I love online banking because I like to visit my money every day to make sure it’s still all there. So imagine my surprise when the RBC account I share with my mother and sister went within a couple of days from half a million dollars in arrears to a balance of +$500,000!
My sister discovered the deficit initially when in late May she tried to take out a small amount of cash for my mother and she was locked out of the account.
In fact, in mid-May at our request CIBC Investors Edge had processed a transfer of $512,000 from the RBC account to our CIBC investment account. This was the proceeds of sale from my mother’s condo. But then CIBC initiated a second transfer of the exact same amount on May 29th and since there was only a few thousand dollars in the RBC account to pay monthly bills, we were left with a huge negative balance.
When I contacted CIBC, our IE representative told us that as a result of “a bank error” thousands of May transfers into CIBC IE were duplicated and that the problem would be rectified within a day. Meanwhile, RBC said not to worry, because the second transfer out would be sent back and the negative balance in the account would be reversed as we do not have overdraft protection. However, just to make sure I was advised to notify any vendors with automatic withdrawals that their cheques may bounce temporarily.
That occurred within hours and our RBC account was unlocked. But the next day CIBC IE also “fixed” the problem by transferring $512,000 back into the RBC account, leaving us with a hefty, unwarranted surplus! Much as I was tempted to blow town and take an around-the-world cruise, I dutifully reported the new error to our CIBC IE representative. He said the second mistake would be quickly rectified.
Shortly after, I also got a call from the CIBC Director of Executive Client Relations apologizing for the inconvenience and assuring me the $512,000 erroneously deposited to our account would be out of the RBC account on Friday June 2nd. It took until June 6th for the extra $512,000 to disappear.
In spite of our conversation I still can’t figure out how similar mistakes possibly involving thousands of clients were never communicated to clients up front or investigated by the mainstream media. I was told CIBC had no idea there had been a computer glitch until their clients started reporting the mistakes.
This comedy of errors was reversed in a few days and the only residual effect that I am left with is a great story. But it could have been much worse if I wasn’t able to track the errors online and quickly make the necessary calls to understand and correct the errors. And it was also time-consuming and embarrassing to have to make multiple calls and stop payment on the monthly payment to my mother’s nursing home.
So the moral of the story is: Check your recorded bank account transactions frequently either in person or online. If something looks wrong it probably is. The sooner you intervene and get it fixed, the less chance there is that an error will go unnoticed, affecting both your cash flow and your credit rating.
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.
You have filed your income tax return and now all you are waiting for is to see your overpayment appear in your bank account. While paying too much taxes and getting it back at the end of the year really means you are giving the Canada Revenue Agency a no-interest loan, the fact is that particularly with interest rates so low, many of us look forward to a windfall every spring.
Because my husband retired in June 2015, we are getting a nice chunk of money back and we are planning to spend it on a cruise to Australia and New Zealand for our 40th anniversary this fall. But depending on your age and stage of life, there may be many better places to spend the money than taking an exotic vacation.
Here are some options for you to consider in no specific order:
Pay off high interest debt
If you have credit card or other high interest consumer debt and can only afford to make minimum payments, double digit interest rates mean the amount you owe is growing instead of shrinking. Consider consolidating your debts a lower rate of interest and paying them down with your income tax return.
Seed your emergency account
Everyone knows somebody who has lost their job or had to stop work earlier than planned due to family illness. Most financial experts suggest you have at least three months’ salary in your emergency fund. This calculator from RBC can help you figure out how much you need. Your income tax return can help you seed or top up an emergency fund.
Pay down your student loan Canada Student Loans are interest-free for six months after you graduate or leave school. You can choose between a fixed interest rate (where the rate doesn’t change for the duration of your loan) and a variable, or “floating,” interest rate (where it can fluctuate). For Canada Student Loans issued on or after August 1, 1995:
The fixed interest rate is prime + 5%
The floating interest rate is prime + 2.5%
The sooner you pay off your student loan, the sooner you can free up disposable income to save for other family priorities like a house or a car.
Pay down your mortgage
The longest running personal finance debate is whether you should use an income tax return or other windfall to pay down your mortgage or contribute to an RRSP or TFSA. Typically if you are paying a higher interest rate than you are earning in a savings vehicle, paying down your mortgage is more advantageous. Also, if at all possible, try to pay off your mortgage before you retire.
