Feb 4: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

blogospheregraphic

With RRSP season in full swing, you may be reviewing your budget projections to ensure you are saving enough for retirement. But are you factoring in the future cost of health care?

In Planning for health care in retirement, a guest post on Retire Happy, Sun Life Financial AVP Kevin Press suggests that some combination of disability insurance, critical illness insurance and long-term care insurance can help fill the post-retirement health care gap.

Understanding your family’s life insurance needs is another important element of financial planning. The blog Riscario Insider links to a LIMRA Quizz which you can take to test your life insurance literacy.

And if maxing your Sask Pension Plan and RRSP contributions are top of mind this month, tax season can’t be far behind. In Canadian Finance, blogger Tom Drake explores the mysteries of pension income-splitting, while in Boomer and Echo, Robb Engen discusses tax considerations for single income households.

Finally, if you’ve decided that this is the year you will finally buy a smartphone or trade your old one in for a newer model, on Engadget, Tom Stevens explains and evaluates the new features found in the BB10 which was released with great hoopla this week.

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.

December 2012 return

SPP posted a return of 1.22% to the balanced fund (BF) and 0.057% to the short-term fund (STF). The year to date return in the BF is 8.45% and in the STF is 0.52%.

Market index returns for December 2012 were:

Index  Dec 2012 return (%)
S&P/TSX Composite (Canadian equities) 1.95
S&P 500 (C$) (US equities) 1.15
MSCI EAFE (C$)
(Non-north American equities)
3.44
DEX Universe Bond (Canadian bonds) -0.13
DEX 91 day T-bill 0.10

Click here for a complete list of returns.

10 ways to protect your credit card on vacation

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Whether you plan to spend spring break on a beach or on the ski slopes, the only thing worse than losing your luggage is discovering your credit card has been lost or stolen. And discovering unauthorized charges on your credit card statement when you get home ranks a close second.

Here are 10 ways to protect your account information and resolve unauthorized card use whether you “staycation” close to home or travel abroad.

  1. Don’t send card information by email or text: If you are booking travel or changing travel arrangements when you are away, remember most email and texts are not secure. All it takes for someone else to charge to your account is your card number, expiry date and security code. Even your name and address can be enough information for identity theft.
  2. Don’t lend your credit card: Do not give even family members your credit card number or the card to use on your behalf. If you are prepared to authorize a family member to use your account on a regular basis, get a separate card with the appropriate credit limit.
  3. Don’t share your PIN: Protect your PIN at all times and don’t write it down on a slip you keep in your wallet. If you can’t remember your PIN, go into your bank and choose a new one before you leave. Don’t use obvious numbers like your birthday or your telephone number.
  4. Call before you leave: Financial institutions issuing credit cards have software that recognizes unusual patterns of behaviour. For that reason, on several occasions my card has been refused when I was travelling outside Canada. Now I always call to tell my credit card company where I am going and how long I will be in each city.
  5. Check your credit limits: Make sure you know when your card expires and the withdrawal/credit limits on your debit/credit cards. I typically pay off my cards completely before leaving on a major trip, particularly if a payment is due in my absence.
  6. Put the card company on speed dial: Make a note of your credit and debit card numbers, as well as issuer phone numbers, and keep them in a safe place in case your card is lost or stolen. Because I had CIBC VISA’s toll free number on speed dial when my card disappeared in a Peking market several years ago, I was able to immediately report the loss and cancel the card.
  7. Carry only what you need: When travelling outside the country, I leave my rewards cards, hospital cards and other miscellaneous wallet contents at home. However, my husband and I usually bring several different credit cards and bank cards as back-up and keep all but one in the hotel room safe. A friend who recently visited Russia had his debit card “eaten” by an ATM. Fortunately his wife had her own debit card and was still able to withdraw the cash they needed for the balance of their trip.
  8. Keep receipts: Review credit card receipts before you sign, and monitor both credit card and bank account statements carefully on your return. On a trip to St. Martin, I tried to withdraw money from a generic ATM machine to pay cash for a pair of earrings. The machine refused my card but spit out a receipt. When I got home I realized my account had been debited, but I never received the funds. It took months for CIBC to trace the transaction, but I did eventually get my money back.
  9. Currency conversion: When using an unfamiliar currency, what looks like a deal, may turn out to be very expensive. Smart phone apps are available that will allow you to do on the spot calculations. VISA also has a currency calculator that can give you an indication of the rate you will pay when using your credit card. But remember, this converter uses a single rate per day with respect to any two currencies and rates apply to the date VISA processes the transaction, which may differ from the actual date of the purchase.
  10. Beware of contactless credit cards: Many newly-issued credit cards and other important documents pose major fraud and privacy concerns because they are designed to be scanned through the air. “Contactless” credit cards have an embedded computer chip called a radio frequency identification, or RFID tag. When waved near a payment terminal in a store or by an unscrupulous individual using a manual unit, the chip supplies the card’s number and expiry date through radio waves, avoiding the need to swipe or insert the card. RFID blocking wallets or passport holders can be ordered online.

