Blue Monday and January

I am simultaneously jealous of all of the sunny destination pictures my friends are posting on social media and not envious of all the people getting stranded, delayed or otherwise inconvenienced by airline issues. When we made the decision to stay home this winter I should have also made the rule to stay of social media to avoid the lovely pics. Today is a beautiful, sunny winter day but when it’s this sunny it also means it’s super cold. It’s beautiful from the inside, I keep telling myself as I wrap another blanket around me.

It’s funny to see how accessible travel is these days for the average person. When I was growing up in the 80s almost no one traveled south or overseas in the winter. The odd person may have driven down to Disney or traveled home to see relatives but travel wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. I remember having one friend who went to Greece when I was about 10 years old and it felt like a crazy adventure to me! The 90s saw travel had ramp up a bit but by the 2000s it had exploded. Even after 9/11 when travel took a dip due to fear and increased security measures, I was on a plane a month later visiting a friend in Ireland and traveling to Scotland with her. By the end of the decade, it felt like everyone was hopping on planes to vacation.

Now I miss it if we don’t go away in winter but there was a time that it wasn’t even on my radar. I am trying to bring that feeling back: the feeling of moving with the seasons and coping with the weather around me; changing my activities to suit the season; embracing winter sports and staying indoors by the fire with a cup of tea and a good book. Still, like a petulant child I find myself having temper tantrums in my head because I can’t go somewhere warm. It’s amazing how humans adapt: what was once a rare treat available to few, I now feel somewhat resentful for when I can’t have it – even though it’s self-imposed! Having two kids at home who are invested in school has also meant that they don’t want to take any school off to travel, either. It’s strange to me but clearly I am weirdly proud of their dedication. In the end there are so many factors that keep me grounded – in every sense of the word!

But back to poor, misunderstood January! Yesterday was Blue Monday, which is said to be the most depressing day of the year. But it can’t be all that bad because New Order has an excellent song by that name. Also, January is apparently National Breakup Month. Oooof, poor January.


January is also the best time to reflect and go inwards. I don’t know how people in the southern hemisphere feel but up here the cold, dark days post-December revelry is a good time to stop, reflect and take stock of things (especially after all of that feasting and merriment). It’s a period of calm after the chaos that allows you to just be calm for a bit and maybe dry out, eat better and give new routines a whirl.

As for myself, I am trying to catch up on reading all of my library books (who am I kidding: I have never been able to balance these! If I read one, one more gets added to the pile. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches), get back on the meal planning train (the #1 tool in my arsenal to not waste and to save money), and I’m keeping an eye on our budget as EI and CPP start getting taken off of Mr. Tucker’s paycheques again just as I am trying to load our RRSPs in time for the tax season.

In the meantime, for those of you who are having difficulty embracing the cold, dark days of January, I highly recommend Katherine May’s book, Wintering to help you see that even the colder months are special and have something to teach us.

Nollaig na mBan

Through Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s newsletter, Scéal I discovered the tradition of Nollaig na mBan, or Women’s Christmas. Set on January 6th (also see: Twelfth Night, Little Christmas & Epiphany) it is a day where women and men reverse roles: the women go to the pub or have parties with each other for a day and the men take care of chores. It seems to be the most popular in counties Cork and Kerry. I love this excerpt from Irish Central:

Speaking to the Times, Irish scholar Alan Titley remarked that the tradition was most common in the west of Ireland in a litany of different ways. “Most women in west Kerry would have raised five or six turkeys for sale at the Christmas market,” he said. “They kept the money – like egg money – and if there was anything left over after Christmas, they spent it on themselves.”

A common phrase was “Nollaig na mBan, Nollaig gan mhaith” (“Women’s Christmas, no good Christmas”), referring to the lack of plentiful feasts by the time January 6 came around.

Siobhan Fahy, from Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula, told The Irish Times: “But us women would go visiting that afternoon. It was a very simple celebration, just eating a slice of currant loaf in someone’s house and having a cup of tea and a chat, but that was the day you’d do something for yourself and have a rest after all the Christmas work.”

I just find these little traditions so charming because in our modern world we often don’t give thanks in this way, or even have many days to slow down. In fact, it’s been estimated that the Medieval peasant received 8 weeks to half a year off for feast days, a far cry than the 10 days most people in North America are allotted. Clearly, no one would prefer to be a Medieval peasant but I love the idea of incorporating these little regional traditions into the chaos of everyday life.

