Thursday, January 12, 2017

How to save money or immigrant's budget tricks

My former country went trough a lot of "bad times", we had wars, hyperinflation ( where money lost it's value and it was useless) and economy collapse followed by embargoes and Nato bombing... You name it, we had it.10 years of my childhood and life was pretty much watching my parents trying to cope with all that and survive while raising me and my sister as normal as they could in those circumstances.I didn't understand much of that as a child, but looking back now it fills me with chills,as a parent I can feel the horror and worry that must have been in their minds every single day for years.
I'd said I have a pretty good idea on what happens when a thing like money suddenly changes or loses it's value.You have been working hard to earn for food and bills but at the end of the month you can buy a carton of eggs at the store, and THAT IS ALL, but the store has no food on the shelves and the house has no electricity because when money fails other systems soon follow. The factory production stopped, towns were unable to buy coal to produce electricity so that and the heating stopped too ( we had electricity from time to time with restrictions),hospitals are unable to restock medications,(when I got really sick one winter my dad had to buy penicillin shots on the black market to be given to me at the hospital because they had none, what followed was me almost dying from allergic shock...)and amidst all that chaos my parents and others kept going to work because it was the only thing they could do, it made life seem normal even though they got nothing at the end of the month.I went to school, we kept going, we had wood stove in the house that kept us warm and could be used to cook something, boil water for a bath (at least water was still running from time to time), my parents were magicians to fill the pantry with sacks of flour and potatoes, my mom turned every single fruit from our or neighbors back yard into preserves, she lined up the shelves with jams, tomato juice,plum juice and apple and peach juice, they traded box of soap for box of apples and laundry detergent for cartons of eggs... It kinda looked like the middle ages, where people tried to survive and swap what they had and could for what they needed.At that is not even scratching the surface on how they found ways to feed us and make our daily life look normal and also help our relatives and friends do the same.
I can say that living on a tight budget has been pretty much my whole life, immigration included.
It took us 7 years and a loan to save the money for immigrating to Canada, but we did not know that that sum can melt here in only 4 months if you are not careful.

Initial cost of immigrating and landing in Toronto can be high,you are required to bring a sum to cover first 6 months of your stay (and in Ontario your health care is not covered in the first 3 months, so you may have to take health insurance as well) but that sum of money may not be enough.
The first month melted the third of the sum we had, apart for paying for tickets 3000$, we had to pay for various other things including a used car (900$ plus registration and other fees), first and last rent around 2400$,various translating and other fees, drivers licence 500$, food, clothes and diapers for a whole month 800$,basic furniture (mattress, used furniture, ikea stuff)700$...
To sum up, we were told to bring around 16.000$ to last the 3 of us (baby just turned 1 when we landed)for the next 6 months, as we are not eligible for any financial assistance,the first month expenses were almost 6.000 $,one month- more than third of our money gone and we need to pay rent and eat the next month as well, and the following 4 months, except it will not be enough unless we started working yesterday.But as every immigrant knows the hardest part of starting is finding a decent job, and more about that hell latter.

So here are some tricks I used to stretch our budget:

1. Paying just for the basic things, we had no TV, no home phone just prepaid credit on cell phones and cheapest internet we could find.

2.Find the cheapest car insurance,if you got a car, call brokers or call at least a dozen to get better quotes,if you are not using a car for a month or two (we did live very close to work-walking distance) put it on park option (the car stays on the parking and you pay only 20$ a month).Use public transportation if possible -buy monthly passes, see if there are discounts available for students, low income, seniors etc.

