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

blogospheregraphic

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

blogospheregraphic

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

blogospheregraphic

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.

Why declaring all of your income can save you money

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Have you ever handed your home renovation contractor cash to avoid paying provincial sales tax and GST? Do you accept cash for your in-home daycare services and conveniently “forget” to remit source deductions or claim the income for tax purposes?

If either of these scenarios strikes a chord, chances are you are a participant in the underground economy (UE). A September 2012 Statistics Canada study on the UE in Canada pegs the level of underground activity at $35 billion in 2009.

The UE is any legal business activity that is unreported or under-reported for tax purposes. This can include failing to file returns or omitting an entire business activity, also referred to as “moonlighting” or working “off the books.”

Under-reporting income received, such as “skimming” a portion of business income, bartering, or failing to report a portion of employment income such as tips and gratuities is also included in the UE. The three most significant industry sectors accounting for almost two-thirds of UE activity are construction, retail trade and accommodation/food services.

Why should you care? After all nobody wants any more taxes than they have to.

Well for one thing, paying your taxes is the law. Evading taxes is illegal and can result in criminal convictions leading to fines and jail time in addition to any taxes, interest, and penalties owing.

For example, in December 2012 a Saskatoon man was fined $15,734 for tax evasion for the years 2008 and 2009. He purchased and sold two separate properties for profit and deliberately did not report the income earned from these sources to evade taxes.

In addition, he knowingly failed to report rental income earned from a property, and management fees received from two other renovation projects. The total amount of income found unreported during the years under investigation was $79,195. This resulted in the evasion of federal income tax in the amount of $19,687.

The fine of $15,734 represents 80% of the tax evaded. In addition to the court fines, all outstanding taxes plus penalties and interest must also be paid.

The investigation of tax affairs arose from inconsistencies uncovered during a routine income tax audit which led the CRA to obtain a search warrant and to seize income tax records from the tax evader’s personal residence.

Tax cheating also places an unfair burden on law-abiding businesses and individual taxpayers because overall tax rates must be higher for governments to raise the necessary funds to pay for services.

Businesses that offer lower prices because of their failure to comply with Canada’s tax laws gain an unfair advantage. Tax-cheating employers also gain an unreasonable competitive edge by paying wages under the table in cash, in order to avoid paying the employer portion of employment insurance premiums and Canada Pension Plan contributions. The “knock on effect” is that their employees are eventually deprived of benefits from these important social programs.

Finally, those who avoid paying taxes are taking money that is needed for important investments in schools, hospitals, and other vital government services.  In addition, cash transactions with no written contract or receipt offer no consumer protection and make it difficult for consumers to seek recourse.

Just because you haven’t been caught yet doesn’t mean you won’t be caught in future.

The Canada Revenue Agency has a variety of tools to detect those who do not report all of their income, including on-site visits by officers, information obtained from third-party reporting, leads from other audit files, informants, and indications that taxpayers are living beyond the level of income they report.

If you haven’t declared all of your sales and income in the past, you may be able to correct your information using the CRA’s Voluntary Disclosures Program. If you make a full disclosure before any audit or criminal investigation is started, you may only have to pay the taxes owing plus interest, but not the penalties.

While it may be tempting at times to try and avoid paying some or all of the taxes you, in the long run doing the right thing will actually save you money.

Have you filed your tax return yet? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and 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:

2-May Gardening Cheapest ways to plant a maintenance-free garden
9-May Mother’s day Mother’s day gifts for every budget
16-May Spring cleaning How spring cleaning can save you money

Apr 22: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

blogospheregraphic

This week our favourite bloggers have been writing about getting ready for retirement.

On Boomer and Echo, Boomer asks Have You Made Your Retirement Plans? — not only saving enough money, but deciding where you plan to live and how you will fill your time.

However, for RetiredSyd, retirement is a already full-time job. She is thrilled to finally be learning to play the piano and improvising retirement as she goes along.

Canadian Finance blogger Tom Drake de-mystifies Locked in Retirement Accounts.

RetireHappy gives you the facts so you can decide whether an annuity is right for you.

And on Brighter Life retiree Dave Dineen realizes he and his wife have 27 bank, investment, credit, and insurance accounts, so it may be time to shut a few down.

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 plan a wedding on a budget

By Sheryl Smolkin

SOURCE: SHUTTERSTOCK

According to weddingbells.ca, the average expected cost of a wedding in Canada excluding the honeymoon is $22,429 and if you include the honeymoon, the bill increases to $27,899.

Here is the average budget breakdown based on anticipated costs:

Venue $9,255 Limo $753
Honeymoon $5,470 Cake $584
Rings/bands $2,470 Jewellery $483
Photographer $2,206 Hairstylist $467
Bridal Gown $1,847 Guest favours $452
Decor/Florist $1,343 Bridesmaid’s dresses $428
DJ/Musicians $1,247 Stationery $384

Because weddings frequently end up going over budget, the average actual cost of a wedding is $31,110 in Canada.

Even if you have been dreaming of a fancy, traditional wedding since you could walk, that’s an awful lot of money to spend for one day when you are still paying off student loans or saving for a down payment on your first house.

