Tag Archives: Tangerine Bank

How SPP changed my life

Punta Cana: March 2018

After a long career as a pension lawyer with a consulting firm, I retired for the first time 13 years ago and became Editor of Employee Benefits News Canada. I resigned from that position four years later and embarked on an encore career as a freelance personal finance writer.

In December 2010 I wrote the article Is this small pension plan Canada’s best kept secret?  about the Saskatchewan Pension Plan for Adam Mayers, formerly the personal finance editor for the Toronto Star. The Star was starting a personal finance blogging site called moneyville and he was looking for someone to write about pensions and employee benefits. I was recommended by Ellen Roseman, the Star’s consumer columnist.

The article about SPP was my first big break. I was offered the position at moneyville and for 21/2 years I wrote three Eye on Benefits blogs each week. It was frightening, exhausting and exhilarating. And when moneyville began a new life as the personal finance section of the Toronto Star, my weekly column At Work was featured for another 18 months.

But that was only the beginning.

Soon after the “best kept secret” article appeared on moneyville, SPP’s General Manager Katherine Strutt asked me to help develop a social media strategy for the pension plan. Truth be told, I was an early social media user but there were and still are huge gaps in my knowledge. So I partnered with expert Leslie Hughes from PunchMedia, We did a remote, online presentation and were subsequently invited to Kindersley, Saskatchewan, the home of SPP to present in person. All of our recommendations were accepted.

By December 2011, I was blogging twice a week for SPP about everything and anything to do with spending money, saving money, retirement, insurance, financial literacy and personal finance. Since then I have authored over 500 articles for savewithspp.com. Along the way I also wrote hundreds of other articles for Employee Benefit News (U.S.), Sun Life, Tangerine Bank and other terrific clients. As a result, I have doubled my retirement savings.

All my clients have been wonderful but SPP is definitely at the top of the list. I am absolutely passionate about SPP and both my husband and I are members. Because I was receiving dividends and not salary from my company I could not make regular contributions. Instead, over the last seven years I have transferred $10,000 each year from another RRSP into SPP and I would contribute more if I could.

By the end of 2017 I started turning down work, but I was still reluctant to sever my relationship with SPP. However, as my days became increasingly full with travel, caring for my aged mother, visiting my daughter’s family in Ottawa, choir and taking classes at Ryerson’s Life Institute, I realized that I’m ready to let go at long last. After the end of May when people ask me what I do, I will finally be totally comfortable saying “I am retired.”

I will miss working with the gang at SPP. I will also miss the wonderful feedback from our readers. I very much look forward to seeing how both savewithspp.com and the plan evolve. My parting advice to all of you is maximize your SPP savings every year. SPP has changed my life. It can also change yours.

Au revoir. Until we meet again….

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

Jan 19: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you max out your SPP contributions each year, you know your money is invested in an easy to understand balanced fund. However, when you top up your savings with contributions to either workplace retirement savings plans or your personal RRSP, it is often challenging to figure out how to invest your money.

On Tangerine Bank’s blog Forward Thinking, Preet Bannerjee suggests Parking your RRSP contributions to beat the deadline. The money just sits there, “parked” inside an RRSP as a low-risk investment until you’re ready to figure it out. Some people may not realize that investments inside an RRSP can be changed later.

In My 2014 (and final) Portfolio Rate of Return Boomer & Echo’s Robb Engen admits his dividend stocks did not match average market returns last year so he finally bit the bullet and sold “his babies,” replacing them with an easy two-fund solution.

With another take on passive investing, Holy Potato released his “Canonical Portfolio,” a simple recipe of four funds or ETFs for your portfolio. He presents a portfolio of four funds (bonds plus three equity classes) with a simple rule-of-thumb to determine the main split.

Sarah Milton specifically addresses the investment dilemma facing people saving in group retirement plans on Retire Happy. She presents 3 Investment options for passive group investors including guaranteed investments, asset allocation funds and target date funds.

