Jan 30: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

The thing about January is that everyone is either trying to get physically, mentally or financially fit, although some people are closer to the end game than others. Here’s what some of our favourite bloggers wrote about saving money and reaching other goals in 2017.

In How to Save Money on Groceries: 10 Easy Ways to Cut Your Bill in Half Tom Drake gives the usual advice, such as make a list and stick to it, try private label brands and buy case lots of products you use regularly. But he says you can also kill two birds with one stone by eating less so your grocery bill goes down.

Stephan Weyman says one of the reasons he shops at Costco is the company’s “no questions asked, crazy return policy.” For example, the company took back a three year old recumbent bicycle that broke down two years before and he got a $500 refund. He has also successfully returned a bicycle purchased for his wife that turned into a garage ornament for $200; cushioned floor mats, and frying pans that were supposed to be professional quality and didn’t hold up.

On Give me back my five bucks, Krystal says her primary 2017 goals are to have a fun year full of travel and adventure. She plans to stay debt free and continue to save save at least $1,650/month in her RRSP/TFSA. She also resolves to curb impulse spending, continue to be active and keep in better touch with friends.

Cait Flanders (formerly Blonde on a Budget) who paid off her $28,000 of debt in two and a half years and in July 2014 completed a year- long shopping ban, plans to make 2017 the year of slow living.

Each month, she is going to experiment with slowing down in one area of her life. Some of the different things she will experiment with are: slow food, slow mornings, slow evenings, slow movement, slow technology and slow money. “The only thing I won’t do is make a list of what I’m going to work on each month. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s to trust my gut,” Flanders says.

And finally, Tim Stobbs has documented progress towards his early retirement goal on Canadian Dream: Free at 45 for several years. He hopes 2017 is the last year of his full-time working career. However, he is beginning to notice a new emotion in the people around him: fear. He gets the usual well-meaning queries like:

  • Are you sure you have enough saved?
  • What happens if you don’t get a part time job?
  • What will you do with unexpected expenses?
  • Maybe you should work just one more year?

But Stobbs figures the worse that can happen is that he will have to go back to work for a few years. “I fully admit I may not have enough saved to head into semi-retirement,” he says.  “But I don’t want to live a life based on fear of the unknown.  I’m willing to try out something new and see what happens. “


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 on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Jan 23: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Here we go with another series of video blogs that will help you to organize and manage your finances. Some of them are not recent, but they have definitely withstood the test of time.


In Budgeting Without Losing Your Mind, Young Guys Finance says budgeting doesn’t necessarily mean punishing yourself so you can’t spend any money. Instead he vues budgeting as an awareness tool that will help you to identify what you are spending money on and cut back on what you don’t really need.

Because Money, co-hosted by Financial Planner and opera singer Chris Enns, interviews Kyle Prevost from Young and Thrifty. Join them for a rousing trivia game that is impossible to win and find out how hard it really is to get financial literacy into the high school curriculum.

When you tune in to a Freckle Finance video for the first time, you will quickly understand why the presenter has adopted this unusual handle. In this episode she explains what a GIC is and how it compares to other investments.

At the end of the year, Rob Carrick from the Globe & Mail took a look at which financial institutions have the best deal on high interest savings accounts. However, be forewarned – it’s still slim pickings out there!

And finally, if you want to figure out how much you are really worth, tune in to How to calculate your net worth with Bridget Eastgaard from Money after graduation.


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 on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Jan 16: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

With Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the stock market’s long bull run in 2016, the big question everyone is asking is what is in store for the Canadian economy in 2017?

Well, it depends who you ask and on what day. Here are a few recent predictions in the mainstream media, which may or may not pan out. You be the judge.

Not surprisingly, there’s one risk that “Trumps” them all for Canada’s economy in 2017, said Royal Bank Chief Economist Craig Wright in early January at the Economic Outlook 2017 event in Toronto.

The impact of U.S. growth on Canada depends on the policies that are put in place across the border under President-elect Donald Trump, but at a minimum Wright noted the U.S. is headed in a more competitive direction, while Canada seems to be moving the other way. “So it’s not yet clear whether Canada will see a ‘Trump bump’ or perhaps a ‘Trump slump,'” he told iPolitic reporter Ainslie Cruickshank.

The Financial Post reports that the best loonie forecaster in the world believes the Canadian dollar will beat all its G10 peers this year. The loonie will nudge an additional 0.75 per cent higher to 75.75 US cents by the end of the year, according to Konrad Bialas, chief economist at Warsaw-based foreign-exchange broker Dom Maklerski TMS Brokers SA, who topped a Bloomberg ranking of Canadian dollar forecasters in the fourth quarter. That would extend the loonie’s three percent gain from last year, which made it the best performer among its Group-of-10 peers.

