Category Archives: Lifestyle

Why I Decided To Join SeneGence

Multi-Level Marketing companies. MLMs. Pyramid Schemes. Scams. Network Marketing. Referral Marketing. Whatever you want to call them, I won’t sugarcoat and try to tell you that SeneGence isn’t one. Because let’s be real, it is. I joined a team of distributors and am part of her “1st downline” – if I have people join my team, they will be on my 1st downline and my upline’s 2nd downline. Yeah, it can get complicated.

There are lots of successful MLMs – Avon, Usana, Arbonne, Scentsy, Pampered Chef, Younique, just to name a few.

If you’ve been following my personal Facebook or Instagram accounts, you’ll know I’ve recently joined a SeneGence team and started promoting LipSense. I’m a lipstick girl – it’s my favourite makeup item! I’m always looking for a long wear, kiss proof, food proof, everything proof lipstick and finally found one that ticks all the boxes. THAT’S why I’m now a “SeneGence Distributor”. I love the product, I use it, and I wanted a nice discount for myself. Does it come with some added benefits? Sure, I guess.

 

I’ll say I never thought I’d be one to join a MLM so I want to explain why I did. (Sorry Jess if you’re reading this! She’s my ‘team leader’)

Here’s what I will do with SeneGence:

  • I will make an Instagram page + Facebook Group and a fun business name to promote what I’m doing (follow me @LipsInTheSix). This is completely free and the only thing it takes is my time. I can post when I want and don’t have to do anything else! Posting is simple.
  • I will update my Instagram + Facebook group page about the products
  • I will suggest and promote the product to friends and family if they ask about it or they want to know what I’m doing but won’t push people to buy it

Here’s what I don’t plan on doing:

  • I don’t plan to actively recruit people to my team. If I have friends and family that are interested in becoming a distributor and want to join my team, great. If not, also great! I didn’t join to start a downline.
  • I don’t plan on front loading on the stock. This is where certain MLMs can be a debt-inducing black hole. Some companies suggest you front load or buy a lot of stock before you have customers so you’re “ready to sell when they’re ready to buy” – while I get the concept, I’m not in this to make a ton of money so going far into the negative seems pointless. Shipping is fast in Canada and I have ways around front loading, such as weekly/monthly orders and only placing orders once I have payment
  • I won’t make this a business or my only source of income – this is great to fill my spare time, a little hobby project, and definitely helps me learn how to ‘grow a business using social media’ without investing a lot of capital into something. J and I would love to open a business one day and this is a great way to learn little things that work for a ‘new venture’

For right now, this is a great product that I personally love to use and the discount is a nice perk. Will it lead to more down the road? Who knows – I don’t think so but you can never be certain! Have you ever tried an MLM? What was your experience?

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A Balcony Oasis

J and I moved into our condo this past January and I couldn’t wait to spruce up the balcony. As soon as the weather was warm enough, I started planning how I was going to make our little 4’ x 10’ balcony a little oasis. Just because you live in a condo doesn’t mean that you can’t make those tiny balconies a miniature paradise. Keep reading for some tips to spruce up and maximize your outdoor space.

Light It Up
I want to say this is my favourite addition to our balcony, but I’m not sure that would be honest (since I love it all) but adding white lights makes a huge difference. They bring a great ambiance to the balcony and brighten it up more than you would think! I bought these lights from Ikea + strung them up with these nearly invisible command hooks (just make sure you get the all-weather or outdoor ones).

A Colourful Rug
Rugs aren’t just meant for indoors, guys. It’s so simple but I love these cotton rag rugs – they’re colourful, comfy for my feet, and each one is different! I tucked the rug under the chairs so that we can take our shoes off while we’re out there.

Compact (but comfortable) Furniture
Because there isn’t a lot of room on most condo balconies, the trick is to find compact and comfortable furniture. I snagged these wooden reclining chairs from IKEA and they are amazing. They’re really durable (stand up to being out in the rain all season and barely look dirty or worn!) and with the addition of these outdoor cushions (which are equally as durable to the elements), it is the perfect seat to relax + soak up the sun in.

Candles
We’re constantly burning candles in our house and being out on the balcony is no different. Although it doesn’t get super buggy out on our balcony yet (well, not yet anyways) citronella candles give off a nice lemony smell and keep the mosquitos away – double bonus. I love a good candle.

Tree Stump Table
Okay, I lied – this is my most prized balcony possession. I desperately wanted a tree stump tables for a long, long time and could never bite the bullet and spend $200 + dollars to buy one. Luckily, my dad had a friend who was cutting down some trees and saved me a stump to use as a side table, which saved me big bucks. The stump is rustic and a great side table between the stools.

