Tag Archives: Costco

Jan 30: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

The thing about January is that everyone is either trying to get physically, mentally or financially fit, although some people are closer to the end game than others. Here’s what some of our favourite bloggers wrote about saving money and reaching other goals in 2017.

In How to Save Money on Groceries: 10 Easy Ways to Cut Your Bill in Half Tom Drake gives the usual advice, such as make a list and stick to it, try private label brands and buy case lots of products you use regularly. But he says you can also kill two birds with one stone by eating less so your grocery bill goes down.

Stephan Weyman says one of the reasons he shops at Costco is the company’s “no questions asked, crazy return policy.” For example, the company took back a three year old recumbent bicycle that broke down two years before and he got a $500 refund. He has also successfully returned a bicycle purchased for his wife that turned into a garage ornament for $200; cushioned floor mats, and frying pans that were supposed to be professional quality and didn’t hold up.

On Give me back my five bucks, Krystal says her primary 2017 goals are to have a fun year full of travel and adventure. She plans to stay debt free and continue to save save at least $1,650/month in her RRSP/TFSA. She also resolves to curb impulse spending, continue to be active and keep in better touch with friends.

Cait Flanders (formerly Blonde on a Budget) who paid off her $28,000 of debt in two and a half years and in July 2014 completed a year- long shopping ban, plans to make 2017 the year of slow living.

Each month, she is going to experiment with slowing down in one area of her life. Some of the different things she will experiment with are: slow food, slow mornings, slow evenings, slow movement, slow technology and slow money. “The only thing I won’t do is make a list of what I’m going to work on each month. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s to trust my gut,” Flanders says.

And finally, Tim Stobbs has documented progress towards his early retirement goal on Canadian Dream: Free at 45 for several years. He hopes 2017 is the last year of his full-time working career. However, he is beginning to notice a new emotion in the people around him: fear. He gets the usual well-meaning queries like:

  • Are you sure you have enough saved?
  • What happens if you don’t get a part time job?
  • What will you do with unexpected expenses?
  • Maybe you should work just one more year?

But Stobbs figures the worse that can happen is that he will have to go back to work for a few years. “I fully admit I may not have enough saved to head into semi-retirement,” he says.  “But I don’t want to live a life based on fear of the unknown.  I’m willing to try out something new and see what happens. “


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.

Mar 30: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Lots of good reading this week from the blogosphere.

If you are not sure what kind of pension plan you have or how it works, take a look at how employee pension plans work by Kevin Press on Brighter Life.

Retire Happy guest blogger and pension analyst Sean Cooper writes about three costly pension mistakes and how to avoid them. For example, if possible wait until you vest in your pension benefits (two years in Saskatchewan) before leaving or taking early retirement.

Michael James on Money helps you to calculate the interest rate your annuity is actually paying. He likes the idea of reducing longevity risk by purchasing an annuity but he says that according to his calculations the payouts on annuities seem much too low.

You have the ring and you are planning the wedding but do you have a joint financial plan? Diane O’Leary, guest blogger on the Financial Independence Hub discusses financial planning for young couples serious about their future together.

And finally, on Million Dollar Journey, Frugal Trader shares how his family of four lives on one government salary. It certainly helps that they have paid off all of their student loans and they have been mortgage-free since 2010. He also thinks twice before making impulse buys at Costco.

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.

 

Feb 9: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Rufus at home – photo by Charles Troster

Well it actually reached +1 degree yesterday and I had a “spring” in my step. However its back to -15 plus who knows what wind chill, so I’ve had to downsize my expectations and put on another layer. Even in his new sweater, our cockapoo Rufus says it’s too #’%!@ cold to stay out for long.

By the way, if you’ve never watched the Rick Mercer clip RMR: Seven Day Forecast – YouTube, it’s a “must see” that will warm up your day.

I’ve just discovered Patricia Gass’s blog Let’s talk About Money. If you are close to retirement or already there, you will enjoy her Reflections From The Early Days Of Spending In Retirement, Part 1 and Reflections From The Early Days Of Spending In Retirement, Part 2. She says running out of money in retirement is NOT an option, especially for the “conservative accountant” in her.

