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Gifts elderly friends and relatives will appreciate

Whether elderly relatives and friends are still living in the family home, an apartment or they have moved to a retirement home or long term care, like anyone else, they love receiving holiday gifts. However, because at this stage most are thinking about downsizing, if they have not already done so, the last thing they need is more stuff. Here are some suggestions for practical gifts older loved ones may appreciate.

Cleaning service: House or apartment cleaning is no fun for young or old. And it can become particularly onerous for people with mobility issues. You can purchase gift certificates from local cleaning services such as Molly Maid in Saskatoon. Of course if you are among the minority who enjoy cleaning, you can make up your own gift certificates for one or more house cleaning sessions.

Online grocery shopping/pick up: Shopping for groceries on a regular basis can be time consuming and exhausting. Even getting out to shop can be a real problem in slippery winter weather, particularly for people who no longer drive their own car. If you live in Regina or other cities with similar services, introduce your favourite senior to online grocery shopping available from the Superstore and offer to pick up their orders.

Meal preparation/sharing: Before my Mom moved into long term care, we use to make and freeze soups and other tasty meals for her in small portions. But what she liked even better was when we brought ingredients over and cooked a meal we could share together. As a back-up, meals on wheels are available in some parts of the province.

Telephone for hearing impaired: There is nothing more frustrating for hearing impaired people than not being able to either hear their telephone ring or understand the caller. Amazon offers a large selection of telephones with amplification features and big buttons to make entering telephone numbers easier. Similar handsets and portable phones may also be available from local vendors.

Mobile alert system: A great fear for both older or disabled seniors and their family members is that they will fall or have a household accident and not be able to summon help. There are various medical alert systems on the market where the client wears a personal health button on a bracelet or a lanyard. We had the Philips Lifeline for my mother when she was at home. Here’s how it works.

Magazine subscription: Magazine subscriptions are the gift that keeps on giving. There is a publication to go with every hobby or interest, i.e, quilting, sewing, woodworking, cooking, famous people or current events. Sign up for a one year or longer subscription and the recipient will think of you every time a copy appears in the mailbox.

Beauty treatments: There is nothing that feels better than getting a haircut and styling from a professional. Manicures and pedicures are also relaxing and can last for weeks. Local vendors are always happy to sell gift certificates as holiday gifts. The Regina company Driving With Scissors makes home visits, which is ideal for seniors who are housebound or would rather not brave the winter weather.

Photo books: In the age of smart phones and selfies, few of us ever print the pictures we collect on our phones. However, many if not most of the older seniors you know are not computer savvy. Of course my 82-year old aunt is the exception. She just loves sharing pictures on the iPad one of her grandchildren passed up to her.  Nevertheless, even she would treasure a hard copy photo book with family pictures which can be ordered from many sources online and personalized with artwork and text.

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Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Burn your mortgage: An interview with author Sean Cooper

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Click here to listen

If you think you can’t possibly afford to buy a home or that paying off your mortgage is a pipe dream, Burn Your Mortgage is the must-read book of the year. Today I’m pleased to be interviewing author Sean Cooper for savewithspp.com.

By day, Sean is a mild-mannered senior pension analyst at a global consulting firm. By night he is a prolific personal finance journalist, who has been featured in major publications, including the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and MoneySense. He has also appeared on Global News, CBC, CP24 and CTV News Network.

Thanks for agreeing to chat with us today Sean.

My pleasure, Sheryl.

Q: As a 20 something, why did you decide to buy a house?
A: Well I guess a lot of people strive for home ownership. My parents were my biggest influence. We always owned a home growing up, so I thought that owning a home was kind of the path to financial freedom.

Q: How much did your home cost, and how much was your down payment?
A: I purchased my home in August 2012 for $425,000 dollars. My down payment was $170,000, leaving me with a mortgage of $255,000. I didn’t go out and spend the massive amount the bank approved me for. I could have spent over $500,000 dollars but I found a house with everything that I needed for $425,000 and because of that I was able to pay off my mortgage in three years.

Q: How on earth did you save a down payment of $170,000 dollars? How long did it take you to save it, and how many hours a week did you have to work to do so?
A: Yes, it was definitely a sizable down payment for one person. I pretty much started saving my down payment while I was in university. I was able to graduate debt free from university and while I was there, I was working as a financial journalist. I was also working at the MBA office, and employed part-time at a supermarket. When I got my full-time job I was saving probably 75%-80% of my paycheck. I wasn’t living at home rent free. I was actually paying my mother rent.

Q: Kudos for your determination and stamina. Do you think working three jobs is actually a practical option for most people, particularly if they have young families?
A: No. As I emphasize in the book, that’s how I paid off my mortgage as a financial journalist on top of working at my full time job. While for somebody like me who is single it makes sense, it’s probably not realistic if you have a spouse and children. But there are plenty of things you can do to save money.

Q: Many people again think they would never, never be able to save up enough for a down payment. Can you give a couple of hints or tips that you give readers in your book that will help them escalate their savings?
A:
Definitely. First of all, you absolutely have to be realistic with your home buying expectations. You can’t expect to be able to buy the exact same house that you grew up in with three or four bedrooms and two stories. But you can at least get your foot in the door of the real estate market by perhaps buying a condo, or a town house, and building up equity, and hopefully moving up one day. Think about creative living arrangements. Rent a cheaper place than a downtown condo. Find a roommate.

Q: How can prospective home buyers use registered plans like their RRSP or TFSA to beef up their savings and get tax breaks?
A: If you are a first time home buyer, I definitely encourage you to use the home buyers plan. The government allows you to withdraw $25,000 dollars from your RRSP tax-free (it has to be repaid within 15 years). If you are buying with your spouse, that’s $50 000 dollars you can take out together. That’s a great way to get into the housing market. The caution I can offer is when you withdraw the money, make sure that you fill in the correct forms so you are not taxed on the withdrawal. If you’re not a first time home buyer, then I would definitely encourage you to use a Tax Free Savings Account, because it’s very flexible, and although you don’t get a tax refund, the balance in the plan accumulates tax-free.

Q: After shelter, which means mortgage and rent, food is a pretty expensive cost. How can people manage their food costs while still eating a healthy, varied diet?
A: I offer a few tips in my book. First of all, try to buy items like cereal and rice in bulk and on sale. Another tip I offer is to buy in season. I probably wouldn’t buy cherries during the winter  because they would cost me a small fortune. Try to buy apples instead, and during the summer if you enjoy watermelon, definitely buy it then. Try to be smart with your spending, and that way you can cut back on your grocery bill considerably.

