Staying Put: Finances

List of post in this series

I’m going to get the heaviest and most emotional post in this series out of the way first. This is the post I know a lot of you have been wanting, based on comments here and on Facebook, as well as emails I’m received, because it’s the post where I am going to flat out tell you the real principal reason why I lost interest in blogging. If this post offends you, then that’s the second reason why I lost interest in blogging and not the subject of this post. 🙂

Let’s go back to the early summer of 2008, when I’d made the decision to buy Miranda and hit the open road in an RV. At that time, I was almost debt-free (just a car payment) and had savings and investments. There were some rumblings in the financial world, but no real hint that the bottom was going to drop out. My financial advisor at the time told me to finance Miranda rather than buy her outright based on the current interest rates.

The plan was to live off savings for a few months, then I would start getting jobs and eventually build some sort of passive income through blogging. Within a year, I was flat broke (minus my investments) and my credit was maxed out. I was never able to recover from that because of this blog. Instead of doing the sensible thing and just staying put somewhere warmish for a year to get a decent paying job that would let me pay off the newly accumulated debt, I put all my energy into trying to make the blog a business.

No matter how many times most of my readers made it clear that they would not tolerate any attempt to monetise the blog, including supporting me during times of financial crisis that I saw other bloggers got fundraisers for, I persevered and put all my creative energy into finding a way to make money from the blog. The culmination of that effort was the 2011 Early Bird RV Show, which was a major contributor in my hitting real financial rock bottom in July of 2011, the summer that I was in Lethbridge. I only made it to that point, and a little beyond, thanks to the generosity of the readers who invited me to park on their property or even just took me out for a meal while I was passing through town. If you gave me that kind of support, I have to stress how much it meant to me and that it was never taken for granted. You were the people that help me justify some of the energy that I spent on the blog in that time and that made me feel like I was part of a community.

It was in Lethbridge that things would start to slowly pick up as I built my transcription business. But again, I was faced with the challenge of being a digital nomad in a country whose ideas about internet access are twenty plus years behind that of the rest of the world. Even when I got mobile internet, there were months where I was paying 500CAD for bandwidth in order to be able to make barely more than that in income. The only way I could see out of the mess I was in without compromising my desire for mobility was to start spending time in the US for its better weather and lower cost of living. So that’s how the decision came about to buy Haven, so that the US would see I had a real home base in Canada. But then, life continued to throw curveballs, most especially the accident in 2012 that made me feel more isolated than I have at any time in my life. I ended up getting one wonderful winter in the southern US and then, it was time for Miranda to limp back to Canada to be berthed permanently at what would become, although I had no idea of it at the time, my beloved Haven.

The winter of ’13-’14 was really hard, but I emerged from it in a financial upswing that made it possible to go to Mexico for that first winter. For the first time in six years, I stopped increasing my debt load and was able to meet my monthly expenses every month. But I wasn’t actually paying off debt, just living month-to-month.

In January of ’16, the most amazing contract I will ever have ended without warning. The client went above and beyond for me and gave me an incredible severance package that they absolutely did not owe me. I was blown away by their generosity. I had a choice — make a huge dent in my debt or give myself one last hurrah before settling down in Mexico for a few years to actually start paying things off. So that’s how my year in Europe happened. Even though I had to steal from my European budget to fund my preempted move to Mérida, I have no regrets. I ended up where I knew I needed to be, just sooner than expected.

A bunch of Balkan currency leftover from my adventure

I thought a lot about what I would rent when I finally got here. I could have gone with a crappy little studio type apartment for 1,000 pesos per month so that I could really slam my debt. Or I could find myself a real home, somewhere that I’d be happy to live in long-term. I’d have initial move-in costs, but after that, I could settle into a budget and coast, especially if I decided and was able to renew the lease after the initial contract was up. That latter option made the most sense to me. I wanted a place where I could wake up in the morning and be happy to go to work there, a place where I could receive people and build a new life instead of feeling like I was in suspended animation waiting for life to restart. It would be easier to focus on a debt repayment plan if I still felt like I could live a decent life (I’ll go into that in more detail in another post as this one is getting too long). Anything else would feel like I was punishing myself for my previous choices when I did not regret them one bit.

And it’s not like the amount of debt is that huge — once I figured out my real budget for living here, I knew I could knock that debt out in two to three years at my current income levels or even sooner if I increased my income. So that’s the mode I’m in right now, my schedule wholly centred on work, where, for quite a few years, work was scheduled around life. I just need to get through over this hump and then I’ll be able to dramatically cut back on my work hours without affecting my quality of life. Or I’ll be able to really increase my support of my “adopted family“.

