Talking to personal finance blogger Tim Stobbs

By Sheryl Smolkin

Tim Stobbs and his sons on their cross-Canada trip
Tim Stobbs and his sons on their cross-Canada trip

With this post, we are kicking off a 2014 series of interviews with personal finance bloggers. Many of the people we will be talking to are known to you already because we’ve linked to their blogs on our weekly edition of “Best from The Blogosphere.”

Our first guest is Tim Stobbs, a thirty-five-year old chemical engineer and father of two who lives in Regina and works for SaskPower. He was also a Regina School Trustee until the end of 2012.

Since 2006 Tim has blogged on Canadian Dream: Free at 45. He has also authored a book called Free at 45: How to Retire Early and Happy. In addition, in his spare time, he wrote a series of articles for the Toronto Star and has been interviewed by virtually every media outlet in the country.

Thanks for joining me today, Tim.

Thanks for inviting me Sheryl.

Q. You’re one busy guy. When do you find time to sleep?

A. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I regularly get about eight hours of sleep. My young children go to bed early so I still have a couple hours every night to work on personal projects.

Q. So how old were you when you decided to aim for early, early retirement at 45?

A. I first came across the idea of early retirement back in my early 20s about 2001. But I really didn’t do much of anything with it until several years later in about 2005 when I did a series of online calculations and realized that I might actually be able to retired at 45. So I took that idea and started to blog with it.

Q. What response have you had to the blog? How many hits do you get?

A. Each blog post gets maybe about 600 or 700 hits. It works out to about 20,000 page views per month or so, give or take. It’s been an odd experience because I’ve had a lot of interest from various media outlets. I did a bunch of radio interviews.

The Toronto Star contacted me and asked me to write a series for them. One opportunity that was really out-of-this world was when CBC, The National, contacted me for a story on early retirement.

Q. I can understand that would be quite cool. So what blogs have resulted in the highest number of clicks or the greatest interest?

A:  I think the highest amount of interest I’ve seen on my blog has been in regards to the early retirement calculation series. About every couple years or so, I’ll dust it off and re-do the calculations just to keep them updated. People question my assumptions and share the basis of their own calculations with me.

Q. So that’s your own calculations, as your projections evolve towards your own retirement?

A. Yes. Realistically everyone can make assumptions, but inevitably life happens and things kind of veer off a little bit. So you’ve got to go back and correct them periodically.

Q. So how much do you and your wife figure you need to pay your bills after taxes?

A. Well, we kind of did an odd thing with our retirement planning. We actually aimed for a very barebones kind of basic spending level of $27,000 a year and then we figured we’d probably, for incidental income and other things,  that we would pull in another $5,000  for more fun stuff.

Q. What lump sum savings do you think it will take to support your lifestyle once you retire?

A. A grand total of about 1.1 million net worth, but the majority of that is going to be investments. So about $700,000 in investments, I figured would probably pull that off.

Q. Is the rest the value in your house?

A. Yes, the rest would be the equity in the house.

Q.I see that your mortgage is paid off and you figure you’ll be able to retire at age 42 now. The numbers dropped again?

A. Yes.

Q. How did you do it? What did you give up in order to meet this objective?

A. Everyone is always asking that but I’ve never actually sacrificed anything. I could have decided to spend more money or do other things. But instead, I kind of ended up doing a little exercise and went through my life and my spending and went, “What things do I really not care about?”

Like, my power bill, I really, really don’t get excited paying off my power bill every month. So what I decided to do was to see, “How low can I make that?” So I looked at ways to save energy around the house and dropped that bill down and repeated that across all of my various bills.

As a result, what I managed to do was really customize my spending to be heavily tailored toward my particular interests. So I’ll spend money on books or DVDs that I like, but I don’t spend a lot of money on gas or power bills.

Q. I presume your wife is on board with the program?

A. She is, but in a different context than me. I’m more driven by the freedom to do what I’m interested in. She’s more about the whole concept of security. For example, we had a car accident last week and she knows without any doubt that we’ll have the money for the deductible for the car. So, she just loves that as a result of our financial plan that we are financially secure.