If you can get a hold of a copy, I also adore Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions. It’s a (US-centric) fictional book on Victorian activities for families to celebrate the seasons and holidays throughout the year.

RESP status – 2023

The youngest’s school. The posters say UNLEARN.

It’s the start of the new year and I figure it’s a good time to take stock of some of our investments and savings (ok, the end of December is better but it’s chaos and I forgot to do it then). One of the things that is good to know is how much grant (and bond, if it applies to you) money you’ve received for each kid in your Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP).

If you don’t have an RESP you can find all the criteria for the program at the Government of Canada’s Canada Education Savings Program (CESP) website. Even if you are low-income you can get up to $2000 in bonds from the government. Otherwise, the government will give you 20% of your contribution in grants, up to $500 a year to a lifetime maximum per child of $7200. Also, if you can’t put the full $2500 a year in to get the $500 grant, you can always play catchup later for a maximum of $1000 worth of grants from the government, per year. The money grows tax free until you take it out to use for school. Of course, go to the link above and read all about it yourself as there is a lot more info than I can give here.

Of course, with most programs offered by the government, third party financial managers will try and convince you that it’s too difficult to manage on your own. They will try and tell you that it costs nothing to use their services and that they will manage the program for you. But there is no such thing as a free lunch and usually they get kickbacks by managing high-fee investments for you, limiting your overall returns and eating away at your savings. In fact, there is no reason why you can’t manage your own with a discount broker (such as Wealthsimple or Questrade) or through your own bank.

There are three types of plans single, family or group. If you have one kid, single (or group) are your options. If you have multiple children, a family plan is best because if one child decides not to pursue post-secondary, the other child(ren) may use the money. Group plans are usually sold via third party financial managers and are usually considered a poor product (read more on this post by Moningstar).

Having said that, I mentioned in a previous post that when my kids were young and unaware, we used to ask family for money for their RESPs instead of gifts for their birthdays. This worked out well. We also had very limited income when my children were younger so we only contributed $80 a month ($40 each) to their RESPs. Since 2020 however, we have been maxing their yearly contribution and maxing their catchup amounts.

Today I called the CESP to see where we were in terms of maxing out that money. For the eldest I can contribute $5000 a year in 2023 and 2024 and then another $635 in 2025 to hit the maximum grant. For the youngest, I have the $5000 max for the next 3 years and then in 2026 I can contribute $2000 to get the maximum grant.

Unlike plans like the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) which sends me a letter telling me how much I can contribute to get the maximum grant for that program, the CESP does not. So you will have to call. Before you call, have with you:
1 – The plan owner’s Social Insurance Number (SIN). I am the plan owner for my kids.
2 – Your child(ren’s) SINs/dates of birth/address on file
3 – To get this information, the plan owner will need to call the Canada Education Savings Program (CESP) toll-free line at 1-888-276-3624, between the hours of 8am and 5pm (ET), Monday to Friday

Make sure you ask how much grant money each individual child has received. You can also ask how much contribution room you have left for each child as well. The maximum contribution room per child is $50000 but you are only eligible for grant money for $36000 of that. We aim to save the $36000 per kid to get the grant money but after that we don’t plan on contributing.

Mr. Tucker and I didn’t have family money to see us through school so we both had to take out student loans. While I don’t regret my decision as it led to a great career, I really felt the weight of the student loan payments when I was just starting out in the working world. We’ve been lucky to be able to have the extra money to save for our children’s education but we have told our children that we expect them to also contribute either via work or scholarships. As I mentioned previously, we also have enough money, currently, for each of them to do a 4-year university or college degree if they live at home. We’ve also discussed that if they want to go away for university they will need to fill in the gaps with scholarships and/or work. Either way, they will hopefully graduate with an undergrad with a lot less debt than I had.

Dropshipping, advertisements and making a less user-hostile internet

Being post-Yule like we are, I can’t help but see “Le Tits Now” on these dropship garbage products

When I started this blog I made the decision to not put advertisements or links where I get kickbacks. In part, this was because it’s a lot of work and I would then feel obligated to post on a schedule like it was my job. But this blog isn’t my job, it’s a passion project. It’s also a lot of work to manage SEO and income streams and engage with people all day. Since leaving my job IN social media, I didn’t want to make my hobby my job. I also had seen how the online world was already infringing into my daily life so the goal was to pare back, not lean in.

