2016 Financial New Year’s Resolutions

By Sheryl Smolkin

As the old year draws to a close, many people resolve to reduce stress by getting more sleep, working out more often and eating a healthy diet. But for others, the financial pressure of taking from Peter to pay Paul is what keeps them awake at night.

If they could only find ways to get their finances under control and be sure that their family is properly protected, their anxiety level would plummet. If you fall into that category, here are some resolutions you can make to improve your finances, free up cash to save for longer term goals like retirement and give your family more financial security.

  1. Write it down: At the end of a month, do you have any idea where your money went? If you tap your credit or debit card each time you buy a cup of coffee, fork over $20 for every baby shower at the office and bring home take-out three days a week because you are too tired to cook, it’s not surprising that your bank account is running on empty half way through the month. Make a note in your phone or on a spreadsheet of every dollar you spend for a month and you will be able to identify money wasted that could be saved instead.
  2. Use cash: It may sound old-fashioned, but if you withdraw a set amount of cash each week to cover transit, lunches, coffee, dry cleaning and other miscellaneous expenses, you will spend much less than if you use your debit card or your credit card to pay for every small expenditure.
  3. Avoid credit card debt: Credit cards are a wonderful convenience if you pay them off every month and don’t have to pay interest charges. However, if you do accumulate credit card debt you could be paying as high as 20% or more on your outstanding balance which compounds every month. Furthermore, if you do not make minimum payments on the due date, you may lose your “grace period” and interest will begin to mount from the date of purchase of each item.
  4. Pay off high interest debt: If you owe money, resolve to pay off high interest debt as soon as possible. In some cases you may be able to borrow money on a lower interest line of credit to pay down higher interest credit card bills. You may also be able negotiate with creditors to accept a fixed amount each month. If you are stressed because of your debts, struggling to make your minimum payments, and need a plan to get your finances back on track, the Saskatchewan Credit Counselling Society provides free, confidential debt solution services.
  5. Pay yourself first: Waiting until the end of the month to direct money into savings is not a productive strategy as by then, the cupboard is typically bare. Decide on the amount you want to add to SPP, your RRSP, TFSA or unregistered savings every month and have the funds automatically transferred. After a few months you won’t even notice the difference.
  6. Re-think your needs: Do you still have one or more landlines although every member of your family has a cell phone? Do you really need cable TV when all you have been watching is Netflix? Are two cars a necessity or a luxury if you are on a convenient public transit line? Will the party be more fun if you buy a new dress you may never wear again? There are loads of ways to cut corners without significantly compromising your quality of life.
  7. Review your insurance: Is your family protected in the event of the death of you or your spouse or both? Your workplace benefits may include some life, disability and health insurance, but is it enough? Understand your employee benefits and augment them where required. Critical illness insurance can provide peace of mind if you succumb to a listed condition and suddenly have unexpected bills.
  8. Talk to your partner: If you have a partner or a spouse, talk regularly about your finances. Make sure you both have access to each other’s computer passwords and any bank or investment accounts that are not joint. If you think managing your finances now is a problem, imagine if only one of you is left behind to provide for the family with no understanding of family finances and where important documents are kept.
  9. Teach your kids: None of us were born understanding the value of a dollar or knowing how to manage money. Children learn from their parents. Give them an allowance or pay them for doing chores above and beyond their day-to-day responsibilities. Establish what they are responsible for paying for out of their own money. Don’t be afraid to say, “It’s too expensive,” or “We can’t afford that.” As your children get older and get part-time jobs, require that they save a portion of everything they earn towards their post-secondary education. Encourage them to donate time and money to the charity of their choice.
  10. Make a will: Having an up-to-date will is essential to ensuring your estate is distributed as you intend it, and that your death doesn’t create a legal and administrative burden to your family. If you die without a will, a court will appoint someone to administer your estate and distribute the assets according to a formula set out in provincial estate and family laws.

Also see: Financial New Year’s resolutions

Dec 28: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

This is the last Best from the Blogosphere for 2015 and I’m taking a break, so the next one will be published on January 25, 2016. We wish all savewithspp.com readers a healthy, prosperous New Year.

As we look back on 2015 and ahead to 2016, there is much to think about. We have a new Federal government, the loonie is at an all-time low and Canadians have extended extraordinary hospitality to Syrians and other refugees from war-torn lands.