Q: I enjoyed the section in your book about love, money, and relationships. Can you share some hints about how couples can manage dating and wedding costs, to free up more money for their house?
A: People like to spend a fair amount on their weddings these days, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you just have to consider your financial future, and how that’s going to affect it. Also, when it comes to dating, make sure that you and your potential partner are financially compatible and have similar financial goals. For example, one might be a saver while the other is a spender. Sit down and make sure both of you are on the same page financially, and then find common financial goals, and work towards them.

Q: How can prospective home buyers determine how much they can actually afford?
A: If you are ready to start house hunting, I would definitely encourage you to get pre- approved for a mortgage. Basically, the bank will tell you how much money you can afford on a home. That way you don’t waste time looking at houses out of your price range. However, just because the bank says you can spend $800,000 doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend that much.

Also don’t forget you will have to pay for utilities, property taxes, and home insurance plus repairs and maintenance. Come up with a mock budget ahead of time, and see how that will affect your current lifestyle. I would say if over 50% of your month income is going towards housing, that’s too much.

Try to kind of balance home ownership with your other financial goals, whether they are saving towards retirement, or even going on a vacation. That way all of your money won’t be going towards your house, and you will actually be able to afford to have fun and save towards other goals as well.

Q: You’re living in the basement and you rented the first floor. Why did you decide to do that, instead of vice versa?
A: Well I’m just one person living on my own, and upstairs there are three bedrooms and two bathrooms. I wouldn’t know what to do with all the space, so it made sense to live in the basement, because to be honest I lived in basement apartments for several years before that, so it wasn’t really much of an adjustment. I mean, personally I’d rather rent out the main floor than get a second or third job. It’s all about kind of maximizing all of the space that you have, and looking for extra ways to earn income.

Q: We rented the basement in our first house. Why did you decide to write the book?
A:
When I paid off my mortgage, a lot of people reached out to me for home buying advice. In the media, there seems to be a lot of, I guess, negativity surrounding real estate and big cities.

I always hear that the average house costs over a million dollars in Toronto and Vancouver. It seems like for millennials home ownership is really out of reach. I wanted to write a book to really inspire them and show them that home ownership is still a realistic dream, and it is still achievable if you are willing to be smart about your finances.

Q: Congratulations Sean. It’s a great book. I’m sure people reading and listening to this podcast will want to run out and buy it. Where can they get a copy?
A: They can order a copy on Amazon. It will also be available in Chapters and other major book stores across Canada.

Well that’s very exciting. Good luck.

Thanks so much.

 

 

 

 

 

You can purchase Burn Your Mortgage by Sean Cooper on Amazon.

This is an edited transcript of a podcast interview conducted in February 2017.

Have a happy, healthy holiday season

By Sheryl Smolkin

The December holiday season is much anticipated by all as a glimmer of light and warmth at the darkest, coldest time of the year. It can also be exhausting, mentally challenging and play havoc with healthy habits like exercising and eating properly you have so carefully cultivated throughout the year.

Flu shot

The first thing you can do to promote your family’s health in anticipation of all the mixing and mingling is to arrange for everyone to get a flu shot. The flu vaccine is free and offered to Saskatchewan residents who are six months and older.

For detailed information about flu clinic locations, dates and times:

For a list of pharmacies that offer the flu shot, check the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan website.

Safe driving

Also, driving can be particularly challenging in unpredictable Canadian weather. Stay safe by getting a tune-up and having your snow tires installed sooner, rather than later. Make sure all passenger seat belts are fastened and never, ever drink and drive. If you do plan to partake of alcoholic beverages, make sure you have a designated driver in your group, plus money or a credit card for a taxi.

Exercise

With days and nights that are chock full of activities, it’s often almost impossible to fit in regular exercise. If you are visiting out-of town relatives and planning to stay in a hotel, before you book a room, check the website to see if the accommodations you are considering has a gym or swimming pool. Early in the day or after the kids are asleep, you and your partner can take turns using the facilities.

In the event that you are bunking in with friends or family, check the holiday hours at local gyms and invest in a guest pass. Then if all else fails, be as active as possible. Explore the neighbourhood by walking your own or your host’s dog several times a day. After the first snowfall, ski, skate, make a snow fort or toboggan with your kids.

Managing stress

In addition, do whatever else it takes to minimize stress. For example:

  • Don’t be afraid to say no or cancel if one more events during Christmas week will put you over the edge.
  • Suggest that family members pick names so you have to shop for fewer gifts and can put more thought into each item you buy.
  • Shop online, particularly if you are sending gifts to people out of town. Companies like Amazon and Chapters deliver and for a few extra dollars they will wrap your present and enclose a card.
  • Try to maintain a normal bedtime routine for young children to minimize meltdowns. Make sure they have lots of opportunities for active play with children of similar ages.
  • Let it go. Your brother-in-law may tell the same stories on every holiday and your mother-in-law may constantly question your parenting skills. But if you take a deep breath and remember it will all be over soon for another year, you may be able to avoid a serious family rift that takes a much longer time to heal.

Careful eating

Last but not least, think about what you eat. No I don’t mean you should completely forgo shortbread, chocolate, pie or eggnog. Try to taste, instead of finishing everything put in front of you. Eat one butter tart instead of two. Start with veggies and dip when you first arrive at a party to take the edge off your hunger. Pass up seconds on turkey and stuffing, Drink soda instead of high calorie pop or punch.

Besides, someone once told me there are no calories if you didn’t make or order the food and if you break a cookie in half all the calories will leak out. And even if I got it wrong, January is right around the corner. It’s a much better month to start a diet or a brand new fitness program. After all, fitness clubs depend on “resolutionists” like me to stay in business!

 

Michael Drak on Victory Lap Retirement

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Today I’m interviewing Michael Drak for savewithspp.com.  He is an author, blogger and speaker based in Toronto and co-author of Victory Lap Retirement with Financial Independence Hub CFO Jonathan Chevreau. Thank you for joining me today, Michael.

Thank you Sheryl.

Q: First of all tell me, what made you decide to write this book?
A: The stress at work was affecting my health, and I was reminded of this each morning as I took my blood pressure pill. I began to look into the possibility of retiring and got my hands on every retirement book that I could. I found out that most of them were just filled with numbers and rules of thumb about how much money I would need in order to retire. None of them really told me anything about what I might actually do in retirement. I think Victory Lap Retirement fills that gap.

Q: What exactly does the phrase “victory lap retirement” mean to you? How does it differ from full stop retirement?
A: To me victory lap retirement means freedom. It’s freedom to do what I want to do when I want to do it. In contrast, full stop retirement means pulling back — disengaging, sitting on the sidelines and becoming a spectator. It wouldn’t work for me at this point in my life because I still have a lot of game left in me.

