Category Archives: Money saving tips

How to choose a diamond ring

Wedding Bells reports that 20% of engagements take place in December, but Valentine’s Day is also a popular time to pop the question. Historically people have used other types of jewelry and gems to propose, but in 2013,  the Jewelry Industry Research Institute reported that 75% of brides wear a diamond ring.

If you propose with a diamond ring, it is largely as a result of a hugely successful advertising campaign from De Beers, one of the largest diamond companies in the world. In 1947 De Beers launched its promotion for diamond engagement rings with the slogan “a diamond is forever.”

Between 1939 and 1979, the company’s marketing budget soared from $200,000 to $10 million per year, according to The Atlantic. Over the same period, its wholesale diamond sales in the United States grew from $23 million to $2.1 billion. Also over the 40 year interval, De Beers went from recommending spending one month’s salary on an engagement ring to two month’s pay.

I was not able to find Canadian data, but according to the Knot’s 2015 Real Weddings Study, Americans spent an average of $5,871 on engagement rings, up from $5,855 in 2014. Wedding bands for the bride and engagement rings combined cost between $5,968 and $6,258.

Each individual must decide how much to budget for an engagement ring, but regardless of the amount you plan to spend, you need to understand what to look for when you are shopping for rings. First of all, the price and value of diamond jewelry is influence by the 4Cs: color, cut, clarity and carat weight.

It is of primary importance when you select stone(s) and a setting that you are dealing with a reputable jeweller. It may also be advisable before you finalize the transaction to have an independent gemologist appraise the stone(s) to ensure you are getting good value.

In addition you should receive a certificate from your jeweler (sometimes called a grading report). This is a complete evaluation of your diamond that has been performed by a qualified professional with the help of special gemological instruments. Each stone bears its own recognizable, individual characteristics, which is listed on the certificate.

Here are some other important things to consider when selecting stones and a setting for an engagement ring.

  1. Understand your partner’s taste in jewelry
    White or yellow gold? Old fashioned or modern? Chunky or delicate? Diamonds only or embellishment with coloured stones?
  2. Ring size
    Borrow a ring he/she already owns and trace the size. You can always have the ring re-sized after you propose but there may be additional cost. Also, who wants to take the ring off and part with it for days or weeks while adjustments are made?
  3. Favourite shape and cut
    Diamonds come in a myriad of cuts ranging from square, round and oval to pear shaped. A diamond’s cutting style refers to its facet arrangement, rather than its shape. The fewer the facets, the more visible any inclusions will be, so a cutting style such as a step cut (a.k.a. emerald cut), for example, requires higher clarity in the diamond.
  4. Setting
    The setting can vary from a solitaire or single stone, to a large stone with small stones on each side to three stones of the same side. A halo stone is where a center stone is surrounded by tiny gemstones  (usually diamonds), to add sparkle and give the appearance of a larger center stone. The setting you select will depend on a combination of preferred style and your budget.

No matter how much you pay for your ring, speak to your home insurance company and decide whether you should have it specifically listed on your policy so it is insured in case of loss or theft.

I lost the pear shaped diamond from my ring at the gym several years ago. In spite of the fact that paying a premium to insure the ring was no fun, I was quite relieved when my policy reimbursed me for the considerable value of the lost stone.

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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.

5 to 9’ers supplement their income

Call it a side hack or a part-time job. A recent study from PayPal Canada and Barraza & Associates reveals that 2.5 million Canadian (about nine percent of the adult population) have embraced a “5-to-9’er” lifestyle turning their passions into profitable side-businesses in addition to working a full-time job.

This community of makers, creators, freelancers and service providers has gained notable traction in Canada. In fact, half of Canadian 5-to-9’ers started their business in the last three years. In the past 12 months, this small but mighty community reported combined median revenues of $2.5 billion dollars.

“The rise of digitization, cloud-computing, smartphone apps and e-commerce enables people to work when and where they want, over and above regular 9-to-5 jobs,” said Paul Parisi, president of PayPal Canada.

Canada’s 5-to-9’ers are online savvy and keen to grow
Young and driven to evolve, Canada’s 5-to-9’ers are eager to turn their part-time endeavors into a primary source of income. The research shows that these emerging entrepreneurs employ e-commerce tools to reach their vision of success. Their e-commerce arsenal includes extensive use of online marketplaces and social media networks, demonstrating 5-to-9’ers deep appreciation of the digital economy. From age to attitude towards selling online, Canada’s enterprising 5-to-9’ers differ greatly from traditional Canadian small business owners.

