July 31: Best of savewithspp.com interviews

Over the last 6+ years I have had the privilege of blogging for the Saskatchewan Pension Plan twice a week. That means there are over 500 articles archived on this site that you can access on topics that range from retirement savings to income taxes to how to save money.

Whether you have recently started following savewithspp.com or you have been with us from the beginning, you may not be aware of the wealth of information  in our archives. Therefore, beginning with this week, on an occasional basis I will offer links to some of my favourite “blasts from the past.”

Today’s selection includes a series of savewithspp.com podcast interviews.

I interviewed SPP General Manager Katherine Strutt in both January 2012 and February 2015. “The SPP gives members access to top money managers they may not be able to access on their own. SPP also gives members a strong investment product at a very low price,” Strutt said in the most recent interview. “The costs of running our plan are around one percent or less, and this compares to fees in a retail mutual fund that can be anywhere between two and three percent.”

In a July 5, 2012 podcast Derek Foster, author of several books including The Idiot Millionaire and The Wealthy Boomer explained how he retired at the young age of 34 and supports his wife and five children on $40,000/year. He also talks about the advantages of saving for retirement with SPP as opposed to an RRSP.

The Wealthy Barber David Chilton spoke to us in October 2012 long before he joined and then left the popular CBC series Dragons’ Den. He offered strategies for cutting down on discretionary savings to free up more money for savings. Using cash instead of mindlessly swiping a debit or credit card is one of his favourites.

The 2014 series of podcast interviews featured financial bloggers including Retired Syd who left work behind at age 44. Her original budget for retirement turned out to be overly generous, partly because she was kind of careful the first few years since she was so nervous watching the stock market go down. But as of the date of the interview, she and her husband were still spending less than their original retirement budget.

And finally, after I read most of the books in the Joanne Kilbourne mystery series, in March 2015 I interviewed the author and Saskatchewan success story Gail Bowen.  Also a retired professor and playwright, Bowen’s writing career did not begin until age 45. She is still writing in her 70s – truly a role model for all of us who are pursuing encore careers.


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.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Keeping the cottage in the family

If your family has a cottage you probably have idyllic memories of swimming in the lake, roasting marshmallows around a campfire and picking berries in the woods. But these days with two-parent working families rarely taking more than a week or two of vacation together each year, cottage visits may be limited to the occasional long weekend. And for many people it’s a stretch to cover rent or mortgage payments for their primary home without taking on the expenses and upkeep of a second one.

That’s why when parents bequeath the family cottage to their adult children, it can be a mixed blessing, particularly if one or more of the siblings no longer resides in the same geographic area as the rest of the family. In these circumstances, experts recommend that co-owners negotiate and sign a cottage agreement that contains formal rules and regulations for how everyone uses and pays for the cottage.

Some of the topics covered may include:

  1. Who pays what: Like any other home, typical cottage expenses may include mortgage payments, insurance, heating, hydro, taxes and major repairs. Add this up and decide how to split up the bills. Will the split depend in part on frequency of use or does everyone have to pay their share? What if major repairs are required like a new roof or a new dock?
  2. Occupancy: Address when each family gets to use the cottage alone. If Jane opts for the first two weeks in July, does she get the same two weeks every year? How are long weekends split up? Does an adult parent have to be present if a teenager wants to bring up a bunch of friends?
  3. Management: Who pays the bills and manages the paperwork? In what condition should occupants leave the cottage when they return home? Do bed linens and towels have to be washed and dried? Who will open and close the cottage and take care of routine maintenance like cutting the grass?
  4. Decisions: What if owners disagree? Who will mediate their differences? What happens if one or two siblings want to renovate but others do not want to contribute? Can one owner force a sale if he wants out and the co-owners are not prepared to purchase his share?
  5. Succession: Can a sibling will her share to a spouse (who may later remarry) or only to their offspring or another owner? What happens if one of the owners is divorced?

