financial planning

RBC Wealth Management survey sees rising living costs, unexpected expenses, as barriers to wealth for higher-income Canadians

September 26, 2019

A recent Royal Bank of Canada survey on wealth management, conducted by Ipsos, found there were a few new obstacles that were impeding even wealthy Canadians’ efforts to build wealth.

Save with SPP reached out to RBC Wealth Management to probe a bit more about these obstacles, and to ask if the study’s authors found any other surprises in their research. Their answers are here:

Q. Did the study and its authors find higher levels of debt to be a part of the “cost of living barrier” to building wealth, given the high record of household debt? Helping kids is also mentioned.

The study didn’t specifically ask respondents about levels of debt. After the rising cost of living, the next reasons that ranked highest on the survey were:

  • Unexpected expenses
  • Cost of raising children (survey did not specify what “helping kids” meant)
  • Home prices

Q. The survey says “traditional ways of building wealth” may not be doing the job like they used to. Is this referring to the volatile stock markets and the low-interest environment for fixed income? Are there any thoughts about new types of investment strategies/alternative categories that the study and its authors think could address this?

In the survey news release, Tony Maiorino, Head, RBC Wealth Management Services, says “regardless of income, many Canadians find themselves behind on their wealth goals as many of the traditional ways we build wealth have changed over the generations. With the added backdrop of market uncertainty, clients are voicing their concerns and looking for support using non-traditional methods of meeting their wealth goals.”

Howard Kabot, Vice-President, Financial Planning, RBC Wealth Management Services, elaborates, saying “things like tax strategies, insurance and retirement planning play a key role in building wealth today but I’m not surprised that so many respondents find them challenging. The financial landscape is always evolving and people have less time to research and learn about wealth management topics. Most clients need to explore a variety of tactics through a holistic lens to build and preserve wealth.”

The survey found that 81 per cent of Ontario respondents, 80 per cent of Albertans and 77 per cent of BC residents felt “building wealth now is more difficult than it was in previous generations.” Thirty-eight per cent of BC respondents (vs. 26 per cent for Ontarians and 20 per cent for Albertans) reported experiencing “poor investment performance.”

Q. Did the study indicate when respondents would use the services of a financial adviser like RBC? Did the study turn up any sense that people are having difficulty putting away as much as they would like for retirement, given the high cost of living, lower salaries, and maybe the lack of workplace pension plans?

The study found that three-quarters of higher-income Canadians were confident “they will reach their financial goals before retirement.” However, 41 per cent of the same group said they would “work with a financial expert to invest the money” if they experienced a windfall, such as an inheritance. Advisors might come in handy with things that “challenged” respondents, such as “staying on top of markets” (76 per cent) and “using… strategies to minimize taxes (71 per cent).”

The lack of a pension plan at work was cited by 20 per cent of those surveyed as one of the “unexpected expenses,” like the increased cost of living, raising children, lower salaries than expected and poor investment performance, that was a factor in respondents being less wealthy than they expected.

Q. Where there any other findings that surprised the authors?

The news release noted that it was surprising that respondents found it challenging to understand financial topics but still felt confident they would meet their financial goals.

The release noted that “of the 48 per cent of respondents who are not as wealthy as they thought they would be, almost three quarters (73 per cent) believe they will reach their financial goals before retirement.” This optimism seems to be at odds with their confidence when it comes to aspects of wealth management topics, with the majority agreeing the following topics are challenging:

  • Knowing which information to trust (78 per cent)
  • Staying on top of what’s happening in the financial markets (76 per cent)
  • Using tax strategies to minimize taxes (71 per cent)
  • Ensuring they don’t outlive their assets during retirement (70 per cent)
  • Understanding the use of insurance in a financial plan (66 per cent)

If you lack a workplace pension, and need a do-it-yourself solution for retirement savings, consider membership in the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. You can start small and gear up your contributions over time. At retirement, the SPP can convert those savings into a lifetime income stream – you won’t be able to outlive your savings. Check them out today.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Tax tips for seniors

March 6, 2014

By Sheryl Smolkin


Retirement income has to last a long time and stretch to cover the increasing need for care required by disabled or older seniors. That’s why it is important for seniors, their children and their advisors to fully understand and take advantage of available tax exemptions and deductions.

