Back to school shopping: A teachable moment

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

One end-of-summer ritual for families with school age children is the annual pilgrimage to buy school supplies and fall clothes. But the cost of back-to-school shopping seems to escalate more every year, particularly if name brand clothing, tablet computers and smartphones are on the list.

However, getting ready for the new school term is an ideal time for you to help your child learn the difference between “needs” and “wants.” It is also an opportunity to teach them basic financial literacy skills like budgeting and managing their money.

Start by making a list of what each child requires including school uniforms (if applicable) and school supplies. Then go through closets to see what still fits and what you can salvage from last year. You will likely find clothing items in good condition that are too small for one child but can be used by another. Backpacks and desks may yield a supply of paper, pens and calculators left over from last year.

Then go online with your children to find out the price you can expect to pay for the key items on your list. Check out several different stores to find the best deals. Once you have a price list, create a budget with each child. If you can afford it, you may wish to add some “wiggle room” for unexpected purchases.

Depending on the age of your children, they can shop alone or with you. But regardless of the new gadgets or trendy items they are attracted to, remind them they have to stay on budget. Encourage them to comparison shop and wait for sales if possible to make their money go further.

Try not to shop when you or your children are tired, hungry or pressed for time. In these circumstances, you may end up taking the path of least resistance and overspend just to get it over with.

Here are some other hints for keeping your costs down and making back to school shopping a teachable moment:

  1. Get receipts: You may think you know what school supplies your child needs, but more often than not, this year’s teacher will want something different than the teacher asked for last year (i.e. individual binders for each subject instead of one large binder with dividers). Receipts mean you can easily return anything you don’t need.
  2. Don’t buy everything at once: There are always sales. Children don’t need winter clothing in September, so wait until a better selection at lower prices is available later in the fall. Also, hand-me-downs in good condition will likely surface once other families realize their children can no longer wear last year’s snowsuit.
  3. Name brands: Generally name brands and goods that have logos are more expensive than generic products. However, don’t fully discount your child’s need to conform in order to be accepted. You may be able to meet your child part-way and purchase some of these items at discount malls or end of season sales.
  4. Coupons: Look in the local paper and online for discount coupons. If you or your child have a smart phone, mobile coupons may also be an option.
  5. Lost, damaged items: How many times have you had to purchase a math set because pieces were lost or replace lunch boxes that disappeared on the school bus? Lost cell phones or computers can be particularly expensive to replace.

Some loss or breakage is inevitable. However, you can help your kids to become more responsible if you make it clear that if they are careless they will have to contribute to the cost of replacement items out of their allowance or earnings from a part-time job. Also, make sure that they know that where big ticket items go missing, you may not be able to afford to replace them at all.

Do you have tips for back to school shopping? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR 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:

22-Aug College/University Stay at home or go away to school?
29-Aug College/University Credit card options for your college kid
04-Sept College/University What kinds of insurance does your child need?

July 2013 return

SPP posted a return of 1.67 to the balanced fund (BF) and 0.07 to the short-term fund (STF). The year to date return in the BF is 7.15% and in the STF is 0.34%.

Market index returns for July 2013 were:

Index July 2013 return (%)
S&P/TSX Composite (Canadian equities) 3.19
S&P 500 (C$) (US equities) 2.41
MSCI EAFE (C$)
(Non-north American equities)
2.59
DEX Universe Bond (Canadian bonds) 0.19
DEX 91 day T-bill 0.10

Click here for a complete list of returns.

Aug 12: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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By mid-August we’ve turned the corner on summer and many of us are considering the best ways to save both money and time as we prepare for the busy fall season ahead.

There is nothing like a simple economical home-cooked meal with friends and family to make you happier, according to a study cited on the Chatelaine website.

On Squawkfox blogger extraordinaire Kerry K. Taylor explains SCOP (the  Scanner Price Accuracy Voluntary Code) and how it can help you get groceries up to $10 free if the scanned price of a non-ticketed item is higher than the shelf price or any other displayed price.

If you haven’t started a Registered Educational Savings Plan for your kids yet, check out Jim Yih’s blog on retirehappy.ca. He gives four great reasons why RESPs are a more attractive option than ever for saving towards your children’s education.

If you regularly contribute to RESPs but are contemplating a change to your investment strategy, take a look at Robb Engen’s RESP portfolio on boomer & echo.

And finally, if you just got a new job or a promotion and you are negotiating your salary, don’t miss Salary Negotiation – How a Small Increase Becomes Big Money on shethinksimcheap.com.

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

12 ways to make money on a garage sale

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

I’m pretty sure some people have made a significant amount of money on garage sales but I’m not one of them. When my mother moved from her house to a condo we had garage sales for several weeks running as we cleaned out the house, but they were very demoralizing, particularly for Mom.

