Contests: the ultimate lifestyle upgrade!


Courtesy of Stuart Miles &

Back in my early 20s, I entered a contest online on a local magazine. Totally forgot about it and life went on. A few weeks later, I got a notice for a package from Canada Post. I was somewhat perplexed – I hadn’t ordered anything, and didn’t have any special occasions coming. When I opened it, it was a prize pack from the contest I had entered. Nothing spectacular – a book about a girl boxer movie (not the Hilary Swank one, WAY prior to that), a CD, a $5 gift card, and a couple of pens. I know – not exactly the lottery, no?

I gave the CD and book away, used the gift card, and put the pens in my purse. But a light went off in my head. I hadn’t done anything for this. I didn’t have to work for it, pay for it, trade for it. I had just filled in a form online, and then free stuff magically appeared at my door. This was just a few odds and ends…but what else was out there??

And so, my friends, it began. Those of you who know me know that one of my catch all phrases, and something that encapsulates my lifestyle, is ‘what you do all the time matters more than what you do once in awhile’. And what I do all the time, you see, is enter contests. Somewhere around 70 a day. Every day. Weekends and holidays included. You know what this girl was doing Christmas Day, before she was allowed to have her turkey? That’s right.

And you know what else? It pays off. Big time. 70/day works out to approximately 2100/month. It’s a simple numbers game that when you enter that often, consistently, you’re bound to win. A lot.

What have I won?  A flat screen TV, when they had just come out. A new computer, which, naturally, I used to enter more contests. My honeymoon, where we ended up going on a trip to New Zealand when we had figured on going camping with the meagre funds we had. $7500 in travel credit to go anywhere in the world, which culminated in three glorious weeks in Tuscany, staying at the nice hotel rather than the one we would have chosen, and a stopover to see friends in London.

Bits of Italy

Front row concert tickets, enough movies that I rarely pay for them anymore, and lots of truly random stuff. An NFL player signed football, wrapped in brown paper, was delivered by our very confused mailman one year before Christmas. It went to the toy bank for some very needy, likely very delighted child.


Other people get bills in the mail. I get random packages, and am known to call home when I’m away to see what came that day. I probably win once every week or two, anything from a DVD to a fabulous trip somewhere or tickets to a concert I’ve been dying to go to but can’t afford.

I see entering contests as an investment in the lifestyle that we want but can’t juggle financially alongside our mortgage and toddler. Yes, it’s 45 minutes less sleep in the morning. Yes, it’s INCREDIBLY tedious. And yes, I get a TON of junk mail. But since I get to go through it on glamourous vacations that I could never otherwise afford, I’m totally okay with that.

You want to do this too, you say? I get that a lot! It can work for you too. The key is persistence.

Here’s a synopsis of how I do it. Note that there is a whole underground community of contesting folks and everyone has their own style. Find what works for you and do it.

To find the contests to enter, I use (which is a pay site – $25/year – but has a free one month membership) and, which is a free site that has a good blog contest section. There is also another good site at

I also use a form filler called Roboform which is free to download and you can find it with a Google search.

Some of the local ones** I enter (fewer entrants = better odds to win!) are the online sites for the local radio stations, newspapers, magazines and TV networks.

**most of these require you to create an account – you only need to do it once.

There’s no magic formula, and no ‘blessed by the fairies’ type of luck. It’s basic, dogged, unflamboyant persistence. What you do all the time matters more than what you do once in awhile. It’s like working out…if you do it every day for six weeks, you’ll see some amazing results. If you enter 70 contests a day, you will win. Simple as that. If you get bored two weeks in, when you haven’t won anything yet (and most of the contests haven’t even closed yet), you will not win. You need to keep doing it, day in, day out, even if the payoff isn’t right before your eyes right away. It’s hard in our instant gratification society, but that’s what you need to do.

