Tag Archives: Globe and Mail

Your guide to upcoming CPP changes

In June 2016 federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers finally reached an agreement to expand the Canada Pension Plan. However, because the changes will be phased in over an extended period, there has been considerable confusion among many Canadians about how both CPP contributions and benefits will increase, and who the winners and losers will be.

The Globe and Mail reports that an expanded CPP is designed to address the shortfall in middle-income retirement planning that is occurring as a result of disappearing corporate pensions. “Most at risk are workers under the age of 45 with middling incomes – say, families earning about $50,000 to $80,000 a year,” note authors Janet McFarland and Ian McGugan. “Without the defined-benefit pensions that their parents enjoyed, many could hit retirement with little in savings.”

Here is what you need to know about the planned CPP changes.

Effects on CPP retirement pension and post-retirement benefit
Currently, you and your employer pay 4.95% of your salary into the CPP, up to a maximum income level of $55,300 a year. If you are self-employed you contribute the full 9%.

When you retire at the age of 65, you will be paid a maximum annual pension of $13,370 (2017) under the program if you contributed the maximum amount each year for 40 years (subject to drop out provisions). People earning more than $55,300 do not contribute to CPP above that level, and do not earn any additional pension benefit.

The first major change will increase the annual payout target from about 25% of pre-retirement earnings to 33%. That means if you earn $55,300 a year, you would receive a maximum annual pension of about $18,250 in 2017 dollars by the time you retire — an increase of about $4,880/year (subject to the phase in discussed below).

The second change will increase the maximum amount of income covered by the CPP (YMPE) from $55,300 to about $79,400 (estimated) when the program is fully phased in by 2025, which means higher-income workers will be eligible to earn CPP benefits on a larger portion of their income.

For a worker at the $79,400 income level, CPP benefits will rise to a maximum of about $19,900 a year (estimated in 2016 dollars). Contributions to CPP from workers and companies will increase by one percentage point to 5.95% of wages, phased in slowly between 2019 and 2025 to ease the impact. The federal finance department says the portion of earnings between $54,900 and $79,400 will have a different contribution rate for workers and employers, expected to be set at 4%.

The enhancement also applies to the CPP post-retirement benefit. If you are receiving a CPP retirement pension and you continue to work and make CPP contributions in 2019 or later, your post-retirement benefits will be larger.

Impact on CPP disability benefit/survivor’s benefit
The enhancement will also increase the CPP disability benefit and the CPP survivor’s pension starting in 2019. The increase you receive will depend on how much and for how long you contributed to the enhanced CPP.

Impact on CPP death benefit
There is currently a one-time lump sum taxable death benefit of $2,500 for eligible contributors of $2,500. This amount will not change.

The main beneficiaries of the CPP changes will be young employees, who are less likely to have workplace pension plans than older workers. To earn the full CPP enhancement, a person will have to contribute for 40 years at the new levels once the program is fully phased in by 2025. That means people in their teens today will be the first generation to receive the full increase by 2065.

The recently released Old Age Security report from chief actuary Jean-Claude Ménard which includes the GIS illustrates how higher CPP premiums scheduled to begin in 2019 will ultimately affect the OAS program.

The report reveals that because of the planned CPP changes, by 2060, 6.8% fewer low-income Canadians will qualify for the GIS, representing 243,000 fewer beneficiaries. This will save the federal government $3-billion a year in GIS payments.

In other words, higher CPP benefits mean some low income seniors will no longer qualify for the GIS, which is a component of the Old Age Security program. The GIS benefits are based on income and are apply to single seniors who earn less than $17,688 a year and married/common-law seniors both receiving a full Old Age Security pension who earn less than $23,376.

Also read: 10 things you need to know about enhanced CPP benefits

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.

How much should you contribute to your child’s education?

According to a May 2017 Globe and Mail Report average university/college tuition in Saskatchewan is over $7,000/year but you need to also factor in living expenses, books etc. And if your child is just starting kindergarten, it is not easy to predict how costs will escalate over the next decade or more.

Many parents wisely take advantage of the tax breaks and grants available by saving in Registered Educational Savings Plans. But they also expect their kids to contribute to the cost of their post-secondary education by applying for scholarships, working part-time and taking out student loans.

