Month: July 2015

The Starving Soubrette’s Summer Reading Challenge: Halfway Roundup



To find out more about my Summer Reading Challenge, Click here

So the reading challenge has been going really well. I touched base with some of the other participants and so far we have read 8,385 pages and 24 books! That’s a ton! I bet that we can get over 10,000 by the end of the summer! The current winner is Jasmine at 2856 pages and 9 books!

I read one and a half books this week: Lorna Crozier’s The Garden Going on Without Us and Geek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon.  I’m going to briefly talk about both.

Lorna Crozier is my favourite Canadian Poet.  Her poetry is smart and funny and tragic and gorgeous. The Garden Going on Without Us is a collection of poems, some of which had already been published in other volumes and some newly published that focus on life in the prairies.  She writes about the people around her, people she loves, and the natural world, both wild and cultivated.   My two favourite sections were “The Morning of the Sad Women” and “The Garden Going on Without Us” the section from which the collection gets its name. The second section includes selections from my favourite collection of poems “The Sex Lives of Vegetables” which is exactly what it sounds like.  The poems are cheeky, sensual, and clever. They also sometimes make you hungry.  If you need some more Canadian poetry in your life, I definitely recommend The Garden Going On Without Us

The second book I read this week was Geek Girls Unite.  At least I tried to read it. When I don’t like a book, I try my best to stick out to the end so I can create a fully formed opinion. I couldn’t do it with this one.  I picked up the book on sale and had high hopes for it.  Anyone who’s spent any time on the internet knows that it can be hard to be a geek and a girl at the same time.  Because geek culture is so male dominated, many women who participate in geek culture are viewed as frauds who crave male attention and prey on helpless nerd boys by pretending to be genuinely interested things that are generally considered “nerdy.” I hoped that Geek Girls Unite would be a feminist call to action that tore down or satirized the “Fake Geek Girl” trope, but it wasn’t that at all.

The concept of the book didn’t seem that bad at first; it outlines several different categories of geek girl (the fangirl, the literary geek, the film geek, etc) and offers a short history of notable women in the genre as well as a list of resources and recommendations of popular media made by women in each category.  However, there is a considerable amount of girl-hate and gatekeeping (the idea that you have to meet a certain number of high standards before you can qualify as a member of a group) written into the book.  Each section starts off with a quiz so you can see if you qualify as that particular kind of geek.  This seems like classic gatekeeping at first, but you quickly realize that the right answer is always C, always obvious, and the other answers are generally pretty funny.  The “quiz” is meant to educate and entertain rather than categorize, but my problem with it is the way that the results are delivered.  Of the three possible results, “mostly C’s” indicates a full-fledged geek girl, “mostly A’s” is an enthusiastic newcomer and “mostly B’s” is a vapid, clueless girl.  The beginning of the “mostly B’s” description in each chapter always starts with “Sorry Lauren Conrad” (or Megan Fox, or Heidi Spencer or any other popular celebrity with a reputation for being valued for their looks rather than talent) and goes on to insult them and their intelligence for a paragraph.  It’s blatant girl-on-girl hate that is destructive and divisive. Even worse than that, each chapter has a section called “Frenemies” that explains how to identify a “fake geek” that will harm the cause rather than help it.  This includes people who love twilight (which is considered an “acceptable” fandom) but think that it is well written, girls who are declare they are “really into film” after seeing a Wes Anderson movie for the first time, people who like Channing Tatum and watch his movies, People who listen to Miley Cyrus or PHISH, girls who wear leggings as pants and people who wear eccentric or “Cosby” sweaters unironically.  It seems that Leslie Simon wants geek girls to unite, but only if you fit her narrow definition of what a geek girl is.  (I apparently don’t count, I am a proud member of the leggings as pants club and I love patterned sweaters)

Geek Girls Unite is a great concept for a book, but is full of gatekeeping and misogynistic rhetoric that only reinforces the “fake geek girl” trope and make it harder for women of all kinds to be accepted into geek spaces.  I got 81 pages in before I couldn’t take it anymore.  I’m going to count those 81 pages in my reading challenge because I can’t get that 30 minutes of my life back.  Hopefully my next book will be better.