I’ll sidebar here to say thank you to Contessa for all her hard work promoting my Amazon link to earn commissions that go directly to this family. This is such an effortless way to help people at no cost to yourselves, but no matter how much I’ve promoted that link over the years, no one else has bothered to bookmark and use it. 🙁

One of the things I’m working on is taking a course that would let me move into legal transcript proofreading. If I’m successful, that will double my income and get me out of debt even sooner. But I never make my plans on financial maybes, just the budget of the day. And unlike what a lot of people have told me, no, I can’t just coast until some long lost relative dies and leaves me their millions! Or I win the lottery. Seriously, what world are people living  in?! 🙂

It helps your finances when this is an expensive taco meal!

I’m actually in really good financial shape for someone my age — between investments, my Canada Pension Plan benefits, and Old Age Security, I will have a comfortable retirement here in Mexico. Property values in Saskatchewan are increasing steadily enough that it is not unrealistic to think that I may one day be able to sell Haven to buy something modest here. So it’s not like some people think, that I’ll clear off the debt and have to start over in my forties with a net worth of zero.

And interestingly enough, I find there is a lot more financial security in being a freelancer than having a job — if a lose a client, I can turn around and get another, and while I’m doing that, I’m still getting income from the remaining clients.  I’ve come to understand a lot of things about myself in my decade out of the world (more on that in yet another post) and one of the most important ones is I don’t need anyone to manage me. I think this has to do with the fact that my parents were never that hands on and treated me like an adult from a very early age. If they didn’t feel I need raising and I did just fine on my own, how does it make sense for me to answer to a boss? Plus, I have had too many “Miranda Priestleys” in my life, bosses who thought they were superior to their staff and belittled them. I know my worth. When I get a client that acts like that, it is so empowering to just fire them!

So all that said, staying put makes financial sense to me. Instead of having to lay out big bucks again this year for deposits and time off to house hunt, I can instead put that money towards debt. I really don’t have any big expenses ahead of me until spring of 2021, when I’ll be able to move from my temporal to permanente visa. All my electronics are up to date; the house is as furnished as it needs to be; I have a furry reason to keep my nomadic tendencies in check and not take any big trips; and while I’m super eager to get a more city friendly vehicle with AC, Uber is ridiculously affordable. I’ve got two years of data now on what it costs me to live my life here, have set a budget that I can stick to, and as long as work holds out, there’s no reason that in 2021 I won’t be able to celebrate my 10-year anniversary of freelancing with an amazing trip, like I did my 5-year anniversary. I’m absolutely fine with where I am right now. Truthfully, I’m exhausted. I have not stopped since that moment in Bulgaria when I decided to preempt my move to Mérida by 18 months. It feels really good to take a breather (yes, there’ll be more on this subject in another post, go figure!).

I’m just waiting to find out how much the landlady is going to increase the rent. My rent went down the second year so I’m expecting a fairly drastic increase to make up for that and bring me back up closer to current market rents. That said, my landlady said it will be a “small” increase so I’m pretty confident that I’ll still be within my 10,000 pesos or less ideal price range. Such an increase would still be much less than having to take time off to house hunt, the deposits I’d have to put down, and the furniture I’d need to buy that is provided in the current house. I’m really a big picture thinker, so the rental increase isn’t concerning.

And that brings me to the primary reason I’ve stopped blogging: my job and blogging both take an enormous amount of mental energy. One pays the bills, one keeps me in debt. I’m mature enough now to know what my priority should be. I do miss having the personal journal aspect of the blog, but I make notes on pictures I take and I do keep a personal diary, both of which achieve a similar result and aren’t as mentally taxing. Would I start blogging again if I could suddenly start making with it a living at least as comparable as I do transcription? At this point, probably not, and that’s the other reason why I’ve stopped blogging. Maybe one day, I’ll address that reason too…

So that’s the heavy post out of the way. Heads up for those sick of the dog pictures — Bonita’s going to be the star of the next post in this series. 😉

Operation: Devolución – No News Is Good News?

Well, unless I missed a holiday in there somewhere, the initial 20-business-day waiting period for my INM refund has passed. I was told if I got through it without any contact by SAT, I’m in the clear and can expect my refund within a further 20 business days (end of June).

I’m no more optimistic than I was a month ago that I’m going to be getting this refund, but I’m hanging in there. I don’t feel there’s any point in going to SAT right now to ask for a status update since I’m only halfway through the 40-day window, but I will go the first week of July just to clear my mind that I did everything I could to get back the 7,518 pesos that INM “borrowed” from me.