Here are two tax breaks you may not know about.*

1.    Disability tax credit (DTC)

The disability amount is a non-refundable tax credit that a person with a severe and prolonged impairment in physical or mental functions can claim to reduce the amount of income tax he/she has to pay in a year. In 2013 the maximum tax credit for people over 18 is $7,697.

To be eligible for the DTC, The Canada Revenue Agency must approve Form T2201, Disability Tax Credit Certificate. You can apply for the DTC at any time during the year. Retroactive payments may be made if the individual was disabled for several years before applying for the tax credit. Last year we got over $9,000 back for my mother.

If you qualified for the disability amount for 2012 and you still meet the eligibility requirements in 2013, you can claim this amount without sending in a new Form T2201. However, you must send one if the previous period of approval ended before 2013, or if requested to do so by CRA.

You may be able to transfer all or part of your disability amount to your spouse or common-law partner or to another supporting person.

If you received attendant care and you are eligible for the DTC, there are special rules that apply for claiming those expenses. For more information, see Attendant care or care in an establishment.

CRA has an interactive online quiz you can take to find out if you or your family member may qualify for the DTC. Also see Who is eligible for the disability tax credit? for all of the requirements that must be met to qualify for the DTC

2.    GST/HST for homecare expenses 

The goods and services tax (GST) in Saskatchewan (or the harmonized sales tax (HST) in Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador) is not payable on publicly subsidized or funded homecare services.**

However, if an individual is not approved for municipal or provincial homecare services, a private agency must charge GST/HST.

Nevertheless, if a government agency approves even a small amount of subsidized homecare services (i.e. 2 hours/week), then ALL public and private homecare services become GST/HST exempt.

That’s why Lorne Lebow, a partner in the accounting firm Stern Cohen LLP recommends that in any situation where an individual requires home care services, an application should be made to the relevant government agency for subsidized or free services before or at the same time a private home care worker is retained.

“Even if a government agency authorizes services for only one or two hours a week, it’s enough to trigger the GST/HST exemption for additional privately-retained home care services. With GST/HST rates ranging from 5% (Saskatchewan) to 15% (Nova Scotia), that can quickly add up,” Lebow says.

He also advises individuals receiving both public and private home care services to inform the agency they are working with and request that invoices do not include GST/HST.

In the event that someone you know has inadvertently paid GST/HST you can apply to the CRA for a rebate going back two years.  Saskatchewan residents must send the completed General Application for rebate of GST/HST CRA (Form 189) three-page form with a letter from the government agency confirming the client is receiving subsidized care plus copies of the original invoices to Summerside Tax Centre 275 Pope Road Summerside PE C1N 6A2. 


*Also see Guide RC4064, Medical and Disability-Related Information and discuss your family’s situation with your accountant or other financial advisor.

** Effective March 21, 2013 the definition of “homemaker service” in the GST/HST legislation has been expanded to include cleaning, laundering, meal preparation and child care provided to an individual who, due to age, infirmity or disability, requires assistance in his/her home plus  personal care services such as bathing, feeding, and assistance with dressing and taking medication.

Also see:
Tax tips for seniors –‎ – Saskatchewan Income Tax – Seniors Income Tax and Government Benefits

Old Age Security: Take it now or later?

February 6, 2014

By Sheryl Smolkin


When you are planning to fully or partially retire, there are many decisions to make. Most Canadians are aware that they can elect to start receiving their Canada Pension anytime between age 60 and 70.

But many do not know that as of July 2013 if they become eligible for OAS benefits at age 65 they can also choose to defer receiving benefits for up to five years.

Regardless of whether you choose to defer your OAS or not, you must apply for benefits from this program when you wish to begin receiving payments.  It may make sense to wait, however, if at age 65 your income is still high enough that your benefits would be fully or partially clawed back. That would occur if you have net income between $71,592 and $115,716 on your tax return, and assuming you expect it to decline in future.

