to your job that reduces your on-the-books hourly wage. For example, let's say you are paid $10 per hour at your job and you work 8 paid hours a day for a total of $80.

But maybe it takes you a 30 minute commute each way to get to and from your workplace. Thus there is actually 9 hours of your day related to work, 8 working and 1 commuting. So to calculate your true hourly wage you take the amount of money you make each day and divide it by the total time related to your job. For our example, $80 divided by 9 hours give a true hourly wage of $8.89 per hour.

This process also works in reverse and it is to that situation I will turn my attention. I work at an inbound call center that has low to medium call volume. So during an 8 hour shift I might only be taking calls and doing tasks related to that job for 5.5-6 hours while the rest of the time is spent waiting for calls to come in. If we take the same on-the-books wage of $10 per hour, this works out to be a true hourly wage of $13.33 per hour.

This worked out very well for myself and other students as we could do homework and read our texts between calls. Unfortunately, due to a security breach in a different department, that privilege was taken away from us. That kind of sucked, but at least we still had the internet to surf between calls.

No longer.

In one fell swoop, this action pissed off many people and reduced job satisfaction since now people are extremely bored between calls. There has been talk of filling up between call time with other call center related duties so that you are being paid for what the center wants you to do. From a business perspective, I can understand not wanting to pay employees for non-work related activities. However, what this does is reduce employees' true hourly wage. If those 2 hours are filled with other duties, then employees will be making less per hour worked, plus they will be doing more work. Such a situation is not good for morale.

So I face a bit of a quandary in that I am essentially working at a place that has transitioned from one where I could pursue my own interests between calls, thus being personally productive to one that I am pretty bored at. I am faced with the decision to move on and use that extra time to be productive, yet lose out financially or stick with it and dislike the work environment.

My initial thoughts are that I will stay since I plan to only be there for another year or so anyways and to use the dollars made for the very specific purpose of a new car and a house down payment rather that just having that money be a nice extra in our accounts.

Lessons learned:
1. Don't take for granted what you have as it can be taken away at any time.
2. Defining goals for your dollars can make other parts of your life acceptable/tolerable.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Since last week, I did a roundup of current freezer prices and evaluated what we would use such an appliance for. We decided to go with the larger 7 foot model as I plan to keep different flours subject to spoilage and various nuts in there. Stock will be a staple freezer item as will bread, tomato sauce, and ice cream.

Based on my findings, we could get the cheapest 7 foot model at Leon's for $288. However, the brand name, Wood's, was not one either of us were familiar with. For an additional $11 a Frigidaire model at The Brick could be had for $299 and the same model was at Futureshop for $329.

So we went ahead and purchased the Frigidaire 7.2 cubic foot chest freezer from Futureshop even though it was more expensive.

Why go with the place that had the highest price? Here's where things get interesting. Futureshop offers a price match/beat on items advertised at competitors. They beat the price by 10% of the difference of the two items. So the Futureshop price becomes $296. It gets even better as I had $100 in gift cards in my wallet since Christmas that I used to bring the price down to $244 with tax.

When Trent over at The Simple Dollar purchased a freezer he went through an interesting analysis that looked at the total lifetime cost of the item to determine how much they need to save each month to make the purchase worthwhile. The calculation uses the average lifetime of a freezer of 8 years, factors in electricity usage, and the initial cost of the item. I went through this calculation as well for our purchase:

Initial Cost: $244

Electricity usage assuming the freezer will last 8 years it works to be a total of $279 KwH/year x 8 years x 14.45 cents/KwH = $322.52

Monthly Cost = $566.52 / 8 / 12 = $5.90 per month*

What this means is that we need to save more than $5.90 each month through use of the freezer to have made the purchase a worthwhile one. If we eat out one less time a month as a result of having something in the freezer we can re-heat, then the freezer will more than pay for itself. This does not seem an unreasonable scenario and I look forward to creating delicious food I can quickly and easily reheat.

There may be an additional cost associated with transporting the freezer. We can have Futureshop deliver it for $50 or rent a van from U-haul for about $30 taxes included. We will also explore the possibility of using our landlord's truck for free.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

72 Goals in 1001 Days - 1 year 3 month update

This is a long post, so if you are not interested in lists, then you may want to
avoid this one.

Here is an update to the list of goals that I wish to have accomplished by February 15, 2010 that I originally posted here.

I have made very little progress on the goals and I think I know why. Many of them I just added to get a higher number of goals, attempting to reach 101 and weren't really that personally important to me. Of the original list, I completed 18/72.