Contribute to a TFSA
In 2016 you can contribute $5,500 to a tax-free savings account. Contribution room from previous years can be carried forward. There is no tax deduction for contributions but your principle and any interest accumulates tax free and there is no tax on withdrawals. Also, if you take money out your TFSA contribution room is restored. Using your tax return to contribute to a TFSA allows you to accumulate money for retirement or other major purchases in the years prior to retirement. It is also a good place to park your emergency fund.
Contribute to an RRSP
Are you one of those people who scrambles to come up with a registered retirement savings plan contribution in February every year? By contributing your tax return to your RRSP you will get a head start on this year’s contribution and reach your retirement goals much sooner.
Contribute to an RESP Tuition fees alone for Canadian undergraduate programs are currently about $6,000/year and they will be much higher before your young children graduate from high school. College tuition is lower but by the time you add books, living expenses and transportation costs these programs also cost thousands of dollars a year. If you use your income tax return to contribute to a Registered Educational Savings Plan, the money will accumulate tax free and taxes will be paid by the student who will likely have to pay little or no taxes. Also, an annual contribution of up to $2,500 will attract a government grant of up to $500/year to a lifetime maximum of $7,200.
Give to charity
If you donate all or part of your tax refund to an approved charity, you will not only benefit others, but you will get a non-refundable tax credit. If it is the first time you have made a charitable donation you may be eligible for the first-time donor’s super credit which supplements the value of the charitable donations tax credit by 25%. The FDSC applies to a gift of money made after March 20, 2013, up to a maximum of $1,000, in respect of only one taxation year from 2013 to 2017.
Upgrade your education
You want to upgrade your skills to put you in line for a promotion. You are bored with your current job and want to train part-time for another one. You’ve always wanted to fix your own car or learn a new language. You can use your income tax return to upgrade your education and you may also be entitled to tax credits for the tuition paid.
Invest in your health
Your dental plan does not cover the braces your child needs. You need a new pair of glasses that cost way more than the $150 every two years paid by your medical plan. You want buy training sessions at your gym to reach your fitness goals faster. Your income tax return can be used to invest in you or your family’s health and wellness.
A press release I read recently titled “What will you do with your 2,000 hours a year when you retire?” made me stop and think about how my husband and I have spent our time since I left my corporate job 11 years ago and he fully retired in mid-2015.
An RBC survey of 1,500 working Canadians age 50 and older found almost three-quarters (73%) are unsure what they’ll do with that extra time. While the study found nearly two-thirds (64%) have done some planning for how they will finance retirement, less than half have planned for retirement lifestyle decisions, such as where they will live, where they will travel (44% each) and what activities they will do (46%).
I was 54 when I retired from a benefits consulting firm with a reduced pension and post-retirement medical benefits. I never intended to stop working and had a job lined up as editor of an employee benefits magazine working from home. That eventually morphed into a freelance writing business.
My husband had no pension other than government benefits when he retired from his position as a software engineer with a major telecommunications company at age 65. However, over the years he made maximum allowable contributions to individual and Group RRSPs. After a couple of months’ break he contacted his former employer about contract work, but no opportunities have materialized.
We moved to a new “infill” house in Toronto near the subway in 2001 and since then, the value of our two-story plus basement home has doubled in value. We’d love to renovate a large bungalow and stay in the area, but the prices of even much smaller homes have increased so much that we would end up with significantly less house for the same amount of money.
Based on a previous mobility issue, I‘d like to be living on one floor sooner rather than later, but for now we are staying put. We go to the gym regularly and climbing stairs helps us stay fit. When we were both working we paid for regular housecleaning, snow removal and grass-cutting. We now employ outside help less frequently but we are prepared to ramp it up again if one or both of us has health problems.
Vacations are a high priority for us and our favourite mode of travel is cruising. We want to see and do as much as we can as long as we are healthy and able to purchase comprehensive travel health insurance. At least once a year, we try to bring our daughter’s family living in Ottawa on holidays with us so we can spend more quality time with them.
Paying for expensive travel is one explanation for why I continue taking on freelance writing jobs. But the other reason is that I thrive on deadlines and I really love to get paid for something I enjoy doing. My hobbies include reading, working out and singing in a community choir but interviewing and writing provides me with both structure and a creative outlet. I work about 30 hours a week so I have loads of flexibility to fit in personal appointments, travel and family time.
