Keeping track of envelopes in Gnucash

I sorted out my checking/savings account today, using Gnucash to keep
track of what is where. I’ve set up the transaction to pay my rent
from now until July 2007 and have earmarked the cash for it.

PCFinancial won’t let me have more than one savings account, but I’m
faking divisions with Gnucash, a personal finance program. Under
Accounts:PCFinancial Savings, I have “Earmarked” and “True savings”.
Because I can set up automatic bill payments only from my checking
account, I scheduled automatic transfers between my savings account to
my checking account. This is tracked under Assets:PCFinancial
checking:Earmarked and :Actual.

I need to talk to Mark at some point to figure out how my funding is
structured so that I know what kind of budget I have and whether I can
afford to cook for people more often. =) I _hope_ the increased
funding from You-Know-Who translates into a raise in my fellowship, as
it’s quite a bit more than my previous funding.

Nice to have everything sorted out. =)

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Random Japanese sentence:

猫が窓を引っかいているのが聞こえる。 I can hear a cat scratching at the window.

Credit card

Finally sorted out a Canada-based credit card. Yay! I no longer have
to course credit card purchases through the Philippines, getting
dinged on the exchange rate. Too bad I didn’t get it in time to pay
for my flight.

The credit card representative handling my activation call was really
hard-selling me on credit balance insurance. I wasn’t too sure I
needed it because I plan to pay the balance off in full each month,
which is the proper way to use credit cards anyway. He was really
pushing me to go for the 30-day review, but I was, like, ehh…
Something about hard sells raises my hackles, and I was rather
suspicious of the fact that I couldn’t go without and just opt in
afterwards.

So I Googled for “do I need balance protection insurance” and found the Government of Canada’s helpful factsheet on credit balance insurance, which led me to the totally awesome list of consumer publications from the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

Hey, governments can rock after all. =)

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The economics of entertaining at home

Last Saturday, we hosted a dinner party at our house. There were eight people, including me and W-. For starters, we served broccoli and cauliflower crudites with blue cheese dip and home-made hummus. For the main course, we served vegetarian chili and chicken curry, accompanied by naan bread and basmati rice. People brought dessert: halva, chocolates, sesame snacks, buns, and all sorts of assorted goodies. The party went from 7:00 to 11:30 or so, and we had tons of fun chatting about storytelling, university advice, and whatever else came to mind. After the party, we had a week of leftovers to feast on. I estimate that we ate just a third of the food prepared.

Ingredients bought for the party: $52.81 total
Home ingredients used: Approximately $10 (one pack of chickpeas, half a pack of black beans, half a pack of red beans, three packs of curry paste, assorted spices)
Estimated cost of party: ~$63 / 3 (as we only ate a third of the food available) = ~$21 total, or ~$3 each

plus the cost of whatever desserts people shared, of which we probably ate a fifth. Maybe a total of $4 each, for the whole meal + desserts?

I don’t think you can find a restaurant in Toronto where people can eat such a spread for $4, or stay for so long and chat with such ease without the waiters trying to drop hints about freeing up tables. ;) Nor could you find a restaurant with such friendly cats, I think – Luke was _such_ a charmer, immediately identifying the cat fans and climbing onto their laps for a good purr.

I traded time for these savings, of course, but not as much time as one might expect. Pre-cooking the beans using a pressure cooker took up most of my Friday evening, which was a good time to relax and unwind. Chopping everything up for all the meals took an hour, and cooking both the chili and the curry took another hour and a half – during which I was learning more about cooking, thinking about what was going on in the week, and planning what I wanted to do next. (And listening to bouncy Japanese pop songs…) Time well spent.

And the conversation and company? Priceless.

If we had more chairs, or found some way to squeeze more people into the house (in an elegant way that doesn’t mean some people are privileged enough to sit at the table while everyone else just stands around ;) ),I can easily scale up. It seems that the time and money I spent on the get-together could scale up to 24 people, and even more if we decided to make it a well-organized pot-luck get-together.

What would this house look like with 24 people in it? Where would people sit? How would we deal with the coats and shoes? Someday I’ll figure that out. =)

Tonight I’m attending a dinner get-together for recent hires in my department. The pre-set menu is $30 per person. Now that I look at that sum, I’m thinking, “I could host a quite a dinner party for that amount!” ;)

Hooray! Tax-free savings account!

To encourage people to save, the Canadian government created a tax-free savings account. You put after-tax dollars into it, and the interest is tax-free. The contribution limit for this year is $5,000.

PCFinancial and ING Direct are two Canadian banks with great interest rates. Currently, ING Direct (0.27%) is better than PCFinancial’s Interest Plus (1% on 0-$1000, 2.75% on $1000 and up) for amounts less than $53,000, and you probably wouldn’t want to keep that much money in a savings account anyway. PCFinancial does have an anniversary bonus and it’s easier to transfer money back and forth between accounts, and sometimes PCFinancial’s rate is a little bit higher than ING. ING Direct’s GICs seem to be a better deal, though, and they come with more options.

If you do set up an ING Direct account (and deposit at least $100 into it), you can use my referral code (Orange Key: 29083948S1) for a $13 bonus. I’ll get a $13 bonus, too, so everyone’s happy. =)

I’m setting up some transfers. Looking forward to taking advantage of that tax-free deal! Maybe another set of laddered GICs…

Finally decided what to do with the tax-free savings account

I finally decided what to do with the tax-free savings account (TFSA) recently introduced by the Canadian government. Because I’ve got $5,000 of contribution room to play around with this year, I’ll move my emergency fund into it in a combination of a regular money-market fund and some GICs. Once I move most of my short- and medium-term savings into the TFSA, I can then start looking at it as a way to save for the long term (say, by holding stocks). In the meanwhile, it makes more sense to save the fairly hefty tax levied on my interest income than it does to hold equities in the TFSA in order to avoid capital gains tax a long way down the road.

PCFinancial offers a slightly higher interest rate for their TFSA high-interest savings account (3% to ING Direct’s 2.7%), but they ding you with a $50 transfer fee if you want to move your TFSA money to a different institution (say, if you want to invest in TD e-series mutual funds). You could withdraw for free and deposit it normally, but that still uses up your TFSA contribution room and you won’t be able to contribute as much until the next year. ING Direct doesn’t ding you with the fee and they have better GIC rates, so I’ll probably go for them.