  • More than half (54%) of 5-to-9’ers surveyed have seriously considered making their part-time business into a full-time career. More than a third (38%) are actively testing out the idea of becoming a full-time entrepreneur, using this time in their small business journey as a launch pad.
  • 5-to-9’ers are selling where Canadians are shopping – online. Over a third of 5-to-9’ers accept online payments for their goods and services leveraging a variety of e-commerce tools, like online marketplaces (59%) and social networking sites (52%). Turning the lens on traditional small businesses, less than a quarter accept payments online.
  • The 5-to-9’er community skews younger compared to traditional small business owners. In some cases, there is a 30-year differential. More than half of 5-to-9’ers (54%) are between the ages of 25 and 44 years-old, which could explain why they are more comfortable using digital technology.

Despite their drive and determination, there are some barriers holding this community back from transitioning to full-time small business owners. Limited access to start-up capital is the main (58%) hurdle identified by this group.

Women are paving the way, yet disparity persists
Women are dominating the 5-to-9’er landscape, representing 66% of the community in Canada. Not only are women propelling this trend, the study revealed that they are more seriously considering full-time small business ownership, compared to their male counterparts. While it is encouraging to see women taking a leading role in shaping the 5-to-9er landscape, female 5-to-9ers reported significantly less revenue than their male peers.

Notably, 12% of women started their side business while on maternity leave. Women may be leveraging maternity leave as an opportunity to explore becoming entrepreneurs while simultaneously bringing in additional household income.

Shelley Jones, is one example. As the founder and CEO of dignify, a Calgary-based small business online store that sells hand embroidered quilts and throws, Shelley highlights e-commerce as a catalyst for her success.

“After the birth of my second child, I wasn’t sure I wanted to return to a traditional 9-to-5 work environment, so I used my maternity leave as a time to explore entrepreneurship on my own terms,” said Jones. “When you are busy raising two children and building a business there is no such thing as a set schedule – you have to work when you can whether that is at 5 a.m. or 10 p.m. I simply would not have transitioned dignify from a passion project to a full-time business without an online-first approach.”

Overall, the research points to a growing, thriving community that has organically formed by leveraging tools like e-commerce platforms, online marketplaces, freelance software and smartphone apps to find success. While small businesses tend to earn significant focus in Canada, the 5-to-9 community is a rising segment of Canada’s economy that has tremendous potential to succeed if nurtured.

Complete study findings and additional information can be found here.

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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.

2018 New Year’s Resolutions: Expert Promises

Well it’s that time again. We have a bright shiny New Year ahead of us and an opportunity to set goals and resolutions to make it the best possible year ever. Whether you are just starting out in your career, you are close to retirement or you have been retired for some time, it is helpful to think about what you want to accomplish and how you are going to meet these objectives.

My resolutions are to make more time to appreciate and enjoy every day as I ease into retirement. I also want to take more risks and develop new interests. Two of the retirement projects I have already embarked on are joining a community choir and serving on the board; and, taking courses in the Life Institute at Ryerson University. After all, as one of my good friends recently reminded me, most people do not run out of money, but they do run out of time!

Here in alphabetical order, are resolutions shared with me by eight blogger/writers who have either been interviewed for savewithspp.com or featured in our weekly Best from the Blogosphere plus two Saskatchewan Pension Plan team members.