In contrast, my husband has found a whole new creative outlet since he retired. He finished off a coffee table that he has been working on for years and there is a matching end table on the drawing board. He has also designed and a produced a series of beautiful cheese boards, bread boards and cutting boards (see above) that friends and family have received as welcome gifts. While in future he may consider selling a few of his pieces there is no pressure for him to do so.
I can’t say we exactly planned in advance how we would fill up our days when we left the world of work, but once our finances were in order, we had the latitude to make it up as we went along. We know that retirement in our 50s and 60s (the go-go phase) is likely to be different than in our 70s and 80s (the slow-go phase) or even 90s (the no-go phase) but I think we’re on the right track. I’ll know when it is time to send out the last invoice and together we will decide when it is the right time to sell our house and downsize.
Have you thought about how you will spend your time once you leave the office for the last time? Tell us how you are spending your 2,000 hours by sending an email to email@example.com. We’d love share your story.
Recently Rob Carrick at the Globe and Mail wrote Prepare for the worst and make 2016 the year of the emergency fund. According to Carrick, the emergency fund is how you survive a financial setback without raiding your retirement savings, adding to your line of credit debt or borrowing from relatives. “Think of an emergency fund as insurance against a short-term setback that affects your long-term financial goals,” Carrick says.
20 Reasons Why You Need am Emergency Fund by Trent Hamm on thesimpledollar.com lists all of the obvious reasons (job loss, illness, urgent medical expenses) why you may need to tap into an emergency fund plus a few you never thought of. Some more obscure examples are:
Your identity is stolen, locking you out of your credit cards and/or bank account for a while until the issue gets straightened out.
An unexpected professional change forces you to relocate quickly.
A relative or friend of yours passes away suddenly in another part of the country (or the world).
You discover your partner is cheating on you, and for your own safety and peace of mind you have to pack your bags quickly and go.
How much do you need to save in your emergency fund? Typically financial experts suggest three to six months of fixed (as opposed to completely discretionary expenses). Emergency fund calculators from RBC and moneyunder30.com can help you figure out how much you should set aside.
Jason Heath at MoneySense is not a big fan of emergency funds if that means a substantial amount of cash sitting in a bank account doing nothing. He says, “I’m all for having the potential to cover 6 months of expenses in the event of an emergency. But I’d rather someone be able to do so through a combination of modest savings and ideally, a low-interest rate debt facility like a secured line of credit.”
Gail Vax-Oxlade believes the TFSA is a perfect place to stash your emergency fund. She says, “The best thing about the TFSA is its flexibility. You can take money out of your TFSA at any time for any purpose, without losing the contribution room, which makes this account the number one choice for socking away an emergency fund. So even if you take money out in one year, you can put it back the next, without affecting that year’s contribution limit ($5,500 for 2016).”
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.
If you are just starting to consider retirement you may be more focused on planning for the financial implications of leaving the world of work. But if you think you will get to pick the ideal day to walk off into the sunset without any regrets, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.
According to the 2015 RBC Retirement Myths & Realities Poll, already-retired Boomers (aged 50+) identified three retirement realities that contradict the expectations of their counterparts who have not yet retired:
It’s not all about money: Retirees don’t miss their pay cheques from work as much as pre-retirees expect to, by a margin of almost two-to-one (26% compared to 49%). What retirees do miss most is their social time with colleagues at work (51%).
Time is of the essence: While simply taking time for myself is how the majority of retirees (72%) report they are actually spending their time, travel tops the “expect to do in retirement” list for a similar majority of pre-retirees.
Choosing the date: Close to half (43%) of retirees didn’t get to choose their retirement date, in contrast to the 80% of pre-retirees who expect to have that choice. Retirees cited several reasons why they left their working lives behind before they were ready to do so, including health, the need to provide care to someone else and their employer’s request.
Through its annual poll and a separate research study, RBC also explored retirement income expectations of three specific groups of Canadians who are not yet retired: single women (not married, separated/divorced or widowed), business owners and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
As pre-retirees, single women and business owners were equally concerned (41% each) that they would not have enough money to live well and do what they want when they retire. In a separate RBC-sponsored LGBT retirement study, conducted by the University of Waterloo’s RBC Retirement Research Centre, 30% of LGBT pre-retirees shared similar worries, stating they expected their funds would be inadequate or barely enough to achieve the retirement they have in mind.