Q: Is victory lap retirement essentially a synonym for an encore career or an encore job?
A: No, not really, because victory lap retirement is all about lifestyle design. The goal is to maximize the quality of your remaining years by creating a low stress, fulfilling lifestyle based on your own unique needs and values. An encore career is really work either paid or unpaid. But it can be an important component of the victory lap lifestyle. Part of my own victory lap contains a component of paid work, which I view as my fun money to fund new experiences for me and my family.

Q: Your coauthor Jonathan Chevreau coined the expression “findependence,” which is a mash up of the word “financial” and “independence.” Why is findependence the cornerstone and prerequisite to victory lap retirement?
A: Having financial freedom is what allows you work and live on your own terms. In other words, you can do what you want to do with your time and energy, not what someone else on whom you are financially dependent says you have to do. In short, “findependence” equals personal freedom and freedom is what life is all about in the end.

Q: How can people calculate how much they’ll need to be findependent and then reach that objective?
A: Findependence is best described on a cash flow basis. This is the way I was trained to think as a banker. It’s the point where your basic non-discretionary living expenses are covered by your passive non-work income. This is the amount of annual cash flow you need to keep a roof over your head, put food on the table and pay for the basic necessities such as heating, electricity, property taxes, etcetera.. Any additional non-discretionary expenses will be covered by the active work income that you generate during your victory lap, which we view as your fun money.

Q: As you’ve noted already, the decision to retire is not simply a financial one. In your book you counsel readers to beware of “sudden retirement syndrome.” What do you mean by this expression, and how can prospective retirees avoid it?
A: I really believe that they should put a label on retirement just like they do on cigarette packaging. Something like “Retirement could be dangerous for your health. Retire at your own risk.” Sudden retirement syndrome (not actually a medical condition) is a very dangerous thing. It’s the shock of withdrawal that occurs when a person suddenly ends their career. Not everyone goes through it, but I went through it, my father suffered from it, and I had a good friend die because  of it. Most people, unfortunately can’t relate to what you’re going through. They really can’t understand why you’re unhappy, especially when you don’t have to go to work anymore.

In my mind, it’s important to have a retirement mentor in your corner to help get you through this period to ensure that you do not do some dumb things like I did. I really believe that investment advisors should expand their offerings to include this service instead of just focusing on the investment piece. In my opinion, assuming you can just fall into retirement and everything will be okay is a disaster waiting to happen.

Q: How far in advance should victor lappers plan their exit from their current jobs or careers?
A: I’m teaching my kids that they should start aiming financial independence as soon as they start working. Victory lap planning is best done probably a few years before achieving financial independence. It’s always important to have an escape plan in place in case of emergency because these days with layoffs and mergers, you really never know what may happen. It really helps to know where you want to go in life and how you plan on getting there.

Q: How important is a social network to a successful victory lap?
A: To maximize happiness in retirement a lot of people are talking and writing books about it these days. Everyone says it’s really important to socialize with family and friends and continuing to work gives you an opportunity to surround yourself with fun, interesting people. Some people, for whatever reason tend to isolate themselves in retirement. They turn sour about life and that’s when bad things usually start to happen for them. Your social network will also provide emotional support and guidance as you work your way into your victory lap.

Q: The three stages of retirement have been described as go go, go slow, and no go. In that context, how long do you think your victory lap might last?
A: I love those descriptions of the stages and I totally agree with them. If things go according to my plan my victory lap will last into the go slow stage. This will be when I’m no longer capable of doing everything that I used to and it’s probably at this point that I would consider moving into a retirement home and letting others take care of me.

Q: Have you ever regretted your decision to leave the corporate world and embark on this new journey?
A: The only thing I really regret is that I didn’t learn about the concept of financial independence earlier in life. I really don’t understand why they don’t teach financial independence in school, and why the financial services industry doesn’t talk about it is puzzling. If I had known about financial independence I would have reached findependence that much earlier andhave left my high stress corporate job much sooner than I did. Life now is so much better on this side of the fence. It’s unbelievable.

Q: If readers are considering embarking on a victory lap retirement but are afraid to cut the ties to their former life, what advice do you have for them?
A: I acknowledge, it’s hard to leave a well paying job late in your career. The key is, if you don’t like your job, it might be better health-wise and also result in increased happiness if you make the change. I came to that conclusion for myself after reading Ernie Zelinski’s book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. If on the other hand, you like what you’re doing, why would you ever retire? People have to get over the fear of taking a calculated risk and making a change for the better.

That’s great. Thank you very much for chatting with me today, Michael.
My pleasure, Sheryl.

Michael Drak can be reached at michael.drak@yahoo.ca. Victory Lap Retirement is now available for orders online. It can also be purchased for Kindle or Kobo. The paperback edition is available in bookstores, and from either Amazon or Chapters.

This is an edited transcript of a telephone interview conducted in October 2016.

The Retirement Boom: Reboot and Reinvent Rather than Retire*

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Hi. Today I’m interviewing Catherine Allen, co-author of The Retirement Boom for Save with SPP.com. She is Chairman and CEO of the Santa Fe Group, a financial services and technology executive, corporate board director, and expert in cyber security and risk management. Catherine lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Q. Catherine, The Retirement Boom is a book by baby boomers for baby boomers about the transition into a new phase of life. Why did you and your co-authors decide to write the book?
A. Well, all of us are boomers ourselves at various ages within the category. We all have experienced or continue to experience reinvention. We all have a desire to stay involved and to be relevant. In fact, we do retreats and many of our attendees age 55-60 told us, “I really don’t want to retire. I’m not ready to retire. I want to do much more.” That’s what led us to do the research and the book.

Q. Who should read your book and what can they expect to learn from it?
A. First are the boomers, especially those 55 plus, who are concerned about and have a fear that they’ll never be able to retire or that they will run out of money before they pass away. For them it’s both financial and lifestyle planning. Twenty-seven percent of Gen Xers are also very concerned that they too many not be able to retire. Lastly there are many 70 year olds that have retired and told us, “I’m bored. I want to do something different. I want to reinvent myself. I may have 30 more years to live.” By reading the book, financial advisors and corporate HR people can also learn a great deal about the needs of their clients and workforce.

Q. How do you think retirement today for baby boomers is different than it was for their parents 30 or 40 years ago?
A.I see differences in four areas: financial, health, emotional, and government policies.

Thirty or forty years ago many more people had pensions which today are pretty much gone. Most people thought they might live to 70 or maybe 72 or 75. Today because of health care and being fit it’s very likely the boomers will live until 100. That means there are expenditures like travel or entertainment or other things that they want to do that they need to allow for.