Here are some interesting stories we are following:

In TFSA vs. RRSP: How are Canadians saving? I interviewed Krystal Yee (Gen X), Tom Drake (Gen Y) and Bonnie Flatt (Boomer) to find out how Canadians are taking advantage of the tax-sheltered savings vehicles available to them.

In What Sean Cooper Really Achieved By Paying Off His Mortgage In 3 Years Robb Engen from Boomer and Echo tells us that Sean Cooper didn’t just pay off his $255,000 mortgage in three years; he taught us all a lesson in personal branding. Mr. Cooper, a pension analyst by day, mild-mannered blogger by night, took an almost Machiavellian-like approach by achieving fame through mortgage freedom at age 30.

Jim Yee offers some Year End Finance Strategies that will take advantage of ongoing changes to our tax rules. For example, in 2016, the new Liberal government will be lowering the tax rate on the middle income bracket from 22% to 20.5% so those individuals making more than $45,283/year but less than $90,563/year, deferring income to next year might save some tax dollars.

On the Financial Independence Hub, Doug Dahmer writes about the timing of CPP benefits. He says the CPP benefit for a couple can be in excess of $700,000 over their lifetime and the study demonstrates that the difference between starting your benefit at the least beneficial date and starting at the best date can be more than $300,000.

And finally, Rob Carrick at the Globe and Mail offers some thoughts on how to prepare for a frugal retirement. Frugality is assumed to be a virtue in the world of personal finance writing, but on the outside, frugality is sometimes a synonym for cheap. He refers to a blogger on Frugalwoods who argues that making the choice to be frugal is about asserting your independent thinking about money.

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.

Seniors frequent victims of investment scams

By Sheryl Smolkin

The Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority (FCAA) is warning Saskatchewan seniors to be aware of investment fraud scams. Roughly 30% of investment fraud claims received by the FCAA’s Securities Enforcement Branch come from seniors. And this number could be significantly higher as much of the investment fraud perpetrated against seniors goes unreported because they feel embarrassed, or are afraid they’ll be judged incapable of handling their own finances.

“They typically have pension plans, RRSPs, TFSAs and home equity so seniors make very appealing targets for fraudsters,” says FCAA Communications Consultant Matthew Barton. “The two big things they always tell seniors is ‘we want you to have enough money for a comfortable retirement’ and ‘You would like to leave a legacy for your children and grandchildren.’”

For example, in May 2014 Ronald Jerry Fast received a seven year sentence in one of the largest fraud schemes in Saskatchewan history.

He and his daughter Danielle Fast-Carlson ran a Ponzi scheme that defrauded approximately 250 investors of nearly $17 million. Most of the victims were elderly people from Fast’s hometown of Saskatoon.

He used money from previous investors in his Marathon Leasing Company to pay off new ones, creating the impression that he was able to deliver higher-than-normal returns to people who put their money into his business.

In another notable case, North Battleford financial advisor Adele Kaminsky entered a guilty plea in January 2015 in a wide-ranging case of investment fraud case. She sold investments in a company called Enviro-Can Private Placement through her company AK Financial Planning Services. Subsequently, she moved more than $500,000 to her personal bank account.

Here are some investment scams the FCAA says that people of all ages should know about and avoid:

Affinity Fraud: Con artists sometimes establish credibility by associating with an affinity group (like churches, sports organizations, or social clubs). They’ll spend some time getting to know the members of the group, and then they’ll ask if anyone’s interested in investing. They’ll also often tell you to keep the deal “hush-hush”, because it’s such a great opportunity. What that usually means is it’s a great opportunity for the con artist, not so great for the victims.

Ponzi Scheme: Ponzi schemes are also known as a “pyramid scheme,” because the people who invest first are at the top of the “pyramid.” They make their money by recruiting more investors to the scheme. These new investors pay fees, which go to the people who invested in the scheme before them. The people, who join the scheme later on (and make up the bottom of the “pyramid”), usually lose out when the scheme runs out of new investors.

Boiler Room Scams: These scams involve individuals claiming to represent a brokerage house and using high-pressure sales tactics, often offering investors an exceptional deal on stock. They’re called “boiler room scams” because the “salespeople” who call to offer you a “once in a lifetime deal” are usually calling from a room, called a “boiler room”, filled with other con artists on the phone doing exactly the same thing. The “brokerage house” typically owns most – or all – of the stock, which it actively promotes to drive the price up. Once the firm has sold its holdings, it stops promoting the stock. The price of the stock falls, and you lose your money.

