Tag Archives: Squawkfox

May 22: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

It’s that time of the month again. We present a series of personal finance videos for your viewing pleasure.

First of all, don’t miss Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox’s two part TEDx Talk. “What do you collect?” can be viewed above. You can also watch “Is it worth it?” here where she discusses whether you should pay $700 for a Canada Goose coat.

In an interview with Breakfast Television, personal finance expert Lesley-Anne Scorgie puts together a procrastinator’s financial checklist for those who have a hard time getting around to dealing with their money situation.

Rubina Ahmed-Haq discusses survey results that reveal why women should be saving a bigger chunk of their pay cheque in their retirement fund.

Ed Rempel presents “The 6 steps to become financially independent.” This 50 minutes of financial education is based on his experience working with nearly 1,000 families to create detailed, personal plans for their journey to financial independence.

Money After Graduation’s Bridget Casey says the stock market doesn’t have to be scary. She suggests three different types of accounts to help you get started in the stock market, no matter the level of your skill, knowledge, or savings.


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.

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 10: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Last week I couldn’t resist buying bright yellow forsythia, pussy willows and stalks of purple iris from the florist at one of my favourite grocery stores. It will be a few weeks before the flowering trees in my neighbourhood burst into bloom, but when I walked the dog this morning I heard the rata-tat-tat of industrious woodpeckers and crocuses were already pushing through the damp earth on the sunny side of the street.

If it’s spring, Alan Whitton aka the Big Cajun Man says its time to revisit the idea of a spring financial cleaning. A few of his ideas include:

  • Think about rebalancing if you are a Couch Potato investor.
  • Clean out and shut down any superfluous bank accounts.
  • Consider how many credit cards you really require and close extra accounts you don’t need.
  • Is your mortgage about to be renewed? Time to go shopping for a better rate.

Minimalist blogger Cait Flanders decided to move to back to her hometown in Squamish this spring. Although her rented condo is not small, she says she is living small in her not-so-tiny home. To Flanders that means living below her means with less stuff and making do, mending and prioritizing her life. Her list also includes getting involved in and supporting her local community.

“Living small is essentially not chasing ‘more’, but  learning to find the more in less,” she  notes. “It’s about utilizing the space you have, shrinking your carbon footprint and being an active member in your community (whatever that looks like for you).”

Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox says our accomplishments are not just a matter of luck whether they be saving enough for the down payment on a house, paying down debt or scoring the winning goal in a soccer game. She reminds readers that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” and urges each one of us to own our successes and accept the kudos we deserve.

Why it’s NOT okay to be in debt when approaching Retirement by Douglas Hoyes was recently posted on the Financial Independence Hub. In the most recent Joe Debtor report issued two years ago by his firm Hoyes, Michalos & Associates Inc., the company reported that seniors are the fastest growing risk group for insolvency and that’s still the case today.

Hoyes says if you have more debt than you can handle, talk to a Licensed Insolvency Trustee about filing a consumer proposal or personal bankruptcy.  In most cases, you can keep your RRSP even if you go bankrupt.  Also, he suggests that if you own a home, you should discuss a consumer proposal as a viable alternative to bankruptcy. Both solutions will allow you to eliminate your debt, and preserve your RRSP.

And finally, on My Own Advisor, Mark Seed explores whether Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) is right for him. He reviews the financial and social implications for his family of retiring significantly earlier than his current target date of age 50 (which is still pretty early) and concludes that he and his wife are not ready to make any radical changes.

In his early 40s now, he concludes that more time and freedom would be great but instead of rushing towards this, they are more or less inching in that direction.


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.

Apr 6: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

As I write this on March 31st, it is for the second time because I closed the completed document the first time without saving it. I can only attribute this oversight to an early April Fools’ Day joke from cyber space!

Here are some interesting blogs I read this week:

For those of you who prefer cash back credit cards over travel cards, Tom Drake on the Canadian Finance blog rates the Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2015. Top of the list is the Scotiabank Momentum VISA Infinite Card which offers a full 4% cash back on gas station and grocery store purchases. You also receive 2% cash back on your recurring payments and on drug store purchases. All other purchases earn a 1% cash rebate. 

The Big Cajun Man aka Alan Whitton writes on the Canadian Personal Finance blog about his daughter’s experience trying to find a student line of credit to attend Chiropractic College. The only financial institution willing to fork over enough money was the National Bank of Canada. However, by mistake they set up the loan as a personal line of credit. As a result, the very next month there was a demand for payment. Although the error was fixed, Whitton had to co-sign on the loan.