Therefore it is interesting to note the results of a recent poll conducted on behalf of RBC® that found students who receive less than one-quarter of their funding from parents feel more confident in their financial decision-making and are more likely to make and stick to a budget compared to their peers who receive more family financial support .

Students whose parents contribute less than 25% Students whose parents contribute 25% or more
I feel confident in my financial decision making 50% 41%
I make a budget and stick to it 42% 33%

 

Expectations after school
Students receiving more financial support not only have more expectations of parental assistance during school but are twice as likely to expect some help from their parents post-graduation (21% compared to 11%).

“While contributing financially to your child’s education is a wonderful gift, being clear on expectations from both parties is really important. Make sure you discuss the ‘terms’ including when financial support will end,” says Laura Plant, RBC Director, Student Banking

Tips for Parents

  1. Have “the talk”: Start talking about budgeting and money management with your child early on. The earlier you get the conversation started, the more prepared everyone will feel when it comes time to start paying for tuition and other expenses. The transition to post-secondary education is significant – reducing money stresses is one way of easing the change.
  2. Start saving early: If you plan on contributing to your child’s education, save early and save often. One way of getting started is by opening up a Registered Education Savings Plan.
  3. Set the expectations: If you plan on contributing to your children’s post-secondary education, set the expectations on what you will contribute and what you expect them to contribute. Getting everyone on the same page is an important first step.

Tips for Students

  1. Don’t leave free money on the table: No matter how you are funding your education, there are lots of resources out there to help you access free money, including scholarships. Resources such as ScholarshipsCanada.com and StudentAwards.com will help you on your journey to free money.
  2. Save, Save, Save: Develop a habit to save on a regular basis. No matter how small the amount, saving can help you achieve your short and long term financial goals – whether it’s paying for tuition, rent or saving up for a reading week vacation. Let your money work harder for you by setting up automatic transfers from your daily chequing account into a separate high-interest savings account or guaranteed investment certificate to be used towards your goals.
  3. Talk to an expert: Let’s face it, as a post-secondary student (or soon to be student), you have a lot on your plate. Speak with a financial advisor on how to start saving and what options make the most sense for you and your family. This will help set you up for success.

We contributed to our childrens’ university education using RESP savings and current earnings. While I didn’t keep track of how much we gave them or what percent of their educational expenses we covered, they were able to graduate from their first degrees debt free.

Both kids also have Masters degrees and took post-graduate professional college programs which they self-financed. My son had scholarship money and my daughter worked for a major public sector union that paid for her tuition as she successfully passed each course.

I am quite confident that the financial lessons they learned living on a student budget and helping to support themselves were just as important to their future success as the programs they formally studied at university.

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.

Sept 18: Best from the blogosphere

In early September the Bank of Canada raised its key interest rate by another .25% up to one percent from .75%. This decision followed the first hike in July and could be just the second in a string of increases, some economists have predicted in light of the announcement.

In this issue of Best from the Blogosphere, we sample several interesting media articles and blogs that will help you understand how rising interest rates will impact your both ability to manage debt and carry a mortgage.

Robert McLister, mortgage columnist at the Globe and Mail offers 10 things to ponder now that the Bank of Canada has put every mortgage lender on alert. He says adjustable-rate borrowers (whose mortgage payments float with prime rate) will see their payments jump about $12 a month for every $100,000 of mortgage balance.

He also notes that variable rates can still make sense for strong borrowers with a financial cushion or those who might need to break their mortgage early (since variable-rate penalties are usually lower).

But to justify the risk of a variable mortgage, McLister suggests that you look for a rate that’s at least two-thirds of a percentage point less than your best five-year fixed option. That buys you insurance against three more rate hikes.

Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox discusses 6 ways an interest rate hike affects your finances. For example, variable-rate mortgages, or adjustable-rate mortgages, will see an increase as financial institutions increase their lending rates. Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) and lines of credit will cost more. Student loan interest rates can be either fixed or variable (floating). As with mortgages, Taylor says those repaying a variable-rate student loan will see their interest rate go up immediately, while those on fixed rates won’t see a jump until it is time for renewal.

In MoneySense, Martin MacMahon and Denise Wong consider What the latest rate hike means for you. Economist Bryan Yu with Central 1 Credit Union told the authors that people carrying a lot of debt on their credit card will probably start to notice higher interest charges. “They’re going to be facing the quarter-point increase on terms of that debt for their servicing… That’s a quarter point on an annual basis. So, it is going to be a bit of a pinch going forward, ” he says. “In these circumstances people should be looking at paring back some of that debt over time.”