Please note that first and foremost, (PAY ATTENTION NOW!!), contests in Canada are *FREE*. The only thing you might pay (depending on the contest) is air taxes, and that’s AFTER you’re in touch with a bonafide travel agency and AFTER you’ve gotten your e-tickets. If you get a call from a US number saying you’ve been ‘chosen’ and they need your Visa number, hang up. .(Once you know contest law in Canada better, you can lead them on and traumatize them, which is what I do).

If you’ve legitimately won something, you’ll get it in writing, usually with a release form (either by email, fax or mail), and if the prize is over $200, you’ll have to answer a skill testing math question. Those are some of the Canadian contest regulations, and they apply to any contest for residents of Canada, regardless of whether the company is Canadian, American, or international. Feel free to email me with questions –one thing I know a lot about is winning! (And the inverse, which is contest scams).

Here are some tips:

*pick a time of day and always enter at the same time. It creates a habit and then it’s easier to continue.

*if you don’t know what the company does, makes, or sells, you probably shouldn’t enter. That way, scammers live.

*do something else at the same time…it’s really very, very boring. Talk on the phone, listen to the radio, whatever works for you.

*pay attention to the rules. If it says you can enter once a day, enter once a day. Or once a week. Or whatever. If you need to be a certain age or doing a certain job to be eligible, make sure you meet the criteria. There’s no bigger bummer than getting a win only to be disqualified.

*don’t enter for things you don’t actually want. It’s bad contest karma. (And for those of us paying attention, the football I won and gave away was a third runner-up prize. I genuinely wanted the grand prize that I didn’t win – a trip to the Superbowl!)

*set up a separate email address, check it religiously, and make sure to keep your filters low so that you don’t miss anything.

Happy winnings!

I want to know, readers – what have you won (if anything)? And if not, what would you like to win?

Wake up and smell the energy!

Courtesy of Ambro &

Courtesy of Ambro &

One of the things that is always a challenge when juggling a large list of want-to-dos with parenting, working and other commitments, is actually making things happen. It’s hard to motivate yourself to productivity when the baby was up at 3am or you have to get up at the crack of dawn to make the kids’ lunches before everyone can go off to their day. You find yourself, at 2pm, staring blankly into space or reading the same sentence over and over again. How do you manage to get your butt in gear?

Here’s a list of nine ways to dredge up some get up and go, when it’s gotten up and went.

1)      Go for a five minute walk.

It’s surprising how much energy you’ll get from a quick schlep around the block. There have been research studies on immediate energy boosts, but I’m going with personal experience here. The rain (if you’re in Vancouver in the fall) or biting winter breeze or sunny May morning air will get you out of comatose-ville faster than you can say ‘Starbucks triple shot venti latte’.

2)      Have a coffee.

Speaking of Starbucks, sometimes a midafternoon latte will be just the ticket to get everything coming together again.

3)      Put the alarm clock on the other side of the room.

This prevents the use of the dreaded ‘snooze’ button, my husband’s best friend. The hard part about getting up is actually launching your body out of your nice, warm bed. If the alarm clock is on the other side of the room, or, even better, outside the room entirely, you’ll have to get up. And once you’re in a vertical position, you’re more likely to stay that way.

4)      Get up and stretch.

Often, just the act of getting your body moving again will get the blood flow reaching your brain. Do some shoulder rolls, kick your legs in your chair, do some wrist stretches. Stand up and get a glass of water. And speaking of water…

5)      Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.

Your body, like Earth itself, is comprised mainly of water. Not Pepsi. Not lemonade. And most definitely not Red Bull. Sometimes sleepy and hungry are just disguises for plain ordinary thirst. So add another glass or four of water into your day-to-day.

6)      Snack selectively.

I’m a snacker. I eat lots of small meals throughout the day, and when I get hungry, my blood sugar dips and crabby approaches at a rapid rate. Bring on the almonds and cranberries! Sometimes a quick burst of healthy energy will get you back in the proverbial saddle.

7)      Breakfast, breakfast, breakfast.