Much like Trent from The Simple Dollar did, I think I can re-evaluate what is left and condense them into better, more concrete goals. As well, I will try to come up with at least one actionable item to make towards it. In essence these should be SMART goals. "S" for being as specific as possible, "M" for being able to measure progress, "A" for being attainable by changing habits, "R" for being realistic for me to willingly work towards it, "T" is for a specific time frame. In order to measure all my goals, I think I will create a spreadsheet with each refined goal then keep track of when I work on them and what the next step is.

2. Obtain my Bachelor of Education Degree: this is going to happen unless I try very hard for it not to, so I do not think this should be on my list.

4. Read the complete works of William Shakespeare: I have the complete works sitting on my bookshelf and I want to read through it.
Next step action: read 5 pages a day for 263 days until I finish it.

6. Make my own windex: we have regular windex in the apartment and may not go through it before the end of the 1001 day experiment. However, when cleaning tasks come up, I will look at homemade solutions first. This goal gets the axe too.

7. Have $18,000 in savings. We are very close to this goal and due to our automatic payments to the main savings account, we will reach this in about 12 weeks.

8. Measure my body fat percentage in some scientific fashion. I don't think I need to do this, but it is interesting to know what it should be and find ways to reduce the %.
Next step action: determine what my % body fat should be and locate a place to calculate it.

9. Become lighter by on average 0.5 pounds a week. This is a very nebulous goal as it contains no information about how I will actually do this. Instead of a weight loss target for a goal, I think a better idea is to have excercise and diet goals and then the weight loss is a side benefit.
Next step action: This goal gets reworded to: excercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day at a minimum of 4 times per week. Plan 1 week of suppers (the meal I usually over-eat on) in advance and do not buy non-meal food outside of normal grocery shopping.

10. Get Married: the season for weddings is usually summer and I suspect 2009 is
mostly booked.
Next step action: discuss with fiance values for the future and children to make sure we are on the same page.

11. Open an RRSP: this is something we really need to do.
Next step actions: read The Boglehead's Guide to Investing (whenever it comes in at the library), speak with a financial advisor about options (next time fiance and I have a day off together), and determine which financial institution to house retirement accounts.

12. Invest in a mutual fund: this may be taken care of in #11, but I suspect we will invest in index funds. This is cut.

13. Buy stock in a single company: the most risky of investment strategies that we will only take on if we decide we have enough time to do the proper research. Cut for now.

14. Liquidate unwatched DVDs.
Next step action: sort DVDs into ones that are immediate keepers and onces to be sold. Do this 08/18/08.

16. Beat Halo 2. Cut as I have little interest in vidja games right now.
17. Beat Jet Set Radio Future. Cut for same reason as #16.

19. Liquidate old books.
Next step action: sort books into ones that are immediate keepers and ones to be sold. Do this 08/18/08

20. Make 5 homemade gifts for people for various events (birthdays, Christmas, etc...) (2/5: mother's day coupon book, and homemade bread for Father's day). I like the idea of this goal as I am much more conscious about a consumer lifestyle than I once was. My preference will be to make gifts whenever possible.
Next step action: start fiance's birthday gift 08/19/08

21. Go on 10 relaxing drives around the island with fiance (1/10). This is going to be lumped with #31, #34 and #37.

23. Walk/bike the equivalent of Summerside to Toronto not including every day walking (620/1700 km). I am keeping good track of my biked kilometers and will continue in the winter at the UPEI gym.

24. Watch Season 1 of The Shield.

25. Read the Complete Cerebus series (4/16 TPBs). I don't think this is important to me when I have other more thought provoking material on my "to read" list.

26. Talk to Sam about his history with money. I am interested in his views on this.
Next step action: contact Sam via email/facebook to set up a chat time.

27. Plant and grow my own tomatoes. I am interested in producing my own food for
both environmental and personal satisfaction reasons.
Next step action: growing season for 2008 is over, but I will draw up a list of materials and
investigate the possibility of having a patch in a community garden rather than
grow them in the apartment.

29. Vacation in Vancouver. We really want to go back here.
Next step action: discuss with fiance when we would like to go, how much it would cost, and how musch to set aside to save up for it.

30. Play 5 games of Ultimate Frisbee (0/5). This ties in with #9 as excercise so cut.

31. Cook 12 romantic dinners for fiance and I (0/12). Lumped with #34, 37, and 31.

32. Become an Ebay seller.
Next step action: setup seller account, take photos of comics I want to sell.

33. Open an online trader account. cut for now as it depends on what we do for #11.

34. Get flowers for Pam "just because" 5 times (2/5). Lumped with #37 and others

35. Paint another 2 paintings in the Bob Ross style (0/2). I enjoyed the process of painting and seeing the results.
This will be lumped with #20.