  1. Doris Belland has a blog on her website Your Financial Launchpad . She is also the author of Protect Your Purse which includes lessons for women about how to avoid financial messes, stop emotional bankruptcies and take charge of their money. Belland has two resolutions for 2018. She explains:
  • I’m a voracious reader of finance books, but because of the sheer number that interest me, I go through them quickly. In 2018, I plan to slow down and implement more of the good ideas.
  • I will also reinforce good habits: monthly date nights with my husband to review our finances (with wine!), and weekly time-outs to review goals/results and pivot as needed. Habits are critical to success.
  1. Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances and blogs at Money We Have. He says, “My goal is to work less in 2018. I know this doesn’t sound like a resolution but over the last few years I’ve been working some insane hours and it’s time to cut back. The money has been great, but spending time with my family is more important.”
  1. Chris Enns who blogs at From Rags to Reasonable describes himself as an “opera-singing-financial-planning-farmboy.” In 2017 he struggled with balance. “Splitting my time (and money) between a growing financial planning practice and an opera career (not to mention all the other life stuff) can prove a little tricky,” he says. In 2018 he is hoping to really focus on efficiency. “How do I do what I do but better? How do I use my time and money in best possible way to maximize impact, enjoyment and sanity?”
  1. Lorne Marr is Director of Business Development at LSM Insurance. Marr has both financial and personal fitness goals. “I plan to max out my TFSAs, RRSPs and RESPs and review my investment mix every few days in the New Year,” he notes. “I also intend to get more sleep, workout 20 times in a month with a workout intensity of 8.5 out of 10 or higher and take two family vacations.”
  1. Avery Mrack is an Administrative Assistant at SPP. She and her husband both work full time and their boys are very busy in sports which means they often eat “on the run” or end up making something quick and eating on the couch.  “One of our resolutions for next year is to make at least one really good homemade dinner a week and ensure that every one must turn off their electronic devices and sit down to eat at the table together,” says Mrack.
  1. Stephen Neiszner is a Network Technician at SPP and he writes the monthly members’ bulletin. He is also a member of the executive board of Special Olympics (Kindersley and district). Neiszner’s New Year’s financial goals are to stop spending so much on nothing, to grow his savings account, and to help out more community charities and service groups by donating or volunteering. He would also like to put some extra money away for household expenses such as renovations and repairs.
  1. Kyle Prevost teaches high school business classes and blogs at Young and Thrifty. Prevost is not a big believer in making resolutions on January 1. He prefers to continuously adapt his goals throughout the year to live a healthier life, embrace professional development and save more. “If I had to pick a singular focus for 2018, I think my side business really stands out as an area for potential growth. The online world is full of opportunities and I need to find the right ones,” he says.
  1. Janine Rogan is a financial educator, CPA and blogger. Her two financial New Year’s resolutions are to rebalance her portfolio and digitize more of it. “My life is so hectic that I’m feeling that automating as much as I can will be helpful,” she says. “In addition, I’d like to increase the amount I’m giving back monetarily. I donate a lot of my time so I feel like it’s time to increase my charitable giving.”
  1. Ed Rempel is a CFP professional and a financial blogger at Unconventional Wisdom. He says on a personal finance level, his resolution are boring as he has been following a plan for years and is on track for all of his goals. His only goal is to invest the amount required by the plan. Professionally, he says, “I want 2018 be the year I hire a financial planner with the potential to be a future partner for my planning practice. I have hired a couple over the years, but not yet found the right person with the right fit and long-term vision.”
  1. Actuary Promod Sharma’s resolutions cover off five areas. He says:
  • For health, I’ll continue using the 7 Minute Workout app from Simple Design.
  • For wealth, I’ll start using a robo advisor (WealthBar). I’m not ready for ETFs.
  • For learning, I’ll get my Family Enterprise Advisor (FEA) designation to collaborate better in teams.
  • For sharing, I’ll make more videos.
  • For giving, I’ll continue volunteering.

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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.

Gifts elderly friends and relatives will appreciate

Whether elderly relatives and friends are still living in the family home, an apartment or they have moved to a retirement home or long term care, like anyone else, they love receiving holiday gifts. However, because at this stage most are thinking about downsizing, if they have not already done so, the last thing they need is more stuff. Here are some suggestions for practical gifts older loved ones may appreciate.

Cleaning service: House or apartment cleaning is no fun for young or old. And it can become particularly onerous for people with mobility issues. You can purchase gift certificates from local cleaning services such as Molly Maid in Saskatoon. Of course if you are among the minority who enjoy cleaning, you can make up your own gift certificates for one or more house cleaning sessions.

Online grocery shopping/pick up: Shopping for groceries on a regular basis can be time consuming and exhausting. Even getting out to shop can be a real problem in slippery winter weather, particularly for people who no longer drive their own car. If you live in Regina or other cities with similar services, introduce your favourite senior to online grocery shopping available from the Superstore and offer to pick up their orders.

Meal preparation/sharing: Before my Mom moved into long term care, we use to make and freeze soups and other tasty meals for her in small portions. But what she liked even better was when we brought ingredients over and cooked a meal we could share together. As a back-up, meals on wheels are available in some parts of the province.

Telephone for hearing impaired: There is nothing more frustrating for hearing impaired people than not being able to either hear their telephone ring or understand the caller. Amazon offers a large selection of telephones with amplification features and big buttons to make entering telephone numbers easier. Similar handsets and portable phones may also be available from local vendors.