There may also be tax considerations and probate fees on death, that can place a burden on beneficiaries, particularly if the property has increased in value since it was purchased. Furthermore, if a vacation home is in the U.S., it may be subject to U.S. estate tax.

Therefore whether you are planning to will a property to your children or you are one of a group of siblings negotiating a cottage agreement, it is wise to consult a knowledgeable lawyer before you sign on the dotted line.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Jul 24: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

When you are finally ready to come inside to beat the heat on a hot, steamy July day, here are some personal finance videos and podcasts for your viewing and listening pleasure.

CBC’s Asha Tomlinson interviews consumer advocate Ellen Roseman who answers questions about what Air Canada’s break up with Aeroplan could mean for you.

On the Money Mastermind Show, Linda P. Jones (Be Wealthy & Smart) interviews Hilary Hendershott from Profit Boss Radio. Although  Hendershott was working as a certified financial planner, she was unable to pay her own bills during the 2008 financial crisis. She worked her way out of this crisis and now offers her solutions to others.

Trips to the grocery story keep going up with the price of food. The CBC’s Marivel Taruc looks at how you can save some money on your grocery bill with the help of your smartphone.

In a Save your #@%* money video for the Financial Post, Melissa Leong hits the streets to find out the stupidest ways people lose money.

And finally, perennial favourite Jessica Moorhouse shares some of the ways she and her husband manage money together without getting into heated arguments.


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.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Workplace tips for new graduates

You’ve got your degree. You’ve emptied the contents of your student apartment into the back of a van and you are ready to hit the road. If you are one of the fortunate minority of graduates who already have a job lined up in your field, contacts made through internships or co-op placements may have facilitated that process.

Nevertheless, you will typically be on probation for several months so it’s particularly important in the early days to gain a good understanding of the corporate culture and what is and is not acceptable in your new workplace.

Hours
Find out how many hours a day employees are required to work and the start and stop times. Flexible hours are very common now in many establishments, but be vigilant to better understand what that really means. Theoretically, you may be able to work 8-4, 9-5 or 10-6, but if your supervisor and co-workers are all early birds you could miss a lot of networking and useful socializing if you work the late shift. Also, if work-at-home days are permitted they may only kick in once your probation period is over. 

Dress code
In high tech companies, casual dress is the norm. In fact if you turn up in a suit and tie your coworkers will likely start making cracks about whether or not you are looking for another job. But muscle shirts and torn jeans even on more casual Fridays are rarely a good idea. In contrast, if you work in a large urban law firm, business suits and ties for men and stockings and heels for women may be the dress code on even the hottest summer day.

Speaking out
You got the job because the hiring manager believes you have something to contribute based on both your education and experience. By all means, answer questions and offer ideas at team and client meetings. However, particularly in the beginning, do more listening and taking notes than talking. In some cases it may make sense to pull someone aside after a meeting to discuss your brainwave rather than blurting out a half-baked thought or embarrassing a co-worker.

Personal vs. private
You are being paid to work for your employer. Keep personal telephone calls, texting and social media posting to an absolute minimum. If possible step into a meeting room or out in the hall to have a conversation. Most offices these days are open concept cubicle farms and loud private calls will not only bother others, but could result in over-sharing of personal information. 

Company gossip
Many offices have factions or cliques. Try not to align yourself with one group to the exclusion of others. Be positive and do not gossip! Negativity about people or company processes will give you a bad reputation. Finding and working with one or more mentors can give your career a boost, but developing positive relationships with as many people as possible can be just as valuable.

Chances are that you will end up working at something completely different than you envisaged when you started college or university. And you also probably won’t stay in your first job for more than two years. In fact, according to Workopolis, if current trends continue, Canadians can expect to hold roughly 15 jobs in their careers.

But your performance and the relationships you make in your first job will form the foundation of your career, so tread cautiously. After all, you will never get a second chance to make a first impression!

