Tag Archives: Alberta

Rent vs Buy: A Reprise

By Sheryl Smolkin

Last year when I wrote about the buy vs. rent dilemma which most of us have confronted at some stage of our life, the five questions I suggested that readers consider were:

  1. How big is your down payment?
  2. How much house can you afford?
  3. Is your job secure?
  4. What are your family plans?
  5. What if interest rates go up?

All of those things are still important, but in the last year dramatic changes in both the Saskatchewan and Alberta rental and housing markets due to the drop in the price of oil may influence your decision.

For example, a report released at the end of last year from the real estate company Re Max says house prices in Regina and Saskatoon have dipped compared to a year ago because there are more properties on the market.

In Saskatoon a recent flurry of construction activity “has created market conditions modestly favoring the buyer,” the report says. “Currently, there are four months of inventory on the market and inventory is expected to increase as more of these new builds come to market next year.” The study also notes that the average sale price for a home in Saskatoon was $361,000 last year. However, by December 2015 it was $354,000 — a two percent drop.

Moreover, the report found similar market conditions in Regina, where there has been a lot of new construction taking place. “High inventory kept Regina in a buyer’s market throughout 2015,” the report says. Prices also dipped in Regina, by about three percent compared to 2014. An average Regina home was $329,000 last year and that figure has now dropped down to $320,000. For 2016, Re Max predicts that in both cities average prices will likely remain the same as for the previous year.

Recently interviewed on Breakfast TV Calgary, blogger Bridget Eastgaard said, “Assuming house prices stay down as long as oil prices remain low and layoffs continue to happen [in Calgary] which is unfortunate, it will give you more time to save and invest so you can accumulate the down payment you need to get the house you want.”

With Saskatchewan experiencing a similar downturn, her advice will also resonate with savewithspp.com readers. “If you are uncertain about your own job security now is a good time to wait it out and see what happens in the next year,” Eastgaard said.

Fortunately, if you do opt to continue renting in the short or long-term, the Saskatoon Landlord Association says it’s a tenant’s market with vacancy rates doubling in the city over the last year. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the vacancy rate went from 3.4% to 6.5% from October 2014 to October 2015. Chandra Lockhart, executive officer with the landlord association attributes this glut in rental properties to the large number of new, unsold houses and condominiums that have been flipped into rentals.

That means renters have lots of leverage Eastgaard says. “You can pick and choose. You also have the bargaining chips to negotiate perks like parking spaces, utilities included or even ask for the first month rent free.”

So how do you decide?

If you have already saved a 10% or 15% down payment, it may be an ideal time to buy your first home or trade up. But if you are not quite ready, don’t be in a rush. Lots of great rental stock means you can find a nice place to live and you don’t have to worry that you will be priced out of the market in the immediate future.

 

Jan 25: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Even on a vacation cruise in South America for the last several weeks it was difficult to avoid media reports about the plunging stock markets in both the U.S. and Canada and the drop in value of the Canadian dollar.

On the Financial Independence Hub, Ermos Erotocritou, a Regional Director with investors Group Financial Services Inc. reminds readers that it’s reasonable to monitor day-to-day events, but it’s imperative to keep in mind that daily, weekly, monthly, even quarterly market movements are often little more than noise for an investment portfolio that likely has a time horizon of many years. That’s why it’s so important to practice patience and discipline by remaining in the market, as opposed to abandoning it or believing that is the best way to preserve wealth.

Dan from Our Big Fat Wallet shares Lessons from a Financial Downturn from the perspective of an Alberta resident. First of all, he says “cash is king” because the more cash you have, the more flexibility it gives you. He also notes that with stock prices and housing prices falling in some areas, the emergency fund has suddenly taken on more importance. And finally, he acknowledges that investing is emotional but suggests that investors who are able to separate their emotions from investing have the potential to make impressive returns in a downturn.

In the Toronto Star, Gordon Pape also agrees that “cash is king” in times like these. He says it’s fine to be all-in when markets are positive, even if the growth isn’t robust. But in times of great uncertainty and high volatility such as we are currently experiencing, he likes to have some cash in reserve to cushion any stock losses and to deploy as buying opportunities appear.