Eat breakfast like a queen, lunch like a princess and dinner like a pauper. Breakfast eaters tend to be slimmer and have more energy. Your body has been in starvation mode since bedtime…cut it some slack and throw some eggs and toast in there!

8)      Call a friend.

Take ten minutes (set a timer so you don’t get sidetracked!) and call your best friend or partner and give yourself time to recharge. Diverting your brain to a different activity can get those synapses to fire up again.

9)      Zzzzzzzz.

And finally, get more sleep. If your body is screaming for rest, it’s going to be hard to marshall your brain into gear. Try starting a wind-down process an hour before bed, with no screen time (that includes the all powerful iPhone!) for half an hour before you shut your eyes. After a week of an additional hour or two of sleep, you’ll just generally feel better, and that will show itself in how you perform in every other way. And you won’t walk into things quite as often, nor fall asleep with your nose on the keyboard!

The hidden trap of maternity leave: tax time post baby!

Christmas hat babyDecember 22nd, 2011, we had our first daughter – she was due December 6th, and was so late that we had to issue her a chemical eviction notice and I was induced right before Christmas. While dealing with the shell shock that comes along with Planet Newborn, there is for many people a financial hit that goes along with it. I’m very lucky in that my employer tops me up to 85% of my salary for the first four months and 75% for the following eight. (Note to non Canadian readers – we have a year of paid maternity leave at 55% of our salary, to a max of $501 per week (as of March 24th, 2013), and a number of employers add to this as a ‘top up’ benefit to their employees).

Because of the way the tax brackets fell, I ended up making essentially the same amount of money I would have had I been at work, for the ten months I was off. I went back early so that my husband could take two months to be at home with the baby…good for their relationship, a break from the day-to-day for him, and a whole level of context about being at home with a baby that cannot be gotten any other way. (Although the Lone Star song ‘Mr Mom’ comes close).

I had heard of the tax implications that come with mat leave, though, and thankfully went to my HR department and filled out a new T1, which is the form you use to change your tax deductions at the source. Bear with me while I attempt to explain how the morass of Revenue Canada breaks down maternity leave payments, and why you need to pay attention! (And the obvious disclaimer is that I am neither an account nor a CRA employee, so do not take this as gospel as it is not professional advice).

The key to understanding why your cheque is taxed the way it is, is that CRA assumes that when you get a payment from your employer, every payment for the remainder of the year will be that same amount. So if you get a whopping signing bonus, for example, CRA makes the assumption that every cheque will be that high and takes off a crazily high amount of tax.

The inverse problem applies if you’re on mat leave and getting top up payments from your employer as well. CRA assumes that your sadly low EI payment is all you’re getting, so taxes it at a ridiculously low rate. It then assumes your top-up is all you’re getting, and taxes it at the same far-too-low rate. So what ends up happening is that you get two payments with practically no tax taken off, whereas if you’d gotten it in one payment, you would have been taxed at a much higher amount. Let me try this with (completely fabricated, in no way relevant to anyone’s tax situation figures). Let’s say you get $500 from EI and $500 from your top up. You might pay $50 dollars in tax on each payment. (again, numbers COMPLETELY MADE UP). But if you’d gotten a $1000 payment, you would fall into a higher tax bracket and would need to pay $200 in tax instead of $100. So imagine that concept spread over an entire year, and you can see what type of headache might result.

Long story short: cover your butt. Go to your employer and have them take extra tax off at source if you’re getting a top-up, to prevent an ugly tax hangover come the following April.

So readers, anyone else have an unexpected tax time hangover?

Someone else making dinner without breaking the bank! (AKA Mystery shopping madness)

Image courtesy of Imagerymajestic /

Image courtesy of Imagerymajestic &

I love eating out. Love it. I’m a passionate baker, but slightly apathetic about making my own meals. Going out for dinner has always been my favourite way to catch up with friends – food that I didn’t have to make and good company, how can that go wrong? Now that I have a husband and a baby, there’s a bit more of an immediate need to feed us all – my previous life of having a bowl of cereal if I didn’t feel like figuring out what to make is no longer feasible, but going out for dinner on those no cooking nights is a huge finance buster!

