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Monday, July 25, 2016

The Month From Hell Comes to an End

This post today is not going to be a long one, as we are busy frantically trying to count our inventory in preparation for our financial year end, which was January 31. Out corporate tax return is due this month, and we need good financial statements for the bank and our investors. So this week is going to be all about counting stamps.

This is also our first July as a full time business, and we are quickly discovering that it is a very slow month for sales - as slow in fact, as January is. We are not yet sure, how much of this is due to the Canada post disruptions, versus people simply being away on vacation and enjoying the Summer weather. In any event, the slow nature of this month did allow us to get through the hellish conversion from US dollars to Canadian dollars mandated by E-Bay. We basically had to manually convert, one-by-one, 4900 listings to Canadian dollars. It was pure hell and meant that for 3 full weeks, I couldn't list any new material. I sincerely hope that E-bay is done mandating wholesale changes on sellers for a long while now.

Next week after inventory is done, I will post in more detail about how the year and the month of July went, as well as update our progress on the New Brunswick move. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Giving up the search: Herspective

Have you ever done this? You have an idea in your head that you cannot purge so you stay up into the wee hours of the night searching and searching through webpages, blogs, listings and all the internet garbage you can take until you finally collapse into bed around 7:30 am. I'm sure we can all relate now and then to this scenario, we all have those moments where we can't get something out of our head so we do whatever we can to cleanse the thought from our brains. In an earlier post Chris touched on the fact that we are thinking about moving to New Brunswick in the next year and so I decided to start looking at real estate in a few of the major towns and townships surrounding Saint John to get a feel for what's out there. 

What started as an innocent curiosity morphed into an all encompassing obsession to find the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood at the perfect price on a perfect street, with perfect neighbors, perfect, perfect, PERFECT!!! Sigh, it's funny how quickly best intentions can turn to shit. I look back on the last few weeks and wonder where it all went wrong. I've never been one to put much stock in having a "perfect" life, far from it in fact so why am I all of a sudden obsessing over this idea of "the perfect house"? I'm sure one much smarter than I could relate the actual psychology behind it all but I think if you strip this all down it boils down to this: there's always something better or FOMO -Fear Of Missing Out. 

Apparently FOMO is a real thing psychologists and experts have been studying for quite some time now. According to the interwebs, FOMO is "anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere." This is typically how it plays out for me, we'll find a house I love and I say to Chris, "this is it, this is the one" to which he usually replies, "I love it" and all is well in the land of stamps and cats but soon the honeymoon ends and I begin to find fault. It starts out small with doubts about the town or little aspects of the property I don't like then I start to dislike the layout of the house and soon I cast this dismal dwelling aside and I am back on the hunt for the "one." I start to feel like I am missing out on some amazing property that can trump (remember when this word had only one meaning) any of the houses I find if I only hold out long enough. Double sigh. 

Now, a rational person would say something about how of course I should be picky, this is going to be our first home together and the place we plan to live for many years so I shouldn't settle which are both fair and valid points. The issue is that I've gone beyond rational thinking and have moved into the realm of uber (once again this word used to have a different meaning) crazy where nothing is good enough and I must have a perfect home. Triple sigh! 

(Here's a dirty picture of a banana for those who've made it this far.)

So, what is the solution? Two days ago we contacted a Realtor and started the inquiry process for one of the homes we both like. Ever since I've been doubting our decision and I've begun the fault finding process. Chris very innocently pointed out yesterday in a joking tone that I'll never be done looking and that was the straw for me. I realized in that moment that the only way to break this cycle is to simply say this home is good enough and that is good enough for me. I don't need perfection and maybe our beautiful new house will be just like me, perfectly imperfect. 

The search is over.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Canada Post Strike, The E-Bay Conversion, Inventory and My Sister's Upcoming Visit

July is shaping up to be an extremely busy month for Steph and I. This month we are trying to complete the mandatory conversion of U.S. dollar listings on E-bay, and complete our physical inventory and financial statements. My sister is also coming to Toronto for a visit for the first time since I moved here with my ex 12 years ago. My sister and I have not been close historically, but we are both trying to build our relationship. So I am very much looking forward to seeing her in the next couple of weeks and spending some quality one-on-one time catching up with her. This is also the month when my 6 year old nephew goes to the hospital for surgery to remove a non-malignant brain tumor. It has been quite a trying time for the family over these past several months and both Steph and I are praying that the surgery goes well and that Alastair makes a speedy and thorough recovery.