3.Food- use coupons and buy on sale or clearance, look for items 50% of at the end of the day, most stores close deli section at 9 or even earlier, so meat, salads and other things like fruit trays will be half price after 8 pm, you can get a whole roasted chicken, fruit tray and sides for a whole family for under 15$ (it's a large dinner for 4 people that would cost more than that per person if served in a restaurant).Buy in bulk, especially the dry items such as pasta, cans and frozen items that can be stored.Visit your local ethnic stores such as Chinese, Polish, Korean and other because they often have much cheaper articles meat or fresh fruit in order to sell faster.As for pastry there is a shelf with half priced day old bread and other but since I love to bake my own, I buy a bag of flour on discount usually 10kg and just bake my own, (the math in here is 10 kg good flour on sale 8$ makes about 22 breads, more or less, with the average price of bread 2 to 5 $ this would cost from 20 to 50$, but that is not the only reason, the fact is I love my bread and hate additives they put in the store ones). That brings me to - cook as much as you can and know how to yourself, pack your lunches and sandwiches, don't buy prepared food (most of it is junk anyway).

4.Clothes, buy what you must and need only.Look for clearance items, when you need a good winter jacket or more expensive things go to Winners or Marshals, avoid outlets of brand names (the stuff they make for outlets is not the same quality as the other brand things, it is made cheaper for the outlets even though they will tell you it's the same thing- it is not). Sometimes is better to go looking at thrift stores for gently used quality or brand items, like Value village, Good will,and others.For kids there are also second hand or thrift stores, or kijiji and craig's list, most of my kid's stuff is not new because they outgrow things in matter of months, I prefer to buy gently used quality items for Winter at Once upon a child and other similar shops.
Also buy the most expensive things such as winter jackets or boots after the season when they are on clearance, for kids I buy 2 numbers larger sizes for the next Winter.I once bought 100$ boots for 22$ and a 200$ winter parka for 90$, I also paid 26$ for sandals in January on a store closing sale that I would never be able to buy (not even now) because they are priced at 200$ regular price.So buy off season and in advance, you are always going to need at least one pair of Summer or Winter for kids, one of mine just skipped 3 numbers in one year.The best time of year for shopping cheap is week or even day after Christmas.

5.Furniture.Don't buy, ask if someone you know has something they'd give away, ask and look for free things on facebook groups, kijiji or even around your building.I still have crib, kids bed and desk I got from someone, however I have never taken a carpet or bed or mattress or any kind of fabric covered thing in Toronto being afraid of bed bugs ( the town is infested, our building had 10 cases of bed bugs).
I tried buying something on the kijiji and I made a mistake. It was not a good idea. I bought a table and chairs, it was too expensive to buy a new furniture, I thought that I'm buying ok stuff it looked fine on the photo but when we went to pay they were not clean and I had to clean them and scrub them, I wanted to buy some other things but it did not have a car big enough to move them...At the end Ikea was the best option for us, we knew we were going to move a lot and all of their stuff is light not too expensive and easy to take apart (I had to take apart and assemble the futon we bought 6 times when we were moving around), they also have a cheaper "as is" area where you can get the best deals if you don't care that the thing is scratched, kids will ruin it anyway.
My first pots, cutlery, dishes, plates, some blankets, a crib and toys all came from people we met here and later became our friends.We spent our first night in the rented apartment sleeping on some blankets on the floor because we had no furniture at all, no bedding, nothing but 3 suitcases we came with full of papers,baby stuff,diapers and clothes.
If you really need to buy things go for the most basic, cheapest and lightest options in case you have to move.There are many decent things available on kijiji.

6. Banking, find a no fee account and cards, don't even try to get a credit card, just use debit in the first year.There is no point going into credit debt if you don't work and you will not be given one if you don't have a job or a large sum of money on your account.Credit cards are not really useful unless you want to make a huge purchase, or you are forced to use them in order to get credit score at the bank (if you wish to buy a house or a flat one day).

7. Use free resources when ever you can, there are free libraries and internet all around, free language and employment help for newcomers,subsidy for daycare and much more.Organizations that work with newcomers are a good place to get the info on what might be good for you, internet, forums and blogs too.There are free tickets to museums, free passes and different discounts available to newcomers and most residents, Toronto library had one of those programs when I lived there.

There are small things that can save you money down the road such as taking driving classes (even if you know how to drive) and getting a certificate will make your insurance rate a bit lower once you start driving in Canada.

Hope this helps, if I missed something I will add it latter :)