“Each of these realities has retirement planning implications for Canadians, including how they will affect the lifestyle they hope to achieve when they are no longer working,” noted Yasmin Musani, head of Retirement and Successful Aging Strategies, RBC. “They raise important questions for Boomers to consider about their life goals and priorities as they approach retirement. For example, ‘What social network will you have in retirement?’ and ‘How will you spend your time?'”
More detailed survey results comparing national and Manitoba/Saskatchewan responses are presented in the tables below.
Buying a home is probably the most significant purchase most people make in their lifetime. Whether you are buying your first house or you are a seasoned homeowner, it is important to understand your legal rights and obligations.
PLEA suggests that you keep the following 10 things in mind before you go house hunting.
What can you afford? Generally mortgage lenders suggest that the cost of your mortgage payments, property taxes, heating and condo fees (if applicable), make up no more than 32% of your household’s monthly income before taxes. Lending institutions generally look at keeping total debt payments below 40% of a household’s gross income.
Mortgage costs: It’s usually a good idea to shop for financing before you start house hunting to determine the maximum amount of money you can borrow and discuss payment schedules. Your lending institution may commit to a certain size of mortgage at a set interest rate. This is called a pre-approved mortgage and it will help you determine your price range.
Down payment: Generally speaking, you will have to come up with a down payment of at least 20% of the purchase price to qualify for a mortgage. However, if you can obtain mortgage loan insurance through government programs such as Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), or private mortgage insurers you may be able to obtain a mortgage with as little as a 5% down payment. Some restrictions apply.
Ongoing Costs: In addition to mortgage payments you should budget for annual property taxes plus heating water and electricity bills. Therefore, the energy efficiency of the home may be one thing to keep in mind when you are considering properties. You may also have to buy furniture, appliances, window coverings and tools to do repairs and maintenance work.
Closing costs: Closing costs are additional expenses that must be paid before the purchase is complete. Generally, buyers should budget 1.5% to 4.5% of the purchase price for these costs. Some of the closing costs include legal fees, including disbursements; pro-rated property taxes for the portion of the year the vendor paid for when you will be the owner; the GST for new homes or homes that have been substantially renovated or re-located; property insurance; mortgage life insurance; and, utility deposits and hook up charges.
Real estate agent vs private sale: Generally speaking real estate commission is paid by the seller and free to the buyer. The advantage of using an agent is he/she can show you all of the suitable listed properties in your price range and preferred area. However, you can buy property directly from a seller and the price may reflect the fact that the seller does not have to pay a commission. But if you do purchase a home privately, have a lawyer review or draft the offer or any other documents to ensure that they are legally sound and contain only the terms you have agreed to.
Caveat emptor: Generally when buying a home, the rule is “buyer beware.” Check out the home carefully and make the offer conditional on a home inspection. However, the seller must tell you about any defects he is aware of that could not be discovered by a reasonable inspection of the property. Things like past problems with water in the basement, windows that leak when it rains or faulty plumbing would likely be included in this category if the seller knows about the problem.
Farmland or other non-residential property: Each type of purchase involves its own unique considerations. If you are considering the purchase of farmland, acreages, commercial, recreational or rental property, there may be additional things to find out about the property before making an offer to purchase. You should seek advice from a real estate agent or a lawyer to ensure that all the relevant factors are adequately considered.
Building /renovating: If you are planning to purchase land where you can build a home, have the land inspected to ensure that it is suitable for the type of construction planned. Whether considering new construction or major renovations, it is important to find out if there are any municipal bylaws that may limit building plans. Whether you will be doing all or part of the work or using contractors, it is important to seek legal advice before signing contracts for materials or services.
Condominiums: Condominiums are typically made up of individually owned units and common areas used by all the owners, as well as common areas that are set aside for the exclusive use of particular units (such as dedicated parking spaces). The cost of maintaining these common areas comes out of the condo fees all owners pay. The fund for major repairs is called the Reserve Fund. Satisfy yourself as to the state of repairs of common areas and the health of the Reserve Fund. Otherwise you may be in for a nasty surprise when you have to pay an unexpected levy of thousands of dollars.
The abolition of mandatory retirement across the country has removed a major obstacle for people who want to work beyond age 65. But options for older workers who need to be insured for long term disability (LTD) late in their career are very limited.
The reality is that if you stick with the same employer, your group LTD coverage will typically terminate at age 65. So I asked Lorne Marr, Director of Business Development at LSM Insurance* what’s available in individual LTD policies.