In the Globe and Mail economist Todd Hirsch makes a series of bold (and some not-so-bold) predictions for Canada’s economy in 2017 and beyond. For example:

  1. Canada-U.S. trade disputes will intensify.
  2. The Canadian dollar will dip below 70 cents early in the year, but finish 2017 at 78 cents.
  3. The Keystone XL pipeline will get Washington’s approval.
  4. And for sports fans, Montreal will win the Stanley Cup; University of Calgary Dinos will win the Vanier Cup; and, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will win the Grey Cup.

On CBC News, Paul Evans offers the following  five reasons why Canada’s economy is looking up in 2017.

  1. The job market is recovering.
  2. Oil could be headed higher – finally.
  3. Despite of predictions to the contrary, the loonie could be headed higher.
  4. Trade is picking up.
  5. The TSX is near an all-time high.

Nevertheless, analysis from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (a UK think tank), published in co-operation with Global Construction Perspectives says Canadawill have the world’s 10th largest economy in 2017, but will be overtaken in a few years by South Korea.


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 on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Alexander Fung: Helping parents raise money smart kids

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen
Click here to listen

Today I’m interviewing Alexander Fung for savewithspp.com. In 2015 Alexander graduated from the Goodman School of Business at Brock University where he studied corporate and personal finance. He has worked as an analyst at Scotiabank and Fidelity Investments Canada. But first and foremost, he is an entrepreneur and app developer whose mission in life is to help parents raise money smart kids.

His app Dollarwise was awarded third place at the Canadian Personal Finance Conference and second place at the International Payment Conference, both held in Toronto.

Thanks for talking to me today Alexander.

Hi, Sheryl, thanks a lot for having me.

Q: You participated in The Founders Institute Program from January to June 2016. Can you tell me about the program and what you learned?
A: The Founder Institute is the world’s largest pre-seed accelerator in the world based in Silicon Valley. The purpose is to validate business ideas and then actually launch a product that helps provide some value to users. I was one of 17 people who graduated in the Toronto cohort out of about 65 companies that entered.

Q: Why do you think that parents often don’t teach their children good money habits?
A: Honestly, it’s a bit of a taboo topic. I know that as I was growing up my mom and dad hardly ever talked to me about money. Theythink kids should just be focused on school and that’s it, but in reality money is crucial in every person’s life – whether you’re saving for a wedding, saving for a vacation or buying presents for parents and family members. Money is such an essential subject to understand.

Q: Why did you decide to develop a tool to help parents and their children improve financial literacy?
A: When I was eight years old. I decided to use my cash allowances to buy myself a video game without my parents’ permission. When they found out, they were absolutely furious. What I learned from that experience was that I made an irrational decision and I should’ve talked to them about it before making the purchase. So, that event really motivated me to study finance and work in the industry.

Q: Let’s say traditionally parents give kids a cash allowance, and require that the money be used in a specific way, i.e. 25% for charity; 50% for expenses like bus fares and lunches; and 25% for fun. In your view, why isn’t this simple approach good enough?
A. The problem with a cash allowance is that it’s really hard to track. For example, a parent says, “Hey John you can’t spend more than $20 on transportation.” But the kid might not comply and parents can’t keep them accountable.

Also, when you use cash allowance sometimes kids lose the money and it’s gone. When it’s misplaced, it’s gone forever really. Whereas if you use a debit card and you lose it, you can call your bank and they can lock it and your money is safe. So it’s that accountability and keeping track of kids’ behaviors that money can’t really provide.

Q: Tell me about Dollarwise and how exactly it works.
A: Dollarwise helps parents to teach their kids good money habits using a debit card and a mobile app. But unlike a traditional bank we want to make it fun and educational. We’re in discussions right now with institutions that have parents and families as clients and/or members, and we want to help them to provide more value to their clients.

Q: But how does Dollarwise itself work? What does it do?
A: It’s an application where parents are able to set up their assigned list of chores for kids to complete, and they can assign dollar values. When the kids open the app they see the list, they can complete tasks, and when their parents verify that the job’s well done, the money can be transferred into the child’s account. The application also allows children to set saving and spending goals for themselves, see where their money goes and see rules established by their parents.

Q: What’s the value proposition for families?
A: Parents are able to save time, build better relationships, and avoid costly mistakes that the kids may make. When I was growing up I got a cash allowance at infrequent intervals and I usually spent it right away.

Q: So let me get this straight then. The parents can enter data about how much they are going to pay for tasks assigned to the child and  how money can be spent. Then the child can go into the same app, and see what their parents want them to do and check off a task once they have done it. Is that correct?
A: Yes. And when the task has been properly completed the real money actually goes into the child’s bank account from the parents’ account.