Challenge Update:

Pages: 854

Books: 2 ½

Currently Reading: Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

There is always still time to join the summer reading challenge.  Tell me in the comments, or tweet me with #SoubretteReads2015 and tell me what you’re reading right now!

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Starting From Scratch: How to Budget on a Variable (and Varied) Income (With FREE Budget Template!)


Alright, so you’ve done all your homework, read all the blogs, tracked all of your expenses, and now you’re ready to make a budget!

So. Where do you start?

If you have a regular paycheck, all you have to do in plug in your monthly income and assign a certain amount of money to each of your expenses until there is no more income. Easy.

But if you don’t have a regular paycheck, this becomes a little harder. During my first year of financial independence, I worked as a temp. I was a good temp and had a bunch of clients who regularly asked for me, but I only got work when someone was sick or on vacation. Some weeks I made hundreds of dollars, other weeks I would make less than $50. I very quickly learned that I would have to build my budget in such a way that balanced everything out.  After a year or two of struggling to find the right way to do this.  I’ve come up with a system that has been working so far.

Pay Yourself!

Put all of your income somewhere else and pay yourself a salary based on the total expenses in your budget.  Rags to Reasonable recommends having a whole other chequing account for all of your work expenses, but I just use a savings account, since I don’t really have a ton of work expenses.

Figure out your Base Number

This is the absolute minimum amount of money that you need to survive. It includes your housing expenses and any necessary living expenses (food, medication, personal care, insurance) and anything else that you can’t avoid like fees or debt payments. When money is especially tight, this is the only amount that you’re going to spend this month.

Add Fun Things

Now that you’ve budgeted for the necessities, add in the things that you like to treat yourself with every now and then.  Clothing, Eating Out, Coffee and Snacks, Movie Tickets, whatever you want.  To figure out how much you should be spending on this stuff, look at the money that you’ve been spending on it when you were tracking it and decide if that is a reasonable monthly amount. Be realistic though, if you see 10 movies a month don’t limit yourself to two, try starting with five or six and see if that is enough to make you happy.  During Months when things are a little more comfortable financially, you can make these a part of your budget.

Give Yourself Room to Splurge, but Only with Money You Actually Have

Every now and again, you might find yourself wanting to buy something on impulse.  This is ok, as long as you factor it in to your budget.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t buy it if it costs more than your budget category, but that means that you’ll have to take the money from somewhere else.

Don’t Forget Your Savings

Make sure that you include savings and debt repayment in your budget.  This should be part of your base number. Because no matter how tight things are, you should still save for emergencies and pay off any debt that you have

Record and Re-evaluate

Put everything into the budget manager of your choice. This can be Mint (I’m not a fan, but if it works for you, go for it), You Need a Budget (something that I tried but didn’t quite get the hang of), or a good old-fashioned spreadsheet.  You can make your own, use one of the ones I mentioned here, or use the wonderful Starving Soubrette Budget Template! This template is adapted from Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s Student Cashflow Worksheet, but reworked to fit a non-student lifestyle. My favourite part of this worksheet is that it gives you a space to plan out your budget and keep track of how much you actually spend. This is important because you should be re-evaluating your budget all the time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  A budget isn’t a static thing. Plus, my spreadsheet has three separate pages for the next three years so you can work to your heart’s delight.

Download it Here!

Starving Soubrette’s Budget Template

The next few Starting From Scratch Posts will be a little more non-linear. I’m going to do one on using excel and focus on some of the finer points of budgeting and saving money, as well as using credit and investing.  Do you have a burning Personal Finance Question? Let me know in the comments and I will be sure to include a post about it!