It didn’t matter whether the items were treasured keepsakes or formerly expensive items of clothing, nobody wanted to pay more than a dollar or two for anything. In the end it would have been easier to package up most things and give them to a charity or thrift store right away, rather than dealing with a two-stage process.

However, if I had read 14 Ways to Make Money at a Yard Sale before we started, maybe our sales would have been more successful.

Here are some of the better suggestions (in no particular order) that might help you recoup a reasonable amount for all of your efforts:

  1. Get the word out: Put up plenty of signs with the date, address and directions at major intersections. Create a Facebook Event Page. Put an ad in a community or neighbourhood paper. Post information about the sale on Kiji or Craigslist in your area with pictures of some of the big ticket items.
  2. Display: Display items attractively. Avoid cardboard boxes with a jumble of things by using folding tables. Borrow or rent hanging racks for clothing. While it is preferable to have everything out on the driveway or front lawn so passing drivers can easily see what you are selling, make sure you have garage space to quickly store things if it looks like rain.
  3. What’s not on sale: If possible, move or cover anything that is not for sale. If your garden tools or children’s bikes are visible you may turn your back for a minute and find they have been taken or sold for a pittance by mistake.
  4. Check the pockets: Make sure none of the items you are selling have money or other valuable items like jewelry in the pockets. Also watch for credit card receipts or any other documents that could lead to identity theft.
  5. Electrical appliances: Are you getting rid of a blender, toaster or Aunt Minny’s heating pad? Plug an extension cord into an electrical outlet so potential buyers can be sure that the item works.
  6. Pricing: Price items by groups. For example, $2 for paperback books or 3 for $5. All items of children’s clothing for $2. Make sure there are labels with clearly visible prices so prospective buyers will not have to ask you about every item. If you are selling an expensive object or piece of art, tape a newspaper ad or computer print-out to illustrate its value.
  7. Holding items: Only hold items for a buyer if they give you at least a 50% non-refundable deposit and specify how long you will hold the item for. Get the person’s cell phone number and full name so you can check in with him if he does not arrive by the allotted time.
  8. Closing the deal: Be sure to have ample bills and coins available for making change and provide shopping bags and card board boxes for toting items home. Don’t leave a money box around. It is preferable to wear a belly pack.
  9. Bargaining: Everyone wants to bargain. But early in the day don’t be afraid to say that you think the item is worth the price you set but you may be more flexible later in the afternoon. If an item is big and awkward to move consider taking less to get rid of it as soon as possible.
  10. Free drinks: Buy a few cases of water or soda and put them on ice in a cooler. Advertise that every buyer also gets a free drink. You may be surprised how many people may be more inclined to browse longer and even buy something on a hot day.
  11. Music: Draw attention to your sale. Play music in the background to entice buyers and keep them relaxed and shopping for more items.
  12. Get help: The problem when we ran garage sales for Mom was that we were simultaneously cleaning the house. I think the sales would have been more successful if we had people doing nothing but selling who could also help us pack up at the end of the day.
  13. Cash and carry: Post a sign that all sales are final and that all purchases must be paid for and removed from your premises on the day of sale.

Do you have tips for people planning yard or garage sales? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR 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:

15-Aug Back to school Back to school shopping: A teachable moment
22-Aug College/University Stay at home or go away to school?
29-Aug College/University Credit card options for your college kid

Aug 5: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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The weather is about as good as it gets across Canada in early August, but it won’t be long before the leaves start to fall and temperatures plummet. That’s when some of us start wondering if we can afford retire somewhere warm.

If you are starting to do the research, take a look at the two part series The Pros, Cons, and Considerations of an International Retirement and 10 Best International Places to Retire on TopRetirements.com.

The pros and cons of Ecuador as a retirement destination is on the Wall Street Journal blog called MarketWatch so it is primarily geared to Americans, but there is also lots of useful information for other expats.

Another interesting U.S. post from the N.Y. Times considers how you can go abroad to places like Vietnam and Australia but keep working during at least the early part of your retirement.

But when it comes right down to it, even a tropical climate can’t replace close friends and family. That’s why you may decide to stay put and retire where everyone knows your name.

Regardless of where you decide to hang your hat for the next chapter, see seven habits of happily retired people shared by Brighter Life blogger Dave Dineen. He advocates trying new things, looking after yourself, caring for others and staying engaged.

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

What to do on your staycation

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

I am convinced that there are two kinds of people in this world. The first group includes workaholics who never use up all of their paid vacation days. The second group carefully plans how each vacation day will be used and yearns for more.

This dichotomy was recently illustrated in the results of the 2013 Expedia.ca Vacation Deprivation Survey which revealed that employed Canadians forfeit an average of two days of vacation per year which could be used to relax or travel. This amounts to 32 million untaken days and $5.1 billion in wages handed back to employers.