Also, when people retired 30 or 40 years ago they did the 3 G’s as I call them. Gardening, grandchildren, and golf. Today people want to stay active, they want to get involved, they want to give back, they want to be a part of the ongoing environment.

Finally, government policies are not keeping up. Government policies have to positively support the aging population instead of being against things like social security or medicare or pensions or even not understanding the impact of aging. Those are all big differences I see from just 30 or 40 years ago.

Q. People spend their whole life with an identity that’s tied to their work. How can they overcome the fear associated with this loss of this identity to better embrace and enjoy their retirement?
A. That’s my favorite subject and it’s about reinvention. You don’t have to keep that same identity. This is a time when you can follow your passions as a way to reinvent your identity. We encourage people to keep their bio and resume and certifications up to speed because you never know when you might want to go back into the work force, especially if it’s a field that you love.

We encourage everybody to have a business card that has their website or their email and telephone number on it so that they feel like they have an identity and that’s who they are. Then lastly, we talk about people having a portfolio career and that means perhaps a third of what they’re doing is earning income by consulting or writing books and so forth. A third of their time is giving back through non-profits. A third of their time is just having fun enjoying and learning about life.

Q. Many people do continue working beyond the normal retirement date. Do you think that most people that are doing this are doing it for love or for money?
A. Well, that’s … It’s hard to tell. I would say 50/50. First of all, they are continuing to work as a form of insurance to keep funding their lifestyle and their retirement because many people believe they will live to 100. Secondly, many people want to remain again, relevant. They want to make a difference, they’re engaged.

The boomers — many of whom are part of the 60s generation — feel like now they finally have time to give back. It might be teaching, it might be mentoring, it might be being active in non-profits either by giving or volunteering or being on boards. Recent research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health say that the longer people work beyond 65 the less likely they’re to die at that age compared to others who do not work.

And what’s interesting is the numbers go up. At age 72 you’re 56% less likely to die than a 72 year old who is not working. I think that kind of research is going to encourage people to work longer after the age of 65.

Q. What do you mean by retirement robbers and how can retirees avoid them?
A. First of all, the biggest retirement robber might be yourself. They are people that keep you from doing what you want to do. You may have set up goals for retirement so you have time to follow your passions. Now guilt keeps you from enjoying what you said you wanted to do in retirement.

Also there are relatives. You’re retired, so guess what? You’re the one that can do the errands, you might be the caretaker or the “go to” person. We encourage people to try to think of retirement just like thinking about a career. What it is that you want to do, and how do you want to allocate your time? Try to stick to your plan so you are not sabotaging yourself.

Q: You and your co-authors interviewed over 300 people as part of your research for this book. Can you share 1 or 2 of your favorite anecdotes with us?
Well, I’ll start with my dad. He was a small town community banker. He always said he wanted to die with his boots on. That was his way of saying he wanted to be working when he passed away and he did. He was always a role model for me.

We’ve also heard from several women who were stay-at- home wives raising their kids who have gone back to work. Now their husbands have retired and they say things like, “I married you for life but not for lunch.” In other words, just because you’re retired doesn’t mean that it’s up to me to fill all of your time.

Another example is I was on a corporate board with a gentleman who was 92 years old and probably the smartest one of all of us. He wouldn’t say anything until he was ready to say the exactly right thing. There are lots of examples of people well into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s who are still actively involved and engaged in the world.

Q. What are some of the ways retirees can simplify their lives so that they can pursue their passions?
A. Well, start with your own home. Downsize or clean up. There’s a relationship between having less clutter in your mind and less clutter in your home. Try yoga or meditation or journalling. One of my favorites is detaching from technology for a while, whether it’s for a weekend or for a day or even for an entire vacation.

Lastly is relationships. I think as you get older you really want to think about who are the people that are most important to you and surround yourself with those you trust. Plan most of your time to be around these people. I call it sorting friends just like you sort your closet.

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The Retirement Boom: An All Inclusive Guide to Money, Life, and Health in Your Next Chapter can be purchased in paperback or for Kindle on Amazon.com.

*This is an edited transcript of a podcast interview recorded in May 2016.

Lorna Hegarty: Educating teens about money

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Today I’m interviewing Lorna Hegarty for savewithspp.com. Lorna has been the President of LCH Resources Ltd. for almost a decade. She has an international consulting practice in human resources, executive coaching and training as well as being a published author. She co-authored The Wealthy Teen with her daughter Carly when she was 15 (she is now 24), and the third edition was recently released.

Q: Writing a book is a serious undertaking. What motivated you to write and update The Wealthy Teen twice?
A: The reason for writing The Wealthy Teen was that as I was raising my two boys I noticed there was such a difference between how the two of them handled money. One would rush and spend his allowance as quickly as possible and the other one would save it. We had conversations around how to handle money and how to save money. I always let them make their own choices. When my daughter Carly came along, there was another way of looking at money and values and how to, as a parent, influence her to think about saving and spending money. I started taking some notes and ended up turning them into a book.

Q: What does wealthy mean to you? Is it all about the money?
A: Not at all. There are so many different ways to be wealthy. The true meaning of wealth is to be grateful and respect the gifts that you have. You can have wealth if you’ve got happiness, health and great relationships, spiritual connections, or creativity. If you are a teen that is   wealthy, you understand and appreciate these gifts.

Q: Your book is not a traditional personal finance book. In fact, you don’t really start talking about accumulating, managing, and earning money until the second half. Why do you begin by having parents and children work through their attitudes about money?
A: Well, money is a really personal concept and it begins with the history of how you were brought up to view money and how money conversations happened in your home. That’s why the first part of the book is dedicated to why you think the way you do, where it came from in your history and what assumptions you have that could be correct or incorrect. I offer an  opportunity for parents or mentors to write down where their views and thoughts about money came from to help them work through the book with their teenager or any other person.

Q: Kids often resist direction from their parents. How can parents engage their children in a dialogue in order to educate them about good saving and spending habits?
A: Well, for me, the best way to engage my children was to tell them stories of how I grew up with money. An example was when I was 10 years old I wanted to purchase a dog from my neighbor. They had a litter, and the dog cost $70. My parents were smart enough to say that I could have the dog but only if I earn $70. So I joined Regal Gifts. I got a few catalogues and pretty much through selling cards and wrapping paper door to door and to friends and family, I was able to raise enough money to buy the puppy. This approach is something I taught my children — they need to really work hard to get what they want.