Mobile alert system: A great fear for both older or disabled seniors and their family members is that they will fall or have a household accident and not be able to summon help. There are various medical alert systems on the market where the client wears a personal health button on a bracelet or a lanyard. We had the Philips Lifeline for my mother when she was at home. Here’s how it works.

Magazine subscription: Magazine subscriptions are the gift that keeps on giving. There is a publication to go with every hobby or interest, i.e, quilting, sewing, woodworking, cooking, famous people or current events. Sign up for a one year or longer subscription and the recipient will think of you every time a copy appears in the mailbox.

Beauty treatments: There is nothing that feels better than getting a haircut and styling from a professional. Manicures and pedicures are also relaxing and can last for weeks. Local vendors are always happy to sell gift certificates as holiday gifts. The Regina company Driving With Scissors makes home visits, which is ideal for seniors who are housebound or would rather not brave the winter weather.

Photo books: In the age of smart phones and selfies, few of us ever print the pictures we collect on our phones. However, many if not most of the older seniors you know are not computer savvy. Of course my 82-year old aunt is the exception. She just loves sharing pictures on the iPad one of her grandchildren passed up to her.  Nevertheless, even she would treasure a hard copy photo book with family pictures which can be ordered from many sources online and personalized with artwork and text.

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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.

Travel hacks for your wallet and your waistline

My husband and I recently spent a lovely fall week in Kelowna, B.C. It was a pleasure to travel domestically and not have to worry about passports, currency, customs and exorbitant surcharges to use our cell phones. But as always, there were a few things that worked out really well along with several hiccups that were a learning experience.

Getting there and back
I booked our tickets on Air Canada through Expedia.ca. My rationale was that instead of checking the websites of different airlines I could compare flights and prices all in one place. We ended up going on Toronto-Vancouver-Kelowna and returning Kelowna-Calgary-Toronto. The layovers were each about an hour and we weren’t pressed for time so it didn’t really matter. But as we were waiting to board on the way home there was a direct Kelowna-Toronto WestJet flight which I certainly would have selected if it had been offered as an option by Expedia.

Also, when booking on Expedia I still had to go to the Air Canada site to select seats which I forgot to do until several weeks before we left. I usually try to book bulkhead or wing seats and pay extra because I prefer more leg room. But I was shocked to learn that for the purpose of pre-selecting seats, our travel was considered to be 4 separate flights and we were charged accordingly.

Options were limited by then. So by the time I selected two aisle seats for each of us going out, the charge was $40 ($10 each for two flights), two front seats from Kelowna to Calgary ($20 x 2) and two bulkhead seats from Calgary to Toronto ($50 x 2).  The additional charges were over $200 including taxes! Direct flights would have cut these surcharges in half.

To add insult to injury, we had to pay $25 each to check one bag. Apparently this is common practice, but it’s been a long time since we flew within Canada and I wasn’t aware of this policy change introduced several years ago. The good news is that in both directions my second bag (a small roller board carry on) was checked in free at the gate. Of course, if you are traveling only with carry on luggage to avoid long waits for baggage on arrival you will not want to relinquish your bag, even if you are offered the opportunity to do so at no cost.

There is also no longer any “free lunch” or any other meal if you fly economy. Food is sold on the flight, but it is typically overpriced and popular items frequently run out. In addition, depending on when your flight is scheduled, food and drink may not be offered when you are actually hungry. We packed home-made sandwiches and fruit for both our trips out and back and we were glad we did.

Accommodations
We have a shared-ownership property in Muskoka which gives us 5 weeks a year. We were able to trade one week for a condo at The Royal Private Residence Club (a Delta property) in downtown Kelowna. The apartment was spacious with a full kitchen and a laundry room with a washer and dryer.

Similar properties are available for rent in many North American cities and worldwide. They are particularly cost-effective if you are traveling with a family and will have to rent more than one room. Furthermore, because kids don’t have the patience to eat three meals a day in a restaurant and constant eating out can be prohibitively expensive, a kitchen gives you the flexibility to eat what you want, when you want. And you need less luggage if you can throw in a couple of loads of laundry part-way through your trip.

AirBnB also has listings for everything from rooms to full apartments in most cities, offering similar amenities. They are generally much less costly than hotel rooms and can be more comfortable for both individuals and families than a basic room. 