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Opera Inspired Outfits: The Women of Falstaff

About 3 years ago, I started making outfits on Polyvore that were inspired by different opera characters.  I recently started doing it again and wanted to share them with you. I used to post them on my Tumblr, but since I don’t really use it any more, I thought that I would share some of my new and old creations based on some my favourite operas.
This week: Falstaff.  It’s been on my mind lately, because it’s one of the operas we’re going to do at school next year. I love the women of this opera. They outsmart all the men, never betray each other, and have a great time doing it all.  Female Friendships are rarely in the forefront of an opera’s plot, and it is so refreshing to see it here.

Meg Page: Ok, can we talk about those Pants?!?! Meg is sometimes portrayed as Alice’s sidekick, but I like to think that she has a little more substance than that. I picture Meg as “The Fun One”. She’s up for anything, but she’s still going to be sensible about it and always stay classy. Her pants are great, but she knows better than to complicate things further with any more patterns or colours.

Nannetta: Nannetta is the youngest, and her style is a little more relaxed and carefree. She’s a little bit of a romantic but is still smart and practical.  I think the t-shirt is a perfect representation of her style, the vintage Pride and Prejudice book cover print from Out of Print Clothing is nerdy and dreamy at the same time and ties together the girlish, romantic accessories with her practical Jeans-and-a-T-Shirt outfit.

Alice Ford: I picture Alice as a no-nonsense business woman, who is not going to take any crap from any of the men in this opera.  However, she has a playful side. It’s hard to tell from the picture but the dress is polka-dotted, which is more fun than just a boring navy blue dress. The red shoes signify both her willingness to think outside the box and her sex appeal, which she has no problem using in order to teach Falstaff a lesson.

Mistress Quickly: Besides Falstaff himself, Mistress Quickly is the most vibrant character in the story.  In many productions she is dressed in garish colours and patterns, and can often look a little ridiculous.  I think this does a disservice to Mistress Quickly because the way that she carries herself and interacts with the other characters is full of dignity as well as humour. For that reason, I chose a simple, solid colour dress and some wild accessories. The outfit is colourful and quirky, but not tacky. There is also a pretty good mixture of high and low fashion in the outfit. I always picture Mistress Quickly with a huge bag, because she seems like the type who is prepared for anything at all times.

If you want any more details about any of the pieces used in an outfit, just click on the picture and it will take you to a list of all the items used in the set. What opera outfits do you want to see next? Let me know in the comments!

Falstaff by starvingsoubrette on
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The Starving Soubrette’s Summer Reading Challenge: They Were Counted by Miklós Bánnfy

They Were CountedI’ve finally finished a book! Protip: When starting a summer reading challenge, don’t pick a long, dense book as your first choice.

I found They Were Counted in a classic novel’s display at the library.  My great-grandfather was born in a little village in Transylvania, so I’ve always been interested in the area, and lately I’ve been exploring more of the art and music that came out of the region. This book popped into my life at the perfect time.

I think the best way to describe They Were Counted is if Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey had an Eastern European baby. This novel is ripe to be the next masterpiece theatre miniseries. Written in 1930 by a Transylvanian-Hungarian Politician, They Were Counted, the first volume of a trilogy, takes place in Hungary at the turn of the century (at this time, Transylvania was part of Hungary).  The world that Bánffy presents is a troubled one.  Hungary, still part of the Hapsburg Empire is in dire political straights, facing a constitutional crisis while trying to maintain autonomy from the Austrian empire.  It was a period of history so foreign to me, that I had to read the entire introduction to learn about the political history of Hungary at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The novel focuses on Hungarian High Society as it spirals toward its inevitable demise. It is a fascinating look at the lives of both the Gentry and the poor.  Everyone has a dark secret, everyone has a political motive, and no one is safe, especially not the two young men at the centre of the story. One is an idealistic politician who just wants to serve his country and constituents, and one is an orphaned Transylvanian landowner who struggles to find acceptance in a society that he has every right to be part of, but has always felt like an outsider.  Intrigue ensues

Aside from the Political and Societal drama, the novel also deals with a host of social issues including spousal abuse, gambling addiction, extreme wealth disparity, conflicts with racial “minorities,” Western influence, and even the changing attitudes toward music. Despite the large cast of characters, each one is given ample time to develop, and you begin to understand the motivations of even the most horrible characters.  The book is long and dense, but it never feels boring.