Q. Do you still go on vacations, go out to restaurants and upgrade your phone every now and then?

A. Oh yes, we still do all that stuff. Like, for example, this summer, my sister-in-law moved out to Newfoundland. We decided to go out there for a visit. So we took a month long vacation and spent over seven and a half thousand dollars. We drove all the way out and back. Seven provinces with two little boys in the back seat, but we survived.

Q. So what does retirement mean to you? How do you plan to spend your time once you don’t have to go to work?

A. Well, as I talked about earlier, we aimed for bare bones because I really think I’m retiring too early to stop working entirely. It’s just nice to be able to work on what interests me rather than what pays me most. Right now, I’m doing engineering because, well, it’s my degree and I’m quite good at it. As an engineer I also make quite a bit of money. However I enjoy writing a lot. But unfortunately, unless you’re really good at writing, it’s pretty hard to earn as much as I do as an engineer.

Q. Are you saying that might at some stage leave your engineering job and take a chance at working on something else?

A. Yes. I’ll probably switch over to just writing novels or non-fiction projects, stuff where I don’t have to worry about a profit margin, as long as I do it because I’m interested in it.

Q. Your wife currently operates a home daycare. I understand she has some ideas about what she’d like to do when you are more financially secure.

A.  She kind of has her hobbies she enjoys and is looking forward to expending those a little bit or even maybe going back to school and learning a bit more about a few other topics that interest her rather than having to go get a degree because it’s something economically viable to do.

Q. If you had one piece of advice for readers who want to manage their finances so they can retire early, what would it be?

A. I think the biggest piece of advice I’d offer people is don’t worry about what everyone else is doing about spending. Look at your own spending habits and kind of customize your budget . It’s really possible to live on a lot less than people think if you’re not so caught up in doing what everyone else is doing.

So if you don’t really care about the newest phone, don’t drop the money every three years to get it. It’s sort of as simple as that in some regards. By minimizing your spending on stuff you don’t care about, you’ll have more spending money for future things like retirement or even just things that interest you more.


You can follow Tim’s progress on his blog and also read interesting posts from several regular guest bloggers.

This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on November 25th.

Coupon websites that can save you money

By Sheryl Smolkin


I must confess that at least once or twice when looking for something to distract me on the treadmill at the gym, I’ve watched Extreme Couponing and felt a little guilty. I can’t imagine spending hours every day looking for coupons, plotting my shopping strategy and stockpiling items I may never use. But it seems sinful somehow to pass up obvious bargains.

While the best source of coupons used to be newspapers and grocery store fliers, a big chunk of the business has gone online. In many cases coupons can also be downloaded to your mobile device. So I did some internet research to find the best Canadian coupon websites for those of you who are interested in taking advantage of these deals.

On, Sarah Deveau rates the following as the top five coupon sites in Canada and provides explanations for what you can expect to find.

The site offers coupons for baby formula, pet food, juice and plenty more. The selection changes frequently and they do impose limits on how many coupons you can request per household. Check out their sister site for flyer deals, coupons, contests and more.

This Procter & Gamble website offers coupons for their best-selling products, from laundry detergent to toothpaste and nearly everything in between. They also offer free samples. Check back often as supplies are limited and featured products change frequently.

This is primarily a grocery coupon and grocery deals site, but shoppers can also read articles on how to shrink their grocery bill using coupons and sales, find recipes and check out product reviews. All coupons and policies are verified prior to being posted by Canadian founders Steven and Lina Zussino. Follow them on Facebook for breaking deals and limited quality sample giveaways.

On one of the top coupon sites for Canadians, users can not only print coupons directly from this website, but they can also trade coupons with others across the country. You can register for the forums and find out where the best sales and deals are at every major retailer in the country.

The Entertainment Book has a 50 year history providing coupons for thousands of businesses in 145 cities across North America. So you can’t go wrong by picking up your Saskatchewan copy, as well as a copy for any cities you plan on visiting during the year. If you miss the school kids selling the book, you can usually buy the current Entertainment book at up to 50% off the regular price a few months into the season (no coupon required!).

However, before you embark on a full-scale campaign to save mega-bucks by couponing, read Part 1 and Part 2 of the Great Coupon experiment, also by Sarah Deveau. She managed to save $20 on diapers that were already on sale at Toys R Us but concluded that it definitely wasn’t worth the time she had put into the project. Furthermore, she says even stacking two or three coupons on one product wasn’t enough to price it lower than its lesser priced, no-name brand cousin.