The E-bay conversion has been difficult, but after much trial and error, I seem to have found a workflow that is effective and error free. It is slow to the point that I have not had time to list any new material and I will have spent two full weeks on it, but I am now down to 642 listings to go out of 3,600 a few weeks ago. One upside to it is that has allowed all of my listings to appear in Delcampe, which they couldn't before due to the fact that Delcampe did not allow Canadian sellers to list in USD. So we have been able to increase the exposure for our material.

Our year end was January 31, 2016, so as six months have since passed, our corporate income tax return will be due at the end of this month. Also with Steph and I looking to obtain more investment capital and a mortgage for a place in New Brunswick, it is time to prepare the financial statements. In the past, I have worked with good estimates of inventory and cost of sales, but with all the buying that we have done and the roll-in of the Nigeria to the stock, I have come to the conclusion that a proper counted and valued detailed inventory must be done. So Steph and I are spending the evenings that we would normally would spend relaxing and are counting stamps instead. It is turning out to be a massive undertaking and we are hoping that there is more value there than we originally estimated, as it will bode well for us when we go to the bank. At least that is what I am hoping for.

The Canada Post strike threat appears to have passed for now, but it has hit our business very hard, with sales this month being the lowest they have ever been in the past year - only about $700 so far as of July 12th. I am just dismayed by the fact that the postal system can be unionized. I actually do not believe that labour unions have any place in the public sector at all. What they are fighting about is mostly the right for the newly hired Canada Post employees to continue to receive a defined benefit pension rather than a defined contribution plan. For those of you who aren't accountants, a defined benefit plan is one where the employee receives a guaranteed pension no matter what. A defined contribution plan on the other hand is one where the employer's contribution to the fund are guaranteed, but the ultimate pool of funds available at retirement for the pension is dependent on how the plan investments perform. Very few people nowadays receive defined benefit pensions, let alone any pension, largely because they are too expensive. So with that in mind it just angers me that the unions can have such a strong sense of entitlement, fighting for something that practically nobody else in the workforce enjoys. What makes them so special?

Most of the media coverage of this looming strike has focused on how very few people will notice because very few people mail letters, However, they are ignoring the small businesses who rely on the postal service for delivery of payments and delivery of goods. It is completely unacceptable for citizens who pay taxes and businesses who pay taxes to be deprived of this essential service for any length of time. I hope this will change during my lifetime, but I am not holding my breath.

Anyway, I have to get back to the U.S listing conversions. Have a great rest of the week everyone!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Herspective - Dealing with stress!

Hey stamp fam, I'm back again with a new post today on the effects of stress on small business owners and ways in which you can combat and even overcome stressful feelings. As a person who usually deals with stress by obsessively going over difficult events for days, learning some strategies to properly deal with stressful situations is crucial. This is doubly true when you own your own business, the stress factor is multiplied by 10 because the pressure is all on you (or in our case, us) and there is no safety net so, the struggle is very real.

If you are one of those people who can let anything go without giving it a second thought, I applaud you. No, seriously I am giving you a standing ovation right here in my office *clap, clap, clap* but seriously, if you are one of those rare people who Teflons like a champ (Teflon = slides right off) then you must have your life figured out. Everyone deals with challenges in different ways but, the majority of us are a lot more like Velcro with stress sticking with us. I am team Teflon when it comes to some difficulties but the majority of the time I am the Barry Bonds (it's a baseball reference, look it up) of Velcro. Of course, as I've aged (oh God, I'm old) my tolerance for stress has gone up but sometimes I am reduced to a huddled mass in the corner over even a minor stressor. Case in point, when I quit my job to help Chris full time with the business it was stressful to say the least and I went through a period of intense introspection wherein I agonized over my decision for a solid week (I still think about it from time to time). Obviously there is an adjustment period but it hit me hard so, I had to find ways to deal with the feelings brought on by the stressful change. Below is a list of ways I use to help cope with stressful situations and feelings.


I cannot stress this one enough, if you feel yourself freaking out and that familiar pressure in your chest is coming on take a moment and breathe. I mean, really use those lungs and take a big breath in for four counts and then let it out for four and repeat until you feel the pressure ease. This is a Yoga breathing technique I picked up recently (look at me being all trendy) and it works every time.

Deal head on

Whatever is causing you to stress out, take time out to deal with the situation. The longer something sits in your mind the longer it has to fester and if you leave it long enough it will turn into a gigantic rage monster of stress and anxiety. Dealing with the root cause of your stress will make you feel a lot better and you get the added bonus of ticking something off your mental "to-do" list. 