Plants, Plants, Plants!
I have a mild obsession with plants. I can’t stop buying them and they’re making our balcony a little jungle oasis. My amazing dad built a tiered plant stand, which I stained to match our furniture, and it holds a ton of plants. I mix it up by using different potters of shapes and sizes and use a wide variety of plants. Some of my favourite additions have been our fig tree (I’ve never had a fig but can’t wait to try a homegrown one) and our mini orange tree. We’re also growing cherry tomatoes, which are like my little babies since I grew them from seeds. Plants bring life to the balcony and tie the whole oasis together. I get my plants from Crown Flora, Dynasty, and the little ‘bodegas’ in my neighbourhood.

Putting a little time and energy into your balcony can make it so enjoyable – I guarantee we wouldn’t ever want to be out there if we just had a couple of cheap plastic lawn chairs!

Money Management Tips

So, if you’ve been following along the past few weeks, you’ll know my ‘bad debt story’ and how I’ve worked on fixing it. Being better with money is something that I’m proud of. I try to share my experience with people so that they don’t have to go through the same stuff I did – please learn from my mistakes!! I know these tips aren’t groundbreaking but they’ve helped me out a lot.

Track Your Spending

I started tracking my spending before I made my budget. It helped me understand how much I was actually spending so I could make a realistic budget. I used an app called ‘Expense 5’, which was really eye-opening – tracking it in real time and being able to look at it at any time was a quick reality check. I’d look and think “wooooah, I’ve spent how much on snacks and Starbucks this week?” – I was quickly able to adjust. Without tracking my spending, I’d have no idea what’s going on.

Use Cash as Much as Possible

I used to watch a money show on TV and the debt counselor always told these people to use cash because it was easier to track. I do try to use cash as often as possible. I find that I am more conscious of my spending if I have to count out the money or I can see it dwindling down in my wallet (when you tap your debit card, you don’t even see your balance go down – is ignorance really bliss?).

Not Using Credit

If you struggle with debt and always being in the red, commit to not using credit. I don’t have credit cards because of my debt repayment program, but I can confidently say I haven’t missed them at all the past two years. I used credit like “free money”, which we all know it’s not. By eliminating credit cards, I get rid of that temptation of spending money I don’t have. I’m much more careful with big purchases now that I don’t use credit – I’m not as impulsive when I know the money is gone instantly.

Make a Realistic Budget

Ugh, if only I knew this when I first started out. Yeah, it’s nice to think you’re not going to spend any money on taxis all month, but let’s be real. Or it’s nice to think you can only eat out once a week, but is that really going to happen? Be realistic! If there are areas where you know you struggle or will have difficulty reducing your spending, is there somewhere else in your budget to cut the slack. This also is true with rent and living expenses. Is your budget realistic to your expenses and income? For example, I was budgeting to move out and realistically, my rent was $1,400 once I factored in utilities. However, I only budgeted $1,200. What was I thinking? Idiot, Nicole. Don’t be like that guys. If you make commission at your job (or have other variable forms of income), don’t factor that into your budget! Think of it like a bonus every month but budget to live without it. Leave wiggle room in your budget, too. If there’s an unexpected expense, you want to be able to afford it without going too far into the hole.

REAL Toronto Money Hacks

This article popped up on my Facebook newsfeed the other day and it was written by Narcity and was titled along the lines of ‘Money Hacks for Living in Toronto’, which I thought was a super relevant and useful post. So, I clicked (click bait for real on this one) and skimmed through their ‘hacks’. To say I was disappointed would be a severe understatement. They had a few decent ones (few being maybe one), most were a stupid stretch, and the last one was absolutely ridiculous! Their final ‘hack’ for affordable living in Toronto was:

“Sign up for a TD Student Line of Credit”

ARE YOU JOKING ME?! ‘Hey guys, if you can’t afford to live in Toronto, just get a line of credit to help’. I cannot even BEGIN to explain why this is a terrible idea. If you’ve read my post on my debt story, you’ll know why this is TERRIBLE advice on Narcity’s part. I’m sure most people with some financial sense would know this is a bad idea but hey, I was uneducated with money at one point and would have definitely signed up for a line of credit. I think the worst part is that people know it’s a bad idea but do it anyways. So, I’m rounding up my Toronto Money Hacks. I promise you, none of them include going into debt to afford to live in Toronto.