And finally, never let the card out of your sight when you make a purchase. In the few minutes that a clerk or gas station attendant has your card it can be swiped through a skimming device. This is less of a problem as more merchants are using portable wireless terminals, but this technology is not universally available in some parts of the world. 

Can you suggest other ways to protect your credit cards on vacation?  Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com. If your idea 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 take steps to improve credit card security in 2013.

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

7-Feb Valentine’s Day Budget-friendly Valentine’s Day ideas
14-Feb Retirement savings Pros & cons of available savings vehicles
21-Feb RRSP/SPP deadline How should you invest your retirement savings?

Also see:
Five things you should never do with your credit card
Readers respond to credit card security tips.

Jan 28: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

blogospheregraphic

Have you ever wished you could lock the door and take off for a year?

As I was looking for material to feature this week, I discovered an interesting blog for the first time.

On $he Thinks I’m Cheap Toronto blogger Andrew Martin aims to help Canadians make more money by sharing facts, stories and advice.

Beginning in early December, Andrew did a Career Break Survey. Then in subsequent blogs he discussed the survey results and how you can save in order to travel long-term.

Andrew is also a guest blogger on our perennial favourite Boomer & Echo. If you made a New Year’s resolution to eat less and work out more, you will be interested in his contribution this week about mobile technology that can improve your health.

For fans of passive investing, in Revisiting the Couch Potato Model Portfolios Dan Bortolotti discloses how and why he recently tweaked his holdings, although generally he does not advocate jumping from fund to fund.

And squawkfox, Kerry K. Taylor is the first to agree that making your own peanut butter is not going to save you mega millions, but her research (and recipes) reveal that you will save 37% by making your own organic peanut butter at home a savings of $1.37 per 500g jar.

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.

Protect your valuable bling with insurance

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

So your guy finally popped the question at Christmas and now you are sporting a shiny new bauble on your left hand. I hope after you called your parents, your next call was to your insurance company.

Whether Santa brought you a sparkling engagement ring, a stunning piece of art, a new set of golf clubs or a fast new bike, it is important to to make sure the items are properly insured.

When my husband and I got engaged he was still a student. The ring he gave me cost $300 and I almost got run over crossing Bloor St. in Toronto because I was so busy admiring it. In spite of its sentimental value I never worried about insurance for that ring, but 25 years later he bought me a much more costly replacement for our anniversary.

We are insured with TD Insurance through Security National. TD’s entry level gold policy limits recovery for theft or loss of jewellery to $4,000. Although we have the platinum policy which covers jewellery up to a value of $12,000, by the time I added up the bits and pieces I’ve acquired over the years including my newest acquisition, I realized our coverage wasn’t nearly enough.

So I decided to bite the bullet and purchase an additional floater (also called an endorsement) to cover my ring at the annual cost of $18.78/$1,000 of coverage. And I’m very glad that I did.