Q: How soon is too soon? At what age can parents start teaching their children about money?
A: Well, I like the physical aspect of money. I like that I can hold it, I can put it in my wallet, I can see how much I have left on me. For example, if a child does a chore, something easy like cleaning up, you can reward them with a little bit of cash. When would that be? When they’re three or when they’re four. I’ll give you an example.

As I was growing up, we had a stone driveway and it was a really big task in the spring to take the stones that had been shoveled out with the snow onto the grass and put them back onto the driveway. From a really young age, I would say three or four, my parents showed me what to do to take the rocks off of the grass and put them back onto the driveway, and I would get paid 25 cents for doing that and for other little things that did.

I could see the money that we put into a jar and I could see that it was growing. I think the earlier the better when it comes to teaching children about money.

Q: How important are goals? When should young people start setting goals and objectives?
A: Well, I’m going to say pretty much the same thing as the last question you asked — as early as possible. Also, it’s really important to make goals fun. As an example, let’s just say Father’s Day is coming up, so we’re going to set a goal of spending $10 and we’re going to make something special for father. That would involve a trip to the dollar store to look for materials so the child can have some fun with the adult and make a gift that says “I love you.” When a realistic goal like this is achieved, the child and the adult can celebrate the accomplishment.

Q: You discussed developing “E” potential in your book. What does that mean and why is it important?
A: Well, “E” potential is gaining entrepreneurial capability which is really open to anybody. Some of the examples that come to mind are setting up a lemonade stand or selling books or babysitting at a young age before a teen can get a regular summer job, but being aware that they have the potential to earn money. It doesn’t mean they’ve got to work Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 5:00.

Q: Tell me about the principle of the five baskets. How can it help kids to manage their money?
A: Okay, well, savings is 10%, fun is 10%, charity is 10%, investment is 20%, and essentials are 50%. In the book, I suggest having separators or little baskets to put their money in. Of course, young children may not have all the baskets, because they don’t have to pay for essentials like shelter, food or utilities.

Again, I think it’s so important for kids be able to actually handle money when they are younger so they can see physically where it’s going and how it’s being accounted for. Now, for older teens, obviously, bank accounts are ok.

My daughter still uses five different banking accounts to manage her money so obviously, it isn’t sitting in jars at home. After all these years she finds that it is a really good way of watching how her vacation fund is growing and planning where she will go.

Q: How successful have the strategies you describe in your book been in educating your own three children about money?
A: That’s a good question too. They’ve pretty much followed the rules and the principles from The Wealthy Teen. Carly is very, very disciplined. All three of them have always got their eyes and ears open for something they could do that would be fun, exciting, and interesting but also earn them some extra money.

Over the years, I would say that they’ve all pretty much taken the pieces they really believe in and they’ve had fun doing it, seen results, and incorporated them into their own and their partners’ lives.

Q: What reactions have you had from both mentors and young people who have read your book and worked through the exercises?
Well, I’ve had really good feedback. I’ve had couples tell me that they’ve used The Wealthy Teen as a discussion guide before they got married, to have a conversation about money. I’ve had feedback from readers who have used the system for saving money for school, for a trip to Europe, or for a car. It works if you have the ability to stick with it and save to reach your goals.

Q: If you had one message for adults who want to educate their teens about money, what would it be?
A: My favorite question. I strongly suggest that adults be careful with what and how much they give to their children or their teens so youth will appreciate things much more when they have skin in the game or when they’ve learned something.

In the past, I’ve seen family with children, teenagers, young adults, and they shower their children with designer clothes and the best phones. I would tell them to make sure they are living within their own means and as adults, teach their teens to understand the value of money and let them earn it when they want to purchase something.

02Jun-TheWealthyTeen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third edition for The Wealthy Teen can be purchased from Amazon in paperback editions and for Kindle.

Actuary Karen Hall: Turning DC savings into an income stream

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen
Click here to listen

Today I’m interviewing actuary Karen Hall for savewithspp.com. Prior to her recent retirement, she was a vice president at the consulting firm Aon Hewitt, based in Vancouver. In addition to enjoying her retirement, she is continuing to explore cost effective and easy ways to create a steady income out of defined contribution (DC) pension savings.

Karen has 35 years of professional experience in the areas of pension actuarial consulting, flexible benefits consulting, senior management and HR leadership. She is also the author of the book, Risk Management Strategies for an Aging Workforce available on Amazon. Thanks so much for joining me today, Karen.

 

Q: Most Canadians in the private sector today have defined contribution pension plans. Tell me how a DC plan works.
A: Well, Sheryl, defined contribution means the contributions going in are defined or fixed. The member and her employer each contribute to the plan. The member often chooses how the money is invested from a number of investment options provided by the plan. Then, when the member comes to retire, she has a lump sum amount saved.

Q: On retirement, the conversion of DC assets into retirement income is for the most part left up to retirees. Why is that a problem?
A: If you buy an annuity you don’t get much in income for the amount you saved. The only other alternative is doing it yourself, that is, choosing investments, deciding how much to withdraw and figuring out how to make the money last for your lifetime. If you rely on advisers for any of this, you’re typically paying a substantial fee of at least 2% of your assets every year. The average person is just not equipped to make these decisions. I find it complicated enough and I’ve been living and breathing pensions for 35 years.

Q: Frequently, insurance companies or other DC or Group RRSP carriers, have group registered retirement income funds that retiring members of client group retirement plans can move their money into at retirement. Do these plans resolve some of these issues of high retail fees and poor financial literacy that you identified in our last question?
A: I don’t think they do. It would depend, of course, on the deal. But, often the fees are still quite high, near 2%, and the individual is still making all of the decisions I just mentioned.

Q: So how common are Group RRIF’s established for retirees of just one employer and what are the pros and cons of these types of arrangements?
A: Based on my experience, they aren’t that common. I can see why plan sponsor companies don’t want the ongoing administration. But I do think it would be great if the retiree could basically just stay in the plan and get the same investment options and fee deals as when they were active.

What I do see more often is where the insurance company that is the record keeper for the plan will have options for the member to transfer into their individual RRIF products, perhaps with a modest reduction in fees as compared to a retail purchase.

Q: How much clout do individual DC plan sponsors have in negotiating fees for their former members in rollover plans or single organization Group RRIF’s?
A: Well, as with everything, it depends on the size of the employer and on how much the employer wants to push for such a service. I do know of large employers who have negotiated such services.

Q: How should investment options be structured in rollover plans and single company Group RRIFs to maximize value from a DC plan in the decumulation phase?
A: In my view, the same options as when the member was active should generally be fine. The plan could add a target date type option for accounts and payments. But I think the typical choice of a range of balance funds and funds with conservative to moderate risk. You are going to live a fair number of years in retirement, so your time horizon isn’t that short.