Transportation
I also booked a pre-paid rental car on Expedia with Hertz. When we arrived at the Kelowna airport they said I was the named driver because I made the reservation and that it would cost $90 to add my husband as a second driver. I refused and after calling a supervisor, Hertz agreed to reverse the charge. However, because the car was booked by Expedia and not directly with Hertz, they had all kinds of problems figuring out how to change the designated driver and amend the contract. After over an hour of unsuccessfully trying to get the computer to accept the changes, they had to get a supervisor to write up a new paper contract!

I subsequently learned from various friends that other car rental companies add additional drivers at no cost. Also, there is significant variation between available deals for a one week rental and I should have done more research before pre-paying through Expedia.

What I learned
We had a great trip. Nevertheless, I have learned:

  • It is always better to compare price and features of each component of a trip on competitor websites and book directly with the preferred vendor instead of using an aggregator.
  • Given the opportunity, we will always select an efficiency unit or apartment instead of a basic hotel room when traveling for a long weekend or a week to a single location.
  • Making breakfasts and a few dinners in the condo can save a bundle and ensure there are yummy leftovers for lunch on the long flight home.

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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.

How I saved $1,000/year

I know many people have cut the cord and  given up their landlines completely. But our house is three floors and inevitably wherever I am my cell phone is not, which means I miss lots of calls. Also, my Olympia digital recorder plugs into my desktop console resulting in good quality sound files for podcast interviews I record periodically for savewithspp.com.

But when I reviewed our bills for my company’s year-end recently I was reminded once again that in addition to two cell phone bills of about $50/month each from Koodo Mobile, we were paying a total off over $100/month for two landlines (one business, one personal). So in spite of some trepidation about the sound quality of VOIP lines and potential safety issues if our Internet service is down for any reason, we decided to bite the bullet and say good-bye to “Ma Bell.”

Of course in order to save money, we first had to spend money. A VOIP modem cost $56.49. Also, because our house alarm was on line 2, we had to pay $284.76 to have a technician come and switch us over to an internet-based alarm monitoring system.

While we hated to spend the money, the advantage is that now we can self-monitor and control our alarm system from just about anywhere using a computer, phone, tablet or watch. Also, making this change was an opportunity to re-negotiate our contract and save 30% on alarm monitoring services.

We selected residential service from the provider VOIPMuch for our two landlines. We were easily able to transfer over our long-standing telephone numbers and I was really impressed with the customer service. A helpful, knowledgeable person answered after only a couple of rings every time!

There are no contracts and there is free Canadian and US calling. There are also over 30 free calling features including enhanced 9-1-1, also known as E9-1-1. It works similar to regular 9-1-1 with an added safety feature of automatically sending vital information such as the client’s, address and geographical location (even if he/she is unable to speak).

We started by switching our home line and once we were satisfied that there was absolutely no reduction in quality we switched over my business line. I will not be able to fax on a VOIP line but that is not a problem as using a mobile app I can easily scan and email or text documents instead.

The service costs $10.68/month for each line or about $250/year in total as opposed to around $1300/year for the Bell lines with very few basic add-ons. So once we amortize the startup costs we will save over $1,000/year. I know we did not pick the absolutely cheapest VOIP provider but we can always switch at a later date. Furthermore, if we choose to do so, dropping the second line at any time will be hassle free.

We will continue to review our household bills to see what other expenses we can reduce going forward. However, the silver lining to this year’s cool wet summer weather in central Canada has been that our hydro bills have been a fraction of last year when the air conditioning ran 24/7.

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.

Don’t be fooled by CRA’s record of your TFSA contribution room

Several months after my husband and I filed our 2016 income tax returns and got our refunds, we received identical ominous envelopes from CRA.  They contained Notices of Assessment reporting that each of us had over-contributed $5,500/month for the last five months of the year, resulting in a $28,201 over-contribution to our TFSA accounts. Yet further down on the notices, it said the contributions to each of our accounts in 2016 totaled only $10,859.79.

Upon reviewing our bank statements, it appeared that one contribution of $5,500 was made in early March and a second amount was transferred into each TFSA in August 2016. When my husband checked our CRA accounts online mid-year, they said we still had $5,500 of contribution room in each account, so he made the second deposits in August.