The Globe and Mail’s David Berman explores why even though interest rates are rising, your savings account isn’t growing. Many financial institutions have already passed along this week’s central bank quarter-percentage-point hike to borrowers, raising their prime lending rates to 3.2% on Thursday – but you may need a powerful microscope to see any increase in your savings rates. “Why? The simple reason is because lenders can get away with it,” Berman says.

James Laird, co-founder of Ratehub.ca and president of CanWise Financial mortgage brokerage believes at some point, as rates in Canada continue to rise, there will be an adjustment to all deposit and savings products.  “But it just seems to be that [financial institutions] just don’t look at it as closely as they do on their lending side,” he concludes.

The bank’s decision to raise its key lending rate to one per cent on September 6th, from 0.75 per cent, apparently surprised the markets, which sent the loonie soaring. The Canadian dollar, which had been trading around 80.5 cents U.S. in the morning, spiked by more than a cent to around the 82-cent mark immediately after the Bank of Canada’s announcement. It’s the highest level the currency has seen since June 2015.

So If you have invested in U.S. stocks or have American dollars socked away in a bank account for your next vacation south of the border, the spike in the value of the loonie as a result of the interest hike is bad news. But the soaring loonie as a result of the Bank of Canada’s interest rate announcement is great news if you are planning a U.S. vacation that is priced in American dollars. However, a higher loonie could also slow Canada’s economic momentum, as it will make exports more expensive.


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.

Aug 21: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you want to take a break from swimming and sunning in the waning days of summer, here is our latest selection of personal finance vides for your viewing pleasure.

There was a lot of panic recently after the Bank of Canada finally raised its overnight rate after seven years. In her  latest video, Jessica Moorhouse gives a quick recap on what this interest rate hike was all about and what you should do about it (especially if you’re in debt!).

The Globe and Mail’s personal finance columnist Rob Carrick offers several ideas to reduce the impact of the interest rate increase on your finances. If you have a mortgage, he suggests paying down the principal, even with money you were planning to put into an RRSP.

Father Jonathan Chevreau and his daughter Helen are interviewed on CBC Business news about what it is like when “boomerang kids” move home years after they left the first time.

Click here to listen

Kornel Szreibjer, host of Build Wealth Canada interviewed Randy Cass CEO of Nest Wealth, a robo advisor service. Robo-advisors are a class of financial advisers that provide financial advice or portfolio management online with minimal human intervention. For more ways to listen to the podcast click here.

 

And finally, couples manage finances in different ways. MoneySense profiles three different couples who talk about their financial goals and steps they have taken to meet them.


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.

June 12: Best from the blogosphere

In the mid-1990s when I obtained my Master of Laws (LLM) from University of Leicester via a distance degree I traveled back and forth to Europe for five extended study weekends. That’s when I first got an Aeroplan number and a CIBC Aeroplan Visa and began aggressively collecting points.

As a result we were able to get almost free flights to many wonderful places including South America, Italy and the U.K. But recently convenient flights have cost more points and additional fees have increased so it has become more and more difficult to use up Aeroplan points in a cost-effective way.

Therefore, several years ago I traded in my Aeroplan VISA for a Capital One MasterCard that offers two points for every dollar spent and travel rewards of $1 for each 100 points accumulated.  I haven’t looked back since then.

But many of you who have stuck with Aeroplan through thick and thin will be affected by the announcement that beginning June 30, 2020. Aeroplan will no longer be the loyalty program for Air Canada.  Instead Air Canada has decided to launch its own loyalty program upon the expiry of its commercial agreement with Aimia, the operator of Aeroplan.

Many details of how the program will be phased out remain unclear, but the collection of media articles and blogs below may answer some of your questions.

A two-part series on Rewards Canada explores what we know now and questions that remain outstanding.

  1.  Air Canada to launch own loyalty program in 2020! Aeroplan should continue to be a partner includes excerpts from the Aeroplan news release and questions whether the new Aeroplan will have access to Star Alliance members’ award inventory or if it will become exclusive to Air Canada’s new program.
  2. Further thoughts, insight and tips on the split between Air Canada and Aeroplan suggests that perhaps Air Canada will pad their loyal flyers account with some miles to begin with, or they may put in place some sort of transfer option. However it seems from the news provided by both Aeroplan and Air Canada there will be no way to transfer between the two programs, at least for the time being.

The Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick explores rewarding replacements for those of you who are bailing on Air Canada. He says, “Figure out which program works best for you and start watching for special introductory offers to lure new clients. Competition between programs will heat up as we move closer to Air Canada’s departure from Aeroplan.”

Stephen Weyman on HowToSaveMoney.ca says Aeroplan has committed to keeping your miles safe and will allow you to continue redeeming them for flights on Air Canada even after the 2020 deadline. But what could change is the cost in miles for doing so. He says, “I expect the cost will increase substantially, so if you want to fly Air Canada or Star Alliance, you should try and redeem most of your miles before 2020.” Weyman also explores which Aeroplan credit card is really the best.

And finally, read about how a family of four collected one million travel reward points in 12 months and is travelling the world on business class . Global News multimedia journalist Emanuela Campanella writes about Pedro Pla, 35, from Puerto Rico and Grace Cheng, 36, from Singapore who began their odyssey with their two toddlers in January 2017.

“We made it our family goal at the start of 2016 to collect a million air miles through travel hacking. In order to reach this goal, we had to research and plan meticulously so that we were able to maximize the earning of credit card points or miles per dollar of spending,” Pia says. “The bulk of our one million miles was earned from the ground, which means that we earned them as credit card rewards points or miles when we use our credit cards to pay for purchases.”


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.

May 8: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

In late April the Globe and Mail’s Globe Talks series widely advertised a panel discussion called “Invest Like A Legend” hosted by Report on Business editor Duncan Hood and featuring speakers David Rosenberg, William J. Bernstein and Prett Bannerjee.

When Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox read about the session, she immediately blogged her displeasure in A woman’s place is on a panel.She wrote, “Despite The Globe’s inability to ‘find’ a lady investing expert, both my Twitter feed and my inbox exploded with prospective panelists. So I made a binder — a binder full of financial women.”

Therefore, in solidarity with some of the terrific financial women I have met over the last several years as a personal finance writer, this week’s Best from the Blogosphere highlights some of their work.

In her blog Want to cash-out on your real estate? Read this, Lesley-Anne Scorgie says, “When times are good in real estate there are plenty of reasons to cash-out. But, the cash-out only works to your financial benefit if you’re actually putting real money towards your net worth…that does not mean selling an expensive property and using the equity to buy a less expensive property.”

Toronto Star consumer columnist Ellen Roseman documents changes to Tangerine Bank’s no-fee money-back MasterCard that she says “wowed so many Canadians eager for innovation.” She notes that barely one year after the launch, Tangerine MasterCard is raising fees and cutting benefits – a move many customers call bait and switch. For example, the two percent rebate on two categories of purchases remains. But the rebate on all other purchases dropped to 0.5%, starting April 29.

Cait Flanders, who has previously written about her one year shopping ban and extensive decluttering says it’s now time for her to embrace slow technology. While she acknowledges freely that social media has played an important role in forging her personal and business relationships, she has committed to:

  • A 30-day social media detox (April 29th – May 28th).
  • Figure out the role she wants social media to play in her life.
  • Check/reply to email less often (also experiment with not checking on her phone).
  • Figure out the role she wants technology to play in her life (phone, computers, TV, etc.)
  • Read from a book every day

Jordann Brown, who blogs at My Alternate Life, recently shared her experience in How to Sell a Car in Canada as a Beginner. She researched how much her Volkswagen City Golf was worth and concluded she could sell it for much more than the $1,200 the dealership offered her when she bought her 2014 Subaru Crosstrek. She determined the car was worth $4,000, had the car professionally cleaned and did some small repairs. The car was advertised for $4,500 on Kijiji and after several days she happily accepted a $4,000 cash offer.

And finally, Jessica Moorhouse shares valuable information about banks and credit unions with free chequing accounts in Canada. You will not be surprised to discover that the list does not include the big five banks. However, Tangerine is now owned by the Bank of Nova Scotia.


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.

April 24: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

It’s show time again! For your viewing pleasure, in this monthly feature we present links to a selection of personal finance videos.

For students who may be filing an income tax return for the first time (and there is still one week left), CRA offers a series of 10 short videos. For example, Segment 2: Do I have to file is geared towards helping Canadian students determine whether or not they need to file an income tax and benefit return.