OAS is paid to seniors over 65 who are Canadian citizens or legal residents and have lived in Canada for at least 10 years after turning age 18. People living outside Canada at the time of application must have resided in Canada for at least 20 years after their 18th birthday. Your employment history is not a factor. A full OAS benefit is based on 40 years of Canadian residence.

For the period beginning January 2014, maximum OAS benefits are $551.54 per month or $6,618,48 per year. Benefits are indexed to inflation and adjusted quarterly. If you decide to delay collecting OAS beyond age 65, the benefit will be increased by 0.6 per cent for each month of delay to a maximum of 36%.

Therefore, based on the current annual benefit level (excluding future inflation), the pension you receive beginning at age 70 will be $9001.13.

Marissa Verskin, a senior tax manager at Toronto accounting firm Crowe Soberman, says the decision on whether to delay collecting OAS or claim it right away should depend on your personal situation. This includes your life expectancy, current and projected future income level and your expected rate of return.

Some of the other circumstances that may influence your decision are if you have chosen to work beyond age 65 or if you anticipate receiving a large one-time capital gain or lump sum at retirement (i.e., for accumulated sick leave credits or severance pay).

Doug Runchey of DR Pensions Consulting spent 32 years with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. He says if you choose to defer receiving OAS beyond age 65 you can’t “double dip.”

That means if you are only eligible for a partial OAS pension because you have less than the 40 years of residence required for a full benefit, you can’t use the deferral period to both increase your OAS pension by counting it as additional years of residence and also receive a 0.6 per cent per month increase for voluntary deferral.

Service Canada is required to count the deferral period either as additional years of residence or a period of voluntary deferral — whichever is of the greatest benefit to the client.

Runchey also says there could be another collateral advantage to voluntary deferral of OAS. “If you delay and increase your OAS by 36 per cent to $9001.13 per year, you also effectively increase the maximum income claw back threshold to $131,599 from $115,716,” he says.

If you have started receiving your OAS benefits within the last six months but think you can benefit from the deferral, you can write to Service Canada and ask them to cancel your benefits for now. Once your request is approved, you will have to pay back the benefits received. Then you can reapply for OAS at a later date.

By 2023, gradual changes in the age of OAS eligibility from age 65 to age 67 will be fully phased in. This change will not affect OAS applicants or recipients born before March 31, 1958. But people born between April 1, 1958 and January 31, 1962 will have a date of eligibility between ages 65 and 67. For example, a person born in June or July 1961 will be not be eligible to collect OAS until age 66 plus eight months.

Also see:
Old Age Security
Changes to the Old Age Security program – Service Canada
Voluntary deferral of OAS – Retire Happy
Getting what’s yours when it comes to government pensions

Make budgeting a family project

May 23, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Think of a realistic budget as the GPS that will help you reach your financial objectives. Unless you know how much money you have available and make a plan to spend less than you earn, paying off debt, saving for a down payment on a house or getting ready for retirement may seem like insurmountable goals.

Budgeting is not rocket science, but it requires discipline. Where you have a partner, both of you should participate in the process. Any children should also be involved to a more limited extent, depending on their ages. If the whole family understands and agrees to budget priorities established by the group, it is more likely that they will follow the roadmap. 

Keys to successful budgeting: 

Some keys to successfully budgeting are:

  1. Understand how much net income your family has every month.
  2. Identify your fixed and variable expenses.
  3. Build debt repayment and savings into your budget.
  4. Establish family priorities.
  5. Develop a plan to control costs as required.
  6. Record all expenditures to help you stay on plan.

Two techniques for staying on plan that money maven Gail Vax Oxlade uses successfully with couples on her television program “Til Debt Do Us Part” are:

  • Cut up debit and credit cards and spend only cash.
  • Allocate the amounts you have available to spend for each category like food, clothes, rent etc. into a series of “jars” for every pay period. 

Getting started

First of all, gather up all your payslips, bills and credit card statements so you have the information you need all in one place. There are lots of online tools that will allow you to enter your data and play around with the numbers until they add up to something that will work for your family.