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

July 17: Best from the blogosphere

Many prolific personal finance bloggers don’t hesitate to share a surprising amount of information about their family finances and the milestones on their journey to financial freedom.

In his Net Worth Update: 2017 Mid-Year Review, Boomer & Echo’s Robb Engen reports that he is well on his way to meet his, “big hairy audacious goal of Freedom 45.” To do so, his savings rate will need to remain high and he’ll have to avoid the evil temptation of lifestyle inflation. Currently his net worth is $574,296.

Tim Stobbs is an engineer in his thirties with two kids living in Regina, Saskatchewan who decided working until 65 sounds like a bad idea. At first he thought Freedom 45 might work, but he is now aiming to retire on his 40th birthday. Since he is mortgage free, and his May 2017 Net Worth is $972,000, early retirement could be right around the corner.

Krystal Yee has been sharing her financial goals and challenges for 10 years on Give me back my five bucks. Her recent blogs The real cost of moving in Vancouver, How I’m saving for travel this year and May 2017 Goals: Recap will give you some perspective on how this busy professional freelance writer is managing her finances and what she hope is her final household move until retirement!

Are you expecting an addition to the family? Personal finance and travel writer Barry Choi (Money We Have) and his wife have been Getting the baby room ready and buying all the necessary bits and pieces from furniture to car seats to strollers. He figures they have spent about $1040 so far. And these expenses are in addition to the costs of IVF which he estimated at $25,000. Although he says, “I’m on the hook for 20 years and I could do a running tally but the costs may terrify me,” he is thrilled at the prospect.

Bridget Eastgaard (Money After Graduation) is also contributing to the personal finance blogger baby boom. She notes that many millennials want to become parents, but their finances are holding them back. The combined burden of student loan debt and sky-high housing prices make having a family seem like an unaffordable dream, but it doesn’t have to be.

How to save for Baby? “You have an Emergency Fund, you have a Retirement Fund, and now you need a Baby Fund — a dedicated savings account to afford all pregnancy, birth, and child-related expenses.” Eastgaard advises. “Ideally, you would start this before you even begin trying to become pregnant, but even if you find yourself with an unplanned baby like yours truly, a Baby Fund is a crucial first step to ensuring your family starts off on the right financial foot.”


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.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

10 things to bring on a road trip

It’s been four years since I wrote Taking a road trip on the cheap for savewithspp.com so I thought it was time to re-visit the subject. This time around the focus is on 10 things (in no particular order) that will help to make your trip more comfortable.

