Friday, 28 October 2011

A Guide to Thrift Store Shopping - By Scott Keenan

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to cut your spending significantly? Whether it happened because of an unexpected expense, unemployment, or your parents just took their credit card away, be prepared for a tailspin of depression. Once you hit rock bottom, you basically have two options. Marry someone rich or start enjoying simple things that previously caused you to turn your nose up. These can include, but are not limited to, coupon clipping, sale searching, air miles collecting, and thrift store shopping. Before the universe caved in on you because of whatever caused you to be poor, the thought of wearing something that once belonged to someone else might have made you vomit a little, but now it can be an exciting extra-curricular activity…you can’t afford yoga anymore anyway.  The outfit alone is one month’s rent. Once you have come to terms with the fact that you’re not in a position to run to a store and purchase a brand name at retail prices you’ll need a little help to get started.

Determine Your Quality to Price Threshold
This is the amount of money you are willing to spend above certain classes of items for additional quality. Before you fell below the poverty line and became a burden to society, you might have decided that it was within your budget to purchase a pair of $60 jeans for the additional quality they had over the ones you could have bought at Walmart, but could not justify the $200 as the denim was not made of adamantium.( If they were, they wouldn’t be jeans… they’d just be AWESOME.) Now you have to decide whether you’re going to find a thrift store that hangs its used goods on racks or just dumps them in bins. The price difference is spending $10 on an item vs $2.50.

Bin Land
If you have absolutely no quality threshold, you can venture to “bin-land.” These are the skeziest of all the thrift stores. They just take bags of clothes and dump them in bins marked “pants” and “shirts.” If your allergies don’t immediately flare up upon entering the store, drop to your knees and thank God for your ridiculous immune system. Pick a spot in the bin to start. Get in there and push all of the clothing to one side. Go through each item one by one, but do it quickly. Most of what is in the bins is garbage. Every now and then you will stumble upon a brand name in your size that still has the tag on it. One or two of these finds will make it worth whatever disease you contracted digging through these piles of filth.

 A note on etiquette: Never start searching in another person’s path in the same bin. It’s the thrift store shopping equivalent to flipping them off. Always start with the clothes they have already gone through. If someone starts looking at the clothing in front of you it is important to immediately flare your nostrils, curl your lip and glare until you’ve initiated a fight to the death or they move. (Fights to the death are common in Thrift stores, bring a knife or something)

Classy Thrift Stores
If you’ve decided that you still haven’t quite reached “bin-land” level poverty, you can opt for a more upscale used clothing store. These places disguise themselves as regular stores by hanging their clothes on racks , but still have a vast selection of suits from the 80’s, leopard print things for men and women and clothing that looks like it has leprosy or other assorted diseases. Because of its more convenient layout, these stores typically charge more for goods, regardless of the quality. They typically have a larger selection, with a higher probability of finding something that closely resembles what you would have worn pre-poverty. You just end up paying a little more for it here.

Outlet Stores
These are not thrift stores. If you’re shopping here, you’re not poor enough yet or you’re over budget. You definitely won’t find anything that has been worn by anyone else. You’re just looking through slightly damaged goods, or last season’s overflow. You are much less likely to run into a friend who is shopping for their Halloween costume though. You can go ahead and save face…but not much money.

Bringing Your Amazing Finds Home
This is the part of the experience where it’s important to note that you have just purchased things that belonged to a person you don’t know anything about, including their hygiene habits. It is entirely possible that they had some parasite living on them that will eat you in your sleep. You may think that because this article of clothing still has the tag on it, it’s safe….it’s not. Remember all the sad and decrepit clothing you saw in the bins reaching out to you yelling at you to either buy it or set it on fire and put it out of its misery? They touched it.

Seal the clothing in the plastic bag and bring it back home. Keep it sealed until it is ready to be thrown in the wash. Wash everything in boiling hot water or molten lava regardless of what the tag tells you to do. Put it in the dryer on the “Kill” cycle for “practically forever.” If your dryer has a “fumigate” setting, use it.

Like most things you’ve never tried before, it’s possible to start getting excited about thrift store shopping. You simply find an irritating way to bring up how much you spent on your clothing. You can be creative and try and work it into the conversation… or just be a tool about it and randomly ask people how much they think you spent on your outfit. Once you have felt the high of finding something expensive, with the tag still on and only paid 2$ for it, there is the risk of addiction. Thrift shopping is also a gateway drug to tailoring your own clothes (especially if you’re not good at it) and dressing like it’s the 80’s including wearing cords and bedazzled things. It’s important to have a sane friend nearby to make sure you’re not dressing and acting like a complete tool after the experience. Parents and siblings are most likely your best bet for this type of feedback. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

Budgeting For Beginners by Scott Keenan

You mean you’re supposed to pay for things BEFORE you get them?