He told me that only one company (The Edge) he is aware of offers coverage to age 70 but the policy is less comprehensive than a more typical LTD policy from RBC ending at age 65.
Table 1: RBC LTD Quotes Mid-level male manager Non smoker
BENEFIT PERIOD To Age 65
Source: LSM Insurance
First of all, the RBC policy provides that insured clients are covered if they are unable to work at their own occupation until age 65. In contrast, The Edge only pays benefits for three years if a disabled individual cannot be employed in his/her own occupation and then he/she is expected to work in “any reasonable” occupation.
The premiums on the RBC LTD policy are also guaranteed for the life of the policy. The younger the insured is when the policy is taken out, the lower the monthly payments. The Edge plan is guaranteed renewable, but the premiums can be increased for the whole class.
Finally, The RBC LTD policy has residual disability provision allowing disabled plan members to work in a limited capacity both during the elimination period and once they are receiving disability benefit payments. The Edge does not have comparable flexibility.
It is also interesting to note that policies from The Edge with an age 70 benefit period split out coverage for injury and illness and only 30 day and 120 elimination periods are available. Therefore, to get similar coverage to the RBC policy (subject to the differences discussed above), an individual would have to buy both.
Table 2: The Edge LTD Quotes* Mid-level male manager Non smoker
BENEFIT PERIOD To Age 65
Source: LSM Insurance
Table 2 illustrates that injury only coverage is relatively inexpensive. Furthermore, it is not displayed in the table, but The Edge’s guaranteed issue, injury only coverage is available to age 75.
In addition, Hunter McCorquodale offers unique solutions and high issue limits for executives and other highly-paid people still working beyond age 65 for as long as they are working. They will quote on full accident and illness coverage underwritten by Lloyd’s of London.
If you are applying for LTD at a young age, it may be difficult to predict if you will want or need to work beyond age 65. And with the limited, less than optimum types of polices with a benefit period to age 70 or beyond, you may eliminate such extended coverage from consideration almost immediately.
But Marr sees extending LTD benefit periods to age 70 as a good niche market opportunity for other carriers. “Because none of us can predict how long we might want to work, and coverage can be cancelled at any time, I’m hoping more companies will revisit their benefit periods and at least give clients the option to select coverage until age 70,” he says.
*LSM Insurance Brokers is located in Markham, Ontario. They have a working relationship with Delorie Jacobs and Gord Martens affiliates with the Sentinel Financial Group headquartered in Saskatoon.
Canadians love loyalty programs. The 2013 Loyalty Census from the industry research group Colloquy reports that 120 million consumers in this country belong to at least one loyalty program and the average number of loyalty programs per household is 8.2. But the challenge you face is selecting the loyalty programs that will give you the best bang for their bucks.
Typically websites that evaluate loyalty programs either rank programs based on the stated preferences of survey participants or by weighting various features like points per dollar spent and the value you can get when you spend the points in different ways.
But the research company Environics recently developed a “time to reward” algorithm for Colloquy that ups the ante by predicting how many months it actually takes to earn $100 CAD in rewards.
The calculation not only takes into consideration the potential payback from a program, but factors like usage patterns, the ability to double-dip (i.e. get points for the dollar value of your travel purchase plus the number of miles you fly) and how much you buy from a particular retailer.
Initially, over 1000 Canadians surveyed online in March 2014 by Environics were asked to select which of 23 top loyalty programs (14 of which have a non-credit loyalty card only) they used to collect loyalty rewards or dollars in the past three months. The programs in the list had membership of at least one per cent of the Canadian population and multiple programs could be picked from the list provided.
The top 10 selected were:
72%: Air Miles
35%: Shopper’s Optimum
29%: Canadian Tire Money
28%: PC Points
17%: Scene Rewards
17%: HBC Rewards
13%: Club Sobey
12%: Sears Card
However, once all 23 programs were assessed by Environics applying “time to rewards” metrics, rankings in some categories changed. Not surprisingly, the Air Miles and Aeroplan programs took the first and second spots for long and short haul flight rewards. Both are “coalition” loyalty programs (members can earn points through hundreds of retail partners, as opposed to just one).
But Aeroplan dropped to the number three spot after the Shoppers Optimum card when it came to how quickly cash equivalent rewards can accumulate. The Shoppers Drug Mart program regularly runs promotions where a large number of points is awarded for spending specified amounts on certain days.
