F.R.I.E.N.D.S. TV Show Themed Birthday On A Budget!

Money

As the pandemic lockdown continues in Canada (currently at Phase 2 of soft opening), we decided to have a cosy and casual birthday dinner for my boyfriend’s 30th. Even thought it was just his immediate family and I celebrating the event, I couldn’t help but come up with a simple and affordable idea to bring a fun theme into the party. Here are a few simple things I was able to get even during the lockdown in order to bring in flavours of his favourite TV show “FRIENDS” into his party.

1. FRIENDS Font Banner ($12.99)

I was able to find a banner saying “Happy Birthday” in the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. TV Show theme font on Amazon for only $12.99. Since it wasn’t customized, it didn’t take long to get delivered (about 4 business days). I found it to be great quality and it came with the perfect sized string, ready to be hung up immediately. The cardboard didn’t bend and can be used for many more themed parties and I’m excited to add it to my decor collection.

2. Small themed Gifts (Less than $30)

I also ordered a small notebook saying “The One Where You Turn Thirty” in the show’s signature font and a giant cup/soup bowl with the Central Perk Logo on it. These were add-on gifts to bring the flavour of the theme for the birthday. His main gift was a pair of Jordan Air branded shoes that he had been wanting to get for a while.

A soup bowl with the central perk logo that I got as an additional gift
A notebook with writing in the FRIENDS signature font

3. Cards ($10 or less)

It turned out to be a great idea that I had shared the themed party idea with the rest of the family. In the end, they also ended up bringing gifts and cards related to the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. TV show or characters from the show.

4. DIY Decor from Phoebe’s “CUPS” Party ($5)

If you are a hardcore friends fan like us, you will surely remember the episode where Phoebe and Monica co-hosted a party, and Phoebe went overboard with the cups and ice because those were the only two things she was allowed to be in charge of. In the end, there were so many cups that they ended up using the cups for decor and party hats! I went with the same idea and used the typical college party style red plastic cups and some rope to make a garland of red cups for decoration.

A garland of cups I made to go with Phoebe’s crazy CUPS party

5. Generic Party Decor (Recycled, $0)

I love having some items in stock at home that can help add some glamour to any themed party. For this event, I used some generic red balloons, red polka dot wrapping paper, and my letterboard to add to the colour palette of the show’s main logo. I used the letterboard to write the words “Why God Why”, a famous dialogue from Joey Tribbiani’s character spoken on the day he sadly turns 30!

All the wrapped presents and the candy basket I made for my boyfriend’s 30th FRIENDS themed birthday.

6. T-shirt for the Birthday Boy! ($30)

Custom FRIENDS TV Show themed T-shirt for 30th birthday

10 Steps to Recover From (Crushing) Credit Card Debt!

Adulting, Money

By Faria Ahmed

Yes, you are a millennial and yes you swore to never use that credit card unless necessary and to pay back whatever you spent within a few days of swiping that card. Unfortunately, you and I both know that sometimes life happens. You fall sick and miss a few shifts at work. Things come up and your already small earnings have to be used for something other than paying back the credit card debt. And so it begins: the cycle of only paying the minimum amount due, and allowing your interest to rise. Before you know it, a year has passed and while you were chipping away at that original credit amount, a few more urgent expenses had to be made on that same card. The good news is that you are not the only one on that boat. The vicious cycle of credit card debt has sucked many of us young adults into a deep hole from which it seems nearly impossible to rise back up. The silver lining here is that it’s possible to come out of it!

Credit Card, Coins, and alcoholic beverage bottles in an artistic collage.
Photo Credit: Faria Ahmed

I myself have recovered from crushing credit card debt which I had incurred primarily on two occasions. Firstly, I went nearly three months without employment when I had finished school and was actively looking for jobs. I was working part-time at minimum wage but it was nowhere enough to let me keep up with my basic living costs. Second time, I had to get an emergency procedure done for my cat to survive. He was otherwise young and healthy and this one-time life-saving procedure cost me $3000 because I didn’t have cat insurance (that’s a story for another day). So the living expenses plus procedure cost came to about $7000 and while I was only making minimum payments, the interest charges and other costs brought it up to $10,000 in a short amount of time. 