In the early aughts when livejournal was still a thing but no real social media company had broken through, you would only see banner ads sporadically. I remember when a webcomic I used to follow started offering a banner ad at the top of the daily comic. The ads back then made sense because it was individual companies and artists buying the space. The ads were typically relevant because they were audience-based: a real person had to enjoy the website and pay to advertise with the owner. But google changed all of that and now every site has banners in every corner, above, below & in the middle of the page. Often, sizing becomes a problem because the ads pop-up, close and resize whenever they flip to a new one (don’t get me started on auto-play videos!). It makes reading most websites almost impossible as it’s two sentences, a video, two sentences, an expanding banner etc. Unless you have a robust ad blocker installed and use the reader (provided it hasn’t been disabled) most blogs and websites are so user-hostile that I’ve given up on them completely. Even using an RSS like Feedly has become difficult because often you have to click through.

This is, of course, because I am old and because I was an early adopter of the internet (relatively speaking). When I discovered the online world in 1993 I had so much hope for the future. It was dubbed, “the information superhighway” for a reason and it promised a future of connectedness and free information. We were so hopeful! Granted, I was still technically a teenager but it was such a great place to interact, share opinions and learn new things. I guess we underestimated how pervasive businesses would be at leveraging the open source world and our desire to connect into surveillance capitalism. Now we have become the product and they use myriad shifty psychological tactics to keep our eyeballs online and keep those ad dollars rolling in.

One of the reasons I have been so successful at quitting social media is because it reached a point where the value I was getting out of sites like facebook had tipped over into being too much effort for the time I was putting in. I don’t even bother checking my main feed now: I just go directly to the community groups or pages I want to read. The algorithm’s attempt to only show me my notifications sporadically so that I keep checking back often has caused me to completely check out. There are too many ads and too many repeat showings of the same posts. It is effectively so useless to me that I can go on once a day and not go back until the next day – I used to spend hours on there!

Don’t get me wrong: I am not upset that individual people want to get paid for the time and effort that they put into running a blog or website. It just needs to be balanced with being user-friendly. But let’s also be honest: a lot of websites and blogs now offer courses and consulting and other products that you can buy. While I don’t begrudge people selling their expertise, I wonder how much expertise they really have. I can think of a handful of people I know who sell their services as life or job coaches – one of whom became a job coach after losing their own job when they couldn’t find another! In the world of flexes, that is a blue ribbon contender. Caveat Emptor.

Truth be told: we did it to ourselves. We engaged with the internet with the expectation that everything could be free forever but in reality someone had to pay the bills. We didn’t want to pay a yearly fee to use a blog service or pay for servers so we agreed to give our attention up to advertisers and secretly use ad blockers. So now it’s another layer of complexity as we play a cat-and-mouse game of disabling ad features with updates and updating our ad blockers to disable those features.

I actually love Patreon for this because often you can get basic content for free and then pay for special extras, or if you really like the content, you can subscribe. If you don’t want to sign up, you can also make a small one-time donation. This makes objective sense to me instead of pushing potential readers away with a website that looks like space invaders meets google adsense. I find myself more often signing up for various Patreon newsletters or prioritizing blogs that are more about sharing and engaging than making a quick buck. In fact, I’d say that the more ads on a site, the more useless the information is. Like the experiments done with monkeys doing drawings for rewards: the quality goes down when you get rewarded for quantity over quality.

To be sure, algorithms on social media sites favour quantity over quality and I’ve often seen small businesses complain that their context gets shadowbanned if they don’t, say, produce enough reels for Instagram or get enough likes, saves and shares. It is a ridiculous world we live in when we sign up for content on social media sites but don’t get that content served up to punish creators for not producing enough of, or the “right” content. Social media is addicted to mediocrity as long as enough content is posted, the quality seems to be irrelevant.

But let’s also take a step back and question the quality of the ads we’re also getting on sites and social media. Often, it’s dropshippers who are paying for these ads and as you can see from the images on this post: it’s absolute insanity how many of these garbage businesses there are out there selling the same product as unique to them. Drop shipping has become a get-rich-quick-scheme in recent years promoted as a work-from-anywhere business that appeals to people who want to be Digital Nomads. Unfortunately, most of the money to be made has already been made and the only real cash being made now is from websites offering courses and seminars on how to get into dropshipping. The market clearly is saturated, judging by the images in this post of ads I’ve been served from Instagram this past month.