Five unconventional ways to get your financial act together from Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox resonates with me. She suggests we can save money by throwing out fewer grocery products and curbing our collecting. We just renovated our kitchen cabinets and I couldn’t believe the number of stale-dated packages we pitched and how many marginally useful kitchen gadgets we have collected. Did we ever really need  six sets of barbecue skewers?

Why “Healthspan” trumps “Lifespan” by Dan Richards is a guest blog on the Financial Independence Hub. Financial advisors spend a great deal of their time with clients who ask, “Will I run out of money?” But Richards says according to new research, an equally pressing question is “How can I enjoy life in my 60s before health issues creep in.?

RRIFs 101: Using your nest egg by Preet Banerjee on Tangerine’s Forward Thinking blog fills in the blanks for readers who understand how RRSPs work but were not aware that they must be converted into RRIFs at age 71 and that beginning the year after, minimum fully taxable amounts must be withdrawn.

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.

 

Flipp app is the easy way to browse flyers

By Sheryl Smolkin

I like a bargain as much as the next person, but I must confess I have a long way to go when it comes to browsing flyers for competitive prices and making sure I am in the right place at the right time to pay the lowest price for the groceries and household items we use regularly.

I never had the time to carefully peruse every sale supplement that is stuffed into my mailbox and since we cancelled print copies of the newspaper and signed up for the Toronto Star Replica Edition and Globe2Go Digital Replica Edition, I don’t even see most of them regularly.

That’s why I was intrigued by the reference by Squawkfox, one of my favourite bloggers to the Flipp app which allows users to browse the brands they love, clip items straight to their shopping list, and highlight top deals across flyers. The app is available for Apple (The App Store), Android (Google play) and BlackBerry (BlackBerry World) phones and tablets and can be downloaded for free.

I recently added the app to both my BlackBerry and my iPad. I was asked to enter my postal code and to give the app permission to update regularly even when I am not using Flipp. This ensures that the online flyers displayed relate to places in my geographical area where I might typically shop.

Just for fun, I put in the Saskatchewan Pension Plan’s postal code, SOL 1S0. This sent me to a screen with thumbprints of 62 current flyers. In the top right hand corner it noted that the list was updated 26 minutes ago. You can open any flyer to full screen size to see exactly the same pictures and information as in the flyers stuffed in your daily newspaper.

The first thing I noticed was that the majority of the stores were familiar national chains such as Toys ‘R Us, Hudson’s Bay, The Source, Pet Smart and M&M meats. Since SPP is located in Kindersley Saskatchewan, anyone living there would have to drive about 200 km to Saskatoon to take advantage of specials at Hudson’s Bay or Pet Smart, but The Source does have an outlet in Kindersley. Also Hudson’s Bay has online shopping for some sale items.

When it comes to groceries, there is a Walmart, Extra Foods and a Co-op in Kindersley, but again to shop at the Real Canadian Superstore consumers would have to hit the road. And the IGA in Leader, Saskatchewan about an hour away isn’t currently listed at all. But I was able to request that it be added to my list.

In order to create a list of items you want to buy, all you have to do is open a flyer, press on the item which will then be circled in yellow. When you go back to the flyers screen and touch “clippings,” it will send you to a screen where your clippings appear under the name of each store.

You can edit the list by tapping “edit” on the top right hand corner of the screen and then a “trash can” will appear on your clipping and by touching it, the item will disappear. You can even ask to be notified when clippings will expire soon and when you are near a store with specials you have clipped.

Although I originally downloaded Flipp to my BlackBerry, I much prefer using it on the iPad because it has a much bigger screen. However, that means in order to effectively take advantage of the app I would have to carry the iPad around with me most of the time. That’s not really convenient because it doesn’t fit in my purse, it is breakable and it can easily be stolen. Also, I don’t have an iPad data plan, so unless there is free wifi where I shop, I’m out of luck.

Nevertheless, I think Flipp on a smartphone could be very useful for people in larger urban centres where there are a broad range of stores that regularly send out flyers. For example, I put in my Toronto area code and my two favourite grocery stores Longos and Sobeys were listed along with other major chain and specialty stores.

Whether you use Flipp occasionally when you are looking for particular items at a good price or when you make your weekly grocery list, it is an easy to use, practical app. Of course if your perennial favourite is Costco (which is not on the list), you can check their website, sign up for emails or enjoy an old-fashioned stroll around the store munching on free samples while you compare prices.

