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Monthly Archives: April 2010

CCS Client of the Year Award Today

Published April 22, 2010 - 3 Comments

Today is the annual meeting for the staff of Credit Counseling Services of Atlantic Canada, where I will be recognized as their Client of the Year.   I was asked if I could provide a written copy of “my story” that would be presented at the meeting, complete with a professional voiceover.  I’m curious to see and hear what it looks like, and am supposed to be getting a copy to take home with me.

Here it is… my story…

We always assumed that we could dig ourselves out of debt… later.  Everything always revolved around “later”.  Need a new living room set?  Pick it out now, pay later.  Need a new car?  Get it now.  We can hang on until things get better.  Later.

There are two major flaws with that kind of thinking.  First, our definition of “need” was a little too broad.  When I think back to some of those purchases, I cringe.  We did not live extravagantly by any means, but we certainly lived beyond our means.  Credit was our friend, and we slowly sank deeper and deeper into a financial hole.

The other flaw with that thinking was that eventually…“later” would arrive, and we were seldom prepared for when it did.  Our idea of setting aside money because we had purchased something on “No Payments for an Entire Year!” never worked out, no matter how sincere we were.  There just always seemed to be something else that took priority.

So we continued to pile on the responsibilities.  First a mortgage.  Then a new car.  A baby on the way.  Then another.  A second new car.  We managed to maintain our financial heads above water, barely making our monthly payments, and hoping to be able to hold off just long enough to start paying things off.

Then disaster struck.

I was out of work for 5 months. It’s an unsettling feeling to have to put groceries on a credit card because there is no money in your bank account.  Our line of credit was exceeded.  The phone calls started.  The people on the other end weren’t very sympathetic.  The stress of those daily calls began to take its toll.

Eventually I was back to work and things began to improve.  With the worst behind us, we figured that we could finally begin to dig ourselves out.  But even though we were making payments, the damage was too great.  Our creditors demanded back payment for the months that we had defaulted, and we simply did not have the money to pay them back as quickly as they wanted.  Amazingly their suggestion often was “Is there anyone in your family or a friend you can borrow from?”.  We were being pressured to replace one debt with another.

Enough was enough.  Something had to change.  Friends of ours were clients of Credit Counseling Services, and were quite happy with how they were starting to turn their own lives around.  We talked about it, and decided that we needed to set aside any shame or embarrassment that we felt…  It was obvious that we couldn’t do this on our own.  We needed help.

Our first session was very humbling.  I can’t say enough good things about Ashley, but it was still difficult to hand over a stack of bills and talk about the mess that we’d gotten ourselves into.  She assured us that we had made the right decision and that, together, we would come up with a plan to get back on track.  Then we cut up our credit cards.

Ashley was right.  It didn’t take long before the creditors’ calls stopped, and we were no longer afraid to answer the phone again.  If someone did call who wanted to talk about our payments, we simply directed them to Ashley.  That alone was worth its weight in gold!

We also began to see results in our debts.  I actually looked forward to getting my latest statement in the mail.  I can remember when the first bill was paid off.  It was a very small one, but the feeling of seeing it completely paid, and knowing that more money would now be allocated toward another bill was a huge lift.

Eventually my wife and I would separate, and in doing so, separate our debt obligations.  Once again I went to see Ashley; this time with a list of bills that I wanted to solely take over.  I could have lowered my monthly payment, but was determined to pay off my debt as quickly as I could.  At the current rate of payment, it would take me 16 months to be debt-free.  My goal was to shorten that to 12.

I succeeded.

I’ve long ago gotten over any negative perceptions that I had prior to making that initial appointment.  I wrote a paper in university for my Personal Finance course on my experiences with CCS.  My professor asked me to present it to the other students.  Because I was a few years older than everyone else in the class, I had experienced some of the financial pitfalls that the course aimed to help students avoid.  I was a living example of what not to do, how it could affect you, and how to pull yourself out, while keeping your head held high.  I received an “A” on that paper.

When anyone ever talks about credit counseling, I always say the same thing.  “I should have done it sooner!”  That’s my single regret.  Get past whatever emotion it is that is holding you back, and realize that these people are professionals.  Not once did I ever feel judged or looked down upon.  The assistance that they provide is invaluable.

Now, my financial outlook is making a dramatic comeback.  I continue to set aside money for purchases that I’m interested in, rather than impulsively rushing out and buying something.  I have a clearer distinction between my “needs” and my “wants”.  I continue to make regular contributions into a “rainy day” fund for life’s unexpected challenges.  Things are good.

On a personal note, I would like to thank everyone at CCS, especially Ashley, for everything that you have done to help us over the past few years.  I honestly do not think that we could have recovered as well as we have, had it not been for your assistance.

I would also like to thank you for recognizing me as your Client of the Year.  I hope that you realize the tremendous value that your services provide.  You really do help change peoples’ lives.

Thank you.

