BOOK REVIEW: Wealthing Like Rabbits

By Sheryl Smolkin

I don’t often review personal finance books because it seems to take an inordinate amount of time to wade through yet another statement of the obvious just to glean enough cogent information to give readers a taste of what the book is all about.

But when I read accolades from the likes of Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Preet Bannerjee, Roma Luciw, Dan Bortolotti plus a whole bunch of my other favourite personal finance bloggers in the introductory pages of the book, I thought I’d better keep on going to find out what all of the fuss is about.

Author Robert R. Brown says Wealthing Like Rabbits is written to be a fun and unique introduction to personal finance and suggests that any book that includes sex, zombies and a reference to Captain Picard is “an absolute must read,” regardless of genre.

Brown starts out by asking how many rabbits there would be after 60 years if 24 rabbits were released on a farm on a great big island. Before providing an answer to this question, he introduces the need to save for retirement, although he doesn’t begin to predict how much you or I will need. His only conclusion is that “more is better” because it is better to be 65 years old with $750,000 saved than 65 years old with $75,000 saved.

Then he reveals that there would be 10 billion rabbits after 60 years and launches into a discussion of the history and key features of registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) and tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs). Subsequently he riffs about how many zombies there would be in England if France sent 100/week for 40 years.

If you are still with me, you may wonder — what is the point of all this?

Not surprisingly of course, it’s to illustrate the power of compounding, whether in relation to rabbits, or money or zombies. We learn that just $100/wk deposited in an RRSP earning 6% for 40 years will add up to a nest egg of $624,627.

But the positive and the negative impact of compounding interest are also very cleverly brought home in later chapters. I particularly liked the comparison of brothers Mario and Luigi who both had similar incomes and $100,000 for a down payment on a house. They went to the bank to find how big a mortgage they were eligible for.

Mario’s banker told him “he could afford” to buy a house for $525,000. Luigi told the mortgage specialist he needed $10,000 for closing costs and the $90,000 balance had to cover at least 20% of the purchase price of the house so the most he would be willing to spend is $450,000.

The story continues with Mario buying a 3,000 square foot home for $525,000. Luigi sticks to his budget and buys a 1,600 square home nearby for $350,000. Over 20 years, compound interest on the mortgage means that Mario ends up paying $807,538 for his house while Luigi only has to fork out $538,359.

Similarly, when it comes to debt, Brown illustrates that high interest credit card debt can quickly escalate if balances are not paid off every month. Even I did not realize until recently that if you miss your payment due date by even as little as one day, the interest-free grace period completely disappears. In fact you have to pay interest on the amount of each transaction from the date each and every purchase was made.

Brown also reviews the characteristics of a line of credit; a home owner’s line of credit; bank loans and consolidation loans. While generally he believes all of these can cause severe damage to your financial health, he recognizes that when handled properly, they each have their place.

But he draws a line in the sand when it comes to payday loans. Never, ever get a payday loan, Brown says.

He gives the example of Buddy who borrows $400 from a payday loan place because his furnace broke down. He is charged $21 for every $100 he borrows for just two weeks. Two weeks later he pays the payday lender $484. That’s 21% for only 14 days, which works out to 546% annually. And that’s only the beginning.

If Buddy can’t pay in two weeks the payday loan company will charge him an NSF penalty and continue to accumulate stratospheric interest rates on the whole amount. Further defaults mean he will likely be hounded both by telephone at home and at work day and night. The file may be handed over to an even more aggressive collection agency.

In the second last chapter, Brown offers a brain dump of financial tips (which he doesn’t call “Fifty Shades of Brown”):

    • Spousal RRSPs are cool.
    • MoneySense magazine is a great source of personal finance information.
    • Eat dinner at home. Then go out for a fancy coffee and desert to Starbucks.
    • Buy life insurance, not mortgage insurance from your bank.
    • Read Preet Banerjee’s book Stop Overthinking Your Money for the skinny on life insurance.
    • Use the noun“wealth” as a verb. So instead of saving $150/week in your RRSP you will be wealthing your money.