Globe and Mail columnist Rob Carrick shares four steps for millennials to get started as  investors, including where to put savings for a home down payment and where not to invest  savings.

Preet Bannerjee, author of Stop Over-Thinking Your Money: The Five Simple Rules of Financial Success (Portfolio Penguin, 2014) offers five simple rules of financial success. Rule #1 is to “disaster-proof” your life.

And finally, a video from the Canada Deposit and Insurance Company interviews three couples about their financial hopes and dreams and ways that they are protecting their hard-earned money.


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.

April 3: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

It’s almost two weeks since the 2017 federal budget was tabled, so there is lots of “second day” commentary in the mainstream media to draw on for this issue. Saskatchewan also tabled a budget including some provisions that will impact your bottom line.

In the lead up to the federal budget trial balloons were floated regarding making employer-paid premiums for health insurance taxable benefits and changing the taxable rates for capital gains, but none of these dire predictions came to pass.

In the Ottawa Citizen, Kate McInturff, a senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives wrote that the budget is a first step to better the lives of women in Canada. She reports that the government will spend $100.9 million over five years to establish a National Strategy to Address Gender-Based Violence — a problem that has directly affected more than one million women in the past five years.

Erin Anderssen at the Globe and Mail offers seven things to know about Canada’s new parental benefits. Once the provinces pass job protection legislation, parents will be able to stretch their leave out for 18 months, but this will mean stretching benefits at a lower rate. The government is expected to move quickly, but the changes may not happen until next year.

Contrary to pre-budget expectations, Lee Berthiaume notes in a Canadian Press article that life-long pensions for veterans were not included in the Liberal government’s second budget. Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s new fiscal plan did contain new spending for veterans and their families, specifically $725 million in promised additional benefits over five years. Still, as welcome as the new money will be, the big question for many veterans is how the government plans to bring back life-long pensions as an option for those injured in uniform.

Hello Uber tax, goodbye transit credit says CBC News. The proposed levy on Uber and other ride-hailing services will for the first time impose GST/HST on fares, in the same way they are charged on traditional taxi services. The non-refundable public transit tax credit — a so-called boutique tax credit introduced by the previous Conservative government — will be phased out on July 1. The credit enabled public transit users to apply 15% of their eligible expenses on monthly passes and other fares toward reducing the amount of tax they owe.

And closer to home, the Saskatchewan budget hikes provincial sales tax to 6% and for the first time, the tax will apply to children’s clothes. CBC presents an analysis of how the PST hike will hit you in the pocketbook.

The government will also wind down the government-owned Saskatchewan Transportation Company, which it says would have required require an anticipated subsidy of $85 million over the next five years.

There were 574 layoff notices attached to this budget, including cleaners in government buildings and workers at the Saskatchewan Transportation Company.

Other notable provincial budget measures include:

  • The exemption for the bulk purchase of gasoline is being scrapped and a tax exemption for diesel fuel is being reduced to 80% of the amount purchased.
  • So-called sin taxes on booze and cigarettes are going up.
  • Various tax credits — including for education and tuition expenses — are being eliminated.
  • Effective July 1/17saskatchewan will apply provincial sales tax to life, accident and health insurance premiums.
  • The Saskatchewan government says it will offset some of the tax increases by reducing income taxes by a half-point on July 1, 2017 and by the same amount on July 1, 2019.


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.

Mar 27: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

It’s that time of month again. Here are a series of personal finance videos for your viewing pleasure.

Rob Carrick at the Globe and Mail says an overlooked way to prepare for retirement is to establish the groundwork for working beyond age 65 when you are still in your 40s and 50s.

Another interesting Globe and Mail video offers valuable advice on avoiding financial fraudsters including how to protect your computer and online passwords.

Bridget Casey from Money after Graduation posted three ways to spring clean your finances last April, but her suggestions are still relevant a year later. She says one of the first things you should do is get your free credit report.

Former gambler turned personal finance coach Beau Humphreys shares his journey from drowning in debt to financial freedom with Jessica Moorhouse in her Mo’ Money podcast.

In this video from CBC The National, Christine Burak and Natalie Kalata report that Canadians are living longer healthier lives but they are having more difficulty saving for a longer period of retirement.


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.

Burn your mortgage: An interview with author Sean Cooper

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen
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.