Goodbye Telemarketer Scum

Published April 21, 2010 - 1 Comment

After a year and a half of answering calls for my grandmother from seemingly every charitable organization out there… enough was enough… I couldn’t stand listening to their bullshit anymore, especially the ones who began by thanking me for my past donation and refused to believe that I had never donated before because “the computer says that you did, Stephen”

Yeah well, your computer is wrong.  Deal with it.

So I had the number changed… HOPING that the new number that I received wasn’t one that was also on a telemarketer speed-dial list.  

It’s been nice and quiet so far…

Taxes – Update

Published April 17, 2010 - 2 Comments

I thought that the responses to the poll were interesting.  There’s a pretty wide-spread approach to how people prepare their taxes.  I decided to plunk down $20 and purchase U-file.  It took me a little while before I actually got around to installing it.  I may have been thinking that the longer I hold out, the better it’ll be… because I was pretty sure that I was going to owe Revenue Canada some money… and guess what?

I was right!

Remember the days of actually getting money back?  I think they called that a refund, didn’t they?  Some of you may be more familiar with that word than I am.  These days, I’m better acquainted with the empty your pockets approach.  Yes, it’s partly my fault.  I really don’t put much effort into trying to maximizing my deductions.  RRSPs would be a great start.  I always seem to have an excuse as to why I’m not contributing into them… my favourite one is “I don’t have any money!”

Well I think I’d better start making sure that I have money, because now it’s tax time, and guess what?  I still don’t have any money!  Yet now I have a tax bill!  At least if I was contributing into my RRSP account, I wouldn’t have any money, nor would I have a bill, perhaps I’d have a refund, AND I’d have something to live off of when I retire. 

Because I don’t know if my parents know this yet, but my retirement plan consists primarily of disguising myself as a retired greyhound and trying to get adopted.  That one’s for you Mum, enjoy!

Death and Taxes… Do I get to pick?

The Babble of Scrabble

Published April 16, 2010 - 1 Comment

I’ve discovered something over the last couple of weeks.  I suck at Scrabble.  No, I mean I REALLY suck at Scrabble.  I generally consider myself to be a fairly good writer, with a decent vocabulary, but when it comes to visualizing patterns of words from the mumble jumble of tiled letters… I have a lot of difficulty with that.  I’m actually quite happy if I can manage to construct a 4 letter word, while my opponents are regularly forming words of 5, 6 or more letters in length.  I suspect that the side of my brain that also makes it difficult for me to read a map, make any sense out of blue prints, or even guess with any accuracy the size of container to use for leftovers is probably to blame for my limited ability to see words within all those tiled letters.

Maybe it’s something that you can learn, but after nearly 38 years I’m prepared to admit that I’m probably a lost cause.  My ex was always far better at packing than I ever was.  My co-workers can glance at the building schematic and know instantly which fire alarm sensor is in trouble.  More than once I’ve had to pour leftovers from one container into another because I had guessed wrong.  And don’t even bother to ask me to assemble something from directions!

I can remember writing the “idiot test” for my job back in 2000.  If I remember correctly, it was probably 200-250 questions covering a wide array of topics, with an insanely short amount of time to complete it.  There were math problems, reading for comprehension questions, letter or word pattern questions, and then the dreaded “What shape would this box look like if it was unfolded?” questions, with one or more sides shaded, and then 4 possible answers.  I skipped those.  I didn’t even bother to attempt those because they would only slow me down, which was probably the best answer.  Recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and move on accordingly.  Oh, I got the job.

I’m painfully reminded of that weakness as I look at my current Scrabble record: 1 win, 7 losses.  In most instances the losses aren’t even close.  I’ve given up blaming the luck of the tiles.  There is a consistent pattern forming…  I’m good at many things…

Scrabble ain’t one of them!

Change of Address

Published April 16, 2010 - 0 Comments

I don’t think that this will apply to many people but if you are using my PO Box as a mailing address for me, you will have to change that.

I closed the PO Box yesterday as I don’t get out to check it very often and I’d rather have my mail delivered closer to home.

Thank you.

WaS Goes Mobile!

Published April 16, 2010 - 0 Comments

People have mentioned that the blog is not mobile-friendly.  I never really thought much about it because I was not accessing it through a cell phone.  But as more and more people use mobile browsers to access their favourite content on the go, I decided that perhaps I should look into improving the mobile experience on the blog.

And that’s where the WordPress Mobile plugin comes in.  I actually tried installing it awhile ago, but I kept getting an error, so I gave up on it until tonight.  Tonight I was determined to figure it out and get it working properly.  Turns out that it’s not difficult to install at all, and had I actually read the readme file, I would have noticed that I needed to drop one file into a different directory than I normally do.  Voila!  That’s it.

In testing, I have to say that I don’t really care for what it does to the blog, but that’s probably because I have a full featured browser.  If I had a more limited browser, I think that the WordPress Mobile version would actually be much better.

So I’m looking for feedback if anyone would like to check out the blog through their mobile browser and tell me whether it’s acceptable to them, or if I should just remove it.  If you’re using a normal computer browser, you won’t notice any difference from what you’re used to.

Thanks!

Holy Attack of the Bots!