And finally, Brown’s parting words at the end of the book are “you’ve got to show up.” Put some money away for your future. Live in a house that makes sense. Be smart about how you spend your money. Spend less than you earn. Be comfortable living within your means. He says it really is that simple.

Wealthing Like Rabbits is funny and engaging and it hits all the personal finance bases. Regardless of whether you are a Millennial, a Gen Xer or a Boomer, you will find lots of tips on how to save more, spend less and still have a lot of fun along the way. 

The book can be purchased in hardcover for $16.95 and the epub and kindle versions are available for $7.99.

Jul 27: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Barbecuing is the obvious alternative when you don’t want to cook inside and heat up the house on a hot and muggy summer day. But feeding a crowd can get expensive if you entertain frequently or if there always seems to be a gang of hungry teenagers foraging for food in your fridge. This week we feature blog posts that have useful tips for cheap and cheerful summer barbecues.

First and foremost you need a grill. Barbecue Bible’s Steven Raichlen offers 8 questions to ask yourself before buying a grill or smoker. How much can you afford? Charcoal, gas, wood-burning or other? How many people will you be cooking for? What foods do you enjoy grilling or smoking? Is portability important? These questions and others will influence your purchasing decision.

Real Simple has 10 Money-Saving Ideas for a Summer Barbecue. Some examples are:

  • Skip the porterhouse steak in favour of a great flank steak.
  • It’s super easy to make do-it-yourself rubs and sauces.
  • Maintain your grill properly so it will last as long as possible.

In 7 Tips for Hosting a Low-Budget BBQ Readers Digest says don’t stress about impressing your guests with an elaborate menu. Instead of trying difficult recipes, serve simple dishes that you know they will like. Plus, if the kids at your barbecue are picky eaters, your uncomplicated menu is bound to please them.

Tiphero says the way to have a cheap and successful barbecue is to make the most of the meat you purchase by serving skewers. It breaks up the meat with some veggies to make for a nice, filling snack on a stick. Skewers are a great presentation and work wonderfully for portion control.

And finally, Stockpilingmoms gives 7 tips to a fun and cheap BBQ. What about a hot dog or bratwurst bar? Grab hot dogs, bratwurst or sausages for less than a steak, chicken or burger would cost.  Pick out regular, wheat, onion and poppy seed buns.  Offer different fresh or grilled veggies, relish, chili, and all your favorite condiments for a fun spin on a typical barbecue.  Let everyone build their own dog mixing and matching classic flavors to create a new favorite.

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.

Why you should join SPP in July

By Sheryl Smolkin

Have you noticed that your most recent pay cheque is higher than usual? That could be because you have paid the maximum in Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and (EI) Employment Insurance Premiums for the year. 

The total amount you must contribute to CPP in 2015 is:

($53,600 [maximum earnings] – $3,500 [basic exemption]) x 4.95% = $2,479.95 

This amount is matched by your employer.

Similarly, the annual Employment Insurance (EI) maximum earnings are $49,500 with an employee contribution rate of 1.88%. Therefore the maximum EI contribution you have to make this year is $930.60. Your employer must remit 1.4 times the maximum premium you pay up to $1,302.84.

These annual maximum CPP and EI contributions apply to each job you hold with different employers. So if you leave one job during the year to start work with another company, your new employer also has to deduct EI premiums without taking into account what was paid by the previous employer. This is the case even if you have paid the maximum premium amount during your previous employment.

Also, if you have several part-time jobs or a part-time job in addition to your full time position, your secondary employer is also obligated to withhold CPP and EI premiums based on your earnings regardless of how much your primary employer is deducting. If as a result, you over- contribute to either program, you will be credited with excess when you file your income tax return for the year.

That means if you earned $50,000 in the first half of the year, by early July your pay will go up by 6.83% or about $131.45 per week. If your annual salary is lower, your “Withholding Tax Freedom Day” will occur a little later in the year. But whenever it kicks in, it will feel like you suddenly got a healthy raise.