Q: Saskatchewan and several other provinces, plus federal pension legislation, now allow payment of a variable pension from a DC plan – that means a stream of income that tries to simulate a defined benefit pension. Could you briefly explain to me how it works?
A: Well, it does depend on the plan and the legislation how they set it up, but very generally such an arrangement would allow the plan to provide payments to retirees. Like you said, it would simulate a defined benefit type of pension. There would generally be monthly payments and the amount of each payment would vary depending on plan experience.

For example, one client I know determines the amount of the monthly payment once a year. The amount is leveled for the year, so it’s paid every month at a level amount, but then it gets recalculated every January and depends on how well the fund did in the previous year. Generally – hopefully – it usually goes up or slightly or stays about the same. However, if it was a really bad year like 2008, the monthly pensions would likely be reduced.

Q: And how do they draw down funds in terms of various funds or investments the members are invested in or cash or whatever is actually sitting in the member’s account?
A: Well, in this particular one, when you retire and choose a variable pension, you have a lump sum amount and that lump sum amount gets translated into a number of units in the fund. Then, the fund pays a pension based on a dollar amount per unit, so the dollar amount per unit times the number of units you have, that’s what you get.

And what’s happening in this one is they’re insuring the mortality, so you don’t actually see your lump sum getting drawn down, you’re guaranteed to get that amount however long you live, and then the mortality is spread amongst the group.

Q: Oh, that’s really interesting. So it’s not just a matter of investments being sold and your money being distributed once a year, like if you had your own individual RRIF.
A: Right. So the plans can offer an individual RRIF and in those circumstances you’d see your money getting drawn down. But these variable pension ideas are to do with pooling the mortality risk.

Q: So to what extent have employers taken advantage of their ability to pay variable pensions to enhance the value of their DC plans to plan members in this all important decumulation phase?
A: As far as I know, not many have done so. Well, I know the one I gave in my example, but I don’t know of any other examples.

Q: And why do you think that’s the case?
A: Well, I think that it’s just new, right? CAP Guideline Number 8 says that plan sponsors should help members transition, but it’s new and sponsors are still considering their options. They are watching to see what others will do.

Q: Is there a real cost or a potential liability to employers that take on this responsibility?
A: That’s the big issue. For example, if you don’t have a big enough group, it’s hard to pool the mortality risk. The other thing is I’m not sure members are clamoring for variable pensions. Plan sponsors will pay attention when it affects active members and their appreciation of the benefit. I know there are plans that are interested in designing this and we’ll probably see how it develops in the next few years .

Q: Do you think it will be more of interest to public sector or private sector?
A: I think the public sector will have more ability to implement these and I think that union groups without a defined benefit plan might be interested.

Q: How important is effective employer communications in adding value to DC benefits for retirees in the decumulation phase?
A: Some employers are doing more to help members understand their options and prepare for retirement in the decumulation phase. For example, they provide one to three day retirement preparation seminars that can help considerably. I do still think, however, that individuals are not equipped to make many of these decisions. And you can put design features into DC plans that would help members better with the decision making.

Q: Could you give me an example of one or two of those?
A: Auto enrollment, auto escalation, and the design feature that we were just talking about — variable pensions — that would assist members with decision making in the decumulation phase would help.

Q: What role can annuity purchases play using all or part of the money in the plan members, DC account or RRIF to enhance the orderly draw down funds after retirement?
A: Annuities are expensive when the person is first retiring. However, I would definitely consider purchasing an annuity after about my mid 70’s. At that point, the insurance element becomes more interesting and significant because you don’t know if you’re going to live a few more years or a couple of more decades.

And the financial impact of living 2 or 20 years more is huge. The security that an annuity can give becomes much more worthwhile. So one strategy could be to separate your savings into two buckets: A: the amount you will need at age 80 saved via the annuity and B: the RRIF or the amount you’re going to spend between now and age 80. This is a bit easier to deal with, because the time frame’s better defined.

Q: That’s interesting. So do you have any other comments or suggestions that people are approaching retirement with a DC pensions or group/individual RRSPs to think about?
A: Well, focusing on just the DC pension is helpful, but I do think it’s also an incomplete solution. If the person has properly saved for retirement, he/she doesn’t have just one DC or Group RRSP account.

Even if they combine savings from previous employers, the spouse probably has registered savings, both spouses might have their own tax-free savings account and they probably have non-registered money too.

All these sources of income must be coordinated so the individual can meet their retirement and personal financial goal. Either the person has to educate themselves to manage on their own or they need help in finding an appropriately qualified financial adviser to assist them.

Right now in Canada, the price of such assistance is, in my view, unreasonably high. I also feel that many financial advisers do not have much experience with effective decumulation of retirement savings. Individuals have to look hard to find the right person.

Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate that you spoke to us today, Karen.

You are very welcome. It’s a pleasure, Sheryl. Thank you for asking me.


This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted by telephone in July 2015.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Achieve financial literacy on mymoneymychoices.com

By Sheryl Smolkin

 

Click here to listen
Click here to listen

Hi, today I’m kicking off the 2015 SavewithSPP.com expert podcast interview series. I’m delighted that Gail Vaz-Oxlade has made time in her busy schedule to talk us.

Gayle is truly Canada’s money maven. She has worked in the financial services arena for 25 years as a writer, reality-television host, public speaker and corporate spokesperson. Over the last several decades she has published 15 personal finance books, four of which were on the best-seller list at the same time in January 2012.

She has also filmed almost 200 episodes of her television programs, Til Debt Do Us Part, Princess and Money Moron. In addition, she regularly blogs and answers questions from readers on gailvazoxlade.com.

But, what I’d like to talk to her about today is mymoneymychoices.com, an online financial literacy program she founded just over a year ago.

Welcome Gayle.

Hi, thanks for having me.

Q: So Gayle, how do you define financial literacy? How big an issue is lack of financial literacy in this country? 
A: The issue itself is huge because most people already know most of what they need to know but aren’t doing it.

Q: You describe mymoneymychoices.com as Canada’s first comprehensive financial literacy program designed to raise the money IQ of Canadians by drawing on community support, a solid financial roadmap and gamification for reinforcement. How did you come up with the concept?
A: I was actually between television shows. I had a big whack of time off and I read about an organization in the U.S. that that used positive peer pressure in order to change behavior. So I laid out this roadmap of everything you need to do in the order I think you need to do it in, to build a rock solid financial foundation.

