Tag Archives: Canadian Personal Finance Blog

Oct 23: Best from the blogosphere

Sustaining a blog for months and years is a remarkable achievement. This week we go back to basics and check in on what some of our favourite veteran bloggers are writing about.

If you haven’t heard, Tim Stobbs from Canadian Dream Free at 45 has exceeded his objectives and retired at age 37. You can read about his accomplishment in the Globe and Mail and discover how he spent the first week of financial independence here.

Boomer & Echo’s Robb Engen writes about why he doesn’t have bonds in his portfolio but you probably should. He acknowledges that bonds smooth out investment returns and make it easier for investors to stomach the stock market when it decides to go into roller coaster mode. But he explains that he already has several fixed income streams from a steady public sector job, a successful side business and a defined benefit pension plan so he can afford to take the risk and invest only in equities.

On My Own Advisor, Mark Seed discusses The Equifax Breach – And What You Can do About It. In September, Equifax announced a cybersecurity breach September 7, 2017 that affected about 143 million American consumers and approximately 100,000 Canadians. The information that may have been breached includes name, address, Social Insurance Number and, in limited cases, credit card numbers. To protect yourself going forward, check out Seed’s important list of “Dos” and Don’ts” in response to these events.

Industry veteran Jim Yih recently wrote a piece titled Is there such a thing as estate and inheritance tax in Canada? He clarifies that in Canada, there is no inheritance tax. If you are the beneficiary of money or assets through an estate, the good news is the estate pays all the tax before you inherit the money.

However, when someone passes away, the executor must file a final tax return as of the date of death.  The tax return would include any income the deceased received since the beginning of the calendar year.  Some examples of income include Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS), retirement pensions, employment income, dividend income, RRSP and RRIF income received.

When the Canadian Personal Finance Blog’s Alan Whitton (aka Big Cajun Man) started investing, he was given a few simple rules that he says still ring true today. These Three Investment Credo from the Past are:

  • Don’t invest it if you can’t lose it.
  • Invest for the long term.
  • If you want safety, buy GICs.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

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.

Personal finance writers share 2017 New Year’s resolutions

By Sheryl Smolkin

Several years ago Globe & Mail columnist Tim Cestnick listed what he considers to be the top five opportunities for anyone looking to get their financial house in order:

  • Create a pension
  • Own a home
  • Pay down debt
  • Start a business
  • Stay married

So I decided to ask 10 money writers to share their top personal finance New Year’s resolution with me, in the hope that it will encourage readers to establish and meet their own lofty goals in 2017.

Here, in alphabetical order, is what they told me:

  1. Jordann Brown: My Alternate Life
    I’m still in the process of ironing out my New Year’s resolutions but here is one I’m definitely going to stick to. I plan to save $10,000 towards replacing my vehicle. It’s always been a dream of mine to buy a car with cash and as my car ages it has become apparent that I need to start focusing on this goal. I never want to have a car payment again, and that means I need to start saving today!
  2. Sean Cooper: Sean Cooper Writer
    I  paid off my mortgage in just three years by age 30. My top personal finance New Year’s resolution is to ensure that my upcoming book, Burn Your Mortgage, reaches best-seller status. A lot of millennials feel like home ownership is out of reach. After reading my book, I want to them to believe buying a home is still achievable.
  3. Jonathan Chevreau Financial Independence Hub
    My top New Year’s Resolution, financially speaking, is to make a 2017 contribution to our family’s Tax-free Savings Accounts (TFSAs). This can be done January 1st, even if you have little cash.  Assuming you do have some non-registered investments that are roughly close to their book value, these can be transferred “in kind”, effectively transforming taxable investments into tax-free investments.
  4. Tom Drake Canadian Finance Blog
    My New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to increase my income through my home business. But this can be done rather easily by anyone through side-gigs and part-time jobs. While saving money by cutting expenses can be helpful, you’ll hit limits on how much you can cut. However, if you aim to find new sources of income in 2017, the possible earnings are limitless!
  5. Jessica Moorhouse Jessica Moorhouse.com
    My personal finance New Year’s resolution is to track my spending, collecting every receipt and noting every transaction down, for at least 3 months. Doing this really helps me stay on track financially, but for me it’s definitely something that’s easier said than done!
  6. Sandi Martin Spring Personal Finance
    I don’t expect much to change in our financial lives over the next year. I hope to avoid the temptation to build a new system because the boring old things we’re already doing aren’t dramatic enough. I’m prone to thinking that “doing something” is the same as “achieving something”, and I’m going to keep fighting that tendency as 2017 rolls by.
  7. Ellen Roseman Toronto Star Consumer Columnist
    My personal finance resolution for 2017 is to organize my paperwork, shred what I don’t need and file the rest. I also want to list the financial service suppliers I deal with, so that someone else can step into my shoes if I’m not around. It’s something I want to do every year, but now I finally have the time and motivation to tackle it.
  8. Mark Seed My Own Advisor
    I actually have three New Year’s resolutions to share:

    • Eat healthier.  We know our health is our most important asset.
    • Continue to save at least 20% of our net income. We know a high savings rate is our key to financial health.
    • After paying ourselves first, simply enjoy the money that is leftover. Life is for the living.
  9. Stephen Weyman HowToSaveMoney.ca
    For 2017 I’m looking to really “settle down” and put down roots in a community. I believe this will have all kinds of family, health, and financial benefits. The time savings alone from being able to better develop daily routines will allow me to free up time to focus more on saving money, growing my business, and better preparing for a sound financial future.
  10. Allen Whitton Canadian Personal Finance Blog
    I resolve to keep a much closer tab on my investments and my expenses, while planning to retire in four years. I have a pension, I have RRSPs, but I still have too large a debt load. Not sure this is possible, but I will try!”

Nov 7: Best from the Blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Halloween is over, Remembrance Day is this week and the stores are starting to look a lot like Christmas. But keep the end game is sight and don’t be distracted by advertising for the latest hardware or fashions that may blow your budget out of the water.

On Retire Happy, Sarah Milton writes about “How to stick with your financial goals.” She says what makes the difference between success and stalling comes down to three things: knowing what you want; chasing your fears and building a tribe.

Mint’s blog Personal Finance Guide to Setting Goals and Sticking to Them notes that financial planning is all about goals. There are two islands: what you have and what you want. The bridge between the two is your personal finance budget. Getting to where you want to be requires vision, planning and discipline – the vision to know what you want, a plan to get there and the discipline to stick with your plan.

Big Cajun Man, author of the Canadian Personal Finance Blog says We Invest the Way We Vote. In both cases, we make a hurried, uninformed decision after being unduly influenced by people who have their own agenda on why they want you to do it. Typically the decision may even be made at the last-minute, using your “gut” to decide. Let’s hope our US friends make rational decisions when they go to the polls this week!

When Do You Stop Helping Your Adult Children? Marie Engen questions on Boomer & Echo. She answers, “If your adult children are asking for something, whether it’s babysitting services, money, or something else and you need to say no, say it clearly. Don’t hint around that you’re busy or you’ve had a lot of expenses lately.”

And finally, with the dropping temperatures and snow falling already in parts of the country, you may be planning a warm weather get away. Mark Seed at my Own Advisor has some great hints for how to save and splurge on a vacation. He suggests skyscanner and Chris Myden’s suite of sites for flight deals. And I bet you didn’t know you can get great deals on car rentals from Costco’s web site!


Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Aug 22: Best from the Blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

This week we have a pot pourri of stories from some of our favourite bloggers who have continued to write compelling copy through the now waning, long hot days of summer.

Are you a techno-phobe or an early adopter? Alan Whitton aka Bigcajunman writes about how old financial technology habits die hard on the Canadian Personal Finance Blog. Despite some lingering security paranoia, he now deposits cheques by photographing them with his cell phone.