I’m not a big fan of coupons, but I am reasonably diligent about using my loyalty cards from places where I shop regularly. At Shoppers Drug Mart and Longo’s in Toronto points accumulate with every purchase that can be redeemed for dollars on a future purchase. Sobey’s points are converted to Air Canada points.

Do you use coupon sites or loyalty cards that have saved you a bundle? Share your money saving tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

Beginning in January we will be mixing things up a bit, and in addition to blogs that discuss ways to save money so you can save more for retirement, we will be interviewing our favourite financial bloggers, reviewing books that will help you better manage your finances and rolling out a monthly Retirement Savings 101 series.

The team at Saskatchewan Pension Plan wishes you a happy, healthy holiday season.

Dec 23: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin


As the year draws to a close, I am pleased to join in celebrating some of the best Canadian retirement writers in 2013. I thank them for including me on the list.

Week after week we link to these and other fine bloggers who freely share their time and considerable insight with us. To get to know some of these people a little better in 2014 will present a series of podcast interviews with prominent personal finance bloggers.


Retire Happy. Follow financial expert, author and speaker Jim Yih on Twitter: @jimyih

MoneySense. Follow MoneySense Magazine editor Jonathan Chevreau: @JonChevreau

Boomer and Echo. Follow mother-and-son financial writers Marie and Robb Engen: @BoomerandEcho

Sheryl Smolkin. Follow this lawyer and financial journalist: @SherylSmolkin

Unretired Life. Follow coach, consultant, speaker and author Eileen Chadnick: @unretiredlife

I’m a sonic boomer… not a senior. Royce Shook writes about issues important to Boomers, grandparents and others, who are changing what retirement looks like.

Canadian Dream Free at 45. Follow engineer and financial writer Tim Stobbs on his journey to early retirement: @canadiandream

Everything Zoomer. Follow executive editor and travel writer Vivian Vassos (@vivianvassos) and associate editor and arts and culture writer Mike Crisolago (@MikeCrisolago)

Grey Routes and Tips. Follow travel-for-grownups writer Jane Canapini: @janecanapini

Best from the Blogosphere will be taking a three week break, but I look forward to bringing you more great retirement and money saving ideas beginning again in mid-January.

Have a happy, healthy holiday season with friends and family.


How to save money on gas

By Sheryl Smolkin


There is probably nothing more irritating than watching the meter on the gas pump when you are filling up your car with gas for the second or third time in a week. Depending on the car you drive and the distance you go, gas alone can cost you hundreds of dollars a week.

The average current prices reported by Natural Resources Canada on October 29th are noted below, but gas costs can vary significantly across the country or even around the block.

Regular gasoline:                124.4/litre

Mid-Grade gasoline:            137.5/litre

Premium gasoline:              137.6/litre

Diesel:                                 129.5/litre

In theory, parking the car and taking public transit may be cheaper, but in practice there may not be dependable, affordable public transit available in your area. And once you have had the convenience of a car you will never willingly take strollers, packages and pets on the bus again.

Here are some ideas that will help you save money on gas.

  1. Limit your driving: Drive only when you must. Try and combine errands instead of making a separate trip every time you need something. Seriously consider whether grocery shopping in two or three places to save a few cents is worth the cost of gas.
  2. Carpool: Find someone to carpool with to and from work on Saskatchewan kijiji. People also look for and offer rides when they have an empty seat in the car on weekends. Your company may let you advertise on its intranet.
  3. Fuel efficient car: If you are in the market for a new car, check the fuel efficiency and ratings of various models that you like. We opted for a Diesel BMW last year and we regularly get 800-1000 km per tank when we drive to Ottawa to see our daughter. Hybrid cars can also save you money
  4. Maintain your car: Make sure your car is properly maintained. A well-cared for vehicle will run more efficiently and give you better mileage.
  5. Fill it up: Fill your car up each time so you don’t waste gas and time driving to and from the gas station putting in small amounts. Wait until you have a quarter tank but don’t push it much further, particularly in winter weather when you could be stranded if you run out of gas.
  6. Tires: Check your tires every few weeks and top up the tires to the recommended pressure for your automobile.
  7. Avoid idling: Turn off your car when you are waiting for someone.You get zero miles/gallon when you are idling.
  8. Use a GPS: In most cases a GPS will help you navigate and find the fastest and shortest route to where you are going. But consider whether the suggested route actually makes sense if you know traffic is particularly bad or your software hasn’t been updated recently.
  9. Use air conditioning sparingly: Air conditioning is a gas guzzler. In nice weather when you are travelling at lower speeds, open the windows and enjoy the fresh air.
  10. Keep records: Keeping meticulous records of what you spend and how many miles you drive will help you quickly spot changes in vehicle performance and focus on the goal of saving.

