8 ways to save on a cruise vacation

By Sheryl Smolkin

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SHUTTERSTOCK

If you are planning a winter get-away, you may want to consider a river or an ocean cruise. Several years ago, my husband and I discovered the benefits of unpacking only once, great food and entertainment and the opportunity to visit multiple destinations in a relatively short period of time.

But cruises can be expensive. And depending on the cruise line and the destination, paying extra for airfare, land tours, alcoholic beverages and gratuities can really add up.

Through trial and error and chatting with other cruisers, here are some hints we have come up with that may help you to better afford that exotic winter cruise you have been dreaming of:

  1. Do your research:
    Whether you book early or get last minute deals, shop around online. Depending on where you want to go and when you want to get away, there are lots of bargains out there. Also ask friends for recommendations and check online ratings.
  2. Don’t travel at peak times:
    After the Christmas rush several years ago, my husband and I took a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise from January 7-15 for $1,362.90 for the two of us, and we were upgraded twice at no cost to a suite with a balcony.
  3. Get as much included as possible:
    Both of the European river cruises we took included all meals, wine and land tours. While we could have purchased a package with air fare included, we opted to use airline points, further reducing the overall cost.
  4. Buy a cheaper cabin:
    Inside cabins without windows are the least expensive. Chances are with all of the activities on the ship and in port you will be spending very little time in your cabin. And again, particularly if you are a return customer, you may get upgraded. We booked an outside cabin with “an obstructed view” for our Panama cruise this winter and got bumped up to an unobstructed view for the same price.
  5. Research local tours:
    We have always taken the tours offered by the cruise line as we know they will get us back to the ship on time and the cruise line ensures a fairly consistent product. However, particularly where there is a larger group traveling together, you may have a less expensive and much more personalized experience if you hire a local guide.
  6. Stick with what you like:
    If you travel with one cruise line and like it, stick with them. Cruise lines all have loyalty programs and typically give discounts and on-board ship credits to regular cruisers. You will also get advance notice of sales and special deals.
  7. Consider a repositioning cruise:
    Many cruise ships migrate either north in the summer or south for the winter. Rather than sail the ships without passengers, cruise lines discount these “repositioning” cruises to make them attractive to passengers who prefer less port-intensive cruises. These cruises are usually longer than a week and include more “at sea” days.
  8. Work as a shipboard lecturer:
    Shipboard talks and activities are part of the at-sea ambiance. If you have a desired area of expertise, you may be able to give lectures on-board and, in return, get all or part of your vacation paid for. If you are interested, check out the following agencies that specialize in placing speakers and workshop facilitators on cruise ships: To Sea with Z, Sixth Star Entertainment & Marketing and Compass Speakers and Entertainment .

Do you have hints for readers planning an economical winter get-away? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

07-Nov Augmenting your income Seasonal jobs
14-Nov Work expenses Why you should pack a lunch
21-Nov Money management How to choose a financial planner

October 28: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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This week we have random posts from some of our favourite bloggers that consider how you can save for retirement, invest your savings and spend your money after retirement.

Robb Engen on Boomer & Echo thinks that many media money makeovers are unrealistic, and that we really need to prioritize our financial goals. He shares his portrait of the ideal saver.

When it comes to spending and saving money, for many of us monthly mortgage payments take the biggest chunk out of our earnings. From the archives of the Canadian Finance blog, Nelson Smith offers 6 ways to save thousands on your next mortgage.

Saving is not enough. You have to invest your money in a way that both minimizes risk and maximizes growth of your account. A Young and Thrift blogger explains how he finally overcame his inertia and invested the $100,000 cash he had in his accounts. Spoiler alert: He topped up his TFSA and RRSP and then invested in ETFs.

But the Canadian Capitalist says we can learn a thing or two on how to invest our own money from the manner in which the CPPIB invests our surplus Canada Pension Plan contributions.

And finally, however much you save and whatever your plans are, Kevin Press tells us how you choose to spend your retirement will be a compromise. That’s because recent Sun Life research revealed seven ways men and women disagree about 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 with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Raising funds goes global

By Sheryl Smolkin

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SHUTTERSTOCK

Whether you are starting a business, writing a book or spearheading a charitable cause, you may need to raise money. Crowdsourcing or crowdfunding web sites allow you to globally market your campaign well beyond the boundaries of your own community or province.

