Category Archives: Interviews

People behind the scenes at SPP.

Derek Foster tours Saskatchewan

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In October best-selling author and self-proclaimed “idiot millionaire”, Derek Foster, toured Saskatchewan talking to people about how to invest in their future.   He spoke to groups in Regina, Saskatoon, North Battleford and Kindersley about his straightforward approach to investing and why he thinks SPP is a “no brainer” for people looking for a retirement savings plan.

If you missed hearing Derek’s presentation, we’ve captured several media interviews from his visit to Saskatchewan:

Global Morning News Regina on October 23, 2014:  http://goo.gl/19f8gU;

Global Morning News Saskatoon on October 28, 2014:  http://goo.gl/6q8kUO;

CBC Radio’s Saskatoon Morning on October 30, 2014:  http://goo.gl/0OZGjh.

Do you have any money saving tips that you use to help build your retirement fund? Share your ideas with us, http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Retired Syd left work behind at age 44

By Sheryl Smolkin

Syd Lagier and her husband Doug in Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

Hi, today we continue our series of savewithspp.com interviews with personal finance bloggers. I’m very pleased to be talking to Sydney Lagier, known as Retired Syd to readers of her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.

Syd retired in 2008 at age 44, four years after her husband. Both of them are U.S. certified public accountants. She initially worked for four years in the tax division of a large accounting firm. Then she accepted a position as the comptroller in a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

Ten years later, she tried to nab a better work/life balance by working part-time. However, her husband’s employer went bankrupt, so she accepted a promotion to full-time CFO. Nevertheless, several years later she decided to pack it in for good.

Thanks for talking to me today, Syd.

Thank you for having me.

Q: Why did you decide to retire so early?
A: That is a really good question. Why wouldn’t someone want to retire? I just assumed everyone wanted to retire, and the only thing keeping them from retiring is not having enough money yet.

Q: So, have you worked at a paying job at all since you retired?
A: I have. About three years into my retirement, a former colleague contacted me and asked if I would be interested in doing a part-time CFO gig, on a contract basis. So I did and it was really fun. But I was a little bit stressed after about a year and I remembered why I wanted to retire. I wanted to own my own time, and not have to worry about somebody else’s stuff.

Q: If I’m counting correctly, you’ve been retired for about six years, is that right?
A: Yes.

Q: How have your budget and income projections held up?
A: Well, I retired in March of 2008, and the stock market was tanking. Fast forward to six years later, and it’s fine. Everything came back. It was a rocky ride, but in terms of the expense side of the equation, that turned out a lot better than I thought it would be.

My original budget for retirement turned out to be overly generous, and part of that is probably because I was so nervous watching the stock market go down. I was kind of careful the first few years. And now we’re spending still less than my original retirement budget.

Q: You can conceivably be retired for fifty years. How do you know you won’t run out of money?
A: Obviously I don’t, but it’s all about odds, and what we do every year, actually what we do every month, is my husband puts together a budget to actual, and we look at it live. If things are getting out of hand we make adjustments. If we’re ahead of schedule, we feel a little bit better, and might loosen the purse strings, so it’s kind of an ongoing process.

At the end of every year I sit down and do the next year’s budget, and see if the current assets are still projected to take us through the next fifty years, until we turn one hundred. So it’s as if I’m retiring again every year, doing the calculations again every year. So far, we’re good.

Q: Can you give me some examples of some ways you make your money go farther? How do you stay on budget?
A: I’d say almost half of our budget is discretionary items. So that’s where we make the changes when we need to. And travel is probably the biggest discretionary item, and the easiest one to pull back on. But ongoing, we do things to make travel cheaper.

We’ve been using home exchanges since I retired to do a lot of our vacations. So, we’re not paying for lodging. We also don’t pay for things that we can do ourselves anymore like house cleaning, yard work, or painting.

Q: When and why did you decide to start blogging?
A: Right when I retired — it’s a silly answer — but I wanted to seem cool. I thought it would be a hip thing to do. I just heard about it, and didn’t know much about it and I started doing it, and it was so much fun that I just stuck with it. However, it did not make me cool….

Q: It did not make you cool?
A: No, but it was very fun, so I got hooked.

Q: What topics do you write about?
A: Mostly I write about lifestyle issues. I don’t cover a lot of the financial planning aspects of retirement, although I do a few of them. I mostly talk about what it’s like to transition, what are the roadblocks, what do people have hang-ups about. And my community of blog readers chimes in and helps each other and helps me, and that’s part of the appeal.

Q: So how many hits do you typically get in a week or a month?
A: I don’t have a very large blog. I have a couple thousand subscribers, and in a month that I write a lot — it’s very sporadic — I get maybe twenty-five thousand hits. But in month where I’m hardly doing anything, it’s more like fifteen or twenty thousand.

Q: Sounds pretty good to me. What have some of your most popular blogs been about?
A: That’s one measurement that I don’t really look at. But I used to write weekly for U.S. News and World Report Blog. And the article that just took off was, “If You Want to Retire Young, Don’t Have Kids.” That one was all over the place, and I got a lot of hate mail as a result.

Q: So, what kinds of things do you do now, that you weren’t able to do before you were retired? 
A: Blogging, for one thing, and writing. And just last year I picked up piano again after a thirty-year hiatus. We do a lot more travel than when we were working. And I’ve been able to do some volunteer work.

Q: Excellent. So what do you think are some of the potential pitfalls of early retirement, or very early retirement?
A: I’m not going to be able to help you out on that one. I just can’t think of any.

Q: Then it’s going well for you.
A: Yes.

Q: Is the fact that most of your contemporaries are still working a problem?
A: No. We see our working friends when it’s convenient for them. We do a lot of things for them that make their lives easier like bringing dinner over. My husband also does a lot of fix-it projects for people when they’re at work, so it works out great for them, and it’s our way of going the extra mile to keep those friendships up.