Sadly, it’s often stolen ideas from actual artists who are selling on websites like Etsy who have their work copied & reproduced without credit or compensation. I have made it a point to never, ever buy anything from an ad that gets served up to me via social media. The reason for this is that I recently had a run-in with a company that looked legit and so I went ahead and bought two products from them as gifts. To make it short and sweet, the following happened:

1 – I was charged more than the invoice stated
2 – I was charged in a different currency than the invoice stated
3 – The name of the company was completely different when it came up in my credit card transactions
4 – I canceled the order within one hour of placing it and within the TOS cancellation guidelines
5 – They replied after I canceled in incredibly broken English and told me to accept the product anyway and if I wanted to return it, I could return it
6 – I did a chargeback on my credit card after they refused to cancel
7 – The product was supposed to ship through the UK but shipped from China via the US
8 – I received the product and it was incredibly low quality (think: dollar store)
9 – Seller refunded my money after the credit card company engaged them

Dropshipping is technically not illegal but copyright theft is. Because the original owners are usually small artists and the products are being mass made in countries with lax copyright laws, it’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole. It doesn’t help that websites like Etsy also don’t give a crap about dropshippers using their platform, either. They get their cut. Just go to Etsy and search for any item you’ve seen in an ad lately on social media and a plethora of results will appear. For example, go to Etsy and search for “6 bird pun coasters” and you will find a bunch of options at varying price points for the images featured in this post. Isn’t Etsy supposed to be for original artists and craftspeople? What gives with all of the duplicates? But this isn’t a surprise to most people who use Etsy. Since replacing the CEO and laying off staff in 2017 the general consensus is that it has also become hostile to the creators and customers it serves.

It feels like everything is a race to the bottom these days. Let’s not forget that even amazon itself is copying products and then rigging the results so that only their brands come up in searches. The way the algorithms on amazon are also obfuscating the fact that search results are indeed paid ads for certain companies has led to consumers losing confidence in the platform. I will shop ANYWHERE but amazon if I can because it’s impossible to determine if a company is really who they say they are. To not pick on Amazon either, many companies from Walmart to Best Buy have allowed 3rd party resellers on their site who sell absolute junk at bargain prices that often isn’t even what was described in the ad. Most of these are dropshippers who hope that the average consumer won’t fight back about a small purchase. Get enough people to do this and you have a pretty profitable business built on people’s unwillingness to fight over a $20 product they have to send back by paying $10 in shipping to return it.

I think I just want to try and carve out my own little niche on the internet the best way I can. I know that I will never be free from online advertising, google’s web crawling and algorithms but I also know that I don’t have to encourage it either. I find I trust information and websites more if they aren’t inundated with ads and things they are trying to sell. I didn’t want my personal blog to turn into I RETIRED AT 43 – ASK ME HOW! Besides, the real answer is: have a really good disability plan at your work and get a motor neuron disease. That may not be the solution people will want to hear if I sold them a course or a consulting session.

Post-pandemic I am really trying to shop at brick and mortar stores or purchase directly from the artists instead of 3rd party websites like Etsy. Sure, you may not be able to divest yourself 100% from these platforms – heck, I had a friend amazon prime me a scooter charger to Puerto Rico! I drove around the island and couldn’t find one but I needed to charge my mobility scooter to get home. I feel absolutely zero shame about making that purchase. But trying to make the world a less hostile, jarring place is never a bad thing. So some day I may put one of those “buy me a coffee” buttons on this site. Maybe not. But I do know that I like the peace of an ad-free website and since I only have control over the one wee corner of the web that I can control, it remains ad free. I hope you enjoy it too.

Resolution, dream, goal or plan? Maybe all of the above

In 2020 we had found ourselves suddenly homeschooling and stuck at home. Like most people, we also found ourselves drinking a wee bit more alcohol than we usually did. By October it was clear that not only were we spending scads of coin on booze, we also felt like shit and the consumption of alcohol was severely affecting our mood. So on October 31, 2020 the last alcoholic beverage for the next 365 days was consumed.

I won’t lie and say that it was an easy year, there were many times where one or both of us wanted to celebrate with a glass of something stronger than club soda. But we stuck to it and found that not only did we lose some weight, we also saved a pile of cash. In October 31st, 2021 we went to a friend’s outdoor (belated) birthday party and toasted her with some spiked punch.