Yes, I was 27-years old and just starting a full-time minimum wage job and I had a credit card debt of $10,000. At that point, I was trying to pay at least $200-$300 a month into that card, but my interest charges had risen to $190. So, I was basically just paying the interest amount. This is when I knew I needed a way out. 

I would feel suffocated every time I thought about that debt and what it meant. I couldn’t sleep at night whenever it popped into my mind and the only way to remain sane was by pretending it didn’t exist. Let me be very honest – pretending like it wasn’t there did nothing to solve the problem. That problem kept sitting there and growing, and instigating anxiety in me, until one day I became determined to find a way out. This is how I did it:

1. Assess the Financial Damage

The first thing you need to do is be calm, and take out all our credit cards, bank statements, etc. and make a total list of all the debt you have, on what card or cards and their respective interest rates. This will help you to figure out exactly what the total damage is and which disaster you need to manage first (i.e. which card has the highest interest rate). 

2. Measure Income & Cost of Living

The second thing you need to do is to check how much you earn each month and what is the absolute minimum that you can live on. Ideally, you will be able to cut you living costs and live extremely frugally until you have your debt paid off. This means, you need to find ways of cutting down your living cost so it is no more than half of your income.

3. Pay off Debt Proportionally

Now, use your remaining income (not used for living expenditures) and put that full amount directly into the credit card(s). If you have more than one, split it up so that more goes into the one that has the highest interest rate. 

4. Increase Your Income (& Sources of Income)

If it’s possible, try to find a job that pays more per hour even if it means a bit more work or a longer commute. Alternately, try to pick up some extra weekend and holiday shifts at work or find a second weekend job to help with additional income. Commit your full earnings from this added income to pay off your credit card debt. 

5. Borrow from Family/Spouse

I know this is not an option for a lot of people, however, if you can borrow the money to pay off your credit card debt from a family member or a friend who can afford to live without the money for a few years, it’s a good option for you considering they won’t charge you any interest. 

A dollar sign made up of Canadian coins including quarters, dimes, and twonies.
Photo Credit: Faria Ahmed

6. Liquidate Assets

I would not be selling land or an apartment. However, if you have something that is not drastically increasing in value as it sits there (like a car, a motorbike, a fancy watch collection, a branded purse collection), it may be time to give it up. Try to sell it to the highest bidder to recover as much as you can and put it towards your debt. You can even consider dipping into any savings bonds, coin collections, electronics, etc. that you think you can live without and sell it to recover cash and pay off part of your debt. 

7.Transfer to a Lower Interest Account

Often banks give offers of moving over debt that you have with departmental store credit cards, other banks and financial institutions and moving it over to your bank. This can come with incentives of offering you a reduced interest rate, or even keeping that transferred debt amount at 0% interest for 6 months or other such offers. This can allow you to have some time to catch up on your savings and be able to pay to reduce the original amount of the loan down instead of just paying the interest portion of it. Speak to your main banking institution and see if they have any such offers available. However, make sure you are going to a trusted and recognized bank, and not accepting such offers from loan sharks or small/new financial institutions. Small, new institutions may have fine print stating that once the 0% interest timespan passes, the interest may climb back up to being even more high than the original rate you had with your departmental store credit card. So, before transferring over the money, make sure you know all the information ahead of time.

8. Credit Card Consolidation

This should be a last resort. Remember that by consolidating your credit card, you are going to severely mess up your credit score. This means any loans in the near future may be more difficult to get. Having said that, if you have reached the point where the maximum amount you are putting into your credit card each month is solely paying off the interest and nothing more – it’s time to consider consolidation. What most banks do (and please go to a legitimate bank and not some loan shark), is that they will pay off your credit card and you will need to close it down immediately. Then, they will move over your loan to their institution at a much lower interest level. This means the credit card can no longer be used, to ensure you can no longer spend more. Secondly, your loan amount is now a personal loan which has automatic withdrawals from your bank account each month (usually) to pay off a minimum amount so you can pay it off in 5-10 years. While most departmental store credit cards charge an interest of 19.99-29.99%, the consolidated personal loan will charge you around 8-9%. This will allow you to pay off and chip away at the actual debt instead of just paying the interest. 