Published April 15, 2010 - 2 Comments

I don’t know what it is about the blog that has suddenly made it so popular to spider crawlers, but the log is filling up with bots going through its pages.  I don’t know if that’s going to generate any relevant traffic or not, but it sure does fill up my logs!

Of course, based on some of the origins of the bots, I might need to brush up on my Russian…

Hedley – Perfect

Published April 15, 2010 - 2 Comments

I know that at least one of my avid readers doesn’t care for the music video posts.  And to that I say, skip it then!

I’ve watched this video a few times.  I even ended up buying it through iTunes, and am currently watching it on my iPod as I type up this post.  I don’t know what to think of the video.  I guess that I haven’t quite “figured it out” so to speak.  I do like the song, though.

Is it just me, or does it seem like so many of the winners of “Idol” don’t really go on to do anything after their 15 mins are over… yet some of the truly talented ones who don’t quite make it actually continue to make music?  Jacob Hoggard came in 3rd in Canadian Idol, and he seems to be doing quite well for himself!  Do you even know who won that season?  I don’t.

But that’s another topic entirely.

I’m not perfect but I keep trying
‘Cause that’s what I said I would do from the start
I am not alive if I’m lonely
So please don’t leave
Was it something I said or was it just my personality

Twitter Serves Up Advertising

Published April 14, 2010 - 0 Comments

Well it had to  happen eventually.  The company needs to make money, and its pretty standard practice that unless you’re going to charge your users for a service that they’ve been enjoying for free, the only other way to make money is through advertising. 

So now we have “sponsored tweets”, which appear in the search results.  Rather than blast ads all over the place, for the time being, you will only see these sponsored tweets when you’re searching for something.  Which means, for the time being, you’re probably not going to see sponsored tweets.  If you’re like me, you probably don’t even use the search function, or know that it even exists or where to find it.  (Ironically, the advanced search function is pretty good for trying to find someone, but they keep it hidden for some reason. You have to manually go to http://search.twitter.com/advanced, unless there’s another way that I’m not familiar with.)

I think the most interesting thing, for me, is that Twitter will automatically reward good ads and penalize bad ones.  The good ones get displayed more.  The bad ones get dropped.  And what determines whether an ad is good or bad? You do!  As I understand it, if a sponsored tweet is reacted to positively by the people seeing it.. in other words, if they are actively re-tweeting it, or designating it as a favourite tweet, then it’s considered a good ad.  If people ignore it, then it’s a bad ad and will eventually be removed.  This isn’t a new idea;  Digg has been using this on their site for awhile.  But it’s still neat.

Curious to see how this plays out.

It’s Playoff Time!

Published April 14, 2010 - 3 Comments

I’ve been so hung-up the last few days about my car woes that I completely forgot that the last few NHL playoff slots were finally filled and the playoffs start tonight!  As I scan through the list, I can’t help but notice that my Maple Leafs appear to be absent.  AGAIN!?  Geeze, and here I thought that this was going to be their year.  Didn’t I even proclaim that in a post last fall?  Yeah…    Oh well, there’s always next year!

Pretty slim pickin’s for Canadians eager to see the Stanley Cup return to its rightful homeland.  In the West, only the Vancouver Canucks made it in.  I’ve always liked Vancouver.  I still remember watching them make it to the final round many many years ago.  In more recent years they always seem to have a decent-enough team, but fail to find their stride when it comes to the playoffs.  Maybe this year will be different?  If so, Luongo has to be on top of his game.  They’re playing the Los Angeles Kings, a team I know nothing about and will be curious to see.  I won’t even make a prediction on this one.

It’s a shame that the Calgary Flames didn’t squeeze in.  I’ve always liked them.  They play some great playoff hockey.  Well, not this year!  As for the Edmonton Oilers.. what the hell happened to them this year?  Wow…  but I see they have the first draft pick, so it’s a good time for them to start rebuilding.  Look how well it’s worked for Toronto!

Things are a little better in the East, but not much.  The Montreal Canadiens managed to barely squeak in, and are up against the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals.  Good luck with that.  Washington is a wrecking ball this year.  I wish my Canadiens-fans friends a speedy recovery.  Don’t get me wrong.  I may be a diehard Leafs fan now, but I always cheer for any Canadian team that makes it into the playoffs.  I’m hoping for an upset against the Caps, but I’m preparing to see them destroyed early.  (Washington in 5 games)

The Ottawa Senators are running in the middle of the pack, having placed 5th.  That’s not a bad place to be.  They’re up against the defending champions Sydney Crosby and his Pittsburg Penguins.  The Senators are another team that generally does well through the year, and then hits a brick wall in the playoffs.  In the past it’s been an issue with goaltending.  I haven’t followed the Senators closely enough to know how they’ve addressed that this year.  I’m expecting this series to go all the way, and give the nod to the Pens.  (Pittsburg in 7 games)

All in all, I’m excited to have playoff hockey back again.  I do wish that my new television was hooked up to something that actually received a signal though!  I may be forced to watch the games on a smaller backup TV, or get a receiver. 

He shoots, he scores!

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