Get a Roommate

Guys, I know it feels super lame to have a roommate but it is easily the best way to save money living in Toronto. You can split utilities and rent in half, plus you always have someone to hang out with. If you’re worried about someone getting in your way, find a roommate that runs on opposite schedules. The most important things I looked for was lifestyle match (if they partied a lot or always had friends over, we wouldn’t work well together) and cleanliness (who cares if their room is messy – as long as common areas are clean, I was ok). I also have found living with strangers is actually less stressful than friends. Yes, you have to screen more carefully and you could get a ‘bad one’ but there’s also no added pressure of ruining a friendship. If you guys don’t have similar interests, you can be like two ships passing in the night with no worries. If you live with a friend and it doesn’t work out, it can be downright awkward.

Ditch the Goodlife Membership

If your condo has a gym, use it! Don’t pay for that pricy Goodlife or Equinox membership when you have one you can use for free. If you aren’t blessed with a free gym, Toronto has lots of community centre gyms you can buy passes for that are a fraction of the cost of Goodlife. If you like classes but aren’t down with paying $20 a class, try ClassPass – which lets you try different classes in the city on a monthly fee that’s cheaper than joining all of the different gyms. I also used to do “new member” trial passes for two weeks just to get in some classes then would bounce to a new gym. There’s also a TON of fitness gurus on Instagram that post free workouts and a lot can be modified to be done at home with little equipment. Fit can be free, guys.

Ditch the ‘Big Box’ Grocery Stores

One of the best discoveries I had when J and I moved to our new neighbourhood was that there were some little ‘bodegas’ around that sold produce way cheaper than Sobeys and Grocery Gateway! It’s a bit more annoying to separate your grocery trips to two or three different stores (especially when you don’t drive!) but you can save a lot of money this way. I bought $15 worth of produce at our corner market, which would have been $35 at Sobeys! The quality is also much better, since I find they get stock more frequently. We use Grocery Gateway to deliver bulk items twice a month (which is cheaper than renting a Car2Go or a taxi) and I try to get the stuff we use a lot on sale (cat food, paper towel, toilet paper, etc.) and stock up when it is.

Instead of Taxis or Ubers, Use Car Sharing Programs

I use Car2Go, which is a car sharing program in Toronto. It’s super convenient – you can park in any approved legal spot (and even if you get a ticket, Car2Go pays for it), you can drop it off when you’re done using it (no returning to its pickup spot) and gas and insurance is all covered. The cars are rated per minute, so it starts at $.41/minute up to $.47/minute depending on the car you get (they have Smart Cars and Mercedes-Benz GLA/CLAs) and then rates change for the hour and for the day. If you need to jet home from the grocery store or are running out for a quick errand, often times it’s cheaper to do car share then taking a taxi!

Follow The Drink Specials

One of the best parts of being in the city is that there is always somewhere to go! This can get pricey though. So, whenever I’d get together with my girlfriend Emma (we were both always on a budget) we’d search for the best drink specials that night. There are drink specials every night at multiple bars so don’t feel like you need to hit up the most expensive place to get the best experience. Some of the best hidden gems also have great drink and food specials!

Budgeting: The ‘20/30/50’ Method

Let me first preface this post by saying I am by no means a money expert. If you were to ask my closest friends and family a few years ago how I am with finances and budgeting, they would have laughed. But after a few years, lots of debt, money issues and living pay cheque to pay cheque, I’ve learned a lot about budgeting, money management, and saving. I’ve tried a few different ways of budgeting but this method seemed to work the best for me. I will also say that I’m really open about my money issues and what I’ve learned and gone through so if you have any questions feel free to comment below.

I used The ‘20/30/50’ Method to make a new budget this year and found it the easiest to work with and the most straightforward. Making a budget + tracking your spending can be very eye-opening if you’re diligent with it. It can show you where you’re overspending, where you might need to increase savings or income or where you might have extra money that’s unallocated. The budget I make is just for myself – J handles his money separately, which works for us – so all my numbers are for ‘my half’. You can download an editable copy of my ‘20/30/50’ budget and try it out for yourself!

Okay, so The ‘20/30/50’ Method has three categories and each number stands for a percentage of your total monthly income. So for example, 20 is 20% allocated to savings. The categories are:

50% – Must Have

Rent, utilities, car payments, #AdultThings that you need every month that no one really enjoys paying for – am I right? You’ll see in the template that among my must-haves I also budget for taxis and Car2Gos. Luckily my company reimburses me for the metro pass, so most of that budget gets used on taxis, Uber, and car shares. We live in midtown Toronto and don’t have car payments or parking but occasionally use a car share program or take taxis + Uber.