It’s an economic downturn — not the Apocalypse, Alan Freeman reminds readers of iPolitics. He says, “This isn’t 2008, when we were facing the very real threat of the global financial system collapsing entirely. This is just an old-fashioned economic downturn — even if it will be quite painful for some in the short term.” Freeman comments that because Canadians depend on resources for a big chunk of our economic activity, we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re at the mercy of commodity prices. “Oil and metal prices that soar to unsustainable levels inevitably crash; they’ll recover this time around, as they have in the past, though perhaps not for a few years,” he concludes.

And finally, many people who do not have investments may be less worried about the stock market slide than the plummeting value of the Canadian dollar. In a Canadian Press article published in the National Post, Aleksandra Sagan reports that for every U.S. cent the dollar drops, food like fruits and vegetables that are imported will likely increase one percent or more in cost. While the increased costs have dealt a blow to everyone’s wallet, they have had a more pronounced effect on Canadians living on a tight budget or in remote regions, where fresh fruit and vegetables are more expensive than in more urban areas.

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.

Public pensions not enough, most Canadians say

By Sheryl Smolkin

While most (94%) Canadians aged 55 to 75 ‘agree’ that they would ‘like to have guaranteed income for life’ when they retire, a new Ipsos poll* conducted on behalf of RBC Insurance finds that just two in ten (22%) Canadians agree that ‘Canadian public pension plans (such as CPP/QPP/OAS) will provide enough retirement income’ for them. In fact, most (78%) disagree that these pension plans will suffice.

It’s no surprise then that six in ten ‘agree’ that they’re ‘worried about outliving their retirement savings’, while four in ten ‘disagree’ that they’re worried. Women (66%) are considerably more likely than men (50%) to be worried about outliving their savings, as are those aged 55 to 64 (62%) compared to those aged 65 to 75 (52%).

Atlantic Canadians (67%) are most worried about outliving their retirement savings, followed by those in Ontario (63%), Alberta (60%), Quebec (59%), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (58%) and finally British Columbia (41%).

One way of supplementing retirement income is through the use of an annuity, but many Canadians aged 55 to 75 appear in the dark about what an annuity is and how it might help them. In fact, six in ten say ‘that they ‘don’t know much about annuities’, while four in ten disagree that they lack knowledge in this area.

Women (71%) are significantly more likely than men (51%) to say they don’t know much about annuities, as are those aged 55 to 64 (66%) compared to those aged 65 to 75 (55%). Albertans (75%) are most likely to admit they don’t know much about annuities, followed by those living in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (71%).

Responses to this quiz also confirm that many Canadians lack fundamental knowledge about annuities. Just 55% of Canadians were able to answer more than half of the questions correctly, and only 6% got all six questions right. British Columbians (62%) were most likely to pass the test, followed by those in Quebec (57%), Ontario (54%), Atlantic Canada (53%), Alberta (52%) and finally Saskatchewan and Manitoba (49%).

  • Just four in ten believe that it is true that they need a licensed insurance advisor to buy an annuity. In contrast, six in ten believe this is false – when in fact, it is true.
  • Seven in ten correctly believe it’s true that there are potential tax savings to investing in annuities, while 29% incorrectly believe this to be false.
  • Half incorrectly believe it’s true that annuities last for a specific period of time, while the other half believes this is false, which is the correct answer.
  • Seven in ten correctly believe it’s true that annuities can provide guaranteed income for life, while three in ten incorrectly believe this to be false.
  • Half think it’s true that annuities are not a good investment during low interest rate environments, while the other half correctly believes this to be false.
  • Three quarters correctly believe it’s true that they can invest in an annuity using their RRSP and/or RRIF savings, while 27% incorrectly think this is false.

Despite the majority being uneasy about their retirement savings, just one in three agrees that they are exploring or considering annuities as part of their retirement plan, while most (65%) are not. One quarter say they have an annuity.

Members of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan can opt at retirement to receive an annuity payable for life. Life only, refund and joint survivor annuities are available.

*These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between August 7 to 14, 2015 on behalf of RBC Insurance. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 55 to 75 from Ipsos’ Canadian online panel was interviewed online.

Should you pay your tuition with Aeroplan points?

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you know someone heading off to University of Regina, Saskatchewan Polytechnic (or several other participating Canadian universities and colleges) you may be interested to know that Aeroplan points can now be used to pay their tuition. Ontario and Alberta students can also use Aeroplan points to pay down student loans. The service is operated online by HigherEDPoints.com.