So what are you going to do with your windfall? How about joining Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) and setting up a monthly deposit equal to the amount you would have paid to the government?

Depending on your income level, you could easily contribute the $2,500 SPP max in the second half of the year. Beginning January 2016 you could elect to continue contributing at a reduced level throughout the coming year. Or in the alternative, you could take a break until later in 2016 when you have again paid the maximum CPP and EI to start saving again in SPP.

A key feature of SPP is that how much you contribute and when is completely up to you. You can change your method or level of contribution at anytime.

 Choose from any of the following methods:

  • in person or by telebanking at your financial institution
  • by phone using your credit card (1-800-667-7153)
  • directly from your bank account on a pre-authorized contribution schedule (PAC)

Contributions to SPP are permitted up to an annual maximum of $2,500, subject to your  available RRSP room. And because SPP contributions (like contributions to an RRSP) are tax deductible, if you are making regular contributions, you could file a Form T1213 Request to Reduce Tax Deductions at Source so your employer remits a lower amount of income taxes during each pay period.

That means that while you can not only build a retirement nest egg in your SPP account once you no longer have to contribute to the CPP and EI programs, you will actually have more disposable income every month.

Jul 20: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

This week we focus on travel and interesting articles by writers named in Canada.com’s list of 11 Canadian travel bloggers sure to inspire. Included below are excerpts from Canada.com’s profiles of several of these bloggers.

From kicking it with grandchildren to strolling solo in some of the more sought-after destinations in the world, travelling granny Evelyn Hannon shares her tips and tricks for women’s excursions on her web site, Journey Woman. In Test Your Travel Insurance IQ she presents a useful quiz for readers who may not fully understand the reasons for and potential pitfalls of travel insurance.

Founder of I Backpack Canada Corbin Fraser writes about destinations, activities and adventures from the perspective of an independent backpacker travelling throughout the country. Insider travel tips, inspiring videos and more can be found on his Canada-specific travel blog. 4 Valuable Tips for Moving Across Canada is a useful resource if you are trying to figure out how to get you and your stuff from one part of the country to another as cheaply as possible.

Canadian couple Dalene and Peter Heck chronicle their full–time travel experiences which began in 2009 on Hecktic Travels. After selling everything they owned, they hit the road. Being together 24-7 for several years straight is a great litmus test for any relationship. But it’s one they’ve clearly survived, because their adventures continue. They answer some of the most frequently asked questions about how to travel long term and speak to the biggest rewards in this travel lifestyle.

If you’ve ever wanted to just pack a bag and go on a trip by yourself, then read Janice Waugh’s work on Solo Traveler Blog to get inspired. If you are tired of flying economy and being kicked in the back by the child behind you for the whole trip, you will be interested in her blog Best Seat on the Plane According to Your Needs and Budget. She says some planes are definitely more comfortable than others, so choose a booking engine that gives you details on the aircraft scheduled for the flight.

And finally, using the most efficient ways to convert to local currency when you travel outside the country can save you big bucks, says Barry Choi in his guest post The 5 Best Currency Exchange Options For Travellers on the Financial Independence Hub. According to Choi, using ATMs is the generally the best currency exchange option to get cash at the lowest rate. ATMs are everywhere and the best part is they only charge the spot rate of the day plus 2.5%.

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.

Renovating? What you need to know

By Sheryl Smolkin

You are expecting a new baby and the house feels too small. Your kitchen and bathrooms look shabby and you want something more up-to-date. You need a home office. 

In all of these circumstances you may be tempted to sell your home and buy a new one that has the features your family needs. However, when you consider the costs of moving and what you can get for your money, you may decide that renovating makes more sense. 

But everyone knows someone who has experienced a renovation nightmare. The project that was supposed to take two months stretched to six. The $50,000 budget doubled. The contractor disappeared before finishing the job. 