Q: How did you save enough money to retire so early?
A: I had a great job. I was working for a venture capital firm, so I was very fortunate. I guess that’s not a great answer because some people who have great jobs don’t save enough for retirement. It’s just a personality thing. I knew really early that I wanted to try as hard as I could to retire before the age of fifty-five.

Q: If someone is contemplating early retirement, is there any rule of thumb as to how much money they need? 
A: There are a couple that I don’t like. I don’t like those rules of thumb that say, “Oh, you need seventy to eighty percent of your prior budget,” that kind of thing. Because I think that you really have to do the homework on that, to see what you do think you’re going to spend. But William Bengen’s four percent rule, is a good target.

Bengen says if you’re going to retire at the normal age of sixty-five, you need twenty-five times your spend rate. Then you look at it every year, like I do, and you can see if you’re on target. Some years you don’t pull out that much, some years you do. But it’s a great number to aim for, in my opinion.

Q: Do you have any advice for people trying to make the adjustment or transition to retirement?
A: I’d say just let it evolve naturally. A lot of people think they have to have it all worked out before they retire, and know everything they’re going to be doing. What I’ve learned is that you don’t even really know who you’re going to be after you quit your job. It’s defined you for all those years. Just relax into it and see where it takes you and I think you’ll be a lot better off.

Q: Excellent!. Thank you very much for talking to me today, Syd. 
A: Thank you.

—–

This is an edited transcript of an August 2014 interview with Syd Lagier. You can check out her blog Retirement: A Full-Time Job.

Blonde on a budget embarks on a shopping ban

By Sheryl Smolkin

9Oct-CaitFlandersblondeonabudget

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Today we are continuing with the 2014 savewithspp.com series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers. I’m talking to Cait Flanders, who blogs at Blondeonabudget.ca.

In 2011, Cait had $28,000 worth of debt. To stay accountable throughout her debt repayment journey, she decided to start this blog. She paid off the last dollar just under two years later and today she’s going to tell us how she did it.

Cait lives in the Vancouver area, works full time from home as the managing editor of Ratehub.ca and is a contributor to Gale Vaz-Oxlade’s blog, The Globe & Mail, The Huffington Post Canada and Tangerine Bank’s blog.

Hi Cait, and thanks for joining me today.

Oh, thank you so much for having me.

Q: Cait, before you started this blog you had $28,000 in debt. How did that happen? Was it as a result of accumulated student loans?
A: No, I actually never had a lot of student loan debt. To be perfectly honest a lot of it was consumer debt. For years and years I was just swiping my credit card for anything that I wanted to do or see.

Q: You paid off your debt in just under two years, how did you manage that?
A: I literally had $100 in my bank account and it had to last me for six weeks. So I moved home for six months and from that moment forward just lived what I jokingly called “a very boring life,” saying “no” to everything. The only fun thing I let myself do was go for coffee with a friend which was $4 or $5 instead of $50.

Q: So, you wrote about your journey to solvency on your blog and you still post your monthly budget and goals. How have your family and friends reacted to this high level of disclosure about your financial affairs?
A: That’s actually a really good question. I grew up in a house where my family talked about money very openly, probably every day, so I think my parents love it in the sense that, it’s cool to see that I’m continuing that now and just taking those conversations online.

No one has ever said anything about me posting the numbers but I’ve recently made the decision that I’m going to stop posting them because I’m finally starting to realize that it could actually be pretty dangerous. It could lead to issues like identity fraud or theft. So I’m going to do budgeting a little bit differently going forward.

Q: Since you’ve paid off this significant debt, how has your life changed?
A: I’d say the biggest change is I’m no longer stressed all the time. Not having debt gives me much more freedom. I probably let my lifestyle get inflated a little bit since then because when I was paying off my debt I was sometimes putting up to 50-55% of my monthly income toward debt repayment. That’s not a sustainable budget. After two years of realizing that I don’t need all kinds of fancy things or outings to make me happy, life changes.

Q: In addition to blogs about reducing your personal debt, what other subjects do you write about?
A: On my own blog I’ve written about everything from moving, living in other cities, some travels, and sobriety. I write for the education section of the Globe and Mail about every eight weeks and more recently I’ve been talking about minimalism on my blog.

Q: How many hits do you get on your blog each month?
A: Right now I’m probably averaging between 80,000 and 110,000 page views a month.

Q: Wow. That’s incredible.
A: Yeah. It’s crazy. Fifty per cent of that is usually from Canada and maybe 35 per cent is from the U.S. The rest is divided between the UK, Australia and I even have readers in South East Asia which I think is really cool.

Q: So what have you done to promote your blog? Why do you think your readership is so high?
A: Personally, nothing that I can think of. I love talking to people on Twitter. I reply to every single comment that goes up on my site. There has also been press along the way like stories that The Globe or The Toronto Star have picked up. That obviously brings in more people. But no, I haven’t personally done anything.

Q: How long have you been writing the blog?
A: Technically, in October, it would be 4 years.

Q: What have some of the spin offs been?
A: Everything has changed in my career. When I first started the blog, I found a New York personal finance site for women looking for an editorial intern, I asked if someone from Canada could apply and they said that they’d love to have me. That taught me everything I needed to know about being an editor of a website.

Then my current boss Alyssa, at Ratehub.ca who is a blonde on a budget reader offered me a job in Toronto with the company. There have also been other freelance jobs and my relationship with Gale Vaz-Oxlade. She’s just the most incredible mentor and I write for her site. But her friendship, has been one of the greatest and most unbelievable spin offs from my blog and other writing.

Q: Do you actually have to go to an office for Ratehub.ca or do you work from home?
A: Originally I moved to Toronto for 8 or 9 months, just to really get to know the team and build up my position in the company. Then I moved back to Vancouver where I work from home.