If you are a fan of Dostoyevsky, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, or Anthony Trollope, I 100% recommend that you read this.  They Were Counted is as decadent as the world it portrays, and incredibly satisfying and engrossing. I will definitely be reading the sequels, They Were Found Wanting, and They Were Divided

Challenge Update:
Pages: 630
Books: 1
Currently Reading: The Garden Going Without Us by Lorna Crozier

For something Completely Different, I think that I am going to cleanse my palate with a little bit of poetry before I pick up something substantial again.

Now I want to hear from you! Comment or Tweet me using #SoubretteReads2015 and tell me what you’re reading and how many pages you’ve read.  (I bet it’s way more than me)

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Tips for Long Distance Apartment Hunting


Jeff and I are moving to London, Ontario in August and I have been going crazy with preparations all summer. I tried to find an apartment while I was still in school, but I didn’t have any luck.  However, after months and months of searching, I am so pleased to announce that we’ve finally found an apartment. Since this was such a difficult process, I thought that I would share some ways that can make it easier.

Know When to Rent
As I mentioned above, I tried to find an apartment while I was still living in the city during the school year, but I couldn’t because of the way landlords list apartments in London.  Halifax is home to seven universities, so the major rental periods are May and September, as a result, you can sign a lease for September as early as February.  London is a university town too, but their major rental period is just May. Because we wanted an August or September lease we had to wait until June or July, since tenants are required to announce their intentions to move at least 3 months before. Looking at listings months before you can find one that you like will just stress you out

Know the Housing Market
What is the average rent for a one-bedroom in the city? Do utilities usually come included or will you have to pay your own power? Are there a lot of rental properties in the city, or do you have to move fast to get a place? Will they ask for first and last month’s rent or just a damage deposit? Do your research about renting in the city, and read the province’s Residential Tenancies Act to find out what your rights are and what isn’t legal. For example, in Nova Scotia most landlords ask for a Damage Deposit that is returned to you after you vacate, minus any repairs the landlord had to do, but in Ontario a deposit has to be put toward the tenant’s last month’s rent, any other use is illegal. If I hadn’t done my homework, I might have been scammed by a predatory landlord.

Know What Neighbourhood You Want to Live In
If you’ve never been to the city before, do some research about which neighbourhoods you might like to live in.  How close are they to work or school? How easy is it to get other parts of town? Which neighbourhoods are the most interesting? The most affordable? Knowing where you want to live can make looking through listings much more manageable.

Ask your Friends
Social Media is great for so many things, but one of its most useful features is that it acts as a giant hive mind of information and services.  A woman I know calls this “friendjiji.” Ask your friends if they know of any listings or tips about living in your new city, or if they have any friends that can help you. Even something as simple as “avoid this landlord” or “This neighbourhood doesn’t have a good grocery store” can make a huge difference.

Know Exactly What You’re Looking For
This is super important, since you don’t have the luxury of going to a ton of viewings. Know what you can and can’t live without in an apartment and don’t be afraid to ask if it isn’t mentioned in the listing. Nobody has time to sort through listings that won’t work, but when you aren’t in the same city, you have even less time.