Yet many Canadians show a strong desire to take time off, with one in five employed Canadians saying they would take a lower salary for more vacation time (22 per cent). Also, “an extra vacation day” tops the list of perks employees would like to receive as a reward for company loyalty.

In many organizations vacation days cannot be carried over to the next year, so it’s “use it or lose it.” But even if you can’t afford to take expensive trips to exotic locations, there are plenty of good options for taking a staycation close to home.

Wikipedia describes a staycation as “a period in which you or your family stays home and participates in leisure activities within driving distance, sleeping in your own beds at night.” You might make day trips to local tourist sites, swimming venues or engage in activities such as horseback riding, paintball or visiting museums.

The benefits of staycations are that they are far less costly than a vacation involving travel. There are no lodging costs and travel expenses are minimal. However, to make it feel like a vacation, budget for local trips, one or two meals out and tickets to local attractions.

Since 2011 the Government of Saskatchewan has funded the “Saskatchewanderer” project. One creative, energetic and motivated student has been hired each summer to discover everything that makes Saskatchewan great. Their job was to visit, video and blog about special events, little known gems and remote locations in the province.

You can learn from their experience. Andrew’s 2011 Adventure, Jeff’s 2012 Adventure and Caitlin’s 2013 Adventure include lots of terrific ideas about things to do on your staycation regardless of what part of the province you live in. Also check out the The Saskatchewanderer on Facebook.

Already this summer, a few of the places and events Caitlin has visited include Regina’s 46th Annual Mosaic: A Festival of Cultures; the PotashCorp Children’s Festival in Saskatoon; Grasslands National Park; and Hudson Bay, SK.

In contrast, Jonathan Chevreau, the editor of Moneysense and author of Findependence Day has a different take on staycations. In a blog posted on June 17th, he says one type of staycation is where you continue to work, but on your own projects rather than for your employer. You can also tackle various chores or home improvement projects.

If you still have a day job but have reached the point where you have several weeks of paid vacation a year, Chevreau says you may find a working staycation is an excellent trial run for retirement. He wrote the first edition of Findependence Day in the summer of 2008 during paid vacation weeks from his newspaper staff columnist job.

Whether you decide to travel on your vacation or spend the time working on pet projects closer to home, don’t forfeit paid vacation days. In years to come, no one will have fond memories of the extra time you put in at the office. But your children and your grandchildren will remember your quality time together, even if you went no further than the pup tent pitched in the front yard.

Do you have tips for people planning staycations? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR 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:

8-Aug Garage sales How to make money on your garage sale
15-Aug Back to school Back to school shopping: A teachable moment
22-Aug College/University Stay at home or go away to school?

Jul 29: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Whether you live in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba or Ontario you have either been the victim of extreme weather or know someone who has. We have experienced recent power outages in both Toronto and Muskoka.

In case you  ever lose of power for a prolonged period, keep the link to this blog by Hollie Pollard, the Common Sense Mom. She explains what to throw out after a power outage and when.

Blogger Victoria Gazely writes in Modern Homesteading about Disaster Prep and Emergency Preparedness in 7 Simple Steps. There are some great ideas that range from putting together a 72-hour kit to making sure you are equipped for medical emergencies.

Robert on Canadian Dream Free at 45 recently came back from helping with cleanup in High River, Alberta. Although at first blush so many people have lost everything, he says education/skills, work ethic and optimism are things they can take anywhere to help them build a new life.

Due to recent hail damage, Rob Engen’s car has a roadmap of new dents and dings. He explains on boomer & echo why it makes good financial sense to take a cash settlement for the damages instead of paying the deductible and getting the vehicle fixed.

And finally, the big news this week is that Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox has moved from her charming rural farm to the big, bad city of Toronto. It seems there are better business opportunities for her and Carl (a computer science grad.) Kerry is looking forward to all the city stuff she wants to do with her daughter and we can look forward to a whole new series of witty blogs about frugal urban living.

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

The why, when, and how of telecommuting

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

I have worked from home for over eight years – first as a magazine editor and now as a freelance workplace journalist. I certainly don’t miss the daily commute and my co-workers Simba (the cat) and Rufus (the dog) are great companions.

Telecommuting saves me time and transportation costs plus I don’t need a business wardrobe. But don’t just take my word for it.

In April 2011 the Telework Research Network in collaboration with Calgary Economic Development released a study that revealed twice weekly telecommuting could save Canadian companies, employees and the community over $53 billion dollars a year, reduce greenhouse gasses by the equivalent of taking 385 thousand cars off the roads and save approximately 390 million litres of gas

That means Canadian employers can see savings of $10,000 per two-day-a-week telecommuter annually. Employees who telework can also expect savings between $600 – $3,500 per year through reduced commuting and work-related expenses.