Q: In early July you announced you’re embarking on a one-year shopping ban. Why?
A: There are a few reasons. One day I had this epiphany. Even though I’ve always felt like I was a minimalist, I had this moment where I was trying to open my can opener drawer and I couldn’t find anything in there. I just had this freak out that I actually have way more stuff than I probably need.

Then I started thinking that I wasn’t getting anywhere with my current savings and financial goals I realized that that was because I was spending a lot of money on things that probably didn’t really matter. Although I’ve been really good with my money for the last few years I do think that there is always room for improvement.

I think the ban is going to be difficult at times but I just want to challenge myself and learn and grow from that exercise.

Q: So tell me what the rules are of the shopping ban. Obviously you have to pay your rent and buy food and go out occasionally.
A: I have to pay the bills and get groceries. I’m keeping my car so I have to get gas and pay insurance, and I’m giving myself a small recreation budget. It’s no clothes, no shoes, no electronics – things that not all girls buy but some do. I was always bad for picking up nail polish. I don’t need any more decor items in my home. It’s just that kind of stuff.

Q: So, if the one year ban is successful, what comes next? Are you thinking about a book or is there a major purchase you’re saving up for?
A: I think a book is something that all writers want to accomplish in their career but that has absolutely nothing to do with the ban. I haven’t really announced this but when it’s over my goal is that I’ll have money saved so I can take an extended trip to the UK.

Q: If you had one piece of advice for someone who is deeply in debt and wants to turn things around, what would it be?
A: I don’t think everyone needs to put 55% of their income toward debt repayment like I did, but I think just facing up to the numbers is key and then making a plan so debt repayment is a priority.

Q: Thank you very much for talking with me today, Cait.
A: Oh, thank you so much for having me.


This is an edited transcript you can listen to by clicking on the link above. You can find the blog Blonde on a Budget here

Dan Wesley knows how to save a buck

By Sheryl Smolkin

14Aug-saveabuck

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Hi,

As part of the savewithspp.com continuing series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers, today I’m talking with Dan Wesley, author of the personal finance blog “Our Big Fat Wallet.”

Dan is in his late 20s, he recently got married and he lives with his wife in Calgary. Finance isn’t just his hobby, it’s his career. He currently works in the corporate finance group of a large petroleum company.

A couple of unique things you should know about Dan:

  • He’s an accountant with a professional designation and a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
  • He’s never had any consumer debt.
  • He pays his credit cards in full every month.
  • He is able to get discounts on virtually everything he buys.

Welcome Dan.

Thank you.

Q: First of all, tell our listeners, why is your blog called “Our Big Fat Wallet”?
A: I guess the name originally began as a joke. When I was in college, I had a roommate who used to say I had a big fat wallet because I carried a lot of coupons and that made it look bigger. And I still do carry coupons. So that’s where the name comes from.

Q: Why did you start blogging and what are your goals for the blog?
A: I started my blog because I’m passionate about all things related to finance and I wanted to empower people to take control of their own finances no matter what their age or their financial situation is. I’m hoping my blog will be a place people can learn about all topics related to finance, but also have fun and interact with others as well.

Q: And how long have you been blogging?
A: Four months.

Q: How frequently do you post?
A: I usually post three times per week on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. It was a bit of a struggle keeping that up during tax season, but I managed to pull it off so I’m hoping to continue that schedule in the future.

Q: Tell me about the range of topics that you blog about.
A: I write about everything related to personal finance with more of a Canadian focus, and specifically focusing on saving, investing and frugal living.

Q: There’s probably over a dozen well-known personal finance bloggers in Canada. What do you think is different about your blog and why do you think it’s a must-read?
A: I think the main difference with my blog is that I’m a professional accountant and I work in the finance sector, so readers are getting two perspectives. They’re getting my own personal opinion, but also the technical side as well. But I also try to make my blog as much fun as possible. So I’ve been doing some random company facts articles that tend to get a lot of attention.

Q: How many hits do you typically get for each blog?
A: It’s tough to say because it’s a pretty wide range. My most popular content has thousands of hits and seems to become more popular over time.

Q: What are some of the more popular blogs that you’ve posted.
A: The most popular content so far has been my “interesting facts” post on Costco. A couple of months ago, I posted some facts about Costco that a lot of people don’t know, and it was recently featured in The Globe and Mail and The Huffington Post. Some other popular content has been “Why I gave up on Air Miles,” “How to reduce your mortgage penalty” and “How I multiply my savings.”

Q: So tell me a couple of interesting facts about Costco that our readers might not have heard about.
A: Well, they don’t mark their products by more than 15%. They have some of the lowest staff turnover in all of the retail sector. They haven’t raised the price of their hot dog combo since 1985. Just things like that, people find really interesting.

Q:  As noted in your introduction, you say you can get a discount on anything. Share some of your secrets with us.
A: There’s lots of different ways that you can get discount. For example, when I book a flight, I use discounted flight credits that I bought online, and then I’ll wait until there’s a seat sale to book the flight. West Jet flight credits other people can’t use are sometimes sold at a discount on Kijiji.

Q: What are some other examples of unusual ways to save money that readers or listeners may not be aware of?
A: For groceries, I actually started trading coupons with people last year. I bought a coupon book and I traded with other people who had the same coupon book but didn’t need certain coupons that I needed. And so far I’ve saved over $300 this year on groceries just through coupon trading.

Big ticket items like furniture or a car or a house, I always negotiate off the list price. So when we bought our house, I managed to get about $30,000 in upgrades thrown in just through negotiating with the builder.

Another big way get a discount is to time your purchase. We bought our car later in the year when the new models were coming out, and the dealer was trying to get rid of cars from the previous year and we saved $2,500 off the list price.

Q: So how did you manage to graduate from University with no debt and $10,000 in assets? What are your secrets?
A: The secret is, there is no secret. I did that basically by living within my means and making a detailed budget and sticking to it. So I didn’t have a lot of income for most of those five years.