On a similar theme, Kira Vermond from the Globe and Mail writes about Personal financial rules that help stop you from spending too much money. Many of us play simple mind tricks on ourselves and create rules to save money, whether at the checkout counter or in our bank account. How about the Costco customer who decides she will forgo a push cart while shopping there so she’s not tempted to overspend? Her rule: If she can’t lift it, she won’t buy it.

Don’t Buy A Pre-Sale Condo. Ever. says Nelson Smith on Financial Uproar. His blog was triggered by story in the Toronto Star this week about local home buyers who put a $40,000 deposit on a condo in 2011 and four years later got their deposit back, but no condo because the developer decided to convert it to a rental building.

Mr. CBB on Canadian Budget Binder writes about a Free Trial Offer that Cost a Woman $232 in Credit Card Charges. It seems that she paid $12.00 U.S. for a couple of bottles of diet pills to help get off her post-baby weight. However, she didn’t read the fine print and she was charged $116 twice on her credit card which pushed it over her $500 credit limit. So don’t believe everything you read unless you read everything, and remember rarely, if ever, is there a free lunch.

And if you are still wondering How the Bank of Canada rate cut will affect consumers, wonder no more. Brighter Life editor Brenda Spiering says its bad news for interest-based savings accounts and GICs. But it’s good news for variable rate mortgages and lines of credit.

As for vacations, with the loonie in the cellar and low fuel prices, Rob Carrick at the Globe and Mail says this is the year for a big road trip in See Canada and save money. I think he is onto something. Beautiful Saskatchewan, here I come….

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.

Loyalty programs: Which one is best?

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Canadians love loyalty programs. The 2013 Loyalty Census from the industry research group Colloquy reports that 120 million consumers in this country belong to at least one loyalty program and the average number of loyalty programs per household is 8.2. But the challenge you face is selecting the loyalty programs that will give you the best bang for their bucks.

Typically websites that evaluate loyalty programs either rank programs based on the stated preferences of survey participants or by weighting various features like points per dollar spent and the value you can get when you spend the points in different ways.

But the research company Environics recently developed a “time to reward” algorithm for Colloquy that ups the ante by predicting how many months it actually takes to earn $100 CAD in rewards.

The calculation not only takes into consideration the potential payback from a program, but factors like usage patterns, the ability to double-dip (i.e. get points for the dollar value of your travel purchase plus the number of miles you fly) and how much you buy from a particular retailer.

Initially, over 1000 Canadians surveyed online in March 2014 by Environics were asked to select which of 23 top loyalty programs (14 of which have a non-credit loyalty card only) they used to collect loyalty rewards or dollars in the past three months. The programs in the list had membership of at least one per cent of the Canadian population and multiple programs could be picked from the list provided.

The top 10 selected were:

  • 72%: Air Miles
  • 35%: Shopper’s Optimum
  • 29%: Canadian Tire Money
  • 28%: Aeroplan
  • 28%: PC Points
  • 23%: Petro-Points
  • 17%: Scene Rewards
  • 17%: HBC Rewards
  • 13%: Club Sobey
  • 12%: Sears Card

However, once all 23 programs were assessed by Environics applying “time to rewards” metrics, rankings in some categories changed. Not surprisingly, the Air Miles and Aeroplan programs took the first and second spots for long and short haul flight rewards. Both are “coalition” loyalty programs (members can earn points through hundreds of retail partners, as opposed to just one).

But Aeroplan dropped to the number three spot after the Shoppers Optimum card when it came to how quickly cash equivalent rewards can accumulate. The Shoppers Drug Mart program regularly runs promotions where a large number of points is awarded for spending specified amounts on certain days.

The research also revealed the credit cards that will get a program member to a cash equivalent or merchandise reward the quickest tend to be retailer-specific or bank-issued credit cards. The Canadian Tire Cash Advantage MasterCard, the Best Buy Reward Zone Visa and the RBC Shoppers Optimum Card ranked 1, 2 and 3 in this category.

The Environics Research contains many more “time to reward” comparisons for loyalty programs and loyalty credit cards you can check out here. There is also an interactive online tool where you can test which Canadian loyalty programs will get you to your desired reward faster (i.e. travel rewards, cash or merchandise) using either your own spending pattern or pre-programmed Statistics Canada data.

Of course your favourite loyalty program may not have sufficient market penetration to even have been considered in the Environics study.