Q: What’s the value proposition for financial institutions here?
A: We believe Dollarwise will help institutions attract and retain clients at a lower cost.

Q: How does the program help both children and their parents set goals and track how the child spends money?
A:  Let’s say John sees a pair of shoes that he wants at Footlocker, but he doesn’t have enough money. Typically what he would do is keep nagging his parents until they give him money to buy his shoes. Or he can set a goal using the Dollarwise application that records what he is saving for, how much it will cost and how much he is planning to save each week. And his parents are able to open the application to see his goals and monitor how he is doing.

Q: You’ve noted on the website that the children are recognized for having good and consistent behavior with your unique badge and star system. How does that work?
A: Parents can customize some of the badges the app will award based on their children’s individual goals and achievements.

Q: What kind of tools does each child require to use the app?
A: Actually all they need is a debit card. They don’t necessarily need a phone. When they get home they can always log on to the computer or their iPad to see their progress. But parents  usually have phones so they can set the goals, set restrictions and send money to their kids’ accounts.

Q: What kind of debit card are they going to get? Will they get a debit card from a specific financial institution?
A: Absolutely. The original plan was to issue our own debit card, but we learned it is too expensive and doesn’t make economic sense. Institutions will just issue their own debit cards to the kids and to the parents.

Q: Have you tested the program with parents and kids? How do they react?
A: Within six months we’ve tested our app on over 300 parents and kids. After our fourth revision feedback has been a lot more positive. They absolutely love it. Some parents told me that their kids have  asked them if they could do additional chores around the house so they can earn more money to save and buy something they actually want instead of begging their parents for more money  to buy stuff.

Q: If a parent wanted to purchase a program today where could they buy it?
A: Right now we are in the testing phase. If they wanted to sign up they could go to our website at Dollarwise.co and just hit the “subscribe button,” give us their name and email, and someone on our team will follow-up with them.

Q: But if you don’t actually have a relationship with a financial institution yet, how can you issue debit cards?
A: Right now we’re testing the prototype. So they can’t use the application right now, but they get the prototype and they can see how it looks and how it feels.

Q: How much are you going to charge parents?
A: It will be free for parents and kids. Financial institutions will pay us for a white label version of the app to which their own branding can be added.

Well, that sounds really interesting. I wish you luck. Thanks for talking to me today, Andrew.

Thank you so much Sheryl.
***
This is an edited transcript of a podcast interview recorded in December 2016.

Jan 9: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Fireworks on Parliament Hill and across the country ushered in Canada’s sesquicentennial or 150th birthday. I’ll never forget babysitting on New Year’s Eve in 1967 and hearing Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy for the first time. It’s still one of my favourites!

As our contribution to Canada’s big birthday, in this space we will continue to direct you to the best from Canadian personal finance bloggers from coast to coast with an occasional foray south of the border. We hope you will let us know what you like and what we may have missed.

Recently Ed Rempel addressed the perennial question, Should I Delay CPP & OAS Until Age 70? and included some real life examples. While he illustrates that many Canadians can benefit from waiting until age 70 to start their government benefits, he agrees that if you are retired at 65 and have little income other than these two government pensions, you may have no option.

Barry Choi on “Money We Have Have” explores 5 differences between cheap and frugal people. He thinks calling a frugal person cheap is pretty insulting. “Frugal people understand the value of money and are willing to pay when it counts,” Choi says. “On the other hand, cheap people are only looking for ways to save money regardless of how it’s done.”

With credit card bills that reflect holiday excesses hitting mailboxes this month, many of us are looking for ways to save money. Canadian Finance Blog’s Tom Drake breaks down ways to save money both monthly and annually.

Think about your energy use and your water use to figure out ways to save money on your electricity billgas bill and water bill. Two other services that have many opportunities to cut back include the cable bill and cell phone bill.

“Reducing these five bills could easily save you over $100 a month, or more than $1,000 in a year. That’s not too shabby at all,” he notes.

For Alyssa Davies at “Mixed Up Money” an emergency fund (which she calls money to protect your other money) of three months pay is not enough. She has another account called her “comfy couch” for the months she overspends or under-saves.

When Davies wrote the blog she only had $583 in her comfy couch account but that small amount was all it took to make her feel comfortable. She says, “Whenever I need to use some of that money, I simply take it out, and replace the amount the next time I have available funds to do so. If you’re anything like me, you will want to find a magic number that allows you to breath without feeling like a giant horse is sitting on your chest.”

And finally, Retireby40 says he had a terrific 2016 and achieved 9 out of 11 goals. His approach for setting New Years goals is to set achievable objectives; make the goals specific and measurable; and, write them down so he can track his progress. Several of his goals for 2017 include increasing blog income to $36k, redesigning the blog and save $50,000 in tax-advantaged accounts.


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 on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.