Sept 29: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

As I write this, Summer is definitely over. The nights are getting chilly and the tree on our front lawn seems to be dumping a never ending volume of leaves.

If you are offered something for free it seems to always end up costing you money. In Free is a Good Price (but still can be expensive) Big Cajun Man because they have Home Depot credit cards, he and his wife are now victims of yet another massive personal information breach, which may cause them financial Issues in the future. As a result, he got free Equifax credit monitoring for a year, but the services were not really free because his identity is now in the hands of “dastardly thieves.”

Robb Engen asks the question Should You Pay Off Your Partner’s Debt? in Boomer and Echo. The decision to pay off a partner’s debt shouldn’t be taken lightly, as it can lead to resentment or even divorce if the couple is truly financially incompatible. Nevertheless, he and his wife pooled their resources and their finances became a joint endeavour after they started living together in 2003.

Jessica Moorhouse blogs at Mo’ Money Mo’ Houses. She tackles the issue how to manage family finance when one partner is a freelancer with erratic income. For any of you in a similar situation, her only piece of advice is to communicate, communicate, communicate! Being on the same page is crucial, even when you make money differently or one person makes more than the other.

Be cautious of debt repayment companies says Wayne Rothe on Retire Happy. They will consolidate and pay off your loans and set up a repayment schedule to their own company. He says this is something you can do for yourself or with the help of a friend to avoid paying the additional fees that are part of the deal.

And finally, Choosing Mutual Funds in your Employer Pension? FrugalTrader  says pick the index funds – the ones with the word “index” in the title of the fund. If you follow the indexed “couch potato” philosophy of investing, then you’ll pick 4 funds:

  • Canadian Index
  • US Index
  • International Index
  • Bond Index

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.

Sept 22: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

I recently put together a list of 40 highly-regarded but very different personal finance blogs and this week Best from the Blogosphere taps into this resource to bring you some new voices.

Switching careers is a life-altering decision, and one that needs to be thought through with care. The gals at Frugalista Finance have been there and done that. In Careers 101: Planning for a career change, they compile a step-by-step checklist to help you make sure you’re on the right track to career bliss.

If you are lucky enough to have a defined benefit pension plan, you may wonder if there is any point also belonging to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan or contributing to a personal registered retirement savings plan. The author of the blog Use RRSP with DB Pension? on “Blessed by the Potato,” says the answer depends on a few factors, chief amongst them your expected tax rate in retirement versus your tax rate now (or in the near future if you choose to contribute now but defer the deduction).

Have you been waffling about finding a financial advisor? Sandra Schmidt, an advisor with Sun Life in Vancouver says there are five financial planning milestones an advisor can help you prepare for:

  • Buying your first home.
  • Merging your finances.
  • Starting a family.
  • Setbacks.
  • Retirement.

Dan Bortolotti is an investment advisor with PWL Capital in Toronto and author of the award-winning blog Canadian Couch Potato: Your complete guide to index advising. While Dan is well known as an advocate for using exchange traded funds, he readily acknowledges implementing such a strategy is more complicated if you and your partner have several accounts.

The Model portfolios he typically recommends are ideal for investors who have a single RRSP account. But life isn’t so simple once you’ve accumulated a significant portfolio. Chances are you’ll be managing two or three accounts, and if you have a spouse there may well be a few more. In Managing Multiple Family Accounts he says it’s generally most efficient to consider both partners’ retirement accounts as a single large portfolio.

And finally, in order to enhance their income, many people opt to get a part-time job in addition to their regular day job. Nelson Smith on Financial Uproar mines twitter postings to come up with a humorous series of tweets he calls How Not To Get A Part-Time Gig. Bad grammar and spelling certainly don’t help these people make their case.

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.

Manage your retirement expectations

By Sheryl Smolkin

18-Sept-Takecontrolofyourretirement

A CIBC poll conducted by Nielsen reveals that younger Canadians are more optimistic about their retirement and ability to save but they are less likely to be taking action. The poll also found that expectations of older Canadians fall dramatically.

Thirty per cent of Canadians aged 18-24 say they expect to live better in retirement than they do today but the number falls to 17% for 25-34 year olds and continues to drop to three percent of those aged 55-64.

Despite their optimism, younger Canadians are less likely to have started saving. Forty percent of 18-24 year olds and 23% of 25-34 year olds say they have not yet started saving for retirement, compared to just 16% of Canadians overall.

The poll results suggest that although younger Canadians are positive about their future retirement plans, they may be relying too much on time to meet their retirement goals and not taking necessary actions now that could help them realize their goals.

“Time is on the side of younger Canadians who have many years to retirement, but that’s only an advantage if you take action and use those years to start accumulating savings,” says Christina Kramer, Executive Vice President, Retail and Business Banking, CIBC. “While it’s not surprising that younger Canadians are optimistic about how they expect to retire, the fact that so many people nearing retirement aren’t as hopeful speaks to the importance of having a financial plan in place earlier on.”

The poll also revealed that the majority of Canadians (58%) believe it is still possible to put money away each month and retire in their 60s, particularly 18-24 year olds (71%), and to a similar extent, 25-34 year olds (68%).