Not everyone can be as frugal as Kerry K. Taylor (aka Squawkfox) who had only four guests and spent $591.12 in total on her wedding to Carl. But Part 1 and Part 2 of her wedding blogs are very entertaining and contain lots of terrific frugal helpful hints.

Here are a few of my suggestions based in part on a great list of Cheap Wedding Tips and Ideas I found online and coloured by my experience helping my daughter plan her wedding several years ago.

Invitations: Engraved invitations with return cards, envelopes and stamps can be very expensive. You can get beautiful paper and envelopes from a stationery store and print your own invitations using a laser printer for a fraction of the cost. You can also create an electronic invitation and have guests RSVP to an email address or a website. 

Venue & food: Look for a free or low cost venue like a community centre or an outdoor setting like a park or beach for a summer wedding. Sometimes it’s cheaper to get married on a week night or have a morning wedding followed by lunch instead of an evening ceremony.

If you can select your own caterer and friends and family are willing to contribute part of the meal, you will save a bundle. Also, try to find a venue that will allow you to get a liquor licence and buy your own beverages instead of paying per drink or per bottle.

But keep in mind that you may have to rent tables, chairs, dishes and even a tent for an unconventional venue. In addition to servers, you will need people to do setup, strike down and cleanup after the party. You may be more than willing to pay for a “wedding package” offered by a hotel or banquet hall that ensures you don’t have to worry about these logistics on your special day.

Rings/bands: Get simple gold or white gold bands. Think of options like coloured or semi-precious stones rather than diamonds. See if there are any family antiques or heirlooms you can incorporate into the design.

Bridal gown: Before you say “yes to the dress” and spend thousands of dollars at a traditional bridal salon, consider other options. Your mother or older sister’s dress may have great sentimental value and it may be possible to alter the dress to fit. It’s worth checking out stores that sell prom dresses or other evening gowns, particularly if you are getting married in a more casual setting like a beach. If you take a sample size, you may find your dream dress at a seasonal sale at a high-end dress store.

And don’t forget pre-owned wedding dresses available online or from The Brides Project, a charity that raises money for cancer.

Bridesmaid dresses: You have to watch the movie 27 dresses  to fully appreciate how hideous bridesmaid dresses can be and remember how much you hated shelling out for the dress you wore to your second cousin’s wedding. Allowing attendants to choose the same colour attire in styles that suit them makes everyone more comfortable. My daughter’s attendants all wore short black dresses they chose themselves with red shoes.

Flowers and decor: Buy seasonal flowers in bulk at a local market.  Display them attractively with tea lights in glass vases you can purchase from the dollar store. For a Christmas wedding poinsettias and dried branches sprayed white can make very effective centerpieces. I am not “crafty” but for those of you who are, there are lots of ideas on Pinterest.

Wedding cake: We decided to substitute a tiered plate of exotic cupcakes for a more traditional wedding cake. They tasted better and, there were only a few left over by the end of the night. 

Photographer: See if you can find a photographer who will take pictures of the wedding and in return for an hourly rate, give you a CD with all of the pictures. You can select the pictures you want to print and even create your own photo books online or using the services of a local camera store. To augment the professional photos, put disposable cameras on every table and ask your guest take pictures throughout the event.

Weddings are emotional occasions that bring out the best and the worst in people. One of the biggest challenges can be paring down the guest list to stay on budget without alienating someone.

You want your wedding to be perfect, but remember it’s just the first day of the rest of your life. You will be off to a much better start if in the early years of your marriage if you don’t have the additional burden of paying off debts for a wedding you couldn’t really afford.

Have you planned a wedding? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and tell us about how you saved money. Your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And don’t forget that the Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers a flexible way to save affordable amounts for retirement.

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

25-Apr Taxes Why declating all of your income can save you money
2-May Gardening Cheapest ways to plant a maintenance-free garden
9-May Mother’s day Mother’s day gifts for every budget

Apr 15: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

blogospheregraphic

This week Jon Chevreau, the editor of Moneysense magazine celebrated his 60th birthday and the release of the U.S. edition of his book Findependence Day. You can listen to a podcast interview I did with Jon last summer.

In a “must read” blog he wrote to mark the occasion, Jon made an important distinction between early retirement and financial independence:

“Financial independence is not the same as retirement,” Chevreau says. “Ideally, it precedes retirement by decades. It means you continue to work because you want to, not because you have to.”

Exploring a similar topic, on Darwin’s Money, the author debunks some myths about extreme early retirement and says, “The problem I have with people declaring that they’ve retired in an ‘extreme’ fashion is that they’re either not really retired, or they’re relying on a spouse, which, well, isn’t really the same thing.”

So based on the discussion in the two posts above, did guest blogger Robert (a financial planner) on Canadian Dream: Free at 45 really retire at age 35, or has he simply achieved financial independence? To find a purpose in “retirement” he has gone back to school with the goal of eventually living and working overseas.

The same question may be asked of accountant “Retired Syd” who retired in her 40s. On Retirement: A full-time job she muses about the best place to live for the next chapter in her life. Because her priority is friends and family, she concludes that living close to the people she loves is more important than any dreams of settling in a more distant locale.

But She Thinks I’m Cheap has already made the leap to London with his wife and in his latest blog you can read about their experience relocating overseas and re-entering the workforce.

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.