Q: Did you live with your family or did you live away from home?
A: I lived away from home during the school year, but I moved home during the summer to save money and I worked full time. I bought used text books. I saved on transportation costs by living on campus. We didn’t really go to any fancy restaurants ever. Oh, and I applied for scholarships, as many as I could, even if I didn’t think I had a chance.

Q: Did you work part-time as well when you were in school?
A: No. I wanted to focus more on completing assignments and extra-curricular activities. But during the summer, I worked full-time, probably more than full-time, sometimes at two jobs.

Q: What kind of jobs did you do in the summer?
A: I worked at a casino. And I also worked mowing lawns. Just odd jobs that students normally have, fast food, things like that.

Q: Do you have a mortgage on your family home?
A: Yes, but we managed to save 20% to the down payment to avoid the CMHC Insurance cost. And then we used the builder’s lawyer to avoid paying the legal fees, which saved us around $1,500.

Q: Do you have a favourite personal financial blogger that you read religiously?
A: It’s tough to pick one but I’d probably say Robb Engen’s blog, “Boomer and Echo.” I’ve followed it for years now and he’s been a big help to me. I like that blog because Robb deals with everyday financial issues that anyone can relate to. And he writes in a way that anyone can understand.

Q: Your blog is fairly new. Have you had any sort of money-making opportunities or spin-offs yet as a result of writing this blog?
A: I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a writing job. I’ve been writing for the website howtosavemoney.ca, just on basic tips and tricks on how to save money. And I’ve also received two job offers in the past couple of months, which is flattering, but I’m happy and not looking to leave my current job. But other than that, no. The blog is pretty much brand new.

Q: If you only had one piece of advice to give young people heading off to university or starting their first job, what would it be?
A: It’s probably tough to pick one, but two big things: live within your means and make a budget. If you do those things, I think your finances will take care of themselves whether you’re in school or just starting out in the workforce. And when I say making a budget, I mean make a detailed budget and stick to it.

Thanks very much Dan. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Thank you.

14Aug-dan

This is an edited transcript of the podcast you can listen to by clicking on the graphic under the picture above. If you don’t already follow Dan’s blog “Our big fat wallet” you can find it here. Subscribe to receive blog posts by email as soon as they’re available.

 

Big Cajun Man shares RDSP, RESP expertise

By Sheryl Smolkin

Alan Whitton and his son Rhys
Alan Whitton and his son Rhys

 

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Hi,

As part of the savewithspp.com continuing series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers, today I’m talking to the “Big Cajun Man,” author of the Canadian Personal Finance Blog.

In real life, he is actually, Alan Whitton, a mild-mannered government civil servant and father of four, living in Ottawa. Alan has been blogging about finance and consumerism for about ten years, focusing on real life experiences.

As a result, he has written extensively about Registered Disability Savings Plans and parenting a disabled child.

Welcome, Alan.

My pleasure Sheryl.

Q: First of all Alan, tell our listeners where your alter ego name, “Big Cajun Man,” came from.
A:  Well, I was playing golf with friends and was wearing a straw hat and someone yelled at me, “What do you think you are, some kind of big stinking Cajun man?” and the guys I was playing with have called me that ever since.

Q: Why did you start blogging?
A: Well, I started initially just on BlogSpot as sort of an open letter to my mother because at the time, my wife was pregnant with our fourth child, who was a bit of a surprise. Then I realized I could write about other things and I was always interested in money so I figured I’d just start blogging about it.

Q: How frequently do you post?
A: I try to write four or five posts in a week. The Friday post is usually a ‘best of’ what I’ve seen during the week.

Q: How long are the blogs and how complex are they? Do they vary?
A: Oh, it’s usually somewhere between four and eight paragraphs. What shows up, or what I read about or something that happens in my life is usually the catalyst for the more interesting ones.

Q: Tell me about some of the topics you write about.
A: Well, family and money and how families work with money, a little bit on investing, a lot more on disability and how families can deal financially with kids with disabilities or loved ones with disabilities. And that really, again, arose because when Rhys was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, I had to learn about all this so I figured I’d write about it too.

Q: And, how old is Rhys now?
A: He is 9. I have three beautiful daughters who are 24, 22 and 20, and my son who has just turned 9. It’s a multi-generational family. That’s why I end up writing about things like university costs and parenting a 9-year old.

Q: There are probably over a dozen personal finance bloggers in Canada. What’s different about your blog. Why do you think it’s a must read?
A: I don’t know. I mean, my point of view as a father of a multi-generational family is interesting. I always have had a different perspective on things. I leave a lot of the specific investing ideas to some of the more qualified chaps like Michael James and Rob Carrick. I mostly just talk about John Public’s point of view of things.

Q: How many hits do you typically get for your blogs?
A: Between 8,000 and 12,000 a month. It started off very slowly and I think with the backlog of over 2,500 posts there’s a lot of people who just search and end up finding me accidentally.

Q: What are some of the more popular blogs you’ve posted?
A: Well, anything under my RDSP and RESP menus are popular, like how to apply for your child’s disability tax benefits. And on the RDSP side of things all the fights I’ve had with TD about putting money in and taking money out. Also, surprisingly, I wrote one simple blog that just said “I am a civil servant,” and let me tell you, that one caused no end of excitement.

Q: What is the essence of that particular blog?
A: I was trying to blow up some of the very negative views people have about civil servants. I mean, I worked in the private sector for over 20 years. I‘ve been a civil servant for 4 years.

Q. Tell me some of the key features of Registered Disability Savings Plans and what parents of disabled children need to know about them.
A: Well, just that right now they’re sort of the poor stepson at most financial institutions. I mean they’re not very flexible. Typically, at worst, they’re really just savings accounts. You can buy GICs or the bank’s mutual funds, which usually have very high management fees.