The research also revealed the credit cards that will get a program member to a cash equivalent or merchandise reward the quickest tend to be retailer-specific or bank-issued credit cards. The Canadian Tire Cash Advantage MasterCard, the Best Buy Reward Zone Visa and the RBC Shoppers Optimum Card ranked 1, 2 and 3 in this category.
The Environics Research contains many more “time to reward” comparisons for loyalty programs and loyalty credit cards you can check out here. There is also an interactive online tool where you can test which Canadian loyalty programs will get you to your desired reward faster (i.e. travel rewards, cash or merchandise) using either your own spending pattern or pre-programmed Statistics Canada data.
Of course your favourite loyalty program may not have sufficient market penetration to even have been considered in the Environics study.
When I polled several prominent personal finance bloggers to find out the loyalty programs they use the most, Tom Drake (Canadian Finance) said his number one choice is a Costco Executive Membership, which is notably absent from the Environics study. It pays back two per cent of most purchases throughout the year in cash. “I also pay using my True Earnings Card from Costco and American Express which gives me another one per cent cash back or two per cent when I fill up with gas,” he says.
Robb Engen (Boomer & Echo) identified Scene Rewards which allows you to earn points that can be spent on free movies, concession food and music downloads as probably one of the most under-rated loyalty programs in the country. He also subscribes to Amazon Prime for $79/year because it gives him free two-day shipping on most items that Amazon carries.
And even though he is an avid Air Miles fan, Jim Yee (Retire Happy) believes it’s important to take a balanced approach to racking up points vs other important cost-saving considerations. “Safeway gives Air Miles but sometimes it’s more convenient or less expensive to shop elsewhere for groceries,” he says.
It’s hard to believe its August already and before we know it the kids will be back in school. But you know for sure summer is waning when it starts to get dark earlier and the temperatures begin dropping at night.
This week we feature a selection of interesting blogs from some of our favourite personal finance bloggers.
Blonde on a budget’s Cait Flanders has undertaken a massive purge of her possessions starting with her bedroom closet as part of her commitment to a one year “shopping ban.” Find out what’s left and the few necessities she needs that will be exceptions to the rule.
Do you need a little extra money? Tom Drake says on Canadian Finance blog that you might already have it. He suggests Tracking your spending for one to three months. You might find that there are money leaks that are costing you big. Once you plug those up, you can essentially “find” more money in your budget.
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.
Today we are continuing with the 2014 savewithSPP.com series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers. I’m talking to Krystal Yee who blogs on “Give me back my five bucks” and the “Frugal Wanderer.”
With over eight years of professional experience in marketing, communications, and writing, her career has spanned a variety of different industries. From ghost writing in the provincial government, event coordinating for a professional hockey team, to marketing cold water survival gear – she’s done just about everything.
In 2012 Krystal lived in Stuttgart, Germany. There, she worked remotely for clients such as the Toronto Star (moneyville.ca), Canadian Living, and Flare Magazine. In her spare time, she loves travelling, hiking, tweeting, and analyzing baseball statistics.
Hi Krystal. Thanks for joining me today.
Thanks for having me.
Q: When and why did you start your blog “givemebackmyfivebucks”?
A: Well, I started that blog back in February 2007, because I was finding it hard to relate to my friends in real life about the money issues I was having. I was uncomfortable bringing up a topic that, at the time, seemed really personal.
So once I found that personal finance blogs existed, I became really inspired and motivated, knowing there are other people out there like me who wanted to change their lives. That was the reason why I started my own blog.
Q: Seven years ago you had over $20,000 in student debt and no money. Now, you are a debt free homeowner. How did you do it?
A: It was a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but I knew that I needed a life change. And I decided not to hide from my debt any longer, and that was really, really scary. The first thing I did was calculate how much I owed. I gave myself one year to get out of debt. So I started building budgets, saving money any way I could, and increasing my income. And actually attacking my debt from all of those angles helped to speed up the process.
Q: What are some of the mistakes you think that you made along the way before you got on your debt repayment plan, and what would you do differently if you had it to just do all over again?
A: I think one of my biggest mistakes was not creating a realistic budget. I wanted to get where I wanted to be as fast as possible, but I didn’t take into account how unsustainable that would be. After taking that year to get out of debt, I thought I could keep up with this bare bones budget to save money faster but I started to get really tired of what I perceived as constant deprivation.