The more planning and care that goes into the renovation in advance, the better your chances of having things turn out to your satisfaction. Here are some tips from the Canadian Consumer Handbook[1] that can help you hire the right people to do the right job properly.

  1. Scope of the project: Make a detailed list of what you want to accomplish. Any contractor you hire will base their quote on your specifications. If the scope of the project changes or you request extras, the renovation will cost more and take longer.
  2. Permits: Check with your municipal building inspection department to find out which permits you’ll need before you start work (this is not your contractor’s responsibility unless that is spelled out in your contract) and check which inspections you’ll have to arrange part-way through or when the project is finished.
  3. Find a contractor: Ask friends, relatives, neighbours and local business associations for recommendations. Talk to at least six prospects and interview three. All subcontractors or tradespeople like plumbers or electricians should be certified. Contact your local Better Business Bureau or business association to see whether any complaints have been filed against firms that you are thinking of hiring. Ask for and call references.
  4. Get quotes: Provide each supplier with the same specifications so you can compare apples to apples. Ask for a written estimate of all costs including labour, taxes and any extra charges. Paying cash “under the table” for a job is not a better deal. If you pay cash you have no warranty, no recourse for poor workmanship and the added risk of liability if an injury takes place on your property.

The Contract

Make sure you and your contractor have a written contract. Don’t sign it until you have fully reviewed it, are satisfied with all the terms and are sure that the contractor is capable of meeting your needs.

Ask the contractor to include a detailed description of the work to be done. Get him to list specific information about products, manufacturer, size and colour of materials and equipment to be installed.

It is a best practice to even include product numbers for items such as carpet, tile, countertops and hardwood floors etc.. The more details that are contained in the contract, the less room there is for error.

The contract should include the following information:

  • The type and amount of work to be done.
  • Who is to complete the work (including a list of any subcontractors and who is responsible for their payment and when).
  • Who is responsible for ordering and paying for materials.
  • Who is responsible for permits.
  • The total cost.
  • What percentage is the deposit  and whether it seems reasonable.
  • The start date and date of completion.
  • Who is responsible for clean-up afterwards.
  • The business and GST/HST number of the contractor.
  • The name and address of the contractor and your name and address.

 

For more information on what to do when hiring a contractor, visit the Get It In Writing website, run by the Canadian Home Builder’s Association.

Surviving your reno

Hiring the right contractor and nailing down the cost and the duration of the project can help facilitate a successful renovation, but don’t forget other practical considerations.

Can you still live in part of your house while the other part is being renovated? If not, you may have to factor in a short-term rental for your family. Will your neighbours be inconvenienced because workers are parked on your street day after day? Talk to them to be sure they understand what you are doing and ask for their patience.

Be prepared for surprises. If your current home is not compliant with building codes, unexpected structural work like rewiring the house or removing asbestos from the walls may be required. In these situations you will have to either come up with more money or re-think the scope of work you can afford.

Finally, take heart. A renovation is a little like having a baby. Once the project is finished and you have a beautiful home addition to show for it, the birth pangs will quickly be forgotten.

ALSO READ: Consumer Tip – Contractors, Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice and Attorney General

[1] Produced by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Consumer Measures Committee

Jul 13: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Back from two weeks of vacation and back in the saddle! While it’s hard to get re-establish anormal routine, it’s not difficult to find many interesting personal finance stories and blogs to share with you because all of our favourites kept on blogging when I was away.

On Boomer & Echo, Robb Engen wrote about The Evolution of Loyalty Cards. Scanning weekly flyers and clipping coupons is a great Canadian tradition but he says that like the landline telephone, VCRs, and analog TV – coupons and flyers are on their way out. Retailers are moving online and developing smart phone applications to get more personal with their offers.

In Is Paying Down a Mortgage Underrated? on Our Big Fat Wallet, Dan says the real value of paying down the mortgage isn’t the interest savings. With rates as low as they currently are, the interest you save will likely be minimal. He suggests the best approach for anyone looking to use extra funds to pay down their mortgage is to consider a ‘hybrid’ approach – using the money to reduce the mortgage and then putting more money each month towards investing.