Several years later we were in Stratford for the weekend and went to a local gym on Sunday morning. I looked down at my right hand as we left the parking lot and was horrified to see the pear shape solitaire was missing from my ring. Even after searching in all the obvious places including a bin of wet, dirty towels, it was nowhere to be found.

I reported the loss to my insurance company and within a few weeks they calculated the replacement value of a stone of similar size and quality and paid that amount to my jeweller, inclusive of taxes. If I hadn’t intended to replace the stone, I could have received a personal cheque minus the taxes.

Prices for floaters and endorsements vary depending on the item, the insurance company you choose, where you live and where the item will be kept. There are no deductibles and frequently you get the option of having the insurance company replace the item for you.

To make sure your recently acquired valuables are adequately protected, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I) makes the following five suggestions:

  1. Contact your insurance company immediately: Let the company representative know that you now own a new piece of jewelry or other expensive item. Find out how much coverage you have under your current policy and whether additional insurance is needed.
  2. Keep a copy of the store receipt: Forward a copy of the receipt to your insurer so that the company knows the current retail value of the item. Keep a copy for yourself and include it with your home inventory.
  3. Have jewelry appraised: New jewelry should come with an appraisal. Heirlooms and antique jewelry will have to be appraised for their dollar value. It is important that expensive items be appraised properly because if you purchase a floater, you will pay a premium based on the appraised value and, in the event of a claim, be compensated for this dollar amount.
  4. Take a photo or video of the item: With a camera in every smartphone, keeping a visual record of all of your personal possessions is easier than ever. If you use a video camera, you can also provide a verbal description of the item or collection. This helps to document your loss and speed up the claims process. It is also useful for documenting antique and unusual items.
  5. Add the item to your home inventory: A home inventory can help you purchase the correct amount of insurance and speed up the claims process when there is a loss. To make creating your inventory as easy as possible, you can use the I.I.I.’s free Web-based home inventory software, Know Your Stuff® – Home Inventory. You can also download the free app for iPhones and Androids.
  6. Store valuables in a secure location: Protect your jewellery by storing it in a secure location in your home. If you don’t wear the item regularly or are saving it for a family member, consider keeping it in a safe deposit box. You may save money on the cost of insuring it, as some companies offer “in vault” coverage.

Do you have any other ideas how to protect your valuables?  Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com. If your idea 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 take steps to ensure your valuables are properly documented and stored in accordance with the suggestions above.

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

31-Jan Winter vacation How to protect your credit cards on vacation
7-Feb Valentine’s Day Budget-friendly Valentine’s Day ideas
14-Feb Retirement savings Pros & cons of available savings vehicles

Jan 21: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

blogospheregraphic

This week’s best blogs are a mixed bag.

If you have a give-away pile accumulating in your basement or garage, Marc Saltzman says you may be throwing away items that could be be sold on Kijiji or Craigslist.

Ellen Roseman reports on how ignoring a 3-cent balance affected a reader’s credit rating so she couldn’t get the mortgage she needed for her new house.

On Boomer and Echo, we learn the true cost of tapping into your RRSP nest egg early.

Jim Yih concludes Freedom 35 is possible but not likely unless you have sufficient passive income to support your lifestyle.

And if you are thinking about giving up on savings altogether, MoneySense editor Jonathan Chevreau says you may also be giving up the chance for financial independence while you’re still young enough to enjoy it.

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.

What you need to know about online shopping

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK: Online shopping. Do your research.
SHUTTERSTOCK: Online shopping. Do your research.

When I worked in a building that was linked by a tunnel to the Toronto Eaton Centre, I did all my shopping for clothes, gifts and even household items on my lunch breaks. Because I was in and out of the mall almost every day, I knew how much items I was interested in cost and when there was a great sale.

But since I started working from home almost eight years ago, shopping has become a chore. I have to get into my car and drive somewhere which wastes a great deal of time that could be better spent doing client work.

So now I am the poster child for online shopping. I particularly like that I can send orders to out-of-town family members directly without having to wrap and mail them myself.