At this time, I’m in the process of gathering all the paperwork to go to Cancún to replace my passport. I cannot believe the incredible amount of extra fees Passport Canada is tacking on beyond a reasonable $25 out of country processing fee. Add in that they’re making me go through extra hoops by making me completely reapply, including having to send in my irreplaceable birth certificate, and I’ve got a better outlet for venting my anger than the government of my host country. This whole process that could have been avoided by having an actually water resistant (not proof — I have low standards when it comes to the Canadian government and technology) plastified page is going to end up costing me, between fees and the trip, about 500CAD — the amount of the refund that I’m waiting for. 🙁

That said, I’ve got a sitter lined up for Bonita so I’m going to try to make limonada out of the passport fiasco. The plan at this point is to rent a car (Better gas mileage! Air conditioning!) so I have freedom to do some tooling around and take a few days of vacation at the end of this month. Croft, I’m planning on going to Chichen Itzá and Valladolid. If you can think of anything else between Mérida and Cancún that I need to see, speak now or forever hold your travel advice. 😉

I’m trying to remember what else I wanted to update you all on, but memories of last week have been lost to the melody of keystrokes. I took it rather easy at the end of May, but June came in like a lion and I’ve done about seven days’ worth of work in the last four.

This morning, the gardener came to do some yard cleanup and now that we’ve agreed to make this a monthly thing, we came up with a plan of attack for the weeds for him and a shopping list for me. We want to get to a point where he’s not spending a whole day working on weeds so he can do exterior cleaning, paint touchups, maintenance, etc. While he was here, I had him confirm that I have a termite infestation in the exterior kitchen door and that I should keep doing what I’m doing (ignore it so the termites don’t move to my furniture) and the answer was yes and yes. But he’ll talk to the landlady to see what she wants done as she may choose to have the house treated just in case. I hope not — termite treatment is extremely poisonous, which is why I had my landlady in Maz wait until until I moved out (her preferred choice as well) before treating the house there.

Even with the gardener here (we chat!), I finished much earlier than expected tonight and decided to dress for town and go enjoy the last few hours of Mérida en domingo, when there is always a lot of activity around Plaza Grande. I posted a video to Instagram that did not get posted here and that for some reason has no sound. 🙁 So you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was very lively!

I bought a banderilla for a quick supper. That’s what in my culture we call a “pogo” and is also known as a “corn dog,” a hot dog on a stick covered in a deep fried corn meal batter. Not a bad treat, especially since French’s mustard is readily available here, and it’s what just about everyone was eating.

For my second course, I decided it was high time I tried a marquesita, Yucatán’s unique in all of Mexico answer to the crêpe. It is a very thin dough that is rolled around a filling and becomes crispy I don’t have four hands to juggle food and a camera, so go visit this page to see a picture of what a marquesita looks like.

There were a lot of carts offering them and I went for this one that had a sign explaining the history of the marquesita and the origin of its name (mar for the ocean, the appearance of the dough, and quesita from the word queso, cheese). I also liked that I could see what the different combinations are.

Click to embiggen and make the sign legible!

I asked what is traditional and was told just with the “queso de bola” as a filling. That’s Edam Dutch cheese. It is very popular here in Yucatán and you will find it in varying degrees of quality from authentic to sad rip-off. Read your labels before buying this cheese, but when you find a good one, it’s like a treasure because it’s so much more flavourful than the fresh Mexican cheeses (which are all delicious, but sometimes you want a cheese with a smell that’ll knock your socks off — if you wore socks, that is, which you don’t since you live in the tropics, but I digress).

Here’s a closeup of the two-sided griddle, rather similar to a waffle iron.

So I had my first marquesita with just queso de bola, even though I knew that queso de bola with Nutella is very popular, and I was so happy with my choice. I got to really taste the slightly sweet dough and how it contrasted with the sharp salty cheese (browned and crisped up with the crêpe inside, then a generous pinch of it fresh added into the top opening). I can see how this treat could get very addictive if one were to go on a mission to try different fillings and combinations! I love that McCormick’s strawberry jam you can see above to the left of the Nutella and that with queso de bola will probably be my next pick. But Nutella and queso de bola has definitely got to happen some day as I can imagine the salty-sweet combo would work well.

I did a final tour of all the vendors before heading home and was very amused when a very proper looking jewellery seller made sure to out a selection of nose studs! I’m not fussy about what material my earrings are made of, but I only wear surgical steel in my nose and since I couldn’t confirm the material these studs were made of, I passed. But the encounter made me realise that I’m overdue for a change. 🙂

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to Progreso to file with Aduana the copy of my new residency card. I was hoping to have the rest of the day off after typing 28 hours in the last 72, but ha ha ha ha ha. Anyway, I’m getting time off in a few weeks!

Bonita sends a snore. She’s worn out from all the excitement of having a new two-legged friend who fawns over her. <3

A Pause

Holy moly I have been running at about 180% since… well, for so long I can’t remember the last time I had a day off.

Yesterday I said enough. I was supposed to have a big project the week before that got bumped to this week, completely upsetting my schedule. And then, the client kept changing her schedule and sending me different file lengths than she’d said, with absolutely no regard for the fact that I was having to rearrange my entire schedule around her and work very long days to fit in all my commitments. This culminated yesterday in my having to work straight from 7AM to almost 1PM to finish the last job in the file — which I was supposed to get early enough on Thursday to start on — and then work a further two hours for another client. At 3:30, both projects were done and I knew I had to be off today even if it meant a longer work day Sunday.