Finally, stay safe. You can find winter driving hints from the CAA Saskatchewan here.

Do you have any ideas for saving money on gas? Share your money saving tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

Beginning in January we will be mixing things up a bit, and in addition to blogs that discuss ways to save money so you can save more for retirement, we will be interviewing our favourite financial bloggers, reviewing books that will help you better manage your finances and rolling out a monthly Retirement Savings 101 series.

The team at Saskatchewan Pension Plan wishes you a happy, healthy holiday season.

Dec 17: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkinblogospheregraphic

If you are lucky enough to have a job you love, you have probably spent the last few weeks shopping and checking things off on your holiday list. But if you have been downsized or you are about to retire you may be holding off on major purchases until you are more settled.

Here are some blogs with hints for job seekers who are looking for a new career under the Christmas tree this year.

In Boomer & Echo, Robb Engen writes about how a lucky break launched a successful career. He worked his way up in the hotel industry, accepting a job in sales which eventually led to his current job at a university. He says rather than jumping from job-to-job, stick around and make your own luck by being in the right place at the right time.

Nicholas Zakas shares the best career advice he has ever received on NCZOnline. “Don’t accept a job where you’re told exactly what to build and how to build it. You need to work somewhere that appreciates your insights into the product as well as your ability to build it.”

On you can find 10 career blogs you shouldn’t miss. A blog from an expert in careers can help you to find original ways to revamp your resume, find a new job, break into a new industry, wow a recruiter or anything else career-related that you need to know.

Even with retirement on the horizon, some people are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Donna McCaw says almost half of us seek an encore career rather than volunteer work or hobbies.  Many people need to work to pay the bills. Others, however, seek further employment to give themselves a more positive sense of self worth.

And finally, as the world continues to mourn, we end this week’s Best from the Blogosphere with Career and life lessons from Nelson Mandela collected by Kevin Makra on Workopolis.

To honor this great man, we leave you with some of his words of wisdom:

 “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

“ “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”

 “Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.”

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

 “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.”

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere. Share the information with us on and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Budget-friendly holiday gifts

By Sheryl Smolkin


Christmas can be an expensive time of year. You have to come up with presents for your parents, spouse, kids, cousins, aunts and uncles. But you may also want to give small but meaningful gifts to numerous other people including helpful neighbours, your children’s teachers, the mailman and your hairdresser.

Where families are large and it is impossible to buy for everyone, it can help to pick names so you only have to buy one more expensive gift rather than a dozen smaller items. Another approach is outside of immediate family, to only give gifts to children under a certain age – say 16 or 18.

However, you may still end up with a long list and an overloaded credit cart. That can be a real problem come January when you have to top up your retirement savings. Here are some ideas for less expensive gift options that will satisfy everyone on your list.