Have an Agent in the City
Find a friend or an acquaintance who is willing to view apartments for you.  Ideally, you would be able to visit ahead of time and do a bunch of viewings yourself, but when that isn’t the case, it’s important to have someone honest who can report back to you about the apartment.  Remember that listings focus on the most attractive parts of an apartment, you need to know about everything else too

Focus on Larger Apartment Buildings and Property Management Companies
This is just my opinion, but it is way easier and more comforting to work with companies that have dedicated staff, office hours, and good websites.  Some larger companies even have people who specialize in long-distance applications. With apartment buildings you also have the added benefit of floorplans, so you know the layout and size of the apartment, which is super helpful for things like figuring out whether or not you can fit all your furniture in it.

Make Phone Calls
If you only take away one thing from this article, it should be this. Emails are fine up to a point, but eventually you are going to need to speak to the landlord or property manager in real time.  Everything gets done so much faster that way. Forget about long distance charges and time differences.  Those sacrifices will be worth it when you have the peace of mind that comes from getting all the information you need all at once, and especially when you finally get that apartment.

Are you moving to a new city? Have you ever had to go long distance apartment hunting? Do you have any more tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

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8 Ways to Make Your Weekday Evenings Fancier


When I’m not living the oh-so-glamorous life of a starving artist grad student, I work as a temp here in Halifax.  It’s a great job for someone like me because it pays above minimum wage and it allows me to be flexible with my schedule.  Also, since I’m usually on short-term assignments, I get to go to a bunch of different offices and I learn about so many different industries.  However the downside is that I become part of that 9-5 work week slog that leaves you drained at the end of the day.  I’ve had to start coming up with creative ways to make my weekday evenings a little more exciting, so I have just a little bit of time to relax and think creatively before bed.

Make Your Afternoon Snack Fancy
I usually don’t have dinner right after I get home from work, but I still feel a little bit peckish.  Right now I’m really into eating cheese and crackers with a little salami or pepperoni, and a handful of berries or sliced fruit. One day, I didn’t have any clean plates, and was about to reach for a bowl, when it hit me. Why not use a wooden cutting board! All of a sudden my cheese and crackers turned into a charcuterie board, which made me feel WAY fancier, even if I did have a sink full of dirty dishes.

Champagne Fridays
This was a tip a learned from my Aunt when my Uncle was going through cancer treatments.  They’d have a glass of champagne to celebrate the end the week.  I love the idea of celebrating the little things with as much enthusiasm as you do the big ones.  So why not pick up a little bottle of bubbly at the end of a tough day every once and a while? You deserve it.

General Libations
Maybe Champagne isn’t your thing, maybe you’re craving something else.  Whether it is a glass of wine, a mixed drink or a fancy soda, treat yourself and toast to your awesomeness. For extra fanciness, put your beverage of choice in a high ball glass and pretend you are Don Draper.

Dinner and a Movie
Take yourself out on a date, friends and significant others optional.  Go see that movie that you thought sounded kind of cool, and splurge a little to go to a restaurant or pub where someone makes your food and serves it to you. This might not be an every week thing, but if work has been particularly grueling lately, it can be nice to tune out for a few hours.

Eat Dinner at a Table
Obviously you can’t afford to eat at a restaurant every night (and if you can, why are you reading this? your life is already fancy!) so substitute by taking time to sit at an actual table for dinner, rather than sitting on your couch or over the sink. Even if you can’t eat with other people, there’s something about sitting a table to eat that feels refined and comfortable. Plus it keeps your couch way cleaner.

Slip Into Something More Comfortable
Just because you want to get out of your work clothes at the end of a long day doesn’t mean you have to put on sweats.  Change into something comfortable but still put together, or maybe wear your nicest pajamas.  If you’re feeling really fancy, throw on a bright lipstick, touch up your eyeliner, or shave off that five o’ clock shadow.  It doesn’t matter if no one else is going see it, this is about making you feel good.

Light a Candle (you know, the one you’re saving for a special occasion)
Nothing says fancy like flickering candlelight.  If you are worried about fire safety, invest in one of those battery powered candles; they look super realistic now and you’ll never have to worry about finding a match.

Have a Bubble Bath
I don’t care what you think about baths as a method of getting clean, bubble baths are way more relaxing than showers. If you can fit even a little bit comfortably in your bathtub, don’t waste the opportunity. Get a bath bomb or a nice scented bubble bath, bring that candle into the bathroom and listen to your favourite podcast (Welcome to Night Vale is my favourite bathtime choice).  You will feel so relaxed and incredibly decadent.

even if your work schedule feels mundane, that doesn’t mean that your weekdays can’t be special. Remember to treat yourself to the finer things in life every now and then.

How do you make your weekdays special? Let me know in the comments!

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Starting From Scratch: Preparing to Budget, or Why Excel is your Best Friend

wpid-wp-1434998908027.jpegWhen you are suddenly thrust into the world of financial independence, the most important thing to do is take stock yourself, your spending habits, and your expenses.

The first step, is to figure out how much money you have and how much money you spend. This means that you have to spend a month or two writing down everything you spend money on. This was the hardest step for me (because I kept forgetting to do it!) but also the most important because it’s important to have an idea of where you’re coming from when you’re making a budget.  If you are able, start doing this before you are “cut off” from whatever financial support you’re receiving. It will make everything else SO much easier.

There are a few services and apps out there that will help you with this, the most popular one is Mint, but I found it finicky and I hate how it categorized my purchases for me. Just because I bought something from Shopper’s Drugmart doesn’t mean that it’s a medical expense! The other downside to Mint is that it might cause trouble for you later on.  Here’s a post from one of my favourite finance blogs that explains why using Mint may not be the safest idea.

What that worked for me was using my plain old bank statements, my phone, and a spreadsheet. I make most of my purchases on my debit card, so the bank already did all of the work for me, down to the cent. I just log onto my online banking account and look at my electronic statement. When I have cash, I make a note of how much I spend on my phone and reconcile everything onto a spreadsheet.  The categories change around each month, but usually it’s something like

  • Food
  • Eating out
  • Starbucks (Yes, I know, I’ll explain)
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • Video Games
  • Sheet Music
  • Lessons and Coachings

Then I let the spreadsheet do all of my math! for those interested it’s the function is (=X+y+z).

Now, at this point, most of the books and blogs out there will tell you to start making your budget, but if you’re like me, you want to make sure that you have ALL the information before you start. Thankfully there are so many blogs and books out there that have great information.  Here are some of my favourites:

It’s your Money by Gail Vaz-Oxlade– This woman is like, the Queen of Canadian Personal Finance.  This book is geared to women and is about taking charge of your money if you are used to having someone else handle it (usually a husband). However, the information is useful for any financial newbie, so don’t let gender get in the way of all of this sweet, sweet knowledge.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s website- For more no-nonsense goodness and the most amazing tools and spreadsheets. 

From Rags to Reasonable- I wish this blog existed when I was starting to figure this stuff out! It’s written by a fellow opera singer and is full of all the information you need when dealing with money as an artist, from budgeting to tax deductions. This blog helped answer the #1 question I had after I started my financial research “How on earth do you save for retirement as an artist?”

Banking Websites!!! Seriously, you may overlook them at first, but the website for your bank probably has tons of articles and calculators that you’ve never used before, but are so great.

My Alternate Life- This is written by a fellow Haligonian who paid off almost $40,000 of debt in two years by making some fairly simple lifestyle changes.  I’m a big fan of her advice and also her spreadsheets. 

Microsoft Excel– Ok, so this obviously isn’t a book or a blog, but it is my favourite resource for tracking expenses.  It can seem super daunting, but for budgeting purposes, you really only need a few functions (=X+Y) (=A1 – A2) and you’re set. If you’re nervous about making your own from scratch, any of the other spreadsheets mentioned above are Soubrette Approved!

After you’ve done all your homework, you’re ready to start Budgeting! Come back on Saturday to see how I build a budget.

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