20% – Savings + Debt

This is fairly self-explanatory. I am on a debt repayment program so I like to allocate as much money to that every month as I can. However, J and I decided to start saving at least $100 from every pay cheque. I’m more confident in my spending habits and was able to move some money around to do so. Sometimes if I’m having a good month I’ll even put more than $100 in after all my debt + must haves are taken care of. Debt repayment is always going to be a top priority for me but it’s good to save. I also put money into an RRSP at work, which comes out every pay cheque and I don’t even notice. I would recommend doing that with your company as well, especially if they do partial or full match contributions. I promise you won’t even notice it’s ‘gone’.

30% – Everything Else

Anything that doesn’t fall into the above two categories, don’t forget bank fees!

This is always the first area that I look at to cut down on spending. For example, I switched from TD to PC Financial because I was tired of spending on bank fees. PC is a great option for ‘free banking’. If switching isn’t an option, look into how much you get charged in bank fees every month – I never did and it was astonishing to see it add up! Try to find an account that has as little monthly or annual fees as possible (that still fits what you need it for). Eating out has been a big adjustment for J and me! Before we got our condo together we were eating out a lot because we never had groceries. Now that we budget groceries into it, have our own kitchen and enjoy cooking again, we can cut down on eating out. I like to keep the ‘everything else’ category as small as possible. I have an ‘everything else’ line item in there, which is just my miscellaneous category for monthly expenses that don’t fit elsewhere.

In addition to budgeting, I also track my expenses using the app “Expense 5”. It’s been my favorite expense tracking app so far and the easiest to use. I actually prefer not attaching my bank account to a spending app because I find manual entry easier and more accurate. If you want an app that attaches to your bank account, I recommend Mint.

It’s recommended that you re-adjust your budget every month but I haven’t gotten that intense about it yet. This is a good starting off point. I recently had my best friend do this budget to help her assess where she can save and used it to help her goal plan for the future. For example, if you want to move out but haven’t yet, you can use this budget to make a ‘mockup’ of what living solo or with a roommate would cost and whether you can afford it.

I hope this was helpful!

 

#EveryoneIsGettingMarried #INeedAGift

#WeddingSeason, a season we love and hate all at the same time. We’re pretty lucky this year that we only have three weddings to go to (and unfortunately a fourth we can’t make due to other commitments), but I have seen some people who have upwards of eight or nine this year alone. With that many weddings and an increasing number of people opting out of creating a registry, it can be hard to think of creative wedding gifts that involve more than an envelope stuffed with cash.

I’ve noticed a trend in couples not wanting to do the traditional gift registry that was so common say, ten or so years ago. Most couples hope for cash or sometimes register for their honeymoon and guests can donate to that instead, but there’s always the ‘old-school’ guests who want to give a gift and I get it; it seems more sentimental. If you’ve got a wedding and didn’t want to go the cash gift route, I’ve round up a few ideas for you.

Lessons

My cousin recently got married and had mentioned wanting to learn how to garden + cook. If your bride + groom are like this, I suggest getting them lessons for something they’re interested in. There are lots of couple cooking classes (ranging in price, but can be upwards to about $80 per person, per lesson) available in the GTA for people who want to learn how to cook. Think about what their hobbies are and go from there. Honestly, I’d love someone to gift me some scuba lessons (would be great to prepare for a tropical honeymoon, too!)

Themed Gift Baskets

It’s hard when there’s no registry but there are things people could always use around the house. Because my cousin wanted to cook, I put together a cooking related gift basket – my favorite cookbook, a gluten free cookbook, cooking utensils, an apron, etc.

A Year of Dates

A co-worker suggested this one and I loved it. It can get really pricey, so if you have a group of friends needing a gift, this is a great option. You give 12 dates so the couple has a different date every year for a month. Some of what we included when we gave this to our co-worker last year was movie passes, ferry tickets to Toronto Island, cooking classes, paint nights, gift cards to restaurants, etc. You can tailor this to what the couple enjoys doing and they don’t all have to be expensive! The more creative, the better

Monthly Clubs

There are so many subscription programs out there that can act as a great gift – wine of the month, cheese of the month, chocolate of the month – sign them up and they’ll get something from you every month for a year!

Hopefully, this helps if you’re looking for something creative! I know it’s hard but ultimately, you want to gift the couple what will be useful and most appreciated by them.

 

That Terrible Four Letter Word …

DEBT. Yuck, debt. Such a gross word. Debt feels terrible. Depending on how out of control it gets, it can weigh on you every day, stress you out, and affect many areas of your life. I would know, I’ve been there! Let me share my backstory.