And finally, Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s post How Do You Stack Up? refers readers to a tool on the Royal Bank website that measures how you stack up against your region and Canada in general when it comes to your income and net worth. Although it’s nice to get a benchmark of how you’re doing, she says that comparing your results to someone else’s means nothing if you aren’t dealing with similar circumstances.

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.

Oct 20: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

What’s the buzz in the blogosphere this week? Here are some interesting articles that popped up in my inbox.

If you did any house or office cleaning over the Thanksgiving weekend you will be very impressed with what Cait Flanders has accomplished. In Post-Declutter: How Does My Condo Look Now? she notes that she removed a total of 377 items from her home! Not only are her before and after pictures inspiring, I love the view of the mountains from her desk.

With the market drops of the last few weeks, it’s good to know what elements of investing you can control. On the Tangerine Bank blog Forward Thinking, Joe Snyder writes about How to leave your (investing) worries behind.

Jim Yih on Retire Happy discusses a simple way to track your spending. He no longer has time to enter data in spreadsheets or phone apps. Instead, he and his wife put all their expenses on one credit card so the monthly credit card statement has become their tool to know how much money they spend in any given month.

After Thanksgiving excess eating, you may be interested in Sean Cooper’s blog on Million Dollar Journey about how survives on only a $100/month in groceries. Sean is single and has cut meat out of his diet.

Engineer Your Finances suggests that one way to make some extra money is to Make Some Extra Cash By Renting Out Things You Own. For example, rent your car, storage space in your garage or attic or tools and sports gear. There are suggestions for websites that facilitate short-term rentals.

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.

Blonde on a budget embarks on a shopping ban

By Sheryl Smolkin

9Oct-CaitFlandersblondeonabudget

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Click here to listen

 

Today we are continuing with the 2014 savewithspp.com series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers. I’m talking to Cait Flanders, who blogs at Blondeonabudget.ca.

In 2011, Cait had $28,000 worth of debt. To stay accountable throughout her debt repayment journey, she decided to start this blog. She paid off the last dollar just under two years later and today she’s going to tell us how she did it.

Cait lives in the Vancouver area, works full time from home as the managing editor of Ratehub.ca and is a contributor to Gale Vaz-Oxlade’s blog, The Globe & Mail, The Huffington Post Canada and Tangerine Bank’s blog.

Hi Cait, and thanks for joining me today.

Oh, thank you so much for having me.

Q: Cait, before you started this blog you had $28,000 in debt. How did that happen? Was it as a result of accumulated student loans?
A: No, I actually never had a lot of student loan debt. To be perfectly honest a lot of it was consumer debt. For years and years I was just swiping my credit card for anything that I wanted to do or see.

Q: You paid off your debt in just under two years, how did you manage that?
A: I literally had $100 in my bank account and it had to last me for six weeks. So I moved home for six months and from that moment forward just lived what I jokingly called “a very boring life,” saying “no” to everything. The only fun thing I let myself do was go for coffee with a friend which was $4 or $5 instead of $50.

Q: So, you wrote about your journey to solvency on your blog and you still post your monthly budget and goals. How have your family and friends reacted to this high level of disclosure about your financial affairs?
A: That’s actually a really good question. I grew up in a house where my family talked about money very openly, probably every day, so I think my parents love it in the sense that, it’s cool to see that I’m continuing that now and just taking those conversations online.

No one has ever said anything about me posting the numbers but I’ve recently made the decision that I’m going to stop posting them because I’m finally starting to realize that it could actually be pretty dangerous. It could lead to issues like identity fraud or theft. So I’m going to do budgeting a little bit differently going forward.

Q: Since you’ve paid off this significant debt, how has your life changed?
A: I’d say the biggest change is I’m no longer stressed all the time. Not having debt gives me much more freedom. I probably let my lifestyle get inflated a little bit since then because when I was paying off my debt I was sometimes putting up to 50-55% of my monthly income toward debt repayment. That’s not a sustainable budget. After two years of realizing that I don’t need all kinds of fancy things or outings to make me happy, life changes.

