Category Archives: Guest Post

Lowering Holiday Stress Levels

My feeling about the holidays as a (soon to be) 35 year-old is much different than it was 20 years ago. My holidays these days involve mostly hours of driving around the province of Ontario, in order to fulfil family obligations and witness present – opening by smaller family members. My preference would be to fit these visits in over the next 6 or 8 weeks, in the course of our normal visits we make to family, instead of over 6 or 8 days which is what has happened in the last 5 years – in some cases, causing my wife and I to spend more time on the road than we spend doing the actual fun visiting.

Over the years, my wife and I have attempted to make Christmas less stressful. I have attempted to stop adult gift exchanges – I would rather just show up and have some good food and visit than have to worry about getting a present for people that could just go buy whatever they wanted. This initiative was unsuccessful, as people apparently like presents. This year however, my wife and I stopped our own gift exchange.

Our birthdays are 3 days apart in December, a week before Christmas, which sort of compounds “present stress” that comes with the holidays. We try our best to get each other things that we’d enjoy, but this year decided to just not bother. Most years, I was essentially giving my wife an Amazon wish list of things that I liked, because I am not the easiest person to buy things for, or my wife would stress out that what she got me was nowhere near what I wanted. The whole process seemed like the opposite of fun to us. For our birthdays, we’re going to go out for dinner at a fun restaurant to celebrate – right now our choices are sushi (my wife’s choice), and gourmet burgers (my choice), but with a week to decide this could change many times.

As someone who is interested in spending my available dollars as efficiently as possible, this method of Christmas, although Grinchy is much more effective. One thing that I wanted is a cast aluminium tortilla press – I like to make corn tortillas, but kind of bent a frying pan making them the last time. My wife could comparison shop around and guess the size and type I had in mind or I can just buy this for myself and get the one I for sure want.

This change is a small thing, but I’ll take any sort of “win” this time of year – the more small changes we can implement every year to make things better in this hectic season, the better.

Is this a stressful time of the season for you? How would you, or how have you reduced the amount of stuff this time of year?

Damage Control

There are two main things (outside of relationships with family and friends) that I put great importance on – my health, and my finances. My issues with both of these items is that maintaining long-term plans with either takes a significant amount of effort and mindfulness. Being (at times) an impulsive person, I have some issues around achieving a happy medium between not being able to do everything I want to do, and doing too much, resulting in short-term issues, and Damage Control.

For me, I find the mindset that I need to get into over “blips” in my plan is to look at the serious long-term 3-5 years down the road. I have to force myself to realize that pigging out on an unreasonable quantity of pizza or Chinese food one night doesn’t mean that I need to give up on trying to get into prime shape for next year’s golf season. Similarly, if I did something rash like going overboard on video game or concert ticket purchases, the realization that this is such a minuscule percentage of my long-term budget has been enough to stop any further spending.

The thing either of these plans that has worked for me, is consistency – the minor variances from my overall plans shouldn’t lead me to completely exit all of my plans. I know that I want to be at or around 175 pounds – if I step on the scale and I’m 183 after a couple of days of unabated consumption, I know that I need to get back to my basic (healthy diet) for a couple of weeks and lay off all of the fun food I’m eating.

Money is a little more difficult – there are some bills I can’t not pay (companies seem to take issue with this kind of action), but it’s cutting out the majority of “fun” expenses for a period of time and building up a bit of savings that helps. In the fall, I played in a “Super Serious Golf Tournament” with a friend of mine (because we played with Super Serious Golf Rules, and took the rounds very seriously). It was 4 rounds of golf in 3 days at some nice courses, after a season of golf – affordable, but not cheap to do. Since then, I have stopped doing most of the fun activities that I like to do, in order to build up my personal savings so I can do things like that next year. In my early twenties, I probably would have doubled down on fun times, which may have thrown off my entire future plans.*

Long-term plans are hard – the result is unknown, but if you don’t deal with the little bumps in the road that come up, the whole thing won’t work.

How do you deal with unforeseen issues that arise with your financial, or other life plans? Do you have any strategies that work for you?
*Greg Fitzsimmons has a really good comedy bit on money in his special “Life on Stage” (available on Netflix) that deals with trading future fun for today’s fun, which I think readers of this blog would enjoy.

How I Relax

When this is posted, I will be on a flight to the Dominican Republic to spend a week in the heat and sun. I have around 10 books that I’d like to read in the 7 days that I’m away, and will probably eat and drink too much – providing some incentive to hit the gym fairly hard on my return.

This year, I had 26 vacation days at the start of the year. I used a day in February on Super-Bowl Monday, in order to be able to fully enjoy the game without having to worry about getting up early the next day for work. Most of the other days I used in the summer were to golf or do things with my wife. This week’s vacation will be my only week-long time away from work. I prefer to break my work into shorter weeks in the summer than have huge chunks of time off at once and then have to work full-time.

I enjoy the type of all-inclusive vacation my wife and I are taking because everything is pre-paid. This type of vacation allows me to stop comparison shopping, stop reviewing opportunity costs or alternatives to the current purchase and just enjoy myself for a week with my wife in nice climates and get a huge chunk of my “to read” list cleared off. We are not tourists and don’t really leave the resort to learn anything about the land that we are visiting. We take full advantage of the items we have already paid for, rather than spending additional money on side trips that don’t really interest us.

This trip cost us around $2,000. We are both aware that this money could be spent on things that would allow us to retire earlier than 45, or something healthier. For anyone who lives through Canadian winters though, there comes a point where you need some relief from the cold grey snowy mornings, warming up your car, chipping ice and shoveling snow, or you go a little nutty. This annual window of heat in early December can usually get us through the entire winter – to give us a break during our normal hibernation period, and get out into the world.

I’m hoping that when we retire, we can find a reasonable rental someplace warm in the south to get away from the cold – getting away from winter for an extended period of time is one of the things that gives us incentive to maintain our savings plan and continue working towards our goal of early retirement.

Do you go away for the winter? Are you expecting to go to warmer places more (or are you going away more) after you retire?