As a result I found that I was rebelling against myself and my goals, and that was a really strange feeling. It actually took me a few months to realize what was actually realistic in the long term. And even today, I really have to question the budgets I make for myself and the goals I’m settings, just to make sure they satisfy the saver in me, but it also lets me live the kind of lifestyle that I want.
Q: Now, in “givemebackmyfivebucks,” you discuss your financial goals, your successes and failures. You put up weekly and monthly budgets. That’s really baring your soul. What reaction have you had from family and friends and your readers?
A: Well, for the first few years I started my blog, I was actually anonymous, so I felt safe. I was scared of what my family and friends would say about how much I was sharing on the internet, but once I actually started writing for The Toronto Star’s website moneyville.ca, I realized that speaking frankly and opening myself up, was really empowering.
Q: In 2012, you moved to a very small apartment in Stuttgart and worked remote. What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
A: It was really liberating moving to Germany and working for myself. You know, everyone dreams about quitting the 9-to-5 routine and becoming your own boss. I imagined sitting in European cafes all day long people watching and writing for clients. While I did that almost every day, because of the time zone difference, I also had to work a lot of late nights since my clients were all in North America. It was a really big adjustment for me.
But I think the biggest challenge was the isolation. Not only was I in a country where everyone spoke a different language, but working for myself. So when I moved back to Vancouver, I went back to a corporate job because I needed that daily interaction with other people.
Q: You love to travel and you manage to travel economically. You write about your experiences on the “frugalwanderer.” What has been your favorite trip to date?
A: Oh, my favorite trip was the one I took in November 2013 to Morocco. It was a mix of the people and the landscape and the food that made it so exciting. And I never thought I’d get the opportunity to travel to Africa, sleep under the stars in the Sahara, drink tea in Marrakesh or go hiking in the mountains. It was fantastic. And once I took the time to budget out how much everything costs and how I could save money on the trip, it quickly became a reality.
Q: How many hits do you typically get when you post a blog?
A: Well, it really varies depending what the content is and whether other websites pick up the blog posts. If it’s just my traffic on a daily basis, you know, it can be anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 visitors a day. When I get picked up by another website, it can go up to 10,000 visitors a day or higher.
Q: What have some of the most popular blogs been?
A: Surprisingly, over the last seven years, my most popular posts have been about how to upgrade ramen soup to make it taste better and how much you’ll need to save up in order to move out of your parents’ house the first time.
Q: Oh, that’s interesting.
A: Other popular posts have been a comparison of prices at Target Canada to Target USA; what your net worth should be by the time you’re 30; and a post about the myth of having to travel when you’re young.
Q: What have some of the spin-offs from blogging been for you?
A: Having my blog has opened up a lot of doors for me that I never would have thought possible. What started out, essentially as an online diary to help me stay accountable for my goals has turned into this vehicle that I can actually use to make money and help people at the same time.
You know, through blogging, I’ve been offered writing contracts with moneyville.ca, The Toronto Star, Canadian Living, Flare Magazine, Metro News and other publications. I’ve spoken to the media on different topics and I get to partner with really fun companies at the same time. Recently I finished a campaign with H&R Block and I’m a regular Twitter contributor for RBC.
So I think that those kinds of partnerships make blogging fun and make it more interesting. In the future, I hope to continue blogging about my journey towards financial independence. And I really love how my hobby and what I’m passionate about has turned into a part-time job for me
Q: If you had one piece of advice for Canadians trying to get their finances in order, what would it be?
A: Oh wow, just one piece of advice. If you’ve never taken a good look at your finances, my advice would be to create a budget and stick to it. I mean, it’s fun to spend money. So we convince ourselves that it’s okay, because we have a better job around the corner, a bonus that will cover the shortfall, or because we think we deserve it.
But the truth is no matter how much money you make, there’s always going to be something you can’t afford. When I first started budgeting, I saw it as a restriction. It was a way to stop me from having fun. I didn’t understand that it was helping me manage my money, so that I could have even more fun with my life.
And by choosing where my money went and how I spent it, and by living below my means, I was creating a really stress-free lifestyle which I never had before, and a better future. So I think budgeting is the number one thing that I would tell people to do.
Thank you very much Krystal. It was a pleasure talking to you today.
My pleasure. Thank you.
This is an edited transcript of the podcast you can listen to by clicking on the graphic under the picture above. If you don’t already follow Give Me Back My Five Bucks and Frugal Wanderer, you can find them here and here. Subscribe to receive blog posts by e:mail as soon as they’re available.