For example, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada offers an online budget calculator.  Vaz Oxlade has a no-cost guide to building a budget and an interactive online spread sheet available on her website.

There are many other calculators and specialized spreadsheets available online, but I’m a big fan of googledrive. This free application allows you to create an online spreadsheet and give other family members access from different devices.

While you may choose to have only one person enter or delete data, if each person can record money spent on an ongoing basis, anytime someone is contemplating an expenditure, he/she can get a clear picture of the state of the family’s finances. 

Fixed expenses

There are certain unavoidable family expenses that recur on a regular basis. These may include rent or mortgage payments, house insurance, property taxes, utilities, car payments, gas, car insurance, other transportation life insurance etc. You get the picture.

While you could move to less expensive accommodations or take the bus instead of driving if you have to, these expenses cannot be easily reduced in the short term. Therefore, make sure you account for them carefully up front when you are developing your budget.

Food, clothing

Food and clothing are important components of your budget. If you use a credit or debit card for most purchases, it should be fairly easy to track these expenditures over the course of several months. If you use cash, you may have to make a conscious effort to record how much the family spends over a specific period to gain a good understanding of the family’s spending patterns.

Perhaps you eat out frequently and bring home fast food several times a week. This is an area where you may be able to control your costs and at the same time provide more nutritious meals for your family.

Adults can often declare a moratorium on buying clothes for a considerable period. Where growing children need bigger sizes in clothing and shoes, consider clothing swaps of gently used items with family and friends. They are very easy to arrange online. 


Land lines, smartphones, internet, cable TV, electronic games, tablets and laptops. You may be shocked to discover how much you spend on technology and connectivity. Contact your service provider and ask for a better deal or a better bundle. Consider getting rid of cable TV and subscribing to Netflix for $7.99/month. Resolve to keep your current technology for longer. And resist the temptation to buy the latest new gadget on the market.


Add up how much you spent on entertainment last year. By attending community events instead of buying more expensive tickets to professional theatre or big name sports teams, you can save a bundle and still have a lot of fun.

Rather than spending thousands of dollars on international travel, plan a “staycation” or a long weekend at a local tourist attraction you have been meaning to check out but never got around to visiting. 


The money you save for your children’s education or your retirement should not be left to chance if you happen to have enough money around at the end of the month. Build RESP, Saskatchewan Pension Plan, RRSP and TFSA contributions into your budget and “pay yourself” first every time your paycheque is deposited.

Are there free or low cost budget tools that work for you? Have you recently turned your finances around? Send us an email to so*********@sa*********.com and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, 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:

30-May Wedding How much should you spend on a wedding gift?
6-June Bringing home baby How to prepare financially for a new baby
13-Jun Fathers Day Frugal gifts your father will love

Why declaring all of your income can save you money

April 25, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Have you ever handed your home renovation contractor cash to avoid paying provincial sales tax and GST? Do you accept cash for your in-home daycare services and conveniently “forget” to remit source deductions or claim the income for tax purposes?

If either of these scenarios strikes a chord, chances are you are a participant in the underground economy (UE). A September 2012 Statistics Canada study on the UE in Canada pegs the level of underground activity at $35 billion in 2009.

The UE is any legal business activity that is unreported or under-reported for tax purposes. This can include failing to file returns or omitting an entire business activity, also referred to as “moonlighting” or working “off the books.”

Under-reporting income received, such as “skimming” a portion of business income, bartering, or failing to report a portion of employment income such as tips and gratuities is also included in the UE. The three most significant industry sectors accounting for almost two-thirds of UE activity are construction, retail trade and accommodation/food services.

Why should you care? After all nobody wants any more taxes than they have to.

Well for one thing, paying your taxes is the law. Evading taxes is illegal and can result in criminal convictions leading to fines and jail time in addition to any taxes, interest, and penalties owing.

For example, in December 2012 a Saskatoon man was fined $15,734 for tax evasion for the years 2008 and 2009. He purchased and sold two separate properties for profit and deliberately did not report the income earned from these sources to evade taxes.