One of the primary changes personal finance advisors suggest that clients make to save money is to put away their credit cards and start spending cash. On Money We Have, Barry Choi explores what happens if you decide to use cash and debit more. He says that depending on your personal situation, this may affect your credit score, you will forgo travel reward points and you also can lose out on other standard benefits like travel insurance and auto insurance covering car rentals.

Mark Seed on My Own Advisor answers a reader’s question, How would you manage a $1 million portfolio? His bias is to own stocks indirectly via passively managed Exchange Traded Funds for the foreseeable future to get exposure to U.S. and international equity markets.  However, he says his selection of investments will likely differ after age 65 and in future he might hire a fee-only financial advisor or use a robo-advisor to manage his portfolio.

I recently helped my son find an apartment in Toronto so I thought Kendra Mangione’s article From a house to a bedroom: What $1,000 a month can rent across Canada was particularly interesting. She says you will pay $950 for a single bedroom with an ensuite bathroom in a Vancouver suburb but $950 will get you a two-bedroom, 864 sq. ft. townhouse close to downtown Regina and the university.

And whether you have children who are new graduates or you are only beginning to help pay for your kids’ post-secondary education, check out Parents Deserve a College Graduation Present, Too in the New York Times. This piece explores a Korean-American tradition for former students to give parents sometimes lavish gifts, once they have their diplomas in hand.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Feb 26: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Well, one more week and RRSP season will be over for another year. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about contributing to your retirement savings plans including SPP for another 12 months.

In the three+ years savewithspp.com has been up and running, we have posted many blogs about the importance of paying yourself first and the mechanics of retirement saving in Saskatchewan Pension Plan, RRSPs or TFSAs.

Here are some of my favourites you can take a look at again to refresh your memory.

Pay yourself first
Save early, save often
FAQ: Employer-sponsored Sask Pension Plan
Can my spouse join SPP?
Why transfer RRSP funds to SPP?
What if I move away from Saskatchewan?
How do I know my SPP money is in good hands?
Pension Plan vs. RRSP?
SPP or TFSA?
Retirement savings alphabet soup
Understanding SPP annuities
Book Review: RRSPS THE ULTIMATE WEALTH BUILDER
How much can I contribute to my RRSP?
How to save for retirement, Parts 1, 2 and 3

You may also want to review some of these posts written by some of our favourite bloggers:

Retire Happy: RRSP Quick Facts 2015
Boomer & Echo: A Sensible RRSP vs TFSA Comparison
Canadian Personal Finance Blog: Pensions and Spousal RRSPs
Brighter Life: Six things you may not know you can do with your RRSP
Forward Thinking: Bruce Sellery on how to get excited about your RRSPs

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Nov 17: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

This week we are delighted to bring you a new blog from Squawkfox Kerry K. Taylor who has been on a blogging sabbatical for the last several months.

Are you frugal or cheap?  includes a great graphic that answers the question. Kerry’s flow chart reveals that you are definitely frugal and not just cheap if saving a buck is not your ultimate objective; you would spend a little more for higher quality; you think long-term when making purchases; and, you do not prioritize money over relationships.

On the Canadian Personal Finance Blog, Big Cajun Man (Allan Whitton) gives Key Financial Rules for borrowing money. According to Alan, buying a house is the only good reason to borrow money. “Borrowing money to invest just strikes me as asking for a swift kick in the lower abdomen,” he says. 

Guest blogger Stephen Weyman on Million Dollar Journey compares gas reward programs. Surprisingly, he notes that some Grocery Store Gas Bars offering Grocery Store Discount Coupons are top of the list. They typically return 2.7% but select locations in Alberta offer a maximum return of up to 8.1% when paired with other bonus coupons.

When life gives you lemons, add vodka is an irreverent look at how to change your financial behaviour. This week Sarah writes about How to Fail at Your Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (And How to Set A Goal That You’ll Reach).

When she and her husband decided to save $80,000 for a down payment on a house over three years, they gave up after two months. She says what went wrong is that there were no small steps or changes in their habits to build up to this goal. Therefore, they were unable to go from saving nothing to saving over $1,000 each and every month.