So how does one eat out when there’s a budget to be met and bills to be paid?

Two words: mystery shopping. I remember the first time I heard about mystery shopping – I had read a book about unusual ways to make money, and it was one of the suggestions. I had, in the dim recesses of my memory, heard about it before, but in the context of a scam scenario where someone had paid money to ‘join’ with a company. I’ve since learned that they pay you and it’s an independent contracting situation, where you pick up jobs according to your preferences and location.

The synopsis on restaurant mystery shopping is this: you go to XYZ restaurant with a friend. You generally will have some parameters on what categories of items to order (often it’s an appetizer to share, two entrees, two drinks from the bar and a dessert to share), but other than that, it’s really up to you. As you have lunch with your friend, ordering whatever you want from each category required, you’re taking mental notes on the food, the service, whether there are fingerprints on the glasses and how long everything takes. I find having a smartphone makes this process much easier.

You have dinner, pay your bill, tip as you usually would, and leave, all the while just being a regular customer out for dinner with a friend or partner. Once you’re home, you fill in the online report and scan and attach your copy of the bill and credit card receipt. About six weeks later, you’ll be reimbursed via Paypal or cheque, depending on the company, whatever the agreed upon amount of the shop was. Often it’s around $75 or $80 dollars. Depending on what you order, this makes for either a really cheap, yummy multi course dinner, or an entirely free one!

I’ve been doing it for several years, and it means that steaks and martinis can happen whenever we have the inclination to go out and can find a babysitter.

There are also other mystery shops for retail items (some entail a small purchase which you are reimbursed for), oil changes, clothing, shoes – you name it! There’s a whole lifestyle that awaits!

Please note, in big, bold letters:

You do not pay a fee to join a company, ever, and anyone who wants you to is not authentic. You do have to pay for things like dinners or small purchases in advance and then you get a cheque or Paypal 4-6 weeks later, depending on the company.


Here are some of the companies that I use:

(restaurants, retail and the odd automotive)

(Casinos and banking) 

These are some other ones that are legit: (
Gas stations, usually require (and reimburse) a small purchase)

Good luck – let me know if you have any questions and what your experience with mystery shopping is, or what you think it might be! What do you do to keep up things you love doing when your budget stages a protest?


Cars and transportation – getting around in style!

Image courtesy of Nongpimmy /

Image courtesy of Nongpimmy &

The cheapest solution, as we know, is simply not to have a car. There are the costs of gas, insurance, maintenance, and licencing to consider. Car costs can be sudden and huge. One day, you’re driving to work, and the next day, you have a flat tire on the side of the highway and need a tow truck. Or your transmission has issues or you suddenly need to fix your power windows. My best friend has had the worst car karma in the world and has had all of these issues and more.

On the other hand, there’s the ability to go when you want to go. To not wait for the bus on a frigid Canadian winter evening, or a rainy murky Vancouver morning. It means that you can pick up groceries at the cheap grocery store rather than going to the corner store where the prices are double. And the real pro to having a car is that you’re on your own schedule and can venture where and when you want. There’s no depending on others for rides or mulling over whether you can stay for the next round of Apples to Apples or go for coffee after a great date because you might miss the last bus. This is less of an issue if you live in a major city with late night bus/train/Skytrain service.

Even with all of the associated costs, for me, having a car just feels better. So, how do I make this less of a financial black hole?

There are pros and cons to buying new or used.

I have done both and have an opinion, now that I’ve gone down both roads. I had several used cars prior to buying a new one and loved them all. I bought the new one after I had to abruptly move back to Canada after my father died suddenly of lung cancer. Everything in my life was awful at the time and I needed one good thing to wake up to.



*driving a car off the lot and seeing those first kilometres tick over is amazing.

*warranty applies for between 3-10 years (depending on which parts and what type of vehicle)

*security of knowing that it’s reliable and has all of the modern conveniences.