However, if you shop online there are some basic things you need to know to ensure you get good value:

Real cost: If you are shopping online for the convenience or because there is no retail outlet selling what you want nearby, you may be prepared to pay a premium. Otherwise, before you add that great purse to your shopping cart, find out what the regular and sale prices are in a “bricks and mortar” store.

Shipping: “Free shipping” is the magic mantra of online shopping. But read the fine print. Even if you think you qualify, you could be in for a surprise. For example, Amazon.ca has free super saver shipping if you spend more than $25 but low-priced gently used books are not included. Items shipped for free may also take longer to arrive. Some U.S. vendors ship to Canada but don’t forget to factor in taxes, duty and currency conversion.

Return policy: Be very careful when you buy shoes and clothes online. I have trouble finding shoes that fit so I only order shoes online if I have tried them in a store and they are cheaper or available in a colour I can’t get locally. If there is a chance that you may need to exchange or return your order, make sure you understand how long you have, how much it will cost and whether you will get a credit or your money back. Shopping online is no bargain if unsuitable items cost more to return than they are worth or end up in the give-away bag.

Payment: Before providing your credit card number or other financial information, make sure the merchant has a secure transaction system. Most Internet browsers indicate when you are using a secure Internet link. Look for one or both of these clues:

  • An icon, often a lock or key somewhere on the outer edge of your browser window; the lock should be in the locked position and the key should be unbroken.
  • Whether the website address begins with https:// — the s indicates that the site is secure.

Personal information: Never deal with vendors who do not post a privacy policy committing them to protecting your personal information. For many Internet vendors, your personal information is as important as the money you pay for a product or service. Make sure you know why vendors are asking for information and what they intend to use it for. Ask yourself whether it is reasonable for the vendor to use your information in this way. Canadian companies are subject to privacy laws.

Online auctions: Shopping on online auction sites like eBay can be exciting and you may get a great deal. But it’s important to know what you are purchasing and get a description in writing in case the item doesn’t meet your expectations. Keep in mind that when you are buying from a private individual consumer protection laws may not apply. Better sites will keep records of customer satisfaction and should also have dispute resolution mechanisms.

Finally, if you are buying from the United States or another country outside of Canada ensure that products meet Canadian Safety Standards and that if there is a warranty, it will be honoured in Canada.

Do you have any other hints about how to maximize value when you shop online?  Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com. If your idea 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 get a great deal when you shop online.

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

24-Jan Home insurance What does your home insurance cover?
31-Jan Winter vacation 7 ways to protect your credit cards on vacation
7-Feb Valentine’s Day Budget-friendly Valentine’s Day ideas

Jan 14: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

blogospheregraphic

With RRSP season in full swing, the blogosphere and more traditional media are chock full of advice for those of you who resolved to spend less and save more in 2013.

Live for today or save for tomorrow? How do you balance small pleasures with big investments? Toronto Star consumer columnist Ellen Roseman reports on responses from her readers when she posted a story on millionaire Kevin O’Leary’s advice to stop buying coffee, lunches, magazines and cigarettes.

BrighterLife.ca tackles How-to-dig-your-way-out-of-debt and Jim Yih shares ideas on how to Make RRSP Savings One of Your Financial Resolutions in his blog “Retire Happy.”

Of course, having enough money is not the only key to a happy retirement. You have to figure out what to do with your time. Tim Stubbs recently found himself with an extra 10 hours a week (wouldn’t that be nice!) when his gig as a Regina School Board Trustee ended. On “Canadian Dream: Free at 45” he writes about how he plans to spend his new-found “free time.”

And on another note, on Boomer and Echo, Robb Engen explores the difficult subject, “How to talk to your elderly parents about money.”

How to take full advantage of your gift cards

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK: You can sell unused gift cards online
SHUTTERSTOCK: You can sell unused gift cards online

Whether I am giving or receiving a gift, I have mixed feelings about gift cards. I like receiving cash because I can spend it on whatever I want, but often I just deposit gift cheques to my VISA card and don’t buy anything special with the money. Giving gift cards requires a bit more thought than just putting $50 in an envelope, but they are easily lost or misplaced.