Blond on a Budget’s Cait Flanders has finally finished her year-long shopping ban. In a herculean 6,000 word blog The Year I Embraced Minimalism and Completed a Yearlong Shopping Ban she explains why she did it and how it changed her life. Flanders says, “There is nothing I need right now that could make my life better than it already is and that’s a great feeling to end this year-long challenge with.”

Globe & Mail reporter Ian McGuigan agrees that accumulating wealth is a challenge but he says that “decumulating” it can be trickier still. In a recent article he refers to the paper Making Sense Out of Variable Spending Strategies for Retirees written by Wade Pfau, a professor of retirement income at American College in Bryn Mawr, Penn. McGuigan notes that spending only 4% a year works out pretty well if you don’t want to outlive your money. It also keeps your spending at a constant level, in after-inflation terms. However, it’s not so good if you’re interested in being able to live as well as possible in retirement.

Guess who’s saving for retirement? The kids  reports Adam Mayers at the Toronto Star. While we often point the finger at young people as having limited interest and understanding of their personal financial affairs, Sun Life finds that’s not so. Younger workers know a good deal when they see one and like all smart consumers they’re snapping it up. Only 40% of those in their 40s and 50s are taking full advantage of matching Registered Retirement Savings Plan or pension money in plans Sun Life administers. On the other hand, 90% of those in their 20s (presumably new employees) are opting in.

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.

Lisa Taylor: Challenge Factory

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen
Click here to listen

Today I’m interviewing Lisa Taylor, the president of Challenge Factory for savewithspp.com. The Challenge Factory offers a broad range of services to both employers dealing with an aging workforce, and individuals looking for a career change or transition. We are going to talk about how career timelines have changed, and how you can define and embrace encore or second act careers. Welcome, Lisa. 

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Q: Lisa, tell me a little bit about your own background, and when and why the Challenge Factory was born.
A: In 2003 and 2004, the question that intrigued me the most, was why was it, even in fantastic companies, so many people were successful in their jobs but not satisfied. They were seeking something else, but also not willing to take the risk to make a move. As a result I did some research. That led me down the path of really understanding demographics and the workplace.

Q: When did you actually start the Challenge Factory?
A: The Challenge Factory started in 2009. It really grew from my initial experience meeting people who wanted to figure out how to make meaningful change later in their careers. 

Q: What other professionals do you have on your team?
A: Challenge Factory is made up of a wide variety of professionals. We have career coaches, HR and management strategy professionals and analytic specialists that work with our corporate clients to help model out what the cost would be of shifting the workforce around in different ways. 

With our individual clients, we have a really unique body of over 160 experts who are top in their own jobs, and they agree to take on Challenge Factory clients for one day test-drives.

If you’re in one occupation, and thinking that you might want to do something totally different, the best way for an adult to make decisions is to do a dry run. This gives our clients an opportunity to spend a day with an expert in that particular field to find out if their assumptions are really true and whether the job is really as great as they thought it would be. Between our coaches, our consultants, and our test-drive experts, we have a really diverse group of people who are all there to support the clients that work with us. 

Q: Do you draw on these experts on an as-needed basis?
A: Yes, based on what’s relevant to each individual client or group that’s going through the program. 

Q: We hear more and more in the media about encore, or second act, or legacy careers, tell me what those terms mean for you.
A: Whether it’s an encore career, a second act or a legacy career, I think what the terms are demarking is that this isn’t just an extension of mid-career or mid-life. It’s not just doing the same thing you’ve been doing but doing it longer.

A lot of times when people hear about working longer, they sigh and say, “Oh my goodness, I’m ready to be out of here.” But they’re not actually ready to stop making a meaningful contribution. I think that those terms help us to draw the line in the sand, to say it’s okay to think about these next 20 or 25 years differently than you’ve thought about the last 20 or 25 years. 