*it depreciates the very instant you drive away. You’ll magically have lost several thousand dollars just by leaving the parking lot. No other investment is guaranteed to tank in quite the same way.

*new cars are expensive. The insurance is higher, and sometimes they require premium fuel, which is crazily high.

*you tend to be a lot more concerned about where you park in the parking lot, and spend a great deal of time worrying about whether someone has dinged your door.

*basic maintenance costs more. Oil changes have to be done at three months on the dot, whether or not they’re needed, so as not to void your warranty, and there are a variety of things that ‘have’ to be done according to the book, whether or not they’re actually required to run the vehicle at that very moment. (My husband and I have disagreements about this – I see the maintenance schedule as more of a ‘guideline’ than a rulebook)

Overall, having done both, I wouldn’t buy new again….the best of both worlds is to buy something two or three years old. You let someone else take the huge depreciation hit, while still getting a vehicle that is on warranty and runs well. You also tend to be able to get more vehicular bang for your buck…upgrades that would be budget busting in a new car are already included in the price of the used one – and someone else has paid for it!

Here are some miscellaneous tips to lower your car costs:

*drive with less in your trunk. Less weight equals less gas to haul it around.

*fill up with regular. Very few newer cars actually need supreme, and even that ‘guideline’ owner’s manual of which we spoke earlier usually advises using regular.

*slow down gradually and don’t slam on the gas. In addition to being easier on the car, it’s also more zen. And it means people won’t mock you for flooring it only to stop at a red light thirty seconds later.

Alternatives to driving:

Given the impact to the environment and the cost, non-car options are increasing regularly. A lot of the practicalities will depend on individual circumstances, but there are still choices out there!

Car co ops:

Businesses such as Modo, the Car Coop and Zipcar can work really well for people who live in urban centres where they only need a car once in awhile. In a nutshell, you pay a membership fee and a per km or per hour fee for the time you use the car. There are a variety of price points and plans available. I can see this working well for a young professional who lives near a transit line and cycles/takes the train to work and needs a car for grocery shopping once or twice a month or for things like trips skiing.


Cycling has a lot of obvious benefits. Once you’ve made the initial capital purchase of the bike, helmet and any clothing you may want for weather, it’s basically free. It’s excellent exercise, and can be a quicker way to get somewhere than rush hour if you live in a congested area with good cycling routes.

The cons are weather and safety related…the majority of Canada is C O L D for six months or more, and the parts that aren’t cold are usually W E T (see Vancouver and Victoria as examples).There’s also the ick factor of being all sweaty at your destination.  I would also be concerned about safety, as cycling accidents in Vancouver happen regularly, and it’s a ‘bike friendly’ city.  If you’re a cyclist or wanting to get into it, please be aware of your surroundings, and follow all stop signs and road rules. And even then, things can still happen. A good friend, who religiously follows the rules and is an excellent, experienced cyclist, was lit up like a Christmas tree in the middle of the day when a driver turned left into her. She calls the steel plate in her leg ‘Rod’. So while it’s great exercise and very cheap, it does have its downsides.


Ah, transit. Love it or hate it, all major cities have it in some form or another. Vancouver has Skytrain, Calgary has C-train, and there are buses and trolleys as well. Transit is cheap, efficient if you’re going to a major destination and can make a car unnecessary if you live in a city core. There are a bunch of passes and tickets that you can buy to make it cheaper. Cons are that you’re on someone else’s schedule, and that it can be impractical if you live in an area that isn’t well served.


Most of the cons here are similar to transit…motorcycle accidents can be horrific. They are really, really fun, though, which is a huge pro. And there’s the moment where you pull the helmet off your head and there’s a movie moment where your hair tumbles out and breezes sexily down around you. Or you’ll get helmet head. One of the two. Much cheaper than a car, but only really useable during the spring and summer months unless you live somewhere very mild or are a bit of a masochist and want to freeze in November.


