May 27: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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This week we catch up with some bloggers who share stories and ideas about spending.

Million Dollar Journey suggests 7 smart ways to spend your tax return.

The Blunt Bean Counter shelled out for an well-deserved vacation, but he says  Air Canada lost his luggage when he went to Dominican Republic at the end of tax season.

On boomer & echo, boomer considers how to pick a perfect mortgage.

Pete the Planner thinks giving yourself an allowance when you are in debt is stupid.

And Gail Vaz-Oxlade reminds us that “keeping up” with others can keep you from saving.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?”  Send us an email with the information to socialmedia@saskpension.com and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Make budgeting a family project

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Think of a realistic budget as the GPS that will help you reach your financial objectives. Unless you know how much money you have available and make a plan to spend less than you earn, paying off debt, saving for a down payment on a house or getting ready for retirement may seem like insurmountable goals.

Budgeting is not rocket science, but it requires discipline. Where you have a partner, both of you should participate in the process. Any children should also be involved to a more limited extent, depending on their ages. If the whole family understands and agrees to budget priorities established by the group, it is more likely that they will follow the roadmap. 

Keys to successful budgeting: 

Some keys to successfully budgeting are:

  1. Understand how much net income your family has every month.
  2. Identify your fixed and variable expenses.
  3. Build debt repayment and savings into your budget.
  4. Establish family priorities.
  5. Develop a plan to control costs as required.
  6. Record all expenditures to help you stay on plan.

Two techniques for staying on plan that money maven Gail Vax Oxlade uses successfully with couples on her television program “Til Debt Do Us Part” are:

  • Cut up debit and credit cards and spend only cash.
  • Allocate the amounts you have available to spend for each category like food, clothes, rent etc. into a series of “jars” for every pay period. 

Getting started

First of all, gather up all your payslips, bills and credit card statements so you have the information you need all in one place. There are lots of online tools that will allow you to enter your data and play around with the numbers until they add up to something that will work for your family.

For example, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada offers an online budget calculator.  Vaz Oxlade has a no-cost guide to building a budget and an interactive online spread sheet available on her website.

There are many other calculators and specialized spreadsheets available online, but I’m a big fan of googledrive. This free application allows you to create an online spreadsheet and give other family members access from different devices.

While you may choose to have only one person enter or delete data, if each person can record money spent on an ongoing basis, anytime someone is contemplating an expenditure, he/she can get a clear picture of the state of the family’s finances. 

Fixed expenses

There are certain unavoidable family expenses that recur on a regular basis. These may include rent or mortgage payments, house insurance, property taxes, utilities, car payments, gas, car insurance, other transportation life insurance etc. You get the picture.

While you could move to less expensive accommodations or take the bus instead of driving if you have to, these expenses cannot be easily reduced in the short term. Therefore, make sure you account for them carefully up front when you are developing your budget.

Food, clothing

Food and clothing are important components of your budget. If you use a credit or debit card for most purchases, it should be fairly easy to track these expenditures over the course of several months. If you use cash, you may have to make a conscious effort to record how much the family spends over a specific period to gain a good understanding of the family’s spending patterns.

Perhaps you eat out frequently and bring home fast food several times a week. This is an area where you may be able to control your costs and at the same time provide more nutritious meals for your family.

Adults can often declare a moratorium on buying clothes for a considerable period. Where growing children need bigger sizes in clothing and shoes, consider clothing swaps of gently used items with family and friends. They are very easy to arrange online. 

Technology 

Land lines, smartphones, internet, cable TV, electronic games, tablets and laptops. You may be shocked to discover how much you spend on technology and connectivity. Contact your service provider and ask for a better deal or a better bundle. Consider getting rid of cable TV and subscribing to Netflix for $7.99/month. Resolve to keep your current technology for longer. And resist the temptation to buy the latest new gadget on the market.

Entertainment/Travel 

Add up how much you spent on entertainment last year. By attending community events instead of buying more expensive tickets to professional theatre or big name sports teams, you can save a bundle and still have a lot of fun.

Rather than spending thousands of dollars on international travel, plan a “staycation” or a long weekend at a local tourist attraction you have been meaning to check out but never got around to visiting. 

Savings 

The money you save for your children’s education or your retirement should not be left to chance if you happen to have enough money around at the end of the month. Build RESP, Saskatchewan Pension Plan, RRSP and TFSA contributions into your budget and “pay yourself” first every time your paycheque is deposited.

Are there free or low cost budget tools that work for you? Have you recently turned your finances around? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

30-May Wedding How much should you spend on a wedding gift?
6-June Bringing home baby How to prepare financially for a new baby
13-Jun Fathers Day Frugal gifts your father will love

April 2013 return

SPP posted a return of 0.68 to the balanced fund (BF) and 0.05 to the short-term fund (STF). The year to date return in the BF is 5.36% and in the STF is 0.16%.

Market index returns for April 2013 were:

Index Apr 2013 return (%)
S&P/TSX Composite (Canadian equities) -2.07
S&P 500 (C$) (US equities) 0.91
MSCI EAFE (C$)
(Non-north American equities)
4.16
DEX Universe Bond (Canadian bonds) 1.14
DEX 91 day T-bill 0.08

Click here for a complete list of returns.

A comprehensive investment update to the end of the first quarter is available on our website at saskpension.com.

May 20: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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This week we bring you blogs that focus on some things you need to know if you are getting ready for retirement.

On Retirehappy.ca Jim Yih asks whether or not we need a debt course and exam before we take on more debt.

Riscario Insider discusses why you should have a financial Plan “B” and not purchase all of your wealth management services (i.e. banking, financial planning, investments and insurance) from one place.

Rob Engen explains on boomer & echo why David Chilton’s rule of thumb that you should save 10% of your income for retirement may no longer be enough.

In contrast, on Canadian Dream: Free at 45 Dave says that he is a constant saver, and when he retires he’ll have to figure out how to start spending more of his income.

And those of you who wonder whether you need life insurance in retirement should check out this post on FreefromBroke.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?”  Send us an email with the information to socialmedia@saskpension.com and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Cleaning your closets? What to do with the stuff.

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Do you buy new clothes every season and then realize you already have a similar item in your closet? When you are trying a new recipe, do you check the cupboard first to see if you have all the necessary ingredients or do you automatically add them to your shopping list? Are toys your children have outgrown still cluttering up the house?

Cleaning closets and purging are no fun. But every now and then you can no longer avoid the inevitable. And it’s worth it, because you will be able to “reclaim” expensive real estate in your home, save yourself time in the future and even save some money.

However, the biggest problem is often what to do with all the stuff you have excavated from your closets or your basement. Here are some ideas:

  1. Sidewalk recycling: One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. In our neighbourhood if you put something on the curb, it will disappear in a few hours. This occurred when we recently got rid of a broken TV and a baby carriage with flat tires.
  2. Recycle Saskatchewan: This website tells you what items can be recycled, where you can take them and gives lots of ideas how items that are still in good condition can be re-used. Also check out the Saskatchewan section of freecycle.org.
  3. Clothing swap: If you have gently used clothing you or your children have grown out of, arrange a family or neighbourhood clothing swap. Everyone brings items they can no longer use and returns home with “new” items to enhance their wardrobe.
  4. Jewelry: If you have gold jewelry you don’t like and you don’t wear, consider cashing it in. The price of gold when I wrote this blog on April 9th was $1611.24 per ounce so depending on what you have it could be a real windfall. I sold some jewelry several years ago and gave the diamond chips to my daughter for her wedding band.
  5. Old cell phones: Donated cell phones are helping to protect battered women in Saskatchewan, thanks to a program called “Phones for a Fresh Start.” So long as the phones are in working order, they can be a valuable lifeline in an emergency.
  6. A garage sale: One sign of spring is the proliferation of garage sales on beautiful weekends. You can put up fliers in the neighbourhood, announce your sale on social media, or post to craigslist or Kijiji.
  7. Sell online: Depending on the nature of the items you want to get rid of, consider selling them online. Here are some great hints about how to sell your items in 24 hours or less on craigslist.
  8. Donate to a charity: Various charities are happy to receive donations. In some cases you may get a charitable receipt. For example, the Saskatchewan Institute of Community Living is a non-profit organization that collects donated clothing and other household items throughout Saskatchewan. All proceeds from the items you donate support individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Have you recently done a massive cleanup in your closets or your basement? How did you get rid of your old stuff and make some extra cash? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

23-May Budgeting How to set up a budget and why
30-May Wedding How much should you spend on a wedding gift?
6-June Bringing home baby How to prepare financially for a new baby

May 13: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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The May 4th article Not your grandfather’s financial website: The new, fresh face of money sites in the Financial Post by Melissa Leong highlights a new wave of bloggers and personal finance gurus who are shaking up how young people get information about money.

She says some of the sites get millions of hits on any given month, embracing readers’ voyeuristic penchant for personal stories and catering to their  anxiety about money and hunger for information. We follow many of these bloggers already and we will follow more of them in future.

Consistent with this theme, today’s Best from the blogosphere draws your attention to some blogs that may be of interest to both parents and their offspring.

On Youth and Work lawyer Andrew Langille focuses on workplace law issues relating to young people, including his major area of interest which is illegal, unpaid internships. While he primarily focuses on Ontario law, his provocative ideas cross provincial boundaries.

One of the major problems that face Canadians approaching retirement is that they are often still supporting unemployed or underemployed offspring. On boomer & echo Boomer comments on Lending Money To Friends And Family.

For young people managing their own money for the first time, on BrighterLife.ca Brenda Spiering writes New grad? Four money tips you need to know.

If your kids are a little younger, you still have time to enhance their financial literacy. On retirehappy.ca, Sarah Yetkiner discusses Setting Kids Up For Financial Success.

And finally, from the mainstream media, check out this press release, Boomers risk straining finances to support boomerang kids: TD poll.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?”  Send us an email with the information to socialmedia@saskpension.com and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

10 frugal gifts your mother will love

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Kids grow up and many eventually have the means to shower their Moms with expensive dinners, jewelry and other luxury items.

But if you ask most mothers which Mothers Day gift they treasure the most, they will probably tell you it is the first handmade card thier child brought home from nursery school, or the breakfast in bed delivered at sunrise that she made all by herself.

Here are some ideas for Mother’s Day gifts, in no particular order, that will create happy memories without breaking the bank.

  1. Flowers: Local markets have beautiful displays of cut flowers and plants at this time of year that are much less costly than if they are purchased from a florist. You can also buy bedding plants or a hanging basket for outdoors that will last much longer than an indoor arrangement.
  2. Plant her garden: Many seniors stay in their home as long as possible, but upkeep like planting a garden becomes challenging. Go to a garden centre with your Mom and buy her the plants she likes. Then plant her garden and commit to helping her maintain it through the summer.
  3. Sleep: Parents of young children are perennially sleep deprived. The best thing a husband or parent or sibling of a young Mom can do is give her a voucher for a kid free weekend so she can catch up on her zzzzzzs.
  4. Social media: I live in Toronto and my delicious granddaughter lives in Ottawa. I love that I can see new pictures and videos of her several times a week on Facebook. If your children’s grandmother is not on Facebook, show her how social media will help her stay in closer touch with family. Then set her up and give her a tutorial.
  5. Skype: Long distance phone calls used to be an expensive luxury. Now any two people with a computer can connect on Skype, with the added benefit that they can see each other. If your Mom has friends or family in another city or country and does not already use Skype, get her started and put a balance in her account.
  6. High tea: People are so busy with their daily lives, that often they don’t have time to keep up with friends. Pick a date and invite a group of your mother’s old friends over for tea (or coffee), party sandwiches and cake. Fancy hats are mandatory.
  7. An outing: Whether your mother’s favourite activity is shopping, going to an art gallery or catching a concert, plan a day together doing her favourite things.
  8. A collage: Moms love pictures of their children and extended family. Make and frame a collage of pictures of your children at different ages.
  9. A special dinner: Host a family dinner or barbecue and have everyone share a special memory of life with Mom.
  10. Music: Put together a mixed CD with songs she loves that will bring back memories. You can also include a book of poetry and some handmade chocolates.

Finally, consider an eReader. They are not cheap, but eReaders can more than pay for themselves in convenience over a short time. I just bought a Kobo Glow and re-joined the Toronto Public Library. I love that I can download books free from the library at any time of the day or night and up the font size to easily read at night when my eyes are tired.

Do you have any great ideas for frugal and fun Mother’s Day gifts? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

16-May Spring cleaning How spring cleaning can save you money
23-May Budgeting How to set up a budget and why
30-May Wedding How much should you spend on a wedding gift?

May 6: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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There is lots of interesting reading in the blogosphere this week.

Squawkfox Kerry K. Taylor counsels husband Carl on what to do with the $100 bill he found.