When I polled several prominent personal finance bloggers to find out the loyalty programs they use the most, Tom Drake (Canadian Finance) said his number one choice is a Costco Executive Membership, which is notably absent from the Environics study. It pays back two per cent of most purchases throughout the year in cash. “I also pay using my True Earnings Card from Costco and American Express which gives me another one per cent cash back or two per cent when I fill up with gas,” he says.

Robb Engen (Boomer & Echo) identified Scene Rewards which allows you to earn points that can be spent on free movies, concession food and music downloads as probably one of the most under-rated loyalty programs in the country. He also subscribes to Amazon Prime for $79/year because it gives him free two-day shipping on most items that Amazon carries.

And even though he is an avid Air Miles fan, Jim Yee (Retire Happy) believes it’s important to take a balanced approach to racking up points vs other important cost-saving considerations. “Safeway gives Air Miles but sometimes it’s more convenient or less expensive to shop elsewhere for groceries,” he says.

Dan Wesley knows how to save a buck

By Sheryl Smolkin

14Aug-saveabuck

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Click here to listen

Hi,

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

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

A couple of unique things you should know about Dan:

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

Welcome Dan.

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

14Aug-dan

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

 

Feb 24: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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RRSP season is almost over for another year so remember to make your Saskatchewan Pension Plan contribution by Monday, March 3, 2014 in order to get a tax deduction on your 2013 income tax return.  But the need to spend carefully and save regularly is an important part of everyday living.

On retirehappy.ca, Jim Yih reports that 7 Causes of Financial Stress including high debt levels, low savings rates and increasingly complex financial markets are keeping many people up at night.

In The Insanity of “RRSP Season” Young and Thrifty blogger Kyle says anyone with a basic handle on grade 9 math ought to know that making periodic contributions to a registered plan (either a TFSA or an RRSP) is a better choice than procrastinating until the last minute and then trying to scratch together the money to fit in under an arbitrary deadline.

Blogger Krystal Yee on givemebackmyfivebucks.com says she will have to dip into her emergency fund and suspend TFSA and RRSP payments for some time because she was recently laid off. But 44 comments from her fans leave no doubt that she will land another great gig before long.

The pros and cons of withdrawing RRSP contributions are explored once again by Tom Drake on the Canadian Finance Blog. While the lost opportunity cost of taking out money and losing RRSP room are important, he acknowledges that in some emergencies RRSP withdrawals may be unavoidable. The good news is that if you need money because you lost your job, you will pay taxes on the money at a lower rate.

Many of you may be aiming for early retirement as early as age 55. However Dave Dineen on Brighter Life reminds readers that some sources of retirement income don’t kick in for another five years or more so you need to have a plan to bridge the gap or early retirement could be a financial nightmare.

And on Boomer & Echo Robb Engen identifies 6 Fees Worth Paying and notes that trying to avoid fees can sometimes be false economy. For example, the return on investment if you buy a Costco card, use an annual fee credit card or join the CAA can easily exceed the initial amount you have to pay.

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.

Oct 21: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Over the last year the blogs at savewithspp.com have focused on ways you can spend less and save more. By paying yourself first and allocating a fixed amount to savings each month, you can put your savings plan on autopilot. Here are some additional ideas from some of our favourite bloggers.

Before you start socking away your savings, most financial advisors will tell you to set aside a three to 12-month emergency fund. Tom Drake on Canadianfinanceblog.com discusses why an emergency fund really matters and how to build one.

In Where to find your savings Gail Vaz-Oxlade says nickel and dime-ing is really worth it. If you save $5 a day 20 days a month and put the money in your retirement plan earning 7% on average, in 20 years you will have $55,000. That’s got to be worth $5 a day, and a little time to find it!

Robb Engen on boomer& echo identifies lifestyle enhancers such as cable television, shopping at Costco, paying for a housecleaner and children’s activities as potential budget busters he is keeping a close eye on.

It’s fine to cut corners, but if you think the Fraser Institute got it wrong in a report that says you can raise a child for $3,000/year, you are not alone. Squawkfox blogger Kerry K. Taylor explains why daycare, accommodation and transportation costs have to be factored in to get a true picture.

Finally, Thanksgiving may be over for another year, but Canadians have much to be thankful for every day. Check out Kevin Press’ Brighter Life blog that summarizes findings of an OECD online report that outlines seven reasons to love living in this country.

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.