In addition, he knowingly failed to report rental income earned from a property, and management fees received from two other renovation projects. The total amount of income found unreported during the years under investigation was $79,195. This resulted in the evasion of federal income tax in the amount of $19,687.

The fine of $15,734 represents 80% of the tax evaded. In addition to the court fines, all outstanding taxes plus penalties and interest must also be paid.

The investigation of tax affairs arose from inconsistencies uncovered during a routine income tax audit which led the CRA to obtain a search warrant and to seize income tax records from the tax evader’s personal residence.

Tax cheating also places an unfair burden on law-abiding businesses and individual taxpayers because overall tax rates must be higher for governments to raise the necessary funds to pay for services.

Businesses that offer lower prices because of their failure to comply with Canada’s tax laws gain an unfair advantage. Tax-cheating employers also gain an unreasonable competitive edge by paying wages under the table in cash, in order to avoid paying the employer portion of employment insurance premiums and Canada Pension Plan contributions. The “knock on effect” is that their employees are eventually deprived of benefits from these important social programs.

Finally, those who avoid paying taxes are taking money that is needed for important investments in schools, hospitals, and other vital government services.  In addition, cash transactions with no written contract or receipt offer no consumer protection and make it difficult for consumers to seek recourse.

Just because you haven’t been caught yet doesn’t mean you won’t be caught in future.

The Canada Revenue Agency has a variety of tools to detect those who do not report all of their income, including on-site visits by officers, information obtained from third-party reporting, leads from other audit files, informants, and indications that taxpayers are living beyond the level of income they report.

If you haven’t declared all of your sales and income in the past, you may be able to correct your information using the CRA’s Voluntary Disclosures Program. If you make a full disclosure before any audit or criminal investigation is started, you may only have to pay the taxes owing plus interest, but not the penalties.

While it may be tempting at times to try and avoid paying some or all of the taxes you, in the long run doing the right thing will actually save you money.

Have you filed your tax return yet? Send us an email to so*********@sa*********.com 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:

2-May Gardening Cheapest ways to plant a maintenance-free garden
9-May Mother’s day Mother’s day gifts for every budget
16-May Spring cleaning How spring cleaning can save you money

How to plan a wedding on a budget

April 18, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


According to, the average expected cost of a wedding in Canada excluding the honeymoon is $22,429 and if you include the honeymoon, the bill increases to $27,899.

Here is the average budget breakdown based on anticipated costs:

Venue $9,255 Limo $753
Honeymoon $5,470 Cake $584
Rings/bands $2,470 Jewellery $483
Photographer $2,206 Hairstylist $467
Bridal Gown $1,847 Guest favours $452
Decor/Florist $1,343 Bridesmaid’s dresses $428
DJ/Musicians $1,247 Stationery $384

Because weddings frequently end up going over budget, the average actual cost of a wedding is $31,110 in Canada.

Even if you have been dreaming of a fancy, traditional wedding since you could walk, that’s an awful lot of money to spend for one day when you are still paying off student loans or saving for a down payment on your first house.

Not everyone can be as frugal as Kerry K. Taylor (aka Squawkfox) who had only four guests and spent $591.12 in total on her wedding to Carl. But Part 1 and Part 2 of her wedding blogs are very entertaining and contain lots of terrific frugal helpful hints.

Here are a few of my suggestions based in part on a great list of Cheap Wedding Tips and Ideas I found online and coloured by my experience helping my daughter plan her wedding several years ago.

Invitations: Engraved invitations with return cards, envelopes and stamps can be very expensive. You can get beautiful paper and envelopes from a stationery store and print your own invitations using a laser printer for a fraction of the cost. You can also create an electronic invitation and have guests RSVP to an email address or a website. 

Venue & food: Look for a free or low cost venue like a community centre or an outdoor setting like a park or beach for a summer wedding. Sometimes it’s cheaper to get married on a week night or have a morning wedding followed by lunch instead of an evening ceremony.

If you can select your own caterer and friends and family are willing to contribute part of the meal, you will save a bundle. Also, try to find a venue that will allow you to get a liquor licence and buy your own beverages instead of paying per drink or per bottle.