36. Do 100 push-ups without taking a break (personal best: 32/100). I am actually working towards this based on the schedule found here.

37. Spend 10 complete days with fiance (3/10). This is going to be reworded as spending at least 30 minutes with fiance each day. I realize that it actually sounds bad to schedule time with loved ones and that it should just happen naturally. However with the way I am it is too easy to pursue other things and let more important matters slide. I need specific actions to take or timeframes
to do them in order for them to be done.

38. Help fiance's parents clean out a room in their house. They have way too much stuff in their home as many of the items are from my fiance and her sister's childhood and have sentimental value. I think I have developed a clever way for them to clear out clutter. For every item that has sentimental value that honestly will likely not be used again, take a picture of it and compile an album on the computer for these items. That way you can bring up the pictures, still have
the memories associated with the item, clutter is reduced in your home, and the item might find use with someone else. Win-win all around.

40. Offer to babysit 3 times for my friends so they can go out (0/3). This is something that might be difficult during the school year, but can be looked at next summer.

44. Plant a tree. Look at this for next summer as well

45. Attend a farmer's market and if I like what I see 30 more times (10/30): We've been attending off and on for the past little while and I do enjoy it once food is in season. It has become part of our food buying routine and will continue.
CUT (keeping track of it that is)

46. Determine my personal CO2 emissions (estimate)
Next step action: use a variety of online calculators to determine this

47. Reduce those emissions by 20%. Depending on what $46 turns up, this will follow

48. Convince 5 people to switch to PC Financial for their banking (1/5). Why do I
need to do this again?

52. Read 52 in one sitting to see if it makes much sense. I have little interest in this anymore. CUT

53. Make 10 jars of homemade pasta sauce and give it as gifts (0/10).
Next step action: decide on a recipe that is delicious and suitable for gifting.

54. Finish the few pieces of the puzzle for the paper based on my masters project. Very close to finishing this now and we are under the gun since other research groups are close to publishing

55. Do 150 sit-ups without taking a break (personal best 0/150).
Next step action: try to implement the same routine as for th 100 pushup goal

56. Wash and wax our car 4 times (0/4)
57. Clean and vacuum the car interior 4 times (0/4)
58. Check the car's air filter and replace/clean if needed 4 times (every 6 months)
Next step action for #56,57,58: schedule maintenance tasks on the calendar

61. Have the only animal I eat be fish/seafood for 4 consecutive months
62. Have my only beverage as water for 8 consecutive months: I don't think this is necessary as I drink soy milk every now and then to get B12.
63. Try being a vegetarian for 5 consecutive months (no animal flesh - eggs/milk/cheese OK)
Next step action for #61,63: I am actually moving towards a vegan diet for the most part. My philosophy is to choose non-animal products as a preference when making food for myself and to create dishes for my fiance and I that are vegan that she can eat. I am not going to get hung up on not-eating animal products in other situations where non-animal products are unavailable to me (ie. I'm not going to not eat at a family function just because there is meat).

64. Organize our filing container.
Next step action: get a freaking filing cabinet

65. Pay off completely the debt I expect to incur over the next 2 years from my Bachelor of Education degree. This is in progress as explained in other posts

67. Help Mark finish his basement. Cut for now as it is unclear if they will be staying in that house long enough to finish it. If he does start the project I will be more than happy to assist.

68. Obtain my class 4 license so that when I get a teaching job, I am qualified to drive a bunch of kids on field trips etc...
Next step action: find booklet or additional information about this license

69. Catalog our possessions for insurance purposes.
Next step action: start simplifying our stuff to make the cataloging process easier.

71. Learn how to swim: this will be a great way to exercise.
Next step action: find out where lessons are and when they are

72. Give Blood 10 times (1/10): 10 times will not be doable at this point but
Next step action: make appointment to give blood
1. August 29, 2007

See part 2 for the condensed form of this list to see what I will actually be working towards over the next year and a half in a much briefer form.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Brrr...It's Chilly

My fiance an I have been thinking about getting a small chest freezer for the apartment for a while. The main reason is that we have an abundance of frozen products right now and don't really have much room for anything else. However, this is a rather large purchase and warrants some thought both in financial terms and in efficiency.

How much does it cost?

We are looking at models in the range of 5-7 cubic feet of space (though we looked at smaller and larger ones) and have scouted various stores around Charlottetown for pricing. 5 cubic foot freezers range in price from $230-$259 and the 7 cu. ft models ring in between $294-$379, with the majority of stores below $300. When you work out a price per cubic foot number, the 7 cubic foot models are cheaper by around $8/cu. ft. Though striving to get the best unit price on something like rice is a noble endeavor, for reasons below, it might not be the primary consideration when buying an appliance like a fridge or freezer.