No real cons, but it can take a looooonnng time. Oh, wait, there is a con. There’s that part where wet stuff falls from the sky (if one is based in Vancouver), or it gets to be minus a zillion (for many other parts of Canada).

Happy wanderings by whatever form of transport you choose!

Banks – there’s no way around it, so choose one that suits you!

Courtesy of  hin255/

Courtesy of hin255/

Choosing a bank shouldn’t be a no-brainer. It’s not uncommon to bank where your parents did – that bank account that they opened for you at the tender age of 5, where all of those generous grandparently cash gifts went, is still the one you use today. While this is the easy solution, it isn’t always the most financially astute one. Canada has a myriad of banking options, from higher-interest online only banks such as ING, to bricks-and-mortar Big Banks like RBC and TD.

While it seems like all banks are the same, the products, services and style of each bank will vary. Banks are more like marriages than dating: think long-term relationship, and then do your research accordingly. Take into account your own personal quirks. My best friend is addicted to movies, and her go-to stress reliever is and always has been Cineplex. Scotiabank has a program that rewards you with points that lead to free movies, and since moving her finances there, she’s found that her movie financial outlay has lessened significantly. She’s also a fan of a program they have that rounds up each of your debit purchases and deposits the difference into a savings account. I realize that a few pennies won’t even buy you that inaccurately deemed penny-candy anymore, but over time, and if you don’t touch it, it adds up, particularly if you’re a hardcore debit user.

Other banks offer rewards that range from Airmiles to flight points to bonuses such as discounted theatre tickets. Credit unions are similar to banks but smaller, and you generally have to purchase shares in them for a small amount. You then ‘own’ a teeny portion of the credit union…it’s like being a member. Credit unions tend to have higher interest rates for bank accounts and lower rates for mortgages. If you are usually local, they might be a good fit for you. The downside is that if you’re in Vancouver and want to make a deposit into your Calgary credit union account, you’ll have to wait…whereas with a Big Bank, you can make deposits at any branch in the country and have it go into your account.

Saving isn’t natural for anyone, and given that in any day, you will be bombarded with various and sundry ways to spend your money, spending comes much more easily. The easy way to save is to automate it – set up your online banking to take money out the moment you get paid and siphon it into a savings account that doesn’t have a bankcard attached to it. And then leave it there! I promise you that if you took $25 from your biweekly paycheque the second you got it, you wouldn’t notice it was missing. (That does presume that you’re working regularly. If you’re working only a few hours a week, different rules apply. Also, if you’re self employed and your income is up, down and all over the place, that will fall into another category as well).

Running away: Vacations

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /

Who doesn’t dream of lying on a white-sandy beach,  with a pink drink with an umbrella floating in it in one hand, and the latest sci fi compendium in the other? (While the former is nearly universal, I recognize that the latter may not be – insert your literary poison of choice).

The question is, how do you manage to dovetail the urge to run for sunnier, less-responsibility filled hills for a week or two, once or twice a year, and still pay the rent/mortgage/groceries/iPhone data plan?

Here are a few suggestions to making those sunny shores less a dream and more a reality:

Here’s the big one: Plan ahead

If there’s a dream destination that you’ve always wanted to go to, make it happen. You aren’t going to look back in ten years and regret making the dream a reality. But I guarantee you’ll sigh wistfully and wish you could go back in time and actually do it. So pick a date, and spend an hour researching how much time you would need and what an actual budget would look like. If the Eiffel Tower is your must-see, start with airfare.

The best time to go is usually ‘shoulder season’ , which is right before or right after the busy season. Oftentimes, it will be spring and fall. My favourite time to travel is usually May or October – weather is generally nice, things are cheaper and there aren’t hordes of people. Pick some rough dates, and search a couple of airlines directly, and before you calculate the airfare, open a second browser window and type in ‘coupon codes Air Canada’ (insert airline of choice) and see what pops up. You’d be surprised how often you can save 10% in less than five minutes – and 10% of a $1000 bill is a substantial amount of croissants in a patisserie!