But keep in mind that you may have to rent tables, chairs, dishes and even a tent for an unconventional venue. In addition to servers, you will need people to do setup, strike down and cleanup after the party. You may be more than willing to pay for a “wedding package” offered by a hotel or banquet hall that ensures you don’t have to worry about these logistics on your special day.

Rings/bands: Get simple gold or white gold bands. Think of options like coloured or semi-precious stones rather than diamonds. See if there are any family antiques or heirlooms you can incorporate into the design.

Bridal gown: Before you say “yes to the dress” and spend thousands of dollars at a traditional bridal salon, consider other options. Your mother or older sister’s dress may have great sentimental value and it may be possible to alter the dress to fit. It’s worth checking out stores that sell prom dresses or other evening gowns, particularly if you are getting married in a more casual setting like a beach. If you take a sample size, you may find your dream dress at a seasonal sale at a high-end dress store.

And don’t forget pre-owned wedding dresses available online or from The Brides Project, a charity that raises money for cancer.

Bridesmaid dresses: You have to watch the movie 27 dresses  to fully appreciate how hideous bridesmaid dresses can be and remember how much you hated shelling out for the dress you wore to your second cousin’s wedding. Allowing attendants to choose the same colour attire in styles that suit them makes everyone more comfortable. My daughter’s attendants all wore short black dresses they chose themselves with red shoes.

Flowers and decor: Buy seasonal flowers in bulk at a local market.  Display them attractively with tea lights in glass vases you can purchase from the dollar store. For a Christmas wedding poinsettias and dried branches sprayed white can make very effective centerpieces. I am not “crafty” but for those of you who are, there are lots of ideas on Pinterest.

Wedding cake: We decided to substitute a tiered plate of exotic cupcakes for a more traditional wedding cake. They tasted better and, there were only a few left over by the end of the night. 

Photographer: See if you can find a photographer who will take pictures of the wedding and in return for an hourly rate, give you a CD with all of the pictures. You can select the pictures you want to print and even create your own photo books online or using the services of a local camera store. To augment the professional photos, put disposable cameras on every table and ask your guest take pictures throughout the event.

Weddings are emotional occasions that bring out the best and the worst in people. One of the biggest challenges can be paring down the guest list to stay on budget without alienating someone.

You want your wedding to be perfect, but remember it’s just the first day of the rest of your life. You will be off to a much better start if in the early years of your marriage if you don’t have the additional burden of paying off debts for a wedding you couldn’t really afford.

Have you planned a wedding? Send us an email to so*********@sa*********.com and tell us about how you saved money. Your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And don’t forget that the Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers a flexible way to save affordable amounts for retirement.

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

25-Apr Taxes Why declating all of your income can save you money
2-May Gardening Cheapest ways to plant a maintenance-free garden
9-May Mother’s day Mother’s day gifts for every budget

Apr 15: Best from the blogosphere

April 15, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


This week Jon Chevreau, the editor of Moneysense magazine celebrated his 60th birthday and the release of the U.S. edition of his book Findependence Day. You can listen to a podcast interview I did with Jon last summer.

In a “must read” blog he wrote to mark the occasion, Jon made an important distinction between early retirement and financial independence:

“Financial independence is not the same as retirement,” Chevreau says. “Ideally, it precedes retirement by decades. It means you continue to work because you want to, not because you have to.”

Exploring a similar topic, on Darwin’s Money, the author debunks some myths about extreme early retirement and says, “The problem I have with people declaring that they’ve retired in an ‘extreme’ fashion is that they’re either not really retired, or they’re relying on a spouse, which, well, isn’t really the same thing.”

So based on the discussion in the two posts above, did guest blogger Robert (a financial planner) on Canadian Dream: Free at 45 really retire at age 35, or has he simply achieved financial independence? To find a purpose in “retirement” he has gone back to school with the goal of eventually living and working overseas.

The same question may be asked of accountant “Retired Syd” who retired in her 40s. On Retirement: A full-time job she muses about the best place to live for the next chapter in her life. Because her priority is friends and family, she concludes that living close to the people she loves is more important than any dreams of settling in a more distant locale.