TV has lead me to believe that it is my duty as a young person to party every weekend, wear couture and take trips to tropical locations on a regular basis. The only thing getting in my way is my bank account.

I have a hard time believing most people my age are able to afford all of the things that they do. I’m often flipping through my Facebook account only to see many of them with jobs that pay much the same as mine are off in tropical locations, impeccably dressed, purchasing new homes and filling them with big screen TV’s and other assorted gadgets. The truth is most of them can’t. Welcome to the age of entitlement, where working hard (or not) means you deserve a nice trip or something nice for yourself regardless of your ability to pay for it

I’m not singling anyone out here. When I’m on vacation, I tend to deserve everything and I worry about the cost of it when I get back home. I’m also not singling out young people. It’s easier to refer to them, because I know they probably aren’t making enough money right out of University to live in a $200,000 home with a full entertainment system, brand new vehicle, bedroom set, and every unnecessary attachment that has ever been created for an iphone (including the circular saw).  I definitely know a lot of older people who go severely into debt at Christmas and have barely paid it off by the following Christmas.

Most of your problems can be solved by being a little thrifty for a few months, and being realistic about what you can afford. Other problems can be solved by going back in time and wearing some form of contraception. Also, winning the lottery wouldn’t hurt.

Step 1: Find Out How Much Money You Make.
Let’s pretend your salary is $40,000 per year. That’s not how much you’re worth. Check your pay stub. You make significantly less than that. If your bi-weekly paycheque grosses $1,500, you make about $1,200. Thus, your monthly budget should be for someone who makes $2,400/month not $3,000. Depressed yet?

Step 2: Determine Your Current Expenses.
Look back through your bank accounts and your credit statements. Add up your monthly expenses and find out how much you actually spent last month (or the average of your monthly expenditures over the past three months). Separate these expenses into needs and wants. Make sure you get them all. Try using budgeting software that links up to your bank accounts so you catch all the expenses. Sometimes you don’t actually realize you’re spending money on certain things (like all of your bank fees).

Writing down all your expenses really hurts your self-esteem. You realize how incredibly stupid you are with your own money. A couple coffees per day doesn’t seem like a lot, but a 2$ coffee twice a day works out to 120$ per month. A nice coffee maker would pay for itself pretty quickly. Now think about how many times a week you go out for lunch, and how much that adds up to.

Note: Don’t be too ambitious to cut things if you’re not actually committed to cutting them.

For example: Deciding to spend less on beer is only good if you do it. If you plan to spend less, and then you end up going over-budget you just screw yourself over.

Step 3: Talk to an Adult
You’re supposed to be saving 10% of your income and using 10% to pay off debt. These percentages could be higher, depending on you. This is the part where I will digress and tell you to speak to a Financial Planner. You need someone to look at your current situation and determine what is best for you. Also, you need to find one who’s not a complete moron. All of them will encourage you to buy some kind of insurance. It’s how they make their money. You should have a little insurance as long as you can afford it, just in case something happens. You’ll know how much of an idiot they are by the number of questions they ask you.

Terrible Financial Planner: After coming into some money I went to a planner at my bank and told him I was looking to put it into an RRSP to save it for a down payment on a house. He said that is a good idea…end of discussion. He didn’t ask me what I did for a living or how much money I made or even open my account to look at it. At the time, I was working for the government and I knew that if I planned on staying there long term, there was no reason to put money into an RRSP because when I went to draw my pension, my RRSP would actually result in me paying more in taxes.

Good Financial Planner: I went to a much better Financial Planner with the same question. She went through my bank account and asked me about every expenditure I made. After I showed her my budget, she challenged me to save the extra 300$/month I said was leftover in a separate account. She also had a mortgage broker in the office speak with both of us to give me a better idea of how much I should be looking to spend on a down payment, and a mortgage. Her distrust in my ability to identify how much money I actually spent, coupled with the anal retentive attention to detail when going through my bank account made me much more comfortable with her recommendations.

Step 4 Create Savings Accounts for Big Items
Most banks now have some sort of e-savings account, where you can have as many as you want for free. These are useful to keep your savings separate. Personally, I have separate accounts for gifts (including Christmas), toys for myself (including clothes and a new phone that doesn’t suck when my current contract runs out next year) and a TFSA for travel. I put 50$ per paycheque into gifts and toys, $25 into the travel account and 25$ into RRSP’s. This way when I have to buy gifts or decide to get something for myself, it doesn’t affect my monthly budget.