On StupidCents, blogger Tom Drake writes about The Best Careers for the Future. He concludes that some of the best job prospects will be in the health care professions. With Baby Boomers retiring and aging in the next 20 years, those who are involved in their care are likely to see job growth and security.

And finally, Jonathan Chevreau, author of Findependence Day who is well known to readers of the Natiomal Post and MoneySense has just launched the Financial Independence Hub. We look forward to bringing you lots of great content from that site it the coming weeks and an update of this savewithspp.con interview in the new year.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Big Cajun Man shares RDSP, RESP expertise

By Sheryl Smolkin

Alan Whitton and his son Rhys
Alan Whitton and his son Rhys

 

podcast picture
Click here to listen

Hi,

As part of the savewithspp.com continuing series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers, today I’m talking to the “Big Cajun Man,” author of the Canadian Personal Finance Blog.

In real life, he is actually, Alan Whitton, a mild-mannered government civil servant and father of four, living in Ottawa. Alan has been blogging about finance and consumerism for about ten years, focusing on real life experiences.

As a result, he has written extensively about Registered Disability Savings Plans and parenting a disabled child.

Welcome, Alan.

My pleasure Sheryl.

Q: First of all Alan, tell our listeners where your alter ego name, “Big Cajun Man,” came from.
A:  Well, I was playing golf with friends and was wearing a straw hat and someone yelled at me, “What do you think you are, some kind of big stinking Cajun man?” and the guys I was playing with have called me that ever since.

Q: Why did you start blogging?
A: Well, I started initially just on BlogSpot as sort of an open letter to my mother because at the time, my wife was pregnant with our fourth child, who was a bit of a surprise. Then I realized I could write about other things and I was always interested in money so I figured I’d just start blogging about it.

Q: How frequently do you post?
A: I try to write four or five posts in a week. The Friday post is usually a ‘best of’ what I’ve seen during the week.

Q: How long are the blogs and how complex are they? Do they vary?
A: Oh, it’s usually somewhere between four and eight paragraphs. What shows up, or what I read about or something that happens in my life is usually the catalyst for the more interesting ones.

Q: Tell me about some of the topics you write about.
A: Well, family and money and how families work with money, a little bit on investing, a lot more on disability and how families can deal financially with kids with disabilities or loved ones with disabilities. And that really, again, arose because when Rhys was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, I had to learn about all this so I figured I’d write about it too.

Q: And, how old is Rhys now?
A: He is 9. I have three beautiful daughters who are 24, 22 and 20, and my son who has just turned 9. It’s a multi-generational family. That’s why I end up writing about things like university costs and parenting a 9-year old.

Q: There are probably over a dozen personal finance bloggers in Canada. What’s different about your blog. Why do you think it’s a must read?
A: I don’t know. I mean, my point of view as a father of a multi-generational family is interesting. I always have had a different perspective on things. I leave a lot of the specific investing ideas to some of the more qualified chaps like Michael James and Rob Carrick. I mostly just talk about John Public’s point of view of things.

Q: How many hits do you typically get for your blogs?
A: Between 8,000 and 12,000 a month. It started off very slowly and I think with the backlog of over 2,500 posts there’s a lot of people who just search and end up finding me accidentally.

Q: What are some of the more popular blogs you’ve posted?
A: Well, anything under my RDSP and RESP menus are popular, like how to apply for your child’s disability tax benefits. And on the RDSP side of things all the fights I’ve had with TD about putting money in and taking money out. Also, surprisingly, I wrote one simple blog that just said “I am a civil servant,” and let me tell you, that one caused no end of excitement.

Q: What is the essence of that particular blog?
A: I was trying to blow up some of the very negative views people have about civil servants. I mean, I worked in the private sector for over 20 years. I‘ve been a civil servant for 4 years.