Q: What are your goals for the program?
A: Really what I want people to do is stop saying “I don’t know where to start.” If you go to mymoneymychoices.com and register – it’s absolutely free – and you just take the steps as they are given to you in the program, then you will work your way to being financially healthy. I want people to come together in communities and support each other, teach each other and work together in order to increase their community’s financial literacy. 

Q: You say the first level is the hardest. Why?
A: In the first level, which I say has all the heavy lifting; you have to do your six-month spending analysis. You also create a debt repayment plan to get your consumer debt paid off in 3 years or less. You have to build a budget and you do your first net worth statement.  And very often I find that people don’t understand why the pieces are necessary. I say to people all the time, if you do the net worth statement today and it looks really bleak, it’s irrelevant, because it’s not where you are today. It’s how different it will be when you do it in six months for the second time.

Q: Do you have any sponsors or partners? Or, are you solely responsible for the development and maintenance costs of the site?
A: I would love sponsors to support us, but the thing is that, whenever you affiliate with anyone, typically what happens is they then have some say in what you do. And so I bore the costs of the development of the site myself and I set up the My Money My Choices Foundation, where I’m taking donations. In late 2014 I ran an Indiegogo campaign and raised $3,785.

Q: Is My Money My Choices, aimed at any particular age or demographic?
A: No it’s not. The reality is it doesn’t matter if you are 23 or 43. If you’re not aware of where your money is going then that’s the first place you have to start. If you’ve done all those things already you can just pick through those on the program until you get to the level where you are implementing something new for yourself. For example, it might be the level in which you investigate disability insurance and life insurance

Q: Give me briefly how the program works. I see there is a leader board and different prizes and levels.
A: The prizes are really icons. They are what you can use to show the world where you are and how you are progressing through the steps.

Q: What is the community element? From what I read on the website, you can’t do this on your own. You’ve got to be part of a tribe or a team.
A: You can do it on your own because anyone can use the roadmap. However if you are working within a tribe then what happens is you benefit from the support that comes along with that. When you have a whole community cheering you on, or kicking your butt depending on what you need that day, you’re much more likely to get back on the horse if you get bucked off.  That’s part of the purpose of the community.

The other part is that some people within a community are very good at some things and other people are very good at something else. And, when you bring it all together you create cohesion, together with process, together with management skills. When you bring all those things together you make it much stronger than each individual trying to do all the pieces alone.

Q: What role does the watcher play?
A: The watcher is the first guy to do the teaching. Typically the watcher is someone who has some money expertise whether it is official or not. And that person’s job is to help the first few people go through level one, and then guide those same people through the various other levels and encourage them to bring more people into the tribe so that they can become teachers and mentors to their own protégés. Ultimately, the watcher will manage the whole process and say “okay, this is how we’re doing as a community.”

Q: If a group of people want to get together and participate in your game on your website, do they have to have a watcher or does someone become a watcher because they are the first one who gets through the levels?
A: I’ll give you an example. I was invited to speak to a church community in Thornhill a few weeks ago, and I agreed as long as they set up a My Money My Choices tribe as part of the process. A gentleman named Emilio who is well along the way because he’s been following me for years became the watcher for that church community. He set up a Facebook page so people could communicate with each other. He made sure that there were books in the library so that the resources were available if people needed help making a budget or doing a spending analysis. He did all the administrative and support stuff to make sure that as people started coming into the program they didn’t get sidelined by small issues.

Q: That’s really cool. So it’s 23 levels. Can you give me some examples of what participants learn as they progress through the various levels?
A: Sure. The very first level, as I said is the hard one because what’s it’s laying the ground work for everything else. Once you’ve done level one you move on up to the point where you are putting process in place. You’re using a spending journal. You’re posting to your budget every single month. You know where your money is going. As you move up you also start allocating money to savings. You get your debt paid off. Ultimately, the reason there are 23 steps is because I don’t expect people to go from 0 to 100 in 12.2 seconds. It takes time.

Q: So you say you’ve had 8,000 people register on the website. How many of them have progressed through all the levels?
A: Nobody yet.  Because at the last level you are maximizing your RRSP, you have paid off your mortgage, you are maximizing your tax-free savings account, and you’ve got all your consumer debt paid off. This is a process. You are incrementally improving your financial position all the way along in very, very small steps.

Q: There are ways to earn extra points. What do you do with those points? What do they do for you? 
A: This is a very interesting phenomenon. One of the pieces of research shows that the points in and of themselves are what people want. They don’t care what the points translate into. It’s human nature. We like to gather things. We like to accumulate things. We measure our success in points. We like the point system.

Q: What kinds of things do people do to earn extra points?
A: It’s the idea that every time you post to your spending journal or push your spending journal to your cash flow budget you acquire more points. The reward system is based on action. If you are actively participating, you keep accruing points.

Q: Do you have any plans to changing or enhancing the program,?
A: I’m not going to touch the My Money My Choices program as it currently exists. I worked on it for about two years before I actually put it up. I think it covers all the bases. If people send me good resources to supplement it, I will add those resources over time once I have vetted them. But really, I don’t have to reinvent stuff if it’s okay and it’s working. What I want to do is use some of the Indiegogo money to create more of a presence on the internet that helps people find the program.

Q: You always seem to have dozens of projects on the go. Is there anything new and exciting still in the developmental stage you can tell us about?
A: I have a new book coming out in January 2016 called “Money Talks, When to Say Yes and How to Say No.” And that will deal with all the relationship side of money. How do you have those really difficult conversations that people just seem to be avoiding? Whether it is the conversation you have before you get married or the conversation you have with your parents because they keep hitting you up for money and you are dead sure they don’t have a retirement plan. So it’s all about having these difficult conversations and how best to position them.

Q: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today Gayle.
A: Oh, my pleasure.

13Jan-GVO2

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find out more about mymoneymychoices.com and how to play the game here. All of Gayle’s books are listed here and can be ordered from Indigo or Amazon.

BOOK REVIEW: 397 ways to save money

By Sheryl Smolkin

Earlier this year we interviewed Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox as part of our Personal Finance Bloggers series. Although Squawkfox has been blogging infrequently over the last few months, her blog continues to be a hilarious and invaluable resource for money saving tips.

So when I was looking for books with great cost containment ideas to review for savewithspp.com readers I was delighted to come across Kerry’s book “397 ways to save money” published in 2009. As I flipped through the book, it became apparent that the vast majority of her suggestions have stood the test of time.