Obviously, you can’t go anywhere nice saving just 25$/pay. If you’re being paid bi-weekly, there are two months out of the year where you get three paycheques for the month. If you stick to your monthly budget, these cheques are just additional cash to drop into any one of your additional savings accounts. A couple 1,200 cheques in your travel account make for a nice vacationJ. (Grammatically speaking… does the period go before or after the smiley face?)

Step 5 Credit Cards Are Your Friend….Unless They’re Not.
Most financial planners will encourage you to use cash. That’s because by the time most people go see a Financial Planner, they’re already in trouble. Credit Cards can be your friend if you can use them properly. Get something that has points or air miles and go nuts. If you can use your card for all of your expenditures, stick to your budget, and pay it all off at the end of the week, the card is your friend. It’s like getting paid to spend money! You do have to have some self-control to do this.  For some people, the idea that you don’t actually need the money in your account to purchase something drives them crazy and they end up buying ridiculous things like sweaters for their pets.  If you can’t pay the card off at the end of the week, you’re not using it right. You should cut it up immediately, cancel it and stick to jars with your monthly budget in cash.
If you get really into it, like I did, you’ll find creative ways to decrease spending and increase your points.

For example: I used to buy the office lottery tickets every week. I would collect everyone’s money and purchase the tickets with my credit card. I got points for using the card, and didn’t have to use one of my transactions to withdraw cash for the week, because I kept theirs. I also offered to pick things up for friends like movie tickets or snacks and had them pay me cash in return. This is convenient for them, and I get points for doing it….did someone say win-win? It certainly makes you less bitter about the fact that your dentist doesn’t do direct billing.

Step 6 Get Married
Marry someone rich or who at least makes as much money as you. Simple math would agree that paying rent or a mortgage is easier with two people than with one. Also, if you have a super cheap wedding, people will still buy you presents and give you money… Think about it.

A lot of people don’t budget, and end up overspending on things they don’t really need. They also fear that the budget will impede on their ability to do things that cost money. It actually does the opposite. Once you’ve put together a realistic budget, you realise how much money you were wasting before, and how much more you can do with your savings. It also relieves a lot of stress when it comes time to pay bills. If you stick to your budget you never have to worry about being able to afford your rent at the end of the month, or going into debt buying gifts for the seven weddings you went to this summer. You also get to splurge on yourself once in a while and get something new completely guilt free. 

Side Note: Rich people stay rich because they stick to their budgets.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Google Is Not a Doctor - By Scott Keenan

As a high functioning hypochondriac, I outwardly ignore all symptoms of illness unless they become so persistent that I’m required to acknowledge them. Though, I know that most mild discomforts are usually the symptoms of much bigger problems like some kind of impending death or terminal illness. Ignoring this knowledge allows me to function like a regular person, but every now and again I slip up and google my symptoms. Google is the worst doctor ever. It knows all of my worst fears and multiplies them by ten. Below are a few of my recent Google searches.

Itchy eyes – Pinkeye, put on some sunglasses and head to the clinic to get a prescription.

Mild cough – Pneumonia, see doctor immediately.

Headache – Terminal Exploding Cancer Aids. Make peace with your enemies….there’s not much time left.

Sore throat – Evil parasitic aliens have hatched inside of you. They are attacking your throat and will most likely erupt out of your face. Just panic!

Sharp pain in my side – you are being eaten by a bear, play dead.


For about ten years I have been experiencing what may or may not be sleep paralysis. I kind of half wake up unable to move. I was pretty sure that I was actually having a dream where I am awake but am paralyzed. Then I struggle a little and finally jolt awake still in the same position as when I was dreaming. I usually have these nightmares during times of stress like exams, periods of unemployment, and that time in the summer when all the shows you like go into re-runs and the only new ones are the terrible summer reality shows (shiver). Recently I discovered what sleep paralysis is and I have all of the symptoms, including the feeling of impending doom. Not always, but sometimes I dream that there is a person in the room watching me lay there, or something is holding me down vs me just not being able to move. When I wake up, whatever it is has disappeared. I fully intended to continue believing that I am just dreaming.

 However, I did wake up around 3am one morning after having this nightmare. I opened my laptop to google my symptoms, and I began to read what appeared to be a credible source. It outlined the scientific explanation of not fully waking up; therefore, some sleep phenomena occur during wakefulness. This includes dreaming and paralysis. This is where the article stopped being helpful.

The site then went on to explain what the “actual” cause of sleep paralysis is, which is an attack by a ghost, demon, devil or negative energy. Super! This, in hindsight, is hilarious. However, at 3am alone in my room, it’s not the most helpful sleep aid. A very convincing pie chart reveals that 60% of all sleep paralysis incidents are the result of an attack by an evil spirit.