Since then, we haven’t really consumed alcohol like we used to. Aside from the fact that we are old and more prone to hangovers, alcohol also makes me incredibly spastic the next day. More and more we found that we don’t like losing the next day to recuperating so while we drank often we didn’t find ourselves going too crazy. We also discovered that we prefer more higher-end brands as well, so when we did drink alcohol it could often get really expensive. So when we mulled it over, alcohol consumption – while fun in the moment – was incongruent with our long term health and financial goals. So we decided that 2023 would be an alcohol-free year for us.

When I mentioned our sober year goals to a friend, I mentioned that one of the reasons was to help us pay off our house in 2023. She replied with, “It’s can’t make that much of a difference, can it?” So I ran the numbers and in Beer and Liquor store purchases alone (not cash, not bars/restaurants, not gifts) we spent $5500 on our credit card*. Of course, alcohol in this province is super expensive but actually running the numbers was pretty shocking to me because looking back it didn’t even seem like we drank that much last year. What an eye-opener!

Resolution #1 – a sober 2023

As mentioned above, our mortgage is up for renewal later this year and we want to just pay the entire thing off completely. We had already planned to do that before the prime rate had climbed to dizzying heights but now I am doubly glad that we had it in the hopper for 2023! We don’t have much further to go so if we tighten our belts we will be mortgage free by the end of the year.

Resolution #2 – pay off the mortgage on the house

We are also aiming to have an ultra frugal year. Generally speaking my budget style is to make categories and just try and spend within the categories. I don’t typically budget down to the cent or make an effort to track every penny. As long as we stay in the green, meet our goals and don’t carry debt, I generally just have an idea of where everything is going.

But as inflation increases and a recession looms as workers are getting laid off, it seemed like a good time to experiment with living off of one salary – my disability income. With Mr. Tucker’s work salary we plan to save it for retirement, use it to pay off the house, save for our road trips next fall and put some away to purchase local food. When the house is paid off, these last two things will then come out of my disability income, freeing up every cent he makes to put towards early retirement.

This is the one goal for 2023 that I am apprehensive about. Since we’ve always had low expenses, a good savings rate and still have been able to do the things we’ve wanted to do, having to check ourselves may be a steep learning curve. Still, 10 years ago we had an incredibly tight budget because I was a SAHM and we had a large child support payment when Mr. Tucker made about half of what he makes today. Of course, prices have gone up and two t(w)eens in the house make everything more expensive. But I am 100% sure that this will be achievable with some work. Much like 10 years ago, I am going to track our spending carefully and look for ways we could be more efficient with our money.

Resolution #3 – Live off of one salary and track all of our spending

If there is one regret I had about 2022 it’s that Mr. Tucker and I didn’t get out for walks as much as we would have liked to. Sure, I spent a ton of time swimming in the pool during the summer months but we always had planned to walk while the kids were in school and with his new job it never seemed to happen.

Worse, we actually purchased some cardio equipment last year on sale and while we started off strong, eventually the machines sat unused as life got busy in the spring between Puerto Rico and school drama.

I have no crazy exercise goals except: move. Any sort of movement is better than no movement so I am just going to try and get outside, get some fresh air and walk/trike. On days where it is too dangerous to go outside due to snow & ice, I can use the equipment. Mr. Tucker and I really need to prioritize any exercise over the nothing we’re doing now. Once we’ve made it a habit again, we can increase and add to our routine. Hopefully by the summer we will have some weight training and flexibility training incorporated into our routine.

Resolution #4 – Move more

A part of these goals is to start living in a way that supports our health and get us used to habits that Mr. Tucker can take with him into early retirement. We need to make space for ourselves over the next year and live our life as less focused around his job as we can. Of course, he still has to work and there will often be challenges to being life-focused vs. work-focused but after a year into his new gig he has a better handle on the job and its expectations.

I think overall 2023 will be characterized as a year where we make conscious decisions and really focus on the life we want to lead. Not just this year but going forward as well. The world is constantly chaotic and these past couple of years have felt so heavy between the pandemic, economic changes and war. Hopefully 2023 will be a little calmer, the kids will continue to thrive, we’ll see our friends and family a lot more than we have these past few years and if all goes well, we’ll meet our goals.

Happy New Year!

*we get extra Aeroplan points for using the card, which makes it also easier to track our spending on alcohol because we tend to always use the card

**Mr. Tucker will need to listen for alerts on his phone due to work but there is no reason it needs to be right beside him