From what I can tell so far, TD Waterhouse is the only trading partner or trading house that has an RDSP where you can actually buy whatever you want like ETFs. But even the TD plan is not very well set up. It’s pretty cumbersome to put money into.

Q: What’s cumbersome about it?
A: Well, I can’t set up a weekly automatic withdrawal. I have to put money aside into another TD trading account. Then I have to phone up every once in awhile and transfer the money from the trading account into the RDSP. And then I have to call back after the money’s cleared to say, “And now I want to buy these ETF’s or index funds.”

Q: Why is that?
A: I don’t know. I’ve asked TD that a whole bunch of times. It’s just the way the system works. I’ve poked at them as best I can. I’ve asked a few other people to poke at them, but I haven’t really received a satisfactory answer.

Q: Are there legislative rules about how you can invest RDSPs?
A: Not, necessarily. It’s just the banks are putting that kind of limit on things because it’s not a big money maker for them. They’re not going to make a fortune on amounts people deposit into RDSPs.  Whereas with RESPs, there are more people with kids going to university.

Q: What are the contribution limits on RDSPs?
A: The overall lifetime limit for a particular beneficiary is $200,000. Contributions are permitted until the end of the year in which the beneficiary turns 59. Up to a certain amount every year, depending on how much money you make, will be matched by the government.

Based on parental income, an RDSP can get a maximum of $3,500 in matching grants in one year, and up to $70,000 over the beneficiary’s lifetime. A grant can be paid into an RDSP on contributions made to the beneficiary’s RDSP until December 31 of the year the beneficiary turns 49.

Q: Do you have a favorite personal finance blogger that you read religiously?
A: I’ve got a couple. I like reading Michael James “On Money”, but he’s a friend of mine. I really like the Canadian Capitalist, but he’s sort of taken a hiatus. “Boomer & Echo” and the “Canadian Couch Potato” are quite good and so is “My Own Advisor.” I’ve met most of these guys at various conferences. I also read Squawkfox and have had extensive correspondence with her on Twitter.

Q: What, if any, money making opportunities or spin-offs have there been as a result of your blogging career?
A: Well, I don’t do this for the money which is obvious given how little I make at it. This is more of a cathartic thing for me.

Q: If you had only one piece of advice to readers or listeners about getting their finances in order, what would it be?
A: Get out of debt. Debt is a bad thing. There’s no such thing as good debt. It’s all bad. Don’t fool yourself into thinking there’s livable debt like a mortgage or maybe paying for your university. Somehow carrying debt has been normalized in the last 30 years or so but it’s still really not ok.

Thank you very much, Alan. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Thanks for the opportunity Sheryl.

This is an edited transcript you can listen to by clicking on the link above. You can find the Canadian Personal Finance Blog here.

Robb Engen takes on new challenges

By Sheryl Smolkin

19Jun-Robb-Engen-620x350

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Hi,

Today in savewithspp.com’s continuing series of interviews with financial bloggers, we talk with Robb Engen. Robb is “Echo” from the very popular Canadian personal finance blog Boomer & Echo. He also has a bi-weekly column in the Toronto Star where his research focuses on budgeting, banking, credit cards, and debt management.

Robb is a happily married Dad living in Southern Alberta. Over the past five years he has gone from taking an amateur interest in personal finance and investing to working towards becoming a full-fledged money expert by taking the four-course Certified Financial Planner program online.

In addition to writing this blog, he appears regularly in the online podcasts Because Money.  He and his mother Marie have started a “fee only” financial planning business and Robb has a new blog called Earn Save Grow.

Thank you very much for joining me today Robb.

I’m glad to be here Sheryl.

Q:  Robb, you’re one busy guy. Before we start talking about your blogs, tell me a little bit about your day job.
A: Sure. In addition to all that you mentioned, I do have a day job, and I’m the Business Development Manager at the University of Lethbridge. That’s a fancy title saying I fund raise and generate revenue for our sports teams here in Lethbridge.

Q: When did you and Marie start “Boomer and Echo”, and why?
A: We started it back in August 2010, so we’ve been at it almost four years. My mom worked for a big bank for two decades plus, and we always chatted about personal finance and investing.

We just had our first child, so there was a lot going on financially, and I started reading a lot of personal finance blogs. My Mom and I thought we might have a unique spin on financial issues.

We wrote a couple of articles, just to get the feeling for putting that kind of thing together, and I did some research on how to start a blog. Then we just jumped into it, I guess.

Q: How many hits do you typically get when you post a blog?
A: We’ve built up a pretty decent-sized following, and most people follow us by Email. We have about 6,000 email subscribers, and of that, I’d say two to three thousand probably actually click through to the blog to read a new post, and some probably just read it by email.

Q: What have some of your most popular posts been about?
A: I’d say probably the more personal stories. When I talk about my changing careers and what that looks like and dealing with a pension plan versus in the private sector, trying to save on your own. I wrote about the challenges I had as a first-time homebuyer, and that got a lot of hits. My mom’s had the same success talking about personal stories.

Q: How have you been able to monetize your blog? What have some of the spinoffs been?
A: I saw that Google has their AdSense network, and that seemed to be the go-to place for monetizing a blog, so we’ve done okay there. It also seems to be that writing about personal finance and investing tends to find more advertisers than say, if you were to write about cats or maybe photography or something like that.

Q: You also blogged for the Toronto Star’s site “Moneyville” three days a week, and now you’re writing a column for thestar.com so those really are spinoffs from your blog as well.
A: Yeah, and what I noticed were some of the more profitable things that people search for information about are rewards cards and loyalty programs. I didn’t want to inundate my Boomer & Echo blog, with posts about air miles and aeroplan so I started a little offshoot called “Rewards Cards Canada,” and that’s where I talk about that niche area.

Q: How many hours a week do you spend on your own blog and the various other related personal finance activities outside your 9-to-5 job?
A: I’d say, for all the online activities, I probably spend about two hours a night from Sunday to Thursday. 