If you can't deal, VENT

Yes, the above scenario is very "in a perfect world" so, what do you do when the situation cannot be resolved? You vent like a mother fucker. Getting out all those raw emotions onto a page or into someone's willing (hopefully) ear can help release the pressure and maybe even help you solve a few problems. Swearing is also very acceptable in this scenario and I recommend a dose of "fuck" taken as many times as needed, daily. 

Beautify your surroundings

I'm not telling you to Martha Stewart your office or house but, "beautify your hole, and you'll beautify your soul" - The Simpsons. In a nutshell, if you work/live well in a cluttered space then throw some more items on the ground and continue working/living. If, like me, you feel a lot better in an almost barren space devoid of any humanity then step into your plastic bubble room and be at peace. Make your surroundings reflect what you like most and your stress levels will go down, fact *disclaimer, this is not a fact supported by actual data*.

Work those muscles

Anyone who knows me will tell you my lift game is on point. I lift weights five times a week and even manage to sneak in cardio two to three times weekly. Don't worry, I'm still fat and love chips but working out helps to keep some extremely pervasive thoughts at bay. I'm not telling you to go into extreme Cross-fit mode but getting your body moving can help to reduce your stress levels by increasing endorphins. Bonus, it helps take your mind off whatever is stressing you out! 

Hit something, no...really 

Notice I said "something" and not someone. I am not advocating violence but sometimes the only way to deal with the frustrating feelings is to take a swipe at an inanimate object preferably of the soft variety. Take a boxing class or grab your least favorite pillow and give it a good jab while thinking about the cause of your stress. You would be surprised how effective this can be. 

Do something you love at least once a day 

How often do you do something you truly love per day? I think the majority of us either think we don't have time or think that we will get to that favorite activity later and when later comes we are either too tired or have forgotten all about it. I know that time is precious especially when you run your own business but make time to do at least one small thing you love every single day. You don't have to take six hours to bang out another four chapters in your novel maybe take thirty minutes to jot down some rough ideas about the next chapter you plan on working on and then during the next break write out a couple of paragraphs. There is always enough time for what you love you just have to think outside the box!   

If it scares you, do it

This was passed down to me by my cousin Michelle and relates back to what I said earlier about facing problems head on. She told me do at least one thing per day that scares you. This applies to so many situations and I think it can even apply to stress. If you are stressing over something you have to do because it scares you, do it! If you are afraid to take your road test because you are afraid to fail, book the test. You will feel stressed out about it all the way up until you pass the test (or fail the first time then retake it, cough) but think of how happy you will feel after it's done! Tackle those stressful situations and I guarantee you will feel better once it's dealt with (warning, this is not a guarantee).

Unless you live on Mars with a herd of friendly cats surrounded by chocolate and beer you probably have at least some stress in your life (although, the thought of cleaning up after all those cats is mighty stressful). Though it's unavoidable, how you choose to deal with stress can make all the difference. A wise stamp guru (Mr. Stamp) once said, "you know, even the worst work day now is better than the best day at my old job." Preach son, preach.

Stamp Geek, out!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Quantity of Life Versus Quality - Another Perspective

This past week I was reading an article about Toronto's housing bubble. For years now, experts have been saying that there is a real estate bubble in both Toronto and Vancouver that will eventually burst with disastrous consequences. One of the "go-to" rebuttals that many people reach for is, "they've been saying this for years and it isn't happening - prices go up each year". This latest article though made one very salient point. The author talked about other examples of market bubbles throughout history, such as the tulip bubble in Europe in the 17th century. He noted that in every single case, the events that preceded the crash were exactly the same and the decline inevitably started when everyone in the market bought into the belief that the market couldn't collapse and then threw all caution to the wind and got in. That is what is happening right now. Think about it. How many people can truly afford to own an $800,000 house? The cost of carrying the mortgage alone is somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4,000 a month and that is with the current low interest rates. Property taxes and utilities can take that up to $6,000 a month - that is $72,000 of after-tax income  just for your house - for 25 years! How much do you need to make to pay for that? $150,000? $200,000 per year? Sure, if you are frugal and work at a super high paying job, this is probably not an issue, but usually those kinds of jobs leave you with very little time left to do the other things that are important in your life.

My reason for starting this blog and leaving my old profession was because I felt that our quality of life was lacking and for some time now I have been having trouble with the idea of Steph and I not being able to buy a house. So this issue got me thinking again about the whole quality-quantity of life issue and this seems to be a good jumping off point to present another perspective on this.