But She Thinks I’m Cheap has already made the leap to London with his wife and in his latest blog you can read about their experience relocating overseas and re-entering the workforce.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?”  Send us an email with the information to so*********@sa*********.com and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Apr 8: Best from the blogosphere

April 8, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


“Best from Blogosphere” took a week off due to the Easter break, but our favourite bloggers just kept on writing. Therefore this issue reports on 10 interesting blog posts, rather than the usual five.

Contemplating winters in a warmer climate? Read the key questions Jim Yih on retirehappy says you should ask about retirement in a different country.

Saskatchewan blogger Tim Stubbs tells us on Canadian Dream: Free at 45   how he spent the week before Easter shovelling snow off his roof and away from his foundations to try and avoid a flooded basement.

On Brighter Life, Deanne Gage offers home-staging tips from the pros for those of you selling your house this spring and important information about insurance coverage for single parents with children.

$he Thinks I’m Cheap blogger Andrew explores the touchy subject of money and relationships. His rule #1 is do not discuss money on the first date!

If you are planning a one day or longer shopping trip to the U.S. check out articles on the Canadian Finance Blog about new cross-border shopping exemptions and how to save money on hotel rooms.

Continuing with a shopping theme, on Boomer and Echo, Robb Engen investigates how much you have to spend to make a Costco executive membership worth buying and Gail Vaz-Oxlade says companies marketing to women should cut the cute stuff and take them seriously.

And last but not least, Squawkfox (Kerry K. Taylor) gives detailed instructions on how to make a healthier McDonald’s Egg McMuffin for 65% less. We are NOT surprised that she managed to both cut the calories and cut the cost.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?”  Send us an email with the information to so*********@sa*********.com and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

New house vs resale? Which should you choose?

April 4, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin



After renovating an old house and then buying a new house in the suburbs, we think we finally got it right with our current home which is close to the Finch subway station in Toronto.

Over 10 years ago, the builder assembled three large lots with small bungalows, tore them down and built five new two-story detached homes. We got the end unit surrounded by a park. We have an energy efficient furnace, the house is fully wired for Internet and it was a lovely blank, clean canvas to decorate.

I thoroughly enjoy working at home in my cheerful, bright office. When I do have to go downtown for meetings in off peak hours, I walk to the subway in five minutes and I always get a seat.

But whether to buy a new house or a resale is a very personal decision. Here are a few of the things you should consider before making up your mind.


If you want to live in a built up neighbourhood, close to public transportation you will generally opt for a resale home. Unless you can get an infill house in an old neighbourhood, new homes tend to be in a suburban area which can mean a longer daily commute.


In a new development you will typically get more house for your money. But depending where you work, you also have to figure in the cost, wear and tear of a longer commute. Furthermore, resale homes generally already have paved driveways, fences, decks and landscaping which you will have to shell out for on top of the initial purchase price of a new home. Proximity of local schools and other services may also influence your decision.


Older homes often have traditional layouts. It may be possible to add another bedroom, an ensuite bathroom, an upgraded kitchen or a main floor family room.  However, renovating can be hard on both your nerves and your wallet.

When you buy a home from the plans, you can select the layout you prefer and in some cases you can even customize. You also get to chose from a broad selection of paint colours, kitchen cabinets, counter tops, carpet and flooring.

Energy efficiency:

Newly constructed homes are typically better insulated and have double or triple glazed windows which will save you money on heating and cooling costs. They also generally come with a high energy furnace and new more efficient appliances.


Upkeep for an older home can be more expensive because of older appliances, plumbing and electrical systems. You may need a new roof or a new furnace sooner than you think. Old windows and inadequate insulation can drive up heating bills. In contrast, every new home in Saskatchewan is covered by the New Home Warranty Program.

What I’m hoping is that someone will decide to build new, affordable infill bungalows close by so for the next chapter we can have the best of all worlds – a new home on one floor in an established neighbourhood that is also accessible to public transit.