RRSP Scams: These scams are often promoted in newspaper ads for RRSP “loans” that let you take advantage of a “loophole” in the tax laws to access your locked-in RRSP funds. In reality, the promoter encourages you use your RRSP holdings to purchase stock in a start-up company. In return he or she “promises” to loan you 60-70% of the value of the investment. The stock is often worthless. You can typically expect to get no funds from the promised loan and you may end up paying tax on the money you withdrew from your RRSP, even though you don’t have it.

Nigerian Letter Fraud: These letters have appeared in various forms through the mail or via e-mail since the late 1970s. They appear to be from a government official or higher-up who claims to have access to millions of dollars and needs help getting the money out of the country. All they need is for some kind soul to hold the money in your bank account. The sender of the letter will ask for your banking information and offer to give you a percentage of the proceeds in return for your “help”. Watch out! Once they have your banking information, they’ll empty your account.

“We encourage people even if they’ve called the police to also call the FCAA if they to report suspected fraud especially when it comes to securities, because we can open the investigation and we have tools and resources to help them out,” Barton says.

For more information on investment fraud, visit www.fcaa.gov.sk.ca/investmentfraud/

Dec 21: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Recently Rob Carrick at the Globe and Mail wrote Prepare for the worst and make 2016 the year of the emergency fund. According to Carrick, the emergency fund is how you survive a financial setback without raiding your retirement savings, adding to your line of credit debt or borrowing from relatives. “Think of an emergency fund as insurance against a short-term setback that affects your long-term financial goals,” Carrick says.

20 Reasons Why You Need am Emergency Fund by Trent Hamm on thesimpledollar.com lists all of the obvious reasons (job loss, illness, urgent medical expenses) why you may need to tap into an emergency fund plus a few you never thought of. Some more obscure examples are:

  • Your identity is stolen, locking you out of your credit cards and/or bank account for a while until the issue gets straightened out.
  • An unexpected professional change forces you to relocate quickly.
  • A relative or friend of yours passes away suddenly in another part of the country (or the world).
  • You discover your partner is cheating on you, and for your own safety and peace of mind you have to pack your bags quickly and go.

How much do you need to save in your emergency fund? Typically financial experts suggest three to six months of fixed (as opposed to completely discretionary expenses). Emergency fund calculators from RBC and moneyunder30.com can help you figure out how much you should set aside.

Jason Heath at MoneySense is not a big fan of emergency funds if that means a substantial amount of cash sitting in a bank account doing nothing. He says, “I’m all for having the potential to cover 6 months of expenses in the event of an emergency. But I’d rather someone be able to do so through a combination of modest savings and ideally, a low-interest rate debt facility like a secured line of credit.”

Gail Vax-Oxlade believes the TFSA is a perfect place to stash your emergency fund. She says, “The best thing about the TFSA is its flexibility. You can take money out of your TFSA at any time for any purpose, without losing the contribution room, which makes this account the number one choice for socking away an emergency fund. So even if you take money out in one year, you can put it back the next, without affecting that year’s contribution limit ($5,500 for 2016).”

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.

8 ways seniors can travel on a budget

SNOWBIRDS SERIES
By Sheryl Smolkin

With the devalued Canadian dollar, the cost of travelling for seniors is 25% to 30% higher than it was at this time last year. So it is more important than ever for snowbirds to find ways to travel on a budget. Whether you are planning to follow the sun or travel somewhere more exotic, here are some ways you can spend less and still have a great adventure.