When I initially read about this option in the Toronto Star my first reaction was that no students I know can afford to travel frequently enough to rack up a slew of airline points. But after reading further, I discovered that grandparents, parents and other generous benefactors can also convert points into cash and direct the money to the student of their choice so I was curious enough to find out more about how the program works.

Aeroplan’s Beyond Miles Charitable Pooling Program also allows students and institutions to “crowd-source” donations of Aeroplan Miles by setting up a Pooling Account for individuals in need. Each Charitable Pooling account will be able to run a Contribution Campaign once a year.

A campaign runs for a duration of 30 days and allows the charity to set a specific mileage goal. If the charity reaches 90% of their targeted goal through donations within the 30 day period, Aeroplan will contribute by donating 10% to ensure the goal is met.

The HigherEd.com site even includes a draft email for students who would like to solicit Aeroplan points from friends and family to help pay their school expenses. One plus seems to be there is no charge to donate points, whereas if you simply want to transfer Aeroplan points between accounts there is a charge of $.02 per mile.

But at an exchange rate of 35,000 Aeroplan points for $250, a student will need an awful lot of points to make a dent in annual tuition of $5,000 or an accumulated student loan of $35,000 or more. Furthermore, when you do the math, it becomes apparent that it makes more sense to give your child, grandchild or community member a cheque.

That’s because spending 35,000 Aeroplan points for a credit of only $250 (which works out to a reward of only .007 or 7/10 of a cent per mile) is not the best way to get good value for your hard-earned loyalty points.

Calculations on Flightfox, illustrate that depending on the cost of the ticket and the distance you are traveling, you can realize anything from 1.4 cents per mile on cheap round–trip flights within Canada and the Continental U.S.A. to 1.84 cents per mile on an international economy flight. Pricey international business class flights that cost over $6,000 (or 135,000 Aeroplan) miles can result in a return on your investment of about 4.53 cents per mile.

According to Suzanne Tyson, founder of Higher Ed Points who was quoted in the Toronto Star article, already some $120,000 in tuition and student loan offsets have been converted through this plan. She also notes that one Toronto employer cashed in his Aeroplan points and put them toward summer course tuition for three students.

Apr 13: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

There were several interesting provincial budgets this week with provisions impacting the cost of health care for seniors.

The Saskatchewan budget removed 6,000 seniors from the province’s drug plan. Previously the threshold of $80,255 was the cutoff for the drug plan. Anyone with a taxable income in excess of that amount was not eligible for the program. Now, the threshold will be lowered to $65,515.

The Alberta budget added a new Health Care Contribution Levy payable through the income tax system that will cost each Albertan up to $1,000 per year. Coverage and eligibility for provincial public health care programs remain unchanged. Unlike the previous Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan premium eliminated after 2008 that was a flat fee for individuals, the Levy has a progressive structure (See Table at p.87). Each member of a family filing an income tax return who has income over $50,000 will be subject to the levy and seniors are not exempt.

On another note, Mr. Money Moustache, a Canadian blogger living in the U.S. was recently profiled in the Globe & Mail. He and his wife retired at age 30. He says A Lifetime of Riches is As Simple As a Few Habits. This means doing less pointless driving around in your car and making fewer visits to restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. He also says alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, TV watching, video game playing, procrastination, unhealthy eating, sedentary living, and unnecessary shopping are other habits that stand between the average person and a truly wealthy life.

On Brighter Life, Sun Life VP Kevin Press presents blogs that will refresh your understanding of employee pension plans and employee benefit plans. He notes that Canadians who do not enjoy employer-sponsored benefit plan membership are at a significant disadvantage because provincial plans provide limited levels of coverage. What’s more, your reimbursements for health and dental claims are not taxable. So you’re almost always better off if your employer sponsors a plan versus paying you a higher salary.

And finally, an interesting post on Our Big Fat Wallet about getting compensated for a flight delay. Dan booked his ticket with Travelocity and he was not notified when the return flight was cancelled. Fortunately, the airline re-booked him several hours later and he received a $100 rebate from Travelocity and $75 from his Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite card that provides coverage of up to $500 per trip for trip delays of four hours or more.

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.

 

Jul 29: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

blogospheregraphic

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.