Q. Tell me some of the key features of Registered Disability Savings Plans and what parents of disabled children need to know about them.
A: Well, just that right now they’re sort of the poor stepson at most financial institutions. I mean they’re not very flexible. Typically, at worst, they’re really just savings accounts. You can buy GICs or the bank’s mutual funds, which usually have very high management fees.

From what I can tell so far, TD Waterhouse is the only trading partner or trading house that has an RDSP where you can actually buy whatever you want like ETFs. But even the TD plan is not very well set up. It’s pretty cumbersome to put money into.

Q: What’s cumbersome about it?
A: Well, I can’t set up a weekly automatic withdrawal. I have to put money aside into another TD trading account. Then I have to phone up every once in awhile and transfer the money from the trading account into the RDSP. And then I have to call back after the money’s cleared to say, “And now I want to buy these ETF’s or index funds.”

Q: Why is that?
A: I don’t know. I’ve asked TD that a whole bunch of times. It’s just the way the system works. I’ve poked at them as best I can. I’ve asked a few other people to poke at them, but I haven’t really received a satisfactory answer.

Q: Are there legislative rules about how you can invest RDSPs?
A: Not, necessarily. It’s just the banks are putting that kind of limit on things because it’s not a big money maker for them. They’re not going to make a fortune on amounts people deposit into RDSPs.  Whereas with RESPs, there are more people with kids going to university.

Q: What are the contribution limits on RDSPs?
A: The overall lifetime limit for a particular beneficiary is $200,000. Contributions are permitted until the end of the year in which the beneficiary turns 59. Up to a certain amount every year, depending on how much money you make, will be matched by the government.

Based on parental income, an RDSP can get a maximum of $3,500 in matching grants in one year, and up to $70,000 over the beneficiary’s lifetime. A grant can be paid into an RDSP on contributions made to the beneficiary’s RDSP until December 31 of the year the beneficiary turns 49.

Q: Do you have a favorite personal finance blogger that you read religiously?
A: I’ve got a couple. I like reading Michael James “On Money”, but he’s a friend of mine. I really like the Canadian Capitalist, but he’s sort of taken a hiatus. “Boomer & Echo” and the “Canadian Couch Potato” are quite good and so is “My Own Advisor.” I’ve met most of these guys at various conferences. I also read Squawkfox and have had extensive correspondence with her on Twitter.

Q: What, if any, money making opportunities or spin-offs have there been as a result of your blogging career?
A: Well, I don’t do this for the money which is obvious given how little I make at it. This is more of a cathartic thing for me.

Q: If you had only one piece of advice to readers or listeners about getting their finances in order, what would it be?
A: Get out of debt. Debt is a bad thing. There’s no such thing as good debt. It’s all bad. Don’t fool yourself into thinking there’s livable debt like a mortgage or maybe paying for your university. Somehow carrying debt has been normalized in the last 30 years or so but it’s still really not ok.

Thank you very much, Alan. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Thanks for the opportunity Sheryl.

This is an edited transcript you can listen to by clicking on the link above. You can find the Canadian Personal Finance Blog here.

May 5: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

185936832 blog

A couple of travel-related stories caught my eye this week.

If you have a spring or summer wedding on the horizon, find out Why a marriage contract may be right for you. It may not sound romantic, but drawing up a pre-nuptial agreement with your future spouse could save you a lot of grief later on, particularly if both of you are bringing significant assets into a second marriage.

In Retirement do’s and don’ts on the Canadian Personal Finance Blog, Big Cajun Man says make sure you have enough money to retire on, because if you don’t, you aren’t retired, you are destitute. To avoid that undesirable outcome, he recommends taking care of your health, not supporting your adult children and clearing your debts before you retire.

And finally, Krystal Lee has introduced us to her brand of frugality on Give me back my five bucks. But when it comes to fitness, she finally shelled out $100 for the Fitbit Flex and posted a review of the fitness tracking device. She likes the iPhone app, the sleep tracker and the silent alarm. She also says it is easy to use and set up. But she finds the step count to be inaccurate at times and says the calorie counter is a bit annoying.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere. Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.