For example, you can raise money on Indiegogo for just about anything including community, health-related and environmental projects. In fact, in June 2012 Max Sidorov, a Toronto college graduate used Indiegogo to raise over $700,000 to send tormented school bus monitor Karen Klein on a vacation, with lots to spare.

In another recent project, Courtney B.C. resident Shawn Wood almost tripled his initial goal of $5,000 to finance a dream wedding for his fiancé Emily Niinmets who has terminal lymphoma.

And even celebrities are getting in on the act. In a six week campaign, author Margaret Atwood raised U.S. $94,995 (original target $85,000) to develop an online event space where artists and performers can connect with fans and aficionados called Fanado.

You can opt for one of two funding models.

  • With flexible funding, you pay 4% to Indiegogo if you reach your target amount, or 9% if you do not. This encourages people to set reasonable goals and promote their campaigns through other forms of social media.
  • A fixed funding option also costs 4% if you reach your objective, but if you do not, you receive nothing and your contributors are refunded.

Currency exchange fees may also apply and there is a 3% fee for credit card processing plus a $25 wire fee for non-U.S. campaigns.

Your campaign is built online using the Indiegogo platform and will typically include one or more videos and text. One-click social media integration, direct email and announcement features are designed to help spread the word, raise awareness and increase funding. Indiegogo also uses an algorithm they call the “gogofactor” to select the most active campaigns featured on its homepage.

Kickstarters is another popular crowdfunding site limited to raising money for creative projects. The catch is that unless you raise all the money you need, you don’t get any of it. If the project is successfully funded, the credit cards of all contributors are charged on the same day and Kickstarters deducts a 5% fee.

Until recently it has been largely inaccessible to many Canadians as participants had to satisfy the requirements of Amazon Payments including having a U.S. bank account and a major U.S. credit or debit card.

However, with the recent launch of Kidstarters Canada, this popular platform is more accessible to creative Canadians. For example, The Aesthetic Studio of Toronto has raised $96,708 (original goal $55,000) to develop little customizable robots and entrepreneur Y.Z. (full name not provided) has raised 147% of the money he needs to develop a token card  designed to hold 8 Toronto Transit Commission tokens and fit into your wallet’s credit card slots.

A research report released last year by industry publication The Daily Crowdsource says crowdfunding has gone from a $32 million market to a $123 million market in the past two years.

Ninety-three per cent of successful campaigns offer donors incentives for contributing. For example, Toronto-based Matthew Ogelsby’s drive to raise $10,000 to expand his comic book series, “Romantically Apocalyptic Books of Captein” generated $51,873. For a $10 donation, contributors got pdfs of two previous books. CDs, greeting cards and an autographed print were added to the package for larger donations.

Kickstarters reports that the average crowdfunding campaign tries to raise $5,000 and 56% of all campaigns fail. With an average campaign target of $3,700, 80% of Indiegogo projects fail.

“The most successful campaigns are proactive, have a good pitch and find an audience that cares,” says Indiegogo spokesperson Rose Levy.  “The campaigns with the greatest challenges are those where participants think all they have to do is post their story and the money will pour in.”

The U.S. Securities Exchange Commission has recently passed equity crowdfunding rulings that allow backers to reap eventual financial returns on investments. The investment scale for businesses and start-ups is much larger than for typical donation-based crowdfunding campaigns.

The Ontario Securities Commission issued a progress report stating their interest in moving forward with the development of a regulatory framework for equity crowdfunding. However, the report highlights the difficult balance that must be attained to provide investors with adequate protection against the risks of investing through this new marketplace without imposing excessive regulatory burdens on issuers and funding portals that would unduly impede the effectiveness of this means of raising capital.

For the pros and cons of crowdfunding, see this CBC article. Filmaker Ian MacKenzie has compiled a list of crowdfunding sites with links for various purposes.

Have you had a personal experience with crowdfunding as a donor or a fundraiser? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

31-Oct Winter travel Planning your winter getaway
07-Nov Augmenting your income Seasonal jobs
14-Nov Work expenses Why you should pack a lunch

September 2013 return

SPP posted a return of 1.41 to the balanced fund (BF) and 0.07 to the short-term fund (STF). The year to date return in the BF is 8.74% and in the STF is 0.47%.

