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.

March 2013 return

SPP posted a return of 0.60 to the balanced fund (BF) and 0.037 to the short-term fund (STF). The year to date return in the BF is 4.65% and in the STF is 0.110%.

Market index returns for March 2013 were:

Index Mar 2013 return (%)
S&P/TSX Composite (Canadian equities) -0.19
S&P 500 (C$) (US equities) 2.53
MSCI EAFE (C$)
(Non-north American equities)
-0.37
DEX Universe Bond (Canadian bonds) 0.44
DEX 91 day T-bill 0.07

Click here for a complete list of returns.

10 tax deductions to remember

By Sheryl Smolkin

SOURCE: SHUTTERSTOCK
SOURCE: SHUTTERSTOCK

It seems like filing income tax returns gets more complicated every year. Most of us will be e-filing this year because the Canada Revenue Agency is no longer sending paper forms to every household. But even if you carefully fill in the blanks on an electronic form, it’s easy to miss important deductions or tax credits that will help you to hold on to more of your hard-earned money.

Here is a list of 10 tax deductions and tax credits to remember when you are filing your tax return.

  1. Line 208 – Saskatchewan Pension Plan contributions
    You must have available RRSP room to make an SPP contribution. SPP contributions should be reported on Schedule 7 of your income tax form and claimed on line 208. Both your application and your contribution must be received by SPP before a tax receipt will be issued.SPP contributions will be taken into account in determining RRSP over-contributions. Spousal contributions are permitted and if the contributor has available RRSP room, he or she may contribute and receive a tax deduction for both their personal and their spouse’s account. Spousal attribution rules apply to SPP.
  2. Line 214 – Childcare expenses
    The annual childcare expenses you can deduct depend on the age of your child. For example:

    • For a child born in 2006 and later: $7,000
    • For a child born in 2012 or earlier: $10,000
    • For a child born 1996-2005:            $4,000

    What qualifies as a childcare expense and who can make the claim are discussed in detail on the Information Sheet and Form T778.

  3. Line 215 – Disability supports deduction
    If you have an impairment in physical or mental functions, you can claim a disability supports deduction if you paid expenses that no one has claimed as medical expenses, and you paid them so you could:

    • Be employed or carry on a business (either alone or as an active partner).
    • Do research or similar work for which you received a grant; or
    • Attend a designated educational institution or a secondary school where you were enrolled in an educational program.

    You cannot claim amounts that were reimbursed by a non-taxable payment such as insurance. Expenses must be claimed in the same year they are paid.

  4. Line 301 – Age amount
    You can claim this amount if you were 65 years of age or older on December 31, 2012, and your net income is less than $78,684. If your net income was:

    • $33,884 or less, you can claim $6,720.
    • More than $33,884, but less than $78,684, complete the chart for line 301 on the Federal Worksheet to calculate your claim.

    Don’t forget to also claim the corresponding provincial tax credit.

  5. Line 319 –  Interest paid on your student loan
    You may be eligible to claim an amount for the interest paid on your student loan in 2012 or the preceding five years for post-secondary education if you received it under:

    • The Canada Student Loans Act.
    • The Canada Student Financial Assistance Act; or
    • A similar provincial or territorial government law.
  6. Line 324 – Tuition, education, and textbook amounts transferred from a child
    The maximum tuition, education, and textbook amount transferred from a child (or from each child), is $5,000 minus the amounts that he or she uses, even if there is still an unclaimed part. Tuition, education, and textbook amounts that the student carried forward from a previous year cannot be transferred. Only one person can claim this transfer from the student. However, it does not have to be the same parent or grandparent that claims the student as a dependant.
  7. Line 330 – Medical expenses
    You can claim on line 330 the total eligible medical expenses you or your spouse or common-law partner paid for:

    • Yourself.
    • Your spouse or common-law partner; and
    • Your child or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s child born in 1995 or later.

    The amount you can claim is the lesser of:

    • 3% of your net income; or
    • $2,109.

    To maximize this claim, it should be deducted by the spouse with the lower income.

  8. Line 331 – Allowable amount of medical expenses for other dependants
    Claim on line 331 the part of eligible medical expenses you or your spouse or common-law partner paid for the following persons who depended on you for support:

    • Your child or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s child who was born in 1994 or earlier, or grandchild; or
    • Your or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s parent, grandparent, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew who was a resident of Canada at any time in the year.
  9. Line 365 – Children’s fitness amount
    You can claim to a maximum of $500 per child, the fees paid in 2012 relating to the cost of registration or membership for your child or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s child in a prescribed program of physical activity.
  10. Line 370 – Children’s arts amount
    You can claim to a maximum of $500 per child the fees paid in 2012 relating to the cost of registration or membership of your child or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s child in a prescribed program of artistic, cultural, recreational, or developmental activity.