However, upon calling CRA for clarification, we learned that unlike online banking records which are updated daily, CRA only receives information once a year by January 1st when financial institutions are required to report TFSA transactions for the prior calendar year. Therefore, because we made contributions after January 1, 2016, when we checked later in the year, they were not reflected in the total TFSA contribution room that could be viewed on CRA’s My Account feature.

The good news is that the total excess TFSA amount of $28,201.05 recorded in the first part of the Notice of Assessment was incorrect due to a programming error which totaled the overpayment at the end of each month instead of recording it as one amount of $5,500 for the balance of the year.

However, the bad news is that we had to withdraw $5,500 from each of our TFSA accounts and each pay $298.11 taxes and penalties. The tax payable for excess contributions to a tax-free savings account is 1% per month, for any month in which there is an excess amount at any time in the month.  This means there will be a tax payable even if the excess amount is withdrawn in the same month in which it is contributed.

While we could have appealed the penalties because the over contribution was due to a genuine misunderstanding, we decided to just pay the amounts and learn from our experience.

So the moral of the story is it is important to track TFSA contributions yourself. There is no deadline for contributions to a TFSA, as the unused contribution room is carried forward into the next year.  However, a withdrawal in any year does not increase the TFSA room until the following calendar year.  Thus, if you are thinking of making a withdrawal close to year end, make sure it is done by December 31st, in order to have the withdrawal amount added back to the TFSA room sooner.

The history of annual limits for each year is shown in the table below. The first year that contributions could be made was 2009.  At the current rate of inflation, the TFSA contribution limit will increase to $6,000 per year in 2019.

Years TFSA Annual Limit Cumulative Total
2009-2012 $5,000 $20,000
2013 $5,500 $25,500
2014 $5,500 $31,000
2015 $10,000 $41,000
2016 $5,500 $46,500
2017 $5,500 $52,000

 

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.

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.

Funky Father’s Day Gifts

Finding gifts for the Dads in your life can be a challenge. Few men wear ties or use cloth handkerchiefs anymore and let’s face it — even jazzy socks are a pretty boring and impersonal gift. Furthermore, most family budgets cannot be stretched to pay for big ticket guy things like fast cars, motorcycles or a spring training road trip.

But there are lots of things you can do on a shoestring that Dad will appreciate. Here are a few of my favourites:

  1. Save for the dream: You may not be able to afford the latest tech toy or an exotic trip right now, but you can start a bank account or even a piggy bank with the goal of accumulating the necessary funds within a specified time.
  2. Golf: If your husband or father is a golfer, finding the time to golf may be as much of a problem as paying hefty greens fees. Block out a few “golf days” for him on the calendar and get a gift certificate to a local course. The kids might enjoy decorating customized golf balls using indelible markers. Or you can plan a family mini-golf outing.
  3. Car wash: Most family chariots are pretty grubby after a long winter. Instead of paying for an expensive detailing job, put the kids to work washing and vacuuming the car. After all, he is their father and not yours!
  4. Send him on a course: My husband’s hobby is woodworking. Lee Valley Tools offers one day mini-courses on everything from wood turning to sharpening tools. He has received several as gifts and says he learned a great deal. Whatever your husband or father is interested in, chances are some organization in the community offers a “how-to-class.”
  5. Senior Dads: If your Dad is a senior and living alone, make him several weeks’ worth of yummy frozen dinners he can microwave. Better still, invite him over to share meals with your family. If he lives in a different city, see if you can manage an unexpected weekend visit.
  6. Game tickets: Tickets to big league football, hockey or baseball can cost hundreds of dollars. However there are many local little league and even semi pro teams that provide great entertainment and would welcome your support.
  7. Framed pictures: Because photos are digital now, we tend to print very few of them. Instead they are stored on our phones, on Facebook or online. Print and frame a lovely family picture for Dad’s desk or the wall in his office.
  8. Make a video: Every smart phone now has a video camera. As a rainy day project, get the kids to put a script together and devise costume from items in your closet. Each one can end with a monologue about why they love their Dad and what they plan to do to make his day special.
  9. Phone apps: Is your teenager geeky but his father is not? Have your son or daughter research and find phone apps that will make Dad’s life easier and teach him how to use them. This could include anything from games, to an app that allows easy recording of business expenses to a program that converts foreign currency to Canadian dollars.
  10. Gifts that give back: There are many worthwhile charities in your local community or farther afield that operate on a shoe string. You may have already donated your time or money to one or more of these organizations. Make a special donation in honour of Dad for Father’s Day.
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.