Market index returns for September 2013 were:

Index September 2013 return (%)
S&P/TSX Composite (Canadian equities) 1.40
S&P 500 (C$) (US equities) 0.50
MSCI EAFE (C$)
(Non-north American equities)
4.64
DEX Universe Bond (Canadian bonds) 0.52
DEX 91 day T-bill 0.09

Click here for a complete list of returns.

Oct 21: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Over the last year the blogs at savewithspp.com have focused on ways you can spend less and save more. By paying yourself first and allocating a fixed amount to savings each month, you can put your savings plan on autopilot. Here are some additional ideas from some of our favourite bloggers.

Before you start socking away your savings, most financial advisors will tell you to set aside a three to 12-month emergency fund. Tom Drake on Canadianfinanceblog.com discusses why an emergency fund really matters and how to build one.

In Where to find your savings Gail Vaz-Oxlade says nickel and dime-ing is really worth it. If you save $5 a day 20 days a month and put the money in your retirement plan earning 7% on average, in 20 years you will have $55,000. That’s got to be worth $5 a day, and a little time to find it!

Robb Engen on boomer& echo identifies lifestyle enhancers such as cable television, shopping at Costco, paying for a housecleaner and children’s activities as potential budget busters he is keeping a close eye on.

It’s fine to cut corners, but if you think the Fraser Institute got it wrong in a report that says you can raise a child for $3,000/year, you are not alone. Squawkfox blogger Kerry K. Taylor explains why daycare, accommodation and transportation costs have to be factored in to get a true picture.

Finally, Thanksgiving may be over for another year, but Canadians have much to be thankful for every day. Check out Kevin Press’ Brighter Life blog that summarizes findings of an OECD online report that outlines seven reasons to love living in this country.

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.

Halloween on the cheap

By Sheryl Smolkin

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SHUTTERSTOCK

As soon as the back to school displays come down, stores shift their marketing efforts to selling Halloween costumes, decorations and treats.

A survey conducted by Harris/Decima for the Retail Council of Canada reports that in 2012 Canadian households with children plan to spend an average of $75 on Halloween purchases. Fully half who planned to spend on Halloween said that 75 per cent to 100 per cent of their budget would go on candy.

But we all have neighbours or friends who up the ante by turning their front yards into elaborate haunted houses complete with sound effects. And for some reason, your lace shawl and a home-made crown can’t compete with an expensive princess costume from the Disney store.

So how can you do Halloween on the cheap and still keep your family happy? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Manage expectations: By October 31st it is often rainy and cold in most parts of Canada. Therefore elaborate costumes that will be covered by a coat won’t even be seen. Tell your child if a store-bought costume is unaffordable and present other more practical options. Make-up and a hat can go a long way.
  2. Organize a costume swap: Use social media and invite your friends with children to a costume swap. Not only will you get rid of all the stuff that no longer fits, you may end up with some real gems for almost nothing.
  3. Be crafty: If you are a busy, working parent and don’t do crafts, skip this one. Otherwise, check Pinterest for creative costume and decorating ideas that use low cost and recycled materials you already have around the house.
  4. Visit a thrift store: Take the kids on a trip to the local thrift or second hand store. Great finds like used prom gowns, dramatic capes and dashing fedoras can be key elements of creative costumes.
  5. Buy on sale: The day after Halloween, most costumes go on sale. While it is difficult to know whether this year’s Batman will want to be next year’s Darth Vader, it may be worth stockpiling a few costumes in bigger sizes will give you a head start on next Halloween.
  6. Healthy treats: The most economical option is to buy in bulk and package treats in ziplock bags.  However, parents are more worried about safety than ever. So unless you give out factory wrapped individual items, they will likely end up in the trash. But you can read ingredients and offer more nutritious choices like pretzels, popcorn, raisins, fruit leather or sugarless gum.
  7. Have a party: If there are few children in your neighbourhood, it may make more sense to invite a small group of your children’s friends over for a Halloween party. Dim the lights bob for apples and tell ghost stores or rent a spooky (age-appropriate movie). Hot dogs or pizza, cut-up veggies and dip and home-made cupcakes are inexpensive, easy to serve and clean up.
  8. Buy less: There are few young children in our neighbourhood anymore, but every year I dutifully buy several boxes of chips or chocolate bars to hand out. We never give it all out, and my husband and I end up eating the leftovers. I tried buying stuff we don’t like but then we just end up pitching the rest, which is a waste of good money.