Upon further inspection, my specific incident was the result of sorcerers from the 4th region of Hell using their supernatural powers to tie my body with chords of black energy. First, I would like to know how many regions of hell there are. If there are only 4, then it can be assumed that these sorcerers are pretty bad-ass and I should be concerned. If there are like 10, then who cares? These guys are only in region 4. I’ll start to worry when I start to see signs of 6 or 7.

According to Paranormal State, most supernatural activity occurs around 3am. Therefore, this site’s analysis of my situation must be completely valid, as it coincides with a theory from an A&E reality series. I decided that if the problem persists I will need to take action. In consultation with Engineers I have created “to-scale” plans to trap the entity.

Evil Spirit Trap

I am still in the planning stages, but hope to have a model up and running shortly. I will keep you posted. Here is a link to the site I found if you're in the mood to either mock me or terrorize yourself a little. 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Social Networking at Work: Why Banning Facebook Makes You Like… the Oldest Person Ever. By Scott Keenan

Many organizations have banned Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites to combat work avoidance and increase productivity. This might work for some companies for now, but seriously….how old are you? I tried to explain to one of my superiors that I still check facebook on my phone, and it ends up taking longer than if I could just do it on the computer. She then expressed concern that I would run up a large phone bill. At first I was a little puzzled at why she thought I wouldn’t have purchased a data plan with my smart phone (does she think I’m stupid?), but then I realized she thought I was checking it with my office phone… the touchtone phone on my desk.

What Banning Social Networking Says About You

1. You don’t think much of your employees - You know who puts parental controls on things?...Parents! Treating your employees like children will naturally result in your employees acting like children. Giving an employee a computer and limiting what they can do with it lets them know that you don’t trust them to work efficiently on their own. In turn, you will retain many employees who are unable to work efficiently on their own. Congratulations??

2. You’re not interested in exploring innovative ideas - The ban can also stifle creativity. Social Networking has proven extremely effective in marketing, promotions and other areas. However, your staff will need access in order to use it effectively, or come up with ideas on how it can benefit the organization. Have you ever tried to research how social networking can improve your recruitment process using a computer that does not have access to social networking sites? It’s basically like making a peanut butter sandwich without peanut butter, knowing you will have to present this sandwich to the very people who banned peanut butter in the first place, and convince them that peanut butter is great. (I just won an award for using peanut butter the most times in a single sentence…it’s not a Pulitzer, but it’ll do for now).

3. You’re just lame - An inability to understand and follow technology just makes you appear out of touch. Even my mom can go on "the Google" or “Like” all of my Facebook statuses. (She doesn’t tweet yet, so that’s still cool.) If you do plan on blocking sites for anything other than security issues, make sure you block all of them. If you blocked LinkedIn to stop your employees from looking for work, why didn’t you block Career Beacon or other job banks? If Facebook is blocked why isn’t Twitter? You know I can link all of those together and still update my status every ten minutes right?  If you’re trying to block these sites to increase productivity, because you’re super-old and kind of lame, your main concern with these sites is the amount of company time your employees will waste using them. Newsflash: The internet has millions of different ways to waste my time. Social networking is but one of many. Remember when you tried to block msn messenger, and then they just created e-buddy and a slew of other similar sites? Aren’t they just going to do that again? Here’s a neat idea! Why don’t you check on your employee’s progress with the projects they’re working on and evaluate how they’re coming along? It’s called performance management….it’s kind of your job. If they’re not performing adequately you can look in to how much time they spend on these sites to see if work avoidance is the issue. You cannot look in to how long they spend on these sites on their personal phones or how long they spent staring off into space this week. Employees will rarely track this information for you. At least if they do it on your computer, you have some evidence of the work avoidance.

What to do with Gen Y

Young employees are rumoured to have a strong sense of entitlement, so you need some concrete reasoning behind why you’re removing these entitlements. Remember that this generation has grown up using social networking as a form of socialization. Prohibiting its use is just like telling them they can’t stop and chat with each other in the hall on company time. I’m not saying that there’s never a reason to ban these sites. There’s always the issue of bandwidth constraints or security issues. Just make sure when you’re imposing the ban, you’re doing it for a legitimate reason you can communicate to your staff so they don’t feel as though they’re being treated like children. Also, make sure you’re doing it in a smart way that doesn’t make you look old and out of touch. Alternatively, a much more effective approach would be a policy regarding internet use. Tell them their internet use should not affect their ability to do their job, and follow up if there are performance issues.

Side Note: When the phone bill comes in, you should be able to check how many times your employees tried to call facebook on their touchtone phone. Refer these ones to your EAP, and pray for their families.