  1. Prescription, non-prescription drugs: If you forget prescription drugs it may be possible to have a pharmacy in a different town call your local pharmacy to have the prescription transferred. But it is not always easy if you have left the province or crossed the border to the U.S. Also, some over-the-counter drugs in Canada like decongestants and codeine require a prescription once you leave the country.
  2. First aid kit: The Canadian Red Cross has a whole list of things you should include in a first aid kit for your home, cottage, car, boat or workplace. In addition to various types of bandages, sterile gauze and adhesive tape, don’t forget scissors, tweezers, safety pins, instant ice packs and a flashlight with working batteries.
  3. Audio books: You can take both children and adult audio books out of the library. You can also download podcasts. Listening to these can be a nice break from the CDs you have played multiple times after you lose reception from your favorite radio channels.
  4. Important documents: You must have your car ownership, driver’s license and insurance slip on you at all times when you are driving. This requirement is even more important when you are miles from home. Also make sure you have your provincial medical card and details about any supplementary travel medical insurance coverage. And don’t forget, everyone in the car needs an up-to-date passport whether you drive or fly to the U.S.
  5. Pillows and blankets: When you are sleeping in a different bed every couple of nights, there is nothing that will help you sleep better than your own pillow. Children often become attached to a particular blanket or soft toy and won’t settle down without them. Also, it can get chilly in the car and on a long drive, the alternate driver can cuddle up and get 40 winks.
  6. Car chargers: Cell phones, tablets, electronic games. They all have batteries that need to be recharged periodically and require internet access to be interactive. Make sure you have the right car chargers so you can keep all your devices juiced up and family members happy. When selecting accommodation, look for free wifi in the room, not just in the lobby.
  7. Wet wipes: Inevitably someone will dump their milkshake in the car or have a case of sudden onset car sickness. Paper towels and wet wipes are essential in these circumstances and you may also have to drive with the windows open for as long as possible to try and dissipate any odour.
  8. Change of clothes: If you travel with children, never forget to pack an easily accessible change of clothing for each child in the car instead of in the suitcase at the bottom of your trunk. Because accidents of various types are inevitable, you will be glad you did.
  9. Auto club membership: Even if your car is brand new or has just been serviced, never leave home without an automobile club membership. And don’t pick the cheapest one. A basic membership may offer a maximum towing distance of only 10 km but you will appreciate a premium membership that pays for towing your car 200 km or more if you have a breakdown on a lonely stretch of highway.
  10. Extra car keys: Make sure you bring several sets of car keys with you and your partner or fellow travelers know where you have stashed the other set. Many years ago it would have been easy to get a replacement car key made — a quick trip to the local hardware store was all it took. Now car keys are made using advanced technology, which makes them harder to copy and it takes much longer to get replacement keys. Replacing high tech keys can also cost hundreds of dollars.
Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Why you should closely monitor your bank account

I love online banking because I like to visit my money every day to make sure it’s still all there. So imagine my surprise when the RBC account I share with my mother and sister went within a couple of days from half a million dollars in arrears to a balance of +$500,000!

My sister discovered the deficit initially when in late May she tried to take out a small amount of cash for my mother and she was locked out of the account.

In fact, in mid-May at our request CIBC Investors Edge had processed a transfer of $512,000 from the RBC account to our CIBC investment account. This was the proceeds of sale from my mother’s condo. But then CIBC initiated a second transfer of the exact same amount on May 29th and since there was only a few thousand dollars in the RBC account to pay monthly bills, we were left with a huge negative balance.

When I contacted CIBC, our IE representative told us that as a result of “a bank error” thousands of May transfers into CIBC IE were duplicated and that the problem would be rectified within a day. Meanwhile, RBC said not to worry, because the second transfer out would be sent back and the negative balance in the account would be reversed as we do not have overdraft protection. However, just to make sure I was advised to notify any vendors with automatic withdrawals that their cheques may bounce temporarily.

That occurred within hours and our RBC account was unlocked. But the next day CIBC IE also “fixed” the problem by transferring $512,000 back into the RBC account, leaving us with a hefty, unwarranted surplus! Much as I was tempted to blow town and take an around-the-world cruise, I dutifully reported the new error to our CIBC IE representative. He said the second mistake would be quickly rectified.

Shortly after, I also got a call from the CIBC Director of Executive Client Relations apologizing for the inconvenience and assuring me the $512,000 erroneously deposited to our account would be out of the RBC account on Friday June 2nd. It took until June 6th for the extra $512,000 to disappear.

In spite of our conversation I still can’t figure out how similar mistakes possibly involving thousands of clients were never communicated to clients up front or investigated by the mainstream media. I was told CIBC had no idea there had been a computer glitch until their clients started reporting the mistakes.

This comedy of errors was reversed in a few days and the only residual effect that I am  left with is a great story. But it could have been much worse if I wasn’t able to track the errors online and quickly make the necessary calls to understand and correct the errors.   And it was also time-consuming and embarrassing to have to make multiple calls and stop payment on the monthly payment to my mother’s nursing home.

So the moral of the story is: Check your recorded bank account transactions frequently either in person or online. If something looks wrong it probably is. The sooner you intervene and get it fixed, the less chance there is that an error will go unnoticed, affecting both your cash flow and your credit rating.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.