How much does it really cost?

Not only are you paying the upfront cost, but you pay an additional fee each month as part of your electricity bill. Luckily freezers come with a tag showing how much energy they approximately use each year. Something I found interesting was that going from 4 cu. ft to 7 showed a big jump in energy usage but starts to level off at larger freezer sizes. Due to my anal nature, below are two plots showing the cost per cubic foot (left, blue), the total cost per cubic foot with energy usage added in (left pink), and energy use vs cubic ft.

Note that the 5 cu. ft freezer is the most expensive per cubic foot.

What will I use it for?

This is an easy question. As my June experiment showed, I can save mucho dinero by cooking meals at home and is something I plan to continue. A freezer facilitates this process by allowing me to cook in bulk and freeze the leftovers for additional meals. As well, we can take advantage of sales on freezer goods and stock up, something we can not really do at the moment.

How much space do we need?

This is the biggest question. The benefits of the 7 cu. ft model are that we can really stock up when sales hit and it will serve us well in the future when our family expands to include children. However, sales for items we would actually use might be few and far between and/or I may find that I don't have sufficient time to do all the cooking I'd like resulting in us not using the extra space, yet paying to keep that space cold.

On the flip side, the 5 cu. ft model would meet our current needs splendidly but may not once there are more mouths to feed. Plus these models are more expensive per cubic foot.

Other notes

I like the idea of the upright freezers since it is much easier to find items. However, they are about $100 more expensive for the same cubic footage, which I do not think is warranted, plus when the door is open on these, the cold air will flow out much more easily than the traditional models.

I am thinking of getting a 5.5 cubic foot model from Home Depot pictured below, but am unsure of the Danby brand name.


Since we had a ton of car repairs in the last few months, we have been putting off the purchase of a freezer. We have the funds now to buy one, but I think we are starting to be a bit stingy with our money and are now avoiding it since it is a large purchase. I'll keep you informed as to how it goes.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vacation Nation

Post frequency has taken a bit of a dive in August as we were on vacation. Thankfully we are back and wallets are definitely lighter for it. We did not budget a cent for the 10ish days that we were off but I don't think we did too bad. The biggest thing was eating out during the week as well as gas for all the driving we did.

This year we chose to do a mostly local vacation with a tour of eastern PEI. We went from Charlottetown all around the eastern coast to East Point, then down to Montague and home. We also had a night of camping in the Cavendish area and visited with my fiance's family for a few days. The non local event was a trip to the Moncton Zoo with my fiance's sister and her nephew.

In terms of the cost of the week let's see how much we actually spent:
Confederation bridge: $41.50 - $20.00 from fiance's sister = $21.50
Zoo admission: $23.00
Campground: $28.93 after work discount
Gasoline: $145.73
Dining: $100.72
Firewood: $12.00
Total: $331.88

While this is much cheaper than some family's' vacations, we definitely could have done better on eating out. We splurged at the The Friendly Fisherman buffet in Cavendish (it was excellent) and tried a new pizza place in Montague called Old World Pizza (also excellent). I'm not going to worry about it too much since both places we something different and added to the enjoyment of the vacation, despite our guts being busted after TFF.

What really made the vacation were some very nice memories: playing horseshoes at the campground until it got dark, carrying a really heavy load of firewood to the campsite with my fiance, walking under the Confederation Bridge and seeing the future of energy production on PEI.

Note that other than the gas, these memories were created without spending much money at all and I endeavor to have more vacations like that.

Monday, August 4, 2008

New Worth Update: Double Whammy (kind of)

Well there was no update for June as I was struggling with how to represent my net worth in meaningful terms since I am paying ahead on future debt. I've realized that doing so can basically be thought of as extra assets and there is no real need for any major modifications. In addition to the net worth calculation, I am also calculating how many months worth of current living expenses we have.

June Assets - Up 2%
Goal set: +5.0% increase
July Assets - Up 0.1%

June saw a small jump in assets, whereas July barely moved. This is due to some extensive car repairs that took a chunk out of our emergency fund.

Goal for next month: a 2% increase should be reasonable, though we are on vacation now and will lose some income from that. This should be compensated by extra hours at work when I go back and I AM GOING TO SELL COMICS ON EBAY despite my previous procrastinations about it. However, we plan to buy a small chest freezer for the apartment which may null these increases.

June Overall Net Worth - Up 2.7%
June months of living expenses - 9.32
July Overall Net Worth - unchanged

I am looking at August to be a frugal month which should result in a good net worth increase.