On boomer & echo Boomer comments on senior discounts vanishing from our banks.

Marissa is a 20-something recent grad with credit card debt and student loans. On Thirty Six Months she talks about being a good consumer by voting with your wallet.

Timeless Finance blogger Adina J. says if she had the choice, she would earn more instead of spending less to stay solvent.

And finally, Riscario Insider reviews Toronto Star consumer columnist Ellen Roseman’s terrific new book Fightback: 81 ways to help you save money and protect yourself from corporate trickery.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?”  Send us an email with the information to socialmedia@saskpension.com and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

How to plant an inexpensive, maintenance free garden

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Once the snow finally melts and the first tender shoots of green grass poke through the mud, I can’t wait to see beds of beautiful flowers on my street. But a garden can be expensive to plant and maintain unless you know what you are doing.

To give you some tips about putting in an inexpensive, low maintenance garden, we talked to Jill Umpherville, the greenhouse manager and third-generation owner at Dutch Growers Garden Centre in Saskatoon. Here is what she told us.

  1. Do your research: Go to Pinterest and get inspired. Search gardening catalogues and the Internet. Figure out the direction your house faces so you know if it is sunny or shady and you can get plants that fit the area. Come to the garden centre with ideas so the staff knows how best to help you.
  2. When to plant: Don’t plant flowers in Saskatchewan until temperatures at night do not drop below five degrees for about a week. Before that, you may want to put flats of flowers out during the day and bring them in at night to harden them.
  3. Early flowers: Pansies are a cold tolerant plant that you can put in early. But they won’t survive nights where the temperature is below -10, so cover them or put them on a cart and bring them into your garage at night.
  4. First steps: If you want a neat looking flower bed, put in edging. Also add mulch. This will save you time, as beds with mulch don’t have to be weeded.
  5. Prepare the soil: If you live in an area with heavy clay make sure you have a nice base of topsoil. A triple mix of peat moss, top soil and a little bit of manure will provide the soil with nutrients.
  6. Get advice: Depending on your space, you probably need fewer shrubs and bedding plants than you think because they spread.
  7. Hanging baskets: If you have the space to start plants from seed it may be more economical to plant your own hanging baskets. However, with the short growing season in Saskatchewan, buying them already planted will give you instant colour that will last longer.
  8. Perennials: There are dozens of varieties of perennials that do not have to be replaced yearly. For example, Dutch Growers has over 40 varieties of hostas with colours ranging from a bright vibrant green to chartreuse. This plant typically flourishes in the shade. Day lilies are hardy flowering plants that bloom year after year.
  9. Annuals: Inexpensive tried and true annuals are colourful petunias, marigolds, lobelia and impatiens (shade).
  10. Getting value: Look for plants you can lift out of the pot with roots wrapped around the pot. This means the plants are well-rooted. Also look for a deep green colour in the leaves (unless it is a chartreuse plant). This shows the plant is not nutrient deficient. A flowering plant should have additional buds so you know it will bloom right away and all season long.

Are you on a tight budget? Whether you want to spend $25 for a pot of flowers for your condo or thousands to landscape a large property, Umpherville says everybody can have a garden. “Let people at the garden centre know what your budget is. They will help you work within it,” she says.

Sign up today, refer a friend or transfer funds from an RRSP to the SPP before May 21, 2013, and you could win a $500 Dutch growers gift card. You can find the full contest rules here.

Have you started planning your garden yet? Send an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

9-May Mother’s day Mother’s day gifts for every budget
16-May Spring cleaning Cleaning your closets? What to do with stuff
23-May Budget How to set up a budget and why

Apr 29: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Last week we linked you to blogs exploring the road to retirement. Today we present resources for younger readers who may be just starting to get their finances in order.

On Darwin’s Money you can five novel ways to save money. One option is to cancel services you don’t need.

Timeless Finance wonders if you would date somebody who’s in debt. She says almost everybody has some debt so if debt is the deal-breaker there wouldn’t be much dating going on.

Do you and your partner have only joint accounts? Young And Thrifty lists 5 benefits of separate chequing accounts.

If your bundle of joy is due anytime. Find out how maternity benefits work from Brenda Spiering, on Brighter Life.

And Krystal Yee’s blog how much should you save before moving out on Give me back my five bucks is almost two years old, but will still be of interest to people faced with the same decision.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?”  Send us an email with the information to socialmedia@saskpension.com and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.