Can you suggest other ways to do Halloween on the cheap? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

24-Oct Charity How to raise money for almost anything on Indiegogo
31-Oct Winter travel Planning your winter getaway
07-Nov Augmenting your income Seasonal jobs

Oct 14: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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From almost the first day you started working, you began saving for retirement by paying into a pension plan or an RRSP. But now that you are on the “home stretch” to life after work, have you decided what you are going to do with your time?

Brighter Life’s Dave Dineen says now that he is retired, “What do you do?” is the question he dreads the most. Read how he seizes the day, does whatever he likes and makes up for lost time.

On FreefromBroke, Brianna discusses 9 things to do when you retire. Go back to school, travel, volunteer, start a business or start a blog! Suddenly your options are endless.

Huffington Post, senior editor Ann Brenhoff ponders how so many aspects of her personal life flow from her work. She says, “For my retirement equation to balance, I need the sense that I am essential to something or someone. And that’s what I fear trips up a lot of us. Is taking a photography class at the library really going to rock my boat?”

Daniel, a guest blogger on Boomer and Echo took a package after a 40 year career. Since then, he has had opportunities to work part-time but he is so busy with hobbies that he no longer wants to be tied down to a calendar.

And David Ashton notes in an August 2012 MoneySense article that Canadians can no longer rely on pensions, government benefits and bull markets to carry them through their golden years. He offers 7 strategies to make your money last including reinvent your job and cash in on the equity in your home to move to a less expensive area.

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.

Giving thanks — the benefits of volunteering

By Sheryl Smolkin

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SHUTTERSTOCK

On Thanksgiving, Canadians have many things to give thanks for. We live in a free country and most of us have adequate food and shelter. But with community resources increasingly stretched to the limit, the volunteer sector is a more critical link than ever to those who need a hand out or a hand up.

An April 2012 Statistics Canada study reports that over 13.3 million people accounting for 47 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and over did volunteer work in 2010. They devoted almost 2.07 billion hours to their volunteer activities: a volume of work that is equivalent to just under 1.1 million full-time jobs.

Rates of volunteerism vary considerably by province and territory, but Saskatchewan residents have much to be proud of. The highest rate of volunteerism was recorded in their home province, where 58 per cent of adults 15 and over did volunteer work in 2010.

If you have the money, it’s definitely easier to write a check and charities do need your money. You can also enhance your children’s financial literacy by asking them to allocate a portion of their allowance or part-time earnings to charitable donations.

But as outlined on helpguide.org, giving your time instead of your money can have some surprising benefits.  For example:

  • Volunteering connects you to others: You can make new friends and contacts. You can increase your social and relationship skills. While it might be a challenge to coordinate everyone’s schedules, volunteering as a family also has many worthwhile benefits. By giving back to the community, you show your children firsthand how volunteering makes a difference and how good it feels to help others
  • Volunteering is good for your health: Volunteering increases your self-confidence. It can also help to improve your mental health because you develop a strong support system that you can call on in difficult times. In addition, staying active can improve physical health, particularly for older adults.
  • Volunteering can advance your career: Volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and meet people in the field. For example, if you are interested in nursing, you could volunteer in a hospital. You can also learn valuable workplace skills like teamwork, communications, problem-solving and task management. Excellent references from co-workers and supervisors are a valuable collateral benefit.
  • Volunteering can be fun: Volunteering is a fun and easy way to explore your passions. Many people volunteer in order to make time for hobbies outside of work. For instance, if you have a desk job and long to spend time outdoors, you might consider volunteering to help plant a community garden, lead local hikes, or help at a children’s camp.

There are many valuable resources about volunteering on the Volunteer Saskatoon[1] website including:

Whether you coach a team, give time to an arts organization, sit on a not-for-profit board or volunteer abroad, consider helping others when you give thanks this year.