Q: Tell me how the “Because Money” series on YouTube works and the technology used to link Moderator Jackson Middleton with you and the other interview subjects. 
A: I attended the fantastic Canadian Personal Finance Blogger’s Conference in Toronto, and one of the takeaways I got was maybe, try to explore some different forms of media. Video blogging has really come into the forefront now.

Sandy Martin, a fee-only planner who writes at Spring Personal Finance knew marketing and social media manager Jackson Middleton, and so we all got together and decided to do this video series called “Because Money.”

It’s all done through the social network, Google Plus. Google owns YouTube, and they formed what they call “Hangouts on Air.” It’s like a Skype video call. You can get up to 10 people, video chatting on hangout at the same time, and you can put it live on air or you can just record it and play it later. We do it live every Wednesday night.

Q: What kind of hits are you getting on it?
A: Pretty good. We get a couple hundred views a week, and when we have better know people on, like Rob Carrick and Dan Bortolotti, we get a lot more views.

Q: You’re also taking certified financial planner courses, and along with Marie, you’re now offering a unique fee-only personal finance planning service online. How does the service work, and how’s it going?
A: What we found was, we built up quite a following over the years, and that people would Email us and ask about their own situation. Without knowing their complete background and history and their goals moving forward, it’s pretty much impossible to give that tailored, specific advice.

So we talked about this and came up with a fee-only model where we’d work with a client for a year. We develop a financial plan together. Clients get unlimited access to us by phone, email, Google Plus, Skype, whatever, and they can talk about their own financial issues without any pressure to buy anything. We are not licensed to sell products.

Q: You recently launched a new blog called “Earn, Save, Grow.” What do you hope to accomplish with this blog, and how is it different from subjects covered with “Boomer and Echo?”
A: I started a new blog because Boomer & Echo focuses a lot on frugality and money-saving tips and a bit of investing. But I don’t know that the audience is quite there for discussions about earning extra money. There’s always the debate whether you should try to earn more money versus spending less.

Obviously, I’m going to cross promote it a little bit with Boomer and Echo, but time will tell what kind of audience moves over there and is interested in how to make more money or do something on the side with their time. I don’t intend to monetize this site, so I won’t have any ads up there, at least for now.

Q: If you had one piece of advice for Canadians struggling to make ends meet and save for retirement, what would it be?
A: We talked about this in “Because Money” with Rob Carrick recently. The real estate market has gone up so much, and people just feel this need to be a homeowner, and without necessarily understanding the full financial costs.

You can’t spend 40% to 50% of your income on a place to live and still expect to save for retirement, have kids, save up for their education and still have some money left over to go out for a beer or go for a nice dinner. I think we have to rethink the idea of renting for a little while so that if you buy a home you can really afford it.

That’s great. Thank you very much for talking to me today, I’m sure the “savewithspp.com” readers will really be interested in what you had to say.

Thanks for having me, Sheryl. It was a pleasure.


This is an edited transcript of the podcast you can listen to by clicking on the graphic under the picture above. If you don’t already follow Boomer & Echo, you can find it here and subscribe to receive blog posts by email as soon as they’re available.

Krystal Yee blogs her way to financial independence

By Sheryl Smolkin

24Apr-krystal_yee.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

 

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Hi,

Today we are continuing with the 2014 savewithSPP.com series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers. I’m talking to Krystal Yee who blogs on “Give me back my five bucks” and the “Frugal Wanderer.”

With over eight years of professional experience in marketing, communications, and writing, her career has spanned a variety of different industries. From ghost writing in the provincial government, event coordinating for a professional hockey team, to marketing cold water survival gear – she’s done just about everything.

In 2012 Krystal lived in Stuttgart, Germany. There, she worked remotely for clients such as the Toronto Star (moneyville.ca), Canadian Living, and Flare Magazine. In her spare time, she loves travelling, hiking, tweeting, and analyzing baseball statistics.

Hi Krystal. Thanks for joining me today.

Thanks for having me.

Q: When and why did you start your blog “givemebackmyfivebucks”?
A: Well, I started that blog back in February 2007, because I was finding it hard to relate to my friends in real life about the money issues I was having. I was uncomfortable bringing up a topic that, at the time, seemed really personal.

So once I found that personal finance blogs existed, I became really inspired and motivated, knowing there are other people out there like me who wanted to change their lives. That was the reason why I started my own blog.

Q: Seven years ago you had over $20,000 in student debt and no money. Now, you are a debt free homeowner. How did you do it?
A: It was a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but I knew that I needed a life change. And I decided not to hide from my debt any longer, and that was really, really scary. The first thing I did was calculate how much I owed. I gave myself one year to get out of debt. So I started building budgets, saving money any way I could, and increasing my income. And actually attacking my debt from all of those angles helped to speed up the process.

Q: What are some of the mistakes you think that you made along the way before you got on your debt repayment plan, and what would you do differently if you had it to just do all over again?
A: I think one of my biggest mistakes was not creating a realistic budget. I wanted to get where I wanted to be as fast as possible, but I didn’t take into account how unsustainable that would be. After taking that year to get out of debt, I thought I could keep up with this bare bones budget to save money faster but I started to get really tired of what I perceived as constant deprivation.

As a result I found that I was rebelling against myself and my goals, and that was a really strange feeling. It actually took me a few months to realize what was actually realistic in the long term. And even today, I really have to question the budgets I make for myself and the goals I’m settings, just to make sure they satisfy the saver in me, but it also lets me live the kind of lifestyle that I want.

Q: Now, in “givemebackmyfivebucks,” you discuss your financial goals, your successes and failures. You put up weekly and monthly budgets. That’s really baring your soul. What reaction have you had from family and friends and your readers?
A: Well, for the first few years I started my blog, I was actually anonymous, so I felt safe. I was scared of what my family and friends would say about how much I was sharing on the internet, but once I actually started writing for The Toronto Star’s website moneyville.ca, I realized that speaking frankly and opening myself up, was really empowering.