  1. Food gifts: If you make the best banana bread in town, whip up a couple of batches, wrap them with pretty cellophane and ribbons and give them to people who always finish the last slice when you bring your speciality to a pot luck dinner.
  2. Coffee cards: As a rule I’m not a big fan of gift cards because they always seem like an afterthought and people tend to lose them. But many of us need our daily coffee fix and fancy specialty coffees can cost $5 or more. Find out if intended recipients are Tim Horton’s or Starbucks fans and make your purchase accordingly.
  3. Gift baskets: Gift baskets can contain anything from yummy treats to bath and beauty supplies. If you purchase baskets already made up, they cost much more than the contents which are often meagre once you remove all the packaging. Bulk stores and craft stores sell almost everything you need to make your own gift baskets for a reasonable price.
  4. Child care: Young parents with small children and big mortgages generally don’t get a night to themselves very often. Offer to babysit so they can go out for a quiet dinner or agree to take the kids for a weekend so they can plan a mini-vacation out of town.
  5. Consignment stores: Kids stuff is often gently used because children grow out of their clothes and toys long before they wear out. My daughter recently found a great pair of red winter boots in perfect condition for our granddaughter for only a few dollars at a consignment store.
  6. Business cards: How often have you wanted to exchange telephone numbers or email addresses with someone but couldn’t find a pen or a piece of paper? Business cards are handy to have whether you are a teenager, stay at home Mom or a small business owner. Card stock is available from any office supplies store and you can download templates for your colour or black and white printer.
  7. Magazine subscriptions: Magazine subscriptions are a great inexpensive gift that keeps on giving for a whole year. For example a new subscription to Chatelaine is only $14.95 for 12 issues and it includes access to a digital edition you can download on your iPad.
  8. Potted plant: Cut flowers will brighten up the house, particularly in the depths of winter but potted plants will last a lot longer if properly cared for. In fact by February, I usually toss out my poinsettia because I’m more than ready for daffodils and hyacinths. Most grocery and gourmet stores have a great selection of seasonal plants.
  9. Groupon: You can purchase discount coupons for half off or more on Groupon and other similar sites. Spa, haircut, belly dancing classes or dance lessons anyone?
  10. Kitchen gadgets: Spatulas, corkscrews, vegetable peelers, bag clips, tongs, whisks or a turkey baster. A trip to a dollar store, department store or specialty kitchen store can uncover a treasure trove of kitchen gadgets in all price ranges for stocking stuffers.

Whatever items you decide on for the people on your list, consider starting your shopping early and buying at least some items online. Companies like Amazon and Chapters deliver for free for orders above a certain amount and it sure beats finding a parking spot and carrying heavy bags around a mall.

If your friends or relatives live out of town, the added advantage is you can have a wrapped package delivered directly to them.

Do you have any ideas for inexpensive Christmas gifts that will wow your friends and relatives? Share your money saving tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

Beginning in January we will be mixing things up a bit, and in addition to blogs that discuss ways to save money so you can save more for retirement, we will be interviewing our favourite financial bloggers, reviewing books that will help you better manage your finances and rolling out a monthly Retirement Savings 101 series.

The team at Saskatchewan Pension Plan wishes you a happy, healthy holiday season.

Dec 9: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin


Holiday shopping is in full swing. Even if you managed to sidestep the malls in November, few have been able to avoid the lure of Black Friday which seems to have crossed the border and taken root in this country.

But folks who blow their budget in December often regret it in January. Here is what some of our favourite bloggers have to say about ways to downplay consumerism and share more economically with the ones you love.

On Squawkfox Kerry K. Taylor has posted the introductory blog of five that will fire back at what she calls “seasonal nonsense.” She has 60 comments already on what bugs people about holiday consumerism. Stay tuned for the next four installments.

The Brighter Life staff offers some smart ways to combine a little thought with your thriftiness. For example, set limits, get cooking and give the gift of time.

Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist provides links to over a dozen websites and guides with hundreds of strategies for a simpler Christmas.

And Chris Tecmire who blogs on $imple Family Finance shares 14 ways to simplify Christmas that will help manage your laundry list of things to do so you can bring back your inner child and truly enjoy this time of celebration.

But Laura Vanderkam is not planning to mess around with her family’s Christmas traditions. She says she will not be simplifying Christmas this year Because it only comes once a year and because she is naturally cheap, extreme frugality is not needed or warranted.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere. Share the information with us on and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Real or artificial Christmas tree? The pros and cons

By Sheryl Smolkin


I am probably the wrong person to be writing about the pros and cons of real vs. artificial Christmas trees because we never celebrated Christmas or had a tree. Instead we lit Chanukah candles for eight nights and ate too many potato latkes (pancakes).

However, my research reveals that that the “real vs. artificial tree” debate is a perennial one, and the issues are somewhat different than I initially expected.