The big problem used to be that many gift cards had expiry dates. However, since 2008 Saskatchewan (like most other Canadian provinces) has had legislation prohibiting expiry dates on all prepaid purchase cards and banning inactivity or dormancy fees that reduce the value of all cards bought and sold in the province.

Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions to the general rule:

  • An expiry date is allowed for prepaid purchase cards that are issued for charitable purposes, e.g. a charity auction.
  • An expiry date is allowed where the consumer has not given anything of value in exchange for the gift card or gift certificate, e.g. a retail business gives employees gift cards for store purchases as a holiday gift.
  • Retailers can charge a fee for replacing lost or stolen prepaid purchase cards.
  • Retailers can charge a fee for “customizing” a prepaid purchase card by adding personalized elements like names and logos.

So even if you excavate your bottom drawer and find a stash of gift cards that are several years old, chances are they are still useable. But what if there is absolutely nothing you want to buy from the establishments that issued the cards?

Here are some ideas:

  • Re-gift the card to your brother because you know he is renovating his house and definitely can use something from a hardware store.
  • Sell the card to a friend who frequently buys from a clothing store that doesn’t sell anything in your size range.
  • Use the card to buy a wedding present for your cousin who has registered and made a selection at the gift store where the card was purchased.
  • Donate gift cards for books, cosmetics etc. to registered charities like women’s shelters and seniors centres. Registered charities can issue official donation receipts for income tax purposes for the eligible amount of gifts of gift certificates and gift cards under specific circumstances.

And if all else fails, you can sell gift cards on several online websites like cardswap.ca. CardSwap also accepts store credits for returned merchandise accompanied by the receipt of purchase.

Here is how CardSwap works:

  1. Enter the details of your gift card into the online form. There is a list of over 450 merchants in the pre-populated form, but if you don’t see the company that issued your card you can request that it be added.
  2. Mail your gift card to CardSwap using their free pre-paid shipping label. You will receive an email confirmation when they receive your gift card.
  3. CardSwap will mail you a cheque, credit your account with SwapPoints or the amount can be deposited directly to your PayPal account. A PayPal deposit is instant, but further charges may apply. If you select points instead of cash, you can redeem your SwapPoints for gift cards from your favourite Canadian merchants sold online by other CardSwap users.

Another Canadian website where you can buy and sell gift cards is giftah.com, developed by several University of Waterloo students. Before selling your gift cards online do your own due diligence to satisfy yourself that the site is on the level and delivers what it promises.

Do you have any other ideas how to use unwanted gift cards?  Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com. If your idea 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 or sell a gift card that you forgot about before you read this article.

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

17-Jan Online shopping Ways to save by shopping online
24-Jan Home insurance What does your home insurance cover?
31-Jan Winter vacation 7 ways to protect your credit cards on vacation

Related:
How to turn unwanted gift cards into cash
7 tips for buying and selling used gift cards
These holidays, put those unused gift cards to work

Jan 7: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

blogospheregraphic

Happy New Year to all! This week’s roundup includes blogs that recap the best of 2012, and encourage “financial fitness” that can save you money in 2013.

If you ran out of vacation days long before the end of last year, you will not be surprised by results of a Mercer survey I reported on in my moneyville blog Eye on Benefits that reveals Canadians alone in preferring time off to a raise.

On squawkfox.ca Kerry K. Taylor reprints her top blogs in 2012 including “This is going to be expensive… but who cares!” which announces the adoption of her infant daughter Chloe.

Retiree Dave Dineen writes about ways we can add meaning to our lives in New Years- A time for rediscovery on brighterlife.ca

For those of us who struggle with making and following a budget, Boomer and Echo blogger Robb Engen makes the case for Why budgeting is not a waste of time.

And finally, for those of you who have budgeted for upgraded tech gadgets even after your holiday spending spree, moneyville blogger Marc Saltzman says there are rumours that New Apple iPads set to debut in March?.