Do you have tips for people who are exploring a volunteer commitment? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

17-Oct Halloween Cheap and cheerful costumes, snacks
24-Oct Charity How to raise money for almost anything on Indiegogo
31-Oct Winter travel Planning your winter getaway


[1] Volunteer Saskatoon is program of the Saskatoon area United Way. Before the end of 2013, resources on the Volunteer Saskatoon website will be transferred to the United Way of Saskatoon and Area website, http://www.unitedwaysaskatoon.ca/ where they will continue to be available to the entire community.

Oct 7: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

blogospheregraphic

There is lots of good reading this week from some of our favourite bloggers.

On retirehappy.ca, Scott Wallace reminds us why RRSPs should not be viewed as short-term savings accounts. Saving for retirement is hard. It requires sacrifice, long term vision and discipline. Short term gratification can be the ‘Achilles Heel’ for anyone’s RRSP portfolio.

If you have a defined benefit pension plan, you may think you don’t have to worry about additional retirement saving. But on boomer & echo, Robb Engen says he is saving outside his DB plan because there is no guarantee he will work for the same employer for the next 20 years. Furthermore, in the current economy, layoffs are always a possibility, even at educational institutions.

Another reason to accumulate additional retirement savings is to have a nest egg to spend on healthcare later in life. Canadians are proud of their healthcare system, but on Brighterlife.ca Kevin Press reports on the results of the 2013 Sun Life Canadian Health IndexTM. The study reveals that among Canadians who have received a serious health diagnosis, or who have had a bad accident, 40% said the experience caused them some degree of “financial hardship.”

For some people, saving for retirement is only the first hurdle to overcome. Then they have to figure out when to actually cut their ties with the world of work and take a leap into the world beyond. Tim Stubbs says on Canadian Dream: Free at 45 that fear of the unknown is natural, but you can do a little fear testing by playing the game: what’s the worst that can happen?

And finally, getsmarteraboutmoney.ca blogger Alison Griffiths says youth financial literacy is all the rage but the focus has been on debt, credit, budgeting and the like. This is important stuff; but families need to include investing with the lessons their children should learn before they leave home.

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.

Free tuition for seniors

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

If you always wanted to go to college or university and life got in the way, it may not be too late. Some schools like Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University have eliminated tuition waivers for seniors due to provincial budget cuts. However, at least one Saskatchewan University plus several other well-known Canadian schools do not charge seniors for tuition.

For example, the University of Saskatchewan waives tuition fees for people 65 years of age or older, who are provincial residents and who register in the following types of courses and programs:

  • Regular sessions: To a maximum of 15 credits
  • Evening or off-campus courses: To a maximum of 15 credits
  • Intersession and summer session: To a maximum of 6 credits
  • Non-Credit extension programs

At the University of British Columbia, BC residents who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents aged 65 years or over during the session in which they are registered are not assessed application, tuition, or student fees. However, there are tuition fees levied for some programs where facilities and resources are limited.

Tuition and fee waivers apply for seniors who meet residency and age requirements at the University of Manitoba.  Although most of costs are waived for senior students, they still must to submit an application form and meet entrance requirements.

York University’s deal applies to Canadian citizens or permanent residents whether they are registered in a degree course, as a visiting student or simply auditing a program.

Ryerson also offers free tuition to students over 60 for four-year undergraduate programs and McMaster University in Hamilton has a similar program for undergraduates over 65. In addition, McMaster reduces fees by 50 per cent for seniors registered in Continuing Education courses.  However, you are out of luck if the program you want is at University of Toronto, as only nominal ancillary fees are waived for older students.

Dalhousie University encourages learning opportunities and professional development by offering senior students 65 years of age or over who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents at the time of registration and are enrolled in an undergraduate non-professional degree program a senior citizen waiver. This waives only the tuition portion of the fees. The student must pay any incidental fees.

Other colleges and universities across country also offer seniors a tuition break. For more information, contact the school of your choice.

I got an LLM. in the mid-90s, 20 years after I was called to the Bar, so embarking on another rigorous degree program at this stage is not at the top of my “To Do list.”  But if I ever get around to retiring and have some time on my hands, I will definitely be tempted to audit opera, music, theatre and other general interest courses.

Do you have tips for seniors who want to fulfill their lifelong dream to get a university degree? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

10-Oct Thanksgiving Paying it forward: Volunteer opportunities
17-Oct Halloween Cheap and cheerful costumes, snacks
24-Oct Charity How to raise money for almost anything on Indiegogo