This is a positive finding, according to Kramer. “Considering how often we hear talk of the increasing cost of living, it’s good news that so many Canadians, especially younger people, still think saving for retirement is achievable,” she says. “The key is to make a plan and take steps to begin saving – the sooner you start putting money aside and earmarking it for your retirement, the longer you’ll have for your money to grow.”

Advice for focusing on retirement savings

  • Talk to an advisor: Meet with an advisor to understand your options, and work with them to develop a plan that can help you in managing multiple financial priorities and staying on track over the long term.
  • Contribute regularly: Set up a regular investment plan to automatically withdraw smaller amounts throughout the year, rather than trying to find the funds for a large lump payment at the deadline.
  • Save at work: Many employers offer group retirement savings plans, defined contribution plans or the Saskatchewan Pension Plan to their employees and top up employee contributions by a specified amount. Save at work and take advantage of this free money.
  • Don’t lose sight of the longer term: While it is important to address immediate financial needs such as debt reduction or saving for a large purchase, it is equally important to keep future goals such as retirement in sight. 

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan is a defined contribution retirement savings plan open to all Canadians. If you have RRSP contribution room, you can save $2,500/year or transfer in $10,000 from another RRSP. In 2013 the SPP balanced fund earned 15.8% and this fund has average a return of 8.1% since it started in 1986. For more details about the plan and how to enrol, see the SPP website.

BOOK REVIEW: More money for beer and textbooks

By Sheryl Smolkin

4Sep-moremoneyforbeer

 

“More Money for Beer and Textbooks” by Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard is 200 easy-to-read and digest pages of down-to-earth advice about how to finance a post-secondary education without going into massive debt. And the authors do not advocate living an austere party-free existence.

Both are in their mid-twenties and graduated from the University of Manitoba. Kyle is a high school teacher and Justin is the Dean of Residence at St. John’s College on the University of Manitoba Campus. They also blog at myuniversitymoney.com and  youngandthrifty.ca.

They recognize how difficult it is to get a high school or university student to sit down and read a book that won’t be on a final exam — particularly a personal finance book!

That’s why instead of counselling extreme frugality, they look at post-secondary education from the perspective of two guys who wish they knew then, what they know now. They figure they would each be at least $5,000 richer if they had taken their own advice.

They start off by comparing the cost of four years of school living away from home (about $80,000) to living at home (about $34,000). They also run the numbers for a two year college degree ($30,000 vs. $11,000). Nevertheless, they conclude that higher education is and will continue to be an excellent investment in an information-based economy.

When evaluating whether going away to school is a worthwhile investment, they weigh the pros and cons of on and off campus living for students.

One interesting living option proposed is for parents with more than one child attending the same school to consider buying a house with additional bedrooms for renters to help defray the mortgage costs. Prohibitive housing costs in cities like Vancouver or Toronto may make this idea impractical, but it could be a workable solution in smaller college towns.

For kids or their parents who think Canada and provincial student loans are the answer, the comprehensive section on applying and qualifying for student loans and paying them back is an eye opener.

The application process is so complex, the book gives a checklist of 16 types of information to have available before even beginning to complete the online form. And depending on parental income, it is assumed that the Bank of Mom & Dad will make a major contribution to school costs.

Repayment of student loans doesn’t start until six months after the end of university, but interest starts accruing at the end of the final semester. Former students can opt for a variable interest rate of prime plus 2.5% or a fixed interest rate of prime plus 5%. A bankruptcy will not wipe the slate clean but a Repayment Assistance Plan is available in limited circumstances.

The chapter on scholarships and bursaries reveals the surprising fact that every year in Canada about $7-million in free money earmarked for post-secondary education goes unclaimed. There are lots of great suggestions about where to find scholarships and12 scholarship tips anyone can use.

For example, the authors say don’t just Google “scholarships” and apply for the top three like everyone else. The people who really succeed in the realm of scholarships are those who apply EVERYWHERE.

Too much trouble?

Most scholarship applications are similar and once a student has applied to several, he/she can cut and paste the rest with a little creative tweaking. And if the application process is really complicated, the odds are the applicant won’t have much competition.

There are also lots of good illustrations of how scholarship applicants can market themselves. For example, a former McDonald’s employee can emphasize the positive by describing the experience as “building practical business and communications skills in an entry-level position while learning how to contribute positively to building a team atmosphere.”

Providing references with a summary of activities and attributes they may not be fully aware of is another great suggestion that could result in detailed and glowing letters of support for scholarship applications.

Trying to keep costs down while still having a good time?

Kyle and Justin suggest students drink at home instead of in a bar to improve their “booze-to-dollar” ratio. They can also score free soft drinks and save money each time they offer to be the designated driver. For those with the space and inclination, they even suggest making homemade beer or wine can as another way to minimize cash spent on alcohol!

Other chapters deal with summer jobs, student tax returns, credit cards, budgeting basics and the importance of choosing an “in demand” career.

As both educators and recent graduates, the authors are able to strike the right balance between a breezy presentation and delivering lots of useful information. This book can be the catalyst for important discussions between parents and their college-bound offspring.

More Money for Beer and Textbooks can be purchased for $14.40 online at Chapters.

Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard
Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard