Sunday, 21 September 2008

Of charity and giving...

BigCajunMan at Canadian Personal Finance Blog posed a good question in today's entry: "What is giving? What is charity to you?"

To me, charity is as much about the gift of time as it is about the gift of dollars. Dollars are the easy part... write a cheque, sign up for auto deduction during the United Way drive or hand twenty bucks to the kids who come to the door looking for sponsorship for their team. The gift of time can be more difficult because it involves getting out there, actually putting hands and heart into action in ways that may be outside our current realm of experience.

Being between jobs is a great time to do some volunteer work, any volunteer work. If working with the Shepherds of Good Hope or The Mission or at one of the women's shelters isn’t within your comfort zone, how about checking out Habitat for Humanity, or one of the local theatre groups, or your local church or service club, or the local animal shelter, or at one of the museums, or Meals on Wheels. There are a bazillion ways to give back to the community, whether for a few hours one time only or for a few hours a week on and ongoing basis. Volunteer Ottawa ( and Charity Village ( are two of a number of places to look for a volunteer gig. It feels great to get involved.

I’ve discovered that my project management skills (which are part of, but not the main focus of my for-pay career) are even more valuable when volunteering in the arts and for non-profits than they are when working for pay in high-tech!!! When we work in high-tech, we take certain organizational and office skills necessary for that job for granted... many groups outside of high tech could definitely benefit from these skills. It has certainly been eye-opening for me to discover that something as simple (to me) as a powerpoint presentation can make a big positive impact on the communication channels within a group that doesn't use a lot of powerpoint.

Also, it feels great to come home after a day of volunteering with the satisfaction that you accomplished something for someone else.

And you never know what contacts you will make… you will be exposed to a different cross section of the population than you are currently accustomed to. This is good for the soul, great for the networking, and an interesting topic of discussion at future job interviews when asked how you spent your time “in between”. Sometimes, helping others results in helping yourself, too!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Sour grapes

Every Saturday I read the Financial Facelift column in the Toronto Globe And Mail. I read this column as a combination of a bit of education, entertainment and schadenfreude. This past weekend was no exception.

The article I'm talking about is here

Basically, its about a fairly well-to-do couple who had saved diligently, invested conservatively, amassed substantial wealth, but were concerned that the income that their combined pensions, investments and other sources brought in would not support the retirement lifestyle that they were accustomed to or wanted. They were looking for a professional opinion, and likely some assurances that what they have been doing financially is sound and sensible and will carry them through their retirement.

It was refreshing to see an article that was not a doom and gloom scenario. What surprised me (but perhaps shouldn't have) was the vitriole left by some readers in the comments. The couple basically has had their act together for years, but some of the commenters were griping because it wasn't a hard-luck story. Geez, guys!!! Get a grip!!! Everyone needs advice, reassurance and a second opinion now and then. Personally, I'm happy that the Globe and Mail chose to run this story, because it shows a breadth of possibility, not just the "we've messed up our finances and need help" scenario.

Here's a situation that should be common, but sadly isn't: Imagine if you had maxed out your RRSP in your year of your first job right after university, and did so every year until you were 50. If you invested sensibly during that time, you could have amassed on the order of half a million dollars or more. Would you still need advice on your finances? Possibly . Would you benefit from a second opinion? Likely. Would your story be a appropriate for the Financial Facelift column? Definitely. Should you be abused in print by those who were financially irresponsible, lazy or spendthrift? Definitely not.

The nasty comments by the article's detractors (i.e."boo f'**in hoo") say so much more about the commentors than anything else. To those detractors I say: Why don't you learn from the actions of others instead of being jerks? Sour grapes, dudes. Sour grapes.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

All these lovely people, where do they all come from?

Now that I have the perception of having more time (I don't, really, but I'll get to that in a moment), I've been spending more time at the gym during the day. It's a co-ed, with all sorts of cardio and weight machines, as well as a goodly number of group classes. When I used to (try to) go in the evenings, the place is absolutely packed to the rafters... 20 minute or more wait times just to get a treadmill or a recumbent bike! Now that I go during the day, I see that the place is still busy.... not packed to the rafters, but busy.

Where do all of these people come from?

Sure, there is the noticable crowd of seniors, and the moms who drop their kids off at the daycare so that they can get in an hour of selfcare, but the majority seem to be 25-50, well-dressed, professional-looking folks of both genders. Are there that many people out of work? Are there that many people who work shifts? Are there that many people who have planned their lives carefully and can retire early?


I tried my first group class this week... a combination of tai chi, yoga and pilates. I was always a big leary of attending group fitness classes... there's something about the really buff gym bunnies that I found intimidating (I am many things, but buff gym bunny is not one of them!). Must say that I absolutely loved the class!!! I wasn't the only one struggling to hold the balance positions, but the instructor was very encouraging, saying that it takes most people 6 or 8 sessions before their balance is improved enough. I will definitely be finding time in my busy schedule for this class!!!

So what am I spending my time on? Preserving fruit and vegetables (75 jars full of jams, salsas, fruit in syrup), volunteering with two different organizations, a couple of garden/yard projects, working out with a personal trainer a couple of times a week, working on my art, reading my favourites on the personal finance blog-o-sphere, reading books, listening to audio books, connecting with friends and family, doing a bit of contract webwork, meditating, and, oh, yeah... looking for a lucritive full-time-ish job. I start a night class in a couple of weeks time.

These past two months have definitely convinced me that I am on a good path... a life of financial independence allows one the ability to choose what she wants to do, when she wants to do it. While I am not yet completely financially independent, I am working on it DRIP by DRIP, little by little, one step at a time. The journey is a good one....