9. Loan Forgiveness/Declaring Bankruptcy

In some cities and countries, there are government loan relief grants. I have very little knowledge of them, but most of them are for large sums of loans which are about $15,000 or more in amount. You need to prove that you are unable to contribute any more of your income to pay off the debt or that you are unable to generate at income due to medical or other problems. Due to this poor financial situation, you will have to declare bankruptcy and a large portion of your loan may be forgiven or transferred over to another agency to whom you will pay a very small amount of money for a very very very long period of time. From what I have heard and read, this has a devastating impact on your credit score and any chances of becoming eligible for a mortgage or a car loan in the near future are slim to none. Compared to this, consolidated credit cards can actually allow you to eventually recover your credit score once you start paying it off. The only time I would encourage you to approach declaring bankruptcy as a solution is if you are on the verge of financial collapse and/or being chased by debt collectors. 

10. Close down your cards (But SLOWLY)

Once you begin to recover from credit card debt, it is a good idea to close down the credit cards so it doesn’t create temptation for next time. Keep any ONE credit card with a $1000 limit for emergencies and return the remaining ones once you have paid them off. However, do not close down multiple credit cards within a span of a few months as it can hamper your credit score. Spread it out over 6 months to one year.

So there you have it. There were some of the options I used myself when I came out of crushing debt of a little over $10,000. It’s difficult but it is possible and once you live life without using (or over-using) credit cards – I promise you that you will sleep so much better without financial anxiety hovering over you.

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5 Ways to Afford University Textbooks

Adulting, Money

By Faria Ahmed


If you’re going to university in North America, then you already know about the trauma that comes with buying those uber expensive textbooks. There you are enjoying the first week of class at the beginning of the semester, and then the professor uploads a list of the recommended textbooks. As if paying for university wasn’t bad enough, the added burden of buying textbooks costing $100-$700 can surely make your undergraduate years into an absolute nightmare. Have no fear though, because I am on the same boat as you and over the years I have figured out a few tricks to be able to afford textbooks:

  1. Second Hand Books: No matter where you are studying, chances are that your peers who are just a year senior to you have gone through the same courses as you. This means they might own the very same textbooks that they want off their hands now. Although it may be one or two editions different from the latest one, it might still be a good idea to ask around. You can check if a facebook group exists for used books exchange and selling. If not, you can always ask some friends and spread the word that you are looking for a particular book. \
  2. Try Online Stores: From my personal experiences, I have always found mainstream book stores and on-campus bookstores to be exceptionally expensive for textbooks. Sometimes I have purchased textbooks directly from the publisher’s website or from online stores like amazon.   
  3. Buy the Looseleaf version: In between the hard cover, paperback and e-book formats lies my precious choice of textbook- the looseleaf version. The perfect book arrives without being bound into an actual book. It actually already has the punch holes in it so all you need to do is get a binder and use that as your hardcover. This formar is cheaper than the hardcover ones and you also don’t end up straining your eyes too much by reading it on your computer. 
  4. Buying the kindle edition: If all else fails, I opt to buy the kindle edition of the book from amazon. Even if you don’t have an actual kindle device, you can actually read the book on your computer through an online kindle cloud reader. I personally use this as a last resort because the amazon cloud reader doesn’t let me print it off and it strains my eyes to read a whole book on the computer. I might actually opt to buy a kindle if all my future textbooks are in this format. 
  5. Rent or Borrow: There’s a couple of different ways to do this. You can borrow from your university’s library, but they usually don’t allow that for a whole semester. However, if you are lucky enough they might have multiple copies, so you can return one and get it on loan again the next day (if they haven’ run out). You can also rent from various websites including ebay. Although not the most reliable in my experience, this is still a much more affordable way to get your textbooks this school year. 