From purely a cost perspective, there seems little doubt that purchasing a well-constructed, long-lasting artificial tree is less expensive than buying a real tree every Christmas. In fact, in a Moneysense article published last December, Stefan Dubowski suggests that an artificial tree can be as much as $400 cheaper over 10 years.

He also notes that artificial trees are cleaner, there are no needles to gather up and no water reservoir that leaks or spills all over the presents. And it is less of a hazard because most artificial trees are fire resistant, whereas real trees dry out, making them more likely to burn.

He outlines characteristics you should look for in an artificial tree and recommends a pre-lit tree so you can avoid wrestling with tangled strings of lights each year. After reviewing four high-end trees sold last year at major Canadian retailers, he concludes that the Martha Stewart Living Pre-Lit Sparkling Pine Tree from Home Depot ($289) has the longest warranty (five years on the tree and two years on the lights) and is the best value overall.

But what about the environmental impact of real vs. artificial trees?

Some might make the case for fake trees because they are re-used every year and thus don’t generate the waste of their real counterparts. But fake trees are typically made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is one of the most environmentally offensive forms of non-renewable, petroleum derived plastic.

Several known carcinogens may be generated during PVC production polluting neighbourhoods near factory sites, many of which are in China. Furthermore, fake trees are not recyclable or biodegradable, so when they are disposed of they will fill up landfill sites for an indefinite period.

In contrast, the Saskatchewan Christmas Tree Growers Association reminds us that:

  • Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource.
  • For every real Christmas tree harvested, up to three seedlings are planted in its place the following spring.
  • Real trees are environmentally friendly. They produce oxygen, sequester carbon, provide shelter for wildlife, help control erosion and are biodegradable.

However, what is more important is that selecting, bringing home and decorating a real tree is an important part of the holiday tradition for many families. Buying a tree at a department store and reassembling it every year may be a cheaper option over time, but opting for a real tree instead of an artificial tree is a decision you make with your heart.

Want to weigh in on the real vs. artificial debate? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

13-Nov Holiday gifts Ways to save money on winter driving
20-Dec Transportation Ways to save money on gas
27-Dec Coupons Coupon websites that can save you money

Dec 2: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin


Whether you are early in your career or counting the months until you retire, all of us are searching for the magic elixir that will allow us to retire well and retire happy. Here are some retirement tips from the blogosphere that may help you on your journey.

On, Dave Dineen says Retirement is the time to focus on your passion. It doesn’t matter what you are interested in whether it’s basket-weaving, skydiving, volunteering, quilting or oil painting. He also suggests that you talk to your financial advisor about reflecting your passions in your retirement plan. Retirement is no time to put off what makes you happy because you are not sure you can afford it.

Retirehappy blogger Jim Yih offers his Ten ideas to a successful and happy retirement. The top two on his list are plan ahead and be conservative in your assumptions.

Bob is retired and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife of 37 years. His Retirement advice is 7 things you shouldn’t do. For example, he says don’t try to copy your parent’s or your friend’s retirement and don’t count on financial promises and performance to remain unchanged.

Diane explores what she has learned about retirement in the last two years on her blog A new chapter. She says quitting her job, selling the house, leaving friends and moving to a new city 500 miles away has been a lot of change.  Even now it’s a bit lonely living far away from those friends, but she tries to keep in touch. And she continues to work on making new friends.

Several years after Retired Syd retired the first time, she went back to work for two years. Now she is fully retired again. In Cycling through retirement she talks about how important it is not to get into a rut.

She says, “I can’t play piano, or go out every night, or stay home with the TV every night, or travel, or do anything day after day after day.  I need to cycle back and forth between new and old passions.  I need to cycle back and forth between periods of high activity and slower paced ones. Heck, I’ve even cycled between work and retirement in my retirement.”

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere. Share the information with us on and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

The latest scams and how to avoid them

By Sheryl Smolkin


Many people believe that fraudulent schemes are isolated incidents that could never happen to them. But if you’ve read Will Ferguson’s 2012 Giller prize-winning book 419 about Nigeria’s Internet scams you’ll know better.

Cons intended to separate you from your money are big business. The Better Business Bureau and partner organizations investigate thousands of scams every year, from the latest gimmicks to schemes as old as the hills. So does the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), a joint operation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Competition Bureau.  The agency collects information and criminal intelligence on “mass marketing fraud” aimed at multiple victims.