It’s hard for me to remember where my bad debt began – probably around the time that I thought getting a line of credit to pay off my OSAP debt was a good idea. It could have been if I had managed it right, but I was young and dumb and didn’t. Yeah, I paid off my OSAP but I had ‘so much money left over’ – what on earth was I going to do with it? Well, I spent it. On what? I have no idea (that’s the worst part)! I spent it on stuff and things I can’t even remember now. From that point forward, it was really difficult for me to ‘get out of the hole’ when it came to money. I was in the negative for more than what I was earning every two weeks at work.

Fast forward a few years – I have a better paying job, a promotion coming soon (or so I thought) that would come with a pay raise, and after a few bumps in my personal life, I thought it was time to get a place of my own. I built a hasty budget that I clearly tailored to make it seem like I could afford to live in downtown Toronto because I wanted it so badly. Among moving expenses, filling my apartment with furniture and dishes and decorations, rent, utilities, cable, the internet, phone bill, groceries, going out, Toronto fun … the list goes on and on, I was racking up some serious debt. Credit cards were maxed out with high interest, line of credit was maxed out with the bank taking my money every week (that nasty term ‘garnishing your wages’ is as bad as debt itself), and I even stooped to payday loans … I basically had no money ever. Anytime I got paid, my money was gone. I could barely afford to pay my rent or eat, let alone do anything fun.

I knew I had to make a change – my first step was getting rid of my tiny condo. I loved living on my own and the freedom it came with but I was tired of barely making rent. So, I bucked up and found a roommate in a ‘cheaper’ area of the city in a less-fancy apartment where my monthly bills would get cut by more than 50%. That still wasn’t good enough. I was an ostrich burying my head in the sand every time I got a bill – I’d rip it up, throw it out, hide it, anything to avoid seeing how bad it was (which ultimately made it worse). Creditors started calling me at all times of the day and I stopped being able to answer my phone – I was scared of who was on the other end and what they were going to say to me.

Moving was a great step but the biggest step I took was finding a debt repayment program. It took a lot of nudging from my parents and friends to even explore this option. The program I chose is with ‘Credit Canada Debt Solutions’ and it was, hands down, one of the best decisions I made in a long time. My counselor’s name is Cathy and she helped me get started with the program. She was extremely non-judgemental (my biggest worry about talking with someone about my debt. “You spent HOW MUCH on clothes last year?”). She walked me through everything, answered all my questions about what would happen next, what this would mean for my credit rating, and the in’s and out’s of working with CCDS. I walked out of the room feeling amazing. They were going to handle all creditor calls. They were going to pay all my debt back – all I had to do was send them one payment every month. Another great thing about using a debt repayment program is that they work with the creditors to lower interest rate. CCDS has lowered almost all of my interest to 0% with the exception of one company, where I only pay $4 a month. I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.

At this point, you’re likely thinking “great job, Nicole! You must be out of debt by now!” Ha – not a chance. After I enrolled in the program, I ‘fell off the wagon’ after a few months and stopped making my payments. Womp, womp. I figured I could ‘handle it myself’ and I wanted that extra $500 every month to spend on myself. I had moved in with a roommate, I was ‘saving money’, I deserved it! I was wrong. The creditor calls started soon after and after months of, again, ignoring calls and bills, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went back to CCDS to try and get on the program. I had a big wakeup call and learned that my actions had actually made my situation a lot worse. I won’t share the nitty gritty details, but let’s just say the stern talking to and intimidating word “bankruptcy” scared me enough to get my sh*t together.

Fast forward a year after that scary conversation and I’m happy to say I am in a much better place. Not only am I well on the way to paying off my debt, but I’m also saving money and no longer living pay cheque to pay cheque. It took a lot of mistakes, a lot of adjustments, and a lot of learning to get it right. I have to be disciplined with my spending, cut out extras, pinch pennies at times, but in the long run, it feels way better to be able to afford the important things when I need or want them.

Why do I tell this story? Because I was so scared to talk about my debt to my friends and family, I hid the problem until it got too much to handle. I’ve learned that by being open and honest about what’s going on, it holds me accountable to being smart with my money and I know that my debt isn’t anything to be ashamed of. It was bad but it could have been worse. One of my closest friends urged me to look into the program, stating he wished he had done it when he was younger. J asked me if I was ok when I kept getting calls at early hours on the weekend (creditors know when you’re around!). My parents were supportive but realistic with what was going on. If your story feels like mine, know that lots of other people are in similar situations and it’s nothing that can’t be handled. I thought it made me a lesser person to use services like CCDS, but I know now that I was only hurting myself. Reach out, talk to someone like CCDS or your trusted friend – you’ll feel so much better!