    1. Use your rewards: If you don’t have a rewards card that allows you to cash in points for travel, this may be the time to get one. For many programs like Air Miles, you can collect points based on where you do your everyday shopping. Travel cards often offer big bonuses just for signing up. For example, the Capital One Aspire World Elite MasterCard costs $150/year but you will get 40,000 points that can be redeemed for $400 in travel rewards once you spend $1,000 on the card.
    2. The road less-travelled: Budget travel blogger Matt Kepnes says although flights to Asia and Eastern Europe are not cheap, once you get there, good hotels and dining can be inexpensive. ” He told the Globe & Mail “Cambodia, Thailand and Korea all have amazing food, friendly people and fun nightlife. You can get by on $20 to $30 a day if you want to go cheap.”
    3. House swapping: There are many international agencies that organize house swaps between strangers, including: http://www.homeexchange.com/, http://www.homeforexchange.com/, http://www.lovehomeswap.com/, http://www.intervac.ca/, http://www.seniorshomeexchange.com/, and http://www.knok.com/. A house swap can save you on accommodations, food and beverages and allow you to really experience life in a new city or country. However, do your due diligence and get references to make sure you are not being ripped off. And get a damage deposit and check your home insurance coverage before you hand over the keys.
    4. Book early, Book late: If you book a cruise or other tour package long before you leave, there are often significant discounts and you only have to put down a small deposit until a few months before you travel. In one case I booked a cruise in Canadian dollars and although the dollar tanked before I paid the balance, the price tag stayed the same. Similarly, if you wait until the last minute, many vacations are deeply discounted. If you are retired, you have the flexibility to take advantage of a last minute deal.
    5. Earn while you travel: If you plan to go somewhere warm and stay for an extended period, there may be ways to earn money to defray the cost of your trip. Give private English lessons. Sell an article about your travels to a local newspaper. Provide consulting services to companies in the industry you retired from. As long as you have a computer and Wifi you can work from almost anywhere in the world.
    6. Free attractions: Do some research before you decide on a destination. Look for discounts and free attractions. We are taking our daughter’s family including our three and a half year old granddaughter to Washington D.C. in March and the trip will be more affordable because most of the city’s museums, memorials and other attraction are free. Another example is the public transport concessions for seniors in the U.K. The Senior Railcard is an annual savings card that’s available to anyone aged 60 or over. You buy it for a one-off cost and it will get you to big discounts on most rail fares in the UK.
    7. Volunteer vacations: There are many opportunities to volunteer abroad. Fees will vary, depending on the organization, your destination and the type of project you are working on. You will typically have to pay for your own airfare but you will be billeted and eat with local families. This website list describes some options for Jewish seniors interested in volunteering in Israel.
    8. Lifelong Learning: Road Scholar, the not-for-profit leader in educational travel since 1975, offers 5,500 educational tours in all 50 U.S. states and 150 countries. Alongside local and renowned experts, experience in-depth and behind-the-scenes learning opportunities, from cultural tours and study cruises to walking, biking and more. Prices are all inclusive with no hidden costs.

Also read: 8 ways to save on a cruise vacation

Dec 14: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

I’ve been thinking about the cost of health and long term care a lot lately because my 88- year old Mom recently had a bad fall and cracked five ribs. She is recovering at home but she is in a lot of pain, and requires 24/7 care for the foreseeable future.

The plan has always been to keep her in her own apartment as long as possible. Fortunately her wonderful, privately-paid caregiver (a registered practical nurse) who normally works 40 hours/week has virtually moved in and is helping us to take excellent care of her. But as costs mount up over the short run, we are beginning to wonder if this will be a luxury she soon can’t afford.

Access to public resources varies across the country, but in Thornhill, Ontario where she lives , I’ve been told that a maximum of one hour a day (and most probably only two hours a week) will be offered to her on the government dime. But I’m grateful that 22 in-house physiotherapy sessions to get her up and moving better and train her to avoid future falls have been approved.

So if health and long-term care are not in your retirement planning radar yet, I have put together a few recent articles that may get you thinking about what you can expect.

On Retire Happy, Donna McCaw writes about Your Health in Retirement: Asking for Help. She cites staggering statistics from the Vancouver based Canadian Men’s Health Foundation about men and heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, alcohol-related deaths as well as suicide. She interviewed recently-retired men who made it their first priority to get healthy and get rid of their “ring around the waist” by embracing fitness and learning to eat healthy.

Life after retirement: Health care costs require careful planning in the Financial Post is by Audrey Miller, the Managing Director of  http://www.eldercaring.ca/. She cites home care costs by the week and by the year (albeit in Ontario) and says as family members and professionals, we need to be better prepared. The cost of care is only going to become more expensive, especially as our public and private resources are reduced. Not only will we soon have more seniors than young people under 15, but our pool of those who are willing to be paid to do this work will also become smaller.

The coming health benefits shock for retirees by Adam Mayers at the Toronto Star reminds us that contrary to what many people believe, glasses, drugs and nursing homes will not in most cases be paid for by our universal health care. He quotes Kevin Dougherty, president of Sun Life Financial Canada who says one reason for the disconnect may be that we form an opinion of the health system through our use of it. Most of us are covered by workplace health plans and we don’t need much from these plans during our earlier years, and into middle age what we do need is covered.