In the first six months of 2012 the CAFC received almost 21,000 complaints of mass marketing fraud with losses of over $30 million. Another 11,500 claims related to identity fraud/identity theft and cost victims $7.5 million. “These calls represent only about 5 per cent of the people who have been duped,” says Det. Con. John Schultz who is part of the CAFC team.

The Better Business Bureau has compiled its list of the biggest scams of the year, showing that something that seems good may not live up to its promises.

  1. Top advertising scam: If you place an ad on a free site like Craigslist to sell your car, you may receive a call from unlicensed telemarketers offering to help sell your car. If you accept their offer, you will pay a fee of about $500 for posting to online classifieds you can post yourself at no charge.
  2. Top love scam: You meet someone through a social networking or dating site who turns out to be from a faraway place. They fall in love with you in a very short time. The person gains your trust and asks for money to travel or help with a family emergency. Victims usually send money through wire transfer.
  3. Top financial scam: Here the person earns the trust of an influential member of a group, family or workplace to use this connection to get their hands on their money. The investment is a fraud, you lose your money and your relationships could be irreparably harmed.
  4. Top online scam: Online financial fraudsters send e-mail spam or they approach you on a social media website or a web forum. The target is consumers who go online for financial advice. Some spam will lead to an internet ad, designed to gather your personal information. A fraudster will later approach you directly about the phony investment.
  5. Top sales scam: “Curbers,” buy old or damaged cars and sell them from parking lots or curbsides, advertising in newspapers and online ads. The buyer is out-of-pocket after realizing the vehicle has a long history of damages, a lien against it or the odometer has been rolled back. In some cases the vehicle may be stolen.
  6. Top youth scam: You receive a text message that invites you to participate in a contest for a great prize. The target is smart-phone users with web-browsing capabilities. You are asked to enter the PIN and later an email address with a link to another site to apply for a credit card. In the end you never receive a credit card and have given out personal information.
  7. Top computer scam: Consumers receive a call with a warning that your computer has been infected with a virus. Then an offer is made to clean your computer for a fee. The target is homeowners who have a computer with an internet connection. The result is that the scammer gets remote access to your computer and will also ask for credit card information for payment.
  8. Top business scam: The business receives an invoice that appears to be past due, when in reality your company has had no dealings with the business listed on the invoice. The target is business owners and busy employees handling accounts payable. The result is that businesses pay a fake invoice or receive more threatening letters about the credit consequences of non-payment.
  9. Top home improvement scam: Rogue door to door contractors will come to your home to seal or repave your driveway or fix your roof with product left over from another job. In some cases they offer a furnace repair that wasn’t requested or a free “inspection.” Targeted home owners are then out-of-pocket for unnecessary work or a poor job that has to be redone
  10. Scam of the year: An email that mentions the Better Business Bureau and says something like “Complaint against your business.” You are asked to either click on a link or open an attachment. If you click on the attachment, you may download a malware virus.

If this list isn’t enough to make you weep and you want to know more, Competition Bureau Canada’s 36-page The Little Black Book of Scams is a helpful resource full of information on how to avoid being caught up in a scam and on how to report fraud to the appropriate authorities.

How can you recognize a scam?

The CAFC says if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For example, you’ve won a big prize in a contest that you don’t recall entering. You are offered a once-in-a-lifetime investment that offers a huge return. You are told that you can buy into a lottery ticket pool that cannot lose.

They also suggest that you watch for these warning signs if you suspect that a relative or friend is being targeted by unscrupulous telemarketers.

  • A marked increase in the amount of mail with too-good-to-be-true offers.
  • Frequent calls offering get-rich-quick schemes or valuable awards, or numerous calls for donations to unfamiliar charities.
  • A sudden inability to pay normal bills.
  • Requests for loans or cash.
  • Banking records that show cheques or withdrawals made to unfamiliar companies.
  • Secretive behaviour regarding phone calls.

Have you, a family member or a friend ever been scammed? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

06-Dec Holiday decorations A real tree or an artificial one?
13-Nov Holiday gifts Ways to save money on winter driving
20-Dec Transportation Ways to save money on gas