The Dreaded B word: Budgeting

By Sheryl Smolkin

Everyone has their own system for handling the family finances, but if you are carrying expensive debt and always borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, you definitely need to do some serious budgeting. If you think you can’t afford to save for your children’s education or your own retirement, closely scrutinizing how you spend your money will help you to uncover ways to free up the funds you need to plan for the future.

Budgeting isn’t rocket science but it requires time and commitment. On her television show Til Debt Do Us Part personal finance maven Gail Vaz-Oxlade helps floundering families by putting them on a cash-only budget and dividing up into jars the amounts they can spend each week for each category, including debt-repayment and savings.

All nine seasons are available to watch online and there is more information and there are budgeting tools on her website.

Almost every personal finance blogger has done a series on budgeting and created budgeting spreadsheets you can download. For example, take a look at the Squawkfox budget series and tools. Retire Happy’s Jim Yih has also posted templates from his Take Control of Your Money workshop.

When my husband and I were first married, money was scarce and we budgeted quite carefully. Although we kept separate bank accounts, we did have a joint account for paying house expenses.

Once we had children our expenses increased but we also earned more. We still kept separate bank accounts, but each of us was responsible for specific expenses.

This ad hoc arrangement has worked well for us and for many years we have not had a formal budget. However, as we get closer to retirement, I realize that we will have only about 50% of our pre-retirement income. Therefore, it’s time to take a serious look at how we are spending our money now and how we will spend it once we are on a fixed income.

I can write off a portion of our house costs because I work from home, so I have a pretty good handle on these expenses. Most other expenditures like food, clothing, gas, car repairs, insurance, entertainment, travel, pet care, gifts etc. are charged to credit cards so we can accumulate airline points. It will take some time but it shouldn’t be too difficult categorize and analyze these expenses.

Finally, both of us withdraw cash at irregular intervals to pay for personal grooming plus lunches out and other miscellaneous expenses. These amounts are more difficult to track and we will have to make lists in our smartphones or find the right smartphone app to organize the information.

Once I get a handle on what we are spending now as compared to what we will have available to live on in future, I will track our monthly expenses as against income and projected income on a spreadsheet.

Some of our expenses will go down after retirement because we won’t have to pay professional fees and my husband won’t be commuting to work. We will also pay lower taxes and no longer have to save for retirement. Going down to one car or moving to a less expensive home are longer-term possibilities. But there is no doubt we will have to make compromises.

Whether you are just starting out or close to retirement, you may need help to create and stick to a budget. On the Canadian Finance Blog, Tom Drake discusses How to Choose a Fee-Only Financial Planner. If you are deeply in debt, the Saskatchewan Credit Counselling Society can help you consolidate your debts, develop a budget and get back on track.

If we had budgeted more carefully over the last 15-20 years we would have more to spend in retirement. But you can start right now. If you have used budgeting tools or resources that you recommend to others, let us know and we will share them in a future post.

Dec 1: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Black Friday (imported from the U.S.) will have come and gone when you read this, but if you haven’t already started your holiday shopping, the beginning of December means the pressure is on to get it done without breaking the bank.

Kerry K. Taylor says on Squawkfox that using the Flipp app on your Android, BlackBerry or IPhone is the easiest way to browse flyers/weekly ads and save money. With more than 80 of your favorite Canadian stores at your fingertips, you can quickly search for the items you need, highlight the best deals and clip items straight to your shopping list.  Some retail stores found on Flipp include: Target, Walmart, Best Buy, IKEA, Macy’s, Sports Authority, Big Lots, Kroger, Sears and many more.

In Easy ways to save money this holiday season Jill Buchner from Canadian Living suggests creating a photo book through a site like picaboo.com, where albums start at about $10. Or, enlarge a special photograph for just a few dollars and frame it to make a personal piece of art.

Mike Collins on Debtroundup also discusses several  Simple Holiday Shopping Tips to Save You Money. Agreeing to a spending cap with friends and family and setting a gift budget and sticking to it are two valuable pieces of advice.

The Christmas break is prime time for Canadians to travel near and far, particularly if you have teachers or students in the family. On Moneyning, David Ning offers 50 Budget Travel Tips and Ways to Save Money on Vacations. For example, taking a train at night can save you the cost of accommodation and tons of prime daytime hours when you would rather be doing anything else except traveling from A to B.

And finally, Christmas is not just a time to give gifts but to give the gift of your time to those who are less fortunate. Brighter Life blogger Joanna Marie Nicholson writes about Giving back: How to find time to be a volunteer.

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.

BOOK REVIEW: 397 ways to save money

By Sheryl Smolkin

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

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

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

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

Here are 10 of my favourite tips in the book:

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

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

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

Kerry K. Taylor

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.