And the icing on the cake would be if our wonderful neighbours keep their promise to buy the house next door.

Have you bought or sold a house lately? Send us an email to so*********@sa*********.com and tell us whether you bought a new or resale house and why. If your story is posted, 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:

11-Apr Taxes 10 tax deductions you might miss
18-Apr Wedding How to beat the high cost of weddings
25-Apr Taxes Why you should file your tax return on time

How to choose an eReader

March 28, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


On a recent 10 day trip to California I read an 800 page book using the Kobo app on my PlayBook. I agree with journalist and technology expert Marc Saltzman that electronic books have many advantages. For example:

  1. I can store hundreds of books on small device.
  2. I can buy books 24/7 as long as there is wifi and they are generally cheaper than hard copy.
  3. I can download library books and there are no late fees because they automatically expire after a certain date.
  4. I can adjust the font style and size, and click on hyperlinks to get definitions of words and other background information.
  5. Music and audiobooks are also available on some models.

However, the battery on my tablet only lasted about six hours before it had to be recharged. As a result, I’m looking for a lighter digital reader with a longer battery life to take on future trips to Eastern Europe and the Far East.

So I asked Saltzman for some hints about what I should look for. Here’s what he told me:

Q. Who are the major players in the Canadian eReader market?

A. I would say Kindle, Kobo and Sony.  They each have a line of products ranging from an entry level bare bones eReader up to something more sophisticated with colour and apps that acts a little bit more like a tablet computer. Kindle has the largest library but you have to purchase Kindles from the U.S. and they are the only one of the three that won’t let you borrow books from the public library.

Q. What questions should consumers ask if they are considering an eReader purchase?

A. I first ask people whether they are looking for a straightforward device for reading books or if they want something with colour that will allow them to surf the web, play games or read email. That’s when you go for the higher end eReaders that are more like a tablet computer.

If all you want is to read books, then look for a black and white touch screen wifi eReader that costs between $60 and $120. Once you start adding things like cellular connectivity (only offered by Kindle) then you will pay $200 or more for better screens, larger screens, colour screens and app stores.

Q. How does battery life stack up?

A. The Kindle Paperwhite is the eReader with the longest battery life – about two months on a single charge. The Sony and Kobo last about a month depending on usage. More advanced tablets with backlit screens max out at about 10 hours. They are also heavier.

I prefer my iPad mini with the Kobo and Kindle apps because I have everything I need on it when I travel to meetings. I can leave my computer in the hotel.

Q. What about downloading library books?

A. Both Kobo and Sony let you do that. What is required is a personal computer, some free Adobe software, and your library card. You go to your local library’s website, and if they offer eBooks, you sign on with your library card number and then it will walk you through the software you need.

Then you reserve books in advance like you would at your local library, and when the book is available, you download it to your computer. The next step is to tether your eReader to your PC or Mac with the USB cable in the box, and it copies the book over to the mobile device. On the day it expires you will no longer be able to access  the digital book unless you can renew it in advance.

Q. Do any of the ebook readers allow you to share books with other people on their eReaders?

A. That’s one of the downsides of an eBook. You can’t share them. It’s intangible so  you can’t put it on a bookshelf or give an autographed copy to someone as a gift. In the U.S. Kindle has something called the Kindle Lending Library, but it is not available in Canada.

Q. What’s next, what’s on the horizon for eBooks?

A. I think more and more of them are going to have tablet features. The line is going to blur between an eReader and a tablet. Even entry level eReaders are going to have a lot more capabilities. We’ll see faster wireless connectivity, more storage and more people subscribing to electronic newspapers and magazines. And down the road they are going to be thinner, lighter and even roll-able.

So that’s the skinny on eReaders from one Canada’s top experts. You can see a comparison of prices and features for four different Kobo models here.

Have you purchased an eReader or tablet computer lately? Send us an email to so*********@sa*********.com and tell us what you like and don’t like about your device. If your story is posted, 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:

04-Apr Real estate New or resale house? Pros and cons
11-Apr Taxes 10 tax deductions you might miss
18-Apr Wedding How to beat the high cost of weddings