Q: Is the encore idea only focused on paid work?
A: Not at Challenge Factory, and not from my perspective. The purpose isn’t necessarily to define paid work that people can move into. For some people, that’s a very core part of their plan for their 50s, 60s, even into their 70s and beyond. For other people, it’s really about coming up with the right portfolio of activities. We call that the career portfolio plan. 

The encore concept really says, “What’s the balance between stable work, hobbies and interests, and risky or entrepreneurial ventures — things that may or may not pay off in the future, but you know what, you’d love to give them a try and see what happens.” 

Q: How do new careers in later life typically differ from the kind of careers people embark on right out of school, or the careers they left behind?
A: I think the biggest difference, when you’re making a transition and it’s later in life, compared to when you’re right out of school, is how significant what you do, or what you have been doing, is tied into your sense of identity. 

We introduce ourselves by using what we do as the social placeholder so that we can figure out quickly who everyone is at the cocktail party or at the meeting. Even at the family barbecue when there’s someone new, we often will ask as a very first question, “It’s nice to meet you. What do you do?” 

After decades of explaining what you do, starting to identify what else you could really do and what you want to do separate from that particular way of describing yourself is very difficult. 

Q: Is an encore career a luxury for people who’ve saved enough money so they have choices, or is the concept relevant for a broader group of people?
A: The relevance of an encore career for everyone is to recognize that it’s not about an aging workforce. It’s about the benefits and the impact longevity brings. The longer we live, the more time we have to contribute in different ways. There is a way for anyone to think about how they want to spend the next 20-25 years of their life.

Q: Do you think the desire to work at something different later in life is more a factor of knowledge workers, or does it also include trades people, independent business owners, blue collar people etc.?
A: It’s assumed that it’s really just for the professional sector. But it’s not true. The Challenge Factory works with individuals looking for their legacy career, for their next step, and they come from all different sectors. We also work on the other side of this equation — inside organizations to see how career paths can change so that their workforce can continue to contribute and deliver value for longer periods of time. 

Q: You provide career exploration services on both a group and a one-on-one basis. Your offices are in Toronto. How do you accommodate people outside your geographic area?
A: Challenge Factory is headquartered in Toronto, but we offer services in cities across the country, North America and Europe using technology.

Q: Participants complete 19 assignments using an online collaboration tool. Can you briefly tell me a little bit about these assignments?
A: Sure. Different programs have different numbers of assignments. Our whole career transition program has 19. These assignments are short, but very pointed questions that require our clients to go out and experience something new, talk with friends and family and then reflect on the responses, or do some reflective writing on their own. 

We have an online collaboration site where our clients complete their assignments, and their coach and anyone else that they’d like to can see their responses as they work their way through the program. This is in between the coaching sessions. 

If they are not meeting with their coach, or their group isn’t meeting again for another two weeks, but they’ve just had a real significant breakthrough, and have written something that’s very meaningful, their coach will see that and be able to respond back to them online within a short period of time.

Q: Can you give me an anecdotal example of a client who went through your program, and his before and after careers?
A: Sure. Frank was the COO of a family-run print business. He had been with the organization for a very, very long time, had really loved his career, but had started to find that he was ready for something new. He was pretty sure he wanted to make a radical change. 

In talking with us, one of the things that he found was that there were a couple of aspects of his career that had always made him really excited. One of them was in a particular sector that provided services to his company. 

On further exploration, he actually found that there was an organization that was looking for senior-level expertise to help them improve their relationships with their customer base. He was able to step out of his COO role and move over into an organization he had always held in high esteem, in a totally different sector, by leveraging the experience he had by being a client for so many decades.

Q: How long do encore careers typically last? After all, retirement has been described as three stages: go-go, slow-go, and then no-go, although the age span will be different for everyone.
A: This new segment, this language, of encore, or legacy or second act careers, helps to differentiate that you’re not in retirement for decades. That period of time at the end of your life where you actually withdraw from, whether it’s paid or voluntary contribution to society, is a specific moment in time because it’s time for you to start to take care of yourself and to really focus on what’s important as you get to the end of your days. This instead of putting a line in the sand that says, “You know what, by the time everyone is 71, that’s got to be finished.”