Once you’ve narrowed down your airfare costs, then you can mull over your lodging choices. There are more options than you think, from online apartment rentals such as or, to couch surfing, hostels, house swapping, and of course, the usual charming little French hotel. The fastest way to stretch your dollar is to have cooking facilities available. If you’re staying for more than a few days, it’s worth the extra money to get an apartment or a room with a kitchenette.

In addition to giving you more flexibility in terms of what to have for breakfast and being able to pack a proper lunch so that you don’t have to duck out of the Louvre at a crucial moment only to stand in line to buy a $15 baguette (true story), it also means that you don’t have to go out if you are temporarily travelled out and just want toast. There’s also the fun of wandering around a foreign grocery store attempting to identify the vegetables and thinking ahead about what to make.

Some of my best travel memories are of making dinner together with my husband when we were one place or another, in the little apartment kitchen in Budapest, or the kitchenette in the castle in Tuscany where we had rented a suite. The additional cost of the kitchenette was made by staying in for only one dinner, and over the five nights we were there, it was a financial boon. The money we didn’t spend on a breakfast that was just a matter of meeting a need was money that we splashed out on a dinner in the little bistro that was slightly out of our budget.

Once you’ve gotten your airfare and transportation divvied up, make a list of five major sightsthat you want to see, whether that’s the Louvre or the Sacre Couer, or a side trip out to Versailles. Spend half an hour and go to the websites and see how much the train will cost, what the admission rates are, and if there are any discounts for being a student, or youth under 26. Note those numbers.

Next, add in your spending money. Here’s where you need to prioritize. Figure out what your true love is, and concentrate your funds on that. If you’re a huge art fan and your dream is to bring back a little oil original of the Seine, painted by a man in a beret on a sunny Tuesday morning, great! Be aware that you will need to make allowances elsewhere. You can absolutely meet your priorities for your trip, with a little give and take. If you’re a huge foodie, figure in for one or two truly fabulous meals and do a lot more walking than taking the Metro. To continue with our example of France, most French cafes will note the price of the price fixe outside the restaurant. It’s usually a set meal and comes with no real substitutions, which is something that takes some adjustment from our North American mindset. They’re usually quite good value, though, and if you go for your main meal as lunch rather than dinner, you can do quite well. Figure for 50 euros or so a day, providing that you’ll skip the madly overpriced hotel breakfast and go to a local patisserie or cook your own, and that you’ll make lunch or dinner at least once or twice in the five to seven days that you’ll be there.

Once you’ve spent some time dreaming and getting your trip priorities aligned, add it all up. Add 15% for the ‘just in case’ fund. Divide that number by 52, and that’s how much money you need to set aside every week. Now, that money can be money you’ve pulled from other spending (David Bach’s ‘latte factor’ springs to mind), or additional money that you’re bringing in (more on that topic later).

Pin a picture of the Eiffel Tower by your bed or beside your computer screen…somewhere where you’ll see it and remember often that you’d rather be sitting at a streetside café in Montmartre than buy another pair of ballerina flats or another video game involving tanks (depending on your priorities).

Happy travels!

And so it begins…thanks for stopping by!

Image courtesy of Mrpuen /

Image courtesy of Mrpuen /

This is a blog about making stuff happen. It’s for people who want to do something that they haven’t done, turn their life in a different direction, or make it feel more balanced while keeping the elements the same. It’s about believing that luck is merely preparation meeting up with opportunity. It’s not about thinking outside the box, but more forgetting that there is a box at all.

Making now into what you want it to be starts with small, measurable changes, and breaking big goals into baby steps. That’s what this is about. Not exactly a mommy blog, although parts will be. Not exactly a money blog, although there will be a lot of financial posts…money is a tool to make your life how you want it to be. There will be posts about general health, but I wouldn’t consider it a health blog. From finding more balance in the everyday and feeling less out of control to figuring out how to use money wisely to make life what we want – that’s what I’m up to over here! I’d love for you to join me on the trip!