This 275 page book is divided up into four parts with several chapters in each part:

  • Big Decisions: (renting, home ownership, financial choices, shopping)
  • Home Management: (home maintenance, energy, cleaning)
  • Room by Room: (kitchen, living room dining room, kids room, garage etc.)
  • More ways to save: (vacation, pets, cheap family dinners, monthly maintenance checklists)

Here are 10 of my favourite tips in the book:

  1. Change your ATM habits: Use only your bank’s ATM machines to make withdrawals. Know how many free ATM withdrawals you can make each month from your account. Some banks offer free accounts including ATM withdrawals for seniors.
  2. Don’t insure your kids: The purpose of life insurance is to serve as income replacement for the insured’s dependants. Pass on agents who try to sell you on the investment aspects of a cash value policy. Instead, save for your child in a registered educational savings plan (RESP).
  3. Barter to save money: Generally bartering is the trading of goods and services without the use of money. Check out the website U-exchange.com to find like-minded people to swap services such as website building for a haircut.
  4. Pass on extended warranties: Don’t buy extended warranties on inexpensive product like cameras and kitchen appliances. The only time a warranty makes sense is if a repair will devastate your budget.
  5. Don’t pay for shipping: Look for a free shipping option when you order from an online store. Many online retailers offer free shipping when you buy up to a specified dollar amount in merchandise.
  6. Turn off all electronic devices: Turning off your unused electronic devices like gaming consoles and computers is an easy way to save electricity. By turning on your computer only when needed for three hours each day rather than running it continuously can save you $75/year.
  7. Watch the price scanner: Mistakes on electronic price scans are common at the grocery store. Watch as your items are scanned at the checkout and you could save many dollars per month and even score free food. The Retail Council of Canada has a Code of Practice and a list of participating stores you can read here.
  8. Open the dishwasher to air dry dishes: Skip your dishwasher’s heat dry cycle by opening the dishwasher door to air dry dishes after the final rinse. I do this frequently because the full cycle is ridiculously long. Its mice to know it also saves me money.
  9. Skip the sofa bed: A sofa that can be used as a bed may seem like a good idea if you have frequent guests, but they can be much more expensive that a regular couch. They take a lot of room you may not have to open and even top of the line models may be uncomfortable. A blow up bed is easy to inflate and move and a queen size costs around $100.
  10. Buy clothing at the end of the season: Winter in Canada is interminable and most things are on sale by December 26th at the latest. If you can make it through the fall with last year’s wardrobe you can refurbish it with quality items at half the cost or less late in the year.

I really like the Hardware Store Shopping List for all of the do-it-yourself energy-saving projects so you save money on gas. However, by the time you fill your cart with items like caulking, weather stripping, attic insulation, low flow showerheads, programmable thermostats, dimmer switches for lights and compact fluorescent light bulbs to replace incandescent, you will definitely have a big upfront bill.

This is a great book to read once, go back to and help you set achievable goals for saving money. You can browse several chapters here and order the book online from Amazon or Indigo for about $11.00.

Kerry K. Taylor

Budget-friendly holiday gifts

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Christmas can be an expensive time of year. You have to come up with presents for your parents, spouse, kids, cousins, aunts and uncles. But you may also want to give small but meaningful gifts to numerous other people including helpful neighbours, your children’s teachers, the mailman and your hairdresser.

Where families are large and it is impossible to buy for everyone, it can help to pick names so you only have to buy one more expensive gift rather than a dozen smaller items. Another approach is outside of immediate family, to only give gifts to children under a certain age – say 16 or 18.

However, you may still end up with a long list and an overloaded credit cart. That can be a real problem come January when you have to top up your retirement savings. Here are some ideas for less expensive gift options that will satisfy everyone on your list.

  1. Food gifts: If you make the best banana bread in town, whip up a couple of batches, wrap them with pretty cellophane and ribbons and give them to people who always finish the last slice when you bring your speciality to a pot luck dinner.
  2. Coffee cards: As a rule I’m not a big fan of gift cards because they always seem like an afterthought and people tend to lose them. But many of us need our daily coffee fix and fancy specialty coffees can cost $5 or more. Find out if intended recipients are Tim Horton’s or Starbucks fans and make your purchase accordingly.
  3. Gift baskets: Gift baskets can contain anything from yummy treats to bath and beauty supplies. If you purchase baskets already made up, they cost much more than the contents which are often meagre once you remove all the packaging. Bulk stores and craft stores sell almost everything you need to make your own gift baskets for a reasonable price.
  4. Child care: Young parents with small children and big mortgages generally don’t get a night to themselves very often. Offer to babysit so they can go out for a quiet dinner or agree to take the kids for a weekend so they can plan a mini-vacation out of town.
  5. Consignment stores: Kids stuff is often gently used because children grow out of their clothes and toys long before they wear out. My daughter recently found a great pair of red winter boots in perfect condition for our granddaughter for only a few dollars at a consignment store.
  6. Business cards: How often have you wanted to exchange telephone numbers or email addresses with someone but couldn’t find a pen or a piece of paper? Business cards are handy to have whether you are a teenager, stay at home Mom or a small business owner. Card stock is available from any office supplies store and you can download templates for your colour or black and white printer.
  7. Magazine subscriptions: Magazine subscriptions are a great inexpensive gift that keeps on giving for a whole year. For example a new subscription to Chatelaine is only $14.95 for 12 issues and it includes access to a digital edition you can download on your iPad.
  8. Potted plant: Cut flowers will brighten up the house, particularly in the depths of winter but potted plants will last a lot longer if properly cared for. In fact by February, I usually toss out my poinsettia because I’m more than ready for daffodils and hyacinths. Most grocery and gourmet stores have a great selection of seasonal plants.
  9. Groupon: You can purchase discount coupons for half off or more on Groupon and other similar sites. Spa, haircut, belly dancing classes or dance lessons anyone?
  10. Kitchen gadgets: Spatulas, corkscrews, vegetable peelers, bag clips, tongs, whisks or a turkey baster. A trip to a dollar store, department store or specialty kitchen store can uncover a treasure trove of kitchen gadgets in all price ranges for stocking stuffers.

Whatever items you decide on for the people on your list, consider starting your shopping early and buying at least some items online. Companies like Amazon and Chapters deliver for free for orders above a certain amount and it sure beats finding a parking spot and carrying heavy bags around a mall.

If your friends or relatives live out of town, the added advantage is you can have a wrapped package delivered directly to them.

Do you have any ideas for inexpensive Christmas gifts that will wow your friends and relatives? Share your money saving tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR 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.

Beginning in January we will be mixing things up a bit, and in addition to blogs that discuss ways to save money so you can save more for retirement, we will be interviewing our favourite financial bloggers, reviewing books that will help you better manage your finances and rolling out a monthly Retirement Savings 101 series.

The team at Saskatchewan Pension Plan wishes you a happy, healthy holiday season.