Navigating Retirement healthcare is a comprehensive report from CIBC Wood Gundy discussing health care cost considerations in retirement. The study notes that long-term care is classified as an extended healthcare service under the Canada Health Act but the role of publicly-funded LTC facilities is changing as provincial governments limit the expansion of these facilities by reducing the number of registered nurses, maintaining or decreasing the number of available beds, and tightening the qualifications for acceptance into a facility.

Even if these policies were reversed, an individual’s current wait time of one year will likely increase unless significant expansion of the LTC provision occurs. The result is that a greater number of seniors are paying to enter more expensive for-profit private or semi-private facilities that can cost up to $7,000 or more a month.

Finally, Long-term care costs in Saskatchewan 2014 by Sun Life discusses how residential facilities, retirement homes/residences, government-subsidized home care, adult day care and private home care operate. Government subsidized options including home care are administered by the Regional Health Authority (RHA). As RHA resources are limited, many seniors don’t get the care they need from RHA services and have to rely on private home care services. The provincial tariff for skilled nursing ranges from $42-$70/hour while 24 hour live-in care can cost from $21-30/hr.

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 SPP is a great stocking stuffer

By Sheryl Smolkin

The problem with giving cash or gift cards for Christmas is that the money gets spent and the person receiving the gift often is left with little of long lasting value. Gadgets like the latest video game or smart phone get broken or become obsolete. Clothes may not fit properly to start with, or quickly go out of style.

But if you put the Saskatchewan Pension Plan in your children or grandchildren’s Christmas stocking, you will be giving them a gift that keeps on giving. SPP is a voluntary, money purchase plan you can contribute to in order to help them accumulate funds for retirement.

Anyone between ages 18 and 71 with available RRSP room is eligible to join the 33,000 other people who are already part of SPP. The only way to join SPP is by signing up directly. SPP does not have a sales force and commissions are not paid to anyone for selling the Plan.

Contributions to SPP are permitted up to an annual maximum of $2,500, again, subject to available RRSP room. There is no minimum payment and you decide on the contribution schedule and payment method. For example, choose from one of the following methods:

  • By mail (A contribution form is required )
  • In person or by online banking at your financial institution
  • By phone using your credit card (1-800-667-7153)
  • Online, or
  • Directly from your bank account on a pre-authorized contribution schedule (PAC)

You can change your contribution level or stop making contributions at any time. One way to incent your family members to learn about the plan and keep on saving is to challenge them by agreeing to match their monthly or annual contributions up to a stated amount.

SPP accounts are locked-in and earn interest until the member retires. If he/she dies before retiring, the funds in the account will be paid to the person’s beneficiary.

SPP allocates 100% of the market rate of return, less operating expenses, to members monthly. Since inception, the fund returns have been an average of 8.1%. The return history in the balanced fund for the last 10 years is shown below.

Balanced fund
Year Earnings % MER %
2014 9.10 0.95
2013 15.77 1.00
2012 8.45 1.07
2011 -1.01 1.14
2010 9.42 1.04
2009 12.68 1.01
2008 -16.23 1.00
2007 -0.33 0.94
2006 12.51 0.90
2005 10.13 0.82

Family therapist Carol Mitchell believes so strongly in the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) that she signed up several of her family members and deposited money into their accounts. She plans to make contributions for these relatives again in 2015.

Mitchell hopes her family members will continue to contribute to SPP above and beyond her gifts to them; however, she recognizes that some years they may have other, more pressing financial priorities. “The flexibility to contribute whatever they can afford to SPP each year is one reason I really like the program,” she says.

“I decided to invest in their futures,” Mitchell continues. “Someday I’m going to die and they are not going to remember they spent the $100 I gave them on a sweater or a dinner out. But when it comes time for their retirement, they’ll remember I believed in them and put money aside in their names.”

Dec 7: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

My beat is pensions, benefits, personal finance and workplace issues. I enjoy writing for my blog retirementredux.com and posting to my archive website sherylsmolkin.com, but I haven’t put much effort into turning them into a source of income. However, I do write for a living and the exposure certainly helps.

However, I was fascinated by Robb Engen’s presentation at Canadian Personal Finance Conference on how he turned his blog into a profitable online business. He says one general rule of blogging is that those who get into it strictly to make money tend to fail. A blog needs to be compelling enough not just for people to want to read and share your content but to keep you motivated to continue writing. But he says blogging can be fairly lucrative if you stick with it long enough, and the truth is there are lots of bloggers who make a pretty good living online.