Have you filed your taxes already? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and tell us about other valuable tax deductions we may have missed. 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:

18-Apr Wedding How to beat the high cost of weddings
25-Apr Taxes Why you should file your tax return on time
2-May Gardening Cheapest ways to plant a maintenance-free garden

Apr 8: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

blogospheregraphic

“Best from Blogosphere” took a week off due to the Easter break, but our favourite bloggers just kept on writing. Therefore this issue reports on 10 interesting blog posts, rather than the usual five.

Contemplating winters in a warmer climate? Read the key questions Jim Yih on retirehappy says you should ask about retirement in a different country.

Saskatchewan blogger Tim Stubbs tells us on Canadian Dream: Free at 45   how he spent the week before Easter shovelling snow off his roof and away from his foundations to try and avoid a flooded basement.

On Brighter Life, Deanne Gage offers home-staging tips from the pros for those of you selling your house this spring and important information about insurance coverage for single parents with children.

$he Thinks I’m Cheap blogger Andrew explores the touchy subject of money and relationships. His rule #1 is do not discuss money on the first date!

If you are planning a one day or longer shopping trip to the U.S. check out articles on the Canadian Finance Blog about new cross-border shopping exemptions and how to save money on hotel rooms.

Continuing with a shopping theme, on Boomer and Echo, Robb Engen investigates how much you have to spend to make a Costco executive membership worth buying and Gail Vaz-Oxlade says companies marketing to women should cut the cute stuff and take them seriously.

And last but not least, Squawkfox (Kerry K. Taylor) gives detailed instructions on how to make a healthier McDonald’s Egg McMuffin for 65% less. We are NOT surprised that she managed to both cut the calories and cut the cost.

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.

New house vs resale? Which should you choose?

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK

SOURCE: SHUTTERSTOCK

After renovating an old house and then buying a new house in the suburbs, we think we finally got it right with our current home which is close to the Finch subway station in Toronto.

Over 10 years ago, the builder assembled three large lots with small bungalows, tore them down and built five new two-story detached homes. We got the end unit surrounded by a park. We have an energy efficient furnace, the house is fully wired for Internet and it was a lovely blank, clean canvas to decorate.

I thoroughly enjoy working at home in my cheerful, bright office. When I do have to go downtown for meetings in off peak hours, I walk to the subway in five minutes and I always get a seat.

But whether to buy a new house or a resale is a very personal decision. Here are a few of the things you should consider before making up your mind.

Location:

If you want to live in a built up neighbourhood, close to public transportation you will generally opt for a resale home. Unless you can get an infill house in an old neighbourhood, new homes tend to be in a suburban area which can mean a longer daily commute.

Cost:

In a new development you will typically get more house for your money. But depending where you work, you also have to figure in the cost, wear and tear of a longer commute. Furthermore, resale homes generally already have paved driveways, fences, decks and landscaping which you will have to shell out for on top of the initial purchase price of a new home. Proximity of local schools and other services may also influence your decision.

Layout:

Older homes often have traditional layouts. It may be possible to add another bedroom, an ensuite bathroom, an upgraded kitchen or a main floor family room.  However, renovating can be hard on both your nerves and your wallet.

When you buy a home from the plans, you can select the layout you prefer and in some cases you can even customize. You also get to chose from a broad selection of paint colours, kitchen cabinets, counter tops, carpet and flooring.

Energy efficiency:

Newly constructed homes are typically better insulated and have double or triple glazed windows which will save you money on heating and cooling costs. They also generally come with a high energy furnace and new more efficient appliances.

Maintenance:

Upkeep for an older home can be more expensive because of older appliances, plumbing and electrical systems. You may need a new roof or a new furnace sooner than you think. Old windows and inadequate insulation can drive up heating bills. In contrast, every new home in Saskatchewan is covered by the New Home Warranty Program.

What I’m hoping is that someone will decide to build new, affordable infill bungalows close by so for the next chapter we can have the best of all worlds – a new home on one floor in an established neighbourhood that is also accessible to public transit.

And the icing on the cake would be if our wonderful neighbours keep their promise to buy the house next door.

Have you bought or sold a house lately? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and tell us whether you bought a new or resale house and why. 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:

11-Apr Taxes 10 tax deductions you might miss
18-Apr Wedding How to beat the high cost of weddings
25-Apr Taxes Why you should file your tax return on time

February 2013 return

SPP posted a return of 1.78% to the balanced fund (BF) and 0.028% to the short-term fund (STF). The year to date return in the BF is 4.02% and in the STF is 0.073%.

Market index returns for February 2013 were:

Index  Feb 2013 return (%)
S&P/TSX Composite (Canadian equities) 1.26
S&P 500 (C$) (US equities) 4.32
MSCI EAFE (C$)
(Non-north American equities)
1.95
DEX Universe Bond (Canadian bonds) 1.00
DEX 91 day T-bill 0.07

Click here for a complete list of returns.

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