Q: In addition to blogs about reducing your personal debt, what other subjects do you write about?
A: On my own blog I’ve written about everything from moving, living in other cities, some travels, and sobriety. I write for the education section of the Globe and Mail about every eight weeks and more recently I’ve been talking about minimalism on my blog.

Q: How many hits do you get on your blog each month?
A: Right now I’m probably averaging between 80,000 and 110,000 page views a month.

Q: Wow. That’s incredible.
A: Yeah. It’s crazy. Fifty per cent of that is usually from Canada and maybe 35 per cent is from the U.S. The rest is divided between the UK, Australia and I even have readers in South East Asia which I think is really cool.

Q: So what have you done to promote your blog? Why do you think your readership is so high?
A: Personally, nothing that I can think of. I love talking to people on Twitter. I reply to every single comment that goes up on my site. There has also been press along the way like stories that The Globe or The Toronto Star have picked up. That obviously brings in more people. But no, I haven’t personally done anything.

Q: How long have you been writing the blog?
A: Technically, in October, it would be 4 years.

Q: What have some of the spin offs been?
A: Everything has changed in my career. When I first started the blog, I found a New York personal finance site for women looking for an editorial intern, I asked if someone from Canada could apply and they said that they’d love to have me. That taught me everything I needed to know about being an editor of a website.

Then my current boss Alyssa, at Ratehub.ca who is a blonde on a budget reader offered me a job in Toronto with the company. There have also been other freelance jobs and my relationship with Gale Vaz-Oxlade. She’s just the most incredible mentor and I write for her site. But her friendship, has been one of the greatest and most unbelievable spin offs from my blog and other writing.

Q: Do you actually have to go to an office for Ratehub.ca or do you work from home?
A: Originally I moved to Toronto for 8 or 9 months, just to really get to know the team and build up my position in the company. Then I moved back to Vancouver where I work from home.

Q: In early July you announced you’re embarking on a one-year shopping ban. Why?
A: There are a few reasons. One day I had this epiphany. Even though I’ve always felt like I was a minimalist, I had this moment where I was trying to open my can opener drawer and I couldn’t find anything in there. I just had this freak out that I actually have way more stuff than I probably need.

Then I started thinking that I wasn’t getting anywhere with my current savings and financial goals I realized that that was because I was spending a lot of money on things that probably didn’t really matter. Although I’ve been really good with my money for the last few years I do think that there is always room for improvement.

I think the ban is going to be difficult at times but I just want to challenge myself and learn and grow from that exercise.

Q: So tell me what the rules are of the shopping ban. Obviously you have to pay your rent and buy food and go out occasionally.
A: I have to pay the bills and get groceries. I’m keeping my car so I have to get gas and pay insurance, and I’m giving myself a small recreation budget. It’s no clothes, no shoes, no electronics – things that not all girls buy but some do. I was always bad for picking up nail polish. I don’t need any more decor items in my home. It’s just that kind of stuff.

Q: So, if the one year ban is successful, what comes next? Are you thinking about a book or is there a major purchase you’re saving up for?
A: I think a book is something that all writers want to accomplish in their career but that has absolutely nothing to do with the ban. I haven’t really announced this but when it’s over my goal is that I’ll have money saved so I can take an extended trip to the UK.

Q: If you had one piece of advice for someone who is deeply in debt and wants to turn things around, what would it be?
A: I don’t think everyone needs to put 55% of their income toward debt repayment like I did, but I think just facing up to the numbers is key and then making a plan so debt repayment is a priority.

Q: Thank you very much for talking with me today, Cait.
A: Oh, thank you so much for having me.


This is an edited transcript you can listen to by clicking on the link above. You can find the blog Blonde on a Budget here