After reading Robb’s story, I decided to see what other bloggers had to say about ways they have parlayed their personal interest blogs into a source of income.

Canadian Opportunity is a website geared to Canada’s work at home online community. The post How to make money blogging in Canada notes that it is important to blog about something that interests you. If you’re a stay at home mom blog about parenting, provide tips to new parents or about an illness one of your children experienced. If you’re a golfer, fisherman or runner you may want to provide interesting content on these subjects. One of the most popular ways to make money on any blog is with Google Adsense. It’s free and by joining you will allow Google to place various types of advertising on your blog that will be automatically targeted to your specific audience.

How Mommy Bloggers Make Money on Canadian Family reports that some of the best (and most addictive) bloggers gain recognition by pouring their hearts out on the screen. They report from the trenches of motherhood, with humour, unabashed honesty and style. Over time, with hard work, talent and perseverance, they hone their craft and build a sizeable audience. Some bloggers decide to sell merchandise to their fans through sites such as etsy.com and cafépress.com. You can buy your favourite blogger’s artwork and crafts or get their best quotes on a mug or T-shirt to help support them (so they can continue to bring you free content).

How To Create A Profitable Blog on Retire@21 focuses more on the technical side of getting a blog up and running like selecting a domain name and installing WordPress, using Google tools and setting up RSS, email subscriptions and a sitemap. If you are still intimidated, there are many small businesses that will help you set up your blog for a nominal amount or better still, your kid or your grandkids can probably wade through the technical details in a flash.

Can you make money without selling your soul? Jeff Goins says if selling stuff makes your skin crawl, you can use a blog to build an online presence and brand and then use it to land consulting or freelance writing jobs.. He has had several people contact him about things like writing an eBook, SEO, and other topics he has blogged about.

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.

How to have a budget-friendly Christmas

By Sheryl Smolkin

Every December you resolve to spend less on Christmas and every January you have a huge credit card bill that blows the family budget out of the water. Part of the problem is that you are so busy and that in desperation, you end up doing a “hit and run” at the mall on the busiest shopping days of the year.

Here are 10 ideas how you can reduce costs while at the same time giving more meaningful gifts that create lasting memories for your family and friends.

  1. Buy fewer gifts: If you normally buy multiple gifts for your children, explain to them you will be buying one gift this year and that each of them can select a charity of their choice to which you will make a donation in their name.
  2. Give your time: Make coupon that can be redeemed for your time. Seniors will appreciate snow shovelling, lawn mowing and rides to appointments. Kids will love cooking lessons or homework help.
  3. Meals on wheels: Is your best friend coping with three children under five? Has your neighbour just come home from the hospital after surgery? Nutritious, tasty frozen meals that can be easily warmed up are always welcome.
  4. Entertainment: Regardless of the size of your community, there are sports events, concerts and school plays. While professional theatre and sports tickets can be expensive, local events are much less costly. Do some research and plan a memorable and unexpected outing for two.
  5. Re-gift: Re-gifting is only a no-no if you aren’t upfront about it. Gently-read books in good condition make a great gift. If you are downsizing, your kids or grandkids may be thrilled to have the vase or tea set they have admired for years.
  6. Pictures, videos: With the advent of digital photography, most people no longer actually print pictures. I realized this when my granddaughter asked me why there were no pictures of her on my walls. Print and frame special family pictures or put them together in a small, inexpensive purse-sized album.
  7. Shop online: Shopping online can save you time and money. You can comparison shop to find the best prices. Often prices are lower than in “bricks and mortar” stores. Free delivery in many cases is a real bonus, particularly if your friends and family members are spread across the country.
  8. Give consumables: Most people have enough stuff. But if your cranberry sauce, apple pie or homemade chocolate truffles are the talk of the town, they make great gifts for teachers, neighbours and your hairdresser. Unless it’s a “top-secret” recipe consider including it with the gift.
  9. Cookie exchanges: Between people dropping in and house guests staying for extended periods, the holiday period means lots of entertaining. One way to keep the cookie jar full of a variety of yummy treats is for a group of friends or neighbours to each bake multiple batches of their specialty and arrange a cookie exchange.
  10. Boxing Day shopping: By Boxing Day the last thing you may want to think about is next Christmas, but it’s the best time to get deeply-discounted wrapping paper, cards and ribbons. Also, if electronics like a TV or computer are on your list, the most economical approach may be to give an IOU and actually buy the item between Christmas and New Year’s.

Also see: Budget-friendly holiday gifts