Q: In 2012, you moved to a very small apartment in Stuttgart and worked remote. What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
A: It was really liberating moving to Germany and working for myself. You know, everyone dreams about quitting the 9-to-5 routine and becoming your own boss. I imagined sitting in European cafes all day long people watching and writing for clients. While I did that almost every day, because of the time zone difference, I also had to work a lot of late nights since my clients were all in North America. It was a really big adjustment for me.

But I think the biggest challenge was the isolation. Not only was I in a country where everyone spoke a different language, but working for myself. So when I moved back to Vancouver, I went back to a corporate job because I needed that daily interaction with other people.

Q: You love to travel and you manage to travel economically. You write about your experiences on the “frugalwanderer.” What has been your favorite trip to date?
A: Oh, my favorite trip was the one I took in November 2013 to Morocco. It was a mix of the people and the landscape and the food that made it so exciting. And I never thought I’d get the opportunity to travel to Africa, sleep under the stars in the Sahara, drink tea in Marrakesh or go hiking in the mountains. It was fantastic. And once I took the time to budget out how much everything costs and how I could save money on the trip, it quickly became a reality.

Q: How many hits do you typically get when you post a blog?
A: Well, it really varies depending what the content is and whether other websites pick up the blog posts. If it’s just my traffic on a daily basis, you know, it can be anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 visitors a day. When I get picked up by another website, it can go up to 10,000 visitors a day or higher.

Q: What have some of the most popular blogs been?
A: Surprisingly, over the last seven years, my most popular posts have been about how to upgrade ramen soup to make it taste better and how much you’ll need to save up in order to move out of your parents’ house the first time.

Q: Oh, that’s interesting.
A: Other popular posts have been a comparison of prices at Target Canada to Target USA; what your net worth should be by the time you’re 30; and a post about the myth of having to travel when you’re young.

Q: What have some of the spin-offs from blogging been for you?
A: Having my blog has opened up a lot of doors for me that I never would have thought possible. What started out, essentially as an online diary to help me stay accountable for my goals has turned into this vehicle that I can actually use to make money and help people at the same time.

You know, through blogging, I’ve been offered writing contracts with moneyville.ca, The Toronto Star, Canadian Living, Flare Magazine, Metro News and other publications. I’ve spoken to the media on different topics and I get to partner with really fun companies at the same time. Recently I finished a campaign with H&R Block and I’m a regular Twitter contributor for RBC.

So I think that those kinds of partnerships make blogging fun and make it more interesting. In the future, I hope to continue blogging about my journey towards financial independence. And I really love how my hobby and what I’m passionate about has turned into a part-time job for me

Q: If you had one piece of advice for Canadians trying to get their finances in order, what would it be?
A: Oh wow, just one piece of advice. If you’ve never taken a good look at your finances, my advice would be to create a budget and stick to it. I mean, it’s fun to spend money. So we convince ourselves that it’s okay, because we have a better job around the corner, a bonus that will cover the shortfall, or because we think we deserve it.

But the truth is no matter how much money you make, there’s always going to be something you can’t afford. When I first started budgeting, I saw it as a restriction. It was a way to stop me from having fun. I didn’t understand that it was helping me manage my money, so that I could have even more fun with my life.

And by choosing where my money went and how I spent it, and by living below my means, I was creating a really stress-free lifestyle which I never had before, and a better future. So I think budgeting is the number one thing that I would tell people to do.

Thank you very much Krystal. It was a pleasure talking to you today.

My pleasure. Thank you.

This is an edited transcript of the podcast you can listen to by clicking on the graphic under the picture above. If you don’t already follow Give Me Back My Five Bucks and Frugal Wanderer, you can find them here and here. Subscribe to receive blog posts by e:mail as soon as they’re available.

Kevin Press – BrighterLife.ca

By Sheryl Smolkin

27Mar-Kevinpress

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Hi,

Today we’re talking to Kevin Press as part of our continuing 2014 series of SavewithSPP.com podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers. Kevin is the Assistant Vice-President of Marketing Insights at Sun Life Financial in Toronto.

His blog, Today’s Economy has appeared on Sun Life’s Brighter Life platform since 2009. Kevin started his career in 1998 at Rogers Healthcare and Financial Publishing; where he had several editorial and marketing positions, including over 3 years as editor of Benefits Canada. He has also volunteered for the Canadian Pension & Benefits  Institute for almost 15 years in many roles, including as National Chair.

Thank you so much for joining me today, Kevin.

Sheryl, thanks so much for the invitation. It’s good to talk to you again.

Q. A blog is a major time commitment. How often do you blog? 
A. These days, it’s just once a week. I’m up every Wednesday but over the years it’s been sometimes twice a week, sometimes even three times a week in the early days.

Q. Why did you decide to start blogging in addition to your more-than-full time job and your volunteer activities? 
A. I love my job. I’m so proud of the team that I lead. But, the truth is – and I think you can relate to this – I don’t think I ever stopped being a journalist. I was asked to launch the Today’s Economy blog back in early 2009, right in the heart of the financial crisis, and that was really a very easy decision.

Q. I can understand that. You can take the man out of journalism, but you can’t take journalism out of the man! What are some of the topics you cover in your blog?
A. As I say, my chief goal is to help readers understand what is happening in the global economy, and here in Canada. So, in that sense, Today’s Economy is not a personal finance blog in the way that some of the others are. I certainly post a lot on personal finance, but primarily what I’m trying to do is focus on explaining key economic trends to a broad audience.

The Eurozone has been an amazing story to follow, and, more recently, emerging markets – what’s happening there now as the U.S. government slows down its quantitative-easing program. That’s a fascinating story. If I’ve helped Canadians understand these big stories, even just a little bit, then I think the blog is a success.