Q: Thank you very much for your insights, Lisa. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
A: And with you.

7 Things to Know About Practicing Safe Sun

By Sheryl Smolkin

After a long winter, when summer weather finally comes, all I want to do is close my eyes and bask in its warming rays. It doesn’t seem possible that this is a high risk activity, yet melanoma skin cancer caused by damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation is one of the fastest rising of all cancers in Canada.

But we all want retire healthy and live to a ripe old age. So the good news is that skin cancer is preventable if you practice “safe sun.” That means correctly applying sunscreen at recommended intervals and wearing protective clothing such as hats and sunglasses. Sunscreens are products combining several ingredients that help prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the skin.

Two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, damage the skin, age it prematurely, and increase your risk of skin cancer. UVB is the chief culprit behind sunburn, while UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply, are associated with wrinkling, leathering, sagging, and other light-induced effects of aging (photoaging). They also exacerbate the carcinogenic effects of UVB rays, and increasingly are being seen as a cause of skin cancer on their own. Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB.

SPF — or Sun Protection Factor — is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer — about five hours.

SPF 15 filters out approximately 93% of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 keeps out 97% and SPF 50 keeps out 98%. They may seem like negligible differences, but if you are light-sensitive, or have a history of skin cancer, those extra percentages will make a difference. And as you can see, no sunscreen can block all UV rays.

Here are 7 things you need to know about “practicing safe sun”:

  1. Who should use sunscreen? Everyone regardless of skin tone or ethnicity over age 6 months should use sunscreen. Younger infants should be kept in the shade or wear protective clothing.
  2. Cloudy days: Up to 40% of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation reaches the earth on a completely cloudy day. This often leads to the most serious sunburns, because people spend all day outdoors with no protection from the sun.
  3. Expiration dates: When it comes to sunscreen, expiration dates really do matter. The active ingredients in sunscreen can deteriorate over time, which means the protection won’t be as effective. What’s more, an open bottle is more likely to become contaminated with germs as the preservatives meant to prevent bacteria can also lose their efficacy. Read the suggested expiry date and storage conditions on the label.
  4. Choosing the right sunscreen: The kind of sunscreen you use may vary depending on the type of outdoor exposure you are expecting. For incidental sun exposure — when you are outside only for minutes at a time — an SPF of 15 is probably sufficient. Your sunscreen should have broad spectrum protection, meaning it effectively protects against significant portions of both the UVA and UVB ranges of the light spectrum. Most broad-spectrum formulas contain multiple sunscreen ingredients. For more detailed information on ingredients and how to choose your sunscreen, click here.
  5. SPF in your makeup: A two-in-one foundation/sunscreen certainly seems handy, but that doesn’t mean it works. Part of the problem is quantity: a dab of foundation isn’t the same as the amount of sunscreen you should slather on your face. However, a moisturizer with SPF can do the trick.
  6. How much is enough? To ensure that you get the full SPF of a sunscreen, you need to apply 1 oz. – about a shot glass full. At least four ounces per day with four applications means one 8 ounce bottle will only last the weekend. With 15 weekends between Victoria Day and Labor Day, you’ll need at least 15-8 ounce bottles per family member to get you through the season—even on rainy or cloudy days!
  7. Proper application: Sunscreens should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow the ingredients to fully bind to the skin. Reapplication of sunscreen is just as important as putting it on in the first place, so reapply the same amount every two hours. Sunscreens should also be reapplied immediately after swimming, toweling off, or sweating a great deal.

You can use both sunscreen and insect repellent to protect your health but be sure to read and follow the instructions on both containers to make sure that each product is applied properly. Health Canada recommends that if you apply both products; put the sunscreen on first, followed by the insect repellent.