We Need New Personal Finance Rules

Tara McEwen
6 min readJun 14, 2021


Person putting coin into piggy bank
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

The bulk of personal finance advice I’ve been given over the years can be boiled down to one idea: make more money, then spend less of it.

For a long time this worked. I applied this principle more than a decade ago when I bought my first place, after saving for a down-payment for nearly a year. And I returned to this idea at the beginning of the pandemic when working from home and lockdowns meant I could save a boatload of money each month.

But now vaccinations where I live in Canada are gaining momentum. Things are opening up again, which means a return of the temptation to spend.

Plus, my income isn’t as steady as it was a year ago. I’ve entered the “revenue stream” stage of life where it’s about marketing and selling my skills on multiple platforms to multiple markets. Income will come, but it will be inconsistent.

Budget choices aren’t as easy as skipping a daily latte or not ordering avocado toast. I’m down to the basics, and the areas I can spend on have some pretty big incentives.

1. New clothes and home décor

This was an easy save during the pandemic. Endless days spent at home means I haven’t tired out my wardrobe. The trendy tops I bought for spring 2020 are still pretty fresh and presentable in spring 2021. But my pandemic uniform of sweatpants and T’s are showing some wear and tear. I’ve literally worn out the butt cheeks of my favourite sweats..

Plus, at some point my media consulting business will lead to the occasional client-facing meeting, in which case I do need to get a few key professional pieces. Fifteen months without a gym has lead to some extra bumps and lumps that my real pants can’t accommodate. I will need to update this more professional look too.

As for home décor, I’ve always been able to justify that as a reinvestment. My first “side gig” was investing in real estate. I always like to have my home in a position where if I need to list it for rent or sale within a month, I can. Spending all day, every day at home has lead to some minor and major repairs that need tending too. Especially when you factor in a pandemic puppy whose chewing face left a mark on practically every piece of furniture I own.

Plus, my business is about setting up TV-worthy spaces in your own home. I’ve mastered a lovely, homey look. But now I want to experiment with more professional spaces and awkward spaces to share even more important information. This will all require some accessories and props.

These line items has been $0 for nearly a year. But I can’t keep them at zero for long.

2. Doggy day care ($500/month)

This is probably my most bougie expense and for those reading from their spacious, fenced-in backyards I’m sure you’re thinking this is totally unnecessary. But hear me out.

I have a high-energy dog who enjoys long walks and long bouts of play with other dogs. We’re talking 60- to 90-minute excursions three times a day. That’s a lot of productive work hours spent wandering the neighbourhood or hanging out at the dog park. There was a period when I first got the dog where every work call I had was spent outdoors waiting for the puppy to poop.

I live in a condo on the sixth floor. I don’t have a balcony. The dog is entirely reliant on me to take her outside for bathroom breaks and exercise.

She goes to daycare in the morning and when she comes home, she’s exhausted and sleeps for at least another three hours. I get a full, uninterrupted day of work. She gets all of the canine enrichment she can stand.

Technically, I can dial back how frequently I send her. Four days a week seems to be the sweet spot. She’s tired enough by the time I have her to myself on a weekday that we don’t need super-long walks all day. Maybe just one in the evening is enough for her. But I’m in a period where I’m either working a freelance TV gig or working on my business pretty much every day. I selfishly need her exhausted and happy on weekends too so I can sneak in some extra work.

3. Meal delivery ($340/month)

For years, food has been my go-to line item to cut back on. You can save a lot of money with careful meal planning and cost-saving measures at the grocery store. But that takes up a lot of time and brain space — two resources I’m using a lot of when it comes to building my business.

The convenience of having my weekly meals decided for me, pre-packaged and delivered saves me the time spent getting groceries, searching for recipes and making the meals is cut in half.

And before you suggest bulk-cooking meals, I’ve done that many times. I live alone. Bulk-cooked meals last way longer than they should in my house.

4. Tech & other startup costs

My business started on a lie — mainly the idea that the consulting startup costs are zero when you’re selling your expertise and experience. This has not been the case for me.

For one, my primary claim is I make people look and sound good on their video calls. When I was still workshopping the idea of a media consulting company, I conducted countless video calls using my old HP laptop.

I bought this baby about three years ago when all I needed for home computing was a place to organize banking records and blog posts. The camera is fine, but it’s standard definition. I used my iPhone for any video content and thought that would work fine. Until I started taking video calls with people using HD cameras. Sure my lighting was good, but the picture quality was less than the other person on the line — and I was supposed to be the expert in this.

I promptly bought a MacBook Air and have never looked better! Now I can use the laptop to record content, and use the phone for a second shot for better editing.

Startup costs are now $1500.

I found a government program where I can get a website made for free, but any attempt to DIY a logo just fell flat. So I hired a former co-worker for some freelance design work. I love what she created and am happy to pay her the $600 she quoted.

Startup costs are now $2100.

While I’ve improved my video, audio is something that’s not as easy to improve by using what you have. Yes, I can use a variety of headphones, both wireless and wired, but the goal in good production is to have as close to natural sound as possible. So I have purchased a lav that plugs into my laptop ($25) and a boom mic that can plug into my iPhone ($120).

Not to mention the costs of developing, producing and hosting an online course. My low-cost startup is now costing me roughly $2500 — more than what my paycheque used to be. And I’ve only just started.

I want to upgrade my phone for a better camera. I want a corner shaped desk that is a better fit for how I’ve set up my video call background. But I need to start bringing in some money from this business before I keep levelling up.

5. Sometimes joy costs money

I miss travel. I miss my family. I miss having a change of scenery.

All of this costs money. If I want to see my family, I need to rent a car. I miss my friends who live out of town and would like to have a girls’ weekend away.

The math still checks out that if you spend less money than what you make, you’ll manage to save. But with a reopened, post-pandemic life on the horizon, maybe it’s time for a tweak:

Make more money, spend less of it; invest the rest in what matters to you right now.

This article is for entertainment purposes only. Any financial commentary should not be taken as professional advice.



Tara McEwen

TV producer turned media entrepreneur | Media Coach | Dog Mom