Millennials & Money

Adulting, Money
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By Faria Ahmed

From being called ‘entitled’, ‘impractical’ to ‘lazy’, we millennials have been called everything in the spectrum that defines financial recklessness. Interestingly, an article by CNBC reported that Millennials actually have similar spending habits when compared to their previous generations, but it is their lower income that starts them off as poorer adults. Another report explains how most millenials came of age during the financial depression, started off with large amounts of student debt, and/or are dealing with higher housing costs than any of their predecessors. That often forces them to lean on credit cards to meet essential needs and deal with sudden emergencies. And thus we fall into a vicious cycle of debt and compound interest. As bad a hand as we have been dealt, the only way forward is to be extra cautious and assertive when it comes to dealing with finances. Here are the top financial lessons I have had throughout my 20s:

Income: The math of financial stability is quite simple. More money coming in compared to money going out will lead to greater stability. If the reverse is true, you will begin to submerge in debt unless you make some drastic changes to prevent it. It is difficult to maintain a decent income when you are in school or just starting off your career. However, I personally found a few tricks which I think helps to solve the problem. Firstly, I would recommend working full-time for the summer (or other vacations) from the first year of university (if not sooner). If you work through the breaks during high school and university, you should be able to build up a solid savings account before you even move out from your parent’s home. If you are living on your own, try to keep an evening and weekend job which will keep a steady flow of cash coming in while you finish school or begin your day-time job/internship. If you have an interesting hobby or a skill, see if you can sell some of your creations or earn some cash by doing performances at events. It’s a great experience and it is also an amazing feeling to be appreciated through remuneration for a skill you have developed out of passion. 

Banking: Money comes and money goes. Especially for cash, I always felt that keeping track of it and the loose change it acquires can be difficult. The minute I break a big note, I feel like the value of the coins pretty much disappears into thin air. I also end up spending more when I’m buying something and the vendor doesn’t have change on them. For that reason, banking and using a debit card is an excellent solution to the problem. The only thing to keep in mind is that the use of the debit card itself should not be adding to your cost. So, make sure to check out the bank you use and make sure there is an unlimited number of transactions that you can do with the debit card without acquiring more fees. 

Investments: I’m personally not a huge fan of investments, but let me try to give it a fair shot here. If you do actually have a decent amount of savings sitting somewhere, and you don’t need to dip into it for emergencies and daily expenses in the next year or two, you may want to consider investing. You can invest in your country’s local stock market or even in a business venture which you think has potential. The reason I’m not a fan of investment is the high risk that is associated with it. For someone who is a serial entrepreneur, I am surprisingly scared of large, risky investments. The other reason I don’t invest is that I don’t understand the factors influencing the stock market where I live now. This means I may not be able to safely predict risk periods and falling values and end up losing money. However, if you are someone that enjoys staying up to date on social, political and economic issues and your instincts about rising or falling stock values have been correct the last few times, it may not be a terrible idea to invest. 

Assets: The other type of investment, and one that I personally prefer, is investing in assets. This can be a car or a home or a piece of land. Ideally something that goes up in value (unlike a car which actually falls in value over time). You can put your money in silver, gold, real estate and many other options. Some people even invest in paintings or rare coins- but again the market for those are way more complex and dependent on your understanding of the industry  at a given point of time. 

Lifestyle Choices: Having been a shopaholic, a creative interior designer and in general a capitalist for the major part of my life, I think it is important to consider the lifestyle choices we are willing to make or give up, in order to achieve financial stability. I personally do not have a fasication for expensive/branded clothing, jewelry, perfumes, watches or bags. That in itself allows me to save tons of money which I then spend on my essentials and a little bit on my passion for travelling. Even if you do have an expensive hobby or passion, there’s always ways to get around without spending a large amount of money. Instead of staying at hotels and taking guided tours, you can go backpacking across continents, live in hostels or with friends, plan your trip to the last bit to avoid unexpected costs and so on. Having said that, we all do need to live a little in our 20s. It is a precious time when we have high energy and our youth allows us to push ourselves to the maximum of enjoyment and learning. So long as you can cut back on some unnecessary expenses and avoid debt, go and do what your heart truly desires. Work some extra weekends and save up for that trip to Disney World or save all your Christmas or Eid gift money so you can finally buy yourself the latest gadget.

That’s it right there. My top 5 suggestions to improve the relationship between us millenials and our financial goals. For inspiration, don’t forget to check out this story about a couple who managed to save $20,000 in their first three months of being married! Happy Saving!

Sources of Statistics: CBS News , CNBC