Knowing that I was going to pass out on the couch with Bonita way too early, I dressed in going out clothes and hopped on a bus make a bank withdrawal and get a late lunch at Gran Plaza. I then walked just north of the shopping centre to the the Siglo XXI (21st Century) convention centre to check out a craft and hobby fair.

The fair wound up not really being my thing — it was more for crafters than for people wanting to buy crafts. There were booths set up to try different hobbies and selling specialised tools and supplies. I have several crafty friends and they would have been in heaven! There were some wares for sale, but most of those were just mass produced things I could buy anywhere.

I did regret having lunch before arriving when I saw all the food booths, but I still had space for what turned out to be an enormous Oaxacan-style ice cream. The lady was generous with the samples, so I was able to try a few flavours I’ve been curious about, including mamey (can’t find a translation), which was a very pretty coral colour, but bland, and piñon, pine nut, which was surprisingly flavourful and was one of my choices. I topped it with a scoop mango topped with chamoy, tajín, and Tapatío sauce (picture posted yesterday!).

It was at one of the last booths I visited that I made purchase of something that I put to use the second I stepped out of the convention centre, one of those things you don’t realise you need until you get one:

Can you see what it is? It’s a padded case for eyeglasses. I find it such a pain to fumble with my big plastic cases when I want to switch between sunglasses and indoor glasses — it is so much easier to slip them in and out of a soft-sided case like this! Notice the interior has a smooth material to prevent scratching. I love the orange flowers against the blue. A very useful buy for only $50!

As I studied the case, trying to understand what it was, I finally blurted out, “Ah, para las gafas!” and earned a bemused smile. Which is when something finally hit me after nearly four years  of first coming to Mexico — they don’t use gafas here but instead say lentes. What I said to the lady was akin to a Brit saying, “Oh, for spectacles!” We know they mean glasses, but the word sounds quaint to our colonial ears. Glasses in Spanish have been gafas to me for 25 years, so wish me luck making the conversion!

I was home and passed out on the couch with Bonita by about 5:30. At 8:00, I called in a taco order for delivery because I didn’t have the strength to go pick it up. I was in bed and passed out by 11:00 and slept straight through to 9:00! Bonita was so happy to see me and howled more loudly than I thought she could!

I’ve got nothing much on the to-do list today. The only chore I’m a bit behind on is laundry, which I enjoy doing, so I’ve got a load on and the whites soaking and almost ready to go. I’m so grateful the landlady took seriously my complaint about the abnormally low water pressure here and had a guy check it out. He got rid of a huge clump of mineral deposits that were blocking the pipes. The water pressure still isn’t amazing, and I wouldn’t expect it to be, but at least it no longer takes hours for my washing machine to fill and I can do several loads in a day!

Hope you all have a lovely Saturday. I’m off to make more coffee and reheat last night’s leftovers. 🙂

Side Quest: Mobile Banking

This is a follow up to my post earlier today. I’m starting to feel like in a video game since I was sent on a side quest this afternoon!

I need a bank statement to get my refund. Simple, I thought, just print one from my online account.


I don’t know if all banks here work the same, but there is a very close relationship between HSBC online and mobile banking and there are things you can’t do with online banking if your mobile banking isn’t working.

I tried to set up mobile banking when I opened my account in September and failed. I asked for help at the bank and was told to call for help. I didn’t think I’d be able to sort something that complex out in Spanish over the phone and it wasn’t pressing, so I did without.

But today, I needed a bank statement and for that, I needed mobile banking to work.

I called earlier this afternoon and had no trouble getting through the phone tree and the steps to reset my mobile password. I was waiting for an email with a new activation code and figured I wouldn’t need help beyond that so I thanked the lady and hung up.

The email came in and still I could not get into the app. It said the system was down and to try later. This was absolutely ridiculous — I just want a bank statement. Could I please have one fewer detour (and queue to stand in!) tomorrow?!

Since I got through the first call, I hit redial on my landline phone and called back. I had to wait five minutes in the queue before another lady picked up. She was amazing. She walked me through every single step to getting my bank statement. I bet someone with a Ph.D. in computer science would not have been able to do it. It was a complete labyrinth of various passwords and having to use the desktop and mobile apps in the right order.

Once she actually got me into the app (which involved deleting it from my phone and then reinstalling it at precisely the right moment after doing some steps on the desktop app), after about 10 minutes, she remembered without prompting that I wanted my statement. She then guided me through that all the way to having the PDF opened on my computer and saved to my hard drive. She’s the hero of my day.

So now, I’m all set to go straight back to SAT in the morning. I just hope the coconut ice cream vendor is waiting outside again like he was today. 🙂