A 2013 BMO poll reveals that 23% of Saskatchewan employers offer telecommuting. Companies that offer telecommuting by sector are:

  • 28%: Business/finance
  • 14%: Manufacturing
  • 14%: Retail
  • 13%: Services
  • 3%:  Agri-business

However, not every job lends itself to working remotely either full or part-time. For example, job tasks that that have been identified as appropriate for telecommuting include writing and editing; data entry and transcription; online research; data analysis; and inbound and outbound telephoning. A chef, waitress, construction worker or police officer certainly does not have the same latitude to work offsite.

It also takes self-discipline and commitment to work effectively from home. Many telecommuting advocates say they are more productive when they are not distracted by the hustle and bustle of an office. Nevertheless, there are definitely people for whom the negative aspects of telecommuting outweigh the advantages.

If you don’t have a separate home office where you can comfortably work away from kids, dogs and the doorbell, you may feel like you are always at work or always at home. I know I find it hard to resist checking my email at 10:30 PM when I pass my office on the way to the bedroom.

Another reason for decreased productivity at home may occur if you need the structure of the office environment to work efficiently or if an office is your major source of social interaction. Informal interactions with co-workers can also be an important source of information about the needs of your internal and external clients.

So if you think the “pros” of occasional or regular teleworking outweigh the “cons,” how can you make the business case to your boss?

  1. Analyze your job: Review the components of your job on a daily or a weekly basis. Be prepared to explain how you can do research, writing and telephone work from home, but come to the office for scheduled client and internal meetings.
  2. Your home office: Reassure your boss that you have a suitable, private working space with an internet hookup and telephone. More and more people are opting to get rid of their landlines, but if you will be handling a large volume of local and long distance customer service calls, a landline with a headset may still be preferable.
  3. Technology: Most companies now allow employees to dial into the office network and/or their own desktop machine so they can work seamlessly, regardless of where they are on any particular day. Nevertheless, check with your IT department to find out if they can recommend solutions for backing up your computer and any potential security issues.
  4. Stay in touch: Teleconferences, Skype and live chats with your group are all ways to stay in touch, even when informal meetings are scheduled on days when you are working from home.
  5. Performance measures: Make sure out of sight is not out of mind. Clearly establish with your supervisor how your performance will be evaluated. Performance measures should be based not solely on input (the number of hours you work) but on output (work done, projects completed and contributions to the organization’s goals and objectives).
  6. Pilot project: Set some goals, try out the proposed arrangement for a few months and then reassess. This will ensure both you and the company have an exit strategy if telecommuting turns out to be a less than optimum arrangement.

Do you have tips for telecommuters or teleworkers? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR 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:

1-Aug Vacation Staycation ideas that can save you money
8-Aug Garage sales How to make money on your garage sale
15-Aug Back to school Back to school shopping: A teachable moment

June 2013 return

SPP posted a return of -1.13 to the balanced fund (BF) and 0.05 to the short-term fund (STF). The year to date return in the BF is 5.38% and in the STF is 0.27%.

Market index returns for June 2013 were:

Index Jun 2013 return (%)
S&P/TSX Composite (Canadian equities) -3.76
S&P 500 (C$) (US equities) 0.70
MSCI EAFE (C$)
(Non-north American equities)
-1.56
DEX Universe Bond (Canadian bonds) -2.03
DEX 91 day T-bill 0.08

Click here for a complete list of returns.

Jul 22: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

blogospheregraphic

In this week’s Best from the Blogosphere, we highlight blogs and blog posts that can help you plan frugal vacations.

On Boomer & Echo, read money saving tips from a budget savvy traveler. For example, take a look at Skyscanner.ca when searching for cheap flights between cities.  They list all carriers including budget airlines which normally don’t show up on sites such as Expedia and Kayak.

In an archived blog on Frugal Wanderer, Krystal Yee reviews AirBnB, a peer-to-peer website for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodation around the world at any price point. From a spare room in someone’s house to a oceanside villa, she says there is something for everyone and there are listings in more than 19,000 cities and 192 different countries.

Perhaps you have been contemplating buying a summer cottage. Retire happy blogger Jim Yee says buying vacation property is something that should be well thought out because of the financial impact it can have on your retirement planning. Do the math and consider how much time you will actually spend there.

Spending money you don’t have on even a frugal vacation can blow your annual budget. That’s why Gail Vaz Oxlade says if you’re worried about how much your summer trip is going to cost, you probably shouldn’t take it. Instead, consider a staycation.

Finally, if you think following your travel dreams is impossible, then Myscha Theriault  says you haven’t checked out these eleven Canadian bloggers. They’ve travelled the country, and the world. What’s more, they’ve chronicled all of it for your inspiration.

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