To Steph and I, quality of life is simply having time to do the things that matter to us:

  • Building a profitable, but service oriented business serving stamp collectors;
  • Contributing to the field of stamp knowledge by writing blogs about stamps;
  • I am writing a book about life from the perspective of someone on the autism spectrum;
  • Steph having time to pursue her interest in comedy;
  • Spending time with those we care about and being involved in their lives;
  • Having time to spend loving our two cats;
  • Spending time in nature;
  • Being creative in various other ways;
  • Spending quality time together.
These are the most important things to us. But we recognize that our priorities are not the same as everyone else's. It's not that we cannot appreciate material things - we can - just as much as anyone else. But what Steph and I have come to realize is that the true cost of many of the material niceties that people so often seem to think essential, is often most of their available time. All the above things require one to have a lot of available time, especially when we think of maintaining relationships with people we care about, since there are so many. Most high paying office jobs leave you with very little time for the above and certainly not enough for all the above. As an example, in my old job, if I wanted to have time to work out and be healthy and get all my work accomplished, I typically had to be up at 5:30 am to have enough time, to eat, shower, get dressed, go to the gym and then drive to work. Then I would have to work until 6 pm most days, which means on a good day I'd be home by 7 pm. On the surface, it sounds like I would have a lot of time, but I didn't. Preparing and eating a nutritious meal would take until 8, and then if I wanted to not be sleep deprived, I had to go to bed by 11:30 at the latest, which would give me 6 hours of sleep. Experts say that most people need 8, so that would mean that I really should have gone to bed at 9:30. So after all that, I'd have 1.5 hours each weekday, or 7.5 hours to Friday. Then there is the weekend. However, unless I ran all my errands such as grocery shopping, laundry and cleaning during the week, I wound up doing it on one of the weekend days. So after this,maybe I had 12-18 hours on the weekend. All told I had 19.5-25.5 hours out of 112 waking hours in a week to do what was important to me. 

If you are the type of person who has lots of relationships in your life, those can take most of that available time. Being creative requires a lot more time than 25 hours a week. My average blog post can take me up to 3 hours to write, so on 100 posts, I have spent well over 300 hours. Now, I obviously didn't write those in a week, but I like to post twice a week to each of my blogs. So for three blogs, I'm looking at 10 plus hours a week. Experts say that mastering any new skill takes 10,000 hours. So if all you have is 25 hours a week, then to accumulate 10,000 hours of experience would take you just over 7 years, if you did nothing else with that time.This, I believe, is why in cities we are surrounded by people who are too busy to maintain relationships, especially casual ones, or develop creative interests. The reason is that they must ration their time, spreading themselves too thin. 

Consumption on the other hand takes very little time compared to creating. Think about it. You can spend all day cooking a wonderful meal and eat it in under an hour. You can spend years writing a book, but only a week to read a novel that someone else has written. The list goes on. So what tends to happen when people have so little time is that their consumption - of all things, goes up. They have the money to spend combined with very little time. It is very easy to get into this lifestyle and actually feel on some level like you are living, when in reality what you are doing is sampling the creations of others, without ever creating anything of your own. I'm not saying this is wrong - not everyone is creative. But for those of us who are creative, this type of life is the exact antithesis of happiness. This is what I mean when I speak of "Quantity of life". Inevitably, what happens is that no matter what comforts one has, it always feels like something is missing. 

After reading this article Steph and I started talking about how much we loved the Maritimes when we traveled to the Bay of Fundy and Nova Scotia two years ago. We started talking about moving there. Conventional wisdom is that this is a bad idea because of the lack of jobs there. But our business is online. Our customers don't care where we live. We are actually in a position to be able to take a business there and could wind up creating jobs for people there, who would genuinely be glad to have them. We couldn't believe the cost of housing: beautiful, 1,900+ square foot heritage homes for under $150,000. Now, that is a price we can live with. Sure, we probably won't make money on our house, but that is not what owning a home is all about in our view. Indeed, most so called real-estate profits are only notional anyway because the homeowner is usually either always trading up or buying another place in an equally expensive city. Making a profit on your home that you can actually spend on other things generally only happens when you are moving from an expensive area to a cheaper one. 

So we are going to start looking for properties in St. John, New Brunswick. If we can get financing, then by the end of the year, we will move there and continue developing the business there. From a business perspective it is an excellent move because we can lower our cost of living significantly, which means that we can pay ourselves less and retain more of the profits in the business for future expansion. So this next week will be a busy one as in addition to the E-bay conversion, we will have to prepare financial statements to take to the bank.