Q. Since you’ve started blogging, the Brighter Life platform has been expanded to include a number of other blogs covering a broad range of subjects. Tell me a little bit about a couple of the other bloggers and what they write about.
A. One of my favorites is Dave Dineen. He writes a blog called ‘Dave’s Retirement Journey’. Dave was actually a member of my team years ago, before he decided to take early retirement I think he’s helped a lot of Canadians make the transition to retirement successfully – just writing in the first-person about his experiences, making that transition himself.

Anna Sharratt does really good work for us on the health beat. She has a blog called Living Well. Gerald McGroarty writes about work issues, but I have to tell you, he’s written a piece recently about an extraordinary story. Last year, Gerald experienced a sudden cardiac arrest, and his wife, who is a registered nurse, saved his life.

Q. I’m going to have to look for that one.
A. It’s called ‘Could You Save a Life?’

Q. How many hits do you usually get when you or the other bloggers post?
A. It’s a really wide range. I’ve written posts that get no more than a couple of hundred visits and others have got well into the six-figures. I can tell you that after years of being a journalist, this blog reaches a larger audience by far than I’ve ever been able to connect with before.

Q. So what have some of your most popular blogs been?
A. The economic forecasts attract a lot of readers. Any of the retirement research we do like our Unretirement Index always scores well. Specifically, what we expected to learn from that research was that many Canadians will work past the traditional retirement age of 65 for lifestyle reasons. But because what we’ve actually ended up tracking are the evolving views of Canadians post-financial crisis it’s turned into even more of an interesting story.

Q. Poll after poll, particularly during RRSP season reveals that Canadians are not saving enough and that they’re worried about how they will live in retirement. Why do you think so many people find managing their finances so difficult?
A. We really believe that the way we can help Canadians most is empower them to act. So research shows, time and again, that adults want to do the right thing – they recognize that lifetime financial security is achievable. It’s just hard for them to get there, it’s hard for them to start. So our goal is to educate.

Q. You published 20 Smart Money Moves at the beginning of the year and you suggest that people maximize their employee benefits. Can you give me one or two examples where you think Canadians are really leaving money on the table?
A. First, a lot of employers sponsor capital accumulation plans – or defined contribution plans as they’re sometimes called – and match employee contributions up to certain limit. So, lesson number one – if you’re lucky enough to have one of those plans, take full advantage.

Lesson number 2 is if your employer offers a group registered retirement savings plan, do what I did. Move your individual RRSP funds over to the group plan – you save a lot in terms of management expense ratios.

The difference between the group environment versus individual RRSPs is quite dramatic. You still realize all the same benefits from your registered savings and you’ll get a better return in the long run.

Q. Interesting. I know the Saskatchewan Pension Plan has employer-workplace programs, and they also offer similar advantages.

Employers and insurance companies spend a lot of time and money communicating with benefit programs – why do you think so many employees are still not getting the message?

A. I think that a lot of folks struggle with the technical nature of the subject, and it really is incumbent upon financial institutions to keep working at finding ways to present information, in the most understandable fashion possible.

Q. If you had one piece of advice to help Canadians better manage their finances, what would it be?

A. One of the best things I ever did was take the Canadian Securities Course. The textbook alone is worth the price of the program. People who are interested in working in the industry very often take that as an early-stage educational opportunity. But what I took away from it was so much more. It’s just such a valuable learning experience. I think it will help you to understand your finances in a very meaningful way.

Q. The federal government is not interested in expanding CPP. A few provinces, Saskatchewan included, are rolling out the new pooled registered pension plans. Do you think PRPPs will be the carrot that helps more Canadians to save what they need for retirement?

A. I’m a big fan of PRPPs. I think they have that potential. The fundamental idea behind the PRPP is that too few Canadians (43%) have workplace pension plans. But even that number is misleading because so many of those folks are public sector workers. In the private sector, fewer than a quarter of workers work for an organization that sponsors a plan. So, the idea is that PRPP can fill that gap. And I’m very hopeful about their ability to improve the pension system in this country.

Q. Youth unemployment is a huge issue. Your Unretirement Index shows that older workers are working longer. Are seniors clogging up the pipeline? How do we get more young people into good jobs? How do we give them a good start?
A. This is such a tough story. I have to say this one of the stories, since I started blogging, that bothered me the most. The unemployment rate among young adults in this country has been stuck at about twice the national average since before the financial crisis.

But of course, this is not a new story. Youth unemployment hit 17.2 percent in the ’92 recession. It hit 19.2 percent in 1983. What’s interesting and what was a surprise to me is  that there actually is no evidence to support the notion that young people can’t find work because older workers are retiring later.

There are lot of good ideas out there about how to help young Canadians. I think the best relate to the choices that young people make in terms of their careers and their education.

There are certain areas of the economy that are more dynamic. There are certain skills that are more marketable. And I think if young people are as strategic as possible, and as parents, I think if we can help our kids be as strategic as possible in making education and career decisions, then they will be well positioned to transition more easily to the workforce. 

Q. So, one of your New Year’s resolutions was to write a Today’s Economy e-book. How’s that going for you?
A. Oh, I love you holding my feet to the fire. What I’ve done is I’ve put together a collection of posts that are not quite so time-sensitive, that still stand up over time.

A lot of what I write is about what’s happening right now and probably won’t have relevance a year, two years down the road. I think that we can help to tell the story of what’s been happening in the economy since 2008 and I’m targeting the second half of the year to pull that together.

Q. You’re ahead of me on that one. Thank you very much, Kevin. It was a pleasure to talk to you today.

A. So good to talk to you again, Sheryl. Thanks for talking to me today.

This is an edited transcript of the podcast you can listen to by clicking on the graphic under the picture above. If you don’t already follow BrighterLife.ca, you can find it here and subscribe to receive blog posts by email as soon as they’re available.